V. I.   Lenin

A Zemstvo Congress

Published: Iskra, No. 8, September 10, 1901. Published according to the Iskra text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1961, Moscow, Volume 5, pages 101-102.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala and D. Walters
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2003). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.


The wave of excitement among the general public that spread over the country after the events of this spring is not receding. It makes itself felt in one form or another among all sections of Russian society, a society that as recently as January of this year seemed to be deaf and alien to the purposive work of Russian Social-Democracy. The government is bending its every effort to calm the troubled public conscience as quickly as possible with the usual soap bubbles such as the Manifesto of March 25 on “heart felt protection”, such as the so-called Vannovsky Reforms or the Sipyagin and Shakhovskoi[1] solemn buffoon tours of Russia.... Some of the more naive among the general public will actually be calmed by such measures, but by far not all. Even the present-day Zemstvo people, about fifty per cent of whom are scared civil servants, seem to be coming out of the state of chronic trepidation to which they were reduced in the now historical stagnant epoch of the “Peacemaker-Tsar”.

His Majesty the Bureaucracy, having now shed its crude covering of modesty, is arousing feelings of discontent and disgust even among the Zemstvos, among those timid people in whom civic courage and civic morality are almost completely atrophied.

We have been informed that in the city of X (for precaution, to remain unnamed) a congress of Zemstvo members was called at the end of June. It is said to have been attend ed by 40 or 50 Zemstvo people from several gubernias.

These people did not, of course, assemble to discuss political questions, but to solve peaceable, purely Zemstvo problems; they gathered “without infringing the bounds of   the department and the extent of their authority”, as it is picturesquely expressed in the Zemstvo Instructions (Article 87). The meeting, however, was called without the per mission and knowledge of the administration and, consequently, was held “in contravention of the Instructions for the activities of Zemstvo institutions”, to quote the Instructions, and the assembled Zemstvo men gradually went over from the discussion of peaceable, innocent questions to a discussion of the general state of affairs. Such is the logic of life: conscientious Zemstvo men, howsoever they at times denounce radicalism and illegal work, are, by the force of events, faced with the necessity of illegal organisation and a more determined form of activity. Far be it from us to condemn this natural and perfectly correct path. It is time, at long last, for Zemstvo members to give an energetic and organised rebuff to a government that has taken the bit between its teeth, has killed rural self-government, has mutilated both urban and Zemstvo self-government, and with asinine obstinacy lays the axe to the last remnants of the Zemstvo institutions, It is said that one of the elderly and respected men of the Zemstvo, during the discussion at the congress on the question of how to combat the law setting limits to taxation by the Zemstvos, exclaimed: “Zemstvo members must, at last, say their word; for if they don’t, they’ll never be able to!” We are in complete agreement with the outcry of this liberal who is prepared to challenge the bureaucratic autocracy to open struggle. The Zemstvos are on the eve of internal bankruptcy. If the best Zemstvo men do not to day take energetic measures, if they do not get rid of their usual Manilov[2] attitude, their trivial questions of secondary importance—“tinkering”, as one venerable Zemstvo man put it—the Zemstvos will lose their adherents and turn into the usual “government offices”. Such an inglorious death is inevitable; for one cannot with impunity for whole decades do nothing but show cowardice, offer thanks, and humbly petition; one must threaten, demand, stop wasting time on trifles, and settle down to the real work.


[1] Sipyagin, D. S.—reactionary statesman in tsarist Russia; Minister of the Interior from 1899 to 1902.

Shakhovskoi, D. I.—prince, Zemstvo leading figure.

[2] Manilov—a character from Gogol’s Dead Souls whose name has become a synonym for complacency, sentimentality; and futile day-dreaming.

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