V. I.   Lenin

The New Factory Law[7]

Written: Written in exile in summer 1897. Appendix written in autumn 1897
Published: Published in pamphlet form in Geneva in 1899.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 2, pages 267-315.
Translated: Yuri Sdobnikov and George Hanna, Edited by George Hanna
Transcription\Markup: D. Walters
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2001). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.



Why Was The New Factory Law Passed?

On June 2, 1897, a new factory law was passed reducing working hours in mills and factories and establishing holidays. The workers of St. Petersburg have long been waiting for this law, which the government promised in 1896, after the fright it received from the mass workers’ strike in the spring of that year. This mass strike at the cotton-spinning and cotton-weaving mills was followed by others, and in all cases the workers demanded shorter working hours. The government took savage reprisals against the strikers; it arrested masses of workers right and left and exiled them without trial. It also tried, in its fright, to influence the workers by silly talk about the employers’ Christian love for the workers (Minister Witte’s circular to the factory inspectors issued in 1895-96). But the workers only jeered at this talk, and no amount of persecution could check the movement, in which tens and hundreds of thousands of workers were involved. It was then that the government realised that it would have to yield and concede to at least some of the workers’ demands. In addition to the lies and cant and savage persecution of strikers, the St. Petersburg workers received in answer to their strikes the government’s promise of a law to reduce working hours. This promise was announced to the workers with unusual solemnity in special notices[8] from the Minister of Finance, which were posted up in the factories. The workers waited impatiently for the fulfilment of the promise, they expected the law to be promulgated by April 19, 1897, and were already prepared to believe that this government promise, like numerous other government statements, was a gross lie. This time, however,   the government kept its promise, a law was promulgated—but what kind of a law we shall see further on. But first we must examine the circumstances which prompted the government to keep its promise.

Our government began to occupy itself with the problem of reducing working hours long before 1896. The problem was raised fifteen years ago: the St. Petersburg employers petitioned for a law of this kind as far back as 1883. Similar petitions were made on several other occasions by other employers, too (notably the Polish), but they were all pigeon-holed, as were a host of other projects for improving the workers’ conditions. The Russian Government does not hurry to deal with such projects; they lie pigeon-holed for decades. Now when it comes to handing over several million rubles to loyal Russian landowners who “petition” for doles from the public funds, or to granting a subsidy or bonus to the “downtrodden” employers, then the Russian Government does hurry, and the wheels of the bureaucratic and ministerial machine begin to revolve at full speed, as though “greased” with “palm-oil.” When matters concern the workers, however, not only are draft laws pigeon-holed for years and decades (for example, the Employers’ Liability Bill has been in the “drafting stage,” I think, for over ten years), but even laws already passed are not enforced, for the officials of His Imperial Majesty’s Government are loath to incommode Messrs. the Employers (for example, the law of 1886, which makes it incumbent upon employers to provide hospitals for their workers, has in the vast majority of cases not been enforced to this day). The question is, what caused action on a long-standing issue to be taken so quickly on this occasion? Why was it settled at once, given priority over other measures and pushed through the Ministry and the Council of State? Why did it at once assume the form of a bill and become law? Obviously, there was some force that spurred on the officials, stirred them into action, broke down their stubborn reluctance to “pester” our native employers with new demands. This force was the St. Petersburg workers and the huge strikes they conducted in 1895-96, which, thanks to the assistance the workers received from the Social-Democrats (through the League of Struggle), were accompanied by the presentation   of definite demands to the government and by the distribution of socialist proclamations and leaflets among the workers. The government realised that no amount of police persecution would break the determination of the working masses, once they had become conscious of their interests, had united for a struggle, and were led by the party of Social-Democrats, the champions of the workers’ cause. The government was forced to make concessions. The workers compelled the government to pass the new factory law, they won it from their bitterest enemy, just as they did in the case of the law of June 3, 1886, passed eleven years ago, on factory rules, fines, wage rates, etc. At that time the workers’ struggle was waged most vigorously in Moscow and Vladimir gubernias. It took the form of numerous strikes; then, too, the workers presented plain and precise demands to the government, and during the famous Morozov strike, conditions drawn up by the workers themselves were handed up to the inspector from the crowd. These conditions stated, for example, that the workers demanded a reduction of fines. The law of June 3, 1886, passed soon after, was a direct answer to the workers’ demands and contained regulations governing fines.[1]

And so it is today. In 1896, the workers demanded a reduction of working hours, and backed their demands by huge strikes. The government is now answering this demand by promulgating a law reducing working hours. At that time, in 1886, the workers’ revolts compelled the government to yield, and it tried to reduce its concessions to a minimum, to leave loopholes for the employers, to delay the introduction of the new regulations, to do the workers out of as many of their demands as possible. Today, in 1897, the government is in the same way yielding only to the workers’ revolts, and in the same way is trying by all the means in its power to reduce the concessions to the workers, to haggle, to do them out of an hour or two, even to lengthen working hours as compared with those proposed by the employers; it is trying to give the employers the benefit of a few more holidays by not making them compulsory; it is trying to delay   the introduction of the new system by postponing the operation of the principal regulations, pending future instructions by the ministers. Thus the laws of June 3, 1886, and of June 2, 1897—which are the principal factory acts in Russia—are both forced concessions, won by the Russian workers from the police government. Both show how the Russian Government treats the most legitimate demands of the workers.


What Should Be Considered Working Time?

Let us examine in detail the law of June 2, 1897.[2] As we have said, the new law, firstly, limits the working day for all workers, and, secondly, establishes compulsory rest-days on Sundays and holidays. Before laying down rules about the amount of working time the law must first define what is meant by working time. The new law lays down the following rule: “Working time, or the number of working hours per day, shall in the case of every worker be deemed to be the time during which, according to the labour contract, he is obliged to be on the premises of the establishment and at the disposal of the manager for the performance of work.” Hence, all the time that the worker spends at the factory, either according to schedule or at the manager’s demand, is to be considered as working time.

Whether the worker, during this time, is engaged at his actual or customary work, or whether the manager orders him to do some other job, or even to just wait, makes no difference: all the time the worker spends at the factory must be considered as working time. For example, in some factories, after the bell goes on Saturdays, the workers remain to clean the machines. According to the law, time spent on cleaning machines is also to be regarded as part of working time. Consequently, if an employer does not pay the worker for cleaning machines, it means that he is making gratuitous use of the hired worker’s working time. Hence, if an employer who has hired a worker at piece rates compels him to wait, or to do some other job without special   pay (every worker knows that this often happens), it means that the employer is making gratuitous use of the hired worker’s working time. The workers should remember this definition of working time as laid down in the new law and, on the strength of it, resist every attempt on an employer’s part to make gratuitous use of labour-power. Naturally, such a definition of working time should follow logically from the labour contract: some workers may think this so obvious that it is not worth talking about. But the government, in its anxiety to serve the capitalists, deliberately obscures a great deal of what is obvious to every worker. So here too the government has tried to leave a little loophole for those gentlemen, the employers. The law defines working time as the time the worker is obliged under the labour contract to be in the factory. But what if the labour contract does not specify how many hours a day the worker is obliged to be in the factory? It often happens at engineering plants, for example, that all the contract between the workers and the employer says is that the workers undertake to make a certain article (a machine part, a certain number of bolts or nuts, etc.) at a certain price; but nothing is said about how much time the worker has to spend on the job. Is the new law about the number of working hours per day applicable in such cases? Common sense, of course, would suggest that it is; after all, the worker is employed in the factory—how can this not be considered working time? But the “common sense” of the capitalists, and of the government that supports them, is of a special brand. According to the letter of the clause we have quoted, the law on the reduction of working hours can easily be evaded in such cases. The employer may argue that in the contract he did not oblige the worker to be in the factory—and there you are. And since not every employer is so smart as to see this trick, the officials of the Ministry of Finance hastened to draw the attention of Russia’s merchants to this useful little loophole in the new law. The Ministry of Finance has long been issuing its own special sheet, Vestnik Finansov, Promyshlennosti i Torgovli[9]—one of those official periodicals which, besides publishing government decisions, do their best to magnify the achievements of the Russian capitalists and to extol the government’s solicitude for the pockets of   the bankers, factory owners, merchants and landowners, under the guise of solicitude for the people. Shortly after the new law was passed this sheet published an article on it (Vestnik Finansov, No. 26, 1897) explaining its significance at length and arguing that it was precisely the government’s function to be concerned about the health of the workers. Well, it was in this article that the officials did their best to show the employers how to get round the new law. This article clearly explains that the new law cannot be applied in those cases where the labour contract says nothing about working time, for when a worker contracts to do a definite job “he is not a hired worker, but a person who accepts an order .” Thus, it is not very hard for an employer to dispense with the inconvenient law: all he has to do is to call the worker a “person who accepts an order” and not a worker! Instead of stating that working time is deemed to be the time a worker is in the factory at the disposal of the employer, the law is deliberately worded more vaguely and speaks of the time during which the worker is obliged under contract to be in the factory. One would think that this amounts to the same thing, but actually, here again they have not scrupled to resort to deliberate vagueness to the workers’ detriment!


To What Extent Does The New Law Reduce Working Hours?

