Explanation of the Law on Fines Imposed on Factory Workers

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The pamphlet Explanation of the Law on Fines imposed on Factory Workers was written by Lenin in the autumn of 1895. It was printed in 3,000 copies in December of that year at the Lahta Press in St. Petersburg. This printshop was an illegal one belonging to the Narodnaya Volya group, which at that time had established relations with the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, and printed the latter’s publications. The original of the pamphlet was burned, like all others, after being set up in type.

For purposes of secrecy fictitious information was printed on the cover. For example, it was stated that the pamphlet was published by A. Y. Vasilyev’s book warehouse in Kherson, that it was printed at K. N. Snbbotin’s Press, Ekaterinoslav St., on premises belonging to a certain Kalinin; that it was on sale in all bookshops in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The title-page contained the inscription: “Permitted by the Censor. Kherson, November 14, 1895.” In 1897 the pamphlet was re-issued in Geneva by the League of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad.

It had a wide circulation, as is shown by the fact that according to reports of the Police Department, copies of it were found in the years 1895-1905 during searches and arrests in St. Petersburg, Kiev, Yaroslavl, Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Kazan, Sormovo, Nizhni Novgorod, Orekhovo-Zuyevo, Saratov, Krasnoyarsk, Perm, and other Russian towns.

I - What Are Fines?[edit source]

If we were to ask a worker whether he knows what fines are, the question would very likely astonish him. How can he not know what fines are, when he constantly has to pay them? What is there to ask about?

However, it only seems that there is nothing to ask about. Actually, most workers do not properly understand fines.

It is usually thought that a fine is a payment made to the employer for damage done to him by the worker. That is not true. A fine and compensation for damage are two different things. If a worker does some damage to another worker, the latter may demand compensation for the damage (e.g., for a piece of cloth which has been spoiled), but can not fine him. Similarly, if one factory owner does damage to another (e.g., fails to deliver goods on time), the latter can demand compensation, but he cannot fine the first factory owner. Compensation for damage is demanded of an equal, whereas a fine can only be imposed on a subordinate. Hence, compensation for damage must be claimed in court, whereas a fine is imposed by the employer out of court. A fine is sometimes imposed when the employer has suffered no damage: e.g., a fine for smoking. A fine is a penalty, and not compensation for damage. If a worker, let us say, is careless while smoking and burns the employer’s cloth, the employer not only fines him for smoking, but in addition makes a deduction for the burnt cloth. This example clearly shows the difference between a fine and compensation for damage.

Fines are not imposed to compensate for damage but to establish discipline, i.e., to secure subordination of the workers to the employer, to force the worker to fulfil the employer’s orders, to obey him during working hours. The law on fines in fact says that a fine is a “monetary penalty imposed by the factory management on its own authority with a view to the maintenance of order.” And the amount of the fine depends, therefore, not on the amount of the damage, but on the extent of the worker’s misdemeanour: the greater the misdemeanour, the greater the disobedience to the employer or departure from the employer’s demands, the greater the fine. If anybody goes to work for an employer, it is clear that he loses his freedom; he must obey his employer, and the employer may punish him. The peasant serfs worked for landlords, and the landlords punished them. The workers work for capitalists, and the capitalists punish them. The only difference is that formerly it was a man’s back that suffered, whereas now it is his purse.

It will perhaps be objected that joint work by a mass of workers at a mill or factory is impossible without discipline: order is needed on the job, somebody has to see that order is kept and that those who violate it are punished. Hence—we shall be told—fines are imposed not because the workers are not free, but because joint work requires order.

The objection is quite groundless, although at first sight people may be misled by it. It is only put forward by people who wish to conceal from the workers that they are not free agents. Order is certainly necessary wherever work is done jointly. But is it necessary that people who work should be subordinated to the tyranny of the factory owners, i.e., of people who do not work themselves and who are only strong because they have taken hold of all the machines, instruments and materials? Joint work cannot be done unless there is order, unless all submit to it; but work can be done in common without subordinating the workers to the factory owners. Joint work does, indeed, require that there is supervision to ensure the maintenance of order, but it does not at all require that the power to supervise others should always be vested in the one who does not work himself, but lives on the labour of others. Hence it can be seen that fines are imposed not because people work together, but because, under the present capitalist system, all working folk possess no property: all the machines, instruments, raw materials, land, and bread belong to the rich. The workers have to sell themselves to them so as not to starve. Once, however, they have sold themselves, they are of course obliged to subordinate themselves to them and suffer punishment at their hands.

Every worker desirous of understanding what fines are should be clear on this point. He must know this so as to refute the usual (and very mistaken) argument that fines are necessary since without them joint work is impossible. He must know this, so as to be able to explain to every worker the difference between a fine and compensation for damage, and why fines mean that the workers are not free, that they are subordinated to the capitalists.

II - How Were Fines Imposed Formerly and What Gave Rise to the New Legislation on Fines?[edit source]

The fines laws were introduced recently, only nine years ago. Before 1886 there were no such laws at all. Factory owners were able to impose fines for what they pleased and to any extent they wished. They did so on a monstrous scale and collected enormous sums for themselves out of it. Fines were sometimes imposed simply “at the employer’s discretion,” without the reason for the fine being given. Fines occasionally amounted to as much as half the earnings of the worker, so that the latter gave up to the employer fifty kopeks out of every ruble earned in the shape of fines. There were cases when extra fines, over and above the ordinary ones, were imposed; for example, 10 rubles for leaving the factory. Whenever the employer’s affairs were in a bad way, he would have no scruple about reducing wages, despite the existence of a contract. He would compel the foremen to be stricter in fining and in rejecting work done which had just the same effect as reducing the worker’s wages.

The workers long tolerated all this oppression, but as more and more big mills and factories, particularly weaving mills, were built, forcing out the small establishments and hand weavers, the workers’ indignation at the tyranny and oppression mounted. Some ten years ago there was a hitch in the affairs of the merchants and factory owners, what is called a crisis: goods were left on their hands; the factory owners suffered losses and began to increase fines with still greater energy. The workers, whose earnings were small enough as it was, could not bear the additional oppression, with the result that workers’ revolts took place in the Moscow, Vladimir and Yaroslavl gubernias. That was in 1885-86. Their patience exhausted, the workers stopped work and wreaked terrible vengeance on their oppressors, wrecking factory premises and machinery, sometimes setting fire to them, attacking managerial personnel, etc.

One of the most remarkable of these strikes was at the well-known Nikolskoye Mill belonging to Timofei Savvich Morozov (in the township of Nikolskoye, near Orekhovo Station on the Moscow-Nizhni Novgorod Railway). From 1882 onwards Morozov started reducing wages, and by 1884 there had been five reductions. At the same time fines were imposed with increasing severity, amounting in the whole mill to almost a quarter of the earnings (24 kopeks in fines for every ruble earned), and in the case of some workers to a half their earnings. To cover up these disgraceful fines, the mill office in the year preceding the outbreak did the following: workers who had been fined to the extent of half their earnings were discharged, but were given their jobs back again sometimes on the same day, together with new pay-books. In this way books that contained records of outrageous fines were destroyed. Where workers were absent without leave, deductions were made at the rate of 3 days’ pay for each day’s absence; for smoking, the fine amounted to 3, 4 or 5 rubles each time. Their patience exhausted, the workers struck work on January 7, 1885, and over several days wrecked the factory foodstore, foreman Shorin’s home and several other factory buildings. This terrific outbreak of some ten thousand workers (up to 11,000 were affected) greatly frightened the government, and was immediately followed by the appearance on the scene in Orekhovo-Zuyevo of troops, the Governor, a prosecutor from Vladimir, and one from Moscow. During negotiations with the strikers, the crowd presented the management with “conditions drawn up by the workers themselves.” In these the workers demanded that fines imposed from Easter 1884 onwards be refunded, that thenceforward fines should not exceed 5% of earnings, i.e., should not amount to more than 5 kopeks per ruble earned, and that for one day’s absence without permission the fine should not exceed one ruble. Further, the workers demanded a return to the wage rates of 1881-82, they demanded that the employer pay for idle days for which he was to blame, that 15 days’ clear notice be given before dismissal, and that goods produced be accepted by the management in the presence of witnesses from among the workers, etc.

This huge strike made a very great impression on the government, which saw that when the workers act in unison they constitute a dangerous force, particularly when the mass of the workers, acting in concert, advance their demands directly.The employers also sensed the workers’ strength and became more careful. The newspaper Novoye Vremya,[1] for example, published the following report from Orekhovo-Zuyevo: “The significance of last year’s outbreak” (i.e., the outbreak at Morozov’s in January 1885) “is that it immediately changed the old order in the factories, both in Orekhovo-Zuyevo and its environs.” That is to say, not only the owners of the Morozov mill had to change the abominable system when the workers jointly demanded its abolition, but even the neighbouring mill owners agreed to concessions, out of fear of outbreaks taking place at their factories, too. “The main thing,” stated the same newspaper, “is that a more human attitude to the workers has now been established, something that previously distinguished few of the factory managers.”

