J. V. Stalin

"Factory Legislation" And
The Proletarian Struggle

(Concerning the Two Laws of November 15)

December 4, 1906

Source : Works, Vol. 1, November 1901 - April 1907
Publisher : Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1954
Transcription/Markup : Salil Sen for MIA, 2008
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2008). 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.

There was a time when our labour movement was in its initial stages. At that time the proletariat was split up into separate groups and did not think of waging a common struggle. Railway workers, miners, factory workers, artisans, shop assistants, and clerks — such were the groups into which the Russian proletariat was divided. Moreover, the workers in each group, in their turn, were split up according to the towns, big or small, they lived and worked in, with no link, either party or trade union, between them. Thus, there was no sign of the proletariat as a united and indivisible class. Consequently, there was no sign of the proletarian struggle, as a general class offensive. That is why the tsarist government was able calmly to pursue its "traditional" policy. That is why, when the "Workers' Insurance Bill" was introduced in the State Council in 1893, Pobedonostsev, the inspirer of the reaction, jeered at the sponsors and said with aplomb : "Gentlemen, you have taken all this trouble for nothing; I assure you that there is no labour problem in our country. . . ."

But time passed, the economic crisis drew near, strikes became more frequent, and the disunited proletariat gradually organised itself in a united class. The strikes of 1903 already showed that "there is a labour problem in our country," and that it had existed for a long time. The strikes in January and February 1905 proclaimed to the world for the first time that the proletariat, as a united class, was growing and becoming mature in Russia. Then, the general strikes in October-December 1905, and the "ordinary" strikes in June and July 1906, actually drew together the proletarians in the different towns, actually welded together the shop assistants, clerks, artisans and industrial workers in a united class, and thereby loudly proclaimed to the world that the forces of the once disunited proletariat had now taken the path of union and were organising themselves in a united class. The effect of the general political strike as a method of waging the common proletarian struggle against the present system also made itself felt. . . . Now it was no longer possible to deny the existence of the "labour problem," now the tsarist government was already obliged to reckon with the movement. And so, the reactionaries gathered in their offices and began to set up different commissions and to draft "factory laws": the Shidlovsky Commission, 1 the Kokov-tsev Commission, 2 the Associations Act 3 (see the "Manifesto" of October 17), the Witte-Durnovo circulars, 4 various projects and plans, and lastly the two laws of November 15 applying to artisans and commercial employees.

So long as the movement was weak, so long as it lacked a mass character, the reaction employed only one method against the proletariat — imprisonment, Siberia, the whip and the gallows. Always and everywhere the reaction pursues one object: to split the proletariat into small groups, to smash its vanguard, to intimidate and win over to its side the neutral masses, and thus create confusion in the proletarian camp. We have seen that it achieved this object famously with the aid of whips and prisons.

But things took an entirely different turn when the movement assumed a mass character. Now the reaction had no longer to deal only with "ringleaders" — it was faced by countless masses in all their revolutionary grandeur. And it had to reckon precisely with these masses. But it is impossible to hang the masses; you cannot banish them to Siberia, there are not enough prisons to hold them. As for lashing them with whips, that is not always to the advantage of the reaction now that the ground under its feet has long been shaken. Clearly, in addition to the old methods, a new, "more cultured" method had to be employed, which, in the opinion of the reaction, might aggravate the disagreements in the camp of the proletariat, rouse false hopes among the backward section of the workers, induce them to abandon the struggle and rally around the government.

"Factory legislation" is precisely this new method.

Thus, while still adhering to the old methods, the tsarist government wants, at the same time, to utilise "factory legislation" and, consequently, to solve the "burning labour problem" by means of both the whip and the law. By means of promises of a shorter working day, the protection of child and female labour, improvement in sanitary conditions, workers' insurance, abolition of fines, and other benefits of a similar kind, it seeks to win the confidence of the backward section of the workers and thereby dig the grave of proletarian class unity.

