Alexander III

  • Created by: Louise
  • Created on: 16-04-13 17:32

Background on Russia


  • The size of Russia made it a difficult country to govern
  • It was twice the size of Europe
  • Geographically, it was diverse (artic tundra in the north, fertile soils in the south)
  • It also contained many different nationalities. (Russians, Ukrainians, Jews, Estonians, Georgians, Finns, Poles etc)

Role of the Tsar:

  • The vast empire was ruled by the Tsar - emperor and autocrat. He was "appointed by god" and had supreme power.
  • Unbreakable bond between the Tsar and his people. They were his "children"
  • All advisers chose by the Tsar himself - devised laws with the Tsars permission

The Civil Service:

  • Tsar picked his civil servants from a "table of ranks" This bureacratic class had becom corrupt and incompetent. Tsar also depended on the nobility who owned much of the land in Tsarist Russia
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Problems that Russian Rulers Faced

  • Military: Different nationalities, difficult to intergrate into military force. Little industry to equip an army. Majority of army made up of illiterate peasants.
  • Political: Different nationalities, languages, cultures and aims. Sheer size of Russiz. Difficult to control. Nobilitys hatred for pasants=lack of reform. Tsar an autocract, made decisions, one man with complete power. No elected parliment, no political debate. Conservative Orthodox churge, not willing for change.
  • Economic: Vast majority of population peasants, little working class. Reliance on agriculture, very little industry. Lack of economic development in comparison to Europe. Poor, backwards agricultural system. No effective banking system
  • Social: Different nationalities, languages and cultures. Illiterate peasantry resistant to change and living in poverty (80%)
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Maintaining Autocracy

How did the Tsardom maintain the Autocracy? The Police State: (Okhrana) - Kept surveillance on population. Maintained ban on political parties, meetings, strikes. Unlimited powers to raid, arrest and exile people. Maintained censorship of press and freedom of speech. The Orthodox Church: Tsar also head of the Church. Tsar had control of what people believed. Taught that the Tsar was "God on Earth" . Church controlled by government though Over-Procurator of the Holy synod (Chosen by Tsar). Government control of education and church finances. The Army: Huge army cost of 45% of gov expenditure. Relied on conscripted peasants for low ranks. High ranks reserved for aristocracy and nobility. Army used to put down revolts and disturbances. Army had special privelages. Financing the Autocracy: Main taxes from peasantry, nobility exempt. Caused resentment as rich peasants paid same as poor. 

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Alex II

  • Alex II was not a liberal or a natural refrmer but he was more reforming than predecessors.
  • Emancipation of sefs, he abolished serfdom. Although still had to pay redemption taxes, and the Mir was continued. Gave peasants freedome but Mir kept peasants poor and denied them full equality. 
  • Alex II created Zemstva - provincial and district councils. Election favoured nobility. 
  • Alex II reformed judicial changes, trial by jury - 1864
  • Attempted modernisation of army by removing some class privelages.

Essentialy conservative with some progressive tendancies. 

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What shaped Alex's III reactionary policies?

After Alex II's assassination in 1881, Alex III came to the throne. Alex III was a reactionary for many reasons:

  • The brutal assasination of his father had a huge effect on Alexander III. He was fearful of revolutionary activity after watching his father die. This motivated his reaction but also convinced him that reforming the system like his dad had done was a mistak. 
  • Alex III had been tutored by Pobedonostev as a child who was convinced of the need for autocracy. He rejected democracy and sufferage and shaped the young Alex III into a reactionary.
  • Alex III had been concerned with the reforms carried out by his father and what he saw as the weakening of the Tsarist political system. He wanted to reassert Tsarist authourity and rejected democracy. 
  • Alex III believed that a reactionary policy was the "Russian" way to rule. The Tsar was needed to guide his people and had yo be loved and obeyed. 
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Reactionary Policies: Control of the Nobility

Alex II had introduced the Zemstva as an elective system of local government. Alex III didn't trust them due to their liberal nature and the criticism of central government.

