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Peter Carl Faberge

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Manifestation of revolutionary troops in front of the State Duma building during February 1917 Revolution (RIA Novosti) Manifestation of revolutionary troops in front of the State Duma building during February 1917 Revolution (RIA Novosti)

26 February

On February 26, 1917, the Emperor Nicholas II dissolved the fourth and the last State Duma of Russian Empire.

The State Duma was a representative legislative organ, equivalent to a lower house of parliament, while the State Council played the role of upper house. Nicholas II was the first of the Russian emperors to establish a parliament in Russia, and it was a concession made to the people after a series of strikes in February 1905.

On August 6, 1905, Nicholas issued the manifest declaring the establishment of the State Duma and granting it the right to develop and discuss laws and the state budget. However, this manifest only caused another tide of riots, because the rules of election to this Duma, written by the minister of internal affairs, Aleksandr Bulygin, included a paragraph about property qualification, allowing only the rich to vote. Popular uprisings started here and there, and soon the whole country was involved in the All-Russian Political Strike.

Seeing this, Nicholas resolved to change the regime to a constitutional monarchy. On October 17 the same year, the first Russian constitution, which included new election laws, was issued. This constitution, “The October 17 Manifest” proclaimed freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the right to personal privacy and other civil rights. Under this document, all the citizens of Russian Empire received the right to vote.

The first State Duma’s lifetime was only 72 days. Its first meeting took place on April 27, 1906 and discussed giving lands to the peasantry, deciding to share soil belonging to the state, the church and landowners - the latter to be compulsorily acquired. The other question raised was political amnesty.

On May 13, the government declared that the compulsory disposal of land was inadmissible, refused to carry out the amnesty and to empower the Duma. The Duma answered with “Project 33”, a bill in which all the lands, water and the minerals in Russia were proclaimed to be public, not private property. On July 8, an anxious Nicholas II dissolved the first Duma. Its now-former members started to call the people to uprising and were arrested.

The second Duma was in operation from February to June 1907. Though the deputies tried not to confront the government, in May 1907 they rejected a bill about punitive measures for antigovernment activities. The government charged 55 deputies with alleged treason against the Emperor, and this Duma was dissolved too.

The third Duma started its work on June 3, 1907, and lasted five years without any serious trouble. In due time it was dissolved, and the last, fourth Duma of the Russian Empire started its meetings. According to a now-traditional scenario, the Duma opposed the government, so when in February 1917 the bourgeois-democratic revolution began, the Tsar’s order again called for the dissolution of the lower house.

In spite of the Emperor’s decree, the former members of Duma continued their meetings. On March 2, they established the Provisional Government and headed the country in the heat of the revolution. When, on March 17, Nicholas II abdicated, the Provisional Government published its first political program. This government held power until October 25, 1917 (Julian Calendar), when the Bolsheviks overthrew it.