Even Moskovskiye Vedomosti[2] (this newspaper always supports the employers and blames the workers themselves for everything) understood the impossibility of retaining the old system and had to admit that arbitrary fining is an “evil that leads to disgraceful abuses,” that “factory stores are downright robbery,” that therefore a law and regulations concerning fines must be introduced.

The tremendous impression created by this strike was further heightened as a result of the trial of several workers. For violent behaviour during the strike, for attacking a military patrol (some of the workers were arrested during the strike and locked in a building, but they broke down the door and made off), 33 workers were brought to trial. This took place in Vladimir in May 1886. The jury found all the accused not guilty, since the testimony of the witnesses, including the owner of the mill, T. S. Morozov, manager Dianov and many of the weavers, shed light on all the abominable oppression to which the workers had been subjected. This verdict of the court was a direct condemnation not only of Morozov and his managers but of the old factory system as a whole.

The alarm and fury of the supporters of the mill owners was thoroughly aroused. The very same Moskovskiye Vedomosti, which after the outbreak had admitted the iniquity of the old system, now took a very different line. “The Nikolskoye Mill,” it asserted, “is one of the best mills. The workers’ relation to the factory is not a feudal or a compulsory one at all; they come voluntarily and leave without hindrance. Fines—but fines are essential in the mills; without them the workers would get out of hand, and you might as well close the mill.” All the blame, it asserted, lay with the workers themselves, who were “profligate, drunken and careless.” The verdict of the court could only “corrupt the masses of the people.”[3] “But it is dangerous to joke with the masses of the people,” ejaculated Moskovskiye Vedomosti. “What must the workers think, following the not-guilty verdict of the Vladimir court? The news of this decision spread like lightning through the whole of this manufacturing area. Our correspondent, who left Vladimir immediately after the announcement of the verdict, heard of it at all the stations. . . .”

Thus, the employers tried to scare the government by saying that if one concession were made to the workers, the next day they would demand another.

But the workers’ outbreaks were even more frightening, and so the government had to make concessions.

In June 1886 a new fines law appeared, which indicated in what cases the imposition of fines was permissible, specified the maximum fines, and laid it down that the fines must not go into the employer’s pocket, but must go to cover the needs of the workers themselves.

Many workers are not aware of this law, while those who are, imagine that the relief gained in the matter of fines is the handiwork of the government, and that thanks for this relief should be accorded to the authorities. We have seen that this is wrong. Despite the iniquity of the old factory system, the authorities did absolutely nothing to bring relief to the workers until the latter began to revolt against it, until the workers in their fury went so far as to start wrecking the factories and machinery, setting fire to goods and materials, and attacking managers and mill owners. Only then did the government get scared and make concessions. For the easing of their lot the workers should thank not the authorities but their comrades who worked for and secured the abolition of this disgraceful treatment.

The history of the outbreaks of 1885 shows us what a colossal force is the workers’ united protest. All that is required is to ensure that this force is used more consciously, that it is not wasted on wreaking vengeance on some particular factory owner, on wrecking some hated factory, that the whole force of this indignation and this hatred is directed against all factory owners combined, against the entire class of them, that it is expended on regular and persistent struggle against them.

Let us now make a detailed examination of our fines legislation. To acquaint ourselves with it, we must examine the following questions: 1) In what cases or on what grounds does the law permit the imposition of fines? 2) What, according to the law, should be the size of the fines? 3) What procedure for imposing fines is laid down in the law? i.e., who, according to the law, may fix the fine? May an appeal be lodged against it? What arrangements must be made to acquaint the worker in advance with the list of fines? How must the fines be recorded? 4) On what must fines be expended according to the law? Where is the money kept? How is it expended on the workers’ needs, and on what needs? Finally, the last question, 5) Does the fines law cover all workers?

When we have examined all these questions, we shall know not only what a fine is, but also all the particular rules and detailed regulations of Russian legislation on fines. And the workers need to know this, so that their reaction to each case of unjust fining may be an informed one, so that they may be able to explain to their comrades why there is injustice of one kind or another—whether because the factory management are violating the law, or because the law itself contains such unjust regulations—and so that they may be able accordingly to choose a suitable form of struggle against oppression.

III - On What Grounds May the Factory Owner Impose Fines?[edit source]

The law says that the grounds for imposing fines, i.e., the misdemeanours for which the factory owner is entitled to fine workers may be the following: 1) defective work; 2) absenteeism; 3) offences against good order. “No penalties,” says the law, “may be imposed on other grounds.”[4] Let us examine more closely each of these three grounds separately.

The first ground is defective work. The law states that “defective work is considered to be the production by the worker, through negligence, of defective articles and damage done by him when working to materials, machinery or other instruments of production.” The words “through negligence” should be remembered. They are very important. A fine may be imposed, accordingly, only for negligence. If the article proves to be of low quality not because of the worker’s negligence, but because, for example, the employer has supplied poor material, then the employer has no right to impose a fine. It is necessary that the workers should well understand this, and, if a fine is imposed for defective work, where the defect is due not to the worker’s fault, or his negligence, they must lodge a protest, because to impose a fine in that case is a direct violation of the law. Let us take another example: the worker is doing his job at a lathe near an electric bulb. A piece of iron flies off, hits the bulb and smashes it. The employer imposes a fine “for damage of materials.” Has he the right to do so? No, he has not, because it was not through negligence that the worker smashed the bulb: the worker is not to blame that the bulb was not protected at all against bits of iron, which are always flying off when work is in progress.[5]

The question now arises, does this law adequately protect the worker? Does it protect him against the employer’s arbitrary conduct and the unjust imposition of fines? Of course not, because the employer decides at his discretion whether the article is of good or bad quality; fault-finding is always possible, it is always possible for the employer to increase fines for defective work and through their medium get more work done for the same pay. The law leaves the worker unprotected, and gives the employer a loophole for oppressing him. Clearly the law is partial, has been drawn up to the employers’ advantage and is unjust.

How should the worker be protected? The workers have shown that long ago: during the 1885 strike the weavers at Morozov’s Nikolskoye Mill advanced, among other demands, the following: “that the good or bad quality of articles be established when they are handed in, in case of disagreement, with witnesses from among the operatives working close at hand, all this to be recorded in the goods receipt book.” (This demand was recorded in an exercise-book filled up “by general agreement of the workers” and handed in from the crowd to the prosecutor during the strike. The contents of the exercise-book were read out in court.) This demand is quite a fair one, because there can be no other way of averting the employer’s arbitrary conduct than to bring in witnesses when a dispute arises about quality, the witnesses without fail having to come from the workers’ ranks: foremen or clerks would never dare to oppose the employer.

The second ground for the imposition of fines is absenteeism. What does the law call absenteeism. “Absenteeism,” states the law, “as distinct from unpunctuality or unauthorised quitting of work, is failure to appear at work for not less than one half of the working day.” The law considers that unpunctuality or unauthorised quitting of work is, as we shall soon see, an “offence against good order,” and the fine, therefore, is a smaller one. If the worker is several hours late coming to the factory, but arrives before midday, this will not be absenteeism, but merely an offence against good order; if, however, he only arrives at midday, then it is absenteeism. Similarly, if the worker quits work without permission after midday, i.e., is away for several hours, this will be an offence against good order, but if he leaves for a full half-day it is absenteeism. The law states that if the worker is absent for more than three days consecutively or for more than six days all told in a month, the employer is entitled to discharge him. The question arises, is absence for half or the whole of a day always to be considered absenteeism? No. Only when there are no valid reasons for non-appearance at work. Valid reasons for non-appearance are enumerated in the law. They are as follows: 1) “loss of liberty by the worker.” That is to say, if the worker, for example, is arrested (on orders of the police or by sentence of a magistrate), the employer is not entitled when dismissing the worker to fine him for absenteeism, 2) “unexpected loss of property due to a serious accident,” 3) “fire,” 4) “flood.” E.g., if a worker during the spring thaws cannot get across the river, the employer is not entitled to fine him, 5) “sickness which makes it impossible for the worker to leave home” and 6) “death or severe illness of parents, husband, wife or children.” In all these six cases the worker is considered to have a valid excuse for non-appearance. But to avoid being fined for absenteeism, the worker has to produce evidence: they will not take his word for it in the office that he had a valid excuse for not appearing at work. A certificate should be secured from the doctor (in case of sickness, for example) or from the police (in case of fire, etc.). If a certificate cannot be obtained at once, it should be submitted later, and a demand made that no fine be imposed, and if it already has been, that it be cancelled.