The tsarist government knows very well that it was never so necessary for it to engage in such "activity" as it is now, at this moment when the October general strike has united the proletarians in the different industries and has struck at the roots of reaction, when a future general strike may grow into an armed struggle and overthrow the old system, and when, consequently, the reaction must, for its very life, provoke confusion in the labour camp, win the confidence of the backward workers, and win them over to its side.

In this connection it is extremely interesting to note that, with its laws of November 15, the reaction graciously turned its gaze only upon shop assistants and artisans, whereas it sends the best sons of the industrial proletariat to prison and to the gallows. But this is not surprising when you come to think of it. Firstly, shop assistants, artisans and employees in commercial establishments are not concentrated in big factories and mills as the industrial workers are; they are scattered among small enterprises, they are relatively less class conscious and, consequently, can be more easily deceived than the others. Secondly, shop assistants, office clerks and artisans constitute a large section of the proletariat of present-day Russia and, consequently, their desertion of the militant proletarians would appreciably weaken the forces of the proletariat both in the present elections and in the forthcoming action. Lastly, it is common knowledge that the urban petty bourgeoisie is of great importance in the present revolution; that Social-Democracy must revolutionise it under the hegemony of the proletariat; and that nobody can win over the petty bourgeoisie so well as the artisans, shop assistants and office clerks who stand closer to it than the rest of the proletarians. Clearly, if the shop assistants and artisans desert the proletariat the petty bourgeoisie will turn away from it too, and the proletariat will be doomed to isolation in the towns, which is exactly what the tsarist government wants. In the light of these facts, the reason why the reaction concocted the laws of November 15, which affect only artisans, shop assistants and office clerks, becomes self-evident. The industrial proletariat will not trust the government whatever it may do, so "factory legislation" would be wasted on it. Maybe only bullets can bring the proletariat to its senses. What laws cannot do, bullets must do! . . .

That is what the tsarist government thinks.

And that is the opinion not only of our government, but also of every other anti-proletarian government — irrespective of whether it is feudal-autocratic, bourgeois-monarchist or bourgeois-republican. The fight against the proletariat is waged by means of bullets and laws everywhere, and that will go on until the socialist revolution breaks out, until socialism is established. Recall the years 1824 and 1825 in constitutional England, when the law granting freedom to strike was being drafted, while at the same time the prisons were crammed with workers on strike. Recall republican France in the forties of last century, when there was talk about "factory legislation," while at the same time the streets of Paris ran with workers' blood. Recall all these and numerous other cases of the same kind and you will see that it is precisely as we have said.

That, however, does not mean that the proletariat cannot utilise such laws. True, in passing "factory laws" the reaction has its own plans in view — it wants to curb the proletariat: but step by step life is frustrating the reaction's plans, and under such circumstances clauses beneficial to the proletariat always creep into the laws. This happens because no "factory law" comes into being without a reason, without a struggle; the government does not pass a single "factory law" until the workers come out to fight, until the government is compelled to satisfy the workers' demands. History shows that every "factory law" is preceded by a partial or general strike. The law of June 1882 (concerning the employment of children, the length of the working day for them, and the institution of factory inspection), was preceded by strikes in Narva, Perm, St. Petersburg and Zhirardov in that same year. The laws of June-October 1886 (on fines, pay-books, etc.) were the direct result of the strikes in the central area in 1885-86. The law of June 1897 (shortening the working day) was preceded by the strikes in St. Petersburg in 1895-96. The laws of 1903 (concerning "employers' liability" and "shop stewards") were the direct result of the "strikes in the south" in the same year Lastly, the laws of November 15, 1906 (on a shorter working day and Sunday rest for shop assistants, office clerks and artisans), are the direct result of the strikes that took place all over Russia in June and July this year.

