They need great upheavals – we need a great Russia!

As I continue my research into Russian liberalism, today I took another look at a famous speech to the Russian parliament by Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin in May 1907. In contrast to the ‘street’ and ‘opposition’ liberals noted by Boris Chicherin in a piece I translated earlier on this blog, Stolypin was an exemplar of what Chicherin called okhranitel’nyi liberalism – supporting liberal measures and a strong state. Thus, he sought to restore stability to Russia following the troubles of the 1905 revolution by a combination of tough law and order on the one hand and liberal reform on the other.

Stolypin’s program included legislation to expand civil rights and an agrarian reform designed to turn peasants into individual property owners. Unfortunately, Stolypin’s program ran into opposition both from the reactionary right and the liberals and radicals on the left. Stolypin argued for giving peasants the right to exit the communes to which they belonged and turn the land they tilled into their own private property. The left instead insisted on keeping the commune, expropriating private and state land, and redistributing that land to peasants, but not as their private property. It was against this opposition that Stolypin delivered his speech of May 1907 in support of his agrarian reforms. I thought it worth publishing excerpts of it (the whole is too long), since, as far I can tell, it isn’t available online in English. So here it is.

Although the speech is more than 100 years old, if you want to understand the mentality of modern Russia’s ruling class, it’s not a bad place to start. Indeed, it is noticeable that Russian president Vladimir Putin has both quoted this speech and said that Stolypin is among the historical leaders that he most admires. Beyond that, it is, I think, an excellent speech for its statesmanlike qualities.

Excerpts from a speech by Pyotr Stolypin to the 2nd Duma, 10 May 1907 (From Thomas Riha ed., ‘Readings in Russian Civilization’)

Members of the State Duma … I think that all Russians who long for peace in their land desire a speedy solution to the problem which undoubtedly contributes to the growth of sedition and rebellion. Thus I will ignore all those insults and accusations which have been made here against the Government. Nor will I stop to discuss attacks which resembled hostile pressure on the regime. Nor will I discuss the principle of class revenge … which some here have advanced. Rather, I will try to take a statesman-like point of view, and will try to handle this question completely objectively, and even dispassionately.

As to the proposals of the various parties, I will first examine those made by parties on the Left. … I readily agree with the picture they have drawn of agricultural Russia’s impoverishment. … I must only say that the method those on the Left have suggested, the path they would choose, would overturn all existing civic relationships.  … It would lead, gentlemen, to a social revolution. It seems to me that these speakers from the Left are well aware of this. One of them … declared that the whole problem of the present moment consists in the destruction of the present state system … and the creation of a modern state based on new cultural principles constructed on the ruins of the old. … But, of course, there is no argument against the Leftists’ proposal, if such upheavals are considered Russia’s means of salvation.

Will we see the establishment of property rights in the Russian countryside ruined by an exaggerated egalitarianism? And this re-carved and equalized Russia – would she be richer and more powerful? The power of a country consists of the wealth of its people. The state as a whole would gain nothing from a general land redistribution. Not a single additional piece of bread would be added to the national wealth.

Now, gentleman, these spokesmen for the left propose to destroy the existing state system. They propose to ruin Russia in order to build a new fatherland on the ruins. I think that in the second millennium of her life Russia will not permit herself to be ruined. I think that she will be renewed, and that she will improve her way of life and advance in the family of nations. But this will not be the result of decomposition, for decomposition means death.

The Government must take into account two things: on the one hand, it is necessary and evidently widely desired that the Government set to work on new legislation aimed at improving our national life without departing from sound legal principles. The Government must welcome this desire and do everything possible to meet it. But along with this there exists another current of thinking. There are some who want to stir up discontent in the land, to sow seeds of rebellion and doubt. They wish to destroy confidence in the Government, undermine its authority, and thus to unite all forces hostile to the Government. … From these very halls, gentlemen, letters went out to the provinces, to the country, letters which were printed in the provincial newspapers and aroused confusion and indignation in the localities. … The letters advised the peasants to resort to violence and seize land by force, in view of the Government’s alleged crimes, its coercive tactics, and cruel oppression. … The Government, of course, cannot allow anyone to overstep this limit, otherwise it would cease to be the Government and would become an accomplice in its own destruction. … Violence will not be tolerated.

What is the way out? … The Government wants above all to promote and enhance peasant land ownership. It wants to see the peasant earning well and eating well, since where there is prosperity there is enlightenment and also true freedom. But for this … the industrious peasant … must be given the chance to consolidate the fruits of his labour and consider them his inalienable property.

