restricted access Part Three: Mobilizing to Make Russia Modern: Insuring, Planning, Volunteering
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PART THREE M0BILIZING T0 MAKE RUSSIA M0DERN: INSURING, PLANNING, V0LUNTEERING The failure of the imperial government to diminish the fires of rural Russia was self-evident to virtually all observers by the 1880s. Neither codes nor courts nor constables were displaying much success in preventing accidental and intentional fires in the countryside. As educated members of society moved into a period of "small deeds" activism and Alexander III emerged as a reactionary ruler, rural fire as Russia's "historical evil" became an arena for both service to the nation and criticisms of an ossified, overbureaucratized autocracy. Three ptograms embodied civilian efforts to control rural fire in order to build Russia's future: the zemstvo insurance program, zemstvo village planning and reconstruction projects, and volunteer firefighting societies and brigades. To insure for the future, to plan and to reconstruct, to volunteer to fight against fireeach ofthese responses to the fire crisis was both activist and suffused with a modern , progressive orientation toward the future. Each of these strategies embodied a campaign against one aspect ofrural life or peasants' attitudes as they had emerged in the representation and diagnosis of rural fires. The insurance program sought to replace futility before fire with prudent apprehension of the future and preparation for it. Village reconstruction projects sought to eradicate the "disorderly and shocking" layout of Russia's rural settlements. Volunteer firefighting brigades sought to impose rational, efficient order on the "hysteria and total chaos" that observers depicted as characteristic ofpeasants' firefighting habits. Prudence, planning , and efficient order. These were the values fire activists hoped to bring to the village through their campaign against fire. The character ofthe zemstvo was not fully civilian in legislation or in action, but participants in its fire insurance and prevention programs came to display a sense of their separation from the central government and of their proximity to the village "front" in the campaign against fire. In the complicated relationship between zemstvo activists and state officials at the district and provincial levels, 176 MOBILIZING TO MAKE RUSSIA MODERN there was room for debate about whether the zemstvo was part ofthe government or belonged to the sphere of private organizations. The fire insurance program contributed, along with programs in public education, health, and agricultural warehousing, to the zemstvos' understanding of themselves as private organizations that were taking over where the government left off and providing critical services to the local population. 1 Imbued with a sense of mission and service, zemstvo fire activists were torn by, on the one hand, their desire to embody local initiative while encouraging the same among peasants and, on the other, their impulse to compel peasants to submit to zemstvo regulations and plans. Whereas the substance of zemstvo fire insurance programs was defined by imperial law, village reconstruction programs came to be a forum in which zemstvo activists could apply technical expertise and promote progressive visions for the Russian countryside. These visions, in turn, embodied scientific knowledge and aimed to rationalize the disorderly and hazardous villages. The plan came to be the concrete expression of a zemstvo modernist vision. The obstacles to the realization of that vision turned out to be twofold. First, the peasants themselves resisted the restructuring of their physical environment. Second, the government, in the form of the Senate as the supreme legal forum for appeal just below the autocrat himself, refused to allow zemstvos to overrule individual peasants' rights to refuse to relinquish to zemstvo reconstruction plans the specific lands they had acquired through the Emancipation in 1861. By 1900, zemstvo fire programs exhibited the contradictory features of the culture as a whole, in which peasants were both culprits in Russia's backwardness and potential contributors to progress; in which educated activists vacillated between tutelary, coercive impulses and the desire to engage the peasantry in partnership for a more rational future; and in which the central government imposed major responsibilities on educated activists while granting them neither full powers at the local level nor recognition as bona fide experts with the capacity to address challenges that the imperial government had failed to meet.2 The volunteer firefighting movement displayed many of the same features, with the exception that it was almost fully a civilian movement. Its gentry leaders saw themselves as service to society incarnate. They eventually became critics of both the imperial government and the zemstvo fire programs. Although they were eager to seek royal patronage and proud to display it at every opportunity once they received it, firefighting activists...


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