Duma

The Duma was created after the 1905 Russian Revolution as part of the new constitutional monarchy in the country. But what was the Duma? What happened throughout Russia whilst the Duma was in operation? Was it all "Duma-nd gloom" or were there some genuine changes instigated by the First Russian Revolution? Let's get into this!

Duma Duma

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Table of contents

    Duma Timeline

    Let's look at a timeline of the Duma, from its operation after the 1905 First Russian Revolution to its dissolution in 1917.

    DateEvent
    1905First Russian Revolution.
    October 1905October Manifesto signed.
    April 1906Fundamental Laws passed.
    May 1906First Duma elected.
    June 1906Duma passed a vote of no confidence in President of the Council of Ministers, Ivan Goremykin.
    July 1906First Duma dissolved after vote of no confidence. Pyotr Stolypin is appointed as President of the Council of Ministers by the Tsar. Some Kadets issued the Vyborg Manifesto.Stolypin retaliated by prohibiting Kadets from voting.
    February 1907Second Duma elected.
    June 1907Second Duma dissolved.
    August 1907Third Duma elected.
    September 1911Pyotr Stolypin assassinated by a Socialist Revolutionary Dmitry Bogrov.
    June 1912Third Duma finished its 5-year term.
    November 1912 - 1917Fourth Duma elected.
    July 1914Russia entered the First World War.
    February 1917February Revolution. Provisional Government instated.
    March 1917Tsar Nicholas II abdicated. Provisional Government dissolved the Fourth Duma ahead of Constitutional Assembly elections.
    October 1917Bolshevik Revolution. Dumas would not form again under the Soviet Government.

    Duma Russian Revolution

    The 1905 Russian Revolution provided enough civil unrest amongst the working classes to eventually convince the Tsar to change his unpopular autocratic rule of Russia. He was persuaded by one of his chief advisors Sergey Witte to sign the October Manifesto, promising a restructuring of Russian government and other changes to society.

    Duma Definition

    The October Manifesto effectively promised that Russia would be ruled by a constitutional monarchy and that the Tsar would be advised by a representative body, the Duma.

    A constitutional monarchy means that a country is ruled by a monarch (in this case, the Tsar). The Tsar makes decisions based on advice from a government formed through a constitution. This does not always have to be a democratically-elected government.

    The Duma was a representative body that formed part of the Russian government to advise the Tsar. Local elections were held throughout Russia to decide on representatives within an electoral college. The college would then decide the representatives within the Duma. Although appearing to be democratically elected, the Duma was prone to manipulations of electoral law as to who could vote, and the actual members of the Duma were indirectly elected by the public through the electoral college.

    Duma The official opening of the Duma in 1906 StudySmarterFig. 1 The Tsar officiated the opening of the Duma in May 1906.

    The Duma was the Tsar's concession to a democratically-elected representative body to advise him on governmental decisions. However, in practice, Tsar Nicholas II often ignored the Duma and held on to most of this power.

    Duma Fundamental Laws

    Despite the promise of the October Manifesto - to create a constitutional monarchy - the Duma powers were limited. Let's look at how the Tsar reduced the influence the Duma.

    October Manifesto vs. the Fundamental Laws

    The Tsar changed the Duma's authority days before its first meeting with the 1906 Fundamental Laws, which acted as the new Russian constitution. Let's look at the Tsar reserved certain powers for himself. With the new constitution, he could:

    • Rule Russia without the Duma when it was not in session.

    • Change the electoral system without opposition.

    • Solely elect his Council of Ministers (the ultimate government authority).

    • Declare and cease war independently of the Duma or public's decisions.

    • Dissolve the Duma at any point.

    The clauses in the Fundamental Laws reinstated the Tsar as the ultimate authority over Russia, meaning the power was still practically in the Tsar's hands. However, in order to technically remain a constitutional monarchy, the Duma still reserved the right to make legislative decisions.

    Governmental Structure

    Let's look at the different groups operating under the Tsar:

    Tsar. Supreme Authority of Russia. Advised by 3 bodies:
    Council of Ministers - Elected by the TsarState Council - Elected by the Tsar and the ZemstvasDuma - Elected by the electoral college and nobility
    Zemstvas - Elected by landowners and through proportional representationElectoral College - Elected by the Russian electorate
    Russian Electorate - Males over 25

    The nobility in Russia were a class that were favoured by the Tsar and were usually landowners, wealthy merchants, high ranking military officials, or held important positions in the Russian Orthodox church.

    Zemstvas were elected local governments in rural areas which provided economic and social services for the local society. The nobility usually dominated the zemstvas but were elected by landowners and through proportional representation of peasant communes.

    Duma Elections

    The new constitution led to a period of hope in Russian politics. Different parties emerged to compete for power in the Duma. They quickly found out, however, that the Tsar was less than willing to acknowledge the Duma.

