The Emancipation of the Serfs


The Emancipation of the Serfs


  • Crimean War- highlighted inadequacies in the military structure. Main catalyst as they exposed a need for change. Military reform was needed urgently, argued Dmitry Milyutin, Minister of War from 1861-1881.. He believed that the army needed to be modernised, and that only a free population could provide the labour needed to improve the army. Also caused peasant unrest through conscription.
  • Economic motives- free peasants would have greater incentive to work, leading to a grain surplus. This surplus would lead to greater export of grain, providing money for landowners and state, and so increasing investment in industry within Russia. Furthermore, the free peasants being able to move around would theoretically lead to more of them working in towns, leading to greater prosperity for the industrialising nation.
  • Liberal ministers/influences- Alexander II's tutor Zhukovsky was a Romantic poet and a liberal. 'Party of St Petersburg Progress' was a political circle of progressive nobles that came into prominence at court. 'Enlightened bureaucrats' included his aunt the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, his brother the Grand Duke Konstantin, and the Milyutin brothers.
  • Moral issues- there was outcry from the intellegentsia, who argued that serfdom was immoral and akin to slavery.
  • Peasant uprisings- these were mainly caused by landowners pushing peasants to produce more and pay higher rents in order to maintain their own incomes.


  • Some peasants, dubbed 'kulaks' did well from the land allocation, receiving good fertile plots of land that meant they could sell their grain, save up money and buy more land so that they could produce surplus grain for export. Others who sold their allocated land or obtained a passport to leave the mir moved to work in the newly industrialising cities.
  • Some landowners took the government compensation offered and used it to get out of debt. They then made money based off of investment in the new industries.
  • Many peasants however felt cheated because land allocation wasn't fair- some had fertile land, others had infertile barren land. The small allotments did not allow for the opportunity to use new farming methods that would have made their working more efficient, and they became more and more divided as they were inherited by sons. The mir system was highly traditional- so old farming methods persisted.
  • The loss of former benefits, such as having a landlord who was obligated to feed the hungry, etc, restrictions on travel and the burden of redemption payments (paid for 49 years) meant rural life was increasingly difficult.
  • Violent outbreaks were caused by resentment of the kulaks, who benefited from the new system. Landowners also resented their loss of influence, the newspapers ran articles about their disappointments.

Overall summary

"The emancipation of the serfs was caused by the Crimean War." Explain why you agree or disagree with this view."The emancipation of the serfs caused more problems than it solved." Explain why you agree or disagree with this view.


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