This part is complicated. He interrupts his narrative to explain some of the history that led to the problems. There was an initial attempt to liberalize (in the good sense of the word) land ownership and put decision-making back into the hands, if not of the people, then of heads of landowning-areas. The problem is that Russian liberalism, like all liberalism, found itself caught between traditionalism and communism (59).
Solzhenitsyn points out that the liberals, while not being revolutionaries, ran interference for them (until the moment the revolutionaries hanged them. Like weak Christians today, they engage left, punch right.
This is what I try to tell virtue signalers on both Left and Right. You want to appease the mob and show them how virtuous you are. The revolutionaries will dialogue with you until the moment they cut your throat.
This leads to the Russian idea of the zemstvo. It is a “social union of a given district” (60). At its best it provided a social shield between the lower class and other classes. Tsar Aleksandr II sought to empower the zemstvos and give them more autonomy. This would have functioned as a pressure valve on society, allowing the legitimate criticisms of the monarchy, that it didn’t allow for representation, to find its voice in the land. As as result, “we might have had, with the monarchy intact, a self-governing society, ethical in complexion, and free of party politics.”
It was never to be. Later tsars considered zemstvo “networking” to be revolutionary activity, and so cut their own legs out from under themselves. The socialist outsiders soon moved in. Solzhenitsyn here introduces one of his heroes, Shipov. Shipov came up with a brilliant networking system that would have staved of socialism, if it were to be realized (69). Rural districts elect county “zemstvo assemblies,” which elect provincial assemblies, and the provinces an all-Russian assembly