Nonindustrial Workers

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Nonindustrial Workers


(sluzhashchie), workers who perform nonphysical, mental labor in return for a wage or, in capitalist countries, for a salary, or fixed payment. The concept does not have a precise or generally accepted definition, but it corresponds roughly to a number of terms used in Anglo-Saxon countries, including “salaried workers,” “salaried employees,” “nonmanual workers,” and “white-collar workers.” In the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), France, and Italy a stricter distinction is drawn between nonindustrial and industrial workers, and categories such as Angestellte, employés, and impiegati are reinforced by social legislation. Government officials constitute a special group of nonindustrial workers in the capitalist countries (officers, fonctionnaires, Beamte). In some countries, such as the USA and Great Britain, there is no sharp distinction between officials in government and those in private institutions, but in other countries, such as the FRG, government officials have a special legal status.

Nonindustrial workers are divided by profession into several major groups: administrative and managerial personnel, engineering and technical workers, other groups of specialists with higher degrees (scientific workers, teachers in higher and secondary schools, and doctors), and trade and office employees.

A significant proportion of the intelligentsia belongs to the category of nonindustrial workers. As a result of the increased division of social labor and the gradual transfer of managerial functions from the capitalists to hired employees, the nonmanual professions have assumed mass proportions since the last third of the 19th century, during the stage of mature industrial capitalism. The factors contributing to the increase in nonindustrial workers include the growth of transportation, communications, commerce, and credit; the expansion of the educational system and health services; and the growth of the service sector in general. The most important factor in the increase has been the growth of the bureaucracy in the bourgeois state and the development of state-monopoly capitalism. In the USA “white-collar” professional groups constituted 17.6 percent of the employed population in 1900 and 48.3 percent in 1970. Marxism rejects the apologetic bourgeois theory of the “new middle class” (the class of nonindustrial employees), regarding it not as a class category but as a professional category, the members of which do not occupy the same position in the social structure of capitalist society.

As capitalism developed, the number of nonindustrial employees increased, and their social differentiation intensified. Most nonindustrial workers lost their once privileged position, but the elite drew closer to the bourgeoisie, sometimes merging with it. The position of a significant number of the nonindustrial workers can best be defined as intermediate. Among the terms used by the classical theorists of Marxism-Leninism to describe certain groups of salaried nonindustrial workers are “commercial employees” (Marx, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 25, part 1, pp. 321, 322, 329), “the commercial proletariat” (Marx, ibid., p. 330, note), “the educated stratum of workmen” (Marx, ibid., vol. 23, p. 431), “the proletariat of mental labor” (Engels, ibid., vol. 22, p. 432), and the “engineer proletariat” (V. I. Lenin, Leninskii sb., XXXVII, 1970, p. 213).

Living and working conditions vary among different groups of nonindustrial workers. Even among salaried specialists, who have maintained a larger share of the relatively privileged characteristics of this group, there has been a certain degree of differentiation. Owing to the increase in mechanization, automation, and capitalist “rationalization,” the labor of many nonindustrial workers, including postal, telegraph, and office workers, has become more similar in kind and condition to that of industrial workers. Both industrial and nonindustrial workers are experiencing greater psychological and nervous stress and are suffering increasingly from the monotony of their labor and from dissatisfaction with their jobs. Nonindustrial workers once enjoyed a shorter workday than industrial workers, but under contemporary conditions both categories have more or less the same workday. In commerce and transportation, office employees may work longer hours than industrial workers. The gap between the wages of the majority of industrial and non-industrial workers has also leveled out, as a result of the rapid increase in nonindustrial workers, the declining value of old skills, and the deteriorating position of nonindustrial workers on the job market. Some groups of office employees earn even less than skilled industrial workers. At the same time, there have been tremendous increases in the incomes of the managerial elite.

Rank-and-file nonindustrial workers have been affected by the consequences of the general crisis of capitalism—the rising cost of living, inflation, and mass unemployment.

The changes in the social and economic position of the non-industrial workers have not been directly reflected in their consciousness. Typically, some salaried personnel feel superior to those engaging in physical labor, owing to the specific character of mental labor and a lack of on-the-job communication between industrial and nonindustrial workers. Office employees work at different locations and often at different hours than industrial workers, and they are sometimes in direct contact with owners or managers. The entrepreneurs endeavor to maintain the existing psychological differences between industrial and nonindustrial workers by preaching the “natural solidarity” between salaried personnel and capitalist owners and by giving preferential treatment to nonindustrial workers in social security and insurance, for example. This creates a relatively favorable foundation for bourgeois and petit bourgeois ideological influences among the white-collar workers. As a result, the more backward strata often support conservative and reactionary forces.

However, as the status of nonindustrial workers changes, the rank and file, especially the increasing number from a working-class background, recognize their common ties with the rest of the working class. According to data from national studies, about half of all commercial and office employees consider themselves part of the working class. The changes in the consciousness of white-collar workers have been reflected in the development of trade union organizations among them, beginning in the late 19th century and intensifying especially since the 1940’s.

