The Russian Peasant Obshchina
in the Political Culture
of the Era of Great Reforms:
A Contribution to Begriffsgeschichte

Alan Kimball
University of Oregon
23 July 1990

<>This essay is about the political meaning or ideological uses of the Russian village assembly, known as the mir or the mirskoi skhod. In Ukrainian territories the assembly was sometimes known as the gromada. By the middle of the nineteenth century, in the "era of great reforms", the generic term obshchina [commune] had come into usage to describe the institution within which peasants administered their public life in various Slavic regions of the multinational Russian Empire.

{_{ For a judicious overview of the complex question of the Russian village assembly see Peter Kolchin, Unfree Labor: American Slavery and Russian Serfdom (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1987), 201-207; and Ben Eklof, "Mir", Modern Encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet History 22 (1981), 208-223. Also see S. M. Dubrovskii, "Rossiiskaia obshchina v literature XIX i nachale XX v. (bibliograficheskii obzor)", in Voprosy istorii sel'skogo khoziastva, krest'ianstva i revoliutsionnogo dvizheniia v Rossii: sbornik statei k 75 letiiu akademika Nikolaia Mikhailovicha Druzhina, edited by V. K. Yatsunskii (Moscow: Akademiia nauk, 1961), 348-361; James I. Mandel, "Paternalistic Authority in the Russian Countryside, 1856-1906", PhD dissertation, Columbia University, 1978; and Steven L. Hoch, Serfdom and Social Control in Russia: Petrovskoe, a Village in Tambov (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), esp. 133-59.
    On the question of public attitudes toward the obshchina in the last half of the 19th century, see Steven A. Grant, "The Peasant Commune in Russian Thought, 1861-1905", PhD dissertation, Harvard University, 1973. The pioneer work on this topic is Marc Raeff, "The Peasant Commune in the Political Thinking of Russian Publicists: Laissez-faire Liberalism in the Reign of Alexander II", PhD dissertation, Harvard University, 1950.}_}

<>The word obshchina had a somewhat bookish flavor, but that very bookishness allowed it to be used as a generic label applicable to Russian peasant self-government and a wide range of other institutions of self rule. In a nutshell, that very generic trait, that wide applicability, is the meaning, the Begriff, of the word obshchina in the political culture of the Russian Empire at mid-century. The use of this one word, like a magic incantation, admits us into the central halls of Russian political culture in the middle of the nineteenth century.

<>Wherever peasants gathered in their villages to make decisions, or to anoint elders to make decisions, there it could be said that the obshchina existed. Its powers or competence varied from village to village. And its peasant character was often adulterated by interpenetration of state power and incursions of other social classes. The state latched onto the obshchina to facilitate the collection of taxes and to help conscript peasant soldiers into the tsarist army. Certain obligations of individual peasants and families became obligations of the whole village in the tradition of krugovaia poruka [collective responsibility is the usual translation, but "mutual assurance" might be better]. By the nineteenth century, krugovaia poruka had become a hybrid of community self-help, state administration, and gentry exploitation. Those who lived on private gentry lands often found their obshchina subordinated to the power of the local landlord.

<>Probably the most famous feature of the obshchina was periodic redistribution of land. Redistribution happened some places and not others; where it happened it was infrequent. Between repartitions, if it happened at all, the land was at least temporarily the "property" of individual peasant households. Common pasturelands were maintained, but no common ploughland. Collective labor was not a regular feature of the work life of the Russian peasant, though community coordination of labor on the landlord's plots was not unusual. Some of the most primitive agricultural practices known to Europe, for example, strip farming, were interwoven with the community functions of the obshchina in such a way that to praise or blame, to strengthen or weaken, any part touched the whole institution.

{_{ Richard Hellie has reminded me that certain "primitive agricultural practices" fit the needs of peasants very well. See Donald N McCloskey, "English Open Fields as Behavior Towards Risk", Research in Economic History 1 (1976), 124-70.}_}

<>Whatever these irregularities, the obshchina came to be thought of as the quintessential Russian peasant organization. An institution of uncertain origin, the obshchina had evolved into the central corporate institution of the Russian peasant soslovie [social estate]. Against all odds, the obshchina preserved its limited local authority. Limited and compromised though it was, the obshchina represented a rare survival of popular self-government in the autocratic Russian state.

{_{ The evidence at our disposal lends credibility to the great French pundit Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu's contemporary judgment: "The commune [...] is, properly speaking, and setting autocracy apart, the only indigenous institution, the only living tradition the Russian people can boast" (The Empire of the Tsars and the Russians, 3 volumes [London-New York City: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1894]), 2:2.
    When the state sought to implement the law of 30 April 1838, which established district "heads" [golova] on all state lands, elected for three years by peasant assemblies [skhody], peasants resisted in the defense of their own internal and unofficial forms of self-governance in the villages. A tsarist aide-de-camp sent in January, 1856, to put down peasant disorders in Nizhnii Novgorod reported that his influence there was less than that of the obshchina, even with the ex-soldiers in the village, fresh home from the Crimean War and supposedly still mindful of the need for discipline. The retired soldiers vowed that the mir would not accept the aide's authority in these matters, and that they themselves would not deviate "even one step from the mir".
    In the era of the great "temperance movement" (1859-1860) and in the two most intense seasons of popular protest against the terms of emancipation (1861-62), the obshchina served as the main agency of peasant self-mobilization. By the terms of emancipation in 1861, the state tried both to strengthen and to gain closer control over the obshchina. But as Sergei Pushkarev put it, in a discussion which cites the incidents above, "the village assembly and the village starosta (elder), elected for three years by the assembly, were the fundamental organs of peasant self-rule" (Samoupravlenie i svoboda v Rossii [Frankfurt am Main: Posev, 1985], 52-4; see the full discussion translated by Paul Barnes in Self-Government and Freedom in Russia, with an Introduction by Nicholas V. Riasanovsky [Boulder CO: Westview, 1988], chapter 7). Also see Alan Kimball, "Conspiracy and Circumstance in Saratov, 1859-1864", in Politics and Society in Provincial Russia: Saratov, 1590-1917, edited by Rex A. Wade and Scott J. Seregny (Columbus OH: The Ohio State University Press, 1989), especially 36-40.}_}

<>This essay is about the meanings of the obshchina rather than about the institution itself. The obshchina was a complicated and irregular institution, and it had complicated and irregular meanings for peasants, bureaucrats, Slavophile intellectuals, and civilian political activists. The rich and varied meanings of the obshchina in the political culture of the 1860s have not been served well by a stunted and simplified historical memory which comes close to equating "obshchina" with peasant communism and forgetting everything else. The meanings of the peasant institution are far more complex. It is true that some took the obshchina to be a holy congregation, some thought that it guaranteed rural conservatism, and yet others did find native communism there. For certain Slavophile thinkers the obshchina became a bastion of conservative tradition, for certain high state servitors it became a bulwark of the old regime, and for certain revolutionary thinkers it became a vanguard of the socialistic future. But accent on peasant religiosity, traditional social practices, and the occasional repartition of land has put the institutional, administrative, and political side of the village assembly in the shadows. What I would call the "political obshchina" has been all but forgotten.

