Alexander 3rd (1881-1894)

Introduction

  • Alexander III came to the throne abruptly in March 1884, aged 36, after his father's assassination at the hands of The People's Will.  As the second son of Alexander II he had not been educated and prepared for the Tsardom as a child, until 1865 when his elder brother died and he became heir to the Tsardom.  Then the conservative figure of Konstantin Pobedonostev played a vital role in shaping his thinking about the role and function of the Tsar.  

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Context of His Succession

 Alexander III was greatly influenced in his outlook by the ideas of Pobedonostsev, his reactionary tutor.  Pobedonostsev was a perceptive critic of Western values, who argued that the democracy and liberalism adopted in Western Europe offered only illusory freedoms and as alien foreign ideas should not be adopted in Russia.  He believed that all opposition should be ruthlessy crushed and that freedom of the press and constitutions represented threats to the state.  Pobedonostsev proposed the strengthening of autocracy and tradition rather than further reforms, and supported the Orthodox religion and Russian nationality against any other religions or nationalities in the Russian Empire.  As Alexander III's tutor, elder and intellectual superior, Pobedonostsev exerted a considerable shadow over the Tsar's reign.

  •  The generally chaotic nature of the Empire as a whole following Alexander II's death suggested the need for strong leadership to steady the country.  Indeed, while it is easy to object to some of Alexander III's policies, it should also be remembered that Russia was still significantly backwards in many senses, administratively primitive and economically weak.  This is the context of Alexander's stern, authoritarian policies 

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Policies- local government and peasantry & social

  • Local Government: radical plans to destroy the zemstva completely were dropped, but the introduction of Land Captains and changes in the voting system served to strengthen autocracy and the position of the nobility in the countryside and reduce peasant self-government.  The Land Captains were introduced in 1889, and as they were drawn solely from the nobility, had total authority in local administration and could thus override the authority of the zemstva they contradicted Alexander II's earlier local government reforms.  Similarly, given the conservative dislike of democracy and elected assemblies, new laws were introduced in 1890 and 1892 to alter the electorate and reduce the popular vote in rural and urban elections - for example, in St Petersburg the electorate was reduced by 2/3 from 21,000 to 7,000 following these reforms.

  • Peasantry and social policy: the peasants experienced the Land Captains and other aspects of Alexander's rule as so repressive that some feared that he planned to re-instate the institution of serfdom.  A clear example of this repression, that shows Alexander's fear and attempt to control them, was his move in 1893 to ban peasants from leaving the Mir, placing a complete restriction on their freedom to move and strengthening the control the Mir exerted over individual peasants.  

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Other Policies

  • Powers of the State and repression: following the assassination the 1881 Statute of State Security gave the government more powers to pursue revolutionaries.  This gave the state the power to declare any part of the country under "extraordinary protection" and thereby ban public gatherings, close schools and universities and charge and individual for political crimes.  The powers of the Secret Police were also extended to allow them to imprison suspected opponents of the state without trial, and conditions in prisons were made more severe. 

  • Censorship was increased, as the government attempted to limit the circulation of 'harmful' ideas in newspapers, books and libraries, and education came under closer government control in the attempt to further limit opposition and revolutionary ideas.  Universities lost some of the independence granted to them under Alexander II, while the raising of school fees was a deliberate ploy to keep lower-class children out of primary and secondary education.   Podenostsev believed firmly that education for peasant children was both a waste of time and resources, depriving their parents of help at home while failing to prepare them for their future lives in agriculture.

  • Russification and anti-semitism: This policy of suppressing local cultures and promoting Russian characteristics was not invented by Alexander III, but it was appllied with new determination in his reign.  Worse affected by this cultural nationalism was the Jewish population, who faced anti-semitic prejudice and oppression.  Anti-semitic legislation banned Jews from the civil service, limited their education opportunities

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Results and consequences of his Policies

  • Supporters of Alexander III argued that his firm policies allowed a period of stability which allowed the Russian state to be strengthened and for Russian pride to be restored after the turbulence of the 1860s.  According to this view, the lack of revolutionary disturbances during Alexander's reign was seen as proof that his repression of opposition had been successful, and these supporters celebrated Alexander III as a great peacemaker.  

  • repression would only encourage the growth of further and more extreme opposition to the Tsarist regime.  The clearest example of this is the case of Lenin: the execution in 1887 of his elder brother, Alexander Ulyanov, for his role in a bomb plot to kill Alexander III, played an important role in driving the 17 year old Vladimir Ilyich Ulanov towards political radicalism and revolutionary Marxism, which would in due course have massive consequences for the future of Russia and the fate of the Romanov dynasty.

  • While successful economic policies led to improved government finances during Alexander's reign, this was achieved at massive social cost.  In particular, Finance Minister Vyshnedgradsky's focus on exporting grain to fund industrialization  - contributed to the severe famine of 1891-2 that cost the lives of between 1.5 and 2 million peasants.  Politically, the government's failure to respond effectively to relieve the suffering caused by the famine encouraged support for revolutionary opposition movements, while the important role played by the zemstva in managing the relief effort demonstrated a new 'responsible' liberal strand of opposition to the Tsardom, which in turn led to pressure for greater democracy.

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