Regarding these rules about valid reasons for non-appearance, it should be noted that they are as severe as if they applied to soldiers in barracks, and not to free men. They have been copied from those governing non-appearance in court: if anybody is accused of a crime, he is summoned by the investigator, and, as the accused, he is obliged to appear. Non-appearance is only permitted in precisely the same cases as those in which workers are permitted to absent themselves.[6] That is to say, the attitude of the law is just as strict to workers as it is to all sorts of swindlers, thieves, etc. Everybody understands why the rules about appearance in court are so strict; it is because the prosecution of crime concerns the whole of society. The failure, however, of a worker to appear at his place of work does not concern the whole of society, but only a single employer, and what is more, one worker can easily be replaced by another to prevent a stoppage of work. Which means that there was no need for the laws to have the strictness of military law. The capitalists, however, do not confine themselves to depriving the worker of all his time, so that he may work in the factory; they also want to deprive him of his will, of all interests and thoughts other than those connected with the factory. The worker is treated as though he were not a free man. That is why such fault-finding, bureaucratic rules, reminiscent of barrack life, are drawn up. For example, we have just seen that the law recognises the “death or severe sickness of parents, husband, wife or children” to be a valid reason for non-appearance. It says that in the law on appearance in court. Exactly the same is said in the law about the worker’s appearance at work. That is to say, if, for example, the worker’s sister, and not his wife, dies, he must not dare to miss a day’s work, must not dare to spend time on funeral arrangements: his time belongs not to himself, but to the employer. As to burial, the police may deal with it—no need to bother about that. According to the law on appearance in court, the interests of the family must yield place to the interests of society, for which the prosecution of criminals is necessary. According to the law on appearance at work, the interests of the worker’s family must yield place to the interests of the employer, who must have his profits. And after this, the fine gentlemen who draw up, execute and support such laws, dare to accuse the workers of not valuing family life! ...

Let us see whether the law on fines for absenteeism is a fair one. If the worker stays away from work for a day or two, that is considered absenteeism, and he is punished accordingly, and if he is away for more than three consecutive days he may be dismissed. Well, and if the employer stops the job (e.g., for lack of orders) or provides work only five days a week, instead of the established six? If the workers really possessed rights equal to those of the employers, then the law should be the same for the employer as for the worker. If the worker stops work, he loses his pay and pays a fine. So then, if the employer arbitrarily stops the job, he should, firstly, have to pay the worker his full wage for the whole period that the factory is at a standstill, and, secondly, he should be liable to be fined. But neither is laid down in the law. This example clearly confirms what we said previously about fines, namely that they signify the enslavement of the workers by the capitalist, they signify that the workers constitute a lower class without rights, condemned throughout their lives to work for the capitalists and to create their wealth, receiving in return a mere pittance that is insufficient to make life even tolerable. There can be no question of the employers paying fines for arbitrarily stopping jobs. But they do not even pay the workers their wages when work is stopped through no fault of theirs. That is a most outrageous injustice. The law only contains the rule that the contract between the employer and the worker ceases “where there is a stoppage of work at the factory for more than 7 days, due to fire, flood, boiler explosion, or similar cause.” The workers should strive to get a rule adopted making it obligatory on the factory owners to pay them wages during stoppages of work. This demand was publicly advanced by the Russian workers on January 11, 1885, during the well-known strike at T. S. Morozov’s mill.[7] The exercise-book of workers’ demands contained the following point: “that the deduction for absenteeism shall not exceed one ruble, and the employer shall pay for days idle through his fault, e.g., when machinery is stopped or undergoing repairs, in which connection each idle day to be recorded in the pay-book.” The workers’ first demand (that the fine for absenteeism shall not exceed one ruble) was implemented, becoming part of the fines law of 1886. The second demand (that the employer pay for days idle through his fault) was not implemented and the workers still have to fight for its adoption. To ensure that the struggle for this demand is a success, all workers should clearly understand the injustice of the law, should clearly understand what must be demanded. In each separate case when some factory is at a standstill and the workers get no wages, they should raise the question of the injustice of it, they should insist that so long as the contract with the employer has not been annulled, the latter is obliged to pay for each day, they should report the matter to the inspector, whose explanation will confirm to the workers the point that in fact the law does not deal with this matter and will give rise to discussion of the law by the workers. They should appeal to the courts when the possibility exists, requesting the exaction of payment of wages from the employer, and, finally, advance general demands for payment for idle days.

The third ground for the imposition of a fine is “offences against good order.” According to the law, such offences include the following 8 cases: 1) “unpunctuality or unauthorised quitting of work” (we have already indicated the difference between this and absenteeism); 2) “failure to observe on the factory premises the established rules regarding fire precautions, in those cases where the factory management, by virtue of Note 1 to Article 105, do not; consider it necessary to annul the contract of hire concluded with the workers.” This means that where the worker violates the rules regarding fire precautions, the law gives the employer the choice of either fining the worker or of dismissing him (“to annul the contract of hire,” as the law says); 3) “failure to observe cleanliness and tidiness on the factory premises”; 4) “breaking of silence while work is in progress by noisiness, shouting, bawling, quarrelling, or fighting”; 5) “disobedience.” It should be noted of this point that the employer has the right to fine the worker for “disobedience” only when the latter has not fulfilled a legitimate request, i.e., one based on the contract. If some arbitrary demand is made, not based on the contract between the worker and the employer, then no fine may be imposed for “disobedience.” Suppose the worker is doing a job at piece rates. The foreman tells him to drop the job and do another one. The worker refuses. In that case, to fine the worker for disobedience would be wrong since he contracted to do one particular job and, since he is on piece rates, for him to transfer to another would mean working for nothing; 6) “appearance at work drunk”; 7) “organisation of unauthorised games for money (cards, pitch and toss, etc.)” and 8) “failure to observe factory regulations.” These regulations are drawn up by the owner of each factory or mill and are confirmed by the factory inspector. Extracts from them are printed in the pay-books. The workers should read these regulations and know them, so as to check whether fines imposed on them for violation of factory regulations are legitimate or not. These regulations must be distinguished from the law, which is the same for all mills and factories; internal regulations differ for each factory. The law is endorsed or annulled on the authority of the tsar; factory regulations, by the factory inspector. Hence, if these regulations prove to be oppressive to the workers their annulment may be secured by appeal to the inspector (should he refuse to take action, an appeal may be lodged with the Factory Board). To show the need for distinguishing between the law and factory regulations, let us take an example. Suppose a worker is fined for failure to put in an appearance on a holiday or to work overtime at the demand of the foreman. Is such a fine proper or not? To answer this question we have to know the factory regulations. If they say nothing about the worker’s being obliged, on demand, to work overtime, then the fine is unlawful. If, however, the regulations state that the worker is obliged, on demand of the management, to appear on holidays or to work overtime, then the fine will be a legitimate one. To secure the annulment of this obligation, the workers must not direct their complaint against the fines, but demand that the factory regulations be amended. All the workers must be unanimous in this, and then, if they act together, they will be able to get the above regulations cancelled.

IV - How Big May Fines Be?[edit source]

We now know all the cases in which the law permits the fining of workers. Let us see what the law says about the size of the fines. The law does not fix one level for all factories. It only sets a maximum. This maximum is indicated separately for each of the three cases where fines may be imposed (defective work, absenteeism and offences against good order). For absenteeism the maximum fines are the following: under time rates, not more than six days earnings (reckoning fines for the whole month), that is to say, in the course of one month fines for absenteeism cannot be imposed to the amount of more than six days’ earnings.[8] If, however, payment is by the piece, then the maximum fine for absenteeism is 1 ruble per day and not more than a total of 3 rubles per month. Moreover, where the worker does not put in an appearance, he forfeits his pay for all the time missed. Further, the maximum fine for offences against good order is one ruble for each separate violation. Finally, as regards fines for defective work, no maximum is indicated in the law at all. One more maximum is indicated a general one embracing all fines: for non-appearance, offences against good order, and defective work combined. All these penalties combined “shall not exceed one-third of the earnings to which the worker is actually entitled on pay day.” In other words, if, say, 15 rubles are due to the worker fines may not, according to the law, amount to more than 5 rubles—for all violations, absenteeism and defects combined. If more than that amount in fines has accumulated, the employer must reduce them accordingly. In that case, however, the law gives the owner another right, namely, that of cancelling the contract where the fines total more than one-third of the worker’s earnings.[9]

