The Duma of the Russian Empire

A photograph taken at the First Russian Duma, taken in 1906

The Russian Duma was intended to act as a steady transition towards a more democratic Russia, controlled and guided by the Tsar.  However, this first meeting of the Duma (seen above) was far from a controlled change.  The Duma spiraled out of the Tar’s control and became a public and legitimate source of revolutionary change to the country.

The Duma was intended to be an all inclusive parliament for the people to attempt to somewhat self govern through.   The October Manifesto of 1905 was intended to allow the lower classes of workers, who had previously gone without representation, to be allowed a voice as a part of the Duma.  However the October Manifesto did not allow time for representatives to be selected, and in doing so it effectively cut out representation of the peasants.

The peasants had been kept from self governance for centuries, yet in their own minds they had proven themselves capable.  In 1901 when the country was devastated by intense famine and epidemics of cholera and typhus, the zemstvos took the lead rather than the national government.  This bolstered their self-confidence and belief of self importance.  As the years of famine passed and Tsar Nicolas II took the throne many zemstvos still believed in their own ability and priority t lead in their own governance.   Their sly segregation from the Duma left them intensely discontented.

This also meant that the majority of the representatives of the Duma were now those of the more educated and often wealthy classes.   Most commonly, members of the Duma might have been classified as members of the intelligencia.  This group of society more than any other sought drastic change from the Tsarist regime.  Unintentionally Tsar Nicholas had strengthened his greatest enemy.  This empowered men like Julius Martov to voice their views in a political forum with authority to speak dis-favorably of the Tsar and publicize Marxist political views.  The Russian Duma was the end of the Russian Empire.



Freeze, Gregory L.  Russia A History.  Oxford University Press, Oxford New York, 2009.

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5 Responses to The Duma of the Russian Empire

  1. This was a good overview of the importance of the Russian Duma to the end of the Tsarist regime. One good addition to this post would be an explanation of what events led to/ how the Duma came about.

  2. One thing I find most interesting about Russia is how in an attempt to actually turn democratic, the country became more chaotic as people sort of began to get what they wanted. In this context, I feel the Russian Revolution of 1905 and the years that follow show how important education is for any population. While the October Manifesto did not go as far as many of the people wanted, a more educated populous would better understand that political change takes time; the United States Constitution was written and ratified 5 years after the end of the Revolutionary War. Now, I can see where the Duma and other intelligentsia helped push for faster progress and that was an obvious factor, but the uneducated peasantry were becoming a large group with the ability to make their voice heard, even in an informal manner, leading to chaotic and rapid attempts to democratize Russia.

  3. The October Manifesto gave civil liberties and stated that “no laws to be introduced without the agreement of the Duma.” I didn’t find anywhere that the October Manifesto talked about representation of the peasantry or anything of the nature. Also, the Fundemental Laws that were introduced in 1906 does state that “the State Duma consists of members elected by the population of the Russian Empire for a period of five years, on the basis of rules governing elections to the Duma.” But i have not found anything that states the people who make up the Duma or the lack of representation.

  4. Interesting post about how weak the attempt by the Tsar was in trying to transition the government. The idea of having both a group of representatives alongside the monarchy was not something that could have successfully happened while Russia was going through such extreme social distress and change. Nicholas II probably looked to closely at the monarchies of Europe that had managed to create a Parliament alongside their long standing monarchs, however Russia was always far from similar to Western Europe.

  5. This post does a really nice job of putting social groups besides peasants on the political playing field. Your reminder about the importance of the zemstva is especially important. The easiest way to keep the OM distinct from the fundamental laws is to remember :1) there were plans for a duma before the OM; 2) The OM promised things but didn’t spell out the details 3) the FL did spell out the details, but the electoral laws were revised (a few times on short notice) to produce a legislature the government could handle. So the issue of representation is an evolving target.

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