<>This is a most serious erosion of historical memory because the political obshchina, rather than the cultural, religious or economic obshchina, dominated the Russian 1860s. The state sought to use the obshchina to extend central political authority into the villages; traditions be damned. The villages sought to use the obshchina to resist central political authority, even when they feigned "tsar-worship". The political opposition sought to use the obshchina as the cornerstone of a national legislative assembly, and thus the core institution of a major political perestroika.


<>This last group, the educated political opposition, interests us most here. Even before the disorders of the reform era, the question of the obshchina had gripped the imagination of educated Russia. The meaning of the obshchina was at the heart of the Slavophile-Westernizer debates. In 1856, the Moscovite historian and social critic Boris Chicherin rekindled the polemic when he took on the Slavophiles and argued for abolition of the obshchina.

{_{ Boris N. Chicherin, Opyty po istorii russkogo prava (Moscow: Soldatenkov and Shchepkin, 1858).}_}

<>The cultural and religious nationalism of the earlier generation of Slavophiles was not the central issue. The debate now divided advocates of popular self-rule from the defenders of the progressive state. Chicherin was a leading spokesman of the latter faction. He emphasized the irregular character of the obshchina, particularly its inseparability from state power. He sharpened the attack on what had been the central arguments of the German traveler August von Haxthausen who is sometimes credited with "discovering" the Russian peasant commune. Haxthausen sought in the Russian countryside confirmation of his faith in the integrity of the old agrarian order.

{_{ Baron August von Haxthausen, Studies on the Interior of Russia, with an introduction by S. Frederick Starr (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972).}_}

<>Chicherin's attack on the obshchina was, in part, a defense of the prerogatives of a modernizing autocratic state against the claims of rustic exemption and independence.

<>Chicherin's attack on the obshchina threatened anti-statist civil libertarians as much as nativist Slavophiles. Along the way, Chicherin leveled a polemical shot at the emigre political journalist Alexander Herzen.

{_{ The text of Chicherin's polemical letter, which Herzen titled "Obvinitel'nyi akt", may be found in Konstantin Kavelin, Pis'ma K. Dm. Kavelina i Iv. S. Turgeneva k Al. Iv. Gertsenu (Geneva: H. George, 1892), 21-29.}_}

<>In Herzen's view the obshchina was one of the only native institutions to have survived the rise of Muscovite and imperial rule. Affirming its progressive potential was tantamount to affirming the power and authority of the people against the autocratic state. In European exile, under the influence of an almost chauvinistic nostalgia, he discovered also that the idealized obshchina gave status to his remote homeland among the progressive peoples of west Europe, and established a niche for himself among European activists. All too often he affirmed the unique and superior qualities of the Russian obshchina, in obvious contradiction to his usual sober realism in these matters [EG]. Much of the exaggeration of Russian "native socialism" may be attributed to the demands Herzen felt as an émigré from a backward, agrarian nation in the world's most advanced industrialized city, London. Radicals in west Europe proudly claimed a future of socialism for urban laborers; Herzen made the same claim for Russian rural laborers.

{_{ See Alan Kimball, "Alexander Herzen and the Native Lineage of the Russian Revolution", in Religious and Secular Forces in Late Tsarist Russia, edited by Charles E. Timberlake (Seattle WA: The University of Washington Press).}_}

<>In 1853, Herzen called his Free Russia Press in London the "Vol'naia russkaia obshchina v Londone" [The free Russian commune in London].

{_{ Herzen, Sobranie sochinenii v tridtsati tomakh (Moscow: Akademiia nauk, 1957), 12:310 [SoS hereafter]. Herzen's press came to be known by a more standard name, Volnaia Russkaia Tipografiia v Londone [The Russian Free Press in London].}_}

<>The name both rejected and embraced Russian tradition. With the adjective vol'naia he expressed his freedom and independence from the imperial state.

{_{ We are in need of a Begriffsgeschichte of the words volia and vol'nyi. In 1765 Catherine the Great chartered the Vol'noe ekonomicheskoe obshchestvo. Then on 15 January 1783 she handed down a law that permitted establishment of a vol'naia tipografiia (a free press). What the adjective vol'naia meant here was "not owned by the state and licensed to operate on its own account". Catherine made a private, independent, or civilian press possible. The press would be a thing of society, an "unofficial" or civil endeavor. (See Gary Marker, Publishing, Printing, and the Origins of Intellectual Life in Russia, 1700-1800 (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985), chapter 4.)
    Yet Catherine's meaning of vol'naia tipografiia also implied that it would also be a thing "licensed" to be free, with the vague suggestion of purposes and limits still defined by the licensing authority and enforced by censorship. Like the English word "license", the Russian "volia" also wobbles between nearly opposite meanings: from regulated permission to undisciplined and undefined or willful excess.}_}

<>With the noun obshchina, he expressed his adherence to a tradition of popular self-administration. The essential qualities which Herzen hoped to imitate, or the positions he wished to signal by attaching the name of the traditional Russian rural institution to his sophisticated publishing house, were independence, democracy, and public authority over the means of production. Thus two main qualities of the native institution appealed to the emigre theorist: self-rule and communal economics.

<>From 1856 or 1858, Herzen's partner in emigration, Nikolai Ogarev wrote a series of "Russian Questions" in which he affirmed that the peasant in the obshchina was convinced that a certain portion of the land belongs to him.

{_{ N. P. Ogarev, Izbrannye sotsial'no-politicheskie i filosoficheskie proizvedeniia, 2 volumes (Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel'stvo politicheskoi literatury, 1952), 1:106 [IzP hereafter].}_}

<>Ogarev criticized two state projects which reflected the state's meaning of obshchina. The first allowed the state bureaucracy to create obshchinas on gentry land distributed to peasants by the terms of emancipation. The second state project called for bureaucratic administration of courts and police at the district level. This sort of "statist" obshchina was proof to Ogarev that tsar had no serious intention to liberate the peasants. These obshchinas combined the worst qualities of gentry and bureaucrat for the exploitation of the peasantry, creating what Ogarev called an "oligarch-bureaucatic" system. Arbitrary landlord authority was attached to the chinovnichestvo [the autocratic bureaucracy] to create a new and augmented arbitrary authority in the countryside.

{_{ Kolokol 21 (15 August 1858), 173.}_}

<>Ogarev sensed that the state sought to take control of the obshchina.

