The First Russian Parliament and Constitution | The Duma (1906-1917)
Articles Blog

The First Russian Parliament and Constitution | The Duma (1906-1917)

September 14, 2019


It’s always interesting to delve a little
bit in the democratic history of a country. Now, in autocratic Russia it was very short-lived. Following the Russian-revolution of 1905 a
“constitution” and “parliament” were established… and yes, those quotation marks
definitely belong there. The quote of parliament’s chairman seems
fitting, as he once exclaimed: Thank God we still do not have a parliament. -intro- Tsar Nicholas gives in It was the summer of 1905 and the Russian
revolution following the Bloody Sunday massacre was in full swing. During this time leadership among the unorganized
strikers emerged and so-called soviets, worker’s councils were established. Tsar Nicholas thought about resorting to a
violent crackdown, as he had often done before. Several ministers, among them Sergey Witte,
the minister of finance, managed to convince the Tsar to refrain from doing so. Nicholas wrote in his diary about these events,
lamenting that it made him physically ill that he couldn’t act decisively, but had
to listen to his ministers. He remarked they acted as if they were headless
chickens, and considering the situation he probably was right. Nicholas realized he had two options: a full-fledged
military crackdown, or granting civil rights and a parliament, a duma. The latter option meant a constitution had
to be written. On the thirtieth of October nineteen-o-five
Tsar Nicholas signed a document that became known as the October manifesto. It transformed Russia into a constitutional
monarchy… in theory. The manifesto promised civil rights, a national
legislative assembly, universal manhood suffrage and freedom of speech, assembly and association. Rather progressive for a country that seemed
stuck in its old autocratic ways, and this document went further than what the Tsar had
promised after the Bloody Sunday debacle. The manifesto, furthermore, declared that
no law could be issued without the Duma’s approval, and as such, one of the main demands
of the population was met. The politicians of the middle-class got what
they wanted: the revolution had been a success. … At least, that’s what most Russians
that celebrated the manifesto thought. And perhaps it could have been that way, if
it had not been for the stubborn Tsar and his advisers that had not yet learned their
lessons from that year. The Tsar and his advisors had not yet realized
the necessity of true reforms, and the fact they had to be honest about what they promised. Sergey Witte had been the Tsars main advisor
throughout this entire crisis, and he persuaded the Tsar to accept the manifesto, but Witte
simply considered it a means to protect the monarchy and autocratic government, not so
much the spread of enlightenment ideals. He was noted as saying: “I have a constitution
in my head, but when it concerns my heart, I spit on it.” The manifesto immediately achieved goal it
was meant to achieve. The revolution lost all its leverage and the
authority of the soviets evaporated. The strikers returned to their work and, while
leaders of the strikes kept preaching violent revolution in order to establish a democratic
(or not-so democratic in case of the Bolsheviks) republic, these calls to action didn’t have
much effect. In the middle of November the Saint Petersburg
soviet called for a new strike, but it barely met any response and Sergey Witte ordered
the arrest of its leaders, Leon Trotsky and Alexander Parvus. The leadership of the uprising transferred
to the Moscow Soviet for a short time, but they misjudged the situation when they urged
for an armed uprising, on the twenty-third of December, which was subsequently suppressed
by Tsarist troops. That was the official end of the revolution
of nineteen-o-five. The Democratic Experiment Between nineteen-o-six and nineteen-seventeen,
Russia had its first, and only, democratic experiment until after the fall of the Soviet
Union, over 7 decades later. It wasn’t a widespread, large scale experiment,
though. The First State Duma elections dominated the
first couple of months of nineteen-o-six. All men above the age of twenty-five could
cast their vote, and there were 478 seats to be divided, but only landlords of whom
the lands exceeded one-hundred-and-sixty hectares, could vote directly. The other categories of electorate, peasants
and inhabitants of cities for example, could only elect through an electoral college. The result was that a relatively small class
of landlords owned thirty-one percent of the vote, while peasants had forty-two percent
and the population of cities had twenty-seven percent. A complete disproportionate way to divide
the votes. In March the general elections took place. These were boycotted by revolutionary parties
on the far left: the Bolsheviks among others, and the right-wing Union of Russian Peoples. The liberals, on the other hand, held an intensive
