How significant was Piotr Stolypin in attempting to strengthen Tsarism between 1906 and 1911?

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Olivia Clinton

How significant was Piotr Stolypin in attempting to strengthen Tsarism between 1906 and 1911?

Piotr Stolypin was a ‘reforming conservative’ who’s intentions, argued by Abraham Asher, were to “save the tsarist regime and uphold its legacy”. He was made prime minister of Russia by Tsar Nichloas II in 1906 and remained so until his assassination in September 1911. He first came to be noticed when he was the provincial governor of Sartov where he vigourously supressed peasant unrest. Just before he became prime minister, he was Mininster of the Interior, and he kept both roles. He was regarded as a ruthless prime minister that would go to any lengths to prevent the spread of revolutionaries. Stolypin saw the Duma as being a partner in building a strong Russia and his role within it was to attempt to strengthen the tsarist regime. He had strong opposition and so his political tactics were always complicated and favouring the uphold of the tsar, but with the constant motivation to modernise Russia. Stolypin’s agrarian reforms were to ensure that the majority of Russia’s population, the peasants, were supporting the tsar by attempting to improve their living standards. There is debate between historians to whether Stolypin was introducing land reforms and new Duma policies because he wanted to move Russia forward to be equal with other countries and by doing so limit the monarchy’s authority and share the responsibility with the government, or to get more support for the tsar to avoid revolution and his collapse.  

One of Stolypin’s attempts to strengthen the monarchy was through profoundly controlling the Duma.  The Duma was created through one of the concessions of the October Manifesto. The Duma aimed to represent the people and their rights, but it had its limitations, it couldn’t make laws or control finance and the majority of the ministers were working still for the tsar and not the Duma. Rachael Goodman is accurate in saying that the Duma “favoured [the] higher class and not the working class and peasants”, the Duma members were mainly appointed by the tsar and they were of high class and naturally didn’t care much for the peasantry and the working class of Russia. Stolypin, however, had more concern for lower classes, believing they were the way to broaden “the political nation”. He proposed, according to Geoffrey Hosking, to “combine civic and ethnic strategies”, which had previously be pursued separately, by carrying out social reforms and giving new ethnic and social groups a degree of shared responsibility. He also wanted to coordinate ministerial authority by turning the council of ministers into a cabinet, with collective responsibility and to amalgamate central and local government, including peasant institutions, into a single unified system but failed to do so as it would mean there would be opposition . P. Florenskii-Ikonostas stated that Stolypin wasn’t trying to limit the monarchs authority, but giving that authority “a broader social base” and a more “constant administrative framework in which to operate”. Stolypin’s steps to modernise Russia could be seen as limiting the tsar’s authority, but Stolypin’s persistence in having tight control on the Duma and its actions shows that he wants to keep the tsarist regime strong. This is shown by on June 2nd 1907, Stolypin had a ‘secret’ meeting with four kadets (members of the Liberal Party) in the middle of the night. They were trying to persuade him to change his mind on the dissolution of the Second Duma. Abraham Asher states that Stolypin “concluded that he could never operate with the Duma” because he believed there was a plot within the Duma to discredit the tsar, there was a plot to “discredit the constitution”, members in the Second Duma were not representative of the people, and Stolypin’s agrarian reforms were not being paid the attention he wished for and weren’t passed. But the meeting with the Kadets suggests that there were also “political considerations” to strengthen his reputation and also the monarchy’s. Stolypin was deadly serious about bringing justice sixteen of the “most guilty” out of the fifty-five Second Duma ministers asking Nicholas II to arrest them for “conspiring against the state”. The Duma appeared to have a fair democratic voting, but as Alan Wood states, Stolypin, “in flagrant violation of the fundamental laws” changed the electoral procedures establishing the Third Duma. The ‘rigging’ of the vote under the Electoral Law of 3rd June 1907 favoured the landed nobility and the wealthier urban classes and reduced representation of the peasants, lower class workers, less wealthy towns people and non-Russians. This ensured the majority of the Third Duma was conservative. There were 154 Octobrist deputies in the Third Duma compared to the First only having 17. The liberals called this “Stolypin’s coup d’état”. This proves that Stolypin used the power he had over the Duma to reduce the amount of opposition to the tsar, this is also apparent in the reason for dissolving of the Second Duma. His main requirement for the Second Duma was for it to pass his land reforms, and when it became clear that, like the First, it wouldn’t, he dissolved it. It shows that Stolypin wanted to move on and modernise, but still with ultimate control so as not to threaten the strength of the Tsar.

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Stolypin’s first address to the Third Duma was a speech on November 16th 1907. Robert Service says that he didn’t really “revoke the October Manifesto” in the speech, but this could be that Stolypin was carried away by that many of the Third Duma deputies were either conservative or aristocratic or both. In this speech he tried once again to get the Duma to pass the legislation confirming the agrarian reforms, suggesting that he was truly enthusiastic in enforcing them to help the peasantry. However, the was no fail to notice his renewed emphasis, right at the beginning of the speech, on governments ...

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