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Concepts in the Russian imperial context

The terminology that was later used for parliamentary institutions developed on the territory of the future Russian Empire through reflection on both domestic and foreign institutions. The experience of the Grand Duchy of Muscovy proved especially important, but that of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania established an early reference point of a Western parliamentary history for the Muscovite and Russian elites and intellectuals.

The term duma (“council”), together with veche (“gathering” or “council”) and sobor (“gathering” or “assembly”), was used in early East Slavic texts dating to the twelfth century. Duma initially denoted the process of the princes of Rus’ taking advice from the senior members of their retinues.8 In the first half of the sixteenth century, the Boyar Duma (boiarskaia duma, “the council of lords”) developed into a key institution in Muscovy. During the infancy of Ivan IV, the Boyar Duma was in fact the main governing body.9 Veches, community assemblies, had survived until the early modern period only in Novgorod and Pskov, but there too they disappeared with (or soon after) the annexation of the two polities to Muscovy in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, respectively.10 The term sobor was mainly used for ecclesiastical assemblies. Although in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries there were several nonexclusively ecclesiastical sobors, it was only duma which functioned as a coherent institution at the time. Furthermore, later authors (inaccurately) used the term duma when speaking about the larger assemblies, which were called sobor or sovet (“council”) in the historical sources (see Chapter 4 by Ivan Sablin and Kuzma Kukushkin in this volume).

During the Oprichnina, the period of political violence in the second half of the sixteenth century, there were Boyar Dumas in both zemshchina (“the land”) and oprichnina (“the external part”) - the two parts into which Ivan IV nominally divided the Tsardom of Russia. Furthermore, the Tsar himself formally remained in charge only of oprichnina, which made the Zemskaia duma (“the Council of the Land”) the nominal head of zemshchina. Although its members also suffered from persecutions of the Oprichnina, the Zemskaia duma participated in foreign-policy decision-making as a consultative body. In oprichnina the duma became more socially diverse with the rise of the duma gentry (dumnye dvoriane), a bureaucratic social group, which developed in the chancellery (prikaz) system and counterbalanced the boyars." All this made the duma strongly associated with the bureaucratic centralization of Muscovy.

The Grand Duchy of Muscovy, however, was not the only major state formation in the European part of the future Russian Empire. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which, according to some sources, included Rus' and Samogitia into its official name, also left a prominent conceptual legacy." In the Grand Duchy of

Lithuania (by the sixteenth century) and in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569-1795), the supreme authority belonged to the sejm (“gathering” or “assembly”). In the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the General Sejm (Sejm walny) included the Senate (Senat) of nobility and the Ambassadorial Chamber (Izba poselska) of regional representatives as its two chambers, as well as the King. This made it a vernacular version of the “King in Parliament.” By 1573 the nobility had institutionalized the notion of an elected monarch, with the decision being made at an electoral sejm)3 Muscovy borrowed the concepts of sejm and rada (“council”), the council of lords which since the late fifteenth century limited the ruler’s authority, from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.14 Andrei Mikhailovich Kurbskii, a former courtier of Ivan IV and at the time his fierce opponent, used the term rada to describe the advisory council during the early years of Ivan IV’s rule in his book A Story of the Grand Duke of Muscovy, which he wrote in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.15

The Tatar polities on much of the territory of the future Russian Empire in the early modern period and the legacies of the Mongol Empire did not seem to influence the concepts pertaining to assemblies.16 Tatar institutions in Muscovite texts were described with Russian terms. The diplomatic documents of the 1550s, related to the relations with the Nogai Horde, for instance, mentioned a duma under the latter’s ruler. Similarly, according to a 1568 intelligence document, the Crimean Khan had a duma of his own.17

The Russian elites were aware of the contemporary early modern assemblies in Europe. The manuscripts, which were read to the Tsars and the boyars in the seventeenth century and were collectively known as the "News Columns” (Vesti-Kuranty), frequently mentioned them. In 1620, Vesti-Kuranty described the Portuguese Cortes, the assembly of the estates, as a sejm (rendered in Russian as soim and seim). The word sejm was also used for an assembly in Hungary in 1622 and for the assemblies in Lubeck and Mecklenburg in 1627. The same 1620 Vesti-Kuranty, however, discussed another assembly in Hungary as zemskoe sobranie (“assembly of the land”), which meant that terminology was not standardized. Other manuscripts used vernacular and loan terms in different combinations. A 1626 letter rendered the Dutch States General as staty but called the English Parliament zemskaia soim (“the sejm of the land”). During the detailed discussion of the conflict between the English King Charles I and the Parliament, the 1627-1628 Vesti-Kuranty called the Parliament sejm-, when translating the speech of George Villiers, the First Duke of Buckingham, it used both sobor and sejm and called the members of Parliament dumnye (“those of the duma").iS The use of multiple terms when speaking about the Parliament may imply its understanding as a foreign institution (sejm), which had no equivalent in Russia, but at the same time it may point to its interpretation as a “bureaucratic” body comparable to that of the duma.

