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Collective Action and Representation in Autocracies: Evidence from Russia’s Great Reforms

Collective Action and Representation in Autocracies: Evidence from Russia’s Great Reforms

Paul Casta Eda Dower, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Evgeny Finkel, George Washington University
Scott Gehlbach, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Steven Nafziger, Williams College

When do autocratic governments transfer power to excluded groups? We explore the relationship between capacity for collective action and representation in autocracies in a novel empirical setting: Russia during the period of the Great Reforms under Tsar Alexander II. Exploiting plausibly exogenous variation in peasant rebellion in the decade prior to the introduction of the zemstvo—a new institution of local self-government—we show that peasants were granted less representation in districts with a history of unrest. This negative relationship between representation and capacity for collective action is consistent with the Acemoglu-Robinson theory of political transitions and inconsistent with numerous other models of institutional change. At the same time, however, we observe patterns of redistribution in subsequent years that are inconsistent with the commitment mechanism central to the Acemoglu-Robinson model. Considered jointly, these results cannot be explained by any existing theory of regime change. We therefore suggest possible directions for future theoretical work.

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American Political Science ReviewFirst View / Published online: 07 November 2017, pp. 1-23