The Challenges to the Tsarist state

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The extent of change of Russia ,1881-1894

Alexander III and his policies

Alexander II, Tsar of Russia from 1855 to 1881, introduced important reforms, such as the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. Following Alexander II's assassination in 1881, the new Tsar, Alexander III, halted many of his reforms. The conservative Konstantin Pobedonostsev, known for the slogan, 'Autocracy, Orthodoxy and Nationality' influenced Alexander III. As Chief Procuratir of the Holy Synod, Alexander III was very powerful. He linked the assassination directly to Alexander II's reforms and argued that they encouraged radicalism, which threatened the existence of the Tsarist system. Alexander III launched a campaign of repression, and in 1881 thousands of people were arrested. Alexander III used the following measures to secure his power:

  • Reforming ministers such as Loris-Melikov were forced to resign.
  • A manifesto was introduced that emphasized the absolute political power of the Tsar.
  • The 'Statute of State Security' law was passed, and established government-controlled courts. Suspects could be put on trial without a jury.
  • Press freedoms were restricted. Fourteen major newspapers were banned between 1882 and 1889.
  • Foreign books and newspapers were censored.
  • The Okhrana became powerful and feared.
  • University fees were increased and only the wealthy could attend.

Failed assassination of Alexander III

Repression increased after the failed assassination attempt on Alexander III in 1887. In 1889 'Land Captains' from the landed classes were introduced to help rule Russia. They were appointed directly by the Minister of Interior. In 1890 they became members of the Zemstva. Central government control was also extended over education.  It was nearly impossible for the children of peasants and workers to gain an education beyond primary school. The government extended their influence over the judicial system, and after 1890, had the right to choose juries in court cases.

Extending power over Europe

Alexander III strengthened Russification within the Empire. In 1885, Russian became the official language of the Empire and all other languages were banned in schools. Jews were heavily persecuted within the Empire and experienced porgroms.

Economic modernisation of Russia

Alexander III knew that Russia needed a modern economy to compete with international rivals such as Britain. Nikolai Bunge became Alexander's Finance Minister in 1881 and in 1882 he reduced the amount of tax paid by peasants. He established a Peasant Land Bank to provide financial support to the peasant, which would allow them to increase the size of their farms and agricultural productions.

In 1887 Ivan Vyshnegradsky became Finance Minister. He introduced incentives for peasants to move to Siberia, where cheaper land was available, and encouraged foreign countries to loan Russia money for economic modernization. However, such reforms did not prevent Russia experiencing a severe famine during 1891-1892, when between 1.5 and 2 million people died.

The Impact of Witte's policies on Russia, 1892-1903

Russian economy and society

The emancipation of the serfs in 1861 did not resolve the problems of agricultural production by the end of the nineteenth century. This was very evident with the famine of 1891-2…


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