{_{ Ogarev's third installment of "Russkie voprosy" deals with the state grabbing onto the obshchina. See E. L. Rudnitskaia, N. P. Ogarev v russkom revoliutsionnom dvizhenii (Moscow: 1969), 135 [ROD hereafter]. Grigorii Eliseev was making the same point in the scholarly journals back in Russia. See Eliseev [Grytsko here], "Uchastie obshchiny v sude po Russkoi Pravde", Arkhiv istoriko-iuridicheskikh svedenii otnosiashchikhsia do Rossii 5 (Petersburg: A. Semen, 1860/61 [but actually published in 1863]), 97-160.}_}

<>In a sense, Ogarev saw this question much as did Chicherin, but while Chicherin found the interpenetration of state power into the obshchina a progressive trend, Ogarev found it abhorrent. The political task for Ogarev was to free peasants to govern themselves in their own native obshchina. He argued that while the West moved toward the creation of a powerful centralized state, often under rule of elected representatives in law making assemblies, leaving administration and courts in hands of centralized nation-state, "the Russian people by custom preserved elected administration and the mir court, without thought about other relationships to the central authority".{_{ Ogarev,IzP,1:361.}_} Here Ogarev took a position opposite to Chicherin.

<>Ogarev and Herzen together argued that a liberated peasantry should rule itself and retain traditional community control over landed property.

{_{ See Ogarev, "Russkie voprosy" [no. 3], IzP,1:137. ROD:135-6, says Ogarev did not idealize the obshchina. He saw it as an embryo, "zarodysh", or a seed which is capable of growth if it is not disturbed by outside forces, i.e., the gentry and the state ["zerno etogo ustroistva, zerno, kotoroe sposobno k razvitiiu, esli emu ne budet meshat' vneshnee nasilie", Ogarev,IzP,1:162].}_}

<>In this sense we might say that they promoted what I have been calling the political and the economic obshchina. But the political obshchina is the more stable and dominant form in their writings.

{_{ Rudnitskaia: "Ogarev did not look upon the obshchina as the sole form of land ownership. He knew that there were regions in Russia where the obshchina was not established. Just what form of land ownership the peasantry selected--private or obshchina--had to be their free decision." [ROD:136 and 166].}_}

<>Chicherin's attack on the obshchina aimed at the heart of the matter: the Russian native tradition of independent self-sufficiency, i.e., what I am calling the political obshchina.

<>Konstantin Kavelin, professor of civil law at Saint Petersburg University and leading civilian reform ideologist, broke with Chicherin on just this point.

{_{ Earlier Kavelin and Chicherin saw eye to eye on Herzen. They joined forces to write a liberal critique of Herzen, "Pis'mo k izdateliu", Golosa iz Rossii 1 (1856), 9-36.}_}

<>In 1857, Kavelin had written to Herzen to tell him that he did not share the view that Russia might expect some sort of salvation from the obshchina.

{_{ Kavelin, Pis'ma...Gertsenu:4. Kavelin could be critical of the obshchina without feeling that his views were at odds with Herzen's. See "Vzgliad na russkuiu sel'skuiu obshchinu", Atenei 2 (1859), 165-96 [republished in Kavelin, SoS 2:162-94]; and "Pis'ma iz derevni", Moskovskie vedomosti 192 & 194 (1860) [SoS 2:663-688]. Kavelin felt that the views expressed in his Atenei article were similar to Herzen's. See Kavelin, Pis'ma...Gertsenu:43-4. But when Kavelin urged the gentry to take advantage of every opportunity provided by emancipation, to quit complaining in the capitals and to return to their estates--in so many words, "go to the people"--and struggle there for local independence and the creation of institutions of self-governance, Herzen concluded that Kavelin was too tender minded about the ex-serfowners. See Kavelin's Dvorianstvo i osvobozhdenie krest'ian published originally in Berlin (1862), republished in Kavelin, SoS 2:106-42. See also "Obshchestvennoe znachenie dvorianstva (1862-65): I. Iz pis'ma k B. P. Obukhovu [62ja24:]; II. Iz pis'ma k A. L. Korsakovu", SoS 2:143-162. This led to a decisive personal break between Kavelin and Herzen.}_}

<>At that time he was speaking of the institution specifically, as it existed in its full sociological or anthropological reality, and he was critical, as any reasonable person might be. But now, in the impassioned Chicherin polemic, he spoke of the institution as an idea or model, and he expressed a willingness to die for that principle, as any freedom fighter might. Chicherin attacked the obshchina both as reality and idea; Kavelin attacked specific realities of the obshchina but affirmed the idea.

<>Community self-regulation was the heart of the idea of the obshchina. Kavelin affirmed that idea, so long as it was compatible with the unity of the larger body politic. To describe his project for the reform of university administration, he did not hesitate to combine traditional village terms of authority with Latinate terms. In March, 1861, he set as his goal to remove the university from bureaucratic control and transfer authority and grant autonomy to two fundamental and well organized "corporations", the professors and the students. The "Corporation of Instructors" will form a soviet with an elected rector at their head. They will administer the university. The "Corporation of Students" will be granted less sweeping authority, but a genuine degree of autonomy with respect to their own affairs. The students will form a skhodka [assembly] with starshchiny [elders] elected by them. These corporate bodies [obshchinnye uchrezhdeniia] will be placed under the authority of a pro-rector elected by the soviet. The pro-rector would exercise only administrative authority. The soviet would have all "legislative" authority over the university; but the governance of student life would be delegated to the skhodka. Judicial authority would be vested in a court of grievances, elected by the soviet.{_{ Kavelin, SoS 2:xix.}_}

<>The terms borrowed from the offices of the political obshchina seemed appropriate to Kavelin, even though he was critical of the peasant obshchina as an economic institution. And by concentrating the traditional terms on student institutions and the Roman terminology on professorial institutions, Kavelin expressed a certain condescension toward both student and peasant interests. Whatever its shortcomings, the obshchina was a popular, rustic, native institution of self-government and public independence from external, bureaucractic meddling. Its virtues did not argue for its dominion over the whole nation or the whole university. For Kavelin, the authority in some localities over the distribution of land and the preservation of primitive agricultural practices were the least desirable features of the peasant obshchina. These reservations did not dampen his enthusiasm for the native deliberative institution itself as a model for local or primary self-governance. When he imagined how the university should be organized, traditional terms, sovet, skhodka, starshina, and obshchina, leapt as easily to mind as the terms of foreign import, korporatsiia and rektor.

<>In another example, Aleksandr Lokhvitskii wrote a review of contemporary constitutions in Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and other European states. Lokhvitskii was a teacher at the prestigious Alexander Lyceum where future high state servitors and certain key figures of this era studied--Nikolai Serno-Solov'evich and Aleksander Sleptsov, for example. He intended his publication to be a handbook of available models of national rule, even though it prudently avoided the recommendation that Russia adopt a constitution. Thus he got it past the censor and published it legally in Petersburg. Lokhvitskii would not be counted among the bravest or most forthright of the public activists of this period, but his essays on constitutions insisted on every imaginable point of congruence between Russian tradition and the most positive examples of constitutional rule in other areas of the world.

{_{ Aleksandr V. Lokhvitskii, Obzor sovremennykh konstitutsii (Petersburg: Obshchestvennaia pol'za, 1862).}_}

<>Lokhvitskii was impressed by the Swiss communal institution, the Gemeinde. He found the word obshchina a natural translation of Gemeinde. Regional authority in Switzerland was only administrative, he emphasized; real authority rested in the local obshchina. It was the "root, organic" unit of government. Every Swiss citizen must belong to an obshchina. Otherwise, he would possess no civil rights. In essence, there were no citizens of the confederation or of the cantons, there were only citizens of obshchinas. Only after gaining citizenship within an obshchina was a Swiss considered a citizen of the larger group.

