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The Russian workers in East Prussia at the end of XIX beginning of the 20th century

UDK 94 (430) & #43;94 (47)

Yu.V. Kostyashov


Position of labor migrants from Russia to East Prussia at the end of XlX — the beginning of the 20th century is considered. On the basis of unknown before reports of the Russian consuls in Konigsberg it is told about efforts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Empire on providing legal and economic protection of the citizens.

This article analyses the position of labor migrants from Russia in East Prussia in the end of the 19th - the beginning of the 20th century. The author considers legal and economic assistance provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Empire to its citizens on the basis of recently discovered reports of Russian consuls in Konigsberg.

migration, seasonal workers, agriculture, legal protection, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In the last third of the 19th century Germany became the main economic partner of Russia. Up to World War I it held "the taking priority position on import and export" in trade with the east neighbor [1, page 2 — 9]. Many benefits from intensive bilateral cooperation were received by East Prussia. The value of Konigsberg for our foreign trade was such is that it was half-seriously called "the Russian port".

"Owing to the geographical location — the Russian consul F. Vyshemersky in 1880 wrote to the MFA — Konigsberg plays a role of holiday port for northwest edge and boundary provinces already for a long time, and now owing to connection by its railroads with internal to Rossiyey, the area of its influence extends also to provinces Little Russian, southwest, and partly and southern". The consul also reported that in recent years thanks to "the enormous amount" of bilateral trade in Konigsberg "considerable works both for expansion of freight yards, and for construction of new port constructions among which first place is won by the naberezhny station (Kai Bahnhof) arranged in the country for an overload of goods from vessels in cars and back are undertaken". He emphasized that the economic wellbeing of the capital of East Prussia in many respects depends on grain trade with the east neighbor: "A crop failure in Russia — and all affairs here almost stop as it and is tested in the present year when trade activity of local port fell to the most insignificant sizes" [2, page 92, 94].

Besides trade relations the economy of East Prussia appeared depending on continuous and escalating inflow from Russia of seasonal workers whom first of all province agriculture needed. Here is how specialization of provincial economy in the mentioned F. Vyshemersky's report is characterized: "East Prussia is the province purely agricultural, and its factory industry is limited to manufacture of insignificant number of the works satisfying partly only local requirements. Behind the most insignificant exceptions of factory and the plants it do not reach high extent of prosperity. Agricultural culture it uses deserved popularity, and among landowner farms there is a lot of, one may say, exemplary... owing to what it occupies in this regard, in comparison with other provinces, the third place in the state" [2, page 94 — 95].

Meanwhile because of the rapid growth of the German industry which began in the 1880th as the Russian consul general in Danzig D.N. Ostrovsky noted in one of the reports, "the German villages and estates began to feel a lack of working hands strongly: all young population left on factories". According to the diplomat, "threatened the German agriculture

the sheer crash" if to the place of the decreasing population "it is more and more every year and

it is more" a vttnatmshshteshchashstshsiysshshchzyatshimtekzh. сшт® yyaistinda —^спасением" [3, page 211]. The Prussian authorities, however, being afraid of "slavyanization" of east provinces of the state, imposed the ban on delivery of permissions to natives of Russia for the constant settlement in East Prussia and Pomerania. In 1885 the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck as it was specified in

the reference prepared the MFA of Russia, "sent over 40 thousand Russian workers from borders of the [Prussian] kingdom" and also ordered to local authorities to take "the most strict measures to hindrance by the worker to cross the border" [4, l. 42 about.].

However, the ban had to be withdrawn soon as Prussian agriculture suffered from them first of all. The number of the workers arriving from Russia to Germany at a boundary of the XIX—XX centuries reached, by estimates of the Russian Foreign Ministry, several hundred thousands of people (about half a million crossings of border a year) [5, page 136], at the same time in the territory of the Konigsberg, memelsky and Danzig consular districts about 70 — 80 thousand Russian citizens [4, l worked on hiring. 2]. It were in the majority the Polish peasants from the Privislinsky region (byv. Kingdoms Polish) and also residents of Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and northwest Russian provinces. They were engaged at field works, the device and repair of meliorative systems, worked at brick and other plants, constructed railway tracks and highways. Especially a lot of labor was required in the southern districts of East Prussia where "Polish remained in the use and the Catholic religion has big distribution" and also in the neighborhood of Konigsberg and on the coast of the Baltic Sea [6, l. 2 — 2 about.].

