The Duma in Russian History 1906 - 1917

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

The Duma was an elected semi-representative body in Russia from 1906 to 1917. It was created by the ruling Tsarist regime in 1905, when the government was desperate to divide opposition during an uprising. 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 held a veto over any actions.

In addition, the Tsar retained ‘Supreme Autocratic Power’. In effect, the Duma was neutered right from the start, and people knew it.

The Four Dumas

There were four Dumas during the institution’s lifetime: 1906, 1907, 1907 – 12 and 1912 – 17. The first Duma was comprised of deputies angry at the Tsar and what they perceived as backtracking on his promises, and 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. As you might expect, this they found this offensive and the relations broke down. The second Duma lasted from February to June 1917, and because of the actions of Kadet liberals shortly before the election was dominated by extremely anti-government factions.

When this Duma opposed Stolypin’s reforms it too was dissolved.

Despite this start, the Tsar persevered, keen to portray Russia as democratic 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 tried to run Russia in conjunction with the Soviets while a constitution was drawn up, but was washed away in the October Revolution. The Duma has to be considered a great failure for the Russian people, and a lot for the Tsar really, being neither 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.