<>Lokhvitskii observed that the Swiss obshchina had a curious economic structure, but one of some relevance to the Russian situation. Recent polemics on the Russian obshchina had advocated the abolition of periodic redistribution of land. The argument held that social justice could be better achieved in other ways. For example, private land holding, in conjunction with a progressive system of taxation on that land, could fund more efficient welfare programs and achieve some degree of redistribution of wealth. The Swiss obshchina maintained a high level of social welfare and saw to some degree of social redistribution, Lokhvitskii argued, but it did so in a way polemicists in Russia had not yet considered. The Swiss obshchina owned mountains, forests, and other productive property. These were leased out to productive enterprises and individuals. Rents from these properties were divided among obshchina members. The Swiss obshchina was thus a political and an economic unit. Lokhvitskii described its institutional structure in Russian terms: the Swiss obshchina was governed by a permanent council (soviet) and a general assembly (mirskaia skhodka). The Swiss obshchina selected judges at law, starshiny [elders], established budget, supported schools, churches, and the like. The independence of the obshchina was preserved even by Cantonal authorities on a federated basis. {_{ Lokhvitskii, Obzor:31-33.}_}

<>Nikolai Chernyshevskii, one of the most influential journalists of this era, made a name for himself in part as a result of his resolute advocacy of the obshchina, defending it from the Chicherin critique and also from the laissez-faire doctrines of what was called the "Manchester School" of Russian economists, led by Ivan Vernadskii and Fedor Terner. Chernyshevskii's mature and magisterial work on the question were his notes to his translation of J. S. Mill's Principles of Political Economy, which appeared on the pages of the most popular journal published in the Empire, Sovremennik, in the months just before and just after emancipation. Without question, Chernyshevskii was enthusiastic about the economic obshchina and the possibility that it might facilitate the introduction of some of the "new" economic ideas flourishing in the West. Here he specified Mill's unusual and thorough treatment of agricultural economics, the cooperative movement of France, and the growth of joint-stock operations and related community self-help and worker-centered projects. In the hundreds of pages of notes on Mill he made it clear that the central issue was local control over the land; the land should be owned and administered by those who till it, ideally in community-based cooperatives, such as the obshchina.

{_{ Nikolai Chernyshevskii's notes and comments attached to the publication of his translation of John Stuart Mill's Principles of Political Economy with Some of Their Applications to Social Philosophy (4th edition, London, 1857) [reprinted in Mill's Collected Works, 29 volumes, edited by John M. Robson, vols. 2 & 3 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965)]. See Chernyshevskii, [Zamechaniia perevodchika] intertextual comments to his translation of J. S. Mill, "Osnovaniia politicheskoi ekonomii s nekotorymi iz ikh primenenii k obshchestvennoi filosofii". Appendixes to Sovremennik, nos. 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 11 (February-November 1860); "Ocherki iz politicheskoe ekonomii (po Milliu)". Sovremennik, nos. 6 & 7 (June & July 1861) [Raspredelenie], nos. 8 & 9 (August & September) [Obmen], no. 10 (October) [Ekonomicheskii progress], and no. 12 (December) [Pravitel'stvennoe vliianie]; all reprinted with annotation and supportive bibliography of other works by Chernyshevskii on the obshchina in the ninth volume of his Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Moscow: OGIZ, 1949) [PSS hereafter].}_}

<>Peasants in their rebellious assemblies inspired and to some degree instructed Chernyshevskii, Lokhvitskii, Kavelin and other educated urbanities as they began to think about political issues. The obshchina contributed a degree of native impulse to the general patterns of social mobilization within voluntary societies, even without often having any direct or detailed influence on the specific bylaws of the societies themselves. The spiritual linkages are strong, even when precise organizational patterns are not replicated.

<>In the months after emancipation on the pages of his popular journal Russkoe slovo [The Russian Word], Gregorii Blagosvetlov subjected the Russian social structure to merciless critique. A man of humble clerical origins, Blagosvetlov was not inclined to idealize popular life. But he held out hope that things might get better. "The civic personality" cannot develop in isolation but only in harmony with a broader development of "communitarian principles" [kommunal'nye nachala] in the larger political and social environment and only when the state is "like a pyramid and stands on its broad base rather than on its extreme point". The public is a product of individual development but also the product of association in public organizations which fit individual needs. Without "community life" [obshchinnaia zhizn'] there can be no public.

<>Blagosvetlov employed the adjective obshchina to describe the sodality of civic individuals organized in societies which corresponded to their personal and group interests. In the absence of individuals at once conscious of being a part of a larger, organized social whole, yet independent of the state, humans are but "pitiful, isolated cattle", a society is little more than a "heap" of people.

{_{ L. A. Plotkin, Pisarev i literaturno-obshchestvennoe dvizhenie v shestidesiatykh godakh (Leningrad: Akademiia nauk, 1945), 178-9.}_}

<>Just as the peasantry turn to their obshchina, and the gentry to their assemblies in the provinces, so also must urban civil society create its own organizations. The public must take positive measures to transform themselves from a "heap" into a mobilized force of consequence. Blagosvetlov was himself an active supporter of the Sunday school movement. These schools were one of the most startling voluntary initiatives of the reform era, creating hundreds of privately run schools to provide free elementary education for the folk and forging one of the most important linkages between the educated activists and the people at large. Public enthusiasm for the Sunday schools, and official hatred as well, stemmed from the community of interests among the sosloviia which was their organizational premise and the disregard of normal class forms of address and interpersonal behavior which was their operational method.

{_{ G. I. Ionova, "Voskresnye shkoly v gody pervoi revoliutsionnoi situatsii (1859-1861)", Istoricheskie zapiski 57 (1956), 177-209; R. A. Taubin,"Iz istorii propagandy 'revoliutsionnoi partii' sredi krest'ian i soldat v gody revoliutsionnoi situatsii", Revoliutsionnaia situatsiia v Rossii v 1859-1861 gg., 9 volumes (Moscow: Akademiia nauk, 1960), 1:380-425.}_}

<>In Blagosvetlov's view, the schools were teaching and learning communities, striving to blend the heap of sosloviia assembled there into a public; they were educational obshchinas.

Proclamations of the 1860s

<>Moving every day closer to open struggle with the state, activists from among the growing civil society sought to broaden and intensify lines of communication between the city and the countryside. Political proclamations appeared with growing frequency.

