V. I. Lenin

Explanatory Note on the Draft of the
Main Grounds of the Bill on the Eight-Hour Working Day

Written: Written in the autumn of 1909
Published: First published in 1924 in the magazine Proletarskaya Revolutsia, No. 4 (27). Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 16, pages 110-116.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Copyleft: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) © 2004 Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.  


In the present, second part of the explanatory note we in tend to dwell on the question of the type of the Social-Democratic Bill on the Eight-Hour Working Day for the Third Duma and on the grounds explaining the basic features of the Bill.

The original draft in the possession of the Duma Social-Democratic group and given to our subcommittee could be taken as a basis, but it has required a number of alterations.

The main aim of the Bills introduced by the Social-Democrats in the Third Duma must lie in propaganda and agitation for the Social-Democratic programme and tactics. Any hopes of the “reformism” of the Third Duma would not only be ludicrous, but would threaten completely to distort the character of Social-Democratic revolutionary tactics and convert it into the tactics of opportunist, liberal social-reformism. Needless to say, such a distortion of Social-Democratic Duma tactics would directly and emphatically contradict the universally binding decisions of our Party, viz.: the resolutions of the London Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. and the resolutions, confirmed by the Central   Committee, of the All-Russian Party Conferences of November 1907 and December 1908.

For Bills introduced by the Social-Democratic group in the Duma to fulfil their purpose, the following conditions are necessary.

(1) Bills must set out in the clearest and most definite form the individual demands of the Social-Democrats included in the minimum programme of our Party or necessarily following from this programme;

(2) Bills must never be burdened with an abundance of legal subtleties; they must give the main grounds for the pro posed laws, but not elaborately worded texts of laws with all details;

(3) Bills should not excessively isolate various spheres of social reform and democratic changes, as might appear essential from a narrowly legal, administrative or “purely parliamentary” standpoint. On the contrary, pursuing the aim of Social-Democratic propaganda and agitation, Bills should give the working class the most definite idea possible of the necessary connection between factory (and social in general) reforms and the democratic political changes without which all “reforms” of the Stolypin autocracy are inevitably destined to undergo a “Zubatovist”{6} distortion and be reduced to a dead letter. As a matter of course this indication of the connection between economic reforms and politics must be achieved not by including in all Bills the demands of consistent democracy in their entirety, but by bringing to the fore the democratic and specially proletarian-democratic institutions corresponding to each individual reform, and the impossibility of realising such institutions without radical political changes must be emphasised in the explanatory note to the Bill;

(4) in view of the extreme difficulty under present conditions of legal Social-Democratic propaganda and agitation among the masses, Bills must be so composed that the Bill taken separately and the explanatory note to it taken separately can achieve their aim on reaching the masses (whether by being reprinted in non-Social-Democratic newspapers, or by the distribution of separate leaflets with the text of the Bill, etc.), i.e., can be read by rank-and-file unenlightened workers to the advantage of the development   of their class-consciousness. With this end in view the Bills in their entire structure must be imbued with a spirit of proletarian distrust of the employers and of the state as an organ serving the employers: in other words, the spirit of the class struggle must permeate the whole structure of the Bill and ensue from the sum of its separate propositions;

finally (5) under conditions in Russia today, i.e., in the absence of a Social-Democratic press and Social-Democratic meetings, Bills must give a sufficiently concrete idea of the changes demanded by the Social-Democrats and not limit themselves to a mere proclamation of principle. The ordinary unenlightened worker should find his interest aroused by the Social-Democratic Bill, he should be inspired by its concrete picture of change so that later he passes from this individual picture to the Social-Democratic world outlook as a whole.

Proceeding from these basic premises, it has to he admitted that the type of Bill chosen by the author of the original draft of the Bill on the Eight-Hour Working Day is more in accordance with Russian conditions than, for example, those Bills on a shorter working day which were introduced by the French and German Social-Democrats in their parliaments. For example, the Bill on the Eight-Hour Working Day moved by Jules Guesde in the French Chamber of Deputies on May 22, 1894, contains two articles: the first for bids working longer than eight hours per day and six days per week, the second permits work in several shifts provided that the number of working hours per week does not exceed 48.{2} The German Social-Democratic Bill of 1890 contains 14 lines, proposing a 10-hour working day immediately, a nine-hour working day from January 1, 1894, and an eight-hour day from January 1, 1898. In the session of 1900–02 the German Social-Democrats put forward a still shorter proposal for limiting the working day immediately to ten hours, and subsequently to eight hours, at a time to be decided separately.{3}

In any case, of course, such Bills are ten times more rational from the Social-Democratic point of view than attempts to “adapt” oneself to what is practicable for reactionary or bourgeois governments. But whereas in France and Germany, where there is freedom of press and assembly, it suffices to draft a Bill with only a proclamation of principle, in our case in Russia at the present time it is necessary to add concrete propaganda material in the Bill itself.