The law of June 2, 1897, restricts working time on day-work to 11 <½ hours. On Saturdays, and on the eve of holidays, it restricts it to 10 hours. Hence, the reduction of working hours under the new law is miserly. There are quite a number of workers—and in St. Petersburg they most likely form the majority—for whom this law will mean no reduction of working hours at all; rather the contrary, it threatens to lengthen them. The ordinary working day in St. Petersburg factories is 10 to 10 <½ hours. The legislative enactment of such excessive working hours clearly shows that this law was an answer to the demands of workers at the St. Petersburg cotton-spinning and cotton-weaving mills. For these workers, the new law does perhaps mean a reduction   of working hours, since most of them worked 12 to 14 hours a day. (We shall explain later why we say “perhaps.”) The law lays down a ten-hour day for artisans, and also for factories under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of War. The government, however, decided that factory workers might be made to work longer hours! Even the St. Petersburg employers petitioned the government for a reduction of the working day to 11 hours! The government decided to throw in an extra half-hour for the benefit of the Moscow employers, who compel their workers to keep going, in two shifts, right round the clock, and whom the workers apparently have not yet taught a proper lesson. The Russian Government, which boasts of its solicitude for the workers’ welfare, has in fact proved to be as stingy as a petty huckster. It has proved to be more stingy than the employers themselves, who squeeze extra thousands out of the workers as a result of every extra half-hour of work. The workers can clearly see from this example that the government not only protects the interests of the employers, but protects the interests of the worst of them, and that it is a far worse enemy of the workers than the capitalist class The St. Petersburg workers would have won shorter hours for themselves and for all Russian workers had not the government interfered. The united workers had forced the employers to yield; the St. Petersburg employers were prepared to concede the workers’ demands; but the government forbade the employers to yield, so as not to create a precedent for the workers. Then the majority of the St. Petersburg employers realised that they would have to make concessions to the workers, and petitioned the government to reduce the working day to 11 hours. But the government protects the interests of the employers of all Russia, and not only of St. Petersburg, and since there are employers in Holy Russia who are far more stingy than those of St. Petersburg, the government, in its desire to be “fair,” could not allow the St. Petersburg employers to rob the workers too little. The employers of St. Petersburg must not run too far ahead of those in the rest of Russia; and so the government adds a half-hour to the working day requested by the capitalists. Clearly, the workers must draw three lessons from this conduct of the government:

First lesson: Russia’s advanced workers must do their utmost to draw the more backward workers into the movement. Unless the entire mass of Russian workers is enlisted in the struggle for the workers’ cause, the advanced workers of the capital cannot hope to win much, even if they force their employers to yield; for the government is so exceedingly “fair” that it does not allow the better employers to make substantial concessions to the workers. Second lesson: the Russian Government is a far worse enemy of the Russian workers than the Russian employers are, for the government not only protects the interests of the employers, not only resorts, for this purpose, to brutal persecution of the workers, to arrests, deportations and the use of troops against unarmed workers, but what is more, protects the interests of the most stingy employers and resists any tendency of the better employers to yield to the workers. Third lesson: in order to win themselves human working conditions and an eight-hour day, for which the workers are now striving all over the world, the Russian workers must rely on the strength of their own organisation alone and steadily win one concession after another from the government. The government is, as it were, bargaining with the workers, trying to see whether it can impose an extra half-hour or so. But the workers will show that they know how to stand up for their demands. The government is, as it were, testing the workers’ patience, to see whether it can get off with quite a cheap concession. But the workers will show that they have patience enough for a most stubborn struggle, since to them it is a fight for their lives, a fight to prevent the working people from being utterly downtrodden and oppressed.


What Does the Law Consider
“Night-Time” For the Workers?

“Night-time shall mean the period between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. when one shift operates, and between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. when two or more shifts operate.” So runs the new law. “Night” for the common people, who have to toil all their lives for others, and “night” for the fine folk, who live on the   labour of others, are, according to the “law,” two entirely different things. During the greater part of the year both in St. Petersburg and in Moscow it is still quite dark, still night at 4 a.m. But the Russian law lays it down that the worker must adjust his whole life to the interests of capital; the worker must believe that day-time begins without fail after four in the morning, even if it may still be several hours before sunrise. And if the worker does not live in the factory grounds, he has to get up at three o’clock, and even earlier, in order to be at the factory at four! For St. Petersburg officials the “day” begins at noon, or even at 1 p.m.; but then, officials are a special type of people. . . . The workers’ “day” only ends at ten at night, and if the streets are quite dark when he leaves the factory, he should not be disconcerted by this: he should remember and believe that the “day” has only just ended—for so the law decrees. Why not pass a law that makes the worker’s “day” begin when the factory whistle summons him to work, and end when that same whistle summons a new shift? That would be franker and fairer. In Switzerland they already have a law which defines what night-time is for the worker; but how can you expect the Swiss to be up to all the tricks devised by Russian police officials? It appears that among these terrible Swiss a working man’s “night” is the same as that of other people, namely, from 8 p.m. to 5 (or 6) a.m, The only restriction on “night-work” in the new law is that workers engaged even part of the night shall not work more than ten hours. That is all. The law does not prohibit night-work. In this respect, too, the law falls short of the petitions of the St. Petersburg employers, who fourteen years ago (in 1883) appealed for the prohibition of night work for adults. Consequently, the St. Petersburg workers would have won more from the employers in this respect too, had not the government interfered in order to protect the interests of the most retrograde employers in Russia. The government would not listen to the employers of St. Petersburg, for it did not want to offend those in Moscow, most of whom compel their workers to work at night. As usual, the government tried to mask its subservience to the interests of the worst employers by deceptive talk and assurances. In an article explaining the new law, Vestnik   Finansov, published by the Ministry of Finance, stated that in other countries (France, for instance) night-work is forbidden. But, it declared, our law cannot do this. “It is not always possible to forbid establishments to work a full twenty-four hours: a large number of industries, by their very nature, require continuous operation.”

This is obviously quite a lame excuse. We are not discussing special industries which require continuous operation, but industries in general. Even under the present law continuous operation is impossible when work is done in two shifts unless overtime is worked, since day-work has been fixed at 11 <½ hours and night-work at 10 hours, or 21 <½ hours in all. That is why the new law makes special provision for industries in which continuous operation is necessary (through special ministerial regulations, of which more anon). Consequently, there was absolutely nothing to make the prohibition of night-work “impossible.” We have already said that the government would have us believe that it is concerned for the workers’ health. Here is what the Ministry of Finance says about night-work: “Night-work is undoubtedly more fatiguing and unhealthy and, in general, less natural than work by daylight; and it is more detrimental the longer and more systematic it is. It might seem that in view of the detrimental character of night-work, it would be better to prohibit it for adult male workers too (just as it is prohibited for women and for adolescents of both sexes in some industries, and in the case of children everywhere). But there are no grounds for this even from the standpoint of the worker’s general welfare; moderate night-work is less detrimental to him than excessively long hours of day-work for the same pay.” You see how skilful Russian Government officials are in throwing dust into the eyes of the people! Even their protection of the interests of the worst employers is presented as solicitude for the “worker’s welfare.” And how brazen is the justification invented by the Ministry: “moderate night-work,” don’t you see, “is less detrimental than excessively long hours of day-work for the same pay.” The Ministry wants to say that the worker is driven to work at night by low wages, so low that the worker cannot get along without working excessively long hours. And so, the Ministry, confident that this will always be so, that   the worker will never succeed in winning better wages, cynically declares: since the worker has to toil monstrously long hours to feed his family, is it not all the same to him whether he works the extra hours in the day-time or at night? Of course, if the majority of the Russian workers go on earning the same miserable wages as at present, want will drive them to work extra hours. But how insolent it is to justify the sanctioning of night-work on the plea of the worker’s downtrodden condition! “The pay for the work will be the same”—that is the main thing for the servitors of capital—“and with the present level of wages, the worker cannot get along without working extra hours.” And bureaucrats like these, who concoct kulak arguments in the interests of the stingy employers, have the audacity to talk about the “standpoint of the worker’s general welfare.” But are they not too confident in hoping that the worker will always be so downtrodden, that he will always agree to this “same pay,” that is, to the same beggarly remuneration for his labour? Low wages and long hours always go hand in hand; the one is impossible without the other. When pay is low, the worker is forced to work extra hours, and to work at night, in order to earn enough to live on. When working hours are excessively long, pay will always be low, because when working long hours the worker produces less articles per hour and of far worse quality than in a short working day, and because the worker, crushed as he is by excessive toil, will always remain downtrodden and powerless under the yoke of capital. Consequently, when the Ministry, which serves the Russian factory owners, proposes to preserve the present preposterously low wages of the Russian workers, and at the same time talks about the “workers’ welfare,” it shows as clearly as clear can be that its phrases are sheer cant and lies.


How Does the Ministry of Finance
Try to Prove That to Restrict Overtime
Would Be “Unfair” To the Worker?

