Hard Labor

Also found in: Dictionary, Legal, Acronyms, Wikipedia.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Hard Labor


(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.


Maksimov, 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.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
In 2007, the same court sentenced Jaghbir, who is already on death row for another conviction, to 10 years in prison with hard labor in connection with the murder.
Moqaddam did not say when the hard labor camps would be up and running.
This article provides guidance on how to impose sentences to hard labor without confinement based on the applicable law, and contains recent lessons learned drawn largely from one special court-martial convening authority's jurisdiction.
In Mexico or Guatemala you can easily find people who will perform hard labor for very low wages.
"Using technology like robots is advantageous because employees aren't willing to do as much hard labor. Another benefit of robots is that they work without downtime from injury or sickness, They perform the task more consistently and more exactly.
* Egyptian author Salaheddin Mohesin was sentenced on January 27 by the Giza State Security Court to three years' imprisonment with hard labor for his unpopular writings in which he mocks the Qur'an, blames Islam for the backwardness of some Arab countries, and calls for the establishment of an Egyptian atheist association.
have reached an agreement to establish a $380 million fund to compensate individuals whom the Nazi regime forced into hard labor during the Second World War.
People often refer to enzymes as part of a cell's biochemical "machinery" because their hard labor keeps the cell in working order.
Hirsch is at his best when he analyzes the "ideology of sanction," making a useful distinction between "rehabituation" and "rehabilitation" and drawing out the ironies of a system that used hard labor both as "threat and therapy" (17-18).
At the end of the hour-long-trial he was sentenced with 15 years of hard labor.
citizen Matthew Todd Miller to six years hard labor for committing "hostile acts" as a tourist to the country, a statement carried by state media said on Sunday, as the United States requested his immediate pardon and release.
26 for 2011 stipulating for a 15-year hard labor penalty for those who have smuggled weapons, and a life sentence of hard labor for those who have smuggled weapons with the aim of trafficking in them or committing terrorist acts.