Non-electoral Political Participation in Authoritarian States


"The zemstvo Takes Lunch," G. Miasdoedov, 1872 [Peasant members of the zemstvo have their lunch outside while the nobles dine indoors]

Project Co-Directors: Brendan McElroy, PhD Candidate, Harvard University; Daniel Ziblatt, Harvard University

This multi-year collaborative project seeks to reconstruct an historically important form of nonelectoral political participation, petitioning by local elites to the central government, in prerevolutionary Russia. Elected local assemblies (called zemstvos) in nineteenth century imperial Russia had the right to petition St. Petersburg on matters pertaining to local economic needs. Between 1864 and 1905, the zemstvos produced more than 22,000 petitions (Russian: khodataistva) on a vast array of issues, including taxation, land management, agriculture, food supply, education, poor relief, labor regulation, the courts, and political reform. This body of petitions represents a largely unexplored resource for analyzing patterns of elite political participation in an authoritarian regime. Using official publications and archival sources, this project will construct a comprehensive dataset of zemstvo petitions in selected policy domains, which at the end of the project will be made available for use by economic historians and political scientists interested in Russia and in political behavior under autocracy.