Hence we regard as more expedient the type adopted by the author of the original draft, but a number of corrections need to be made in this draft, for in some cases the author commits what is in our opinion an extremely important and extremely dangerous mistake, viz., he lowers the demands of our minimum programme without any need for it (e.g., by fixing the weekly rest period at 36 hours instead of 42, or by saying nothing about the need to have the consent of the workers’ organisations for permitting night work). In a few cases the author, as it were, tries to adapt his Bill to the requirement of “practicability” by proposing, for example, that the minister should decide requests for exceptions (with the matter being raised in the legislative body) and by making no mention of the role of the workers’ trade union organisations in implementing the law on the eight-hour day.

The Bill proposed by our subcommittee introduces into the original draft a number of corrections in the above-mentioned direction. In particular, we shall dwell on the grounds for the following alterations of the original draft.

On the question of what enterprises should come under the Bill, the sphere of its application should be extended to include all branches of industry, trade and transport, and all kinds of institutions (including those of the state: the post office, etc.) as well as home work. In the explanatory note put forward in the Duma the Social-Democrats must especially emphasise the need for such an extension and for putting an end to all boundaries and divisions (in this matter) between the factory, trading, office, transport and other sections of the proletariat.

The question may arise of agriculture, in view of the demand in our minimum programme for an eight-hour working day “for all wage-workers”. We think, however, that it is   hardly expedient at the present time for the Russian Social-Democrats to take the initiative in proposing an eight-hour working day in agriculture. It would be better to make the proviso in the explanatory note that the Party reserves the right to introduce a further Bill in regard to both agriculture and domestic service, etc.

Further, in all cases where the Bill deals with the permissibility of exceptions to the law, we have inserted a demand for the consent of the workers’ trade union to each exception. This is essential in order to show the workers clearly that it is impossible to achieve an actual reduction of the working day without independent action on the part of the workers’ organisations.

Next, we must deal with the question of the gradual introduction of the eight-hour working day. The author of the original draft does not say a word about this, limiting himself to the simple demand for the eight-hour day as in Jules Guesde’s Bill. Our draft, on the other hand, follows the model of Parvus{4} and the draft of the German Social-Democratic group in the Reichstag, establishing a gradual introduction of the eight-hour working day (immediately, i.e., within three months of the law coming into force, a ten-hour day, and a reduction by one hour annually). Of course, the difference between the two drafts is not such an essential one. But in view of the very great technical backwardness of Russian industry, the extremely weak organisation of the Russian proletariat and the huge mass of the working class population (handicraftsmen, etc.) that has not yet participated in any big campaign for a reduction of the working day—in view of all these conditions it will be more expedient here and now, in the Bill itself, to answer the inevitable objection that a sharp change is impossible, that with such a change the workers’ wages will be reduced, etc.[5] Laying   down a gradual introduction of the eight-hour working day (the Germans protracted its introduction to eight years; Parvus to four years; we are proposing two years) provides an immediate reply to this objection: work in excess of ten hours per day is certainly irrational economically and impermissible on health and cultural grounds. The annual term, however, for reducing the working day by one hour fully suffices for the technically backward enterprises to come into line and introduce changes, and for the workers to go over to the new system without an appreciable difference in labour productivity.

The introduction of the eight-hour working day should be made gradual not in order to “adapt” the Bill to the measure of the capitalists or government (there can be no question of this, and if such ideas were to arise we should, of course, prefer to exclude any mention of gradualness), but in order to show everyone quite clearly the technical, cultural and economic practicability of the Social-Democratic programme in even one of the most backward countries.

