Economic Compulsion to Work

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Economic Compulsion to Work


the relation, inherent in capitalism, of economic dependence and compulsion between hired workers and capitalists. The economic base of the economic compulsion to work is the capitalists’ monopoly of private ownership of the means of production. Deprived of the material conditions for the application of labor and the means of livelihood, workers, though legally free, must sell their labor power to the owners of the means of production and work for the capitalists. The material conditions of labor thus become a means of subordinating another’s labor in order to exploit it. The capitalist has command over labor, manages it, determines how long it will last and how intense it will be, and organizes and monitors it. As the scale of production grows, the capitalist transfers these functions to special hired administrators, who manage labor on behalf of capital.

As the owner of the means of production, the capitalist becomes the owner of the product of the workers’ labor. The relations of economic dependence and compulsion are reproduced by the entire production process, which is continuous: the product of the worker’s labor steadily becomes farther removed from the worker as the property of another and is returned only partially, in the form of wages; the remainder is continuously transformed into means of production and the capitalist’s income. Labor is reproduced as hired labor, and the means of production are reproduced as capital. Unlike extraeconomic constraint, which is characteristic of slaveholding and feudal societies and is based on relations of direct subordination, the economic compulsion to work outwardly appears to be a relation of free, legally equal commodity owners, and the labor of workers appears to be voluntary. In reality, the workers’ labor for the capitalist is hired slavery.

In the modern scientific and technological revolution, capitalism makes use of science and technology to strengthen and extend economic compulsion. Capital intensifies labor, forces out some workers from production, and demands only an educated and highly skilled labor force. Thus, scientists and engineers are increasingly drawn into the orbit of capitalist exploitation. These facts demonstrate the groundlessness of contemporary bourgeois theories of the “harmony of interests,” of “social partnership,” of a “collective” or “people’s” capitalism, theories that attempt to depict capitalism’s objectively inherent relations of dominance and subordination as equal cooperation. Economic compulsion to work cannot be eliminated under capitalism. It can be eliminated only by making the working people owners of the means of production, that is, by abolishing private ownership of the means of production.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23, secs. 3,4, and 5.
Arkhiv Marksa i Engel’sa, vol. 2 (7). Moscow, 1933. Pages 5–146 and 167–77.
Lenin, V. I. “Ekonomicheskoe soderzhanie narodnichestva i kritika ego v knige g. Struve.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 1. Pages 459–60.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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For the majority, arguably even more than the other 60 percent Schor estimates, the economic compulsion to work longer is stronger.

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