The Second Duma
After the First Duma was dissolved, the leading party in it, the Kadets, retreated to Finland, as they had been the party most vocal in their criticism of the government. In Finland, they issued the Vyborg Manifesto. This called on Russians to:
1) Refuse to pay taxes
2) Refuse to join the army
3) Support civil disobedience
However, the Kadets had done nothing to organise the workers so that these could be fulfilled. Their appeal for support went unheard.
In July 1906, Peter Stolypin was appointed premier. He knew who he felt he could trust from the 1st Duma and he called for a new one in March 1907. However, Stolypin had no intention of sharing power. He may have been a constitutionalist but he was not a parliamentarian. For him, a duma was a useful way of getting information and it did serve as an arena where issues could be openly discussed. It would also be a useful vehicle in identifying opponents to the government.
Stolypin, as with any Russian premier, could operate under what were termed Fundamental Laws. Number 87 of the Fundamental Laws allowed the government to issue exceptional decrees/laws as and when they were urgently required. This was copied from the Austrian Constitution and it was originally only used to ensure that no laws had to suffer delay during the legislative process.
Stolypin made greater use of Law 87 than any other premier in an effort to push through laws that he wanted. In particular, Stolypin wanted a duma that would be compliant. He did all he could to influence the outcome – including using the police to arrest known opponents under anti-terror laws. He also did what he could to actually make voting difficult, such as setting the time for voting to make it very awkward for voters. The Kadets who issued the Vyborg Manifesto were forbidden the right to stand in the elections.
The result of the voting for the 2nd Duma led to a decrease in the representation of the Kadets and Liberals in the Duma. However, by targeting groups such as these, Stolypin took his eye off of the groups representing the left wing. Both the Social Democrats and the Social Revolutionaries entered the Duma for the first time in large numbers. In the 1st Duma the Social Democrats got 18 members; now in the 2nd Duma they got 65. The Social Revolutionaries rose from 95 to 135. The Kadets fell from 179 members to 92. Out of a total of 450 members in the 2nd Duma, left wing groups accounted for 200 of them.
The results also showed that Russia was polarising at a political level as the number of members elected for the Rights rose from a mere 15 in the 1st Duma to 63 in the 2nd.
The leader of the Rights was Purishchvitz – a brilliant public speaker. He did all he could to discredit the work of a Duma heavily slanted in favour of the left. He aimed to get another dissolution or even the total abolition of the Duma. The proceedings of the Duma had no form of guillotine. On May 30th 1907, Purishchvitz spoke for 16 hours. By the end of this time, only his hard- core supporters were left in the building as all the other members of the 2nd Duma had understandably left. Purishchvitz then turned his speech towards issues relating to the failure of the Duma as an institution and why it should be abolished.
Such a political body was of no use to Stolypin. On June 16th, 1907, he dissolved the 2nd Duma. Stolypin gave as his reasons: there was a plot in the Duma to discredit the tsar, there was a plot to discredit the constitution and that members in the 2nd Duma were not representative of the people. Stolypin also announced that there would be a change in the electoral law. This new law was immediately announced – it is assumed that it had been prepared many days in advanced and that Stolypin was merely looking for an excuse to introduce it.
The new law took away the rights of towns to be individually represented in the Duma – they now had to be represented as part of a province, thus mixing rural and urban votes. Central Asia was disenfranchised in its entirety and Poland’s representation dropped from 36 to 14 members. The whole structure of the new system favoured the dominance of the rural rich who effectively ruled in their own locality and ran local governments – which answered to Stolypin.
The make-up of the 3rd Duma was what Stolypin had hoped for. The representation of the left was hit very hard – dropping from 200 in total in the 2nd Duma to just 67 in the 3rd. The Kadets dropped from 179 in the 1st Duma to 92 in the 2nd and to 52 in the 3rd. The Octobrists climbed from 17 in the 1st Duma to 131 in the 3rd. The Rights climbed from 63 in the 2nd Duma to 145 in the 3rd. With a Duma Stolypin could work with, it is no surprise that the 3rd Duma went the full distance it legally could – five years.