{_{ The generalizations about the proclamations of this era are based on an index of over eighty political proclamations composed in the time of greatest political crisis in the reform era, 1861-1863. Proclamations constitute an important part of a datafile devoted to periodic and irregular publications which I have compiled in connection with a comprehensive study I am now completing, devoted to the mobilization of political opposition in Russia in the middle of the nineteenth century.}_}


Chronology(winter 1861-winter 1863) and place of origin
(SPB=Petersburg LND=London)

1861mr: SPB    Barskim krest'ianam ot ikh dobrozhelatelei poklon...
1861ap: SPB    K molodomu pokoleniiu
1861je30:SPB    Velikoruss no. 1
1861jy: LND    Chto nuzhno narodu?
1861au08:LND    Chto nuzhno pomeshchikam?
1861se07:SPB    Velikoruss no. 2
1861se15:LND    Otvet Velikorusu
1861oc01:LND    Otvet na 'Otvet'
1861oc: Perm'  Pora!
1861oc20:SPB    Velikoruss no. 3
1861no: LND    Chto nado delat' voisku?
1861de24:Kazan  B'iu chelom narodu pravoslavnomu....
1862fe: Tver   Blagorodnye deistviia... [published in Berlin]
1862fe:Bern SWZ Brat'ia soldaty!
1862mr: SPB    Ofitsery!
1862ap: SPB    Zemskaia duma
1862my26 Poland Chego khochet russkii narod i chto dolzhen delat'....
1862jy14 SPB    K russkomu narodu (rasskaz diadi Kuz'micha)
1862se03:SPB    Pravoslavnyi narod!
1862no: Kazan  Dolgo davila vas, bratsii
1863mr31:Moscow Zemlia i volia, svoboda veroispovedaniia



<>Supportive of local self-government, the proclamations sought to build on native impulses and institutions, and to raise the consciousness of the peasantry to a national, even an international level. These illegal publications speak with clarity, not just about a vision of a future order in the countryside in which the mirskoi skhod and obshchina would have local authority over local affairs, but also about a larger institutional structure of national politics harmonized with these nativist traditions. 

<>The pattern that emerged from the earliest months of proclamations looks something like this: first, emancipation is a fraud and failure; second, only the whole people (representing all sosloviia) can achieve authentic freedom, guided by a progressive leadership and working against the tsarist state; third, the nature of authentic freedom is a much expanded popular assembly, building on such native traditions as the mirskoi skhod; and, fourth, disorganized mutiny is not the way to this end, but patient planning and organization are, followed by decisive political action which might include armed uprising. In the typical pattern, the political or institutional qualities of the mirskoi skhod are more often given consistent and clear affirmation than the economic communitarian or egalitarian qualities.

<>Chernyshevskii apparently authored the first substantial proclamation, "Salute to the Gentry-owned Peasants from their Wellwishers...", with the help of Nikolai Shelgunov. Composed in the direct aftermath of the emancipation decree in February 1861, the proclamation was certainly discussed among a small group of Petersburg journalists and student activists, including Chernyshevskii.

{_{ Chernyshevskii's proclamation is a good example of what Marc Bloch had in mind when he wrote, "Scholars take such pains to weigh a document before accepting it as authentic that afterwards they sometimes lack the stamina to criticise its contents" (The Historian's Craft [New York City: Vintage, 1964], 91-92).}_}

<>"Salute" was never published, though it circulated in manuscript and was paraphrased in a more widely distributed proclamation in late 1862, "Dolgo davila vas, brattsi".

<>"Salute" established the central premise in the first lines: emancipation is a fraud. It addressed peasant readers directly and encouraged them to understand that neither land nor justice could be expected from the Russian tsar. It did not urge peasants to rebel. It cautioned against disorganized mutiny; disorder would never win back land or bring justice. It recommended coordinated and massive action instead. Peasants should work quietly with "good officers" to organize themselves in preparation for the day when their "wellwishers" will call them out to overthrow the tsarist system.

<>The goal of such action should be to achieve what the English and French people [narod] had achieved with their representative and constitutional forms of government.

{_{ The phrase "English and French narod" does not seem so odd when we remember that the word narod means "people". The word is too often given the narrow, nativist meaning "Russian peasantry". The émigré journal Svoboda spoke in 1863 of spreading propaganda among the "narod". Franco Venturi, in Il populismo russo, 2 volumes (Turino: J. Einaudi, 1952), 1:454 translated that as "del popolo", but the English translation reads "peasants" (Roots of Revolution: A History of the Populist and Socialist Movements in Nineteenth Century Russia (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1960), 274 [VRR hereafter]).
    I. I. Sreznevskii, Slovar' drevnerusskogo iazyka, 3 volumes, photo reprint of 1903 edition (Moscow: Kniga, 1958), 2:320-1, lists six historical meanings for the word narod: people (homines), crowd, gathering of people, the population of a country, a party, a race. Slovar' Pushkina indicates that the great poet employed the word 462 times. In 169 cases he meant population or inhabitants of a country under a certain government. In 147 cases he meant nationality or nation. In the remaining 146 cases he meant people, group of people, or crowd. Vladimir Dal', Tolkovyi slovar' zhivogo velikorusskogo iazyka, 4 volumes, published from the second edition of 1880-1882 [1st ed., 1863-1866] (Moscow: 1955), 2:461-2 defines the word as "people born in a specific region". A people in general, language, tribe, inhabitants of a country, speaking one language, those who live under a single governmment, a nation, the rabble [chern'], the simple folk, the lower classes, the taxed sosloviia, the majority of people, a crowd. Dal' does not define narod specifically as "peasantry", but he does offer "peasantry" as one definition of prostoliud'e (3:514) along with person or people of simple birth, rabble, taxable condition, and narod. Without specific contextual indicators it appears that "people" or "nation" is the proper translation of narod for the vast majority of instances of usage in the 1860s. D. N. Ushakov's Tolkovyi slovar' russkogo iazyka (Moscow:1938) offers three main senses of the word narod: the population of one state, a nation, and people. In an extended definition, Ushakov reads, "In an exploitative state the great mass of the population (for the most part peasantry) in conflict with the ruling class."}_}

<>In every way possible the proclamation sought to draw a strong parallel between west-European-style representative government and the obshchina, especially the Russian village assembly [mir]. In England and France, wrote Chernyshevskii, only the mir has authority over the people. Everyone is ruled by the mir. Everyone is under the same starosta [elder] and he cannot do anything without the approval of the mir, and in all things must report to the mir. The parallel, however crude, is clear: the mir is a representative assembly, and the starosta is an executive authority in a democratic setting. Still using familiar Russian village terminology, Chernysevskii explained how European parliamentary life worked =

The mir has power over the starosta in all matters, but aside from the mir no one else has any power over the starosta, and the starosta is responsible to no other person; he is responsible only to the mir. To them [the French or English] it doesn't make any difference whether you're a Colonel or General: before the starosta you take off your hat, and you're obligated to listen to the starosta.

<>The proclamation emphasized the importance of legal equality and the independence of the starosta from outside interference, his evenhanded power over all varieties of people, without reference to any domineering social/service hierarchies. The starosta's ultimate responsibility was to the narod, to the people in general. The Colonel or General is subordinate to the civilian starosta, but the starosta is subordinate to the will of the people. "Whatever the people command, that's the way it will be. Their [the French and English] tsar does not rule over the narod; on the contrary, the narod rules over the tsar." The tsar may be the starosta over everyone, but the French and English replace their tsar when he displeases them.

