Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 5.1 (2004) 113-116
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A Conservative Lobby
The United Nobility in 1905-10
Rutgers University Junior Year in Italy Program
Chiasso del Buco 14
Ob''edinennoe dvorianstvo: S''ezdy upolnomochennykh gubernskikh dvo rian skikh obshchestv [The United Nobility: Conferences of the Plenipotentiaries of the Provincial Noble Societies]. 3 vols. Compiled by Avenir Pavlovich Korelin. Vol. 1: 1906-1908 gg. Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2001. 926 pp. ISBN 5-8243-0138-7, 5-8243-1096-4. Part of the series Politicheskie partii Rossii: Konets XIX-pervaia tret ' XX veka. Dokumental'noe nasledie [Political Parties in Russia: The End of the 19th and First Third of the 20th Century. The Documentary Inheritance], under the general editorship of Valentin Valentinovich Shelokhaev.
Although this volume of documents is published in the series Politicheskie partii Rossii: Konets XIX-pervaia tret' XX veka. Dokumental'noe nasledie, the organization to which it is devoted was not a political party. The Congress of Representatives of Noble Societies, usually referred to as the United Nobility, was, rather, an interest group. The idea for such an organization was first raised in October 1905, in part as a reaction to the moderates' domination of provincial noble assemblies and two national conferences of marshals of nobility during the past ten months. The congress was established the following spring. Its founders were conservative landed nobles, and its initial goal was to lobby against the expropriation of private property and for the replacement of peasant communes by consolidated individual peasant landholdings.
The United Nobility held 12 congresses between May 1906 and November 1916, each lasting approximately one week. Continuity between congresses was provided by an elected Permanent Council. Membership was open to all provincial societies of nobility, each society's delegation exercising a single vote in the congresses. Despite some initial boycotts and later defections, membership grew from 29 societies at the beginning to 39 in the last four years—out of a potential 41 societies where nobles elected their leaders at their triennial meetings. After the defeat of many of the leading moderates among the provincial marshals of nobility in the noble elections in the winter [End Page 113] of 1906-7, the marshals of the constituent societies became ex officio voting members of the annual congresses and of the Permanent Council.
The United Nobility reflected both the mixture of absolutism and constitutionalism in Russian political life after 1905 and the transitional situation of the first estate in that period. Although composed of provincial societies, which were the official corporate institutions of the nobility, the congress itself was not part of the first estate's corporate structure. The United Nobility was formed by individuals acting in a private capacity, exercising the right of assembly newly granted to all citizens. Membership was voluntary, and the organization's decisions were not binding on its member societies. Although based on the first estate's corporate institutions, the United Nobility in fact represented and defended not the interests of the entire nobility but only those of the 12 percent of the first estate who belonged to families of large and intermediate landowners, some 31,000 individuals in all.
The organization's effectiveness as a lobby stemmed in the first place from the close contacts its founders and leaders enjoyed with the highest levels of the regime. To give two examples of this relationship, the first congress met in the reception hall of the Department of Land Use and Agriculture at the invitation of the department's director, A. S. Stishinskii, one of the founders of the United Nobility; and Count Aleksei Aleksandrovich Bobrinskii, chairman of the Permanent Council in 1906-12 and presiding officer at the first eight congresses, was received in audience by the emperor one or more times each year. He subsequently served as deputy minister of internal affairs in 1916.
In addition, the United Nobility could count on a substantial base of support in the upper legislative house. One-third of the delegates to the...