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The Third and Fourth Dumas

The Revolutionary Masses
A. Guchkov

The new electoral legislation had been enacted by the government in breach of the Fundamental Laws, which forbade any changes to the electoral system without the consent of the Duma and the State Council. There were few protests, however, and  the new law succeeded in its immediate aim. The make-up of the Third Duma (1907-12) was considerably more conservative than the first two Dumas. It was dominated by landed noblemen and the Octobrist party, led by Alexander Guchkov. The Left was markedly reduced, and the Kadet opposition had toned down some of its more radical proposals. For the first time the government found itself dealing with an assembly broadly sympathetic to some of its legislation.

The Third Duma was the only one to complete its full five-year term. However, though it managed to avoid controversies such as those which had brought the first two Dumas to an early end, the Third Duma found it increasingly difficult to co-operate constructively with the reactionary government. Towards the end of its term, the Dumas relations with ministers had markedly deteriorated, and it became clear that it would not be able to hold together a political alliance between the government and the landowners, officials and capitalists who supported the Octobrist party. The Octobrists themselves split into separate factions. The core of the Octobrist party, which had suffered major defections to the Right, moved close to the Kadets and became more outspoken in their criticism of the government.

The Duma Hall today: a conference marking the 95th anniversary of the opening of the First Duma. Taurida Palace, St Petersburg

The Fourth Duma (1912-17) marked  the end of the constitutional experiment in Russia. By that time it became abundantly clear that the Tsar had never accepted the dilution of his authority wrung out of him by the Revolution of 1905. In 1913 and 1914 he and his ministers seriously considered returning Russia to the political system that had existed before 1905. Another possibility which was considered was to end the Dumas authority in making laws, leaving it with only advisory powers. Thus, as Russia approached the Great War, Nicholas continued to see the Duma as an unnecessary and even dangerous institution. Even with the outbreak of war in 1914, when the Duma deputies called a halt to all criticism of the government and rallied behind it, Nicholas was unwilling and unable to enlist the support which  Russias new political elite offered for the war effort. 

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