He therefore wanted to counter Alex II's reform by attempting to give control back to the nobility in a number of ways:

  • In 1889 - Land Captains were created. Members of the local nobility who were given wide pwers for law and government in the countryside. They could override the Zemstva
  • The independance of the Zemstva was affected by the changed to reduce the peasants vote. Its effect was to channel the Zemstva away from political affairs and towards education and social improvement.

Alex III was undermining the little democracy established by his father. It could be argued that the changes were an attempt to improve efficiency of local government and tax collection.

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Reactionary Policies: Judicial Changes

Alex II had moved towards a fairer justice system with trial by jury.

Alex III removed this and in 1885 gave the government and minister of interior more control over the judicial system. 

Alex III did this to strengthen the governments hand in dealing with opposition as the Judge would decide the verdict and these Judges were appointed by the Tsar. Therefore it brought the power back to Alex himself. 

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Reactionary Policies: Education

Clear attempts were made to confine lower classes to restricted education. 

  • Children from the lowest classes were restricted to primary education
  • Higher education (Universities) was for upper classes only
  • 1884 - The government were given control of the appointment of professors. They were appointed based on their loyalty to the state rather than abilities. 
  • 1887 - More control of universities, introduction of fees and banning women from study

Alex III wanted to restrict lower classes from knowledge and education in order to prevent the growth of a student opposition but it was not very successful. It led to in 1887 full scale riots and a growth in illegal political movements. 

These policies also restricted modernisation and economic growth which was needed in Russia.The policies had restricted the development of an educated workforce and trained bureaucracy. 

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Reactionary Policies: Censorship

There was a clampdown on intellectual activity and censorship was toughened. 

  • 1882 - temporary solutions placed futher controls onb the press. Schools, libaries and universities were restricted in the books they could stock.
  • Censorship was extended to the theatres and the arts.

There was also a clampdown on religious freedom for non Russian Orthodox citizens which worked in line with Alex III's Russification policies:

  • 1883 - not allowed to build centres of worship, wear religious dress in public or spread religious propaganda.
  • Attempts to convert Orthodox Russians was punishable with exile.
  • There was a growth in Anti-Semitism
  • By 1893 Orthodox priests had more influence and had salaries paid by the state
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Reactionary Policies: The Police and Okhrana

Alex III's determination ro wipe out revolutionary activity led him to extending police powers. Plehve was the chief of police and was responsible for both the police and the Okhrana. 

  • Police were given powers to invstigate any area of Russia for subversion.
  • Police wre given increased powers to arrest, detain, imprison or exile. This included criminals or potential criminals. 
  • The number of police were increased and there was a drive to recruit spies into the secret police.
  • Punishments were harsh and often did not match the serverity of the crime. Political exiles in Siberia found themselves alongside rapists and muderers. Exile conditions wer harsh with poor rations and hard labour.
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Impact of the Reaction

Alex III's policies attempted to turn back the clock and re-establish the Tsarist autocracy. Not all of his policies were reactionary:

  •  The 1861 Emancipation act of his father remained and it was even improved upon when redemption fees were reduced 
  • In 1885 the hated poll tax was abolished by the government and an inheritence tax brought in, a sign that the tax burden was shifting slightly towards the nobility
  • Urban workers saw working conditions improbe woith a number of factory reforms. These included the regulation of child labout and reductions in working hours.

Despite these attempts at reform they generally did little to improve the problems of the population. The Tsar's motives were clearly to hold on to power and reduce the growth of opposition. The reforms were more paternal (Tsar Father of the People) rather than any serious attempt at reform.

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Alex III carried out the national policy of Russification. It aimed to merge the multinational citizens of the empire into one nation and to restrict the influence of the national minorities.

Previous Tsars had attempted it but it was Alex III who formalised it, no doubt heavily influenced by his tutor Pobedonostev.