It is impossible to solve this question all at once; it must be solved over a period of time. This has required decades in Western countries. We propose to you a moderate path, but a true one. Those who oppose our state system prefer the path of radicalism, a path of emancipation from Russia`s historic past and from its cultural traditions. They need great upheavals – we need a great Russia!

20 thoughts on “They need great upheavals – we need a great Russia!”

  1. Interesting post. Previously on your blog, Professor, we were discussing the issue of political legitimacy, and how it comes into being. Especially during times of crisis and civil war. Who has more legitimacy? Team A or Team B? Romanov with his royal blood vs Lenin and his manifestoes? Well, it all depends…

    I thought people might enjoy this piece .
    The context is the experimental anarchist commune currently running in Seattle, and how to determine who is a legitimate leader of the people; which is an especially piquant point when one is talking about anarchists.

    Also reminds us that the political wisdom of Monty Python never dies. In their view, even King Arthur was not a legitimate ruler, since his power derived solely from the fact that a “watery tart” tossed a sword at him from the depths of a lake! By that token, Raz is a legitimate ruler too, since somebody tossed him a kalashnikov.

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    1. As I think I’ve said before, you’re legitimate if people consider you legitimate. If the lady in the lake gives you a sword, it’s a sign you are chosen by God, and so for many that might be perfectly legitimate. Problems arise when legitimacy is seriously contested.

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      1. If people think they exist, that’s good enough. Frankly, anything’s good enough if people think it’s good enough, as far as legitimacy is concerned. It is a purely subjective phenomenon (in my subjective opinion, of course!).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. it’s a sign you are chosen by God, and so for many that might be perfectly legitimate.

        That was of course how feudalism and kingship were justified in Europe over many centuries. And it worked, till it no longer did.

        My question also is how realistic was the attempt by Stolypin to transfer the holdings into the private property when there existed vast differences between the peasants, their socio-economic status, educational level. This one fits all approach likely would have caused much more inequality and disturbance and strife than he might have been able to imagine.

        Click to access 468062.pdf

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      3. Ossetians say Lady of the Lake exists?
        In that case, I reckon she does.
        She must be some kind of mermaid or Rusalka, I would posit.
        Or maybe a female manatee.

        And P.S. – did anybody notice just how PROPHETIC Monty Python was? They set their saga in a time of Plague when Anarchist Communes were developing rules to regulate the collective. It’s a dead ringer for modern America.

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      4. surely ‘legitimacy’ goes to the victor. Once you’ve won you can build a sort of legitimacy that the majority will agree with (whether its real or not) of course if you are a kind of despotic dictatorship (as appears to be happening in terms of western neoliberal capitalism) then you will merely do as you wish regardless until confronted with overwhelming opposition at which point you will infiltrate and co-opt said opposition, pay lip service to their vague claim for ‘rights’ and continue on your merry way. I always thought that the greatest thing that the capitalists did in the 20th century was to get the slaves to love their slavery, its all advertising, hollywood, TV … that’s all that politics has become, certainly in the West. Edward Bernays has a lot to answer for. Of course ultimately you reach a point where no one truly understands what is real and what isn’t any more. Boris Johnson PM of the UK? Surely not, Theresa May? I can barely wipe the smirk from my face. 4th and 5th rate politicians relying on SPADs to run the country. There is no wonder that Putin looks like the greatest 21st century leader, the last of a dying breed. Reading his recent essay on the truths of WWII ( http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/63527 ) yet again sees him posting uncomfortable realities to a West knee deep in vassalage to a crumbling US. Change is coming whether we like it or not, with or without Putin, we’d best tend our own garden and stop worrying about an opposition that simply doesn’t exist.

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  2. “Unfortunately, Stolypin’s program ran into opposition both from the reactionary right and the liberals and radicals on the left.”

    First of all, it ran into opposition from the peasantry itself, because it would benefit only a tiny (rich) sliver of them – kulaks. Does your strata, Professor, count the peasants as real, thinking human beings, whose opinion actual matters, in the first place?

    “The left instead insisted on keeping the commune, expropriating private and state land, and redistributing that land to peasants, but not as their private property.”

    What, all of the “left”? Even “Kadets” and eSeRs? How queer! For in the sentence above you wrote: “Stolypin’s program ran into opposition… from… the liberals and radicals on the left”, i.e. you lumped together into the “left” both of them. OTOH, there were, indeed, at least one party which argued (and successfully carried it out later) for the things you’ve mentioned. Hmmm, whatsitsname?

