The Duma in Russian History 1906–1917

How Tsar Nicholas II Attempted to Stave Off the Russian Revolution

Russian Duma
Last session of the third Duma, October 15, 1911. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Duma ("Assembly" in Russian) was an elected semi-representative body in Russia from 1906 to 1917. It was created by the leader of the ruling Tsarist regime Tsar Nicholas II in 1905 when the government was desperate to divide the opposition during an uprising. The creation of the assembly was very much against his will, but he had promised to create an elected, national, legislative assembly.

After the announcement, hopes were high that the Duma would bring democracy, but it was soon revealed that the Duma would have two chambers, only one of which was elected by the Russian people.

The other was appointed by the Tsar and that house held a veto over any actions of the other. In addition, the Tsar retained ‘Supreme Autocratic Power.’ In effect, the Duma was neutered right from the start, and people knew it.

Dumas 1 and 2

There were four Dumas during the institution’s lifetime: 1906, 1907, 1907–12 and 1912–17; each had several hundred members made up of a mix of peasants and ruling classes, professional men and workers alike. The first Duma was comprised of deputies angry at the Tsar and what they perceived as backtracking on his promises. The Tsar dissolved the body after only two months when the government felt the Duma complained too much and was intractable. Indeed, when the Duma had sent the Tsar a list of grievances, he had replied by sending the first two things he felt able to let them decide on: a new laundry and a new greenhouse. The Duma found this offensive and the relations broke down.

The second Duma lasted from February to June 1907, and, because of the actions of Kadet liberals shortly before the election, the Duma was dominated by extremely anti-government factions. This Duma had 520 members, only 6% (31) had been in the first Duma: the government outlawed anybody who signed the Viborg Manifesto protesting dissolving of the first one.

When this Duma opposed the reforms of Nicholas's Minister of the Interior Pyotr A. Stolypin, it too was dissolved.

Dumas Three and Four

Despite this false start, the Tsar persevered, keen to portray Russia as a democratic body to the world, particularly trade partners like Britain and France who were pushing forward with a limited democracy. The government changed the voting laws, limiting the electorate to just those who owned property, disenfranchising most peasants and workers (the groups who would come to be used in the 1917 revolutions). The result was the more docile third Duma of 1907, dominated by Russia’s Tsar-friendly right wing. However, the body did get some laws and reforms put into effect.

New elections were held in 1912, and the fourth Duma was created. This was still less radical than the first and second Dumas, but was still deeply critical of the Tsar and closely questioned government ministers.

End of the Duma

During the First World War, the members of the fourth Duma grew increasingly critical of the inept Russian government, and in 1917 joined with the army to send a delegation to the Tsar, asking him to abdicate. When he did so, the Duma transformed into part of the Provisional Government.

This group of men tried to run Russia in conjunction with the Soviets while a constitution was drawn up, but all that was washed away in the October Revolution.

The Duma has to be considered a great failure for the Russian people, and also for the Tsar, as none of them were either a representative body or a complete puppet. On the other hand, compared to what followed after October 1917, it had a lot to recommend it.

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Wilde, Robert. "The Duma in Russian History 1906–1917." ThoughtCo, Jan. 21, 2018, thoughtco.com/duma-in-russian-history-1221805. Wilde, Robert. (2018, January 21). The Duma in Russian History 1906–1917. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/duma-in-russian-history-1221805 Wilde, Robert. "The Duma in Russian History 1906–1917." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/duma-in-russian-history-1221805 (accessed April 23, 2018).