These regulations concerning maximum fines are, it must be said, too severe on the worker, and protect the employer at his expense. Firstly, the law permits too high a level of fines, amounting to as much as one-third of earnings. This is a disgracefully high level. Let us compare this maximum with well-known cases of particularly big fines. The factory inspector of Vladimir Gubernia, Mr. Mikulin (who has written a book about the new law of 1886), speaks of the high level of factory fines before the law was adopted. Fines were heaviest in the weaving industry, and the heaviest fines at a weaving mill amounted to 10%, i.e., one-tenth of the workers’ earnings. The factory inspector of Vladimir Gubernia, Mr. Peskov, in his report[10] cites the following examples of particularly heavy fines. The heaviest of them was one of 5 rubles 31 kopeks, out of earnings to talling 32 rubles 31 kopeks. This equals 16.4% (16 kopeks per ruble), i.e., just less than a sixth of the earnings. That fine was called a heavy one, and not by the worker, but by the inspector. Yet our law permits fines to be twice as heavy, to amount to one-third of earnings, or 33 1/3 kopeks per ruble! Evidently, no more or less decent factory has imposed such fines as are permitted by our laws. Let us take the data on fines at T. S. Morozov’s Nikolskoye Mill before the strike of January 7, 1885. The fines at this mill were heavier, according to witnesses, than at the surrounding mills. They were so outrageous that 11,000 workers completely lost their patience. We shall very likely not err if we take this mill as an example of one where fines were outrageous. But how heavy were the fines there? Foreman weaver Shorin testified in court, as we have already stated, that fines amounted to anything up to half the earnings, and, generally speaking, ran from 30% to 50%, from 30 to 50 kopeks per ruble. But in the first place, this testimony was not confirmed by precise data; and, secondly, it relates either to specific cases or to one workshop. When the strikers were tried, some data on fines were read out in court. The earnings (monthly) and fines of 17 workers were cited: the earnings totalled 179 rubles 6 kopeks, while the fines totalled 29 rubles 65 kopeks. This means 16 kopeks in fines per ruble earned. The biggest fine of all these 17 cases was 3 rubles 85 kopeks out of 12 rubles 40 kopeks earnings. This equals 31 1-2 kopeks per ruble, and is at any rate less than what is permitted by our law. It is better, however, to take the data for the whole factory. Fines imposed in the year 1884 were heavier than in previous years and amounted to 23 1-4 kopeks per ruble (this was the highest figure: the fines constituting from 20 3-4 to 23 1-4 per cent of earnings). So then, at a factory which became notorious for its abominably high fines, these were at any rate lower than those permitted by Russian law! . . . There’s no gainsaying that the workers are well protected by such a law! The strikers at Morozov’s demanded that “fines should not exceed 5% of earnings; furthermore, the worker must be warned about bad work and be called in not more than twice a month.” The fines permitted by our legislation can only be compared with the interest drawn by usurers. It is hardly likely that any employer will dare to pile up fines to that extent; the law allows it, but the workers will not permit it.[11]

What distinguishes our laws on the size of fines is not only their abominable oppressiveness but also their gross injustice. If the fine is too big (more than one-third), the employer may cancel the contract; the worker, however, is not given a similar right, i.e., the right to leave the factory if fines are imposed on him to such an amount that they exceed a third of his earnings. It is clear that the law is only concerned about the factory owner, as though fines are due only to the fault of the workers. Actually, however, everybody knows that the factory owners frequently impose fines without the workers being to blame at all, e.g., in order to speed up the workers. The law only protects the factory owner against the bad worker, but does not protect the worker against the all too oppressive employer. In the latter case, therefore, the workers have nobody to turn to for protection. They must take thought for themselves and for the struggle against the employers.

V - What Is the Procedure for Imposing Fines?[edit source]

We have already stated that by law fines are imposed “on the authority” of factory managements “themselves.” Regarding appeals against their instructions the law says that “there is no appeal against fines imposed on the workers by factory managers. If, however, on visiting a factory, officials of the Factory Inspectorate discover from the statements of workers that fines have been imposed on them in contravention to the requirements of the law, the manager shall be prosecuted.” This provision, as you see, is very unclear and contradictory. On the one hand, the worker is told that there can be no appeal against a fine imposed. Yet on the other hand he is told that the workers may “make statements” to the inspector about fines imposed “in contravention to the law.” Anybody who has not had occasion to acquaint himself with Russian laws may ask what is the difference between “to make a statement about unlawful action” and “to appeal against unlawful action”? There is none, but the purpose of this pettifogging provision of the law is very clear: the law is meant to curtail the worker’s right to appeal against unfair and unlawful fining by factory owners. Now if a worker should complain to an inspector about a fine unlawfully imposed, the inspector could reply that “the law does not permit appeals against fining.” Are there many workers acquainted with this tricky law who could reply in turn: “I am not appealing, I am merely making a statement”? Inspectors are appointed for the express purpose of ensuring the observance of the laws regulating the relations between workers and employers. It is the duty of inspectors to accept all statements concerning the non-observance of the law.The inspector, according to regulations (see Instructions to Factory Inspectorate Officials,[12] endorsed by the Minister of Finance), must have reception days, not less than one a week, on which to give oral explanations to persons requiring them; furthermore, an announcement of these days must be displayed in each factory. Thus, if the workers know the law and are determined not to permit any departures from it, then the trickery of the law now referred to will be in vain, and the workers will be able to secure the observance of the law. Are they entitled to the return of fines paid, if these were wrongly imposed? The common-sense answer should, of course, be “yes.” The employer must surely not be allowed to fine the worker wrongly and to refuse to return money wrongly exacted It turns out, however, that when the law was discussed in the Council of State,[13] it was deliberately decided to be silent on this point. The members of the Council of State found that to afford the workers the right to demand the return of wrongly exacted money “will lower in the workers’ eyes the importance with which it is intended to endow the factory manager, with a view to maintaining order among the workers.” That is how statesmen judge the workers! If a factory owner has wrongly penalised a worker, the latter should not be given the right to demand the return of his money. But why deprive the worker of his money? Because complaints “will lower the importance of the managers”! That is to say, “the importance of the managers” and “the maintenance of order in the factories” are only based on the workers not knowing their rights and “not daring” to complain against those in charge, even if they violate the law! So the statesmen are positively afraid lest the workers take it into their heads to see to the proper imposition of fines! The workers should thank the members of the Council of State for their forthrightness in showing them what the workers may expect of the government. The workers must show that they consider themselves human beings just as much as the factory owners do, and that they have no intention of allowing themselves to be treated as dumb cattle. Therefore the workers must make it their duty not to let a single case of wrongful fining pass without appeal, and unfailingly present a demand for the return of their money—either to the inspector, or, in case of his refusal, to the courts. Even if the workers achieve nothing, either from the inspectors, or from the courts, their efforts will still not be in vain, but will open the eyes of the workers, and will show them how our laws treat the workers’ rights.

So then, we now know that fines are imposed on the managers’ “own authority.” But at each factory the fines may be of different amounts (since the law merely indicates the maximum above which fines may not be imposed) and there may be different factory regulations. That is why the law requires that all violations liable to fines, and the measure of the fine for each violation be indicated in advance in the table of penalties. This table is drawn up by each factory owner separately, and is endorsed by the factory inspector. It must be displayed, according to law, in each workshop.

To render possible a check on whether fines are being imposed properly, and in what number, it is necessary that all the fines without exception be properly recorded. The law requires that fines must be recorded in the worker’s pay-book “not later than three days following the date of imposition.” This record must indicate, first, the grounds for the imposition of the fine (i.e., for what the fine has been imposed—for defective work and for exactly what work, for absenteeism, or for violating regulations, and exactly which), and, secondly, the amount of the penalty. The registration of fines in the pay-book is necessary to enable the workers to check whether fines are properly imposed and to enter an appeal in good time in case of any illegal action. Further, the fines must all be recorded in a special book with numbered pages which has to be kept in each factory to make it possible for all fines to be checked by the Inspectorate.

In this regard it may not be superfluous to say a couple of words about appeals against factory owners and inspectors, since the bulk of the workers do not know how to appeal and to whom. According to the law, appeals against any violations of the law at a factory should be addressed to the factory inspector. He is obliged to accept verbal and written complaints. Should the factory inspector fail to meet the request, a statement may be addressed to a senior inspector, who is also obliged to have reception days for hearing statements. In addition, the senior inspector’s office must be open daily for persons who need to make inquiries or to receive explanations or to make statements (see Instructions to Factory Inspectorate Officials, p. 18). Appeals against the inspector’s decision may be addressed to the Gubernia Factory Affairs Board.[14] The time limit for these appeals, as provided by law, is one month counting from the day the inspector announces his decision. Further, appeals against decisions of the Factory Board may be made to the Minister of Finance, the time limit being the same.

