Drafting Parliamentarianism

Featured Image

The first session of the State Duma’s seventh convocation took place in October 2016. However, Russian parliamentarianism is more deeply rooted in history. If we take into account the pre-revolutionary Dumas[1], it is the eleventh convocation. The eleven years of parliamentarianism in the Russian Empire saw the Duma’s political weight and ideology undergoing constant change, but contrary to its founders’ hopes, it failed in its main task to become a solid state institution, which could stabilize social life. However, it would be wrong to believe that the Duma’s work was a mere formality as intense debate on possible ways of the country’s development took place at the sessions, and the proposed projects showed the views of politicians of all stripes.

The elections to the First Duma were held in early 1906 against a backdrop of the revolution, which is why it included members of all political hues, across Russia’s political spectrum except the far-left forces. The two oldest parties, the Social Democrats and the Socialist Revolutionary Party (the SRs) boycotted the elections, considering them a ploy of the monarch and hoping that the revolution would soon overthrow the regime along with the Duma. The Socialist Revolutionary Party drew its support from the peasantry, with a quarter of the Duma seats taken by this social group. Slightly over a quarter of the parliamentary seats was occupied by the newly formed Constitutional Democratic Party (its members were referred to as Cadets), the monarchists and the moderate opposition of the Octobrist Party[2] also held about a quarter of the seats. The remaining sets were distributed among the deputies representing the periphery, intellectuals who sought independence or autonomy for their people.

Nearly all the deputies were inexperienced in politics, and many people from provinces lacked manners and cultivation. As a result, the Cadets, which was comprised of professors and journalists, who were accustomed to public speaking, started to rule the roost. The Duma was also headed by a Cadet, a 55-year-old professor from Moscow University. Sergey Muromtsev, an experienced lawyer, who received the academic degree of a Doctor of Science at the age of 27, was elected the Duma’s Chairman. He was an aristocrat, a man of exceptional honesty, and a staunch liberal, and enjoyed an excellent reputation. He delivered only one speech during his tenure, immediately after his election. He said that “a great task demands great effort.”

From the very outset, the Cadets sought to radicalize the Duma, holding it accountable and demanding regular reports. Then they called for its dissolution. Meanwhile they urged on addressing the acute agrarian problem. The Trudoviks (The Labour Party) advanced an even more radical project. As a result, instead of the five-year term, the Duma lasted 72 days.

The elections to the Second Duma were held in early 1907, when Pyotr Stolypin, a new Prime Minister, used a carrot-and-stick approach to crush the revolution. Despite some stabilization in the country, the Duma was even more radical because the SRs and the Social Democrats had prevailed over the Kadets, who received one fifth of the seats. Meanwhile, the monarchists managed to introduce some prominent political figures to the Duma. Poor management largely resulting from lacking authority and weak chairmanship of Kadet Fyodor Golovin emerged as the major problem of the Second Duma.

The Third Duma was convened on the basis of a new and more conservative law, which seriously infringed on the rights of Russia’s working class, peasantry and ethnic minorities. Whereas earlier one voice of a landowner was equivalent to 10 peasant votes, the new election law implied the 1:30 proportion. Consequently, 442 parliamentarians of the Third Duma[3] included 147 right-wing politicians, 154 Octobrists, and 54 Cadets. The Social Democrats secured a small number of mandates, with the SRs, given their calls for revolutionary and terrorist activities, being banned from the elections.

The union of some Octobrists and monarchists known as “the Party of Russian Nationalists” with a stable majority made the Third Duma more loyal to the Russian government. Thus, its five-year term saw considering 2.5 thousand bills submitted, above all, by the government, with the Cadets’ bills being constantly blocked. However, adopted laws were largely of minor importance and parliamentarians put off making any crucial decisions to tackle the urgent issues.

By empowering the police and the church to control the voting, Russia’s government sought to have a more submissive Fourth Duma. As a result, the monarchists and Octobrists again got the majority of votes, translating into 185 and 98 seats respectively. Although the Cadets won only 59 mandates, the progressives, a pro-business group which had split from the Octobrists, often sided with them. This fault line, as well as others, made the legislative body less governable as small factions and separate deputies alternately joined either the left-wing groups or the right-wing forces, which were both outspoken in their opposition to the government at that time.

World War I is acknowledged to have led to a fatal sequence of events laying the ground for the formation of the Russian Provisional Government, with the 11-year-old struggle for power ending up with the liberals’ victory. However, the Provisional Government found itself at the mercy of the tectonic changes in the country. In the light of the election to the Constituent Assembly[4], the Provisional Ministers officially dissolved the Fourth Duma only to fall from power later. Yet the Assembly was disbanded the next day after it met, thus launching a 75-year period without parliamentarianism in Russia.

[1] In Russia, the first parliament-like representative body (as it is understood nowadays) was convened in 1906 under the name of the State Duma.

[2] The Union of October 17 commonly known as the Octobrist party was a moderate right-wing political party which included large landowners, businessmen, and bureaucrats, upholding constitutional and anti-revolution views.

[3] The Third Duma was the only legislative assembly to serve out its full term in the Russian Empire.

[4] The All-Russian Constituent Assembly, Russian Uchreditelnoye Sobraniye, was a popularly elected body which convened in 1918 in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) to write a constitution and form a government for post-revolutionary Russia. The election to the Constituent Assembly took place in 1917.

Source: историк.рф

List of Comments

No comments yet.