“Is this stupidity, or is it treason?”

In the Russian State Duma, Nov. 14, 1916.

Pavel Miliukov [moderate constitutionalist politician]: It is said that a member of the Council of Ministers, – and this was correctly heard by Duma Member Chkheidze – on being told that the State Duma would on this occasion speak of treason, exclaimed excitedly: “I may, perhaps, be a fool, but I am not a traitor.” (Laughter) Gentlemen, the predecessor of that Minister was undoubtedly a clever Minister, just as the predecessor of our Minister of Foreign Affairs was an honest Minister. But they are no longer in Cabinet. And, does it matter, gentlemen, as a practical question, whether we are, in the present case, dealing with stupidity or treason? When the Duma keeps everlastingly insisting that the rear must be organized for a successful struggle, the Government persists in claiming that organizing the country means organizing a revolution, and deliberately prefers chaos and disorganization. What is it, stupidity or treason? (A voice from the left: “Treason!” Adjemov: “Stupidity!” Laughter)

According to Wikipedia, Miliukov “highlighted numerous governmental failures, … After each accusation – many times without basis – he asked “Is this stupidity or is it treason?” and the listeners answered “stupidity!”, “treason!”, etc. (Milyukov stated that it did not matter: “Choose any … as the consequences are the same.”) [Prime Minister] Stürmer walked out, followed by all his ministers.”

Of course, this all ended very well …

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.