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(Russian katorga; from Late Greek katerga, “galley”), a type of punishment in states based on exploitation; this punishment involves the use of convicts for hard physical labor.
The term “hard labor” arose in the Middle Ages to designate punishment involving the use of convicts as oarsmen on galleys, where they were chained to benches in the hold. In the 16th and 17th centuries in Western Europe (for instance, in France and Great Britain), convict labor was used to do the most arduous jobs in prisons, large ports, mines, and other installations. Branding and chaining of convicts and putting them in the pillory was a routine procedure. In 18th- and 19th-century France, hard labor was usually combined with banishment to overseas territories, mainly as a measure of political repression—for instance, participants in the Paris Commune were transported to New Caledonia. In Great Britain, members of the Chartist movement, Irish revolutionaries, participants in the Dublin uprising of 1916, and other dissenters sentenced to prison terms made up the convict labor force.
In Russia hard labor was instituted in the late 17th century, when the tsar’s ukase of 1691 replaced capital punishment with transportation (exile) to penal colonies for certain types of crime. Hard labor for life and for shorter terms was established by the military regulations of 1716 as a form of punishment. In the 18th century convict labor was used to build St. Petersburg, ports, canals, and roads. Convicts also worked in state mines and plants in the Urals and Siberia (for instance, the Nerchinsk hard labor zone). Participants in the popular movements led by K. A. Bula-vin and E. I. Pugachev served hard labor terms. In 1765 noblemen were granted the right to banish their peasant serfs to penal colonies. In 1797 the following three categories of hard labor were established: in the Nerchinsk and Ekaterinburg mines, at the Irkutsk cloth factory, and in the construction and maintenance of fortresses. The Statute on Exiles, which was confirmed by Emperor Alexander I in 1822, instituted hard labor for terms of up to 20 years and for life. Beginning in the first half of the 19th century the number of political prisoners (for instance, Decembrists and the Petrashevtsy) among hard labor convicts began to increase. In the 18th century and in the first half of the 19th, hard labor was invariably accompanied by cruel tortures.
By the early 20th century the following hard labor institutions existed in Russia: the ShlissePburg Fortress; the Nerchinsk prisons; the Aleksandrovskoe Central Prison; the Iletsk and Tobolsk prisons; the Novoborisoglebsk and Novobelgorod prisons in Kharkov Province; the Ust’-Kamenogorsk prison in Semipalatinsk Province; and the Ust’-Kut saltworks, the Irkutsk saltworks, and the Nikolaevskii ironworks in Irkutsk Province. Beginning in the 1890’s convict labor was used in the construction of the Siberian railroad and later, of the Amur railroad. In the early 1880’s most hard labor convicts were raznochintsy (intellectuals of no definite class) and peasants; workers began appearing in the 1880’s, and at the turn of the 20th century the bulk of political prisoners were workers and social democrats. The prisoners responded to the cruel treatment by organizing escapes, hunger strikes, and revolts (for instance, the Kara tragedy of 1889). During the Stolypin reaction there existed hard labor central prisons in ToboPsk, Moscow (Butyrka prison), Shlissel’burg, Pskov, Novonikolaevsk (Kherson Province), Smolensk, Vladimir, Yaroslavl, and Vologda. The Orel central prison, which was set up in 1908 and where 20 percent of the inmates were political prisoners, was notorious for its severe conditions. The prominent Bolsheviks F. E. Dzerzhinskii, G. K. Ordzhonikidze, M. F. Frunze, and F. A. Artem-Sergeev served hard labor terms in central prisons. The rigorous detention system in the hard labor prisons caused mass revolts of political prisoners—for instance, in the Orel central prison in 1910 and 1912, in Gornyi Zerentui in 1910, and in the Shlissel’burg Fortress in 1912. Members of the Bolshevik faction in the Fourth Imperial Duma repeatedly protested against the mistreatment of political prisoners in hard labor prisons. Hard labor was abolished in March 1917, after the overthrow of the autocracy.
REFERENCESMaksimov, S. V. Sibir’ i katorga, 2nded., parts 1–3. St. Petersburg, 1891.
Gernet, M. N. Istoriia tsarskoi tiur’my, 3rd ed., vols. 1–5. Moscow, 1960–.
Dvorianov, V. N. V sibirskoi daVnei storone (Ocherki istorii tsarskoi katorgi i ssylki, 60-e gody XVIII v.-l917 g). Minsk, 1971.
Spravochniki po istorii dorevoliutsionnoi Rossii: Bibliografiia. Moscow, 1971. Pages 204–08.
N. P. EROSHKIN