It is important to take note of the historical character of this phenomenon.
While the purchase and sale of labor power has existed from antiquity,
a substantial class of wage-workers did not begin to form in Europe until
the fourteenth century, and did not become numerically significant until
the rise of industrial capitalism (that is, the production of commodities
on a capitalist basis, as against mercantile capitalism, which merely exchanged
the surplus products of prior forms of production) in the eighteenth century.
It has been the numerically dominant form for little more than a century,
and this in only a few countries. In the United States, perhaps four-fifths
of the population was self-employed in the early part of the nineteenth
century. By 1870 this had declined to about one-third and by 1940
to no more than one-fifth; by 1970 only about one-tenth of the population
was self-employed. We are thus dealing with a social relation of
extremely recent date. The rapidity with which it has won supremacy
in a number of countries emphasizes the extraordinary power of the tendency
of capitalist economies to convert all other forms of labor into hired