As you see, the law contains the names of many people to whom appeals may be addressed. And the right to appeal belongs alike to the factory owner and the worker. The only trouble is that this protection is merely a paper one. The factory owner is fully able to present his appeals—he has time to spare, funds to get a lawyer’s services, etc., and that is why the factory owners really present appeals against the inspectors, go all the way to the minister and have already secured preferential treatment of various kinds. As far as the worker is concerned, however, this right to present appeals is merely a paper one. First of all, he has no time to make the round of the inspectors and offices. He works and is fined for “absenteeism.” He lacks the money to obtain a lawyer’s services. He does not know the laws, and therefore cannot stand up for his rights. The authorities, on the other hand, not only do nothing to acquaint the workers with the laws, but on the contrary try to hide them from the workers. To anybody who refuses to believe this we shall cite the following regulation from the Instructions to Factory Inspectorate Officials (these instructions were endorsed by the minister and explain the rights and duties of factory inspectors): “All explanations to the owner of an industrial establishment, or to the manager of same, relating to cases of violation of the law and to obligatory regulations published in pursuance of it are made by the factory inspector, but only in the absence of the worker.”[15] There you have it. If the factory owner violates the law, the inspector must not dare speak to him of it in the presence of the workers—the minister forbids it! Otherwise the workers may perhaps really get to know the law and start demanding that it be put into effect! Small wonder that Moskovskiye Vedomosti wrote that that would be nothing but “corruption”!

Every worker knows that appeals, especially against the inspector, are almost completely beyond his reach. Of course, we do not wish to say that the workers should not appeal: on the contrary, whenever any possibility at all exists, they should certainly lodge appeals, because only in that way will the workers get to know their rights and learn to understand in whose interests the factory laws are written. All we wish to say is that appeals cannot secure any serious and general improvement in the workers’ conditions. To achieve that only one way exists, namely, that the workers unite to uphold their rights, to combat oppression by the employers, and to win more decent earnings and shorter working hours.

VI - What, According To Law, Should The Fines Be Spent On?[edit source]

Let us now turn to the last question concerning fines. How are the fines spent? We have already said that before 1886 the money went into the pockets of the factory owners. But this system resulted in such a mass of abuses, and exasperated the workers to such a degree that the employers themselves began to appreciate the need for abolishing it. At some factories the practice arose spontaneously of using the fines to pay benefits to the workers. For example, at that same Morozov mill the established practice even before the 1885 strike was that fines for smoking and for bringing vodka on the premises should go towards benefits for the crippled and fines for defective work, to the employer.

The new law of 1886 laid down the general rule that fines must not go into the employer’s pocket. It states that “penalties imposed on the workers go in each factory to form a special fund in the charge of the factory management. This fund may be used, by permission of the inspector, only for the needs of the workers themselves, according to regulations published by the Minister of Finance in agreement with the Minister of Internal Affairs.” So then, fines, according to law, must only go to meet the needs of the workers themselves. The fines are the workers’ own money, deductions from their earnings.

The regulations for the expenditure of the fines fund mentioned in the law were only issued in 1890 (December 4), i.e., a total of 3 1-2 years after the promulgation of the law. The regulations state that the fines are expended, in the main, on the following needs of the workers: “a) on grants to workers who have become totally incapacitated or who have temporarily lost the ability to work because of illness.” At the present time workers who have been injured are usually without any means of subsistence. In order to take the factory owner to court they usually live at the expense of the lawyers who are in charge of their case and who, in return for the sops they give to the workers, get the bulk of the compensation awards. And if the worker is only likely to get a small compensation through the court, he will not even find a lawyer. In such cases use should always be made of the fines money; if the worker gets a grant from the fines fund he will manage somehow for a time and will be able to secure the services of a lawyer to conduct his case against the employer, without his poverty driving him out of the clutches of the employer into those of the lawyer. Workers who lose their jobs through sickness should also secure grants from their fines fund.[16]

In interpretation of this first point of the regulations, the St. Petersburg Factory Board decided that grants should be made on the basis of a doctor’s certificate, to the extent of not more than half the previous earnings. Let us note in parenthesis that the St. Petersburg Factory Board adopted this decision at its session of April 26, 1895. The interpretation was accordingly given 4 1-2 years after the issue of the regulations, while the regulations were made 3 1-2 years after issue of the law. Consequently, eight years in all were required merely for the law to be adequately interpreted !! How many years will now be required for the law to become generally known, and to be actually applied?

Secondly, disbursements from the fines fund are made “b) for grants to working women in the last period of pregnancy and who have ceased work 2 weeks before confinement.” According to the interpretation of the St. Petersburg Factory Board, disbursements must only be made during a period of 4 weeks (two before and two after confinement) and to the extent of half the previous earnings.

Thirdly, grants are made “c) where property is lost or damaged due to fire or other misfortune.” According to the interpretation of the St. Petersburg Board, a police certificate is presented as evidence in such cases and the size of the grant must not exceed two-thirds of a half-year’s earnings i.e., four months’ earnings).

Fourthly, and finally, grants are made “d) for burial.” According to the interpretation of the St. Petersburg Board, these grants are made only in the case of workers who were employed and died at the factory in question, or of their parents and children. The amount of the grants is from 10 to 20 rubles.

Such are the four cases mentioned in the regulations in which grants are made. But the workers have the right to receive grants in other cases, too: the regulations state that grants are made “in the main” in those 4 cases. The workers are entitled to receive grants for all sorts of requirements, and not only for those enumerated. The St. Petersburg Board in its interpretation of the regulations concerning fines (this interpretation is hung up in factories) also says that “the allocation of grants in all other cases is made by permission of the Inspectorate,” and the Board added that grants should under no circumstances reduce the factory’s disbursements on various institutions (e.g., schools, hospitals, etc.) and compulsory expenditures (e.g., on keeping premises occupied by the workers in proper repair, on medical aid, etc.). This means that the making of grants from the fines fund does not entitle the factory owner to consider this an expenditure of his own; it is not his expenditure but that of the workers themselves. The factory owner’s disbursements must remain as before.

The St. Petersburg Board laid down one more regulation—“the total regular grants made must not exceed one half of the annual receipts from fines.” Here a distinction is made between regular grants (which are made over a definite period, for example, to a sick or injured person) and lump-sum grants (which are made once, e.g., for burial or in case of fire). In order to leave funds for lump-sum grants, the regular grants must not exceed half the total fines.

How can grants be got from the fines fund? The workers must, according to the regulations, apply for grants to the employer, who makes them by permission of the inspector. If the employer refuses, an appeal should be made to the inspector, who may award a grant on his own authority.

The Factory Board may allow reliable employers to make small grants (of up to 15 rubles) without requesting the inspector’s permission.

Fines to a total of 100 rubles are kept in the employer’s possession, while larger sums are placed in a savings bank.

Should any factory close down, the fines fund is transferred to the gubernia general workers’ fund. It is not stated in the regulations how this “workers’ fund” (about which the workers do not and cannot know anything) is expended. It should, we are told, be kept in the State Bank “pending further instructions.” If even in the capital it required 8 years for regulations to be made about the disbursement of the fines funds at the different factories, more than a dozen years will very likely be required before regulations are devised for the disbursement of the “gubernia general workers’ fund.”

Such are the regulations concerning the disbursement of the fines money. As you see, they are distinguished by their extreme complexity and intricacy; no wonder, therefore, that to this day the workers are almost totally unaware of their existence. This year (1895) notices about these regulations are being put up at the factories of St. Petersburg.[17] The workers themselves must now try to make these regulations generally known, must ensure that the workers learn to view grants from the fines fund properly— not as sops from the owners, not as charity, but as their own money made up of deductions from their earnings and disbursed only to meet their needs. The workers have every right to demand that this money be distributed to them.

Regarding these regulations we must speak, firstly, of how they are applied, and of what inconveniences and what abuses arise. Secondly, we must see whether they have been drawn up fairly, and whether they adequately uphold the interests of the workers.

As to the application of the regulations we must point first of all to the following interpretation given by the St. Petersburg Factory Board: “If at any particular moment no fines money is available . . . the workers may not present any claims to the factory managements.” The question, however, arises: how will the workers know whether or not fines money is available, and if it is, how much there is of it? The Factory Board argues as though the workers know this—yet it has taken no trouble to let the workers know the state of the fines fund, nor has it obliged the factory owners to hang up notices about the fines money. Does the Factory Board really imagine that it is sufficient for the workers to learn about it from the employer, who will drive applicants away when there is no fines money in hand? That would be disgraceful because the employers would then treat workers desirous of receiving grants as though they were beggars. The workers must ensure that at each factory an announcement is displayed monthly about the state of the fines fund, indicating how much cash is in hand, how much has been received in the past month, and how much has been expended and “on what items.” Otherwise the workers will not know how much they can get; they will not know whether the fines fund can meet all their requirements or only part of them, in which case it would be fairest to choose the most urgent items. Some of the best organised factories have themselves introduced such announcements: in St. Petersburg, I think, it is done at the Siemens and Halske works and at the government cartridge factory. If every time the worker has a discussion with the inspector, he insistently draws attention to this and urges the need for displaying a notice, the workers as a whole will certainly secure the adoption of it everywhere. Further, it would be very convenient for the workers if printed forms[18] were available at factories for applications for grants from the fines fund. Such forms have been introduced, for example, in Vladimir Gubernia. It is not easy for the worker himself to put the whole application in writing, and what is more he won’t know how to write all that is required, whereas the form contains all items, and all he has to do is to fill in a few words in the blank spaces. If forms are not introduced, many workers will have to get clerks to write their applications for them, and this involves expenditure. Of course, the applications may according to the regulations, be oral; but, firstly, the worker has in any case to get the police or doctor’s certificate required by the regulations (where an application form is used, the certifying statement is recorded on the form itself), and, secondly, where the application is oral, some employer will perhaps refuse to reply, whereas he is obliged to reply to one made in writing. Applications made to the factory office on printed forms will deprive them of the mendicant character which the employers try to attach to them. Many factory owners are particularly dissatisfied with the fact that the fines money—according to the law—goes not into their pockets, but to serve the needs of the workers. That is why many dodges and devices have been invented for bamboozling the workers and inspectors and evading the law. As a warning to the workers we shall mention a few such devices.

