V. I. Lenin

The Law on Compensation Payable to Workers Injured in Accidents

Published: Iskra No. 47, September 1, 1903. Printed from the Iskra text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 41, pages 96.2-103.1.
Translated: Yuri Sdobnikov
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.  

The recent new law, the substance of which is stated in the title of the article, and the law on shop-stewards, which we analysed in the previous issue,{1} are rather typical specimens of the two trends in our labour legislation expressive of this or that concession to the spirit of the times. Apart from the aggressive reactionary laws of which we have a great abundance and which manage to pass through all the bureaucratic ordeals with especial rapidity, and which are moreover drawn up with especial thoroughness and applied with especial vigour, all the other laws in Russia relating to the working class may be classified under two heads, depending on their political character. These are either laws which in any way, even by a hair’s breadth, extend the workers’ independence, initiative and rights, in which case the laws are hedged with hundreds and thousands of exemptions, reservations, circular-letter explanations   and restrictions, all of which lead—as our draft programme puts it—to the “extension or consolidation of tutelage of the working classes by the police and officials”. Such are the laws on shop-stewards, factory inspection in general, etc. Or these are laws expressing a concession which has no bearing on citizens’ independence and initiative—in which case the autocratic government comes forward with incomparably greater generosity. And that is how it should be, of course, from the standpoint of the autocracy’s general tactics, from the standpoint of police interests, “correctly construed”. The policy of the police state has long been called that of the whip and carrot by West-European democrats, who have had all sorts of experience in fighting it. The carrot is the sops to the revolutionary classes, the economic concessions designed to sow discord within these classes, to win over a section of them and make it believe in the bourgeois government’s sincerity and friendly attitude to the proletariat. The whip is the police harassment of all those who have no trust in the government and sow mistrust among others; the whip is keeping in check all those who want complete freedom and independence for the working class, for its unions, for its meetings, for its newspapers, and for its political institutions and organs.

The law on shop-stewards gives the workers representation which could serve them against the bourgeoisie and the government. Accordingly, the representation is so distorted and restricted as to enable only, or at any rate mainly, spies to benefit from it. Accordingly, in actual fact, what remains of workers’ representation, as proclaimed by the law, is the collar, as in the case of Trishka’s caftan. And that is needed to collar the ill-starred shop-steward and drag him off to the police station. On the other hand, the law on compensation for workers does not affect their political initiative in any way and, consequently, on that score there can be greater generosity. There it is less dangerous to act the “reformer”—and the need to act is imperative, because the growing labour movement is looming in an ever more formidable manner. The bureaucratic machine started its work on a bill on employers’ responsibility twenty years ago. It took ten years to draw up the bill; finally, it was approved by a special commission and in   1893 it was promulgated and placed before the State Council{2}... only to be pigeon-holed once again for another ten years! It seemed quite impossible to make haste any slower than that, and the bill would possibly have roamed the ministries and the chancellories for another decade or so had not the onslaught by the working class of Russia shaken up the whole of the autocracy.

Finally, and at long last, the bill, repeatedly worsened in many respects, has become law. For an assessment, let us compare it with the demand in our draft Party programme: in fact its “labour section” should be a guide in our work of agitation and propaganda. Nothing but a comparison of the separate points and demands of our programme with present-day reality and the attempts on the part of the ruling classes to reform it without giving anyone offence, will enable us, on the one hand, to give ourselves and the masses a fuller and more concrete understanding of the meaning and significance of our programme; and on the other, to see the defects of the laws in force; it will also help us to see in practice, from the facts, to what extent any reform is doomed to produce paltry results if the basis of the bourgeois system is retained.

Our draft programme (§ 7 of the “labour section”) demands that the law should establish the employers’ civil liability in general (for workers’ injuries and disease), which means anyone who employs workers, anyone who derives profit from the unpaid labour of others, making use of their labour-power, but not being held liable for the destruction or damage of this commodity (labour-power) when in operation. However, the new law relates exclusively to workers and employees “in enterprises of the factory and works, mining and metallurgical industries”. Consequently, all agricultural workers, handicraftsmen, builders, artisans and so on and so forth are excluded. This means the exclusion of the vast majority of wage-labourers, who often work in even worse and more dangerous conditions; for example, building and agricultural workers operating machines suffer from injuries as much as, if not more than, factory workers. How is this exemption to be explained? The answer is that outside factories and works the shoe does not yet pinch so badly: so far the labour movement has made a formidable   showing only among the leading sections of the proletariat, and it is only in this sphere that the government has shown “concern” (not for the workers, of course, but for their suppression). But the proletariat, that part of it which participates in the movement, that is, the class-conscious proletariat, does not struggle for the benefit and advantages of some single section of the workers, but for the whole class, for all the classes oppressed by the capitalist system. This brings out very well the difference between the reforms which the proletariat seeks, and the reforms which the government hands out as sops.

