V. I.   Lenin

Penal Servitude Regulations and Penal Servitude Sentences

Published: Iskra, No. 10, November 1901. Published according to the Iskra text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1961, Moscow, Volume 5, pages 243-250.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala and D. Walters
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2003). 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.


Once again “provisional regulations”!

This time, however, it is not disobedient students that are affected, but peasants who are guilty of starving.

On September 15, the “Provisional Regulations Governing the Participation of the Population in the Famine-Affected Areas in the Works Undertaken by Order of the Departments of Railways, Agriculture, and State Property” received the Imperial sanction and were immediately promulgated. When the Russian peasant becomes acquainted with these regulations (not from the newspapers, of course, but from personal experience), he will obtain further confirmation of the truth knocked into him during centuries of enslavement to the landlords and the officials: when the officials solemnly declare that the peasant “is to be allowed to participate” in any large or small affair, either in paying redemption money for the landlords’ land, or in public works organised in connection with the famine, some new Egyptian plague must be expected.

In actuality, the entire contents of the Provisional Regulations of September 15 give the impression of being a new penal law, a supplementary regulation to the Penal Code. In the first place, the very organisation and management of the works are hemmed in with as much profound “caution” and as many bureaucratic complications as if rebels or convicts, rather than famine-stricken peasants, were being dealt with. One would imagine that the organisation of public works was the simplest thing in the world: all that is required is that the Zemstvos and other institutions be provided with funds and employ workers to   build roads, clear forests, etc. Under ordinary circumstances, this is how such works are carried out. Now, however, a new system is introduced. The rural superintendent suggests what kind of work is to be done, the governor gives his opinion, which is transmitted to the special “Conference on Food Affairs” in St. Petersburg, composed of representatives of various government departments, under the chairmanship of the Deputy Minister of the Interior. More over, the general management of this work is vested in the Minister, who may appoint special representatives to act on his behalf. The St. Petersburg Committee will even fix the maximum pay for the workers, which, no doubt, means that it will see to it that the peasant is not “corrupted” by excessive pay! Apparently, the object of the Provisional Regulations of September 15 is to hinder public works on a large scale, precisely as the Sipyagin circular of August 17 hindered relief to the famine-stricken.

But still more important and more vicious are the special regulations governing the engagement of peasants for public works.

If the work is carried on “away from their place of residence” (which naturally affects the overwhelming majority of cases), the workmen must form special artels under the surveillance of the rural superintendent, who is to approve the overseer responsible for maintaining order. Starving peasants must not dare to elect their overseer themselves, as workmen usually do. They are placed under the command of the rural. superintendent armed with the birch! The names of the members of artels are to be entered in a special list, which takes the place of the legal residence permit .... Instead of individual passports, therefore, there will be lists of artel members. The purpose of the change? To restrict the peasant; for, with his own passport, he could make better arrangements for himself in the new place, or leave the work more easily upon being dissatisfied.

Further, “the maintenance of order en route and the delivery of consignments of workmen to the work managers are entrusted to officials specially appointed by the Ministry of the Interior”. Free workmen are given travelling allowances; serfs are “shipped” in listed consignments and “delivered” to special officials. Are not the peasants right   in regarding “public” and state work as a new form of serfdom?

Indeed, the law of September 15 reduces the starving peasants to a position close to that of serfs, not only be cause it deprives them of the freedom of movement. The law gives the officials the right to deduct part of their wages to be sent to the workmen’s families “if the gubernia authorities in the district where their families reside” consider it necessary. The money the workmen earn is to be disposed of without their consent. The peasant is stupid; he cannot look after his family himself. The authorities can do that far better. Who indeed has not heard how well they cared for the peasant families in the military settlements[1]?