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Alex III's reasons for Russification

  • The Russians were a minority within their own emprire (55%) and were fearful of the nationalisms of other groups. For example the poles had rose up in 1830 and 1863 against the Tsars empire. This was despite Russian compromises to the poles including their own parliment and constitution. Other disloyal groups included the Jews.
  • Russification was also popular with the nobility and government members helping to re-establish control. Pobedonostev and army generals were particulary keen to see a repression of national minorities and the Empires borders and the regime secured. Pobedonostev was also keen on a policy which would limit the influence of non Russian Orthodox
  • Russification can also be seen as a continuation from previous Tsars. Russian leaders had always been aware of the need for unification within the Empire. It was not a suprise given Alex III's reactionary nature that the policy was formalised
  • Arguably the main reason was to maintain Alex III's own polictial control and autocracy. After the murder of his father he was fearful of any compromise or liberal attitude to minorities. 
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Russification Policies

  • Attack on non-Russian cultures particularly in Poland and Finland. The use of Russian coinage became compulsary as did the use of Russian language in government and education. The Finnish senate was reorganised to limit political influence. In Poland the national bank was closed.
  • In the Ukraine there was a banning of the Ukrainian language, theatres were closed and the Ukrainian Church was persecuted. 
  • Any uprisings were brutally crushed. For example in Georgia in 1892
  • It was the Jews who suffered the most. Anti-semitism was encouraged by ministers (Pobedonostev and Alexander himself) Most of the Russian population also shared this view and were encouraged by propaganda from the Russian Orthodox Church.
  • Since the 1739 Pale of Settlement, Jews had been allowed to live in an area of western Russia. It was here that Pogroms occured, In 1881 riots broke out, 16 major cities were affected where property was burnt, shops and buisnesses destroyed. They were encouraged by the Okhrana and the State did little to intervene.
  • The May laws of 1882, futher discriminated against the Jews forcing them to live in ghettos and giving strict quotas on the numbers allowed into universities and schools. they were not allowed to trade on Sundays or Christian holidays.

Laws were supporsed to be temporary but were constantly revised and tightened, many Jews left the country as a result - either by choice or they were expelled.

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How Successful was Russification?


  • The policy was able to convinc the Tsar and his government that potential internal enemies were being destroyed. This was witnessed as thousands of Jews were forced out of major cities.
  • Russification sent out a strong clear message about the Tsarist autocracy and its desire to maintain political control
  • Th policy proved popular with the nobility and the Orthodox Church who welcomed the opurtunity to strengthen their control.
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How Successful was Russification?

  • A large number of Jews that remained in Russia were drive towards revolutionary groups and in particular the Marxist organisations. In 1897 they formed their own revolutionary organisation called the "Bund"
  • Jews who did not turn to revolutionary groups joined the Jewish nationalist Zionist group
  • Russification damaged the Tsarist autocratic system by destroying the loyalty of many national minorities who had previously served the Tsar faithfully. Under Alex II Finns and Armenians had been treated well
  • The policies met with stiff resistance in certain areas such as Georgia and amonst Muslim areas, either organisied by the Gerogian Church or Islam.
  • In the long term Russification proved to be more dangerous than the nationalisms of the minorities that it originally set out to destroy.
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Why did Anti-Jewish pogroms break out in 1881?

  • Anti-Semitism encourage by Ministers (Pobedonostev)
  • Alex III was anti-semitic
  • Russification and Anti-Jewish feeling of the Russian population a
  • Propaganda of the Orthodox Church
  • Concentration of Jews in the Pale encouraged anti-semitism, resentment of Jewish wealth.
  • Short term trigger in 1881 - Railway contract, Okhrana used Jewish link to Alex II's assasination to cause trouble
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Alex III and Religion

Working in line with Russification was the principles of the Russian Orthodox Church, it had always preached loyalty to the regime and was an important prop of the autocracy due its widespread influence amongst the population. Alex III as head of the Church had enormous influence and saw religion as a weapon against revolution.

Reactionary religious policies:

  • Priests used by the state. They were expected to root out opposition and inform the police. Statements given in holy confession were even expected to be passed on.
  • Alex III extended Church powers, complete control of primary education. 
  • Religious books had to pass the Churchs strict censorship controls. 
  • Church courts given increased control over moral and social crimes (divorce)
  • Russification allowed the extension of Orthodoxy. Other faiths were banned and persecuted.
  • Forced Baptism - Muslims, pagans, catholics.

Despite these reforms there is evidence to suggest the influence of the Church was weakening. The growing industrial working class were developing an interest in socialism which preached atheist attitudes. 