Furthermore, the new law binds the owners of enterprises to pay compensation to workers only for the loss of capacity for work, “due to bodily injury caused by operations in the production of the enterprise or arising in consequence of such operations”. Our programme demands the establishment of liability not only for disability caused by accidents, but also by hazardous working conditions. Consequently, once again the new law narrows down the employers’ liability. Everyone knows that masses of workers are disabled not by accidents alone, not by bodily injury, but by the diseases caused by the hazardous working conditions. Unless the employers are held liable for the workers’ disability through disease, no amount of rules or instructions will do any good in the struggle against these hazardous conditions. Indeed let us consider what difference there is in substance between the accident in which a machine cuts off a worker’s leg and the case of a worker who is poisoned by phosphorus, lead, dyes, etc. Has not medical science already created a whole department of occupational diseases whose origins have been traced to hazardous working conditions and proved as surely as twice two is four? However the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois government are not guided by logic or common sense, but by gross self-interest: accidents will cost them less than bodily injuries plus disease arising from hazardous conditions. And the whole point, for them, is not to “provide security” for the workers but to pay less.

The new law releases the worker from the onus of proving that the disability has occurred through the fault of the capitalist. That is undoubtedly a step forward from the   past. But—the Russian Government is unable to take a step forward anywhere without a “but”!—but to make up for that, employers may prove not only ill intent on the part of the victim himself, but also “gross carelessness on his (victim’s) part, unwarranted by the dispatch of operations”. This addition largely paralyses the establishment of real liability and—given the packing of our courts by officials, careerists and bourgeois pedants—can paralyse the application of the law altogether. “Gross carelessness” is something quite vague and indefinable. It is entirely up to the officials to decide in what conditions and to what extent gross carelessness is or is not warranted. The capitalists have always regarded and will always regard any “carelessness” on the worker’s part as gross and unwarranted, and will always be able to muster ten times more witnesses and “learned counsel” than the workers to prove their point (legal counsel are already being paid annual fees by the factories!). The writing of this whole point on gross carelessness into the law is a crass concession to the manufacturer’s profit urge: the workers never get caught in the machine by preference, but always by mishap, but the fact is that you can’t be careful when working ten or eleven hours a day among badly screened machines, in poorly lit shops, amid the din and roar, with your wits dulled by the work, and with your nerves on edge because of excessive tension. That being so, to deprive a disabled worker of compensation because of gross carelessness is to penalise him additionally for permitting the capitalists their unscrupulous exploitation.

These points provide the basic and most important definitions of the new law, fully delineating its essence. We cannot, of course, deal here with all the particulars, but let us look only at the most characteristic ones. The amount of the compensation is determined in proportion to the victim’s annual earnings, namely, the pension must not be in excess of two-thirds of his annual earnings (in the event of death or total disability). The annual earnings are determined on the basis of the average daily wage (or the average daily wage of an unskilled worker) multiplied by 260. This provision contains another three reductions in the size of compensation, three endorsements of the   employers’ profit urge. First, even if the worker has worked 300 days in the year, his annual earnings are cut down to 260 days—without any grounds, simply because the law commands that they should be cut! Second, even if the worker has been earning more than an unskilled worker, the calculation—involving work, say, at enterprises running part of the year—is still based on the earnings of an unskilled worker. The government would very much like to reduce all workers to the status of unskilled workers—hence the lesson for the class-conscious proletariat, that only the close unity of all workers and all unskilled workers together can create a force capable of overcoming capital’s profit urge. Third, the unskilled worker’s average daily wage is determined once in three years (sic!) by the offices for factory, mining and metallurgical affairs, without, need we say, any of the workers participating. That is not their business, for who can doubt that the chancellories of the governor and the chief of gendarmes have an excellent knowledge of how the workers live and what they earn.