Some factory owners have not recorded fines as such but as money issued to the worker. The worker is fined a ruble, but the record made in the book says that he has been issued a ruble. When deducted from the pay this ruble remains in the employer’s pocket. That is not just evasion of the law, it is downright cheating, fraud.

Other factory owners do not record fines for absenteeism; instead they do not credit the worker with all his days worked, i.e., if, say, the worker absents himself one day in the week, he is not credited with five days’ work, but with four, the wage of one day (which should have been a fine for absenteeism and should have gone to the fines fund) going to the employer. This again is sheer fraud. Incidentally let us note that the workers are quite helpless against such fraud,[19] because they are not told of the state of the fines fund. Only if detailed monthly notices are posted (indicating the number of fines imposed each week in each separate workshop) can the workers see to it that the fines really go to the fines fund. Indeed, who will see to it that all these records are correct, if not the workers themselves? The factory inspectors? But how is the inspector to discover that such and such a figure has been fraudulently entered into the book? Mr. Mikulin, a factory inspector, in dealing with such fraud, remarks:

“In all such cases it was exceedingly difficult to discover the abuses, if there was no direct reference to same in the shape of workers’ complaints.” The inspector himself admits his inability to discover fraud if the workers do not point it out. And the workers cannot do so if the factory owners are not obliged to put up notices about fines imposed.

Still other factory owners have invented more convenient methods of duping the workers and evading the law, methods so cunning and underhanded as to make it difficult to find fault with them. Many cotton mill owners in Vladimir Gubernia applied for the inspector’s endorsement of two or even three rates instead of only one for each kind of cotton cloth; in a footnote to the list it was stated that weavers producing cloth that is faultless are paid the top rate, those producing cloth that is faulty are paid rate No. 2, while cloth that is considered damaged is paid for at the lowest rate.[20] It is clear why this cunning arrangement was invented: the difference between the top and bottom rates went into the owner’s pocket, while the difference actually meant a penalty for defective work and therefore should have gone into the fines fund. This was clearly a gross evasion of the law, and not only of the fines law, but also of the law on rate endorsement; the rate is endorsed so as to prevent the employer arbitrarily altering the wages, whereas if not one, but several rates exist, he obviously is given the fullest license.

The factory inspectors saw that such rates were “evidently aimed at evading the law” (all this is related by the self same Mr. Mikulin in the above-mentioned books; nevertheless, they “considered they had no right ” to oppose the respected factory-owning “gentlemen.”

Why, of course. It is no easy matter opposing the owners (not one, but several employers simultaneously hit on this way of doing things!). But suppose the workers, and not “Messrs.” the Mill Owners, tried to evade the law. It would be interesting to know whether there would be a single factory inspector throughout the Russian Empire who would “consider he had no right ” to oppose the workers in an attempt to evade the law.

Thus, these two- and three-storey rates were endorsed by the Factory Inspectorate and put into operation. It turned out, however, that Messrs. the Mill Owners, who invent ways of evading the law, and Messrs. the Inspectors, who do not consider they have the right to hinder the owners in their good intention, are not alone in their interest in the rate problem . . . the workers, too, are interested. The workers proved to lack that gentle tolerance of the mill owners’ knavish tricks, and “considered they had the right” to prevent these mill owners from swindling them.

These rates, Mr. Inspector Mikulin tells us, “aroused such dissatisfaction among the workers that it was one of the chief causes of the violent disorders which broke out and required the intervention of armed force.”

That’s the sort of thing which is going on! At first they “considered they had no right” to prevent Messrs. the Mill Owners from violating the law and bamboozling the workers—but when the workers, indignant at these iniquities, revolted, armed force was “required”! But why was this armed force “required” against the workers, who were upholding their lawful rights, and not against the mill owners, who were obviously violating the law? At all events, it was only after the workers revolted that “rates of this kind were abolished by order of the Governor.” The workers stood their ground. The law was not introduced by Messrs. the Factory Inspectors, but by the workers themselves, who had shown that they would not permit anybody to slight them and would stand up for their rights. “Subsequently,” relates Mr. Mikulin, “the Factory Inspectorate refused to endorse such rates.” Thus the workers taught the inspectors to give effect to the law.

It was, however, only the Vladimir mill owners who were taught that lesson. Yet factory owners are the same everywhere, whether they are in Vladimir, Moscow, or St. Petersburg. The attempt of the Vladimir mill owners to circumvent the law was a failure, but the method they devised not only remained, but was even improved on by a certain St. Petersburg factory owner of genius.

What was the method of the Vladimir mill owners? It was that of not using the word fine, but of replacing it by other words. If I say that the worker, in case of defective work, gets a ruble less, that will be a fine, and it will have to go into the fines fund. But if I say that, in case of defective work, the worker is paid at a lower rate, then that will not be a fine, and the ruble will land in my pocket. That was how the Vladimir mill owners argued, but the workers rebuffed them. One can argue in a slightly different way, too. One can say: where work is defective the worker will be paid without bonus; then again this will not be a fine, and the ruble will land in the employer’s pocket. That is the line of argument devised by Yakovlev, the artful owner of a St. Petersburg engineering works. He says the following: you will get a ruble a day, but if you are not guilty of any misdemeanours, absenteeism, incivility, or defective work, you will get a “bonus” of 20 kopeks. If, however, a misdemeanour does take place, the employer deducts twenty kopeks, and, of course, puts them in his pocket—because, after all, it is “bonus” money and not a fine. All laws indicating what are the misdemeanours for which penalties may be imposed, and in what measure, and how they should be spent on the workers’ needs, are non-existent so far as Mr. Yakovlev is concerned. The laws refer to “fines,” and he is dealing with “bonuses.” The astute factory owner continues to this day to swindle the workers by his pettifogging tricks. The St. Petersburg Factory Inspector very likely also did “not consider he had the right ” to prevent this evasion of the law. Let us hope that the workers of St. Petersburg will not lag behind those of Vladimir and will teach the inspector and the factory owner how to observe the law.

To show what huge sums of money are collected out of the fines, let us quote reports on the size of fines funds in Vladimir Gubernia.

Grants began to be distributed there in February 1891. By October 1891, grants had been made to 3,665 persons to a total of 25,458 rubles 59 kopeks. By October 1, 1891, the fines fund totalled 470,052 rubles 45 kopeks. Incidentally reference should be made to another of the uses to which the fines fund is put. At a certain factory the fines fund amounted to 8,242 rubles 46 kopeks. The factory went bankrupt, and the workers were left to face the winter without food or work. Then grants totalling 5,820 rubles of this fund were distributed among the workers, of whom there were as many as 800.

From October 1, 1891, to October 1, 1892, fines totalling 94,055 rubles 47 kopeks, were imposed, while grants made to 6,312 persons amounted to only 45,200 rubles 52 kopeks. The grants were distributed as follows: 208 persons were given monthly disability pensions to a total of 6,198 rubles 20 kopeks, that is to say an average annual grant of 30 rubles per person (these beggarly grants are made while tens of thousands of rubles, fines money, are lying unused!). Further, in connection with loss of property 1,037 persons were given a total of 17,827 rubles 12 kopeks, an average of 18 rubles per person. Expectant mothers received 10,641 rubles 81 kopeks, in 2,669 cases, an average of 4 rubles (that is, for three weeks, one before confinement and two after). Sickness grants were made to 877 workers to a total of 5,380 rubles 68 kopeks, an average of 6 rubles. Funeral grants totalled 4,620 rubles—to 1,506 workers (3 rubles each), and miscellaneous—532 rubles 71 kopeks to 15 persons.

Now we have fully acquainted ourselves with the fines regulations and with the way these regulations are applied. Let us see whether the regulations are fair, and whether the workers’ rights are adequately protected.

We know that the law states that the fines money does not belong to the employer, and that it can only go to serve the workers’ needs. Regulations dealing with the expenditure of the money had to be endorsed by the ministers.

