Peter Stolypin was born in Dresden, Saxony, on 14th April, 1862. The son of a large Russian landowner, Stolypin joined the Ministry of State Domains in 1885. Four years later he was appointed marshal of Kovno province. This was followed by the governorships of Grodno (1902-1903) and Saratov (1903-1906).
Stolypin's successful suppression of the revolutionaries in Saratov resulted in him being made Minister of the Interior in April, 1906. Three months later Nicholas II appointed him his Prime Minister. Stolypin attempt to provide a balance between the introduction of much needed land reforms and the suppression of the radicals.
The first meeting of the Duma took place in May 1906. Several changes in the composition of the Duma had been changed since the publication of the October Manifesto. Nicholas II had also created a State Council, an upper chamber, of which he would nominate half its members. He also retained for himself the right to declare war, to control the Orthodox Church and to dissolve the Duma. The Tsar also had the power to appoint and dismiss ministers.
The First Duma had a left majority consisting of Socialist-Revolutionaries, Mensheviks, Bolsheviks, Octobrists and Constitutional Democrat Party. At their first meeting, members of the Duma put forward a series of demands including the release of political prisoners, trade union rights and land reform. Nicholas II rejected all these proposals and dissolved the Duma in July, 1906. According to David Shub: "Stolypin began to look for an excuse to dissolve the Duma and the Bolsheviks furnished him with one. Lenin insisted that the deputies use their parliamentary immunity to agitate for an armed uprising. Years later it was discovered that these secret Bolshevik cells were infested with agents of the secret police. By keeping a sharp eye on the Social Democratic deputies, these stool pigeons were able to frame the deputies on the charges of inciting rebellion, thus giving Stolypin his excuse."
In October, 1906, Stolypin introduced legislation that enabled peasants to have more opportunity to acquire land. Stolypin's intention was to create a stable group of prosperous farmers (kulaks) who would form a natural conservative political force. People living in rural areas also got more freedom in the selection of their representatives to the zemstvo (local government councils).
At the same time Stolypin instituted a new court system that made it easier for the arrest and conviction of political revolutionaries. Over 3,000 suspects were convicted and executed by these special courts between 1906 and 1909. As a result of this action the hangman's noose in Russia became known as "Stolypin's necktie".
In 1907 Stolypin introduced a new electoral law, by-passing the 1906 constitution, which assured a right-wing majority in the Duma. Other reforms proposed by Stolypin concerning education and taxation were blocked by more reactionary forces in the government.
Peter Stolypin was assassinated by Dmitri Bogrov, a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, at the Kiev Opera House on 1st September, 1911. Tsar Nicholas II was with him at the time: "During the second interval we had just left the box, as it was so hot, when we heard two sounds as if something had been dropped. I thought an opera glass might have fallen on somebody's head and ran back into the box to look. To the right I saw a group of officers and other people. They seemed to be dragging someone along. Women were shrieking and, directly in front of me in the stalls, Stolypin was standing. He slowly turned his face towards me and with his left hand made the sign of the Cross in the air. Only then did I notice he was very pale and that his right hand and uniform were bloodstained. He slowly sank into his chair and began to unbutton his tunic. People were trying to lynch the assassin. I am sorry to say the police rescued him from the crowd and took him to as isolated room for his first examination."
© John Simkin, May 2013