Let us note, too, that the law binds the owners of enterprises to notify the police immediately only about accidents which fall within the compass of the law. Which are they? They are those involving disability for more than three days. But who can tell just after an accident for how many days the worker has been disabled? This rule is ridiculously absurd and in many cases merely provides the manufacturers with a loophole for divesting themselves (and being divested by the courts) of the duty of informing the authorities of every accident. It is true that the law decrees that the victim may demand notification of the police of all cases of bodily injury without exception, even where they do not fall under the law: that is said in so many words in § 20 of the “rules on compensation payable to injured workers”, and we strongly advise all workers to campaign in every way for the constant application of this paragraph without fail. Let the workers insist that everyone injured should always demand unconditionally, on the strength of § 20, that the factory inspector be notified of every accident; only then will it be possible to determine to any precise extent the number of accidents occurring and to study their causes. We are sure that the class-conscious   workers will make use of this right, but then great masses will not even be aware that such a right is open to them!

For failure to notify the police of accidents and in general for any failure to observe the rules of the new law the owners of enterprises are subject only to a cash fine of from 25 to 100 rubles. That is, of course, an absolutely negligible fine, which is not at all a dreadful one for the large factories (which employ the vast majority of factory workers). This case makes especially clear the necessity of implementing §14 of our draft programme, which demands “the establishment of criminal responsibility for employers for breaches of labour protection laws”. It is a mockery of the worker to threaten millionaires with 100-ruble fines for non-observance of a law on which depends the Security of a worker disabled for life.

Par. 31, which entitles injured workers and their families to enter into agreement with the owners of enterprises concerning the type and amount of compensation payable to them, is one of the most pernicious and Jesuitical points of the new law. Need we say that the vast majority of these agreements will amount to systematic fraud and intimidation of the least developed workers who are sure of only one thing, namely, that Russian courts are biased, bureaucratic and expensive. Factory inspectors, who are to witness these agreements (equivalent to settlements out of court), will safeguard anyone’s interests but those of the workers.

The factory inspectors, who are now being increasingly turned into mere assistants of the police, play the part of “reconcilers”. What is more, it is the intention of the law to turn them into a peculiar category of magistrates. The law encourages employers and workers to apply to factory inspectors in clearing up the rights and duties of the parties, with the factory inspectors being empowered both to collect “all the necessary information” and to demand its submission to the parties, and to invite doctors for certification. This is already purely judicial business and it is assigned to officials under the governor! What is more, no procedure, no rules governing this court have been laid down: how the inspector is to collect the information, how he is—and is he at all—to submit this information to both parties, how he is to conduct the examination—all that is left entirely   up to him. This is something positively like the police courts of the pre-Reform period. The law even holds out the threat of a deprivation for failure to apply to the factory constable (in his capacity as magistrate): those who fail to apply to the factory inspector before going to court, lose their right to receive court and legal costs from the defendant.

It remains for us only to give another reminder at this point that the Social-Democratic Labour Party does not demand courts of that kind, not mediation by officials, but the establishment of industrial courts on which employers and workers are equally represented. That is the only kind of court, given a free political system in the state, that can assure the workers of anything like satisfactory mediation in the business of elucidating the rights and duties of the parties, and in the preliminary examination of claims involving disability compensation. There are such courts in all civilised states, and as long as 40 years ago even Russian officials used to propose their introduction in Russia. Forty years ago, a commission was appointed to revise the factory and handicraft regulations. The commission has published its “transactions”, five volumes of them; the commission has written the drafts of new regulations; the commission has come out in favour of setting up industrial courts consisting of elected representatives—and... and the whole thing has been shelved! Heaps of good intentions are stacked up in the archives of innumerable offices in Russia, and will continue to be there until the working class gives all this rubbish a shake-up.


{1} See present edition, Vol. 6, pp. 510–17.—Ed.

{2} The State Council—one of the higher state bodies in pre-revolutionary Russia. Set up in 1810 on a proposal by M. M. Speransky as a consultative and legislative institution whose members were   appointed and confirmed by the tsar. It was reorganised by the law of February 20 (March 5), 1906, and was given the right to approve or reject bills after the debate in the Duma, but the tsar retained the power to amend the fundamental laws and issue some of the more important ones.

From 1906, one half of the State Council consisted of elected representatives of the gentry, the clergy and the big bourgeoisie, and the other from the senior civil servants appointed by the tsar. This made it a highly reactionary institution which rejected even the moderate bills adopted by the Duma. p. 98

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