We have referred to the new law as a law to reduce the working day. We have said that it restricts the working day to 11 ½ hours (10 hours in the case of night-work). But   actually this is not so, it is far worse. All the restrictions provided for in the law relate only to ordinary, normal, regular work, but not to overtime. Consequently, the employer’s “right” to compel the workers to work any number of hours, even twenty-four at a stretch, is not restricted at all. Here is what the law says about overtime: “Overtime shall mean work performed by the worker in an industrial establishment during hours other than those in which he is obliged to work by factory rules. Overtime shall be permitted only by special agreement between the manager of the industrial establishment and the worker. The labour contract may contain stipulations only as regards such overtime work as is necessitated by the technical conditions of the industry.” This is a highly important clause of the new law, and its edge is directed entirely against the workers, leaving the employer a free hand. Hitherto overtime has been regulated by custom; there has been no mention of it in any law. Now the government has legalised overtime. The stipulation in the law that such work shall require a “special agreement” between worker and employer is just an empty and utterly meaningless phrase. All work is done “by agreement” between the workers and the employers. The workers are not serfs (although many a Russian official would like nothing better than to turn them into such); they work for hire, that is, by agreement. There was no point in stipulating that overtime shall be done by agreement. The government inserted that meaningless phrase into the law in order to create the impression that it wants to restrict overtime. As a matter of fact the law does not restrict it at all. Formerly the master used to say to the worker: “If you want to work overtime, all right; if not, here’s your discharge!”—and now he will say the same. Only formerly it was done by custom; now it will be done with the sanction of the law. Formerly, an employer who dismissed a worker for refusing to work overtime could not claim the support of the law; now the law directly suggests to him how he can oppress the worker. Instead of restricting overtime, this clause of the law may easily render it more prevalent. The law even permits the employer to include the demand for overtime in the contract when “it is necessitated by the technical conditions of the industry,” This reservation will cause no   inconvenience to the employer at all. How is one to decide which work is “necessitated by the technical conditions of the industry,” and which is not? Who will investigate it? If an employer states that the job he has given a worker to do out of hours is “necessitated by the technical conditions of the industry,” how can he be refuted? Nobody will investigate it, nobody will check the employer’s statement. The law has only strengthened the arbitrary powers of the employers by suggesting to them a particularly reliable way of oppressing the workers.

Now, all the employer has to do is to stipulate in the contract that the worker has no right to refuse to work overtime when “necessitated by the technical conditions of the industry,” and the trick is done! Let the worker decline to work overtime—he will simply be discharged. And where (thinks the employer) will you find a worker who will attempt to prove that the work was not “necessitated by the technical conditions of the industry”! The very idea of a worker making such a complaint is ridiculous. Needless to say, there will never be any such complaints, and they would be useless if they were made. The government has therefore quite legally endowed the employers with arbitrary powers as regards overtime. How eager the Ministry of Finance is in its haste to serve the employers and to teach them how to make the widest use of overtime under the protection of the new legislation is very clearly shown by the following argument in Vestnik Finansov : “Overtime is also necessary in the case of rush orders, which the employers cannot possibly foresee[3] in industries operating for definite and brief seasons, if the owner of the establishment finds it impossible or difficult to increase the number of workers.”

You see how skillfully the law is “interpreted” by the zealous lackeys of the employers installed in the Ministry of Finance! The law only speaks of overtime necessitated by technical conditions, but the Ministry of Finance hastens to consider as “necessitated” overtime due to “unforeseen” (?!)   orders, and even when the employer finds it “difficult” to increase the number of workers! Why, that is simply making fools of the workers! Any astute employer can always say that he finds it “difficult.” Increasing the number of workers means hiring others, which means reducing the number of unemployed hanging round the factory gate, means lessening competition among workers, making them more exacting in their demands and, perhaps, having to agree to pay higher wages. It goes without saying that there is not an employer who would not consider this to be “difficult” for him. With such arbitrary powers for the employers to demand overtime, the law on the reduction of the working day is robbed of all value. There will be no reduction at all for vast numbers of workers, since they will continue to work 15 to 18 hours a day and more, remaining at the factory at night to do overtime. The absurdity of a law to reduce the working day which does not forbid (or at least restrict) overtime is so obvious that in all the preliminary drafts of the law it was proposed to restrict overtime. As far back as 1883, the St. Petersburg employers (the employers themselves!) petitioned to have overtime restricted to one hour a day. The government, scared by the St. Petersburg strikes of 1895-96, immediately appointed a commission to draft a bill to reduce working hours; this commission also recommended that overtime be restricted, namely, to 120 hours a year.[4] By rejecting every proposal to restrict overtime in any degree whatsoever, the government definitely set out to protect the interests of the worst of the employers, openly legalised the complete subjection of the workers, and made it quite clear that it intended to leave everything as it was before and to make shift with meaningless phrases. In its anxiety to serve the interests of the employers, the Ministry of Finance went so far as to try to prove that any restriction of overtime would be “unfair to the worker himself.” Here are its arguments, which should give every worker food for thought. “To deprive the worker of the right to work at the factory more than a fixed number of hours a day would be   difficult in practice” (Why? Because the factory inspectors are very remiss in the performance of their duties, fearing nothing so much as to offend the employers? Or because so long as the Russian worker has no rights and is inarticulate, it will be difficult to carry out any reforms for his benefit? The Ministry of Finance has unwittingly let the cat out of the bag: indeed, as long as the Russian workers, like the Russian people in general, stand disfranchised in face of a police government, as long as they have no political rights, no reforms can be effective) . . . “and would be unfair to the workers: a man should not be punished for seeking the means of subsistence, for occasionally exerting his strength even above the limit beyond which his work may prove detrimental to his health.” See how humane and philanthropic the Russian Government is! Bow in gratitude, Russian workers! The government is so merciful, that it “does not rob” you of the “right” to work 18 hours a day, even 24 if you like. The government is so fair that it does not want to punish you when the employer forces you to overstrain yourself at the job! In all other countries, it is the employer, not the worker, who is punished if work is done at the factory over and above the regular hours. Our officials have forgotten that. Indeed, how could Russian officials take the risk of punishing the employers! Perish the thought! We shall soon see that the employers will not be punished even if they break every clause of this new law. In all other countries, the workers, in their “search for the means of subsistence,” have the right to organise unions, mutual benefit societies, to openly resist the employer, to present their demands to him, to conduct strikes. In our country this is not allowed. On the other hand, however, our workers have been granted the “right” to work any number of “extra” hours a day. Why did these humane officials forget to add that our fair government “does not rob” the Russian worker of the “right” to be sent to prison without trial, or to be beaten up by any police bashi-bazouk for every attempt to protect himself from the oppression of the capitalists?



What Powers Does the New Law
Grant the Ministers?

