Issues in Taxation, Working Conditions, and Autocracy: Periodic Revolutions and The Revolution in Late Imperial Russia

Issues in Taxation, Working Conditions, and Autocracy: Periodic Revolutions and The Revolution in Late Imperial Russia

Paul Andreas Fischer


Professor Youngblood


Issues in Taxation, Working Conditions, and Autocracy: Periodic Revolutions and The Revolution in Late Imperial Russia

The revolution of 1905 failed as a direct result of Revolutionary inability to incorporate peasantry into their plans for the future government. The imperial authorities gave little to no service to the work of the proletariat in working conditions, to the peasantry in relief of in the servile nature of their work or unnecessary taxation, or to representation in the Duma which was not equally offered to all members of society and which was characterized by repression of free speech and education. Each of these three problems will be addressed in the documents provided which are drawn from the period.

An example of Revolutionary belligerence be seen in Lenin’s “What Is to Be Done” essay written in 1902 (WB, 21). As Party Theoretician of the Bolshevik faction of Socialist Revolutionaries, the dominating side of Socialist-Democrats commonly known as Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, Lenin made a shrewd decision with this which may have worked by the time of the Revolution of 1917, after Russia was forcibly industrialized, this time by war, and on a broader scale than ever before, but appears to be misplaced nearly a decade after his writing with the Revolution of 1905. In fact, it is mentioned in the letter that “it is much easier for demagogues to side-track the more backwards sections of the masses” and in what would today be a risky statement, at the time this group certainly would have included both women and peasants. The promise for a role in a post-Revolutionary society aside, it can be assured that at this time Lenin foresaw no place for them in the execution of a Revolution itself.

The causes of the workers which were ignored by the government paralleled the cause of the peasants, which were inadequately or not fully addressed in early Bolshevism, just as these causes were avoided by the ruling government. Following the Revolution of 1905 as the Emperor only gave a nod to the actions of Bolsheviks, according to the Vyborg Manifesto, which spelled out demands of peasants through the mouthpiece of liberals and leftist deputies, it would appear that the work of the peasants in demanding private property from noble, government, church and other sources had indeed forced the dismissal of the people’s representatives (WB, 33) in the Duma in 1906. Taxation on social drinking may be a euphemism for various activities which culturally would be seen as the responsibility of an adult, and is only included as a concern in A Resolution for Peasants (Rowley, 93). It is important to notice that the workers are not the peasantry, nor vice-versa in this case, and the work should not be interpreted as gains by the proletariat at the expense of the peasantry. Neither were effectively defended.

The cultural reaction to the lifestyles of the bourgeois may seem in retrospect to be petty or unfounded in the events which were transpiring in imperial Russia. The reality is that the reaction, which is noted by peasants and in the work of artists, who frequently came from a lower background, has been called for as intrusions into the everyday life of the peasant, in a time far before any scientific or popular measures could have justified them. This exasperation can be seen in work of Leo Tolstoy (WB, 14), which shows a hypothetical evening in indulgence as well as the servile nature of the lower classes at the time. The government had banned education, and had instituted unpopular taxes, both of which are addressed in an appeal from the Peasants and Petition from Workers to the Duma shortly before the Emperor’s Fundamental Laws were released (Rowley, 93-4). The directive ignores demands to compensate, and therefore, under the imperial mercantile government, to eliminate overtime work.

Education is addressed in the Instruction From Workers (Rowley, 94), which is a call from the factory workers who formed a smoky ring encapsulated by oppressed peasantry and circumnavigating the decadent nobility, and comprised two of fifteen points, a third should be considered the freedom of speech. The October Manifesto granted the of freedom of speech and equal elections for a body, the Duma, which was responsible for all new laws requested. Their subsequent revocation was the grounds for Revolution. Contemporary analysis finds the freedoms may have been greater than those asked for by Lenin in 1902 which will be addressed later (WB, 29-30).

In these documents education, free speech and social responsibilities can be seen to be a primary concern of Revolutionaries. These are ignored in the Fundamental Laws which were instituted by Emperor Nicholas II in order to scale back promises made in the October Manifesto (WB 29-30). These laws are hard to look at favorably, especially after the Manifesto spells some inveterate hypocrisy in the official order, and no escape or guarantee of taxation or of economic stability is offered.

The divine right commanded in the Fundamental Laws gave autocratic power to the Emperor, not only over the state, but over God as well (Rowley, 96). This was not a simple promise or blown smoke which would win over the masses, but a dedication to divine work and the Russian soil which persisted even in his last, albeit doomed, campaigns in defense of the Empire in 1915 (WB, 35). The greatest betrayal of the Russian people in this declaration, however, was the right to revoke the commission of the Duma, a right that due to the divine right described could never be justly reciprocated.

In a Women’s Petition there is sarcastic reference to the “great day of the opening of the State Duma” (Rowley, 95) before complaint from the lack of a single female representative in the proceedings. The main objective of this document is to obtain representation, though other constituent efforts by females from the time would demand health services. One error, though not problem per say, in the Women’s Petition was an insisting declaration that the women were equally represented economically. That was not the case.

The failure of women to receive any representation in the Duma, or equal representation economically at the time is indicative of a general reciprocity in the Fundamental Laws which is not present. While a veto from the Duma would nullify any law made by the Emperor, as a check and balance to provisions which allow the Emperor to veto laws passed or to implement martial law in any area in order to establish the absolute power claimed in the first chapter of the Fundamental Laws, those laws are guaranteed as untouchable by any popular or noble means whatsoever. With censorship and economic hardship coming in the next decade and voiced in a speech by Alexander Guchkov (WB, 33-4) this faint hint of discord would become clear to every faction by the outbreak of the first World War.

The most effective defense of the Emperor’s actions can be found in the work of Konstantin Pobedonostsev who cites the Emperor that, “equal distribution of ‘freedom’ among all involves the total destruction of equality” (WB, 16). The Prime Minister Petr Stolypin announced efforts to build a sewer system in St. Petersburg in 1911 which had become a “breeding ground for both cholera and plague bacteria” (WB, 18). What went unmentioned in his announcement was that the actions of the government were responsible for this overcrowding and poverty, which can be seen in the depth of famine during November 1905 when a resolution from the Soviet established a state of war between the government and the workers as one hundred thousand were forcibly removed to the streets (WB, 31).

As the peasants demand replacement of members of the Duma, the Fundamental Laws clearly state, “The Chairman of the Council of Ministers, Ministers, and Heads of various departments are responsible to the Sovereign Emperor for State administration” (Rowley, 98) which sealed for the newly educated their great ambitions and desire for position. This would alienate the women whose concerns included healthcare which (Rowley, 95), as noted before, were among the few complaints seriously addressed with meaningful action by the government.

Moving from peasantry to proletariat concerns involves a massive shift in horizontal and vertical analysis, but this was accomplished through examination of a petition from the workers, addressing exploitation as well as freedom of speech or education already seen. Support is offered from a primary document from Leo Tolstoy showing the equal return of demands. The most important problem is the failure of the Fundamental Laws, which are appropriate in style for the age of Absolutism but obsoleted by the Revolution, to address such issues after the promising nature of the Manifesto on State Order and the Emperor’s own struggle. The significant omission by Lenin of the peasants from his early work, even highlighting them as a potential liability for Revolutionary activity was brought to light, which should prelude the nature of the coming Revolution, which will be terminal for the imperial family.

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