Milyukov on the need for reform (1905)

The Russian liberal Pavel Milyukov visited the United States twice (1903 and 1904-5) and delivered a series of lectures on the situation in Russia. In these remarks, made during his second visit, he describes the urgency of political reform in Russia and the tsarist regime’s lack of “moral force”:

“Little has been said about the Russian bourgeoisie, for the reason that until very recent times, there was no bourgeoisie in Russia worthy of the name. The dependence of the Russian trading and commercial class on the government was still greater than that of the aristocracy, and this could be expected, since the encouragement and fostering of Russian industries are entirely due to state measures…

Political reform – this is now the general cry of all shades of political opinion in Russia. But is this only an opinion? Are there no interests, no organisations ready to fight for political freedom? Are there no impelling forces to extort it from a reluctant government? …

Yes, the impelling forces are there and they are twofold: the material crisis and the political disaffection… Russia is passing through a crisis; she is sick and her sickness is so grave as to demand an immediate and radical cure. Palliatives can be of no use, rather, they but increase the gravity of the situation.

To pretend that all is right in Russia, except for a few “ill-intentioned” persons who are making all the fuss, is no longer ridiculous, it is criminal. Upon quite peaceful and law-abiding citizens… the feeling begins to dawn that the system of self-defence practised by the government prevents general progress and the development of private initiative, just as 40 years ago, progress was prevented by the existence of serfdom…

No form of government can survive… which possesses no moral force and is obliged to carry all its orders into execution by mere material force. And if the only question that remains is ‘How long will the material force of the bayonets side with the government?’ then the position is desperate.”