Russia: Alexander II on emancipation of the serfs

Emancipation of the Serfs.

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  • Created by: juddr12
  • Created on: 24-01-15 10:38

Alexander II's Upbringing

  • Alexander was tutored by a poet, who taught him kindly, wisely and humanely. Alexander was said to have acquired his tutor's sympathy for others, which is why, although the law continued with autocracy since the early 1800s, he felt like he represented the people.
  • Alexander, like all other Tsars, saw his subjects as "children" and was seen as their "little father".
  • Alexander once visited one of the worser parts of Russia and viewed the horrible serfdom.
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Russia in 1855 (1)

Since 1802, Russia had an autocracy.

Ministers and people in the "state council" could only advise the Tsar privately and he had no obligation to listen to them. Luckily, Alexander II was quite liberal, and, as you will see, ready for reform. The state council existed from 1810.

Compared to Britain, Russia was far behind:

  • 80% of Russia's population were Serfs.
  • Russia had an autocratic system; had no representative democracy.
  • Russia had horrible working and living environments.
  • Education was for the nobility only (until 1863).
  • They had previously lost the Crimean war because there was only one musket per two people and it was difficult to move the soldiers because Russia was so big.
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Russia in 1855 (2)

Alexander knew that things needed to change because of the humiliation of the Crimean war (in 1854), the sight of serfdom in Siberia, the public pressure, the 300 revolutions that were hard to fight, the missing land owners (suspected killings from peasants) and the economy's agricultural base.

There were many types of opposing groups with strong minds. As examples, the westerners and theslavophiles. The westerners wanted to modernise like western countries, while slavophiles wanted to modernise in Russia's own manner.

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Serfdom (1)

Serfs were like the slaves in Russia. Landowners owned them, as well as the land that they worked on. A lord could do anything, but murder a serf. State serfs lived on the Tsar's land. 

There are different types of serfs:

  • Obrok serfs paid rent with the money they earned from their landowner, if they paid them, and they could use the excess money to begin a trade. However, many landowners would raise the rent if the serfs began to become successful.
  • Barschina serfs paid with their labour. They would usually get fed by their landowners too, but they had NO excess money. However, these usually worked 3 days for their landlord, and 4 days for themselves on their own strip of land.
  • Domestic serfs were used to make yourself look wealthy. Noblemen would have many of these and were usually paid more and would have more freedom because the lord would use them to wait on their hand and foot. They were usually fed and housed by their lord.

"Mirs" were ran by village elders that distributed farming land to serfs. Later they are ran by volosts and play a larger role in a serfs life.

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Serfdom (2)

Alexander II wanted to abolish serfdom and tried several times to do this:

  • 1803 - Alexander made it legal to sell land to peasants.
  • 1816-1819 - Estonia abolished serfdom but granted no free land to the stranded serfs.
  • 1842 - "Law of Obligated Peasants" - the landlords could set side laws to separate their land to the serfs if they pleased.
  • 1847 - serfs could be free if they bought their an estate at a free auction.
  • 1856 - Alexander II announced the freedom of serfs who fought in the war. However, he delayed this because he wanted a "broader and all-embracing measure", which means that he was contemplating whether to remove all serfdom. The nobility wouldn't like this idea because they owned serfs themselves. 
  • 1861-1863 - Serfs were legally free, because they could marry and own their own land. They had immediate ownership over their house and the land that surrounded them, but they remained subject to their landlords and they still had to farm the same land.
  • 1863 (Temporary Obligation) - Landlords had to sell land and the serfs had to buy it. Legal ties between peasants and landowners were cut.
  • (Redemption Operation) - Economic ties were cut. Government paid the landlords immediate payment through state bonds. However, the peasants were to pay redemption payments over 49 years. 
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"Why Alexander II emancipated the serfs"

Economy wasn't strong

  • Ran on agriculture.
  • Offered limited trade.
  • Serfs would hinder movement of workers to factories.
  • 54 million roubles debt.

Wanted to modernise the army

  • Lost the Crimean war.
  • 1 musket between two soldiers.
  • Fought by weak serfs.

Increasing pressure from the public

  • 300 serf revolutions up to the Crimean war.
  • Serfs had no incentive to work.
  • Serfs were mad about the war.
  • 80% of Russia was peasantry.
  • Intellegentsia.
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Impact of emancipation in 1861: Peasantry

  • State serfs had to wait until 1866 until they became free.
  • 49 years of redemption payments at 6.6% interest.
  • They had to remain in their land until they had paid their redemption payments.
  • Serfs could use communal open fields.
  • Kulaks were astute serfs that sold and bought land at a profit to begin a trade.
  • Volosts were hired by mirs to supervise them.
  • They were now allowed, after paying redemption payments, to move to a city and work more industrially.
  • Some serfs didn't like that they had to pay for their land, when they were perfectly happy with how it was before. If they refused to pay redemption, then the size of the land decreased.
  • Landowners would sell land higher than its original market price, with some going 90% over.
  • Peasants were usually only given 9 acres, which wasn't enough.
  • Peasants were tied to the land, because they needed to have a passport and the right from the volosts.
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Impact of emancipation in 1861: Nobility

  • There were no serfs working for the nobility as "domestic serfs".
  • The nobility still, however, ran the mirs which meant that they could guarantee themselves the largest pieces of land.
  • They could set the price of land higher than its market value, with some going 90% over.
  • There were 647 cases of rioting because of disputes over land-holding rights and redemption payments.
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