The labor mode was very heavy: the breakfast and a dinner were necessary to work for 14 hours a day from 5 in the morning and till the sunset, with three lunch breaks (1 hour) (on half an hour). Rest was provided on Sunday and for church holidays (Lutheran and Catholic). The payment was given weekly or once in two weeks and made for men 1.2 — 1.5 brands, for women and teenagers 0.8 — 1.3 brands a day; it increased by harvest-time respectively up to 2 and 1.8 brands [3, page 212].

In the Russian Foreign Ministry the problem of position of the Russian workers did not remain unnoticed, to consular services protection of their interests as concerning employers, and the Prussian authorities [7 was imputed a duty, to page 4 — 7; 8, page 130 — 132]. The insufficient attention to needs of Russians abroad became one of reasons for leaving from a consular post in Konigsberg of F. Vyshemersky who was on the Russian service of the citizen of Germanii1.

Pavel Alekseyevich Melnikov became the first Russian diplomat who seriously was engaged in studying position of the Russian citizens in Prussia, in his characteristic given by Department of staff of the MFA in 1893 it was told that it "on the abilities and a step is quite suitable for performance of the duties of our consul which became recently very ticklish in the marked city" [9, l. 76 about.]. In 1894 — 1896. Melnikov prepared a number of notes in the MFA and to the Russian ambassador in Berlin with characteristic of the unsatisfactory position of the Russian workers which developed in East Prussia. In the ministry of these addresses it was decided to make the commission, and in 1895 "with inspection" the employee of the MFA prince F.S. Golitsyn was directed there.

In the detailed report he reported that position of hired workers from Russia variously: in some manors "handle them quite humanely and make calculations respectably", in others there is "the sheer arbitrariness reaching sometimes cruelty". Quite often it happens that Russians are burdened with penalties, unscrupulously shorthand so they "come back home with anything". Legal status of workers "quite helpless": local authorities advocate only the interests of landowners-employers, "laws of justice, apparently, are not known to much of them at all". And the staff of the Russian consulates in Konigsberg and Danzig "is filled up with any work" and therefore, "despite all their energy which is not able to render the timely help" [4, l. 1 — 2 about.].

For correction of the current situation Golitsyn suggested, first, "to strengthen our consular personnel within East Prussian provinces, having imputed it a duty protection of interests of the Russian workers who are temporarily staying there"; secondly, to change dey-

1 The consul general note in Danzig of N. Wrangel of November 29, 1879 in which, in particular, it was said was put in justification of this decision: "It seems to me that to hold there now nemetskopoddanny it is not practical. May he, the loyal Prussian how the honest person to take to heart our interests more the Prussian? What role it can play in daily explanations with the authorities on our Russian affairs, being their fellow and the old colleague... Put him anywhere — to Paris or London, well though to its Germany to Rhine, but only not in a boundary post. All this combination so is evident that Germans are perplexed." [9, l. 9 about. — 10]. The fact that he "was absolutely indifferent" to prosecution of the Russian nihilists who "at one time elected [as the shelter] the Konigsberg university and the city as the next point to Russia" [9, l was also blamed of Vyshemersky. 7


a stvuyushchy passport system (to give out long-term, for all summer season, certificates on departure instead of 8-day which provoke illegal stay abroad)"; thirdly, immediately to join negotiations with the Prussian government on conditions of stay of the Russian workers, including on release them from payment of insurance fees, etc. [4, l. 2 about. — 3].

In conclusion the diplomat formulates the position on the main issue which was discussed in government circles of Russia: but whether it is necessary to impose in general a total ban on transition of the Russian workers to boundary German provinces, "as it facilitates the competition to us of foreign owners and consequently, does not correspond to the interests of the Russian agriculture". Golitsyn speaks against such decision as it "would deprive considerable number of workers of earnings, very essential to them" and it would be very difficult to realize it in practice. Besides, he points also that "in case of the announcement to us Prussia of economic war after action of the trade agreement" the question of workers "can serve our Government as very essential means for restraint of too zealous opponents" [4, l. 3 — 3 about.].