    “I must only say that the method those on the Left have suggested, the path they would choose, would overturn all existing civic relationships. … It would lead, gentlemen, to a social revolution”

    Funny thing – something entirely different lead to the next 2 “social” Revolutions. In part – Stolypin’s “solution” of the agrarian question.

    “Will we see the establishment of property rights in the Russian countryside ruined by an exaggerated egalitarianism?”

    […]
    […]
    […]

    “Property rights”

    […]
    […]
    […]

    Level of the ability “Empathy”: Godlike.

    “ The state as a whole would gain nothing from a general land redistribution. Not a single additional piece of bread would be added to the national wealth.”

    […]
    […]
    […]

    Galaxy brain.

    “But along with this there exists another current of thinking. There are some who want to stir up discontent in the land, to sow seeds of rebellion and doubt…From these very halls, gentlemen, letters went out to the provinces, to the country, letters which were printed in the provincial newspapers and aroused confusion and indignation in the localities. … The letters advised the peasants to resort to violence and seize land by force, in view of the Government’s alleged crimes, its coercive tactics, and cruel oppression.”

    Early Russian hackѣrks.

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  3. Peter Moritz,
    I assume that Judith Pallot’s 1999 book titled “Land Reform in Russia
    1906-1917” is based at least in part on her dissertation. I’ll read the
    book. In the meantime, do you have information (links) about the
    land tenure system in the western provinces of the Tsarist Empire?
    For example: Grodno Gubernia in Belarus. The tenure system was
    somewhat different from that in central Russia, although it too was
    subject to Stolypin’s reforms.

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    1. No, I was just looking for some info regarding the diversity in the Russian agri system pre-revolution and why I felt uncomfortable with Stolypin’s approach of privatization.
      The example of the de-collectivisation of the former DDR agriculture where much of the LPG Landwirtschaftliche Produktionsgemeinschaft) structure was maintained by transferring it into new forms of Co-operatives instead of private enterprises is an example that privatization is not necessarily the only solution.
      https://www.bpb.de/geschichte/deutsche-einheit/lange-wege-der-deutschen-einheit/47157/landwirtschaft

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      1. What I found was a study:

        Click to access U048311.pdf


        In this study the co-operative movement within the context of privatization is also addressed.

        Studying agriculture in Germany, I encountered in the France Alsatian region a large collective where the members of a village joined a production co-operative. The land was still held private, but was used as a share within the co-opreative.
        This way the members -successfully when I visited in the late 1970’s – avoided the Agro – Industrialization that was sweeping the country elsewhere where large Agro companies turned them into company workers without much influence.

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      2. peter, RS, heavily hesitantly, put another way, from the average curious nitwit perspective. Without much time to dig deeper into this special aspect. But how big was the gray vs officially planned agricultural market in the USSR.

        Arbitarily:
        For example, through their employment in the public sector, all soviet citizen had the right to a plot of farmland in which to to keep animals and grow food for their consumption or sale. By the 1980s, along with gardens and orchard plots, this semi-formal sector accounted for the majority of agricultural production. In some countries in communist East Europe–such as as Poland and Yugoslavia–most agricultural land remained in private ownership Elsewhere in Eastern Europe, not only was private ownership common, butz private plots across the region accounted for 30 per cent of production (Lovenduski and Woodall 1987:86). …Also, by the mid 1980s 40 per cent of the living space of the USSR was privately owned (Cox 1996:24).

        Lovenduski, J. and Woodall, J. (1987) Politics and Society in Eastern Europe, Macmillian
        Cox,T. (1996) From Perestroika to Privatization, Avebury
        ebook, page 41, Ioannis Glinanovs, Neoliberalism and Law in Postcommunist Transition, 2010.
        ,
        In agriculture, it feels that Russia now uses pretty much the same recipe as the West. The larger your arable land the more funds available.

        On the other hand, I experienced as friends did, the richness of agricultural products available beyond the planned agricultural economy which only seemed to have only highly limited products publicly on offer. … Speaking of Eastern Germany here.

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      3. Wouldn’t the best mix in a modern society, be industrial agriculture for the staples, along with smaller craft farming for the gourmet items and specialty markets?

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      4. In answer to moon, one has to acknowledge the differences in production of most vegetables vs. production of cereals and meat.

        The latter under present conditions of mechanized production becomes most economical with large areas under production and large herds by either co-operative or corporate organizations, or personal ownership of large areas comprising at least several hundred hectares.
        This I have encountered in Alberta and BC in Canada where the Hutterites and Mennonites farm large areas, but also families have accumulated large areas aside from the ubiquitous multinational corporate ownership by Cargill etc.

