Intensity of Labor

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Intensity of Labor


the degree of concentration of labor, that is, the amount of labor expended by a worker in the process of production over a given interval of time. The magnitude of the intensity of labor depends on the amount and level of labor per work period, the amount of physical and mental effort required in the work process, the frequency (tempo) of repetition of labor-consuming actions, and the number of work functions performed and pieces of equipment served (machinery, for instance). In the final analysis, all these factors are determined by the material and technical organization and socioeconomic conditions of production and labor. The degree and nature of mechanization of production, the duration of work time and routine of labor and rest, forms of organization, setting of norms and payment of labor, healthful and aesthetic aspects of working conditions, the attitude of personnel toward their work and toward their skills, general living conditions, rest conditions, the quantity and quality of food, and the level of public health provisions all have a decisive influence on determining the level of labor intensity. The sex and age of workers and natural and climatic factors also affect labor intensity.

The basic characteristics of the capability and reproduction of labor power depend on the magnitude of labor intensity: the level of competence of workers, the speed and degree of production fatigue, the restoration of working capacity during rest, production injuries and incidence of disease, and periods of effective work activity. Herein lies the social significance of labor intensity.

The economic significance of labor intensity is manifested in its effect on the volume and cost of what is produced. Increased intensity of labor (intensification) as well as increased labor productivity increase the amount of output in a given time. However, if the increased productivity of labor leads to reduced labor expenditures and a lower cost per unit of output, then the increase in labor intensity does not change the amount of labor expended and value per unit of output, because, as the overall amount of use values grows, so does the amount of value embodied in them.

Under capitalism, it is necessary to intensify labor systematically and to ensure that the intensity of labor of hired workers occurs on a level no lower than the socially normal level so that entrepreneurs can obtain and increase profits and superprofits in the course of the bitter competitive struggle. In modern capitalism, intensification is the main means of increasing the exploitation of the working people. Specific forms of mechanization and organization of labor, subtle systems of setting norms and of providing material incentives, and various means of creating a semblance of common interests between bourgeoisie and proletariat (such as a “system of human relationships”) are the means for increasing labor intensity to limits at which only the best trained and hardiest personnel are able to work. The result of capitalist intensification of work is to increase the long-term exhaustion of manpower, which is not compensated for even by increased consumption or shortened work time. This is the reason for early loss of working ability and for increased production injuries and nervous, psychic, and cardiovascular illness, including the high rate of fatigue of a considerable number of personnel. Thus, in the USA, an average of more than 2 million workers suffer serious injuries and about 7 million sustain minor bodily injuries in the course of production every year. In the Federal Republic of Germany, 8,000 production-related accidents occur daily. For working people the concept of normal labor intensity is linked first of all with the preservation of the ability to work. This is possible if “in the course of the day a worker’s manpower is fully expended but is expended in such a way as to leave unimpaired his ability to perform the same amount of work on the next and subsequent days” (F. Engels, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 19, p. 256). In a capitalist society the level of labor intensity is determined in a bitter class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. This is why the working class of the capitalist countries wages an unceasing struggle against increased labor intensity.

Under socialism the underlying principles for setting socially normal labor intensity are determined by the socialist system and were defined by V. I. Lenin, who stressed the need for constant supervision over the amount of labor and over its intensity on the basis of scientific organization of production at a level “undetri-mental to the labor power of the working population” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 36, p. 141). In this context the task of increasing the economic effectiveness of social production requires that socially normal labor intensity be reached with the full and rational utilization of production resources: working time, equipment, and the objects of labor. Normalization of work intensity is linked as a rule with consistent improvement in working conditions, the introduction of the most progressive forms for the division and cooperation of labor, advanced approaches and methods of labor, refinement of norm setting and payments, and reduced input of heavy manual and unskilled labor and, in some cases, of work requiring excessive nervous and mental effort. On the other hand, in a number of enterprises the pressing task is to raise the level of labor intensification to the normal level, to achieve a high degree of work intensification on the basis of the development of the scientific organization of labor, to increase cooperation between personnel in trades and those performing labor functions, to develop multimachine (multiaggregate) servicing and stronger labor discipline, to eliminate losses of working time within shifts, and to improve the technical, economic, psychophysical, and social substantiation of labor norms. The development of socialist emulation plays an important role in this process. It is important to perfect the material and moral incentives used for increased labor intensity in the spheres where it is below the socially normal level and at the same time to perfect the use of privileges and compensation for personnel in sectors where labor is difficult or harmful and in work underground. When the above conditions are observed, an established intensification of labor is one of the most important ways to intensify production, as the experience of such leading Soviet enterprises as the Shchekino Chemical Combine and the Leningrad Optical-Machine Association shows. In order to perfect the practice of social and economic planning of the level of labor intensity, it is necessary to work out a system of reliable psychophysiological, economic, and sociological indexes, to establish specific criteria for the socially normal level of intensification for various conditions and the upper and lower limits for various categories of working people, and to work out the actual paths for normalizing the achieved level of labor intensity.


Marx, K. Kapital, vol. 1. K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23, chs. 1, 8, 11, 12, 13, 15.
Lenin, V. I. “Ocherednye zadachi Sovetskoi vlasti.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 36.
Patrushev, V. D. Intensivnost’ truda pri sotsializme. Moscow, 1963.
Trud pri kapitalizme: Statisticheskii sbornik. Moscow, 1964.
Cherkasov, G. N. Sotsial’no-ekonomicheskieproblemy intensivnosti truda v SSSR. Moscow, 1966.
Solov’ev, A. V. Intensivnost’ truda v sotsialisticheskoi promyshlennosti: Voprosy teorii i praktiki. Moscow, 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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