We have already shown that on the most essential points the new law has not laid down any obligatory, hard and fast rules. The government has preferred to grant the fullest possible powers to the administration (namely, the ministers) to establish all sorts of rules and privileges in the interests of employers, to hamper the application of the new law, etc. The powers granted to the ministers by the new law are extremely broad and extensive. The ministers (namely, the Minister of Finance or the Minister of Railways, etc., in concurrence with the Minister of Internal Affairs) are “empowered” to issue detailed regulations governing the application of the new law. A host of questions relating to all the clauses of the new law in all and sundry respects are left entirely to the discretion of the ministers. The powers of the ministers are so vast that they are virtually the sole executors of the new law; if they want to, they can issue regulations which will really enforce it; or, if they want to, they can act so that the law will be scarcely enforced at all. And, indeed, see what regulations the ministers are empowered to issue “in pursuance of the present law” (that is the way the law puts it. We have already seen how smart the Ministry of Finance can be when acting “in pursuance” of the law—it will act in such a way that the workers, in its opinion, will only have to be thankful that the government does not punish them for working too much and does not “deprive them of the right” to work even 24 hours a day). We would enumerate all the various categories of these regulations if that were possible; but the fact is that, in addition to the questions enumerated in the law which are to be settled by the ministerial regulations, the law also empowers them to issue other regulations without any restriction. The ministers may issue regulations governing working hours. That is to say, it is not enough to have a law governing working hours; there are to be ministerial regulations for the same thing. The ministers may issue regulations concerning shifts; but, of course, they may also not, so as not to inconvenience the employers. The ministers have been empowered to issue regulations governing   the number of shifts a day, meal times, etc. That is what the law says: et cetera (and so forth ); in other words, the ministers are empowered to issue any regulations they like. If they don’t like, there will be no regulations on meal times at all, and the employers will go on oppressing the workers as they do now, not allowing them to go home for dinner, and not allowing mothers to go home to feed their children. It is left to the ministers to issue regulations governing overtime, namely, indicating when it shall be permitted, how frequently, and what record shall be kept, Consequently, here the ministers have a perfectly free hand. They may even alter the requirements of the law, that is, they may strengthen or mitigate them (the law deliberately stipulates the right of the ministers to mitigate the requirements of the new law in respect of the employers) in three cases: firstly, “when same is deemed necessary owing to the character of the industry (continuity and so forth).” This “and so forth” is also in the law, thus enabling the ministers to plead any “character of the industry” they like, Secondly, “owing to the nature of the work (tending of boilers or transmission belts, current and emergency repairs, and so forth).” Here we have “and so forth” again! Thirdly, “and in other important and exceptional cases.” Further, the ministers may determine which industries are particularly detrimental to the health of the workers (or they may not: the law does not compel, but only authorises them to do so . . . although they had that authority before, but never wanted to exercise it!) and to issue special regulations for these industries. The workers now see why we said that it is impossible to enumerate the questions left to be settled by the ministers: the law is strewn with “et ceteras” and “and so forths.” Russian laws in general may be divided into two categories: those which grant some rights to the workers and the common people generally, and others which prohibit something, or allow officials to prohibit it. In the laws of the first category, even the most trivial rights of the workers are enumerated with the utmost precision (even, for example, the worker’s right to absent himself from work with good cause) and not the least departure is permitted on pain of the severest penalties. In these laws you will not find a single “et cetera” or “and so forth,” In the laws of the second   category, only general prohibitions are invariably indicated, without any precise enumeration, so that the management may prohibit anything it likes ; in these laws you will always find small but very important additions: “et cetera,” “and so forth.” These little phrases are striking testimony of the almighty power exercised by Russian officials over the people, and of the latter’s utter rightlessness in regard to them; of the senseless and savage character of the abominable bureaucracy and red tape in which every institution of the Imperial Russian Government is steeped through and through. Any law which may be of the slightest benefit is invariably so wrapped up in red tape that its enforcement is endlessly delayed. More, the enforcement of the law is left to the complete discretion of the officials, who, as everybody knows, are ready heart and soul to “serve” any moneybag, and to play every possible dirty trick on the common people. The ministers, be it remembered, are only empowered to issue all these regulations “in pursuance of the present law”; that is, they may issue them or they may not. The law does not bind them to anything. The law does not fix any date: they may issue the regulations now, or they may do so in ten years’ time. Naturally, the few rules enumerated in the law lose all meaning and importance: they are empty words that merely conceal the government’s desire to frustrate the law in its practical application. Vast powers are granted to our ministers by practically every law affecting the life of the workers. And we understand perfectly why the government does so: it wants to be of the greatest possible service to the employers. After all, it is much easier for an employer to influence the official responsible for enforcing the law, than to influence the passage of the law itself. Everybody knows how easily our capitalist magnates gain access to the drawing-rooms of Messrs. the Ministers and there engage in pleasant conversations, how hospitably they entertain each other at dinners, what gracious little presents to the tune of tens and hundreds of thousands of rubles are made to the corrupt officials of the Imperial Government (either directly, in the shape of bribes, or indirectly, in the shape of shares to company “founders,” or of honorary and lucrative posts in these companies). Consequently, the broader the rights the new law confers on the officials in respect of   its enforcement, the more advantageous it is both for the officials and for the factory owners : the advantage to the officials is that they can grab more, and to the factory owners that they can more easily secure privileges and exemptions. In illustration, let us remind the workers of two cases which show what these ministerial regulations issued “in pursuance of the law” lead to in practice. The law of June 3, 1883, laid it down that the fines money belongs to the workers and must be expended on their needs. The minister “pursued” this law in such a way that in St. Petersburg, for instance, it was not enforced for ten years, and when at last it began to be enforced, the whole matter was put into the hands of the employer, whom the worker has to beg for his money as though it were a dole. Second example: this same law (of June 3, 1886) lays it down that wages must be paid not less than twice a month; but the minister “pursued” the law in such a way as to give the employers the right to withhold the wages of a new worker for six weeks. Every worker now clearly understands why this time, too, the ministers have been empowered to “pursue” the law. The employers also understand this perfectly, and they have already set their machinery going. We have seen that the ministers are “empowered” to issue regulations on overtime. The employers have already begun to bring pressure to bear on the government to induce it not to restrict overtime. Moskovskiye Vedomosti, a newspaper which always zealously defends the interests of the worst employers, persistently eggs on the government to the most savage and brutal actions, and enjoys such immense influence “in high spheres” (that is, among the higher officials, ministers, etc.), has now launched a regular campaign against the imposition of restrictions on overtime. The employers have thousands of ways of exerting pressure on the government: they have their societies and associations; employers are members of numerous government commissions and boards (for example, the Factory Boards), they have personal access to ministers; they may write as much as they like in the press about their wishes and demands, and the press has tremendous influence in our times. As to the workers, they have no legal means of exerting pressure on the government. There is only one thing the workers can do, and that is to   join forces, to spread the consciousness of their interests as members of one class among all the workers, and to put up united resistance to the government and the employers. Every worker can now see that the enforcement of the new law will depend entirely on who exerts strongest pressure on the government, the employers or the workers. It was only by struggle, by a conscious and staunch struggle, that the workers secured the passage of this law. Only by struggle will they be able to secure the actual enforcement of the law, and its enforcement in the interests of the workers. Without a stubborn struggle, without the staunch resistance of the united workers to every claim the employers make, the new law will remain a scrap of paper, one of those false and pretentious signboards with which our government tries to embellish the utterly rotten edifice of police tyranny and the rightless and oppressed state of the workers.


How Our “Christian” Government
Curtails The Workers’ Holidays

Besides regulations on working hours, the new law also contains a regulation concerning compulsory rest-days for factory workers on Sundays and holidays. The grovelling hacks, of whom there are so many among our Russian newspapermen and journalists, have hastened to mark this regulation by lauding our government and its humaneness to the skies. We shall presently see that actually this humane law tends to curtail holidays for the workers. But first let us examine the general regulations concerning Sunday and holiday rest. First of all, it should be noted that the St. Petersburg employers petitioned for the establishment of legal rest-days on Sundays and holidays fourteen years ago (in 1883). In other words, here too, the Russian Government only delayed, postponed and resisted reform as long as it was possible. According to the law, the list of holidays on which work is forbidden explicitly includes all Sundays and fourteen other holidays, of which we shall speak at greater length later. The law does not absolutely forbid work on holidays, but permits it on the following conditions:   firstly, “mutual agreement” between the employer and the workers is required; secondly, work on a holiday is permitted, provided it is “compensated by a week-day”; thirdly, the agreement to replace the holiday by a week-day must be immediately reported to the factory inspector. Hence, under the law, work on holidays must on no account be allowed to reduce the number of rest-days, for the employer is obliged to compensate the workers for working on a holiday by giving them a free week-day. The workers must always bear this in mind, and also the fact that the law demands the mutual consent of the employer and the workers for such an arrangement. In other words, the workers may always quite legally refuse to agree to such an arrangement, and the employer has no right to compel them to do so. In practice, of course, the employer will be able to extort the workers’ consent in the following way: he will ask the workers one by one to agree, and each worker will be afraid to refuse, for fear of being discharged. In doing this, the employers will of course be acting illegally, for the law demands the consent of the workers, that is, of all the workers jointly. But how can all the workers in one factory (and there are sometimes hundreds and even thousands of them, working in many different places) make their common consent known? The law does not say how, and here again it has placed in the hands of the employers another means of oppressing the workers. The workers have only one way of preventing such oppression: in every such case they must demand the election of workers’ deputies to convey the general decision of all the workers to the employer. The workers can base this demand on the law, for the latter speaks of the consent of all the workers, and all the workers cannot speak to the employer at once. This system of electing workers’ deputies will, in general, be very beneficial to the workers, and will be useful for all kinds of other negotiations with the employers and the office, inasmuch as it is very difficult, and often quite impossible, for the individual worker to present his demands, claims, etc. Further, as regards workers of “non-Orthodox persuasion,” the law “permits” that days which are not celebrated by their Church may not be included in the list of holidays. But then there are other holidays which are celebrated by Catholics, and   not by Orthodox people. The law says nothing about this and, therefore, makes an attempt to discriminate somewhat against non-Orthodox workers. Even more marked is the discrimination against non-Christian workers: for them the law “permits” other days in the week instead of Sunday to be included in the list of holidays. Only “permits”! Our Christian government so savagely persecutes persons who do not profess the ruling religion that very likely this too is an attempt to oppress non-Christians by making the law vague. The law is indeed very obscure on this point. It should be interpreted as meaning that one day in the week must be a compulsory rest-day, and that all that is permitted is the substitution of some other day for Sunday. But the “ruling” religion only grants privileges to the “rulers”; as for the working man, it will never miss an opportunity to invent some sort of a trap for him. Let us see which holidays the law says must be included in the list. It is all very well talking about establishing Sunday and holiday rest; but even before this the workers did not as a rule, in the majority of cases, work either on Sundays or on holidays. The law, after all, may fix the rest-days in such a way that the total number of compulsory holidays may prove to be far fewer than the number of customary holidays. This is exactly what our Christian government has done in the new law. It has established 66 holidays in the year: 52 Sundays, 8 fixed holidays (January 1 and 6, March 25, August 6 and 15, September 8, and December 25 and 26) and 6 movable holidays (Friday and Saturday in Passion Week, Easter Monday and Tuesday, Ascension Day and Descent of the Holy Ghost). But how many customary holidays a year have there been in our factories till now? We have precise information on this score for Moscow and Smolensk gubernias, and that only for a few factories. But as the difference between the factories, and even between the two gubernias, is very small, this information is quite sufficient to enable us to form an opinion about the real value of the new law. In Moscow Gubernia, figures were collected for 47 large factories, employing a total of over 20,000 workers. It was found that in hand-operated factories, the number of holidays per year is 97, and in the machine-operated factories the number is 98. The lowest number of holidays per year is 78, These 78 holidays are celebrated at   all the investigated factories without exception. In Smolensk Gubernia, the information relates to 15 factories, employing a total of about 5,000 to 6,000 workers. The average number of holidays per year is 86, or nearly as many as in Moscow Gubernia. The lowest number of holidays was found at one of the factories, where it was 75. Corresponding to this number of holidays per year, which is customary for Russian factories, is the number of holidays established for factories under the jurisdiction of the War Ministry, where 88 annual holidays are the rule. The laws of our country recognise practically the same number of days for civil servants as non-working (87 a year). Consequently, each year the workers had the same number of customary holidays as other citizens. In its solicitude for the workers’ health, our “Christian government” cut out a fourth of these customary holidays, 22 in all, leaving only 66 compulsory holidays. Let us enumerate the customary holidays cut out by the government in the new law. Of the fixed holidays the following have been cut out: February 2—Candlemas; May 9—St Nicholas’ day; June 29—St Peter’s day; July 8—the Feast of Our Lady of Kazan; July 20—St Elijah’s day; August 29—St John the Baptist’s day; September 14—the Feast of the Holy Cross; October 1—the Feast of the Intercession (even this holiday the government deemed superfluous and non-compulsory. We may be certain that not a single employer will be found who will dare compel his employees to work on that day. Here again the government is protecting the interests and mean practices of the worst employers); November 21—Presentation of the Blessed Virgin, and December 6—St Nicholas’ day. Thus, 10 fixed holidays have been cut out.[5] Further, of the movable holidays, the following have been cut out: Shrove Saturday and Wednesday of the last week of Lent, i.e., two holidays. In all, therefore, 12 holidays have been cut out from the minimum hitherto allowed the workers as rest-days according to prevailing custom. Our government is so fond of calling itself a “Christian” government;   when addressing the workers, the ministers and other officials sweeten their speeches with phrases about the “Christian love” and “Christian sentiments” of the employers and of the government towards the workers, etc. But as soon as action takes the place of phrases, all this hypocritical and canting talk is sent to blazes, and the government becomes a huckster trying to extort something from the workers wherever possible. The employers themselves, that is, the best of them, long long ago petitioned for the establishment of legal rest-days on Sundays and holidays. After fifteen years of procrastination, the government has at last passed a law establishing compulsory rest on Sundays and holidays, but while making this concession to the workers it does not miss the opportunity of injuring them by cutting out one-fourth of the customary holidays from the list of those that are compulsory. Thus, the government is behaving like a real usurer: while making one concession, it does its best to make up for it by some other extortion. With such a law, it may very easily happen that at some of the factories the employers will try to reduce the number of workers’ rest-days and compel the workers to work on holidays which have hitherto been kept but which the law has not included in the compulsory list of holidays. To prevent their conditions from being worsened, the workers must, in this respect too, always be ready to resist every attempt to reduce the number of holidays. The law only specifies the compulsory holidays; but the workers have the right to demand others as well. Only they must see to it that all the holidays are stipulated in the rules of the factory and should place no trust in verbal promises. The workers can be sure of not being compelled to work on a holiday only when that holiday has been included in the factory rules. Just as in the case of holidays, so in the case of half-holidays, the law attempts to leave matters where they were before, and even in some respects to worsen them. The law provides for only one half-holiday—Christmas eve: on that day work must cease not later than noon. This has been the case until now at the majority of factories, and if any factory did not release the workers at noon on Christmas eve, in most cases it allowed them a half-holiday on the eve of some other big holiday. Generally speaking, one half-holiday in the year has hitherto   been the rule at the majority of the factories. Further, the new law says that on Saturdays and the eve of holidays the working day is limited to ten hours, that is, 1 <½ hours less than the ordinary working day. Here, too, the law has not improved the workers’ conditions, and, if anything, has worsened them: hitherto, at nearly all the factories, work on Saturday ceased earlier than usual. One investigator, who has collected a great deal of information on this subject and who is generally well acquainted with factory life, states that it may be safely concluded that, on the average, work on Saturdays ceases two hours before the usual time. Consequently, here, too, the law did not miss the opportunity, while converting a customary rest period into a compulsory one, to extort from the workers at least one half-hour as compensation for this concession. One half-hour a week amounts to 23 hours a year (counting 46 working weeks), that is, two days extra work for the employer’s benefit. . . . Not a bad present for our poor, indigent employers! We may be quite sure that these knights of the moneybag will not hesitate to accept this present and will do their best to compensate themselves in this way for the “sacrifices” demanded of them by the new law (as they are fond of putting it), and, therefore, in this respect too, the workers must rely only on themselves, on the strength of their organisation. Without a stubborn struggle, the working class, in this respect too, will fail to achieve any improvement in their condition, notwithstanding the new law.


