The Dumas (1906-1917)


The Consitution of 1906

Despite the liberal promises of the ‘October manifesto’, 1905, Nicholas went back on some of his concessions in the ‘Fundamental Laws’ of 1906, which re-asserted the supreme power of the tsar as autocrat (in contradiction of the manifesto).  These laws limited the power of the Duma before it had even started by stating that the Tsar, and not the Duma, would appoint ministers, conduct foreign affairs, have the right to rule by decree whenever the assembly was not in session - furthermore, the Duma could not pass laws without the Tsar’s agreement, making it dependent on his approval for any action! 

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The Composition of the Dumas

  • The first Duma (1906) was made up largely of liberal and centrists - Kadets and Octobrists - as left-wing groups refused to participate.  However, this first Duma was also hostile to the government and made major demands for reform in terms of land reform and releasing political prisoners.  It was therefore dissolved by the Tsar after just 73 days.
  • The second Duma (1907) was more representative, in that in included more members from both the extreme right and left.  However, this led to these extremists using the Duma for their own propaganda, making it a loud and disruptive session of three and a half months before the government closed it down. 
  • After 1907 the Tsar and Stolypin had recovered enough from 1905 to retreat further from the reforms of the October Manifesto and thus rigged the electoral system further in favour of the conservative forces of landowners at the expense of industrial workers.  Landowners had 50% of the vote, while workers had just 2%, which led for a much more conservative assembly.  The third and fourth Dumas therefore represented mainly the propertied and middle classes, and hovered between reform and reaction.  Even though Nicholas was reluctant to co-operate with the Duma they managed to achieve some successes in this period in terms of social refoms.
  • Faced with the immense challenges of WW1 Nicholas still refused to allow the Duma an active role in the war effort.  This led to a virtual alternative government emerging, and eventually a Duma plot to overthrow the Tsar!  Nicholas II's rejection of the ‘Progressive Bloc’s’ call for a new government in 1915 also played an important role in encouraging liberals to oppose tsarist rule and in politically isolating him in the lead up to the February revolution.
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