The October Manifesto and the Fundamental Laws

The October Manifesto

Bearded man  in formal dress
Sergei Witte was the author of the October Manifesto

Sergei Witte was an influential policy maker. He persuaded the Tsar to pass his October Manifesto. Issued in 1905, it promised significant political reform, although most of these promises were open to interpretation:

  • A Duma (elected national parliament) was to be set up. No law was to be passed unless approved by the Duma.
  • Censorship would be loosened and more freedom of speech encouraged.
  • The people would have more rights to gather together for discussions and meetings

Reaction to the manifesto

Reaction from political groups was varied. Liberals were satisfied with the level of reform in the Manifesto. Kadets (rich peasants) wanted reform to go further. They wanted a written constitution and guarantees of a constituent assembly. The Social Revolutionaries (SRs) were critical of the Manifesto, as were the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. It did not give any more power to the peasants or workers.

As a response to the 1905 Revolution, the October Manifesto succeeded in dividing the opposition, making the Tsar's grip on power more secure.

The new government

As a result of the October Manifesto and the promise of a constitutional monarchy, a new government structure was adopted. The Tsar remained as head of the government, but was aided by three permanent political bodies

The Council of Ministers was the most powerful of these. It was effectively the Tsar's advisors, elected by and answerable only to him. They created law.

The State Council, chosen by both the Tsar and the Zemstva, approved law created by the Council of Ministers.

The Duma, voted for by the male electorate would also have to approve laws created.

The Fundamental Laws

Passed in April, 1906, the Fundamental Laws were an edict from the Tsar. They confirmed the October Manifesto but also asserting the Tsar’s powers over the Duma:

  • the right to rule independently of the Duma when it was not in session.
  • the right to dissolve (close) the Duma at any point.
  • power to change the electoral system.
  • power to appoint ministers he wanted to the Council.
  • sole commander of the army and navy, giving him military power to crush any uprising

With the Fundamental Laws, the Tsar regained his position as supreme leader.