Duma-in-Exile Calls on Russians to Refuse to Pay Taxes

In , the Czar dissolved the first Russian popularly-elected legislature (duma), which had only been reluctantly permitted by the Czar , and which had been elected in .

The members of the duma fled to Vyborg, Finland, and reconvened. There, they issued the “Vyborg Manifesto,” which follows:

To the People from Their Popular Representatives

Citizens of All Russia: Parliament has been dissolved by ukase of . You elected us as your representatives and instructed us to fight for our country and freedom. In execution of your instructions and our duty, we drew up laws in order to insure freedom to the people. We demanded the removal of irresponsible Ministers who were infringing the laws with impunity and oppressing freedom. First of all, however, we wanted to bring out a law respecting the distribution of land to working peasants and involving the assignment, to this end, of Crown appanages, monasteries, and lands belonging to the clergy, and compulsory expropriation of private estates.

The Government held such a law to be inadmissible, and upon Parliament once more urgently putting forward its resolution regarding compulsory expropriation Parliament was dissolved.

The Government promises to convoke a new Parliament . Russia must remain without popular representation for , at a time when the people are standing on the brink of ruin and industry and commerce are undermined, when the whole country is seething with unrest, and when the Ministry has definitely shown its incapacity to do justice to popular needs. For the Government will act arbitrarily and will fight against the popular movement in order to obtain a pliable, subservient Parliament. Should it succeed, however, in completely suppressing the popular movement, the Government will convoke no Parliament at all.

Citizens, stand up for your trampled-on rights, for popular representation, and for an imperial Parliament. Russia must not remain a day without popular representation. You possess the means of acquiring it. The Government has, without the assent of the popular representatives, no right to collect taxes from the people nor to summon the people to military service. Therefore you are now the Government. The dissolved Parliament was justified in giving neither money nor soldiers. Should the Government, however, contract loans in order to procure funds, such loans will be invalid. Without the consent of the popular representatives the Russian people will never acknowledge them and will not be called upon to pay them.

Accordingly, until a popular representative Parliament is summoned do not give a kopeck to the throne or a soldier to the army. Be steadfast in your refusal. No power can resist the united, inflexible will of the people.

Citizens, in this obligatory and unavoidable struggle your representatives will be with you.

The Czar’s government responded by banning the Manifesto’s signers from politics and prosecuting them for treason, and prohibiting its publication and distribution in Russia. The New York Times commented:

Practically the question of the payment of the taxes is the issue on which the battle for popular rights is to be fought out. It is well that the leaders of the movement for the security of those rights have succeeded in restraining the extremists from plunging into a general strike or trying to set up a provisional Government. Aggressive and radical action of that sort requires means, which the people have not. It requires not only men, but arms and supplies and organization, and it is exposed to the danger of forcible repression through the banishment or slaughter of the leaders. But passive resistance, if the people are equal to it, is much more likely to win. It throws the burden of affirmative action, with all the expense involved, on the Government; it cuts or weakens the sinews of war; it impairs the credit of the Treasury; it alarms foreign investors, and strongly and directly affects the public opinion of the world.

But the duma was premature and overconfident in calling for a nationwide tax strike. Kellogg Durland, who was in Russia at the time, reports that the appeal fell on a skeptical peasantry:

I was recommended to several typical peasant villages within a radius of fifty miles of the town of Kostroma as worth my visiting.…

A local Zemstvo official, known to the peasants, offered to accompany me to the village, to introduce me and to vouch for the fact that I was seriously interested in knowing the precise feelings of the peasants in regard to the dissolution of the Duma, their attitude toward the government at that time, and their state of mind toward the next Duma.…

Our troika pulled up before a tea-house, near the close of the day.…

When our steaming, fragrant tea had been set before us, my companion told the men, briefly, that I had come all the way from another country to talk with them. Their interest was fixed instantly. Within a very few minutes the number in the room had swelled to nearly one hundred, and so intent did we all become that several hours slipped by all too quickly.…

“Have you seen the Viborg manifesto?” I asked

“Of course we have read it,” they exclaimed, laughing.

“What do you think about it?”

“It is foolish,” answered one of the older men, “Stop paying taxes? We have not paid direct taxes in . Of course we shall not pay any . But can we stop drinking tea and vodka? Can we stop using matches? As for not sending soldiers to the army — suppose we don’t. Five soldiers are soon due from this village. Suppose we don’t send them — what will happen? Cossacks will come. The whole village will have to defend those five men. That will mean bloodshed. Is it not better that we should get every one of those men to promise that they will never shoot at their brothers? If we do this we can accomplish the same result without spilling blood in the streets of our village.”

One of the Constitutional Democratic Duma deputies from this province was urging a group of peasants to accept the Viborg manifesto, when up spoke a canny muzhik and said: “You ask us to stop giving taxes to the government. That means stop drinking tea and vodka. Very good. But you are a lawyer — will you stop putting stamps on all of your papers, and documents, and letters?”

These peasants, so far as I talked with them, had lost faith in the Constitutional Democrats. They felt that the members of this party were not always single-eyed; and in the Viborg manifesto they showed their lack of understanding of the peasants by asking them to do several ridiculous and impossible things, and then dropped into private life, leaving the peasants to muddle through with the practical side of the manifesto as best they could.