What, however, came of the regulations? The money is collected from the workers and is expended on their needs—but the regulations do not even state that the employers are obliged to inform the workers of the state of the fines fund. The workers do not possess the right to elect representatives, who will see to the proper flow of money into the fines fund, and who will accept applications from workers and distribute grants. The law states that grants are made “by permission of the inspector,” but according to the regulations issued by the ministers, it turns out that applications for grants have to be addressed to the employer. But why should applications be made to the employer? Surely the money is not the employer’s, but the workers’, made up of deductions from their earnings. The employer himself has no right to touch this money: if he spends it, he is responsible for doing so, as for misappropriation and embezzlement, just as if he has spent somebody else’s money. The reason the ministers issued these regulations is apparently because they wanted to do a service to the employers: now the workers have to ask the employer for grants, just as if they were asking for doles. True, if the employer refuses, the inspector may allocate the grant himself. But then the inspector himself does not know the facts—and he will be told by the owner that the worker is such and such a kind of person, that he does not deserve a grant, and the inspector will believe the owner.[21] And then, are there many workers who will bother to address complaints to the inspector, losing working time to visit him, and writing applications and so forth? Actually, thanks to the ministerial regulations, we only get a new form of workers’ dependence on the employers. The employers are enabled to victimise those workers with whom they are dissatisfied, maybe for refusing to take things lying down: by rejecting a worker’s application the employer will certainly cause him lots of extra trouble, and maybe succeed in depriving him of a grant altogether. On the other hand, the employer may allow quite big grants to be made to those workers who curry favour with him and kowtow to him, and who act as informers on their workmates even in cases where other applications would be rejected. Instead of abolishing the workers’ dependence on the employers in the matter of fines, we get a new dependence, which splits the workers and creates the servile and the go-getter types. And then, take note of the awful red tape that, according to the regulations, surrounds the receipt of grants: on each occasion the worker requiring a certificate has to approach a doctor, who will very likely give him a rough reception, or the police, who do nothing without bribes. Let us repeat, the law says nothing about that; it has been established by the ministerial regulations, which have obviously been drawn up to suit the factory owners, and which are clearly aimed at supplementing dependence on the employers with the dependence of the workers on officials, at barring the workers from all participation in the expenditure on their needs of the fines money taken from themselves, and at weaving a web of senseless formalities that stupefies and demoralises[22] the workers.

To give the employer the right to authorise the making of grants from the fines money is a crying injustice. The workers must strive for the legal right to choose deputies who shall see that the fines go into the fines fund, receive and check workers’ applications for grants, and report to the workers about the state of the fines fund and its expenditure. At those factories where deputies now exist, they should pay attention to the fines money and demand that they be given all data relating to the fines, and that they should accept workers’ applications and deliver them to the management.

VII - Do the Fines Laws Apply to All Workers?[edit source]

The fines laws, like most other Russian laws, do not apply to all factories, do not apply to all workers. When it issues a law, the Russian Government is always afraid that it will hurt the gentlemen who own the factories, is afraid that the network of cunning office regulations and officials’ rights and duties will clash with some other office regulations (and we have countless numbers of them), with the rights and duties of some other officials, who will be terribly hurt if some new official bursts into their domain, and will consume barrels of official ink and mounds of paper on correspondence about “departmental delimitation.” For that reason a law is rarely introduced in this country for the whole of Russia at once, without exceptions, without cowardly delays, without ministers and other officials being permitted to depart from the law.

All this particularly affected the fines law, which, as we have seen, aroused such dissatisfaction among the capitalist gentlemen, and was only adopted under the pressure of portentous workers’ revolts.

Firstly, the fines law only covers a small part of Russia.[23] This law was issued, as we have said, on June 3, 1886, and became operative as from October 1, 1886, in only three gubernias, those of St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Vladimir. Five years later the law was extended to Warsaw and Petrokov gubernias (June 11, 1891). Then, three years still later it was extended to 13 more gubernias(of the Central gubernias—Tver, Kostroma, Yaroslavl, Nizhni-Novgorod, and Ryazan; of the Ostsee gubernias[24]—Estland and Linand; of the Western gubernias—Grodno and Kiev; and of the Southern gubernias—Volhynia, Podolsk, Kharkov and Kherson)—according to the law of March 14, 1894. In 1892 the fines regulations were extended to cover private ironworks and mines.

The rapid development of capitalism in the south of Russia, and the tremendous development of mining is bringing together masses of workers there, and compelling the government to hurry.

The government is evidently very slow in abandoning the old factory system. And it should be noted that it is abandoning that system only under the pressure of the workers: the growth of the working-class movement and the strikes in Poland caused the extension of the law to the Warsaw and Petrokov gubernias (the town of Lodz is in Petrokov Gubernia). The huge strike at the Khludov Mill, Yegoryevsk Uyezd, Ryazan Gubernia, immediately resulted in the law being extended to Ryazan Gubernia. The government evidently also does “not consider it has the right” to deprive Messrs. the Capitalists of the right to uncontrolled (arbitrary) fining until the workers themselves interfere.

Secondly, the fines law, like all the factory inspection regulations, does not cover crown and government establishments. Government factories have their own chiefs “concerned with the welfare” of the workers, people whom the law does not wish to bother with fines regulations. Indeed, why supervise government factories, when the factory chief is an official himself? The workers can complain about him to himself. Small wonder that among these chiefs of government factories one can find such mischief-makers as, for example, the St. Petersburg Harbourmaster, Mr. Verkhovsky.

Thirdly, the regulations concerning fines funds spent on the workers themselves do not cover workers employed in the shops of those railways which have pensions or savings and mutual benefit funds. The fines are paid into these funds.

All these exceptions still seemed insufficient and so the law contains the decision that the ministers (of Finance and of Internal Affairs) have the right, on the one hand, “to remove unimportant factories from subordination” to these regulations “where really necessary” and, on the other hand, to extend the operation of these regulations to “important” artisan establishments.

Thus, not only did the law instruct the minister to draw up the fines money regulations—it also gave the ministers the right to free some factory owners from subordination to the law! Such is the extent of our law’s kindness to the factory-owning gentry! In one of his interpretations the minister states that he only frees such factory owners regarding whom the Factory Board “is certain that the owner: of the establishment will not transgress the workers’ interests .” The factory owners and inspectors are such close boon companions that they take each other’s word. Why burden the factory owner with regulations, when he “gives the assurance” that he will not transgress the workers’ interests? Now, what if the worker should try to require of the minister or the inspector that he be released from the regulations, after “giving the assurance” that he will not transgress the factory owner’s interests? Such a worker would very likely be considered insane.

That is called “the possession of equal rights” by the workers and the factory owners.

As to the extension of the fines regulations to important artisan establishments, these regulations, so far as is known, have hitherto (in 1893) only been applied to distribution offices which supply warp to home-working weavers. The ministers are in no hurry to extend the operation of the fines regulations. The entire mass of workers doing jobs at home for employers, big stores, etc., continue under the old conditions, totally subordinate to the tyranny of the employers. It is more difficult for these workers to join forces, to arrive at agreement as to their needs, to undertake a common struggle against oppression by the employers—that is why no attention is paid to them.

VIII - Conclusion[edit source]

We have now acquainted ourselves with our fines laws and regulations, with all this exceptionally complicated system that frightens the worker away with its dryness and unattractive official language.

We can now return to the question raised at the outset, to that of fines being a product of capitalism, i.e., of such a social order under which the people are divided into two classes, the owners of the land, machines, mills and factories, materials and supplies—and those who have no property, and who therefore have to sell themselves to the capitalists and work for them.

Has it always been the case that workers in the service of an employer have had to pay him fines for all sorts of detects?

In small establishments—for example, among the urban artisans or workers—no fines are imposed. There is no complete alienation of the worker from the master, they live and work together. The master does not dream of introducing fines, because he himself keeps an eye on the job and can always force the correction of what he does not like.

But such small establishments and trades are gradually disappearing. The handicraftsmen and artisans, and also the small peasants, cannot withstand the competition of the big factories and big employers who use improved instruments and machines and combine the labour of masses of workers. That is why we see that handicraftsmen, artisans and peasants are increasingly being ruined, and are becoming workers in factories, are abandoning their villages and migrating to the towns.

At the big factories the relations between the employer and the workers are quite unlike those in the small workshops. The employer is so far above the worker in wealth and social status that a veritable abyss lies between them, and frequently they do not even know one another and have nothing in common. The worker has no opportunity of making his way into the employers’ ranks: he is doomed to remain impoverished for all time, working for rich men whom he does not know. Instead of the two or three workers employed by the small master there are now masses of workers, who come from various localities and constantly replace one another. Instead of separate instructions from the master, general regulations appear that are made obligatory for all workers. The former constancy of the relations between master and worker disappears: the master sets no great store by the worker at all, because he can always easily find another one among the crowd of unemployed ready to hire themselves to anybody. Thus, the power of the employer over the workers increases, and the employer makes use of this power, resorting to fines in order to drive the worker into the narrow confines of factory work. The worker has to submit to this new limitation of his rights and of his earnings, because he is now helpless against the employer.

