RUSSIA & ERA OF ALEXANDER II (1855-1881)
Background and Personality
- Carefully trained to become Czar (unlike father Nicholas I).
- Well educated
- Traveled extensively throughout Russia and Western Europe
- Political Conservative by nature, but with an understanding that changes would be
necessary in some areas of Russian Society
- Initiated a wave of reform beginning with emancipation of serfs.
- His motives remain uncertain, personal belief or an attempt to avoid revolution?
Problem of Serfdom
- By 1850 labor of serfs was no longer economically efficient. As free labor more
common, it was clear that serfdom had become a drag on Russia’s economy.
- Peasant rebellions were becoming more common.
- Moral objections raised by Russian Intelligentsia (writer Ivan Turgenev)
- Defeat in Crimean War led to concern over military weakness. Lack of industry
and ignorance and poor health of conscript peasants.
Reforms from Above
- Pushed gentry to find ways to emancipate serfs. Made such discussions government
policy. Stated in Moscow Gentry Address of 1856 that he wanted reform from above
rather than upheaval from below.
- Emancipation proclaimed in 1861. Provisions to be carried out over series of
years were asf:
1) Allotment of land: Serfdom abolished for landowners’ serfs and state
peasants. Land split between gentry-landowners and serfs. The amount of
land allocated to peasants varied over Russia.
2) Serfs were expected to pay for lands they received. Government paid
landowners paid at once and serfs were to repay government over a period of
49 years. (redemption payments)
3) The Mir: In most parts of Russia, the peasants’ land sis not go directly into
the hands of individual peasants. Rather it was held by the mir, the local
commune running the affairs of each peasant village. The mir was
responsible to the tsar’s authorities for taxes, and redemption payments of all
members of the village. In many parts of Russia, the commune redivided the
land under cultivation every ten years. Peasant households that had grown in
size would get more land at the expanse of the other households.
- Loss of land: According to terms of emancipation, numerous peasants were entitled
to receive ½ the total land in their region. In practice, received far less. They were
depreived of some of the land they had been tilling themselves, and they often lost the
right to use formerly open woods, pastures and meadows.
- Redemption Payments: The need to make redemption payments to the government
became a burden peasants could not carry. The debt for unmet redemption payments
grew heavier until the payments were ended in 1905
- Inefficiency: Granting land to communes instead of to peasants, hindered
development of modern farming. Peasants were unlikely to work efficiently when
they might lose part of their farms when commune re-divided its lands every 10 yrs
- Difficulty of Leaving the Commune: Terms of Settlement made it difficult for
peasants to leave the commune.If commune had to pay peasants taxes, were
obviously reluctant to permit members to sever ties with commune. Those who did
leave, left heavier burden on those left behind.
- The Zemstvos: Organs of district and provincial government set up by law in 1864.
Represented attempts to bring effective administration to local levels. Also intended
to replace judicial and administrative power aristocracy had earlier had over serfs.
1) Election to Zemstvos was indirect and in a way that favored gentry. District
Zemstvos elected mainly gentry to provincial zemstvos. Were a new
development however because for first time, representatives of all classes worked
2) Zemstvos were restricted to local activities. Taxing power restricted. Watched by
police and govt officials.
3) Zemstvos were significant organs in Russian peasant life. Set up schools, brought
in doctors and agronomists. Most important achievement of the zemstvos may
have been to serve as a training ground for political leaders.
- The Legal System: Abolition of serfdom led to new legal system that featured
independent judiciary, trial by jury and the development of a large class of lawyers.
In practice, all Russians were equal before the law, but important exception was
made for peasantry. Separating peasantry from regular judicial system kept up old
distinction between free citizens and serfs.
- The Military was also impacted by emancipation. Old military system had
conscripted men from serf population only and required them to serve for 25 years.
Under Minister of War Miliutin (1816-1912), Russia set up a system of conscription
modeled on Prussia’s. All Russian men were liable for conscription. Service reduced
to 6 years.
- Education brought some liberal trends. Universities regained autonomy. Numerous
elementary schools established by Zemstvos.
- Treatment of Jews better under Alex II than Nich I. Practice of conscripting large #s
of Jews for military service, ended. Loosened living restrictions on Jews. Educated
and prosperous Jews could leave western region called “Pale of Settlement” where
they had been required to live. (Pale was 25 provinces, 10 in Poland and 15 in
Western and Southwestern Russia) Legal restrictions on where Jews lived passed on
from Catherine Great in 1791. Despite loosening, all but 5% of Russia’s Jews
remained permanent residents of the pale down to World War I.
Declining Pace of Reforms
*Remember Allan Todd’s conditions for revolution (P2). Society is not in state of
deprivation but in state of rising expectation. Apply to Alexander II’s Russia.
- Polish Revolt of 1863-64: Nationalistic revolt against Russian Rule breaks out
despite (because of?) granting of more autonomy. After revolt, Tsar cracks down on
Poland again . Emancipation of serfs in Poland included a generous land settlement
for Polish peasants that was designed to punish Polish landowners. Process of
Russification was begun forcing use of Russian at University of Warsaw and
- Assassination attempt on Tsar in 1866 by crazed student. Radical democrat who
wanted to bring down entire pol order.
- Post 1866 Conservatism. After assassination attempt, tsar became more
conservative. In areas of military and municipal reform, change continued. In other
areas, however, it slowed down. Were restrictions on press, and in the prosecution of