Zemstvo Reform of 1864

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Zemstvo Reform of 1864


(formally, the Statute on Provincial and District Zemstvo Institutions), a bourgeois reform provoked by the need to adapt the autocratic system of Russia to the requirements of capitalist development and by the attempt of tsarism to attract liberals to its side in the struggle against the revolutionary movement. V. I. Lenin wrote: “The zemstvo reform was one of the concessions forced from the autocratic government by public ferment and revolutionary pressure” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 5, p. 33).

The draft of the zemstvo reform was worked out by a commission that began its work in 1859, under the Ministry of Internal Affairs. N. A. Miliutin was chairman of the commission until 1861, when he was replaced by P. A. Valuev. The statute signed by the tsar reflected the varied interests of groups within the dvorianstvo (nobility or gentry). Provincial and district zemstvo assemblies and zemstvo boards were created in accordance with the Statute of 1864. The electoral system was based on delegational, property, and social-class principles. Voters were divided into three curiae: district landowners, urban voters, and delegates from rural communes. Among those with the right to participate in the elections in the first curia were owners of not less than 200 desiatinas (218 hectares) of land, owners of industrial or commercial enterprises or of other immovable property worth not less than 15,000 rubles or yielding an income of not less than 6,000 rubles per year, and representatives of landowners, societies, and institutions who owned not less than 1/20 of the qualification for the first curia. Voters in the urban curia included individuals possessing merchants’ certificates, owners of enterprises or of commercial establishments with an annual turnover of not less than 6,000 rubles, and owners of immovable property valued from 500 rubles (in smaller cities) to 3,000 rubles (in large cities). Thus, the workers, petite bourgeoisie, and intelligentsia were excluded from participation in the elections. The elections in the peasant curia were in several stages: rural communes elected representatives to volost (small rural district) assemblies. These representatives elected electors, who, in turn, elected delegates (glasnye) to the district zemstvo assembly. Members of provincial assemblies were elected at the district zemstvo assemblies. The system of elections guaranteed the strong predominance of the pomeshchiki (landlords) in the zemstvos. The marshals of the dvorianstvo were chairmen of the sessions of the provincial and district congresses.

The zemstvo assemblies and boards lacked the right as institutions to communicate among themselves. They did not have coercive power, since the police force was not subject to their authority. Their activity was controlled by the governor and by the minister of internal affairs, who had the right to stop the execution of any decision of a zemstvo assembly. Fearing the influence of the zemstvo institutions, the government granted them the right to manage only local economic affairs: the maintenance of roads and other forms of communication, the construction and maintenance of schools and hospitals (for which the zemstvo levied local duties on the population), and “sponsorship” of the development of local trade and industry.

The zemstvo reform was not carried out everywhere in the empire, nor was its introduction simultaneous where it was established. By the end of the 1870’s zemstvos had been introduced in 34 provinces of European Russia and in the territory of the Don Cossacks (it was abolished in the latter in 1882). Many national and other regions of the Russian empire did not have zemstvos. Despite the limited nature of the zemstvo reform, it promoted the development of local initiative, the bourgeois economy, and the bourgeois mode of life and culture, and it was a step on the path of the transformation of the feudal monarchy into a bourgeois monarchy. The counterreforms of the late 1880’s and the early 1890’s considerably narrowed the activity of the zemstvos.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.