History HL: Alexander II (Tsar 1855-1881): The Tsar Liberator?

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Why was Russia defeated in the Crimean War?

Because of her backwardness

1. She lacked a modern system of communications (ie. she didn't have an effective railway system) so she could only mobilize 60,000 out of 1 million soldiers.

2. Russian industry couldn't equip soldiers with modern weaponry. 4% of Russian troops had rifles, in comparison to 60% of British troops. 

3. Russian soldiers served for 25 years, so they were older than the enemy. 

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What was the Russian economy like in the 1800s?

  • Only able to sell grain
  • Taxed all imports to protect domestic industry
  • Was stagnating, but only relative to industrialized countries
  • Was not industrialized (due to serfdom!)
  • Was once a major power in 1800, and had by this point fallen very far behind.
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What were the benefits of serfdom?

Introduced as a way for the Tsar to keep control of the country(remember how vast Russia is!)

1. Geopolitical: Nobility were the "watchdogs" of the population, acting as mini-Tsars in their own right.

2. It seperated the Tsar from the actions of the nobility - any misdemeanours would be blamed on them, not their "little father."

3. It meant the nobility had a vested interest in the system - a large number of serfs meant wealth, power, and influence.

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What were the disadvantages of serfdom?

  • No intellectual growth in the majority of population (In the nobility's opinion, there was no need to educate serfs!)
  • The economy was stagnating. There was no organic industrial revolution. This was because there was no capital, no workers (serfs are tied to the land), so there were no big cities. Additionally, as 80% of the population already had jobs, there was no cheap labour. 
  • This created a stable but static system. 
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What are the difficulties in abolishing serfdom?

  • Getting support of the nobles (Serfs would need the right to buy land from noblemen)
  • Where would the serfs live? (Remember that about 1 million soldiers would also be released)
  • What would the serfs do for a living?
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What was the Western military system?

Conscription system

  • All boys over 18 have a short service
  • Released into civilian life
  • Form a huge reserve army
  • This is less expensive
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Why did Alexander II introduce reform programs?

  • 1. To strengthen the Tsarist regime. The Crimean War showed how weak Russia had become.
  • 2. Economic arguments. While emancipating the serfs was necessary for industrialization (free labour), and Russia was relatively weak, there isn't  evidence that the government wanted to encourage industrialization. 
  • Marxist/Soviet view: Serfdom ceased to be profitable for nobility, so a new mode of production had to be introduced. This crisis in the feudal system was the main reason for reforms.
  • 3. Fear of revolution from below. The number of peasants revolts had been rising steadily.
  • 4. Power of ideas- liberalism. However, many Tsars were aware of the inhumanity of serfdom (ex. Nicholas I, Tsarina Catherine the Great, etc)
  • 4. Military arguments. Note the timing - right after a defeat. The government wanted to introduce a shorter term of service (like Western armies), from 25 to 6 years. This would allow for Russian soldiers to be younger, and for the army to be cheaper. Two options:
  • a. Return the serfs without emancipation. Angry ex-serfs with military training living in the countryside with no livelihood.
  • b. Continue letting ex-soldiers be free men, and with reduced term of service many soldiers would outlive service. A new social class would be created, destabilizing situation (like a.). Therefore, reducing the term of service would require the emancipation of the serfs
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Describe the emancipation of the serfs (1861)

  • Land belonging to the nobility and state was sold to serfs, who had to pay redemption payments for 49 years. Note that the land wasn't given to serfs, but to the Mir,who redistributed it frequently to the largest families.
  • Peasants were not formally free
  • The Mir became responsible for collecting taxes, and restricting travel of serfs
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What were the effects of the emancipation?

  • Massive population growth thanks to qualifications for gaining more land
  • Thanks to population growth, the average peasant land holding went down.
  • High redemption payments (in many cases unequal to actual worth of land) caused poverty
  • The Mir disencouraged innovation thanks to collective land. Ex. strip farming was still in use
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How beneficial was the emancipation to the serfs?

  • Judicially - serfs became free people
  • Economically - serfs were much worse off

a. Serfs not given best plots of land, which were kept by landowners

b. Land was overpriced

c. Ex-serfs were only given 80% of what they used to have

d. Land plots would not be individual property. The Mir decided what to grow, and when to redistribute land.

e. Serfs were not free to leave the village thanks to redemption payments collected by the Mir. 

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What opposition did Alexander II face?

1. Conservatives/nobility resented loss of influence and privilege

2. Liberals were frustrated at Tsar's refusal to carry through and create a national assembly

Alexander got caught in cross-fire as he didn't stick to one camp - he didn't reform enough to win support from liberals, and wasn't reactionary enough to inspire backing from the conservatives.

3. Peasantry believed that the land belonged to those who worked it, and were dismayed by the 'Great Disappointment' of the redemption payments.

4. Radical opposition

a. Nihilism/Populism unsuccessfully tried to reeducate the peasantry to political views (who actually turned them)

b. The People's Will, a terrorist group that tried to worsen the situation to create a widespread revolution. They eventually killed Tsar Nicolas in 1881.

5. Poland(harshly occupied by Russia). 1861 nationalist demonstratinos were met with concessions. However, Polish natinoalism remained too strong. In 1863 an armed insurrection broke out (both peasants and landowners) and was crushed by Russia. A policy of russification ensued.

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What are different views of Alexander II's success

  • Marxist: Emancipation reform wasn't humanitarian, and was about making nobility wealthier. Serfdom was already in decline.
  • Seton-Watson: Alexander tried to reach an unrealistic compromise between autocracy and modern reforms.
  • Westwod:Reforms were one of the most successful achievements of the Tsarist Regime. Note that the emancipation, legal, and military reforms would survive rule of Alexander III
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In what ways did Alexander II fail?

  • His refusal to create a National Assembly, and a written constituion meant that autocracy remained and Russia would enter into the 20th century with an antiquated political system.
  • Demands for reforms were sometimes met with repression, he ended up losing support from all classes of Russia
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In what ways did Alexander II succeed?

  • Emancipation of serfs smooth compared to US (4 years of civil war)
  • Number of peasant revolts went down

He might have done more if not killed by terrorists in 1881.

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