A serious objection to making the introduction of the eight-hour working day a gradual one in the Russian Social-Democratic Bill would be that this would disavow, even if indirectly, the revolutionary Soviets of Workers’ Deputies of 1905, which called for immediate realisation of the eight-hour working day. We regard this as a serious objection, for the slightest disavowal of the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies in this respect would be direct renegacy, or at any rate support of the renegades and counter-revolutionary liberals, who have made themselves notorious by such a disavowal.

We think therefore that in any case, whether gradualness will be incorporated in the Bill of the Social-Democratic Duma group or not, in any case it is altogether essential that both the explanatory note submitted to the Duma and the Duma speech of the Social-Democratic representative, should quite definitely express a view which absolutely excludes the slightest disavowal of the actions of the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies and absolutely includes our recognition of them as correct in principle, wholly legitimate and necessary.

“The Social-Democrats,” so, approximately, the statement of the Social-Democratic representatives or their explanatory note should read, “do not in any case renounce the immediate introduction of the eight-hour working day; on the contrary, in certain historical conditions, when the struggle becomes acute, when the energy and initiative of the mass movement are at a high. level, when the clash between the old society and the new assumes sharp forms, when for the success of the working class struggle against medievalism, for instance, it is essential not to stop at anything—in short, in conditions resembling those of November 1905—the Social-Democrats regard the immediate introduction of the eight-hour working, day as not only legitimate but even essential. By inserting in its Bill at the present time a gradual introduction of the eight-hour working day, the Social-Democrats merely desire to show thereby the entire possibility of putting into effect the demands of the programme of the R.S.D.L.P. even under the worst historical conditions, even during the slowest tempo of economic, social and cultural development."

Let us repeat: we consider such a declaration on the part of the Social-Democrats in the Duma and in their explanatory note to the Bill on the eight-hour working day as absolutely and under all circumstances essential, whereas the question of introducing a gradual establishment of the eight-hour working day in the Bill itself is relatively less important.

The remaining changes made by us in the original draft of the Bill concern particular details and do not require special comment.


[1] The first part of the first chapter of the explanatory note should include a popular account, written in as propagandist a manner as possible, of the reasons in favour of the eight-hour working day, from the point of view of the productivity of labour, the health and cultural interests of the proletariat, and the interests in general of its struggle for emancipation. —Lenin

{2} Jules Guesde, Le Problème et la solution; les huit heures à la chambre, Lille. (The Problem and Its Solution; the Eight-Hour Day in ParliamentEd.)

{3} M. Schippel, Sozial-Demokratisches Reichstagshandbuch (Social Democratic Handbook to the ReichstagEd.) Berlin, 1902, pp. 882 and 886.

{4} Parvus, Die Handelskrisis und die Gewerkschaften. Nebst Anhang, Gesetzentwurf über den achtstundigen Normalarbeitstag. München: 1901 (Parvus, The Trade Crisis and the Trade Unions. With appendix: Bill on the Eight-Hour Normal Working Day Munich, 1901.—Ed.)

[5] On the question of the gradual introduction of the eight-hour working day Parvus says, in our opinion quite rightly, that this feature of his Bill arises “not from the desire to come to an understanding with the employers but from the desire to come to an understanding with the workers. We should follow the tactics of the trade unions:   they carry out the reduction of the working day extremely gradually for they are well aware that this is the easiest way to counteract a reduction of wages” (Parvus’s italics, ibid., pp. 62–63). —Lenin

{6} Zubatov, S. V.—colonel of gendarmerie and chief of the Moscow Secret Police, who carried out a policy known as “police socialism”. In 1901–03, on his initiative legal workers’ organisations were set up in order to divert the workers from the political struggle against the autocracy. Zubatov’s activity in setting up legal workers’ organisations was supported by V. K. Plehve, Minister of the Interior. Zubatov tried to direct the working-class movement towards the achievement of purely economic demands and, to make the workers think that the government was ready to meet their demands. The first Zubatov organisation was set up in Moscow in May 1901 under the name “Society for the Mutual Assistance of Workers in Mechanical Industry”. Zubatov organisations were set up also in Minsk, Odessa, Vilna, Kiev and other cities.

The reactionary character of Zubatovism was unmasked by the revolutionary Social-Democrats, who made use of legal workers’ organisations to draw wide sections of the working class into the struggle against the autocracy. Owing to the upsurge of the revolutionary movement in 1903, the tsarist government was compelled to liquidate the Zubatov organisations.

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