    Despite the limited power of the Duma, they still reserved the right to vote on legislation. This meant that the Tsar and his Council of Ministers could not do exactly how they pleased as they needed the Duma's approval, especially for political or domestic reforms. The clash between the Tsar and the Duma was most evident in the first two Dumas.

    DumaDatesPolitical partiesDissolution
    First May - July 1906Kadets - centrist liberal party composed of the professional classes. They wished for an 8 hour working day, universal suffrage, and land reform for peasants while also compensating landlords. Trudoviks - socialist revolutionary party who supported radical land distribution to peasants.Tsar denied both groups attempts at reforms. The Duma passed a vote of no confidence in the Tsar's Prime Minister Goremykin. In retaliation, the Tsar dissolved the Duma, only months after it was elected. The Kadets issued the Vyborg Manifesto, criticising the Tsar's decision. They were forbidden from voting, reducing their presence in the Second Duma.
    SecondFeb - June 1907Octobrists - named because they supported the October Manifesto and constitutional monarchy.Revolutionaries - such as Bolsheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries, and Mensheviks. When the Duma began to promote revolution in the ranks of the Imperial Army, the Tsar dissolved the Duma again in June 1907.

    The Tsar demonstrated that his authority, preserved by the Fundamental Laws, could dissolve the Duma if it didn't agree with him. However, he recognised that in order to pass legislation he needed to have an amenable Duma. The appointment of Pyotr Stolypin as Prime Minister in July 1906 showed a new strategy.

    As President of the Council of Ministers, Pyotr Stolypin controlled the Russian government and was the closest parliamentarian to the Tsar. He was interested in reinstating the Tsar's autocratic rule and passing domestic reforms without the involvement of a democratically elected body - the Duma. Stolypin used the clauses of the Fundamental Laws to manipulate the electoral system and exclude both the State Council and the Duma from certain decision-making to pass his reforms. Let's look at his methods.

    Stolypin issued his land reform decree after the First Duma was dissolved and before the Second Duma was elected so that it would go through without immediate opposition. In June 1907, after dissolving the Second Duma, Stolypin used the Tsar's emergency power to change the electoral system contrary to the constitution. He only allowed landowners to vote and reduced the voting power of peasants, workers and national minorities. This weighted the electorate to the upper third of wealthy citizens who were more likely to favour the Tsar.

    Duma Portrait photograph of Pyotr Stolypin the prime minister of Russia StudySmarterFig. 2 Pyotr Stolypin, Russian Prime Minister from 1906 until 1911, when he was assassinated.

    Through his manipulation of the Fundamental Laws, Stolypin was able to influence the voting for the Third Duma so it constituted more Tsarists and it was thus easier to pass legislation. In June 1910, the Duma legislated Stolypin's land reforms. In March 1911, Stolypin influenced the Tsar to suspend both the State Council and the Duma in order to pass new legislation to instate zemstvas in Poland in order to gain more Tsarist voters. This gained him more unpopularity as he directly contravened the constitution.

    In September 1911, Stolypin was assassinated by a Socialist Revolutionary, demonstrating his unpopularity with the reformers and radicals as he blatantly disregarded the Russian constitutional governance.

    Did you know? Amongst Stolypin's decrees was the increasing power of court-martials. He executed thousands of the Tsar's radical opposition of "rebels" and "terrorists". The repression became so significant that the hangman's noose was renamed "Stolypin's Necktie" to symbolise the sheer number of dissidents he executed.

    Liberal Reformists and Revolutionaries

    The First and Second Dumas consisted of many Kadets and Revolutionaries and hence had radical support. After they were dissolved and Stolypin changed the electoral system to favour Tsarist-leaning Duma members, Revolutionaries opposed the Third Duma.

    The Fourth Duma was elected in November 1912 but at this point Stolypin had been assassinated. The Duma consisted of Liberal Octobrists and Socialists who often clashed and made policy difficult. Although the government was still considered to favour the Tsar, when Russia entered the First World War in July 1914, the Duma began to oppose the Tsar's incompetence at both fighting the war and providing for the country.

    After the 1917 February Revolution, the Duma and the revolutionary Petrograd Soviet effectively co-ruled Russia, demonstrating a semi-working relationship between the Liberal reformers and the Revolutionaries. The Provisional Government was set up and the Tsar abdicated. Initially, Liberal reformer Prince Lvov headed the Provisional government and he was succeeded by Socialist Revolutionary Alexander Kerensky.

    The Provisional Government had the intention of establishing a new democratic constitution but only after the First World War. The Bolsheviks wanted a communist Russia and exit from the war, so the Bolshevik Revolution overthrew the Provisional Government in October 1917.

