Reform and Reaction 1855-1881

Russian history from 1855-1881

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Why did defeat in Crimean War lead to reform?

  • Members of intelligentsia raised questions about the state of Russian society and an army of serf conscripts
  • General Dmitrii Milyutin said the army had to be modernised - new way of enlisting soldiers
  • Inadequate communication and lack of railways held responsible for wartime failures
  • If serfdom was changed and the industry started moving forwards, it would open up Russia's economic potential
  • Needed to regain Russia's reputation as one of Europe's 'Great Powers'
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Liberals dissatisfied with Tsarism in 1881?

  • False Liberalism - Alexander's reactionary measures
  • The establishment of city councils and Zemstvos in the provinces had not created democratic organisations, as they were dominated by the aristocracy
  • Russia's economy was in ruins and the only plan in place were the redemption payments and taxes for the ex-serfs which the liberals did not like
  • Alexander II taking over, incredibly reactionary, feared by liberal groups
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Dissatisfied with emancipation of the serfs?

  • No use of rights to engage in trade, go to law, buy property and inherit property because of lack of education and money
  • Landlords had to hire laborers, usually ex-serfs
  • With the little land they had left they became subsistence farmers, no improvement on farming methods - just left to starve without protection of landlords
  • Ex-serfs were still tied to the Mir, who ensured taxes were paid, if they left (after the 9 years they were forced to stay put) they would be giving up their property and land
  • Compensation was paid to old landowners - 80% from the government, 20% from the peasants. However the peasants then had to repay the 80% to the government in redemption payments over 49 years
  • Redemption payments = feudal dues paid by serfs
  • Household serfs were freed but not granted land, no where to go but back to the household
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Alexander II decides on policy of reform?

  • Alexander was seriously aware of the Russian state - crucial in an autocracy were the tsar holds ultimate power
  • The Crimean War revealed weaknesses and corruption in the army - General Dmitri Milyutin encouraged emancipation
  • Nicolas I - "there can be no doubt that serfdom in its present situation in our country is an evil.."
  • 1840's, Benckendorff, Head of Secret Police, "the whole mood of the people is concerned with one aim - emancipation... it is better to begin gradually, cautiously, than to wait until the process is started from below by the people themselves"
  • Prospect of a peasant war, "they expect a liberator, whom they call 'Metelkin', who will sweep (nobles) away"
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Further reforms? Empancipation Edict 1861?

  • Emancipation legislation made changes to the rights and position of peasants and the landowners had wide implications on society and the government
  • The Milyutin Brothers (Nicholas and Dmitrii) pressed for further reforms
  • Peasants felt cheated
  • Landowners resented loss of influence
  • Conscript serfs were no longer an option for the army
  • To ensure the emancipation legislation was put into practise at a local level a local gornment had to be put into place
  • Nicholas I had begun bringing the Russian law up to date and now with the emancipation decree Alexander II had to demand further overhaul of the law
  • Russia's education system needed to 'catch up with the west'
  • To restore Russian prestige the economy needed a huge boost
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Government Reforms

  • 3 classes of voters - landowners, wealthy townspeople and peasants,
  • Each class voted separately - first elections: 43% nobles, 38% peasants and 19% other classes
  • The zemstvos had the authority to impose limited taxes on real estate and ,business; authorise work on roads, local construction and local welfare but had no police powers
  • First opportunity for peasants to speak out
  • Slow to take action
  • Nobles still dominated due to fixed voting
  • Earlier on in the process only 10% of those eligible voted
  • Three class system constructed according to wealth
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Legal Reforms

  • 1862 work started on legal reforms
  • Open trials, jury system, independent judiciary, justice of the peace system to handle petty offences
  • Judges paid good wages
  • Judges had to have the right qualifications
  • Amount of bribes fell
  • System therefore less corrupt
  • Did not apply to the peasantry
  • Juries could not handle cases involving treason
  • 'Special courts' were set up for 'terrorists'
  • Third Section remained
  • Censorship was partially lifted but not completely
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Educational Reforms

  • Harsh measures of Nicholas I were repealed
  • Schools were now open to children of all classes
  • Religion was no longer a bar to entrance
  • Higher literacy rates
  • Faculties had the authoirty to control their own admissions
  • Admissions were liberalised
  • Women were allowed to become teachers
  • Literacy rates rose to an all time high
  • Easer to modernise
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Army Reforms

  • The Crimean War exposed Alexander to the necessity of reform of the army
  • Earlier the bulk of the army came from urban poor or the peasantry who served for 25 years, where discipline was harsh
  • Reform established military schools to train officers, including specialist schools
  • Still the nobility dominated the officer ranks
  • 1874 conscription extended to all men eligible to serve at 20,
  • Following active service a reserve committment was required
  • Length of service decreased from 25 to 15 years
  • Better trained army improved literacy rates
  • Extremely harsh punishments were abolished
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Impact of Reforms

  • There was actually not much change
  • Zemstva only had local administrative powers
  • Agriculture was still unproductive - pressure as the population rose
  • Industrialisation was still only at an early stage
  • Problems in the army weren’t fully resolved
  • Control of universities had to be tightened again – the side effect of more students was that there was an increasing number of radical and militant thinkers
  • The economy was still weak– 66% of government revenues came from indirect taxation and 1/3 of expenditure went towards repaying debts
  • Censorship was made tighter again as there had been an increase in critical writing
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Extent of Reaction before 1881

  • Assassination attemption of Tsar on April 4th 1866
  • Gave conservatives and churchmen the ammunition to attack reformist policies they’d never liked
  • Alexander was persuaded to make new appointments of ministers in 1866
  • Liberals were unhappy with the reforms and Liberalism was leading university students astray
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Significance of Opposition

  • The Intelligensia – wanted greater independence and constitutional monarchy. Supported by students and educated Russians
  • Populists –tried to win over the peasants.
  • In 1879 they split into Black Partition and People's Will
  • The tsar retreated more and more from public life
  • Alexander II was assassinated on March 1st 1881 
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