campaign, lead by the Constitutional Democratic Party, the so-called Kadets, under Pavel Milyukov. These received the most seats, namely one-hundred-and-seventy-nine. The Trudoviks under Alexey Aladyin received
ninety-seven seats, the Progressive party under Ivan Yefremov received sixty, Alexander
Guchkov with his Octobrists received sixteen and the Social Democrats, the Mensheviks,
under Julius Martov received eighteen seats. Before the Duma could even assemble, however,
the Tsar undermined its authority… Classic. On the sixth of May Nicholas issued a major
revision of the Constitution, stating that “The Tsar of the Russians possessed the
essence of the supreme sovereign power and obedience to his commands was mandated by
God.” This was the answer of Tsar Nicholas to the
people that had wondered how much freedom he would grant the new Duma. In order to prevent the Duma from containing
his own power, he created a State Council of which half its members were appointed by
the Tsar himself, including its chairman. Nicholas decided he had the right to declare
war, to appoint the head of the Orthodox Church and to dissolve the Duma whenever he found
it necessary to do so. The ministers were accountable just to the
Tsar, and they couldn’t be fired, not even by a vote of no confidence by the Duma. So in reality there was no democracy and the
Duma couldn’t change the course of Russia, but couldn’t it really? The Duma in itself resembled the containment
of the Tsars autocratic power, and that was something new when it came to the politics
of the Russian Empire. The First Duma The first Duma officially opened on the tenth
of May, with the Tsar and his court attending in the Winter Palace. The council he saw before him, as Witte had
predicted, was a peasant-Duma, but it was a Duma that was opposed to him as well. There were one-hundred-and-ninety-one peasants
of the four-hundred-ninety-seven members. The peasants were the largest group in parliament,
with the constitutional democrats following closely with one-hundred-and-eighty-four seats,
more than any other party. To the left of them there were over a hundred
delegates ranging from social revolutionaries to social democrats, elected, regardless of
their boycott. Not even fifty seats were allocated to people
that were to the right of the Cadets. Between sixty and seventy delegates represented
non-Russian ethnicities, and even though they had all these differences, the absolute majority
of the delegates was very critical about the Tsar and his ministers. As the delegates assembled in the Tauride
Palace, the permanent location of the Duma, Sergey Muromtsev was elected as President
of the Duma. One of the first moves was to present an ‘address
to the throne’ in which political amnesty, ministerial responsibility, abolishing the
death penalty and direct representative voting rights were demanded. These demands were more than the Tsar would
ever allow, and he made it clear that he wasn’t planning on allowing any of this. The Russian Prime Minister, Ivan Goremykin
was sent to the Duma in order to set the delegates straight. While a law prohibiting capital punishment
was passed, a motion of no confidence of the government and Prime Minister Goremykin was
adopted. The Duma would only last seventy-three days
before the government dismissed it. Two-hundred delegates fled to Vyborg, Finland. Much to their dismay there was no reaction
from the Russian population. The first, timid steps towards a parliamentary
democracy had collapsed, and exactly those that had fought for this parliamentary democracy
kept silent. Stolypin in Power The dismissal of the First Duma wasn’t the
end of the first constitutional experiment, however. Goremykin was replaced by Pyotr Stolypin as
Russia’s prime minister. Stolypin was a man with a much stronger character,
who didn’t think dismissing and ignoring the Duma was the right way to go. No, The Duma had to be transformed and used
to the advantage of the monarchy. The second Duma was instituted in February
nineteen-o-seven. Its composition was nearly entirely different,
only thirty delegates from the First Duma remained but because the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks
and Socialist Revolutionaries did not boycott this election, on the surface of it the composition
of this Duma was even more hostile than the previous one. The Cadets were outnumbered by their more
radical colleagues, there were more than two-hundred left-wing delegates, and only around forty
on the right. Neither wanted the Duma to succeed and together
they managed to paralyze its political power. Stolypin found a way to dismiss the Duma after
one-hundred-and-three days, in what became known as the Coup of June. Basically, Stolypin accused fifty-five Social
Democrats of planning a violent uprising and wanted their parliamentary immunity revoked,
the Duma, obviously, refused and the Duma was subsequently dismissed. After the Second Duma was dismissed, Stolypin
changed the electoral law in such a way that he could be certain the composition of future