How Is The Observance
Of The New Law Guaranteed?

How is the observance of laws guaranteed in general? Firstly, by supervision over the observance, and secondly, by punishment of infringements, of the law. Let us see how matters stand with regard to the new factory law. Supervision over the observance of laws has been entrusted to the factory inspectors. Hitherto, the regulations governing factory supervision issued in 1886 have not been extended to the whole of Russia by far, but only to a few   gubernias, the most highly industrialised ones. The extension of the area of factory supervision has always followed the extension of the area of the working-class movement and of workers’ strikes. On the very date that the law to reduce the working hours was promulgated (that is, June 2, 1897), another law was issued extending factory supervision to the whole of Russia and to the entire Kingdom of Poland. This extension of the factory regulations to the whole of Russia and the institution of Factory Inspection is, of course, a step forward. The workers will take advantage of this to inform a larger number of their comrades about their conditions, about the labour laws, about the attitude of the government and its officials towards the workers, etc. The application of the same rules that govern the advanced workers (of St. Petersburg, Moscow, Vladimir and other gubernias) to all factory workers in Russia will, of course, also help the working-class movement to spread more rapidly to all Russian workers. As to how far effectively the factory inspectors supervise the observance of the law, we shall not go into this in detail. A separate pamphlet should be written on this subject (it is so wide), and perhaps we shall find some other opportunity to discuss the question of Factory Inspection with the workers. Let us only briefly remark that so few factory inspectors are appointed in Russia that they are very rarely to be seen at the factories. The factory inspectors are completely under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Finance, which turns them into servitors of the employers, compels them to report strikes and unrest to the police, to prosecute workers for leaving the factory even when the employer himself does not prosecute them; in a word, it turns them, in a manner of speaking, into police officials, into factory police. The employer has thousands of ways of exerting influence on the factory inspectors and of forcing them to do what he wants. The workers, however, have no means of influencing the factory inspectors, and cannot have such means as long as the workers do not enjoy the right of free assembly, the right to form their unions, to discuss their affairs in the press, and to issue workers’ newspapers. So long as these rights are withheld, no supervision by officials over the employers can ever be serious and effective. But supervision alone is not enough to secure   the observance of the law. Strict penalties for non-observance of the law must also be imposed. Otherwise, what is the good of a factory inspector telling the employer that he is acting wrongly? The employer will simply ignore him and go on acting as before. That is why, when a new law is passed, the penalties imposed on those who infringe it are always stipulated. The new law of June 2, 1897, reducing working hours and establishing rest-days, however, contains no penalties for its infringement. The workers can see from this how different is the government’s attitude to the employers and to the workers. When a law is passed, say, forbid ding the worker to leave the factory before his time is up, the penalty in case he does leave is fixed at once, including even so severe a penalty as arrest. For going on strike, for example, the workers are liable, under the law, to arrest and even imprisonment, but the employer is only fined for the infringement of the regulations which causes the strike. So in this case, too, the requirement of the law that the employers shall allow the workers to rest on Sundays and holidays and not make them work more than 1 <½ hours a day is not supported by any penalties for its infringement. What will be done to an employer who is guilty of infringing this law? At the most, he may be hauled before the magistrate, who cannot levy a fine exceeding 50 rubles, or the Factory Board may itself impose a penalty in the shape of a fine. But will a fine of 50 rubles deter an employer? Why, he makes far much more than 50 rubles profit by compelling all his workers to work a night or on a holiday! It will actually benefit the factory owner to break the law and pay a fine. The failure of the law to stipulate the penalty for its infringement by the employer is a crying injustice, which plainly shows that our government is anxious to delay the enforcement of the law as long as possible, that it does not intend to demand strict observance of the law by the employers. It happened in other countries, too, in times long past, that a government would pass factory laws without stipulating any penalties for their infringement. And, in fact, such laws were not observed at all and remained mere scraps of paper. That is why this ridiculous custom of passing laws without ensuring their enforcement has long been abandoned in other countries. Today the Russian Government is resorting to this   same old trick in tile hope that the workers will not notice it. But this hope is unfounded. As soon as the workers become acquainted with the new law, they themselves will see to it that it is observed; they will not allow the slightest departure from it and will refuse to work until its provisions are complied with. Such supervision by the workers themselves will be far more effective than that of any factory police. Without such supervision the law will not be observed.


Will The New Law Improve The Workers’ Condition?

At first glance, it may even seem strange that we raise this question. The law reduces working hours and establishes compulsory rest-days on Sundays and holidays. Surely this is an improvement of the workers’ condition? But we have already shown in detail above how vague and indefinite are the provisions of the new law, how often the law, while laying down rules to improve the workers’ condition, itself frustrates those rules by leaving the employer’s arbitrary power untouched, or by limiting the compulsory holidays to a number far smaller than is customary.

Let us try and calculate whether working time will be reduced by the introduction of the new law if the number of rest-days is no more than the number established by the law, that is, if the workers are given rest-days only on the compulsory holidays established by the law, and the employers succeed in compelling them to work on the other, customary holidays. Whether they succeed or not is, of course, an open question. That will depend on what resistance the workers put up. But that the employers will try to compensate themselves for the reduction in working hours by reducing the number of holidays, is beyond doubt. That the law does its utmost to assist this noble endeavour of the capitalists to oppress the workers, is also beyond doubt. Well, let us see what the effect of this would be. To compare working time under the old system with that   under the new (i.e., under the law of June 2, 1897), we must take the number of working hours per year. Only in this way can account be taken of all the holidays and shorter working days on the eve of holidays. How many hours a year does the Russian factory worker usually work now, that is, before the operation of the law of June 2, 1897? It goes without saying that exact information on this point is not available, for it is impossible to calculate the number of working hours of every worker. We must avail ourselves of the information collected for a few factories, and assume that the number of hours at other factories is approximately the same as that at the factories investigated. Let us take the information collected for Moscow Gubernia. The number of working days in the year was calculated exactly in the case of 45 big factories. It was found that the total number of working days in the year at all these 45 factories together was 12,010, that is, an average of 267 working days per factory.[6] The number of working hours per week (as shown by data for several hundred factories) averages 74, or 12 <½ hours a day. Hence, in the year there were 267 x 12 <½ = 3,293 working hours, or in round numbers 3,300. In the city of Odessa, we reckoned up the figures for 54 large factories for which we have information regarding the number of working days in the year, and the number of hours. We found that the average number of working hours per year in all these factories is 3,139, or considerably less than in Moscow Gubernia. In Odessa the working day is shorter, in most cases 10 <½ hours, the average for these 54 factories being 10.7 hours. Hence the number of working hours per year is lower, although there are fewer holidays. Let us see how many working hours we get under the new law. First of all, let us count up the number of working days in the year. For this purpose, we must deduct from 365, firstly, 66 holidays; secondly, half a day on Christmas eve, and, thirdly, the free time the worker   enjoys by ceasing work 1 <½ hours earlier on the eve of holidays. The number of holiday eves will be 60 (not 66, for about 6 holidays coincide with other rest-days). Hence, the reduced hours on the eve of holidays amount to 60 x 1 <½ = 90 working hours, or 8 working days. Thus, in all, from the 365 days in the year, we have to deduct 74 <½ holidays (66 + <½ + 8 = 74 <½). The result is 290 <½ working days, or 290 <½ x 11 <½ = 3,340 working hours. Thus we find that if the number of holidays is reduced to the compulsory number established by the law, the condition of the workers will be worsened rather than improved by the introduction of the new law. On the whole, the number of working hours per year will remain what it was before, or will even be increased ! Of course, this calculation is only approximate; it cannot be made with complete accuracy. But it is based on quite reliable data and clearly shows what a smart device the government has invented to oppress the workers by reducing the number of compulsory holidays as compared with the customary number. This calculation clearly shows that if the workers do not firmly stand up for one another and offer joint resistance to the employers, their condition may be worsened by the introduction of the new law! And please note in addition, that in this calculation we have taken only day-work, that is, ordinary working hours. But what about overtime? As we have seen, the law placed no restrictions on this, and we do not know whether the ministers will introduce any restrictions in the regulations which they have been “empowered” to issue. It is this absence of any restrictions on overtime which chiefly leads us to doubt whether the new law will improve the condition of the workers. If, with the reduction of the normal (ordinary) working day, the wages of the majority of the Russian workers remain as preposterously low as they are at present, the worker will be compelled by want to consent to work overtime, and his condition will not improve. What the worker needs is to work no more than eight hours a day, and to have time for rest, for his development, and for the enjoyment of his rights as a human being, a family man, and a citizen. What the worker needs is to get not a beggarly wage, but enough to live a decent human life, himself to enjoy the advantage of the improvements introduced in production, and not to surrender   all the profit to his exploiters. If in order to earn the same pay the worker has to work the same number of hours as before, is it not all the same to him whether his excessive toil is called ordinary time or overtime? The law to reduce the working day will then remain a dead letter, a scrap of paper. The new law will then not affect the employers in the slightest, and will not compel them to concede anything to the working people. And the officials of the Ministry of Finance, in their servility to the capitalists, are evidently already hinting at this. In the same Vestnik Finansov article they reassure the employers by saying: “The new law, while restricting freedom of contract in the hiring of workers for ordinary jobs, does not deprive the employer of the opportunity to operate his establishment at any time of the day or night and even, in case of need” (yes, yes! our poor downtrodden employers so often experience the “need” for the unpaid labour of the Russian workers) . . . “on holidays by entering into special agreements” (to work overtime) “with the workers.”

You see how these lackeys bow and scrape to the money bags! Please don’t be much disturbed, Messrs. the Employers, they as much as say: you may “operate your establishment at any time of the day or night”; all you have to do is to call overtime what used to be considered ordinary time. You merely have to change the name, that is all!

The most amazing thing in this statement is the brazenness of the officials; they are convinced in advance that there will be no restriction whatever on overtime (if overtime is restricted, the employers will not be able to operate at any time of the day or night!). They are convinced in advance that their frank and cynical advice to the employers not to stand on ceremony will not reach the ears of the workers! In this, even the officials of the Ministry of Finance, we think, have excelled themselves! It will be very instructive for the workers to learn how officials talk to the employers and what advice they give them. On learning this, the workers will realise that under cover of the new law their old enemies are attacking them, in pursuit of their old striving to enslave the workers on the most “legal grounds .”



What is the Significance of the New Law?

We have now acquainted ourselves with the new law in all its details. All that remains is to discuss what significance this law has for the workers and the working-class movement in Russia.

The significance of the new factory law lies, on the one hand, in its being a forced concession by the government, in its having been won from the police government by the united and class-conscious workers. The promulgation of this law shows the success of the working-class movement in Russia; it shows what tremendous power lies in the class conscious and staunch demand of the working masses. No amount of persecution, no wholesale arrests and deportations, no grandiose political trials, no hounding of the workers have been of any avail. The government set all its forces and resources into motion. It hurled itself upon the St. Petersburg workers with all the weight of the tremendous power it commands. It hounded and persecuted the workers without trial and with unparalleled ferocity in the endeavour at all costs to knock the spirit of protest, of struggle, out of the workers, to crush the workers’ incipient socialist movement against the employers and the government. It was all to no avail, and the government was compelled to realise that no amount of persecution of individual workers would eradicate the workers’ movement and that it would have to make concessions. This autocratic government, considered to be all-powerful and independent of the people, had to yield to the demands of several tens of thousands of St. Petersburg workers. We have seen how insignificant and ambiguous these concessions are. But this is only the first step. The working-class movement has long ago spread beyond St. Petersburg; it is growing and expanding, embracing the masses of industrial workers with growing thoroughness all over the country. And when all these masses, led by one party, the socialist party, present their joint demands, the government will no longer be able to get away with such an insignificant concession!

On the other hand, the significance of the new law lies in the fact that it necessarily and inevitably gives a fresh   impetus to the Russian working-class movement. We have seen how the law tries wherever possible to leave loopholes for the employers, to leave the most important points vague and indefinite. Everywhere there is bound to be conflict between the employers and the workers over the application of this law; and this conflict will embrace a far larger area, for the law applies to the whole of Russia. The workers will be able to wage the struggle consciously and firmly, to insist on their demands, and to evade the snares which our anti-strike police laws have set for them. The introduction of new factory regulations, the change in the ordinary, regular working day in the vast majority of factories all over Russia will be of tremendous benefit: it will stir up the most backward sections of the workers; everywhere it will awaken a most lively interest in questions of factory life and factory regulations; it will provide a splendid, convenient and lawful opportunity for the workers to present their demands, to uphold their interpretation of the law, to uphold the old customs when they are more advantageous to the worker (as, for example, the customary holidays and the cessation of work on Saturdays not 1 <½ but 2 and more hours earlier), to press for more favourable terms when concluding new agreements on overtime, and to press for higher pay, so that the reduction of the working day may really benefit the workers and not be detrimental to them in any way,




The pamphlet on the new factory law (the law of June 2, 1897) had already been written when, in the beginning of October, there were published regulations governing the application of this law, as endorsed by the Ministry of Finance in agreement with the Ministry of Internal Affairs on September 20, 1897. We have already spoken about the enormous importance these regulations must have for the law as a whole. This time the Ministry hastened to issue regulations before the new law came into force, because these regulations (as we shall see presently) indicate the cases in which departures from the requirements of the new law are permitted, i.e., when the employers are permitted “to operate” for longer hours than stipulated by law. If the factory owners did not urgently need these regulations, the workers, of course, would have had to wait long before they were issued. The publication of the “regulations” was soon followed by the publication of Instructions to Factory Inspectorate Officials concerning the application of the law of June 2, 1897, ostensibly for the purpose merely of explaining to the factory inspectors how the law should be applied; these instructions legally give the officials a perfectly free hand and are directed entirely against the workers, for they permit the employers to evade the law in every way. The Imperial Government is very fond of drafting laws in magnificent terms and then of permitting these laws to be evaded by substituting instructions for them. A detailed examination of the regulations reveals to us that this is precisely the nature of the new instructions. Let us also point out that these “instructions” are largely copied word for word from the article in Vestnik Finansov which we referred   to on many occasions in the pamphlet on the new law. Thus, in the pamphlet we showed how Vestnik Finansov suggested a trick to the employers, namely: the newspaper explained that the new law did not apply in those cases where no mention was made of the length of the working day in the contract between the worker and the employer, since in that case, it suggested, the worker was not “a hired worker, but a person who accepts an order.” This pettifogging explanation is repeated word for word in the “instructions.” The regulations consist of twenty-two clauses, many of which, however, simply repeat in their entirety the clauses of the law of June 2, 1897. Let us observe that these regulations apply only to employers “who come within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Finance”; they do not apply to mining and metallurgical plants, or to railway workshops, or to government factories. A strict distinction must be drawn between these regulations and the law itself: the regulations have been issued only in pursuance of the law, and the ministers who issued them may supplement and amend them, or issue new ones. The regulations deal with the following five subjects: 1) meal times; 2) Sunday and holiday rest; 3) departures from the new law; 4) shifts and 5) over time. Let us examine the regulations on each subject in detail and show in each case how the Ministry of Finance, in its instructions, recommends that these regulations be applied.


