Politics in the Non-Political: The Ideology of Constitutional Reforms in Professional Congresses in the Early 20th Century
This article considers congresses organised by representatives of various professions (technicians, doctors, teachers) on the eve of the First Russian Revolution. Based on documents from the four most important and populous public meetings, the authors conclude that they turned into a meeting place for non-zemstvo intellectuals with public figures from the zemstvo movement, which led to the emergence of a political class. The purpose of this article is to describe the evolution that the congresses underwent based on the analysis of congress documents (meeting records, reports, resolutions, etc.), periodicals, and political investigations covering their work. It is demonstrated that congresses ceased to be reviews of achievements of certain branches of the national economy (science and technology, medicine, and public education), which were meant to confirm the recognition of their significance by the state. Instead, they turned into demonstrations of the independent position of professional figures on issues of professional and socio-political agenda, into channels for mobilising public opinion in the direction of constitutional reform of the autocratic system and ideological preparation for the First Russian Revolution. The congresses promoted the involvement of the community outside the zemstvo in transforming the bureaucratic system into a legal state and class-based Russian society into civil society. On the eve of 1905, public congresses were an important milestone in the development of the liberation movement in Russia and symbolised its transition to so-called “new liberalism”. It was characterised by overcoming the monopoly position of zemstvo activists in the liberal movement and involving various professional groups in Russian society, mobilising public opinion to discuss public participation in political decision-making. According to the authors, professional forums were historically significant as they had an impact on the ruling elite: they let it know about public ideas concerning urgent socio-political transformations and ensured public participation in the development of strategies for their implementation. Professional congresses lie at the intersection of several areas of modern historical knowledge: political and social history, the history of ideas, and the history of professions. However, they have not been studied comprehensively so far, and the authors fill this historiographical gap.
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