    Russian Developments under the Duma

    Due to the ambiguity and abuse of the Fundamental Laws, the Duma had very limited power to actually enact change in Russia whilst it was in session. The reforms to Russian society that occurred between the Duma years of 1905-1917 were passed because of the manipulation of the electorate to issue Tsar-friendly legislation. Let's look at some of the developments to Russia's economy and society whilst the Duma existed.

    Type of developmentPolicyEffect
    EconomicStolypin allowed peasants to leave their communes and buy their own land with governmental loans.Around 30% of peasants did this and became wealthier. As wealthy peasants were more likely to join the Kadets, this party began to support the Tsar.Land reform meant that Russia's agrarian output increased by a third and was able to better provide for the industrial workers in the cities.
    Social The original constitution only allowed men over 25 to vote, but after Stolypin's changes, this became an even smaller proportion of society, with national minorities, the working class and all women excluded entirely from the electoral system. The Duma failed to pass adequate labour and education reform.Despite the land reforms from 1911, many peasants still remained in poverty and were discontent with the Russian government. This was only made worse with the First World War.Workers strikes broke out against their poor treatment, and the Tsar's brutal put down of protesters with the Imperial Army only made opposition worse.

    Duma WWI

    Russia entered the First World War in July 1914 and was initially seen as a matter of nationalist pride to fight for Russia. However, this soon evaporated as the Tsar's poor management of the country and the war left many disillusioned with him.

    The War meant that the peasants' resources was heavily redirected to the Imperial Army. This resulted in hunger and increased prices for food. The Russian Army was weaker than the Germany's, meaning that Russia suffered heavy losses and had the highest number of casualties than any other country during WWI. This made the war very unpopular with the Russian population, and as the Tsar was leading it, opposition turned against him.

    Duma Liberty Loan propaganda poster issued by Provisional Government StudySmarterFig. 3 Poster from the first Provisional Government, encouraging the Russian public to take out war bonds to support the Russian army.

    The slowly improving Russian economy was flattened by the costs of war, which also created unrest with the working classes who suffered the most in this period. The economic and social costs of WWI led to protests against the Tsar. The unrest erupted in the 1917 February Revolution and eventually led to the Tsar's abdication in March 1917.

    The Duma remained in session and elected a Provisional Government to lead Russia, but the Bolshevik intention to withdraw Russia from the war led to the Government's overthrow and the establishment of the Soviet Government in October 1917. A Duma was not established again until 1994 after Soviet rule had ended in 1991.

    Duma - Key takeaways

    • The Duma was set up in 1905 under the October Manifesto and made Russia a constitutional monarchy. The First Duma was elected in May 1906 but had its powers limited by the Tsar.
    • The First and Second Duma were too radical for the Tsar, so he dissolved them within a matter of months. When Pyotr Stolypin was appointed Prime Minister by the Tsar in July 1906, he made changes to the electoral system to make sure the Third Duma was more amenable to the Tsar and that legislation could be passed.
    • Stolypin introduced his own reforms to agriculture and industry in Russia. He also executed dissidents and became unpopular for contravening the Russian constitution.
    • The First World War brought more discontent against the Tsar as the working classes suffered from war costs and the redistribution of resources to the front. The Duma began to oppose the Tsar's poor handling of the War, resulting in protests and the 1917 February Revolution. The Duma appointed a Provisional Government in March 1917.
    • After the Bolshevik Revolution, the Provisional Government was overthrown and there would not be another Duma in Russia until 1994 after the collapse of the USSR in 1991.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Duma

    What was the Duma in Russia? 

    The Duma was an elected, representative governmental body created after the 1905 Russian Revolution which would advise the Tsar within a constitutional monarchy.

    Why did the Duma in Russia fail? 

    The Tsar legislated the Fundamental Laws in May 1906 which gave him the majority of his autocratic powers back. He could change the electoral system and dissolve the Duma whenever he liked. This meant that the Duma's electorate was manipulated by Pyotr Stolypin so that its constituents were supporters of the Tsar and hence practically restored his autocracy.

    What was the purpose of the Duma? 

    The Duma was meant to be a democratically elected, representative body that would advise the Tsar on issues of policy in Russia. The idea was that the population would have a say in how the country was run.

    How did the Duma cause the Russian Revolution?


    The 1905 Russian Revolution facilitated the creation of the Duma. By 1917, the Fourth Duma was against the Tsar's treatment of the First World War, and when the Tsar tried to dissolve the Duma it stayed in session. In March 1917, the Fourth Duma elected a Provisional Government amidst the protests of the February Revolution and convinced the Tsar to abdicate.

    How many Dumas were there in Russia?

    After the 1905 Russian Revolution, there were 4 Dumas until 1917. After the Bolshevik Revolution in October 1917, there wasn't another Duma in Russia until 1994.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which document reshuffled the Russian government and instated the Duma?

    With the Duma in place, what style of government did Russia seem to follow?

    How did the Tsar regain some of his autocratic powers before the First Duma in May 1906?

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