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

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
  • 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

    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…


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