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174 Conclusion Experience and Outcome Child labor in imperial Russia has been an obscure page in the nation’s history. Historians have usually failed to note the considerable number of children in the country’s industrial workforce and, consequently, the surprisingly large role they played in Russia’s industrialization . Youngsters had been involved in productive work long before modernized industries emerged in Russia. From time immemorial, children had been active in agriculture and cottage industries. They had also worked in state and manorial enterprises. Traditional societies everywhere perceived children’s involvement in production of all kinds not primarily as labor but as a form of apprenticeship, an approach that certainly found broad cultural acceptance in Russia. The Russian state and society viewed apprenticeship as ethical and pragmatic, a practice necessary for preparing children for adult life. Indeed, early state legislation (pre-1800) specifically authorized the apprenticeship of children. As a result of this outlook, no early laws attempted to prohibit child labor . Thus, before industrialization, child labor did not directly reflect or result from poverty but emerged from a pedagogical social need—it was a social “good” rather than an “evil,” its ultimate significance more sociocultural than economic. Everywhere that it occurred, industrialization quickly set in motion a transformationofthemeaningandpurposeofchildlabor.Whenindustri- Conclusion: Experience and Outcome    175 alization began in Russia, many children naturally entered the industrial workforceasanintegralpartoftheprocess.Duringearlyindustrialization, when production sites for large segments of the population shifted from the family and home to the factory, the tradition of family labor and apprenticing children shifted to factories as well. Well-known developments in the countryside during the nineteenth century spurred many families, with their children, to seek employment in cities and industries, a process that further encouraged the shift of child labor to factories. Naturally, widespread cultural acceptance of children’s involvement in production and the absence of laws that could have restricted children’s employment ensured and stimulated the use of child labor in industry. The crucial role children played in industrialization not only reflected the large number of child workers but also pertained to the actual production process, which, according to entrepreneurs’ own testimony, they had designed to function with children’s input or which simply operated better with that input . Entrepreneurs were evidently genuinely convinced that their factories could not function properly without children or that without child labor they would suffer economic disadvantage compared to rival industries in countries where child labor was also widespread and unrestricted. At this point, the emphasis fatefully shifted from apprenticeship to actual labor functions, broadening and extending the use of child industrial labor considerably. As a consequence of the harsh realities of child factory labor and in conjunction with the shift from the original pedagogical sociocultural meaning to a harder-edged economic one, the perception of child labor began to shift from social “good” to societal “evil.” Toward the end of the nineteenth century, child labor came under strong and widespread assault. Unlike agriculture or cottage industries, the new industrial setting proved unsafe for children. Not only did children often work in a nonkinship environment, but they were also exposed to the dangers of hazardous machinery and chemicals. Children were also by nature much more susceptible to work-related injuries than adult workers. The obvious precipitous decline in the physical condition of children who worked in industries provoked serious concern and debates about the employment of children in factories, calling into ques- 176    Conclusion: Experience and Outcome tion the notion of apprenticeship as an acceptable practice. Concerned state officials and public figures called for child labor protection laws, although entrepreneurs resisted for economic reasons. During the late imperial decades, the transformation of attitudes toward the appropriateness of child labor generated considerable changes in the legislation about apprenticeship and children’s work. The ongoing public debates during the 1860s and 1870s about children’s welfare, employment, and work altered the attitudes of tsarist legislators toward child labor, apprenticeship, and childhood itself. Late tsarist legislators themselves represented a new generation of Russians who were products of a rapidly changing and dynamic society. They were open to inventive legislative ideas and to societal change in general. The attitudes of legislators aside, the ongoing debates among manufacturers, public activists , and legislators provided vital theoretical foundations for the labor protection legislation of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries . Unlike the earlier legislation, which had tended to focus on specific factories or other delimited venues, the laws of the 1880s and the following decades became more...


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Subject Headings

  • Children -- Russia -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Industrialization -- Russia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Manufacturing industries -- Employees -- Supply and demand -- Russia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Child labor -- Russia -- History -- 19th century.
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