The offers stated by F.S. Golitsyn were realized: on the basis of carried out at the end of 1896 — the beginning of 1897 of the Russian-German negotiations in Final: the protocol to the bilateral trade agreement of January 28 the V article according to which from Russia free passports for 8 months were given by the worker (on February 9), 1897 was included (since April 1 on 1 dekabrya2). Recruitment in the territory of Russia was allowed to carry out to the private agents authorized by Prussian owners and also representatives of Prussian agricultural chambers. Hiring was carried out on the basis of oral or written contracts [5, page 136].

The concluded agreement, however, did not lead to significant improvement of a fate of the Russian workers in Prussia. The extensive report of the new Russian consul in Konigsberg of Artemy Markovic Vyvodtsev from 2 on July (14), 1898 which made a strong impression on the management of the MFA what it was reported to the Minister of Internal Affairs on demonstrates to it, and eventually it got on a table to the emperor Nicholas II (it was the most rare, nearly the second, a case for all more than 100-year history of the Konigsberg consulate!) 3

"Position of the Russian rural workers — A.M. Vyvodtsev writes — annually in a large number coming to Prussia to earnings during a summer time, every day becomes more and more desolate and difficult". First of all they are deceived by agents-recruiters, "promising conditions and privileges what they on arrival into place do not receive from employers". In most cases written contracts are not signed, and they learn about original operating conditions and the amount of payment already on the place, "when unfortunate already got in a trap". But also in the presence of the issued contracts the employers "consider for themselves obligatory only the rights uttered in their advantage and advantages, without paying attention to privileges, agreed in favor of workers". Especially the consul is revolted by universal practice of owners "to read weekly known sum from the earned payment which allegedly intends as the pledge remaining to the employer in case the worker leaves before the term agreed in the contract" that opens "a lot of scope for an arbitrariness and abuses and workers ties to the place where often unbearable longer to remain it owing to the bad address and bad grubs" [4, l. 31 — 32].

The Russian person in Prussia, according to the consul, is absolutely powerless: he in everything submits to local laws, him without any ceremonies, "as Chinese sacks", carry on different offices on survey, for a smallpox inoculation, on a registration; "ruthlessly send" in case of the slightest fault; select passports, money and things for fear of escapes detain. If workers decided to leave before term, they "cannot receive the papers before several days and more, driven from one official to another, wasting time, money and risking to be detainees as tramps". Numerous complaints from compatriots come to consulate, "which treat often brutally, beat, feed nasty and not enough, place in pork sheds on a lodging for the night, treat as animals". In intervention cases from the consul and appeals to the authorities "investigation is made biased, in answers it appears as if testimonies of workers false". Vyvodtsev gave numerous concrete examples of complaints of Russians and unsatisfactory actions of the authorities of East Prussia [4, l. 32 about. — 35].

The author expresses opinion that put the Russian workers in Prussia "is put on very shaky basis" and if "we passively treat these adversities, then situation them

2 Later term was increased up to 10.5 months — from February 1 to December 15.
3 The first known case belonged to reports of the consul in Konigsberg I.L. Isakov on a possibility of war of Prussia with Russia which were discussed at meetings with Catherine II in 1788 — 1789 [10].

will worsen every year". "And meanwhile — it continues — recruitment of the Russian workers from Russia so is necessary for Prussia, so is a burning question in their agriculture that to reach the agreement should not be very difficult" [4, l. 35 about. — 36].

In conclusion A.M. Vyvodtsev proposed the system of measures which had to change situation radically. He insisted, first, on creation of special transitional points on border with in-house translators and Prussian commissioners on whom all necessary questions would be regulated: there took place medical examination, smallpox inoculations became, documents, existence of contracts, etc. were checked. Secondly, the Russian passports should not be withdrawn not under any circumstances from workers, and for the identity card it was offered to issue "legitimatsionny tickets" in two languages. Thirdly, "workers have to be exempted from contributions to different cash desks and from personal taxes"; they should have provided freedom of travel, the right of transition from one owner to another (with issue of the certificate on dismissal), and controversial issues between hired workers and owners need to be solved in court, without allowing an arbitrariness of the last [4, l. 36 about. — 38].