Now here's just what real freedom is on this earth: The narod is everyone's leader and every official is obedient to the mir. Courts are just, and courts treat everyone the same, and no one dare treat the muzhik improperly. The passport does not exist, nor does the poll tax. Military conscription does not exist. Now that's freedom, like freedom really is. If it's not like this, then it means there is no freedom; it's all just deceptive talk.


<>As for the relationship between the people and the land, the proclamation made no special claim for communal landholding, though it implied that the land ought to be owned by those who make their life in the countryside. Specifically it suggested that everyone in the countryside should be a pomeshchik [gentry landowner], as in France and England. And no one should be thrown out of his own village community into the world with no obshchina, with no stake in the commonwealth. 

<>In summary, the proclamation recommended Western democratic political systems as a model for Russia. It stretched a point or two in order to emphasize that Western institutions were compatible with native tradition. On a more cautious note the proclamation gave a mixed recommendation to the French and English economies. A rootless urban laboring class seriously flawed these economies. But a prosperous agriculture in which everyone was a pomeshchik seemed more worthy of imitation. This was the message to the ex-serfs.

{_{ "Barskim krest'ianam ot ikh dobrozhelatelei poklon; gosudarstvennym i udel'nym krest'ianam ot ikh dobrozhelatelei poklon; soldatam russkim ot ikh dobrozhelatelei poklon", in Chernyshevskii, PSS 16:946-953; William F. Woehrlin, Chernyshevsky: The Man and the Journalist (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), 276.}_}

<>In July 1861 Ogarev composed the most influential proclamation of the era, "What do the People Need?" He published it on the Herzen press. The proclamation opened with its interrogative title and supplied an answer: land and liberty [zemlia da volia]. Imitating his best poetic sense of the peasant vernacular, Ogarev made the definitive argument for emancipation with land and complete political enfranchisement. Neither pomeshchiks, chinovniki [bureaucrats], or even the tsar can make a better life for the peasantry, only the peasantry can do that. Here are the central points:

(1) Free all peasants with the land that they now cultivate. Not all land, just all the land they currently cultivate. Those who do not cultivate land (some state peasants and factory peasants, for example) should receive land from the state domains. The land should be held by the peasants in common, i.e., in the obshchina.

(2) Create a national treasury to receive taxes paid in a collective, responsible fashion by everyone (Ogarev describes this as a form of krugovaia poruka).

{_{ A brief Begriffsgeschichte of the phrase krugovaia poruka is in order here. It was not simply a technical "collective responsibility" for redemption payments, but also a more general social and institutional concept, with implications as broad as those suggested by words like obshchina, obshchestvo and publika. Poruka carried the meaning of guarantee, surety, or even pledge (to go bail, secure a loan). When joined with krugovaia it suggested "mutual responsibility, solidarity, reciprocal bond, security in which each is bound for the whole" (A. Aleksandrov, Polnyi Russko-Angliiskii slovar' [Petersburg: M. O. Vol'f, 1910], 447). D. N. Ushakov, Tolkovyi slovar' russkogo iazyka, 4 volumes (Moscow: OGIZ, 1939), 1:1530, suggests the meaning of reciprocal obligation and support: one for all and all for one. In that generic sense of the phrase one can say that the Three Musketeers were bound by krugovaia poruka.
    Notice how Kolokol 75 (1 July 1860), 625, used the phrase obshchaia krugovaia poruka vsei soslovii [general and reciprocal bond of all social estates] institutionalized in an oblastnye soveshchaniia vsekh soslovii [district assemblies of all social estates].
    Here the phrase works as a native variation on a general social-political idea often labeled in English as the "social contract".}_}

(3) Even though the pomeshchiks held the land without a right to do so for 300 years, the peasant does not want to injure them--so says the proclamation. For that reason landowners should be granted some yearly support out of the treasury. This paragraph contains some understandably detailed accounting of just how much should be raised by taxes for this purpose. One might even say assiduous accounting, in view of Ogarev's aristocratic landowning social origins.

(4) Cut military spending by half, particularly officers' pay.

(5) Eliminate the Tsar's personal budget. Spend that money on roads, schools, and various other public enterprises.

(6) Get the chinovnik out of the life and work of the narod. Let the people select their own administrators to handle their own resources, gathered and dispersed locally.

(7) And in order to do all these things, create a representative institution at the local level. They should send delegates to the district level. In turn, the district should send delegates to a provincial city. And, finally, those should send delegates "to the capital to the Tsar" and decide on such levies and taxes as are necessary for state needs, i. e., for the general needs of the whole Russian nation. Taxes should not be levied by head count, but by ability to pay.

<>Ogarev ended on a cautionary note. "To make a fuss without purpose and to expose oneself to a bullet in a fracas is not a good idea." Gather strength, seek reliable people who are able to give advice and leadership. Set against the Tsar and his grandees the land of the mir [zemlia mirskaia].

{_{ Ogarev, "Chto nuzhno narodu?" Kolokol 102 (1 July 1861), 1-4; Ogarev,IzP,1:527-36.}_}

<>In the fall of 1861, a press in Perm' produced 5000 copies of "What do the People Need?", with the obvious intent to give it wide circulation.{_{ ROD:253.}_} Peasants read it at local meetings of the mirskoi skhod, passing them around from hand to hand, copying them by hand, entrusting them with peasants headed into the cities for seasonal employment.{_{ ROD:250.}_} Proclamations were read among soldiers and peasants in several locations, most notably in several Sunday schools where the narod and civil society interacted with unusual effect.

{_{ Vosstanie 1863 goda: Materialy i dokumenty; russko-pol'skie revoliutsionnye sviazi, two volumes, subtitled "Powstanie styczniowe: Współpraca rewolucyjna Polsko-Rosyjska" (Moscow: Akademiia nauk, 1963), 2:280 & 282 [V63 hereafter].}_}

<>The major oppositional groups in the cities adopted "What do the People Need?" as a "political platform".

{_{ Aleksandr Sleptsov, an active organizer of Zemlia i volia, claimed that "What do the People Need?" served the political opposition as a party platform. See Sleptsov's memoirs in N. G. Chernyshevskii: stat'i, issledovaniia i materialy 3 (Saratov: Izdatel'stvo Saratovskogo Universiteta, 1962), 258-81.}_}

<>The most inflammatory proclamation in the first year of emancipation was "To the Younger Generation", written by Nikolai Shelgunov and Mikhail Mikhailov in early spring, 1861, published in London that summer, and circulated boldly in Petersburg and other major centers in September. This proclamation was not addressed to the people. It was addressed to the incipient intelligentsia, the educated "younger generation", which is inflated in the language of the proclamation into an organized political body, "the people's party". The proclamation is repetitive, with frequent asides or cadenzas, and the text itself seems a crude early draft. Yet a four-part structure shows through the confusion.

