pavel n. milyukov

Pavel Milyukov

[mil-yuh-kawf, -kof; Russ. myi-lyoo-kawf]

Pavel Nikolayevich Milyukov (Cyrillic: Павел Николаевич Милюков) (15 January, 1859 - 31 March, 1943), a Russian politician, was the founder, leader, and the most prominent member of the Constitutional Democratic party (known as the Kadets). His name is sometimes rendered in English as Paul Miliukov.

Pre-revolutionary career

Milyukov studied at the Moscow University, where he was influenced by the liberal ideas of Konstantin Kavelin and Boris Chicherin. He made a successful career as a historian, publishing the three-volume Outlines of Russian Culture over the years from 1896 to 1903. The last volume was actually finished in jail, where he spent six months for his political speech at a private event (1901).

Having lost his position at the University due to political issues, Milyukov traveled widely and visited the United States several times. He also contributed to the clandestine journal Liberation in 1902.

When the First Russian Revolution started three years later, he founded the Constitutional Democratic party, represented it in the State Duma, and drafted the Vyborg Manifesto, calling for political freedom, reforms and passive resistance to the governmental policy.

With the outbreak of World War I, Milyukov swung to the right, promoting patriotic policies of national defense and campaigning for the formation of the Progressive Bloc of moderate leaders. Milyukov insisted that his younger son joined the army as a volunteer and he subsequently died in a battle. Milyukov was regarded as a staunch supporter of the conquest of Istanbul. His opponents mockingly called him "Milyukov of Dardanelles". In 1916, however, he again moved to the left, sharply criticising the government for its inefficiency.

"Stupidity or treason" speech

On November 1, 1916, during a speech in the State Duma Miliukov highlighted numerous governmental failures with the famous question "What is that? Stupidity or treason?". According to Melissa Kirschke Stockdale in Paul Miliukov and the Quest for a Liberal Russia, it was a "...volatile combination of revolutionary passions, escalating apprehension, and the near breakdown of unity in the moderate camp that provided the impetus for the most notorious address in the history of the Duma..." The speech was a milestone on the road to Rasputin's murder and the February Revolution.

At Progressive Bloc meetings near the end of October, Progressives and left Kadets argued that the revolutionary public mood could no longer be ignored, and the Duma should attack the entire tsarist system or lose whatever influence it had. Nationalists feared that a concerted stand against the government would jeopardize the existence of the Duma and further inflame the revolutionary feelings. Miliukov argued for and secured a tenuous adherence to a middle ground tactic, attacking Boris Stürmer and forcing his replacement. According to Stockdale he had trouble gaining the support of his own party, at the October 22-24 Kadet fall conference provincial delegates "lashed out at Miliukov with unaccustomed ferocity. His travels abroad had made him poorly informed about the public mood, they charged; the patience of the people was exhausted." He responded with a plea to keep their ultimate goal in mind:

It will be our task not to destroy the government, which would only aid anarchy, but to instill in it a completely different content, that is, to build a genuine constitutional order. That is why, in our struggle with the government, despite everything, we must retain a sense of proportion.... To support anarchy in the name of the struggle with the government would be to risk all the political conquests we have made since 1905.

The day before the opening of the Duma, the Progressist party pulled out of the bloc because they believed the situation called for more than a mere denunciation of Stürmer. At the start of the session government ministers, forewarned by an informant within the bloc of the attack to come, left the chamber. Alexander Kerensky spoke first, called the ministers "hired assassins" and "cowards" and said they were "guided by the contemptible Grishka Rasputin!" The acting president ordered him away for calling for the overthrow of the government in wartime. Miliukov's speech was more that three times longer than Kerensky's, and delivered using much more moderate language.

He began by outlining how public hope had been lost over the course of the war, saying: "we have lost faith that the government can lead us to victory." He mentioned the rumours of treason and then proceeded to discuss some of the allegations: Stürmer had freed Sukhomlinov, there was a great deal of pro-German propaganda, in his visits to allied countries he had been told that the enemy had access to Russian state secrets, Stürmer's private secretary had been arrested for taking German bribes but was released when he kicked back to Stürmer. After each accusation near the end of the speech, he asked "Is this stupidity or is it treason?", and the listeners answered "Stupidity!" "Treason! "Both!" Miliukov stated that it did not matter as "the consequences are the same."

Stockdale also points out that Miliukov admitted to some reservations about his evidence in his memoirs, where he observed that his listeners resolutely answered treason "even in those aspects where I myself was not entirely sure."

Richard Abraham, in his biography of Kerensky argues that the withdrawal of the Progressists was essentially a vote of no confidence in Miliukov, and that he grasped at the idea of accusing Stürmer in an effort to preserve his own influence.

February Revolution and its aftermath

During the February Revolution Milyukov hoped to retain the constitutional monarchy in Russia, but events developed too quickly for him to follow. In the first provisional government, led by his fellow Kadet Prince Lvov, Milyukov became Minister of Foreign Affairs. He staunchly opposed popular demands for peace at any cost and firmly clung to Russia's wartime alliances. As the Britannica 2004 put it, "he was too inflexible to succeed in practical politics". On April 20, 1917 the government sent a note to Britain and France (which became known as Milyukov's Note) proclaiming that Russia would fulfill its obligation towards the Allies and wage the war as long as it was necessary. Soldiers and citizens of Petrograd demanded Milyukov's resignation, which followed on May 2.

After the Bolshevik revolution Milyukov left Petrograd and advised various leaders of the White Movement. After the Russian Civil War he emigrated to France, where he remained active in politics and edited the Russian-language newspaper Latest News (1920 - 1940). While living abroad, Milyukov was the object of several assassination attempts. In one attempt, his friend Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, the father of famous novelist Vladimir Nabokov, was killed while shielding Milyukov from his attackers. Milyukov died in Aix-les-Bains in France.


  • Melissa Kirschke Stockdale. Paul Miliukov and the Quest for a Liberal Russia, 1880-1918, Cornell University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-8014-3248-0, 379pp.
  • Thomas Riha. A Russian European: Paul Miliukov in Russian Politics, University of Notre Dame Press, 1969, ISBN 1-121-78859-9, 373pp.

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