        The result in any case is the diminished and vanishing role of the typical family farm with a section or less under production, and as the Soviets had the foresight to force, the growth of larger entities.

        The old way of farming in Europe with multiple lines of production including milk, cereal, meat of various varieties etc. in small to medium sized farms unfortunately is no longer viable as either the mechanical park needed to produce with minimal human labour would be too expensive, or the cost employing reliably farmhands is also not economical.

        Therefore a high degree of specialization has developed even in the market gardening where small family operations either had to grow big or vanish or consolidate.

        There is of course always a market for high quality vegetables produced by smaller entities, but considering the huge demand by a multi-billion world population I fail to see how those niche products could be made more accessible without falling into the same trap of increased specialization and growth to justify the outlay of hired labour or highly specialized machinery.

        Co-operative organization seems to me a way out of the either sell out to big companies or vanish alternative, where machinery is owned collectively and the land still individually owned but allocated by collective democratic decision, permitting individualized production.
        This fits in with Marx idea of collectively owning the means of production while still individually free to choose what to use those means for.
        This was what Marx’ goal of socialist production was actually aiming for.

        Please let me state that what I opined in this post is not deeply researched but just based on the info I gather watching and reading multiple sources – from RT to NHK to CGTN and DW – and reports by those watching the agro scene worldwide and the effects of the industrial ag-production on the environment and health.

        I have after studying European and International Agriculture and working on farms and ranches in various areas in Germany, in the Alberta and BC region in Canada pursued another course and became involved creating small service companies for industrial relocatable work camps.
        Nothing grand, but enough to feed and house me, my co-owners and our families comfortably..most of the time.

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  4. Thanks, Peter,

    customer perspective? Waxing nostalgic?

    I am not too fond of the idea of “farming for the gourmet items and specialty markets?” Ok maybe one of “my friends” had some type of gourmet audience? The fresh herbs man.

    The old way of farming in Europe with multiple lines of production including milk, cereal, meat of various varieties etc. in small to medium sized farms unfortunately is no longer viable

    One of my two “friends” ib differebt local weekly farmer markets friends was one of those. Mind you, already then he was clever enough to add products, he didn’t grow himself. There already was this huge merchant stall close to his, dominating the scene. That one obviously offered what he bought in the earrly morning hours on the respective wholesale market.

    I was sad to see him disappear and disappointed to see another one disappear. He was a bit further off, too far off for regular purchases, huge stall. He only sold fresh herbs. A true paradise. But that market got killed by the many merchants that took over selling all type of stuff, you wouldn’t expect on this type of market. Last I went there in search of my herbs man it changed a lot. All type of clothes or whatever knick nack. … Hmm, seems that market was in the news more often recently. …
    Otherwise, a friend of mine studied agriculture but never really worked in the field, although he occasionally took over a friends farm when he went on vacation with his family. This man produces one of the best bread I know of. He grows his own wheat or rye for it too. I know of another one of those grow and bake grain and bread producers in the Black Forest. Another one of my favorite breads. Old family recipee apparently. Ok, so maybe I am a gourmet. Fact is none of those breads are more expensive as “gourmet” suggests as the diverse bakery or average organic stores. And that I find interesting. To not go into speculation in the nourishment market. Which admittedly, I do not understand.

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  5. corrected passage I felt I should answer. Although I am deeply buried in network curiosities.
    Anyway. I don’t check the rest.
    One of my two “friends” in different local weekly farmer markets friends was one of those. Mind you, already then he was clever enough to add products, he didn’t grow himself. There already was this huge merchant stall close to his, dominating the scene. That one obviously offered what he bought in the earrly morning hours on the respective wholesale market.

    By the way the friend that occasionally takes over when his friend the bread man needs holidays with his family, tried to start something cooperative on the internet.

    It is a great idea, but how to overcome the declared lonely fighter mentality?

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  6. The Dynarama in Moscow about the 1905 revolution is worth visiting, along with the museum. There is a shorter English presentation as well. The directors English is marginal, but he read A short speech as well.

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  7. Offtop, but I am always trying to keep up with my American word borrowings into Russian. The Russian word for lobster used to be омар, an obvious native Slavic word [little joke there].
    Now apparently it has been replaced by the American word лобстер, I just saw this morning in this piece from VZ.
    The context is that President Trump is furious that the Chinese are not buying American “lobsters”, even though the Chinese had pledged to buy a certain quota of Maine lobsters, but apparently not fulfilling their part of the bargain. Well, it’s their loss, I reckon, Maine lobsters are actually pretty good, Trump not making that part up…

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