One thing stands in the way, however. The peasants are no longer so submissive as they were at the time of the military settlements. They may demand ordinary passports and protest against deductions from their wages without their consent! Hence, it is necessary to resort to greater stringency, and so a special clause provides that “the preservation of order among the workers in the places of work is entrusted by the order of the Ministry of the Interior, to the local rural superintendents, the officers of the special corps of gendarmerie, police officials, or persons specially appointed for the purpose”. Apparently, the government a priori regards the starving peasants as “rebels”, and, in addition to the general surveillance conducted by the entire Russian police force, to which all Russian workers are subjected, it establishes an especially strict surveillance. It is decided beforehand to treat the peasants with an iron hand for having dared to “exaggerate” the famine and for putting forward (as Sipyagin expressed himself in his circular) “totally unjustified demands on the government”.

To avoid having dealings with the courts in the event of any expression of discontent by the workmen, the Provisional Regulations empower the officials to place workmen under arrest for a period not exceeding three days without trial for disturbing the peace, for failing to work conscientiously, and for failing to obey orders. A free workman must be brought before a magistrate before whom he may defend himself, and against whose sentence he may appeal; but a starving peasant may be imprisoned without trial! The only   penalty that can be inflicted upon a free working man for refusing to work is dismissal, but according to the new law, “for persistent refusal to work” the peasant may be sent back to his home under escort, together with thieves and bandits!

The new Provisional Regulations are in fact penal servitude regulations for the famine-stricken, regulations that sentence them to hard labour and deprivation of rights for having dared to importune the officials with requests for aid. The government has not been satisfied with depriving the Zemstvos of jurisdiction over food distribution, with prohibiting private persons from organising food-kitchens without the permission of the police, and with ordering real needs to be reduced to one-fifth; it also declares the peasant to be without rights and orders him to be punished without trial. To the constant penal servitude of a starving existence and overwork is now added the threat of penal servitude on public works.

These are the measures taken by the government with respect to the peasants. As for the workers, the punishment meted out to them is more strikingly described in the “Indictment”, which appeared in our last issue, in connection with the unrest at the Obukhov Works in May. Iskra dealt with these events in its June and July issues. The legal press was silent about the trial, probably remembering how even the most loyal Novoye Vremya “suffered” for attempting to write on this subject. A few lines appeared in the press to the effect that the trial had taken place at the end of September; subsequently one of the southern newspapers casually reported the verdict: two were sentenced to penal servitude, eight were acquitted, the rest were sentenced to imprisonment and detention in houses of correction for terms ranging from two to three and a half years.

Thus, in the article, “Another Massacre” (Iskra, No. 5),[See present volume, pp. 25-3O.—Ed.] we underestimated the vindictiveness of the Russian Government. We believed that in the struggle it had recourse to military reprisals as a last resort, fearing to appeal to the courts. It turns out, however, that it managed to combine one with the other: after assaulting the crowd and killing   three workers, thirty-seven men out of several thousand were seized and sentenced to Draconic punishments.

From the indictment we are able to judge to some extent the manner in which they were seized and tried. Anton Ivanovich Yermakov, Yephraim Stepanovich Dakhin, and Anton Ivanovich Gavrilov are charged with being the ringleaders. The indictment states that Yermakov had leaf lets at his house (according to the evidence of Mikhailova, an assistant in a government liquor shop, who, however, was not called upon to testify at the trial), that he talked about the struggle for political liberty, and that on April 22 he went to Nevsky Prospekt with a red flag. Further it is stressed that Gavrilov, too, possessed and distributed leaflets calling for a demonstration on April 22. In regard to the accused Yakovleva, the charge is likewise that she participated in certain secret gatherings. It is clear, there fore, that the prosecutor sought to single out as ringleaders those whom the secret police suspected of being politically active workers. The political character of the case is apparent also from the fact that the crowd shouted, “We want liberty!” and from the connection with the First of May. It should be said in passing that it was the dismissal of twenty-six men for “losing time” on the First of May that set off the conflagration; but the prosecutor, of course, said not a word about the illegality of the dismissals!