On Vyvodtsev's report 10 on July (22), 1898 the emperor Nicholas II "it was with own hand well-pleasing to trace": "It is necessary to pay attention to this question" [4, l. 39]. After this on October 28 the MFA distributed on consulates the circular with the requirement to report about oppressions of the Russian workers in Germany concerning which "the government cannot remain the indifferent viewer". On the fifth of November in Department of trade and manufactories the representative meeting on this question at which proposals of the Konigsberg consul were generally approved [4, l took place. 94 — 95, 132]. It is difficult to judge how taken measures were effective, however this subject for several years disappeared from correspondence of the Russian diplomats.

Again the question of position of the Russian workers drew attention to the MFA after the revolution of 1905 — 1907. As it is possible to judge by consular reports, the reason of it was the activity of workers who on a wave of the taken place revolutionary events began to assert more safely the rights, demanding from consuls of effective protection against an arbitrariness of Prussian landowners and the authorities. According to messages of the consul in Konigsberg V.G. Zhukovsky, his residence was besieged literally by crowds of compatriots from among workers, in day he was visited to 35 people, and time of reception had to be increased from three to five o'clock. The consul had to listen to reproaches from owners of the rooms rented under presence "for dirt and noise" which are made by visitors, and more than once to change location of the residence. Workers traditionally complained of non-execution by employers of contracts, the "thin" address and asked to help to return the documents withheld by owners. At the same time, according to the consul, "the majority of complaints of workers absolutely not thoroughly", and their significant amount "it is necessary to install home, supplying them with certificates through passage" [11, page 25 — 26, 31, 33; 12, page 120 — 122].

Finishing the review of more than 30 years' efforts of the Russian authorities on settlement of problems of tens of thousands of labor migrants who were annually leaving for temporary job to Prussia it is necessary to recognize that up to World War I they did not manage to create the effective and effective system of protection of interests of the compatriots abroad. Some progress in this case was made only thanks to the enthusiasm and initiatives proceeding from several consular workers in Konigsberg.

List of sources and literature

1. Revision of the trade agreement with Germany: report of the VIII congress of representatives of the industry and trade. SPb., 1914.
2. The collection of data on department of trade and manufactories: consular reports. SPb., 1880. T. 1.
3. D.N. Ostrovsky. To a question of the Russian rural workers in Germany / / News of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. SPb., 1912. Prince 6. Page 211 — 215.
4. State archive of the Russian Federation. T. 568. Op. 1. 103. L. 1 — 225 (Correspondence of the MFA with consulates in Germany concerning the Russian workers in Prussia on hiring, 1895 — 1901).
5. In A. Vopros's [yvodets] about the Russian agricultural workers in Prussia//News of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. SPb., 1913. Prince 1. Page 135 — 142.
6. State archive of the Russian Federation. T. 568. Op. 1. 104. L. 1 — 76 (Extraction from notes of the consul P.A. Melnikov about position of the Russian workers in Prussia, 1896).
7. The consular convention with Germany of November 26 (on December 8), 1874 / / the Collection of the existing treatises, conventions and agreements concluded by Russia with other states. SPb., 1889. T. 1. Page 1 —
8. The circular of the MFA of January 9, 1912 with the instruction for work of consulates / / News of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. SPb., 1912. Prince 2. Page 129 — 134.
9. Archive of foreign policy of the Russian Empire. T. 1b7: Embassy in Berlin. Op. 509/1. 4044. 1893
10. Yu.V. Kostyashov. The first Russian consul in Konigsberg//Modern and contemporary history. 2002. No. 1. Page 219 — 223.
11. The report of reports of missions and consulates about consular activity for 1907 / sost. Z.M. Polyanovsky. SPb., 1908.
12. B.A. Reytern. To a question of position of the Russian workers in Germany / / News of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. SPb., 1913. Prince 4. Page 120 — 123.

About the author

Yu.V. Kostyashov is Dr. an east. sciences, the prof., RGU of I. Kant, e-mail:


Prof. Yu. V. Kostyashov, IKSUR, e-mail:

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