Duma’s was more favourable to the gentry, landowners, monarchists and nobility, all
at the expensive of the less ‘loyal’ groups of the population: workers, peasants and non-ethnic
Russians. The constitutional democrats, those that had
one-hundred-and-eighty-four seats in the first Duma, owned merely fifty-eight in the third
one, with parties on the right-wing suddenly skyrocketing to one-hundred-eighty-five seats. The dominating party was the right-wing monarchist
Octobrist party under Alexander Guchkov, who became the chairman of the Duma. Now, by playing around with the electoral
system in the way that Stolypin has done, he created a Duma that was -more or less-
willing to do as he wanted. He didn’t have to resort to dismissing the
Duma and the third Duma actually completed its full five year term, from nineteen-o-seven
to June nineteen-twelve. The fourth Duma would last until February
nineteen-seventeen. It survived the First World War, but would
not survive the February Revolution. The last 2 Dumas were pliable, earning the
nickname the “Duma of Lords and Lackeys”. Any serious resistance to the Tsar was banished. As for Pyotr Stolypin; he was assassinated
in nineteen-eleven. There had been ten assassination attempts
on his life and in Kiev, during a concert, Dmitry Bogrov, a Socialist Revolutionary,
shot him twice. Stolypin was replaced by his Finance Minister,
Count Vladimir Kokovtsov. And this Kokovtsov summarized his opinion
about the Duma in one simple sentence: Thank God that we still do not have a parliament. Reflections As you can tell, the Duma has never been a
parliament in the way that Western Europe, especially France, the United Kingdom and
the Netherlands had a parliament. The Duma has never been able to properly assert
influence in Russia’s domestic, or foreign policies. Those rights were reserved for the Tsar. But it would be a gross mischaracterization
to state that Russia’s parliamentary experiment was worthless. Russia was a large, under developed country
and after centuries of autocratic rulers, it would have been an impossible task to transform
it to a parliamentary democracy in less than a decade. Though, objectively taking notice of the transformations
Russia went through during that time, it is remarkable how much progress was made in this
short period, and the four Duma’s did make serious attempts at solving several problems. The mere existence of the Duma was already
important as she became the centre of political life: reports about debates that were held
filled newspapers, gazetas, read throughout the entire country, and public political debates
were encouraged by these reports. While conservatism was dominant, even after
nineteen-o-five, and Stolypin managed to control the Duma, this period was still a period of
incredible political activity in Russia. And as for its delegates: they learned how
to use their constrained power in the most effective possible way. They could approve and dismiss the budget,
occasionally force ministers to step down and the third and fourth Duma both approved
legislation regarding land-reform, attempting to improve the conditions of the peasantry. The Russian education system drastically improved
during this time and, everything taken into account, there were some commendable achievements,
especially if you consider how much their power had been constrained and the stubbornness
of the tsar. The First World War, however, was to break
out in nineteen-fourteen and three years later the revolutions of nineteen-seventeen would
end Tsarist rule forever. But that’s a story for another time, thank
you for watching this video and what is a person or event in Russian political history
that you would like to know more about and perhaps see a video of? Let me know your thoughts in the comments
and if you enjoyed this video consider subscribing to my channel. See you next time.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. This is the last (political) history video about Russia for a while. I am very excited about the series I have planned from next week onward! It is definitely the largest project I have worked on for this channel so far and is about a country that has a history just as rich, captivating and tragic (at times) as Russia. If that sounds interesting make sure you subscribe and check back next week!

  2. As usual, incredible work, but not as incredible as the fucking beard (mustache?) of the man what a profile picture! Facial hair was wild back then.

    Sad that you're done with Russia for the moment but I look forward to learning about other topics, too.

  3. Your work is just amazing, I wish I had more time to binge-watch everything like there´s no tomorrow.
    You just became one of the reasons for why i wanna end my exams as fast as possible

  4. This is like a finale of a great 4-episodes mini-series about the crisis of the Russian Empire, that in many ways was a prelude for the future Revolution.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *