Tax Resistance in 1905 in Russia

A result of the Russian Revolution of was that the Czar was forced to share power with an elected legislature, or duma. That legislature was elected , but the Czar ordered it to disband in .

The members of the duma reacted to the order by fleeing to Vyborg, Finland, where they reconvened and issued a manifesto urging Russians to refuse cooperation with the government — including by resisting taxes.

But there was tax resistance in the air before that. Today I’ll present some articles from the English-language press around that include some examples. First, an excerpt from an analysis piece from the The [New York] Sun of , which concerned the impatience of Russian liberals during the time between their victory in the recent revolution and the implementation of the demands they had won:

How long will the Russian Treasury be able to discharge its obligations? The amount of purchase money taxes which was remitted to the peasant proprietors by the Czar’s manifesto of was $22,500,000 for and $15,000,000 annually hereafter. Most of the peasants, however, are taking the matter into their own hands and are refusing to pay any taxes at all. Moreover, they have undertaken a concerted abstention from vodka, the manufacture and sale of which intoxicant was made a Government monopoly by Count Witte when he was Minister of Finance. This monopoly has since constituted one of the principal sources of the public revenue. These are not the only ways in which the national income has been depleted. Far from deriving any excise returns from the oil wells and refining works of the Baku district, the Treasury is now called upon to make advances for the purpose of reviving the petroleum industry, which was stunned by the recent insurrection. The immense grain trade of Odessa is paralyzed by the inability of the railroads to move wheat to the port of shipment. The coal fields of the Donety valley have been laid waste.

How then will Mr. Schipoff, the new Minister of Finance, who has taken office on the assumption that the political reforms exacted by the Zemstvo Congress will be carried out, be able to meet the enormous deficit in the budget of ? He cannot reduce the Government’s balances in the hands of Western bankers, for these are needed to maintain confidence, for a while at least, in the payment of interest on Russia’s foreign loans. He cannot borrow a ruble in Russia; the Government’s last attempt to obtain an internal loan was a disastrous failure, though it was made before the war was over, when as yet there was no sign of revolution. Will Mr. Schipoff venture to encroach upon the gold reserve which guarantees Russia’s paper currency? Or will the Czar relieve the necessities of the State by sacrificing a part of the crown estates, which comprise about a third of the best soil in European Russia?

An article on which reported the attempted resignation of Sergei Witte from his post as Russian premier (sort of a prime minister), included this passage:

The people are now refusing to pay taxes, declaring that the government has no right to the people’s money until it proves itself willing to do what the people want. This is one of the most serious features of the situation. Many officials believe the government will not be able to pay salaries at the end of the month.

Here’s a dispatch from :

Says Russia Is Bankrupt

Socialists Issue Scathing Manifesto.

Attacks Government

Signers of the Document Urge the People to Refrain from Paying Taxes and to Withdraw Their Deposits from the Savings Banks in Gold — Plot to Capture Count Witte.

The proletariat organizations, through “the invisible government,” threw a bombshell in the camps of the government during the night by issuing a manifesto, following the form of a regular imperial document, declaring the bankruptcy of the treasury, ordering the proletariat army everywhere to refuse to pay taxes of any description, to insist on the payment of wages in gold or silver and to withdraw all their deposits from the savings banks in gold.

The manifesto is a terrible indictment of the manner in which the bureaucracy has brought the country to financial ruin, asserting that the government has squandered not only the country’s income, but the proceeds of the foreign loans on railroads, the army and the fleet, leaving the people without schools or roads, yet, it is declared, there is no money to feed the soldiers and everywhere there are insurrections of the beggared and starved troops and sailors. The manifesto even charges the government with using the deposits in the government savings banks to speculate on the bourse and with covering up its chronic deficits in the interest of the immense debt by the proceeds of the foreign loans which are at last exhausted. The rich, it is further declared, have already taken warning and are converting their property into securities and gold and sending them abroad. The only salvation for the country, according to the manifesto, is the overthrow of the autocracy by a constituent assembly and “the sooner the government falls the better. Therefore the last source of the existence of the old regime — its financial revenue must be stopped.”

The document is signed by the members of the workmen’s council, the committee of the pan-Russian unity and the central democrats, social revolutionists and socialists of Holland.

This great step of the revolutionaries which throws the gage of battle to the government, was prepared with such secrecy that the authorities were taken off their guard and did not even attempt to prevent its publication in the newspapers. The revolutionary leaders expect it will be followed by reprisals and arrests, but all this has been foreseen. The leaders laid their plans deeply before using the manifesto. New committees of the various organizations have been elected in the third and fourth degree. If one set of committees is put behind the bars another will take its place and carry on the work.

The League of Leagues was not asked to join in the manifesto, being regarded with some jealousy by the proletariat organizations, which claim to be bearing the brunt of the revolution and to be entitled to the fruits thereof.

The proletariat leaders claim to have absolute knowledge that the government has just issued $125,000,000 in paper money.

Under the provisions of the press law, the editor of every paper which published the manifesto has rendered himself liable to eight months’ imprisonment and $500 fine. Now must come the test of the government’s power.

Another dispatch from added:

On the part of the government the immediate reaction was to confiscate all the newspapers that published the said manifesto.

So far as can be seen at present the much vaunted proclamation to the proletariat fell flat, inasmuch as government fours went up half a point and the Bourse was firm.

A in the same paper said:

The Public Prosecutor says that the trial of the editors whose papers were suspended cannot occur before the holidays, owing to the legal formalities. Most of the publishers will have recourse to the old trick used in the days of the censorship of appearing under a new name. Under the law, however, it requires a fortnight to secure a franchise, during which the government will enjoy immunity from the daily harpooning. The Publishers’ union tried vainly to induce the Novoe Vremya and the Slovo to print the workmen’s manifesto in order that all the papers be in the same boat, whereupon the Workmen’s Council cooly stepped in, not with a request, but a command that the papers publish it, with the alternative of calling a strike in their offices. Thus the matter stands.

The Union of Unions of all Russia will hold a congress in St. Petersburg on . Arrangements have been made should the authorities attempt to suppress the congress to adjourn to Finland.

Another reported this news:

As a crushing reply to the manifesto issued by the various revolutionary alliances, and published by eight papers, troops surrounded the building of the Economical Company, where the Executive Committee of the Workmen’s Alliance, numbering about two hundred men, were assembled, and arrested the whole lot.

Almost all the delegates were found in possession of revolvers. All had expected arrest and had made every preparation for it. A decision had been previously taken that if military force were used no resistance would be made.

One of the delegates calmly talked over the situation with me before going to the Economical Building. He said:–

“We all expect arrest. I have said adieu to my wife and children and have settled my private affairs. The Executive Committee consists of five hundred members. Generally only one-half of that number attend.

“Everything is arranged for active continuation of the revolutionary movement after our arrest, which does not make any difference. If the government does not release M. Krustaloff, then it might arrest all of us.

“We are each equally guilty now. The movement is carried on by a superior committee composed only of a few men who have hitherto done the principal work.

“Our Executive Committee only worked up the details. When these were arranged, it handed them to the superior committee. Our meeting is for the purpose of arranging details as to how to meet the government’s repressive measures, which are going to become very severe.”

Another article in the same paper reproduces the government’s statement, which included this:

“…efforts were made to attack the credit of the country in the midst of a considerable panic. Had the government allowed such efforts to go unchallenged it would have precipitated complete financial and industrial ruin.”