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History

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‘The Main objective of the reforms of Alexander II (1856 – 1881) was to establish a liberal-democratic monarchy in tsarist Russia’. Do you agree? Give reason for your answer.

The Main objectives of Tsar Alexander II were in a sense to support certain aspects of Liberal Democracy in Russia but his main objective was to ascertain Tsarist Autocracy. I will be discussing what his reforms were and the events leading up to them and their influence and whether it improved Russia.

In Tsarist Russia, it was one of the largest land empires which covered one sixth of the surface of the world. It mainly stretched from Poland and the Baltic Sea (West) all the way to the Pacific Ocean (East). The Economy of the country was mostly a rural economy with agriculture as the main source for Economy. The large population had to be provided for and Russia also possessed other natural resources such as coal and iron ore. There were only a handful of main industrial developed towns (Moscow and Petersburg). The Society of Russia was ruled by the Tsar who held absolute power (Political) over Russia.

Tsar Alexander II came to power in 1855. The Crimean War (1853 – 1856) is important to take note of as this influenced the Concert of Europe. This was a league of monarchs who banded together to ensure that political and diplomatic was stable by ensuring that there was not even a single power that dominated another in Europe. This was to ensure a balance of power. Russia did also play an important role in the Concert over time.

The reasons for the reforms that were passed down by Alexander II was due to the Russian defeat at Crimean War on their home soil after three years of indecisive warfare. This was a massive psychological blow to Alexander’s regimes of invincibility and strength. He was always concerned about Russia’s lack of technology due to war and as a result he started towards internal reformation. If Russia was to compete with the West then Russian needed to be reformed. He needed to maintain the Empires stability and also to uphold the tsarist autocracy as was the norm for all the previous leaders of Russia. This was due to the Serf Uprisings in the country as friction between the serfs and the landlords (as warned by the Secret Police) would at any time get uncontrollable and would ultimately destroy and rip Russia apart.

In 1856, Tsar Alexander, requested the nobles to abolish bondage of the serfs and to allow it to follow its natural course until such time that it would abolish itself. The Emancipation of the Serfs in 1861 gave independence to them and they were no longer dependent on their landlords. This made them legal and as a result they were given the right to independence and to live their lives their own way. This emancipation allowed them to have only freedom in a technical sense. They were chained by debt repayments to the mir. The emancipation provided them with legal freedom without any economic freedom attached to it. As a result their living situation grew more terrible and poverty stricken. The result was that many starved and the control of the land prevented them from escaping poverty.

Alexander also reformed administrative and military reforms. The landlords had lost their rights to justice and the policing over their properties. As a result the assemblies established a measure of autonomy to the local government. The electoral system divided the voters into subsequent different categories which included the representation of the serfs/peasants but were ultimately controlled by the nobility. Self- government was then ever present in towns from 1870 and the system then was radically changed as juries were permitted and it was publicly debated and all the classes were treated by the Law as equals. The army reform was also created equal by the classes and the censorship was freed from many restrictions as were previously followed.

Alexander’s reforms did change the face of Russia drastically but the Tsar Autocracy remained untouchable. He feared that if there was a weakening of his power then there would be just chaos. Petitions were laid out to him in order to discuss the needs of the land but he refused to allow his Tsar power to be influenced by any other than him. He kept the Secret Police active that then showed that his power was still prevalent. His reforms unfortunately did not stop the revolutionary uprisings that took over and as a result he lost confidence in his decisions.

The Polish revolt (1866) was significant as it happened regardless of the concessions that Alexander had established at the beginning of his reign. His life was in danger in 1866 by assassination and this made his reforms to hinder and to slow down considerably and as a result repression started. He became influenced by many ultraconservatives such as the Minister of Education and also Count Dimitri Tolstoy. His ultimate refusal to go ahead and to think about democratic reforms at a much higher level gave way to anger and utopian ideas. They had dreamed that Russia would surpass the liberal countries through reforms and the progressive extension of the political rights of Russia. The frustrations were due to the realisation that they were lagging behind Europe and this meant that they rejected liberalism and turned to nihilism. They basically wanted to develop the right of the individual and emphasize human reason. In 1879, radicals formed a secret organisation by the name of the People’s Will and they were to assassinate government officials so as to retrieve support. Some liberal welcomed terrorism as a means to pressurise the government and to force the Tsar to give up on Autocracy. As a result, Tsar Alexander, become a sought after assassination target and as a result he was finally killed on the 01 March 1881. As a result the remaining government saw this as a means to change their support base. Alexander II was reluctant to the proposal of a national legislative council. The murder of Alexander destroyed any hopes of further reform and this in turn opposed the People’s Will of what they had intended for Russia.

In conclusion, Alexander II was known as the Liberal Tsar due to many reforms that he had carried out in Russia. Instead of removing the varying discontent of the Russians and ultimately strengthening his Dynasty, his reforms had undermined the traditional base of the support for the Tsarist Rule and brought in new classes who were opposed to Tsarism. The discontent of the serfs and the peasants were displayed by riots and revolts from 1862 to 1917. The assassination of Alexander displayed the deep gulf of antagonism which did separate the Tsar from the educated peoples of Russia. I agree that he tried to establish a liberal Democratic monarchy with his reforms but he did not abandon his Tsar Autocracy which prevented his reforms from taking root.

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