As you see, every "factory law" was preceded by a movement of the masses who in one way or another achieved the satisfaction of their demands, if not in full, then at least in part. It is self-evident, therefore, that however bad a "factory law" may be, it, nevertheless, contains several clauses which the proletariat can utilise for the purpose of intensifying its struggle

Needless to say, it must grasp such clauses and use them as instruments with which still further to strengthen its organisations and to stir up more fiercely the proletarian struggle, the struggle for the socialist revolution. Bebel was right when he said: "The devil's head must be cut off with his own sword". . . .

In this respect, both laws of November 15 are extremely interesting. Of course, they contain numerous bad clauses, but they also contain clauses which the reaction introduced unconsciously, but which the proletariat must utilise consciously.

Thus, for example, although both laws are called laws "for the protection of labour," they contain atrocious clauses which completely nullify all "protection of labour," and which, here and there, even the employers will shrink from utilising. Both laws establish a twelve-hour day in commercial establishments and artisans' workshops, in spite of the fact that in many places the twelve-hour day has already been abolished and a ten- or an eight-hour day has been introduced. Both laws permit two hours overtime per day (making a fourteen-hour day) over a period of forty days in commercial establishments, and sixty days in workshops, in spite of the fact that nearly everywhere all overtime has been abolished. At the same time, the employers are granted the right, "by agreement with the workers," i.e., by coercing the workers, to increase overtime and lengthen the working day to seventeen hours, etc., etc.

The proletariat will not, of course, surrender to the employers a single shred of the rights they have already won, and the fables in the above-mentioned laws will remain the ridiculous fables they really are.

On the other hand, the laws contain clauses which the proletariat can make good use of to strengthen its position. Both laws say that where the working day is not less than eight hours, the workers must be given a two hours' break for dinner. It is well known that at present artisans, shop assistants and office clerks do not everywhere enjoy a two hours' break. Both laws also say that persons under seventeen have the right, in addition to these two hours, to absent themselves from the shop or workshop for another three hours a day to attend school, which of course will be a great relief for our young comrades. . . .

There can be no doubt that the proletariat will make fitting use of such clauses in the laws of November 15, will duly intensify its proletarian struggle, and show the world once again that the devil's head must be cut off with his own sword.


1. The commission headed by Senator Shidlovsky was set up by the tsar's ukase of January 29, 1905, ostensibly "for the purpose of urgently investigating the causes of discontent among the workers of the city of St. Petersburg and its suburbs." It was intended to include in the commission delegates elected by the workers. The Bolsheviks regarded this as an attempt on the part of the tsarist government to divert the workers from the revolutionary struggle and therefore proposed that advantage be taken of the election of delegates to this commission to present political demands to the government. After the government rejected these demands the worker-electors refused to elect their representatives to the commission and called upon the workers of St. Petersburg to come out on strike. Mass political strikes broke out the very next day. On February 20, 1905, the tsarist government was obliged to dissolve the Shidlovsky Commission.

2. The function of the commission headed by V. N. Kokovtsev, the Minister of Finance, set up in February 1905, was, like that of the Shidlovsky Commission, to investigate the labour problem, but without the participation of workers' representatives. The commission remained in existence until the summer of 1905.

3. The Associations Act of March 4, 1906, granted right of legal existence to societies and unions, provided they registered their rules with the government. Notwithstanding the numerous restrictions imposed upon the activities of various associations and the fact that they were held criminally liable for infringements of the law, the workers made extensive use of the rights granted them in order to form proletarian industrial organisations. In the period of 1905-07 mass trade unions were formed in Russia for the first time, and these waged an economic and political struggle under the leadership of revolutionary Social-Democracy

4. After the promulgation of the tsar's Manifesto of October 17, 1905, S. J. Witte, the President of the Council of Ministers, and P. N. Durnovo, the Minister of the Interior, notwithstanding the official proclamation of "freedom," issued a series of circulars and telegrams to provincial governors and city governors, calling upon them to disperse meetings and assemblies by armed force, to suppress newspapers, to take stringent measures against trade unions, and summarily exile all persons suspected of conducting revolutionary activities, etc