Industrial Reserve Army

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Industrial Reserve Army


(relative overpopulation), the relative surplus of labor power under capitalism, arising because of the operation of the general law of capitalist accumulation. With the accumulation of capital and with the increase in its organic composition—that is, the relative expansion of the constant component of capital in proportion to its variable component—there occurs a relative reduction in the demand for labor power, since this demand is determined by the variable part of capital alone.

The accumulation of capital continually produces a relative surplus laboring population, superfluous in relation to capital’s need for it. Since it is an inevitable product of capitalist accumulation, the industrial reserve army becomes in turn one of the most important levers of capitalist accumulation, “nay, a condition of existence of the capitalist mode of production” (K. Marx, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23, p. 646). Technical improvements, greater exploitation of labor, and extensive use of female and child labor promote the expansion of relative overpopulation. Thus, the existence and growth of the industrial reserve army is a law of population peculiar to the capitalist mode of production.

The size of the industrial reserve army changes drastically in the course of the capitalist economic cycle, reaching its greatest dimensions during the periodic crises and shrinking during periods of recovery and boom. For example, in the crisis year 1974 the number of unemployed in the advanced capitalist countries rose to 12.5 million by year’s end, as opposed to 6.5 million in 1965. Unemployment is an inevitable concomitant of the capitalist mode of production. Taking advantage of the presence of the unemployed, the capitalists lower wages and intensify exploitation.

Relative overpopulation exists in three forms: the floating, the latent, and the stagnant. The enlargement of the industrial reserve army attests to the worsening position of the workers and to the sharpening of the contradictions of capitalism. It is impossible to put an end to unemployment in capitalist society. The theories of the apologists of capitalism to the effect that “full employment” can be attained are merely attempts to gloss over class contradictions. The problem of the industrial reserve army can be solved only by replacing the capitalist system with socialism.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Her publications include: "Pacification of the Industrial Reserve Army in the Context of US" (forthcoming), co-authored with George S.
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It forms a disposable industrial reserve army, that
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