And so fines appeared on earth not very long ago—together with the big factories, together with large-scale capitalism, together with the complete split between the rich masters and the ragged workers. Fines are the result of the complete development of capitalism and the complete enslavement of the worker.

However, this development of the big factories and intensification of pressure by the employers brought still other consequences in their train. The workers, totally helpless as against the factory owners, began to understand that utter disaster and poverty awaited them if they continued to be divided. The workers began to understand that there was only one means of saving themselves from the starvation and degeneration that capitalism held in store for them—and that was to join forces in order to fight the factory owners for higher wages and better living conditions.

We have seen what disgraceful oppression of the workers our factory owners resorted to in the eighties, how they turned fines into a means of lowering the workers’ wages and did not confine themselves to just reducing rates. The oppression of the workers by the capitalists reached its apex.

But this oppression evoked the workers’ resistance. The workers rose up against their oppressors and were victorious. The terrified government conceded their demands and hastened to issue a law regulating fines.

That was a concession to the workers. The government imagined that by issuing the fines laws and regulations, by introducing grants from the fines money it would immediately satisfy the workers and make them forget their common workers’ cause, their struggle against the factory owners.

However, such hopes of the government, which poses as the protector of the workers, will not be justified. We have seen how unjust the new law is to the workers, how small are the concessions to the workers by comparison with even the demands advanced by the Morozov strikers; we have seen how loopholes were left everywhere for mill owners anxious to violate the law, how grants regulations that supplement the employers’ tyranny with that of the officials were drawn up in the employers’ interests.

When this law and these regulations are put into effect, when the workers acquaint themselves with them and begin to learn from their clashes with the managements how the law oppresses them, then they will begin steadily to realise that they are in a position of dependence. They will understand that only poverty has compelled them to work for the rich and to be content with crumbs for their heavy labour. They will understand that the government and its officials are on the side of the factory owners, and that the laws are drawn up in such a way as to make it easier for the employer to oppress the worker.

And the workers will appreciate, finally, the point that the law does nothing to improve their status, so long as the workers’ dependence on the capitalists continues to exist, because the law will always be partial to the capitalist employers, because the latter will always succeed in devising ruses for evading the law.

Once they have understood this, the workers will see that only one means remains for defending themselves, namely, to join forces for the struggle against the factory owners and the unjust practices established by the law.

  1. Novoye Vremya;(New Times )—a daily newspaper that appeared in St. Petersburg from 1868 to 1917. It belonged to different publishers at different times and repeatedly changed its political line. At first it was moderately liberal, but in 1876, when A. S. Suvorin began to publish it, it became an organ of reactionary circles among the aristocracy and bureaucracy. From 1905 it became an organ of the Black Hundreds. Following the February bourgeois-democratic revolution in 1917, it gave the fullest support to the bourgeois Provisional Government’s counter-revolutionary policy and conducted a furious campaign of slander against the Bolsheviks. It was closed down by the Revolutionary Military Committee of the Petrograd Soviet on October 26 (November 8, new style), in 1917. Lenin called Novoye Vremya a typical example of the venal press.
  2. Moskovskiye Vedomosh;(Moscow Recorder )—one of the oldest Russian newspapers, originally issued (in 1756) as a small sheet by Moscow University. In the 1860s its line became monarchist-nationalist, reflecting the views of the most reactionary sections of the landlords and the clergy. In 1905 it became one of the leading papers of the Black Hundreds, and continued to appear until the October Revolution in 1917.
  3. The employers and their supporters have always considered that if the workers begin to think about their conditions, begin to work for their rights and join forces in resisting the abominations and oppression of the employers, it is all nothing but “corruption.” It is, of course, an advantage to the employers if the workers give no thought to their conditions and have no understanding of their rights. —Lenin
  4. The law that we are speaking of is Rules for Industry, which is included in Part Two, Volume II of the Russian Code of Laws. The law is stated in various articles, which are numbered, lines are dealt with in articles 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151 and 152. —Lenin
  5. There was a case of that sort in St. Petersburg, in the port (New Admiralty), where the Harbourmaster, Verkhovsky, is well known for his oppression of the workers. After a strike he replaced fines for breaking bulbs by deductions for broken bulbs from all the workers in the shop. Obviously, these deductions are just as illegal as the fines. —Lenin
  6. Except in the one case of “fire,” which is not mentioned in the law about the summoning of accused persons. —Lenin
  7. It should be noted that at that time (1884-85) cases of factory stoppages through no fault of the workers were quite frequent, as there was a commercial and industrial crisis: the mill owners could not dispose of their stocks, and they tried to cut down production. For example, in December 1884 the big Voznesenskoye Mill (Moscow Gubernia, near Talitsa Station on the Moscow-Yaroslavl Railway) cut down the working week to 4 days. The workers, who were on piece rates, met this with a strike that ended at the beginning of January 1885 in a concession from the owner. —Lenin
  8. The maximum fine for one day’s absenteeism under time rates is not indicated. All that is said is: “corresponding to the worker’s wages.” The exact size of the fines, as we shall soon see, is displayed in each factory in a table of penalties. —Lenin
  9. The worker who considers this cancellation of the contract to be wrong, may appeal to the courts, but the period during which such an appeal may be lodged is a very short one—one month (counting, of course, from the day of dismissal). —Lenin
  10. The first report for 1885. Only the first reports of factory inspectors were printed, the government having immediately stopped further printing. The state of affairs in the factories must have been wonderful, if they were afraid of a description of it being published. —Lenin
  11. One cannot but note in this regard that Mr. Mikhailovsky, formerly Chief Factory Inspector of the St. Petersburg area, considers it quite proper to call this law “a truly philanthropic reform, which does supreme honour to the Russian Imperial Government’s concern for the working classes.” (This view is expressed in the book on Russian manufacturing industry published by the Russian Government for the Chicago World Fair of 1893.) Such is the concern of the Russian Government!!! Before the law was adopted, when there was no law at all, there were avaricious employers who robbed the workers of 23 kopeks per ruble. Yet the law in its concern for the workers says: do not retain more than 33 1/3 (thirty-three and a third) kopeks per ruble! But thirty-three kopeks without the third can be retained now by law. “A truly philanthropic reform” indeed! —Lenin
  12. Instructions to Factory Inspectorate Officials. These contained a list of the duties of factory inspectors. Endorsed by the Minister of Finance S. Y. Witte, they were published in June 1894.
  13. Council of State—a legislative-consultative body in tsarist Russia, whose members were appointed by the tsar. It consisted in the main of big landowners and tsarist dignitaries.
  14. Who constitute the Factory Board? The Governor, the Prosecutor, the Chief of the Police Administration, the Factory Inspector and two factory owners. If we were to add the prison governor and the officer commanding the Cossacks, we would have all the officials who give effect to “the concern of the Russian Imperial Government for the working classes.” —Lenin
  15. Note to Article 26 of the Instructions. —Lenin
  16. It stands to reason that the fact of securing a grant from the fines fund does not deprive the worker of the right to demand compensation from the employer in case, for example, of injury. —Lenin
  17. Thus, in St. Petersburg it was only in 1895 that steps were taken to implement the fines law of 1886. Yet Mr. Mikhailovsky, the Chief Inspector, whom we mentioned above, said in 1893 that the law of 1886 “is now being scrupulously put into effect.” This little example shows us what an impudent lie is contained in the Chief Factory Inspector’s book, intended as it is to acquaint the Americans with the Russian factory system. —Lenin
  18. That is to say, forms on which the application is already printed, blank spaces being left in which to write the name of the factory, the grounds for the application, address, signature, etc. —Lenin
  19. That such fraud is practised is related by none other than Mr. Mikulin, the Factory Inspector of Vladimir Gubernia, in his book about the new law of 1886. —Lenin
  20. Such rates are in operation in some St. Petersburg mills; for example, it is stated that for such and such a quantity of cloth the worker gets from 20 to 50 kopeks. —Lenin
  21. In the printed application for grants which, as we have said, was circulated to the factories by the Vladimir Factory Board and which constitutes the implementation of the “regulations” that is most suitable for the workers, we read: “the factory office testifies to the signature and the contents of the application, and adds that in its opinion, the applicant deserves a grant of such and such a sum.”

    That is to say, the office can always write, without giving any explanation, that “in its opinion” the applicant does not deserve a grant.

    Grants will not be got by those who are in need of them, but by those who, “in the employers’ opinion, deserve them.” —Lenin
  22. Splits, creates servility, and develops bad habits. —Lenin
  23. This law is part of the so-called “special regulations concerning the relations between factory owners and workers.” These “special regulations” only cover “localities marked by a considerable development of factory industry,” to which we shall refer below in the text. —Lenin
  24. Ostsee gubernias—the name given in tsarist Russia to Estland, Courland and Lifland gubernias of the Baltic region. They now constitute the territory of the Latvian and Estonian Soviet Socialist Republics.