The world parliament (parlament) was first used in Vesti-Kuranty (in the translated correspondence of English merchants discussing the English Civil War) in 1646 to describe the English Parliament.19 Historically, the use of the word parliament in Russian coincided with the direct relations between the Tsar’s envoy and

Duma, yuan, and beyond 17 the Parliament in 1645-1646?° The term parliament became continuously used for the English Parliament but was also mentioned in relation to an institution in France in 1649, probably the Estates General rather than a court (for which the word parlement had been used in France)?1

The early modern centralization of the Russian administration did not eliminate the particularistic approaches to governance in the Tsardom’s peripheries. The Mongolic term khural (“assembly”), which was used in the Mongol Empire, for instance, returned into the Russian political language with the Buryat and Kalmyk Buddhists who used it for their religious ceremonies. The expansion to the Black Sea region contributed to the continued use of the word rada. The Zaporozhian Cossacks, who originally organized according to egalitarian principles, used the word rada, together with kolo (“circle”), for the assemblies which elected their leader (hetman) and made other decisions.22 The Sich Council (Sichova Rada) became the supreme governing body in the Zaporozhian Sich between the Russian, Polish-Lithuanian, and Ottoman imperial polities.23 In 1654, the Pereyaslav Rada, which convened on the initiative of Hetman Bohdan Khmel’nyts’kyi, pledged the Cossacks' allegiance to the Russian Tsar, but the Zaporozhian Sich remained an autonomous polity until the second half of the eighteenth century?4

In the empire's center, Peter I replaced the duma with a new advisory body, the Senate (Senat), in 1711. Duma, however, returned to Russian political discourse later the same century as part of Catherine Il's efforts to further centralize the state. In the process of bureaucratic standardization, Catherine II abolished some of the autonomous polities, such as the Kalmyk Khanate and the Zaporozhian Sich, in the 1770s, establishing a unified system of provinces. The 1785 Charter to the Towns introduced standardized urban self-government bodies, the municipal dumas, which were elected by the triennial assemblies of prosperous urban dwellers.25

The debates on political modernization became especially prominent in the Russian Empire after the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) and the French Revolution (1789-1799). Alexander I approved the first modern constitution on the territory of the Russian Empire, in the newly annexed Kingdom of Poland, in 1815. The Polish Constitution established an elected legislature, the bicameral State Sejm, although the Russian Tsar (as the Polish King) remained the supreme authority?6

The proposals to establish a parliament in the empire as a whole used the terms duma and sejm. The bureaucrat Mikhail Mikhailovich Speranskii suggested establishing the legislative State Duma and further dumas at different levels of self-government in 1809?7 The intentions of Speranskii’s project had long been debated. Some viewed it as an attempt to limit autocracy, while others considered his State Duma a bureaucratic institution, tasked with rationalizing the autocratic government?8 In 1820, Nikolai Nikolaevich Novosil'tsev, the Russian official in charge of the Kingdom of Poland at the time, used sejm and duma interchangeably for the parliament which he proposed?9

Although Speranskii’s and Novosil’tsev’s projects were rejected, the Sejm of the Kingdom of Poland (abolished in 1832) and the Diet of the Grand Duchy of

Finland (Finland was annexed in 1809) can be seen as proto-parliamentary institutions of the Russian Empire. Furthermore, Speranskii used the term duma in his reform of indigenous self-government in Siberia in 1822, establishing the Steppe Duma as a council of clan elites for the Buryat-Mongols and other groups.30 A system of local self-government, which was reminiscent of that proposed by Speranskii, was introduced by Alexander II in 1864, but the new assemblies were called zemskoe (zemstvo, “local” or “rural”) sobranie (“assembly”) instead of duma. Soon after that, in 1870, however, municipal dumas were turned from executive councils into larger assemblies, which appealed to Speranskii’s project conceptually.31

Premodern and early modern terms informed the debates among intellectuals in the nineteenth century. In his The History of the Russian State (1818-1829), Nikolai Mikhailovich Karamzin, who was the main authority on Russian history in the first half of the nineteenth century, stressed that the Boyar Duma was an advisory body under the Tsar and became important in the centralization, and hence improvement, of the Russian state.32 The much more liberal historian Vasilii Osipovich Kliuchevskii, active in the late Russian Empire, supported such an interpretation of the Boyar Duma. He stressed that in the seventeenth century giving advice to the Tsar was not the political right of its members but their loyal duty.33

Karamzin used the term zemskaia duma not for the Boyar Duma in zemshchina but for the multiple larger early modern assemblies, which were called sobor and sovet in the historical sources. Thanks to Karamzin’s use of the term, duma was the name for a parliament, which a number of oppositional intellectuals proposed or demanded over the nineteenth century. Very few, however, claimed that parliamentary institutions existed in Russia prior to 1905. Most of those who did saw veche and sobor (or zemskii sobor) but not duma as comparable to European parliaments, although some continued to use the term zemskaia duma when speaking about sobors. Whereas liberals and socialists viewed the nonequivalence of Russian institutions to Western parliaments as a sign of Russia lagging behind Europe, Slavophiles and conservative intellectuals argued that duma and sobor were not and should not be equivalents of Western parliaments, foregrounding the supposed consensus between the Tsar and his subjects at such assemblies in the past and, possibly, in the future. Those who favored the establishment of a popular assembly, even when dismissing its equivalence to a parliament, foregrounded the need to improve the state machinery and, in the case of Slavophiles and conservatives, to establish direct communication between the Tsar and the people. More radical intellectuals insisted on the need for a constituent assembly (uchreditel'noe sobranie), sometimes calling such an institution zemskii sobor (see Chapter 4 by Sablin and Kukushkin in this volume).

Discussing parliamentarism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Russian intellectuals often used the term narodnoe predstavitel’stvo (“popular-representation”) when talking about the parliament in an abstract sense. Boris Nikolaevich Chicherin, who arguably authored the first theoretical work on parliamentarism in Russian, summarized the liberal understanding of parliamentarism as a consequence of the demand for freedom, which swept the peoples of Western Europe after the French Revolution, implying a natural yet repeatedly challenged progress.34 In the early twentieth century, the term parlament was also used extensively in the debates both on representative government in general and on its concrete forms in the Russian Empire.35

 
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