Concerning meal times, the following regulations are laid down: first, that meal times do not count as part of working hours, that the worker is free during meal times; the meal times must be indicated in the factory rules; second, that meal times are obligatory only in those cases when the working day exceeds ten hours, and the meal time must not be less than of one hour’s duration. This regulation does not improve the workers’ condition in the least. If anything, it does the opposite. An hour’s break is very little: most factories allow an hour and a half for dinner, and in some cases also half an hour for lunch. The ministers did   their best to make the break as short as possible! Quite often the worker scarcely has time to go home to dinner in an hour.

It goes without saying that the workers will not permit such a short break to be established and will demand a longer one. Another reservation concerning compulsory meal hours also threatens to encroach upon the workers’ rights: according to the ministers’ regulations, a break for meals is obligatory only when the working day exceeds ten hours! Hence, where the working day is ten hours, the employer is entitled not to give the workers a break for meals! Again, the workers themselves will have to see to it that the employers will not be able and will not dare to take advantage of this right. The workers can refuse to agree to such regulations (when they are included in the factory rules) and can demand more frequent breaks for meals. The ministers were not satisfied even with these restrictions. In a “note” to this regulation it is added that “in cases where considerable obstacles are encountered, departures from this requirement are permitted, “ i.e., Messrs. the Employers are permitted to give the workers no breaks for meals at all! The ministers permit this, but it is hardly likely that the workers will permit it. Moreover, the ministers also permit departures when the demand for a break is recognised as burdensome for the workers. Oh, these solicitous ministers! Our ministers thought about the “burden” which meal time breaks would impose upon the workers, but Messrs. the Ministers do not say a word about the “burden” imposed upon the workers by having to get their dinner within an hour, or about the still greater “burden” of working ten hours with out a break! A third regulation governing meal times requires that the worker be given the opportunity to take food at intervals of no more than six hours. But the regulations do not call for a break every six hours; what, then, is the sense of such a regulation? How can a worker take food without a break? Messrs. the Ministers did not trouble about that. If there is no break (the regulations say), the worker “must be given an opportunity to take food during working time, and the factory rules must indicate the place for taking food.” The whole of this regulation is so absurd that one can only express astonishment! One of two things: either this “place for taking food” will be indicated   as one other than where the worker works ; in that case a break will be inevitable. Or the place will be indicated as the one where the worker works ; in that case, what is the sense of indicating the place? If the worker has no right to interrupt his work—how can he eat without interrupting his work? Messrs. the Ministers regard the workers as machines: a machine can be fed with oil while it is working, why then (think our “solicitous” ministerial hangers-on of the capital) cannot the worker stuff himself with food while working? The only hope left to the workers is that such a stupid regulation could only have been invented in Russian bureaucratic offices, and will not actually be put into force. The workers will demand that the indicated “place for taking food” will not be where they work : the workers will demand a break for meals every six hours. This, then, is all the regulations say about meal times. The ministers have pursued the law in such a way that it can only worsen the workers’ condition, unless the workers themselves stand up, and stand up together, for their rights and not for the ministerial regulations.


Concerning Sundays and holidays, there is only one brief regulation, namely, that on Sundays and holidays the workers must be free from work for no less than twenty-four hours at a stretch. This was the least that could be ordered “in pursuance” of the law governing Sundays and holidays. It could not be less. It never occurred to the ministers to give the workers longer rest periods (for example, thirty-six hours, as is the case in some other countries). As regards non-Christians, the regulations say nothing.


On the subject of departures from the law, there are many regulations, very many in fact, and drawn up in great detail, Let us remind the workers that the law gave the ministers power to permit, in the regulations, departures from the law, by extending the requirements of the law (i.e., demanding   more for the workers from the employers) and reducing the requirements of the law (i.e., demanding less for the workers from the employers). Let us see what the ministers have done. First regulation. Departures from the law are permitted in those cases where “the workers are engaged on continuous operations, i.e., such operations as cannot arbitrarily be interrupted without damage to instruments, materials, or goods.” In such cases, Messrs. the Employers may “operate” for periods longer than that provided for in the law. All that the regulation demands in such a case is, firstly, that the working hours during the course of two consecutive days should not exceed twenty-four hours (and in the case of broken shifts—thirty hours). Why it says twenty-four hours in two days and not twelve hours in one day we shall see in the paragraph dealing with shifts. Secondly, the regulation demands that where operations are continuous, the worker must be freed from work four days a month, if his working day exceeds eight hours. Thus, for workers who are engaged on continuous operations, the number of rest-days is greatly reduced : four a month, forty-eight a year, whereas even the law (with all its restricted holidays) allows sixty-six compulsory holidays a year. What reasonable grounds did the ministers have for reducing this number of holidays? None whatever; in any case, the continuity of operations is broken even with four holidays a month, i.e., in any case the employers must hire other workers for the holidays (if the operation is indeed continuous, i.e., if it cannot be interrupted ). Thus, Messrs. the Ministers cut the workers’ holidays still more only in order to “restrict” the employers as little as possible, to reduce the number of cases when other workers must be hired! More than that. The “instructions” go so far as to permit the factory inspectors to sanction factory rules which provide for even fewer rest-days for the workers ! The factory inspector must merely report such cases to the Department of Commerce and Industry. This is a very striking example, which shows why our government is fond of meaningless laws and detailed regulations and instructions: to alter an inconvenient regulation, it is sufficient to apply to the Department . . . of Palm-Greasing!! Similarly, the factory inspector may (according to the instructions!) permit the term continuous   to be applied to such operations as are not included in the list appended to the instructions: it is sufficient to report to the Department. . . . A note to this regulation says that the continuous operations must be specially indicated in the factory rules. “Departures from this law are only permitted insofar as they are really necessary” (this is what the ministers’ regulation says). But who is to see whether they are really necessary or not? Nobody but the workers: they must not permit reservations regarding continuous operations to be included in the factory rules unless they are really necessary. Second regulation. Departures from the law are permitted in cases where the workers are engaged on auxiliary operations in various kinds of production (current repairs, tending of boilers, motors and transmission belts, heating, lighting, water supply, watch and fire service, and so forth). These departures must also be especially indicated in the factory rules. As regards rest days for these workers, the regulations do not say a word. Again, the workers themselves must see to it that they get rest-days, i.e., must not agree to factory rules which do not provide rest-days for such workers. Third regulation. Departures from the regulations governing the length of the working day and rest on Sundays and holidays and from the factory rules are permitted in two other cases: first, in case of sudden damage to machines, tools, etc., which causes a stoppage of work in the whole factory, or in one of its departments. In such cases, the necessary repairs may be made regardless of the regulations. Secondly, permission is given, regardless of the regulations, to perform “temporary work in any department of the establishment, in those cases when, as a consequence of fire, break-down and similar unforeseen circumstances, the work in one or another department of the establishment is reduced or entirely stopped for a time, and when that is essential for the full running of the other departments of the establishment.” (In such cases, the employer must that very day report the matter to the factory inspector, who sanctions such work.) This last regulation shows what tremendous “solicitude” our ministers display to ensure that the employers do not expend an extra ruble. Suppose there was a fire in one department of a factory. Work is stopped. After   the repairs are made the employer wants to make up for lost time. Therefore, the minister permits him to squeeze as much extra labour out of the workers as he likes by compelling them to work even as long as eighteen hours a day. But what have the workers got to do with it? When the employer makes more profit, does he share it with the workers, does he shorten the working day? Why, then, should the working day be lengthened for the workers when the employer suffers loss? Why, that means—I take the profit, but I make the workers bear the losses. If it is necessary to make up for lost time, why not hire additional workers? The “solicitude” displayed by the Russian ministers for the pockets of the employers is amazing! Fourth regulation. Departures from the new law may also be made “in other especially important and exceptional cases.” (What are these cases? So many especially important and exceptional cases have been enumerated that one might think no more would be left!) Such departures are permitted in each separate case by the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Internal Affairs. Thus the employer will make a request, the ministers will grant permission, and all’s well. The workers are not even asked: can the “gentry” be expected to ask the opinion of the common people? The vulgar mob must work for the capitalists and not argue about whether it is an “exceptional” case or just the ordinary lust for gain that compels the employer to go begging. Such are the ministers’ regulations about departures from the new law. As we see, all these regulations indicate how and when the law may not be obeyed, how and when the law’s demands on the employers for the workers’ benefit may be reduced. The ministers say not a single word about increasing the legal demands upon the employers for the workers’ benefit. Let the workers recall what was said in the pamphlet on the new factory law about the purpose for which the law gives the ministers such great powers!


As regards shifts, there is only one short regulation which, in cases where 18 hours’ work is done in two shifts, permits an increase in the number of hours to 12 a day with the   proviso that the working time for two weeks shall not exceed 9 hours per day for each worker. Thus, this regulation also permits lengthening of the working day. How many regulations have there been to lengthen the working day, but not one to shorten it—and there will be none! According to this regulation, the workers may be compelled to work 12 hours a day for a whole week, and the “instructions” again add that the factory inspectors may permit other departures from the law, provided they report these to the Director. . . . The question of shifts is also covered by the above-mentioned regulation which fixes the working time on continuous operations at 24 hours in two days. The instructions explain why it says 24 hours in two days and not 12 hours in one day. This is said in order to leave in force the scandalous system that prevails in some factories of working a continuous double shift with an interval of eight hours : under this system, a worker works 16 hours one day and 8 hours the next, without ever having proper rest or proper sleep. It is difficult to imagine anything more scandalous than such shifts; but far from doing anything to restrict this scandalous system, the ministers even had the insolence to say in the “instructions” that under many circumstances such shifts are more convenient for the workers!! How solicitous the ministers are for the convenience of the workers !


