Council of Ministers

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Council of Ministers


in prerevolutionary Russia, the highest organ of government. The Council of Ministers was founded on Nov. 12,1861, to discuss state matters and materials and annual reports on the work of the ministries and other government offices. It reviewed the draft projects of most of the bourgeois reforms and those of many important measures for combating the revolutionary movement. Its chairman was the tsar, who could submit any and all questions for the council’s consideration. Its members included the ministers, officials with ministerial powers, the chairmen of the Council of State and Committee of Ministers, and other high officials personally appointed by the tsar.

The Council of Ministers met irregularly—for example, it did not meet once between the end of 1882 and January 1905. In June and July 1905 it discussed the draft plan for the creation of a new legislative institution, the Bulygin Duma.

The law of Oct. 19,1905, reorganized the Council of Ministers. In addition to coordinating the work of the ministers and other high officials on questions of legislation and high state administration, the Council of Ministers was given responsibility for preliminary review of all draft legislation before submission to the State Duma and Council of State, for the discussion of proposals on the general structure of the ministries and on high-level personnel changes, and for confirmation of the charters of joint-stock companies. Its chairman was appointed by the tsar. The Council of Ministers thenceforth met regularly, two or three times a week.

After the Committee of Ministers was abolished on Apr. 24, 1906, most of its duties were transferred to the Council of Ministers. The council’s competence was broadened: when the Council of State and State Duma were not in session, the Council of Ministers could discuss draft laws and submit them to the emperor for confirmation as “Imperial decrees,” which thus took force without review by the highest bodies of the state, a procedure contrary to the law. Between the First and Second Dumas alone (July 1906-February 1907), the council considered 59 extraordinary “ukases,” including those establishing the counterrevolutionary field courts-martial. In September 1909, for lesser matters, the Little Council of Ministers, composed of assistant ministers, was established.

The Council of Ministers of tsarist Russia reflected a particular stage in the autocracy’s evolution toward bourgeois monarchy but differed from the cabinets of Western Europe, which were responsible to a parliament. The chairman of the Council of Ministers and the ministers themselves were responsible only to the tsar, not to the State Duma. On Mar. 8 (21), 1917, after the February Bourgeois-Democratic Revolution of 1917, the Provisional Government officially proclaimed itself the successor to the Council of Ministers.

S. Iu. Witte was chairman of the Council of Ministers from Oct. 19, 1905, to Apr. 22, 1906,1. L. Goremykin from Apr. 22, 1906, to July 8,1906, P. A. Stolypin from July 8,1906, to Sept. 1, 1911, V. N. Kokovstov from Sept. 11, 1911, to Jan. 30, 1914, I. L. Goremykin from Jan. 30,1914, to Jan. 20,1916, B. V. Shti-urmer from Jan. 20, 1916, to Nov. 10, 1916, A. F. Trepov from Nov. 10, 1916, to Dec. 27, 1916, and N. D. Golitsyn from Dec. 27,1916, to Feb. 27,1917.


Zakonodatel’nye akty perekhodnogo vremeni. . . , 3rd ed. St. Petersburg, 1909. (Covers the period 1904–08).
Witte, S. Iu. Vospominaniia, vols. 2–3. Moscow, 1960.
Eroshkin, N. P. Istoriia gosudarstvennykh uchrezhdenii dorevoliu-tsionnoi Rossii, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1968.
Tsentral’nyi gosudarstvennyi istoricheskii arkhiv SSSR v Leningrade:Putevoditel’. Leningrad, 1956.