The case is clear. Those suspected of being political enemies were made to stand trial. The secret police submitted the list. And the police “confirmed”, of course, that these persons had been in the crowd, thrown stones, and stood out among the rest.

The trial was used as a shameful cloak for the second act of political vengeance (following the massacre). Politics were mentioned in order to make the case appear more serious, but no explanation of the political circumstances connected with the case was allowed. The men were tried as criminals, according to Article 263 of the Criminal Code, viz., on the charge of “overt rebellion against the authorities appointed by the government”, rebellion, moreover, by armed persons (?). The charge was a frame-up. The police had instructed the judges to examine only one side of the case.

We wish to point out that according to Articles 263-265 of the Code, a sentence of penal servitude may be imposed for participation in a demonstration of any kind: for “overt rebellion for the purpose of preventing the execution of the orders and measures prescribed by the government”, even if the “rebels” were not armed, and even if they did not commit any overt act of violence! Russian laws mete out sentences of penal servitude with a free hand. It is time we saw to it that every such trial is converted into a political trial by the accused themselves, so that the government shall not dare in the future to conceal its political vindictiveness by the farce of a criminal trial!

Yet what “progress”, indeed, is to be observed in the administration of justice as compared, for example, with 1885! Then the weavers in the Morozov mills[2] were tried before a judge and a jury, full reports of the trial appeared in the press, and at the trial workers came forward as witnesses and exposed the outrageous conduct of the employer. But now—a court consisting of officials sitting with representatives of the social-estates without an opinion of their own, a trial behind closed doors, dumb silence on the part of the press, hand-picked witnesses: factory officials; watchmen; policemen, who have beaten the people; soldiers, who have shot down the workers. What a despicable farce!

If we compare the “progress” made in the reprisals against the workers between the years 1885 and 1901 with the “progress” made in the struggle against the famine-stricken between the years 1891 and 1901, we obtain some idea of the rapid spread of popular indignation in extent and in depth, and of the rising fury of the government, which is “clamping down” on both private philanthropists and the peasants, and is terrorising the workers with penal servitude. But threats of penal servitude will not terrify workers whose leaders showed no fear of death in open street battles with the myrmidons of the tsar. The memory of our heroic comrades murdered and tortured to death in prison will increase tenfold the strength of the new fighters and will rouse thousands to rally to their aid, and like the eighteen-year-old Marfa Yakovleva, they will openly say: “We stand by our brothers!” In addition to reprisals by the police and the military against participants in demonstrations,   the government intends to prosecute them for rebellion; we will retaliate by uniting our revolutionary forces and winning over to our side all who are oppressed by the tyranny of tsarism, and by systematically preparing for the uprising of the whole people!


[1] Military settlements—a special organisation of the Russian army introduced under Tsar Alexander I. By organising these settlements the tsarist government expected to curtail expenditure on the maintenance   of the army, ensure a source of trained reserves, and ob tain a reliable force for use against the growing revolutionary movement. The arch-reactionary A. A. Arakcheyev, Minister for War, was appointed head of the military settlements (hence the name—Arakcheyev settlements).

All peasants living on the territory allotted to the settlements were made soldiers for life. Army units were made up of settlers between the ages of 18 and 45 years (“farmers”) and all other peasants fit for military service became “assistant farmers”. Every farmer-settler had to feed three of the soldiers quartered on the settlement. All the settlers had to wear army uniform and undergo constant army training. Their whole lives were subordinated to a severe regime, everything, even family relations, coming under the strict regulations. Army drill and compulsory army work did not leave the peasants sufficient time for work on their faring which gradually fell into ruin.

The unbearable, prison-like conditions of life and work in the military settlements led to a number of large-scale revolts, which were suppressed with incredible cruelty.

Military settlements were abolished in 1857.

[2] See Note 49.

Works Index   |   Volume 5 | Collected Works   |   L.I.A. Index
< backward   forward >