Problem of Reform in Imperial Russia

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Problems of Reform in Imperial Russia

  • Many members of ruling class believed that major reforms were needed
  • The major barrier was a disagreement about Russia's true character as a nation:
    • 'Westerners' believed Russia would have to adopt the best features of the political and economic system of Western European countries
    • 'Slavophiles' urged Russia to preserve itself as 'holy Russia' by glorying in its Slav culture and separate historical tradition
  • The autocratic structure of Russia was also a bar to planned reform:
    • Change could only come from the top 
    • No tsar would introduce measures that might weaken his authority
  • Significant periods of reform were a response to some form of national crisis or humiliation
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Local government reform

  • Alexander II was quite a reforming Tsar:
    • Emancipated the Serfs in 1861
    • Set up Zemstvos (network of elected rural councils) in 1864
  • Zemstvos were not truly democratic:
    • Voting regulations heavily weighted against the poor
    • Zemstvos in the hands of the landowners
  • Did provide Russia with a form of representative government:
    • Offered some hope to those who longed for an extension of political rights
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Legal reforms

  • Number of legal reforms introduced:
    • Simplify court procedures that had led to corruption and injustice through delays
  • Alexander II relaxed controls over the press and universities
    • This encouraged the development of an intelligentsia
    • NB: Intelligentsia - Cross-section of the educated, literate and more enlightened members of Russian society:
      • Wanted to see Russia adopt progressive changes
      • Critical of the tsarist regime
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Limited nature of the reforms

  • Alexander II saw reform as a way of lessening opposition to the tsarist system
  • 'Introduce reform from above to prevent revolution from below':
    • Reforms greeted with enthusiasm by progressives in the intelligentsia
  • Alexander II abandoned his reformist policies and returned to oppression because he feared he had gone too far
  • His assassination by the People's Will meant his successor, Alexander III imposed even more severe measures:
    • So oppressive that they were called 'the Reaction'
  • Nicholas II comes to throne in 1894:
    • Looked as if he were to be repressive too
    • Intelligentsia felt betrayed - many turned to revolution
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'The Reaction' - Measures

  • The Statute of State Security, 1881:
    • Special gov-controlled courts set up (operated outside existing legal system
    • Judges, magistrates and officials sympathetic to liberal ideas removed from office
    • Powers of Okhrana extended
    • Censorship of press tightened
  • Statute was supposed to be temporary but remained until 1917
  • The University Statute, 1887:
    • Universities brought under strict gov control
  • The Zemstva Act, 1890:
    • Decreased independence of local councils
    • Gov officials given power to interfere in Zemstva decision-making
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Early reign of Nicholas II, 1894-1905

  • Came to throne in 1894
  • Man of weakness and limited outlook:
    • Came to power when Russia needed a Tsar of strength and imagination
    • Never showed statesmanship the times required
  • His upbringing:
    • Tutored by Konstantin Pobedonostsev:
      • Chief minister in Russian gov 1881 - 1905
      • Procurator of the Synod (head of the governing body of the Russian Orthodox Church)
      • 'Grand Inquisitor' - repressive attitudes, conservative, distasted democracy
      • Believed only autocracy was good for Imperial Russia 
    • Nicholas took on his views
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Early policies under Nicholas II

  • Russification:
    • Began under Alexander III
    • Severely enforced policy of restricting the influence of the non-Russian national minorities within the empire - emphasised the superiority of all things Russian
    • Discrimination against non-Russians had existed but was previously well hidden - became more open
    • Affected Baltic Germans, Poles and Finns the most
    • State interfered with their education, religion and culture
  • Anti-Semitism:
    • 600 new measures introduced
    • Imposed heavy social, economic and political restrictions on Jews
    • Pogroms by the 'Black Hundreds' increased sharply - proved that the tsarist regime was actively encouraging the terrorising of the Jews
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Response to policies

  • Tight controls imposed didn't lessen opposition to Tsardom:
    • In fact, opposition became more organised
    • Number of political parties came into being
  • Many political and national became increasingly frustrated by the coercion and incompetence of the tsarist sytem
  • Russification:
    • Critical stage in development, cohesion and unity were needed
    • Russia treated half its population as inferiors or potential enemies
  • Persecution of Jews
    • Alienated 5 million Jews in Russian population
    • Many fled to western Europe and North America - carried a hatred of Tsardom
    • Many stayed and formed a large community within the empire
    • Large influx of Jews into anti-tsarist movements in 1890s - Jewish revolutionary 'Bund' formed in 1897
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