As regards overtime, the regulations at first sight appear to give the most precise directions. The limitation of overtime is the chief thing required not only in the ministerial regulations, but also in the new law as a whole. We have already spoken above about the utter vagueness of the law itself on this point, about the original intention of the Ministry of Finance not to issue any additional overtime regulations. It now turns out that the ministers have after all limited overtime, have limited it in precisely the way proposed by the commission which drafted the new law, i.e., to 120 hours a year. But, on the other hand, in his “instructions,” the Minister of Finance reproduced from Vestnik Finansov, for the edification of the factory inspectors, all the   traps and tricks against the workers which we quoted in the pamphlet on the new law: the “instructions,” we repeat, are copied from Vestnik Finansov.

The first regulation concerns the point in the new law which permits the employer to include in the contract with the worker the stipulation to work such overtime as is necessitated by the technical conditions of the industry. We have already mentioned the vagueness of this. And yet, this clause of the law is of enormous importance: if the stipulation to work overtime is included in the factory rules, then overtime becomes obligatory for the worker, and the entire law remains entirely unenforced in this respect. The ministerial regulations now interpret this term in the following way: only such work may be regarded as “necessitated by the technical conditions of the industry” as is called forth “exclusively by departures from its normal course which are accidental and dependent upon the nature of the industry.” Thus, for example, departures called forth by an increased influx of orders are not affected (as they are not dependent upon the nature of the industry). Departures called forth by a fire, break-down and so forth, are also not affected, because they, too, do not depend upon the nature of the industry itself. Common sense would suggest that this is how the regulation should be interpreted. But here the “instructions” come to the employers’ aid. The “instructions” so brilliantly increase the number of cases when overtime may be made compulsory for the workers, including it in the terms of hire, i.e., in the factory rules, that absolutely anything you like can be classed among these cases. Indeed, let the workers recall how the law was pursued in the Vestnik Finansov article and compare the “instructions” with the latter. First, the “instructions” speak of work “necessitated by the technical conditions of the industry”—and then, imperceptibly, it substitutes another term: “work that is absolutely essential” (Is that so? But who is to judge what is essential?)—and further on the instructions give petty examples of what is “absolutely essential”: it turns out that this includes those cases when the employer finds it “impossible, or difficult” (our old acquaintance!) “to increase the number of workers,” when there is rush and urgent work (in seasonal work, for example);   when a print-shop has to issue a newspaper daily; when the job could not be foreseen in advance, and so forth. In short, if you want anything, ask for it. The shameless hangers-on of the capitalists in the Ministry of Finance have pursued the law in such a way that the employer has the right to include in his factory rules the demand for any amount of overtime. And once such a demand is included in the factory rules, the whole new law goes to blazes and everything remains as before. The workers must not permit these demands to be included in the factory rules, otherwise their conditions, far from being improved, will be worsened. This example shows the workers how the employers and government officials conspire to enslave the workers again on a legal basis. The “instructions” clearly reveal this conspiracy, this subservience of the Ministry of Finance to the interests of the capitalists.

The second overtime regulation lays down that the overtime by each worker shall not exceed 120 hours per year, but this figure does not include, firstly, the overtime stipulated in the contract as obligatory for the worker due to “the technical conditions of the industry,” and we have just seen that the ministers have permitted this term to be applied to any number of cases which have nothing to do with the “technical conditions of the industry”; secondly, it does not include the overtime worked in case of fire, breakdown, and so forth, or to make up for time lost in case of a stoppage in some department.

Taken together, all these overtime regulations remind us astonishingly of the fable about how the lion shared the prey “equally” among his fellow hunters; the first portion he took by right; the second portion he took for being the king of beasts; the third for being strongest of all; and as for the fourth—whoever dared as much as stretch his paw towards it would not get away alive.[10] This is exactly how our employers will now argue about overtime. First, they will squeeze overtime out of the workers “by right,” on the plea that it is “necessitated by the technical conditions of the industry,” i.e., any amount of overtime, as long as it is provided for in the factory rules. Second, they will squeeze overtime out of the workers in “special cases,” i.e., when they want to throw the burden of their losses   on the workers. Third, they will squeeze another 120 hours per year out of them on the grounds that they are rich and the workers are poor. Fourth, in “exceptional cases” they will receive special privileges from the ministers. And then the workers may “freely” enjoy what remains out of the 24 hours of the day after all this—bearing well in mind that the fair government does not by any means “deprive them of their right” to work even 24 hours a day. . . . To legalise this squeezing of overtime out of the workers it is ordered that the employers shall keep special registers of all these forms of overtime. In one register they will record what they squeeze out of the workers “by right”; in another register, what they squeeze out in “special cases”; in a third, what they squeeze out by “special agreement” (not more than 120 hours per year); in a fourth, what they squeeze out of them in “exceptional cases.” Instead of an improvement in the workers’ condition, we get nothing but red tape and bureaucratic correspondence (as is always the case with all the reforms introduced by the autocratic Russian Government). The factory policemen will visit the factories and “inspect” . . . these registers (which the devil himself will not be able to make head or tail of), and during the time that they are free from this useful occupation they will report to the Director of the Department of Commerce and Manufacture suggesting new sops for the employers, and to the Department of Police about workers’ strikes. How shrewd are these people, these hucksters and bashi-bazouks who constitute our government! For a reasonable price they will now hire a foreign representative who will shout at all the crossroads of “Europe” about the laws for the workers’ benefit that we have in this country.


In conclusion let us make a general survey of the ministerial regulations. Let us recall what regulations the new law provides the ministers with. Three categories of regulations: 1) regulations to interpret the law; 2) regulations to increase or reduce the demands made by the new law on employers; 3) regulations concerning trades especially harmful to the   workers’ health. What use have the ministers made of the powers granted them by this law?

As to the first category, they have confined themselves to the most essential, to the very minimum below which they could not go. They have permitted overtime on a very wide and elastic scale—120 hours per year and, moreover, by means of the instructions have introduced such a host of exceptions that they rob the regulations of all meaning. They have done their best to cut down the workers’ meal times, they have left the scandalous shift system as it was, if they have not actually made it worse.

As to the second category of regulations, the ministers have done all they could to reduce the demands of the new law on the employers, i.e., they have done all they could for the employers and absolutely nothing for the workers : in no single case do the regulations increase the demands of the new law upon the employers for the workers’ benefit.

As to the third category of regulations (i.e., those for the benefit of the workers who are compelled to work at the most harmful occupations), the ministers have done absolutely nothing, they have said not a single word about them. All that the instructions say is that the factory inspectors may report to the Department about especially injurious trades! As far as “reporting” goes the factory inspectors could formerly also report anything they liked, only till now, for some inexplicable reason, these factory policemen “reported” about workers’ strikes and about methods of terrorising the workers, and not about protecting the workers in the especially injurious trades.

From this the workers can see for themselves what they may expect from the officials of the police government. To secure an eight-hour day and the complete banning of overtime the Russian workers still have a long and stubborn struggle to wage.


[1] See pamphlet Explanation of the Law on Fines. (In the present volume, p. 29.—Ed.) —Lenin

[2] It comes into force in November 1898. —Lenin

[3] The old song! Every year Russian factories—especially those in the central regions—receive rush orders for the Nizhni-Novgorod Fair; and every year they solemnly assure all the simpletons who believe them, or who pretend to believe them, that they were unable to foresee this!... —Lenin

[4] Even the Ministry of Finance itself, in its interpretation of the new law, was obliged to admit that “the sanctioning of overtime seems to be inappropriate” (Vestnik Finansov ). —Lenin

[5] We have enumerated only the holidays that have been observed by all factories till now. There are many other holidays that have been observed by the overwhelming majority of factories, for example, pre-Lent days, Shrove Friday; Thursday, Friday and Saturday of Easter week, and many others. —Lenin

[6] If the number of working days in the year is 267, the number of non-working days, holidays, must be 98. We said above that there were 89 holidays, but we arrived at this figure by taking, firstly, only machine-operated factories, and secondly, not the average number of holidays for all factories, but the number of holidays most often met with. —Lenin

[7] Lenin wrote the pamphlet The New Factory Law in the summer of 1897 while in exile in Siberia, and the supplement in the autumn of the same year. Judging from P. B. Axelrod’s preface to the first edition of Lenin’s pamphlet The Tasks of the Russian Social Democrats, the manuscript of the pamphlet appeared abroad only in autumn 1898. It was printed in 1899 in Geneva by the Emancipation of Labour group at the press of The League of Russian Social-Democrats.

[8] Lenin refers to the notices that appeared at the beginning of January 1897 in all St. Petersburg spinning and weaving mills introducing the 11 <½-hour working day as from April 16 (28), i.e, shortly before May Day (April 19), the day of the international solidarity of the working people of all countries.

[9] Vestnik Finansov, Promyshlennosti i Torgovli (Finance, Industry and Trade Herald )—a weekly journal published by the Ministry of Finance in St. Petersburg from November 1883 to 1917 (until January 1885 it was called Ukazatel Pravitelstvennykh Rasporyazheny po Ministerstvu Finansov [Record of Government Instructions—Ministry of Finance ]). Government regulations, economic articles and reviews were published in its columns.

[10] Lenin paraphrases I. A. Krylov’s fable “The Lion’s Share.”

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