A zemstvo (Russian: земство, IPA: [ˈzʲɛmstvə], plural
zemstva – Russian: земства) was an institution of
local government set up during the great emancipation reform of 1861
carried out in
Imperial Russia by Emperor Alexander II of Russia.
Nikolay Milyutin elaborated the idea of the zemstva, and the first
zemstvo laws went into effect in 1864. After the
October Revolution of
1917, the zemstvo system was shut down by the
Bolsheviks and replaced
by a system of workers' councils ("soviets").
The system of local self-government in the Russian Empire was
represented at the lowest level by the mir and the volost and was
continued, so far as the 34 Guberniyas (governorates) of old Russia
were concerned, in the elective district and provincial assemblies
(zemstvo). The goal of the zemstvo reform was the creation of local
organs of self-government on an elected basis, possessing sufficient
authority and independence to resolve local economic problems.
Alexander II instituted these bodies, one for each district and
another for each province or government, in 1864. They consisted of a
representative council (zemskoye sobranye) and of an executive board
(zemskaya uprava) nominated by the former. The board consisted of five
classes of members:
large landed proprietors [nobles owning 590 acres (2.4 km2) and
over], who sat in person
delegates of the small landowners, including the clergy in their
capacity of landed proprietors
delegates of the wealthier townsmen
delegates of the less wealthy urban classes
delegates of the peasants, elected by the volosts
The nobles received more weight in voting for a zemstvo, as evidenced
by the fact that 74% of the zemstvo members were nobles, even though
nobles were a tiny minority of the population. Even so, the zemstvo
allowed the greater population to have a say in how a small part of
their communities would operate.
In 1865 zemstvos were opened in nineteen provinces, and between 1866
and 1876 another sixteen were established. Twelve provinces had no
zemstvos, the three
Baltic provinces and the nine western governments
Poland by Catherine II. Created in 1875 after much
Cossack officials, the Zemstvos of the Don Host
Oblast collapsed and were abolished after six years of operation.
The rules governing elections to the zemstvos were taken as a model
for the electoral law of 1906 and are sufficiently indicated by the
account of this given below. The zemstvos were originally given large
powers in relation to the incidence of taxation and such questions as
education, medical relief, public welfare, food supply, and road
maintenance in their localities, but radicals, such as the Socialist
Revolutionary Party and the nihilists, met them with hostility,
believing that the reforms were too minor. These powers were, however,
severely restricted by Alexander III (law of 25 June [O.S. 12
June] 1890); the zemstvos were then subordinated to the
governors, whose consent was necessary for each decision. The
governors had drastic powers of discipline over the members.
Despite all these restrictions, during the 50 years of the zemstvos,
they succeeded in solving many problems of general education, public
medical service, construction and maintenance of roads and sponsoring
local economic development. The Zemstva hired professional experts
Intelligentsia in aid of their activity, who came to be known
as the 'third element'.
Zemstvo expenditure grew from 89.1 million rubles in 1900 to 290.5
million rubles in 1913. Of the latter sum, 90.1 million rubles were
spent on education, 71.4 million on medical assistance, 22.2 million
on improvements in agriculture, and 8 million on veterinary measures.
The chief sources of zemstvo revenue were rates on lands, forests,
country dwellings, factories, mines and other real-estate.
Philately uses the term zemstvo stamp to refer to local-issue Russian
postage stamps from this period.
Zemstvo Union was set up in August 1914 to provide a
common voice for all the Zemstvos. It was a liberal organisation which
after 1915 operated in conjunction with the Union of Cities.
^ The word derives from земля (zemlyá), "land", "country",
^ a b c Volvenko, Aleksei (2007). "The
Zemstvo Reform, the Cossacks,
and Administrative Policy on the Don, 1864–1882". In Burbank, Jane;
Von Hagen, Mark; Remnev, A.V. Russian Empire: Space, People, Power,
1700-1930. Indiana University Press. p. 348.
^ By the law of 12 (25) June 1890 the peasant members of the zemstvos
were to be nominated by the governor of the government or province
from a list elected by the volosts.
^ a b Ascher, Abraham (2014). The Russian Revolution: A Beginner's
Guide. Oneworld Publications. p. 3. access-date= requires
^ Terence Emmons, Wayne S. Vucinich, The
Zemstvo in Russia: An
Experiment in Local Self-Government (Cambridge University Press, 2011)
^ RUSSIA, U.S.S.R. A Complete Handbook. 1933. Edited by P.
Malevsky-Malevich. p. 500.
^ "Unions of zemstvos and cities". Encyclopedia of Ukraine. Canadian
Institute of Ukrainian Studies. Retrieved 8 February 2016.