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Growth of Opposition

Seeds of opposition sewn before reign of Alex III. Despite "reaction" revolutionary activity continued. Repression and russification drove many into revolutionary activity in Russia.

  • 1874 - 2000 young people attempt to convert peasants socialism. Growth of "populist" movement.
  • 1876 - Populists set up radical Land and Liberty group - splits into Black Parition (peaceful) and People's Will (Violent)
  • 1881 - People's will kill Tsar Alex II - no benefits as led to greater police control
  • 1886 - People's Will reform and plan to kill Alex III - plot fails
  • 1890s- Populism goes into decline due to police activiy, lack of funds and loss of peasant support. Most populists turn attention to helping peasants in 1891 famine
  • Marxism takes root in Russia. Das Kapital translated into Russian 
  • 1883 - Russian exiles form the Emancipation of Labour (under Plekhanov), and smuggle Marxist work into Russia. Plekhanov claimed that revolutionaries should concentrate on growing working class in Russia. Had to pass through the Capitalist phase first.
  • 1884 - Police infiltrate Emancipation of Labour.

Marxism was becoming more widely accepted. It was more popular and relevant to Russia due to increased Industrialisation.

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Successes in Strengthening Tsarist Regime

Alexander III's Successes in Strengthening Tsarist Regime/ Reasserting Tsarist Authority

  • Alex III's repression after his fathers death allowed the regime a period of stability which helped in the restoration of government control. 
  • The regime was not purely reactionary. A series of liberal reforms were introduced to protect lower classes. An attempt to increase the popularity of the regime. (Legislation to increase working conditions and cut down hours)
  • A futher attempt to increase support, series of reforms to win over peasant loyaly. Reduction of the unfair redemption payments.
  • The "Great Spurt" industrialisation process began, attempt at modernisation. It can be argued that repression was required in order to keep control of the social and political changes that industrialisation would bring
  • Alex III's reactionary policies won over the support of the ruling classes and the nobility. Reforms that gave back control to the nobility in the countryside (Land Captains and reduction of Zemstva independance, also Russification)
  • The Tsar is seen as a peacemaler, it can be argued that there was a lack of revolutionary activity during his reign. Extension of police powers were successful for example in rounding up the People's Will - terrorists responsible for Alex II's death
  • Vyshnegradsky was succesful in stabilising the economy. Helped with industrialisation and improved working class attitudes to the regime.
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Failures in Strengthening Tsarist Regime

Alexander III's Failures in Strengthening Tsarist Regime/ Reasserting Tsarist Authority

  • His repression was a failure in the long term. The extension of police powers turned many against the regime and encouraged many into revolutionary groups. Already opponents became more convinced of the need to overthrow the Tsarist system.
  • Russification alienated many of the Tsar's previous supporters amongst the national minorities, it created enemies in the previously loyal Finns, Ukrainians and Georgians. Th Army's brutal repression of the minorities uprising futher lost the Tsar support
  • Brutal Anti-Semitic policies drove many Jews into the revolutionary movement.
  • Peace was an illusion, there were signs of growing unrest towards the end of his rule including plots to kill him. 
  • Many of his measures increased the gap between the ruling classes and the people. This made revolutionary activity more likely.
  • Economic policies had bad consequences in the countryside. Obsession with grain exports caused the 1891 Famine. 
  • The attempted liberal reforms of Alex III were not successful and did not win over the populations support. They weren't meaningful reforms but acts of "paternalism". As a result Alex lost the support of many liberals who were disappointed after the strides made by his father.
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Alex III's most significant legacy is arguably the influence he had on his son Nicholas II. He gave him an idealised view of autocracy. The dominance of reactionary policies arguably doomed the system to fail

Short Term - Successful:

 Alexander III stablilized the regime after the assasination of his father. He also initiated the Great Spurt which would push Russia into the industrial age. In the short term the regime seemed peaceful - reduced revolutionary activity

Long Term  - Unsuccessful:

Repression caused long term problems for the Tsarist system which were not apparent until the reign of Nicholas II. His peaceful reign was a mere illusion. Many enemies were created by his reactionary policies and Russification.

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Lovely information, thank you! :-) 

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