Electoral Conflicts and Group Solidarity of the Russian Nobility in the Reign of Alexander I
Keywords:Russia in the first quarter of the 19th century, power and property; social dialogue; communicative practice; public sphere; electoral conflict; nobility elections
The study of the history of electoral conflicts focuses on the identification of conditions in the formation of group solidarity in Russian noble assemblies in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. The author refers to a collection of public speeches, complaints, and petitions filed by representatives of the nobility, the reports and internal memoranda of governors, and the reactions to them by governing authorities in the form of ministerial resolutions, senate orders, and decrees kept in the funds of the Russian State Historical Archive. The author carries out comparative analysis of the content and direction of arguments expressed by the participants and reveals the presence of co-existing discourses on the “spirit” and “letter of the law”, “common good”, the possibility of violating the established procedure for holding elections, the priority of collective opinion, and the right of the noble assembly to disagree with the decisions of the provincial authorities. The author also studies the circumstances which caused conflicts to appear. This demonstrates that there were two key factors determining the arguments used in conflicts and the character of group solidarity. First, there were the ideal behaviour patterns for noblemen disseminated by the supreme power, which demanded that opinions be “impartial”. Second, there was electoral competition and the clientelist model of recruiting supporters of candidates for elective offices. In such a situation, electors conspired or filed a complaint to the Minister of Internal Affairs about the deprivation of elected candidates or refusal to confirm them in office by the governor. On certain occasions, such protests were accompanied by drawing up documents not stipulated by the procedure, claims about the priority of general opinion, and insubordination of the noble assembly to the power of the governor. The author concludes that electoral conflicts in noble assemblies had a considerable communicative influence on the power structures of various levels, forcing them to react to group solidarity and arguments about the priority of collective decisions over the opinion of a representative of the provincial authorities. All of this makes it possible to argue that in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Russia was part of the all-European process of the formation of public institutions.
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