The Communist parties view nonindustrial workers as close allies of the industrial working class, defend their vital interests, and try to involve them in the struggle against exploitation. The history of the working-class movement shows that the non-industrial workers have gradually been drawn into a joint struggle with the industrial workers and other working people. In the last few decades and especially in the latter half of the 1960’s and the early 1970’s, strikes by nonindustrial workers became common, including joint strikes with industrial workers on the local, industry-wide, and national levels. Reacting sharply to political as well as social and economic issues, broad masses of nonindustrial workers are becoming a significant factor in the democratic antimonopoly movement.

Socialism introduces fundamental changes in the social position of the nonindustrial workers, as is graphically demonstrated in Soviet society. In prerevolutionary Russia the non-industrial workers, including the intelligentsia, constituted approximately 2 percent of the economically active population. Owing to the relative underdevelopment of capitalism, bourgeois and petit bourgeois elements prevailed among the non-industrial workers—bureaucrats, zemstvo employees, and commercial and industrial administrative personnel. Even petty civil servants in the railroad and postal and telegraph systems, who were described by Lenin as a genuine “proletariat of officialdom” (Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 6, p. 288), had certain privileges that were not granted to the workers. The “less proletarian” strata (Lenin’s term) of the nonindustrial workers vacillated during the socialist revolution, but a substantial proportion of the lower strata of nonindustrial workers supported the revolution from the outset. The Bolshevik Party drew the proletarian strata of the nonindustrial workers into the socialist revolution, involving them in workers’ control and the implementation of nationalization. However, some of the older bourgeois and petit bourgeois personnel among the nonindustrial workers resisted Soviet power, resorting especially to sabotage. By removing these hostile elements and reeducating the rest of the nonindustrial workers, the Communist Party gradually involved all the nonindustrial workers in socialist construction. With improvements in the Soviet state apparatus and with the implementation of industrialization, collectivization, and the cultural revolution, the class composition of the nonindustrial workers changed, chiefly through an influx of members of the working class and peasantry.

The number of nonindustrial workers increased significantly, jumping from 10.2 million in 1940 to 29.6 million in 1974. At the same time, there was a fundamental change in the proportion of specialists to nonspecialists. In 1940 there were one-fourth as many specialists as nonspecialists. In 1970 there were 32 percent more specialists than nonspecialists. The professional composition of the nonindustrial workers has changed steadily. The number of engineering and technical personnel has grown most rapidly (8.5 million in 1970). The number of scientific workers and teachers rose to 5 million in 1970, and the number of medical workers, to 2.7 million. The level of general and specialized education among nonindustrial workers has risen. In 1939 only 51.9 percent of those engaged primarily in mental labor had a secondary or higher education; in 1975 the figure was 96.8 percent. There has been a convergence or blending of sections of the industrial and nonindustrial workers.

In the USSR and other socialist countries the nonindustrial workers enjoy all the social gains accompanying socialism. The material well-being of the nonindustrial workers has risen as the prosperity of the entire people has increased. Nonindustrial workers have been active builders of the new society. Characteristic of the socialist countries is a very high level of trade union organization among the nonindustrial workers. A substantial number of advanced nonindustrial workers have joined the Marxist-Leninist Communist and workers’ parties.


Marx, K. Kapital, vols. 1–3. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vols. 23–25 (parts 1–2).
Marx, K. “Teorii pribavochnoi stoimosti” (vol. 4 of Kapital). Ibid., vol. 26, parts 1–3.
Engels, F. “Obshchestvennye klassy—neobkhodimye i izlishnie.” Ibid., vol. 19.
Lenin, V. I. “Karl Kautsky, Bernstein und das sozialdemokratische Programm” (review). Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 4.
Lenin, V. I. “Vnutrennee obozrenie.” Ibid., vol. 5.
Lenin, V. I. “Iz ekonomicheskoi zhizni Rossii.” Ibid., vol. 6.
Lenin, V. I. “Trudoviki i rabochaia demokratiia.” Ibid., vol. 21.
Lenin, V. I. Gosudarstvo i revoliutsiia. Ibid., vol. 33.
Lenin, V. I. “Uderzhat li bol’sheviki gosudartvennuiu vlast’?” Ibid., vol. 34.
Lenin, V. I. “Kak nam reorganizavat’ Rabkrin.” Ibid., vol. 45. Gorodskie srednie sloi sovremennogo kapitalisticheskogo obshchestva. Moscow, 1963.
Problemy izmeneniia sotsial’noi struktury sovetskogo obshchestva. Moscow, 1968.
Seniavskii, S. L. Izmeneniia v sotsial’noi strukture sovetskogo obshchestva, 1938–1970. Moscow, 1973.
Peschanskii, V. V. Sluzhashchie v burzhuaznom obshchestve. Moscow, 1975.
Croner, F. Die Angestellten in der modernen Gesellschaft. Frankfurt am Main-Vienna, 1954.
Mills, C. W. White Collar. Oxford [1959].
Lockwood, D. The Blackcoated Worker [2nd ed.] London [1966].
Steiner, H. Soziale Strukturveränderungen im modernen Kapitalismus: Zur Klassenanalyse der Angestellten in Westdeutschland. Berlin, 1967.


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