<>The frequently quoted phrases from this proclamation which praise the native communism of the Russian folk are best understood in their full context. The first section concentrated on the failed emancipation, blamed the gentry and the state (which is in fact the same thing, it said). The state has deceived the whole nation [narod] as well as what the proclamation called "the best, i.e., most educated, honorable and capable segment of the Russian public, the narodnaia partiia [people's party]...". Serfdom will not be destroyed until the autocracy is destroyed. The second section called upon the younger generation, "the leaders of the nation" [vozhaki naroda]. Who says peasants are not mature enough for self rule, the proclamation asked. They know a bad fit when they put on a shoe; what more is needed? Leadership is needed. The third section laid out a program of action. Nearly thirty phrases opened with "we want...". The list was repetitive and disordered. The previous cadenzas were here repeated, and new ones introduced, interlaced with a list of program demands. The fourth part of the proclamation summed up by extolling the virtues of the younger generation, encouraging them, and calling them to action.

{_{ M. K. Lemke, Politicheskie protsessy v Rossii 1860-kh gg. (po arkhivnym dokumentam), second edition (Moscow-Petrograd: Gosudarstvennoe Izdatel'stvo, 1923), 59-86 (text: 62-80) [PPR hereafter]; V. Ya. Yakovlev, ed., Materialy dlia istorii revoliutsionnago dvizheniia v Rossii v 60-kh gg. Prilozheniie no. 2 to Gosudarstvennyia prestupleniia v Rossii and vol. 5 of Russkaia istoricheskaia biblioteka (Paris: Société nouvelle de librairie et d'édition, 1905), 2-15.}_}

<>At the political center of the proclamation stood the demand for popular control over the instruments of government, for which native traditions have prepared the Russian people and provide an "embryo" [iaicheika] for development, under the guidance of young savants. A cadenza on the political obshchina, the instrument of native self-rule, followed here.

<>The proclamation also assaulted the principle of private landownership in the name of public ownership. Two major cadenzas within the body of the proclamation addressed the economic obshchina. The first of the cadenzas (and possibly the second) was written by Mikhailov.{_{ PPR:66.}_} They stood out from the rest of the text by virtue of their extravagance and volatility. These are the famous and often quoted passages. Comparing Europe and Russia, Mikhailov argued that Russia should not follow the path of the West. Backwardness was a kind of salvation for Russia, particularly as preserved in the periodic redistribution of the land within the peasant obshchina.

<>Unruffled by the irony of the argument, the proclamation claimed that Russian particularity, Russian backwardness, made her more receptive to the most modern European revolutionary principles. At its center, this argument was as much a rejection of proletarianization and an affirmation of emancipation with land as it was a general hymn to backwardness or community property. The second cadenza on this theme concluded in a milder manner that obshchina landownership should be preserved for as long as possible. "State power should not settle this issue. If the idea of obshchina landownership is a mistake, let it die a natural death; its end should be the result of its own deficiencies, not under the influence of Western [laissez-faire] economic teachings."

<>Thus while the proclamation "To the Younger Generation" was the most pointed affirmation of the economic obshchina in any of the proclamations of this era, the final accent there was on the need to let the folk themselves settle the fate of periodic redistribution of land in the political obshchina, rather than in the halls of autocratic power. The fate of the economic obshchina should rest in the hands of the political obshchina.

<>At the time "To the Younger Generation" was written, Petr Zaichnevskii, one of the great gentry firebrands from the ranks of the younger generation, was out among the people trying to stir them to resistance. The superiority of the obshchina, he emphasized, lies "in the dependence of those in power upon their society, in their responsibility to it". The principle meaning of the obshchina is "that official persons are elected by the mir and responsible to it". If this principle is good for the obshchina, it is "the very best of all for the whole of society". Zaichnevskii also said that communal authority over land is to be admired because of the "injustice of personal and heritable ownership of the land". However, his emphasis was self-government. Only those authorities chosen by the people can know the needs of people, he said, only those programs designed by them will fill the nation's needs.{_{ PPR:17-19.}_}


<>Some proclamations were written by, as well as for, the people. On 3 September 1862, Arsenii Semanovskii and Viktor Korenev, issued "Orthodox people!" [Pravoslavnyi narod!].

{_{ V63,1:178-180. Police reports on the proclamation are found in V63,1:180-82.}_}

<>They saw the Russian situation from the point of view of ambitious young men from the narod. Semanovskii was the son of an army medical orderly. Korenev was the son of a state peasant from Yaroslavl province. Both were in Petersburg to take exams for admission to the university. But the future of the university was unclear, and thus their own futures were unclear. They were now threatened with exclusion from the university and from the hope of professional careers. Maybe both had hoped to become school teachers. The state had just closed down the network of Sunday schools where these two were active.

<>The state despises the Sunday schools, the proclamation said, because it fears that the narod might become literate and read good books about how government really works in Russia. The Russian people might discover how the narod lives in other countries.

And in the other countries it is quite different than with us. There the villains cannot plunder the narod because all the people who live there are well schooled. They keep a watch on all the activities of the state and demand that the state give a full accounting because the state always lives off the money of the narod. They understand that even the lowliest muzhik is the equal of all the rest, the equal even of a minister of state himself.

<>Moving to its main point, the proclamation explained that the situation in these other countries once was as bad as it is currently in Russia. Bureaucrats and priests once exploited and deceived the narod in these other countries too, so the people there overthrew them. They created a new state which the proclamation described in the following way:

The narod divided itself into obshchinas, and every obshchina elected from its own midst several honorable people. Those elected from all over the land gathered together. For a two or three year period, they dealt with the affairs of the country and spoke in general assemblies of representatives [predstaviteli] about the needs of their sosloviia and their obshchinas. Over time, if the people became dissatisfied with their elected representatives, they replaced them.

<>That's what we want in Russia, the proclamation asserted. But in addition to that we in Russia also want an equalization of property [uravnenie v imushchestve] in order to abolish poverty and excess wealth. The proclamation did not link the equalization of property with the obshchina. In any event, the cutting edge of the proclamation, as affirmed at its closing, was political rather than economic: The Russian narod must itself deliberate on its own needs and make known its own demands. The Russian narod does not need the tsar and his people to decide these matters; that's like asking the wolf to teach the narod how to care for sheep.

{_{ The editors of V63 are of the opinion that there is more social than political discontent in this proclamation because the authors are peasants. They are attentive to the social class of the authors rather than to the political message of the text.}_}

<>In the spring of 1862 from London exile an Old-Believer ex-serf, Petr Alekseevich Mart'ianov sent a profession of faith to Alexander II which combined and summarized much of the political sense of the pamphleteers. Mart'ianov was born in Simbirsk, a serf of Count Gurev, and was assigned to a local school to be trained as administrator of the good Count's grain trade. In that responsible position, he prospered, and Gurev with him. Gurev positioned himself to weather the anticipated emancipation. Employing the full power of his gentry rights, he separated Mart'ianov from the grain trade and plundered Mart'ianov's accumulated wealth. In August, 1861, the impoverished Mart'ianov fled abroad. Mart'ianov served as the sole "native informant" to the aristocrat Herzen in London exile. Mart'ianov's appeal was published in Kolokol.

