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Constitutional Experiment

The Revolutionary Masses

The social upheavals of 1905 had finally forced out of the government the promise to introduce a constitutional system with an elected parliament. However, Nicholas’ reluctance to allow any weakening of his autocratic powers ensured that the government’s attempt to devise a workable constitutional framework would be half hearted and incomplete. When drawing up the Fundamental Laws early in 1906, Nicholas did all he could to limit the powers of the Duma. The electoral system discriminated heavily against peasants and workers, elections were to be indirect, and votes were to be cast and counted by separate constituencies  (called curias), set up for each class or property group.  

Taurida Palace in St Petersburg, the seat of the prerevolutionary Duma

Moreover, the powers vested in the new legislative forum were severely limited. Ministers remained responsible solely to the Tsar and continued to be appointed and dismissed solely by him. The Duma had the power to reject only parts of the state budget. The new constitution transformed the traditional supreme body within the bureaucracy, the State Council, into an upper house, many of whose members were to be appointed by the tsar or nominated by the government.

Duma Hall at the Taurida Palace

The Tsar retained the power to veto all legislation, while Article 87 of the Fundamental Laws enabled him to rule by decree when the Duma was not in session. In addition, Nicholas insisted on referring to his own authority as ‘autocratic’, though he agreed to drop the word ‘unlimited’ from the traditional formula describing the sovereign’s power. This now read: ‘Supreme autocratic power belongs to the emperor of all Russia’ (article 4).

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Between Revolutions


Tsarist Russia

Pre-Petrine Russia
Peter the Great
Catherine the Great
Alexander I
Nicholas I
Alexander II
The Revolutionary Movement
Appearance of Marxism
The Last Romanovs
The Birth of Bolshevism
The Revolution of 1905-7
Between Revolutions
The Revolutions of 1917
Interpretations of 1917
The End of an Empire
Tables and Statistics

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