{_{ M. K. Lemke edition of A. I. Herzen [Gertsen], Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem, 22 volumes (LGR [earlier, PGR]: 1919-1925), 17:6-7; and Ocherki osvoboditel'nogo dvizheniia "shestidesiatykh godov" po neizdannym dokumentam s portretami (Petersburg: O. N. Popovoi, 1908), 333 ff. [OOD hereafter]. See also VRR:111 & 114; and V. A. Fedorov, "Krest'ianskii demokrat-shestidesiatnik P. A. Mart'ianov", in Problemy istorii obshchestvennogo dvizheniia i istoriografii: K 70-letiiu akademika Militsy Vasil'evny Nechkinoi (Moscow: Nauka, 1971), 144-56.}_}

<>Speaking for the whole narod he expressed the hope that the Emperor would observe the 1000th anniversary of Russia on 8 September 1862 by granting independence to rural institutions of self-rule and by convoking a "Great Zemskaia Duma" [national assembly] to determine the destiny of the nation. The Zemskaia Duma should be composed of elected "representatives" of the whole land. He urged the clear renunciation of the prejudice against peasants, the feeling that peasants were not sufficiently mature to participate in public life. To combat the prejudice he cited the obshchina. In the same breath he recommended attention to the lessons which the Western experience might teach Russia. The Zemskaia Duma should be built on the solid foundation of local institutions but should reach in stages beyond the local toward levels of national interest and be modeled on established systems abroad. Every obshchina should designate "elders-electors" [starshiny-izbirateli] "who have the trust of the narod, who are known at home, who are esteemed". Local people should be elected as representatives of the locales, and nationally well-known people should be elected as representatives at the national level. {_{ Kolokol 132:1093-97; OOD:339-48.}_}



<>We could extend this inventory of political generalizations on the peasant commune in the political culture of the 1860s. Surveying the full spectrum of oppositional views, one comes away with the impression that the dominant sense of the term obshchina was popular or community self-rule through local representatives. It was easy to imagine some renovated version of the obshchina set in a hierarchy of federally coordinated, elected governing institutions. Peasants would administer their own lives where they lived, and they would elect representatives (perhaps largely from among the educated urban minority) to represent them at higher levels of national political life. This was the political and institutional opposite of autocracy. Whatever the disagreements about the economic obshchina (i.e., the communal redistribution of land), political culture in the era of the first Russian revolutionary situation centered on the notion of the political obshchina. Few were the moments in which the life of the Russian rural laborer was idealized. If Russian political culture idealized anything, it was not peasant communism or even rural civic life, but rather it was the progressive leadership of the educated minority.

<>The uses of Begriffsgeschichte are many. In this instance, I think it helps peal away some polemical camouflage that has been cast over the actual history of Russian political opposition. When the Shelgunov and Mikhailov proclamation "To the Younger Generation" circulated in Petersburg in the first days of September, 1861, the Interior Minister Petr Valuev raged at its "pure socialistic spirit". He saw in it an affirmation of socialist principles; he summarized its contents in the following fashion: the land is "the common property of the narod, the propriety of all forms of private ownership of real estate is denied". Valuev's attention riveted itself to the proclamation's assertion that soldiers and "the simple folk" might have to take decisive action in which as many as one hundred thousand pomeshchiks might be killed. Valuev was understandably alarmed and confused. He had a vested interest in highlighting the most flamboyant sections of the proclamation and ignoring the bulk of recommendations, many of which were in line with reform measures which the state was already considering.

{_{ Petr A. Valuev, Dnevnik P. A. Valueva, ministra vnutrennikh del, v dvukh tomakh (Moscow: Akademiia nauk, 1961), 1:112.}_}

<>Valuev employed the specter of phantom organizations, such as Shelgunov's and Mikhailov's "people's party", to justify throttling real organizations like the Literary Fund, literacy committees, Sunday schools, student societies, and the Chess Club. Though their political involvement mounted, the threat to autocratic authority posed by these volunteer societies could not be made to seem as great as that of the artificial "peoples' party". Valuev deplored the mobilized civil society centered in these voluntary societies. Their claim to corporate rights, as if in obshchinas or other traditional bodies, seemed hokum, and an outrage against statist social/service hierarchies. But he could not find in their actual operations sufficient grounds for suppression. His formal report on the Sunday schools twisted every shred of evidence, straining toward indictment, but with meager success. His fear triumphed over legal refinement, and the schools were suppressed, along with the other largest and most active voluntary societies.

<>The phantom political party served him well, just as it serves later historians who share at least this with Valuev: a narrow and distorted image of the public organizations themselves and an exaggerated image of political conspiracy. Historians often seem to share with Valuev a need to enlarge and sharpen the threat to the life and property of the old regime posed by the Russian political opposition. Mikhailov's cadenzas in "To the Younger Generation", along with later events--particularly the appearance of Zaichnevskii's proclamation "Young Russia" and the great fires in Petersburg--were helpful to Valuev and to all who share his need to enlarge and sharpen the image of political opposition.

<>The narrow and distorted image of the obshchina attributed to the Russian political opposition, in which the obshchina stands only for radically communitarian forms of landownership, serves the need to exaggerate the threat which the political opposition in the 1860s posed to standard European notions of property and economic rationality, or--in a contrary direction--to exaggerate the "populist" naiveté of those who are said to have believed the peasant a native-born communist. This narrow and distorted image helps make the Russian political opposition seem simultaneously more dangerous and ridiculous. It also minimizes or covers up the direct institutional challenge posed by the generalized Begriff of the political obshchina to an uncompromising, remote, corrupt, and incompetent autocratic centralism. The obshchina as a participatory community of the people, the narod, or the demos, was more nearly the standard image in the 1860s. The idea of obshchina as polity had a place closer to the innermost circle of nineteenth-century Russian oppositional traditions than did the idea of obshchina as a repartitional commune.

<>If I can mix German with Russian, I would say that Begriffsgeschichte can contribute to the current era of glasnost by calling out and dispelling the distortions that have been worked on the origins, events, and consequences of what is called the "revolutionary movement" of the mid-nineteenth century. With careful attention to the usages lodged in the primary sources we must struggle against every effort to turn historical attention away from the precise economic, social, political or institutional qualities of Russian public life. There are many false notions to be expunged, and none more misleading than those that are attached to the political movements which sought a better life in peasant Russia.

{_{ For a further discussion of this problem, see Alan Kimball, "The First International and the Russian Obshchina", Slavic Review 32, no 3 (September, 1973), 491-514.}_}

<>I would refer the reader back to the words about "real freedom" and "deceptive talk" in Chernyshevskii's proclamation. How did the author of these words become a hero to Stalinist historians?

<>Begriffsgeschichte helps restore the vandalized image of public activism in the old empire and thus helps create a more workable sense of the long duration of politics in the Russian statist environment. The coherence of the Russian/Soviet historical experience is illuminated. The meaning of obshchina is not simply an antiquarian's problem, but is central to the history of meanings contested on the political field of action in Gorbachev's Soviet Union and in the years that have followed the collapse of the USSR.