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Russian Reforms

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Late Eighteenth Century Russian Reforms

Russian reforms were not exclusion just to the late eighteenth century; however, the need for Russia to emerge from backwards of policies, administrative, and agriculture means met its mountain by the mid-1800s. The need to modernize Russia was apparent from the defeat during the Crimea War 1853 – 1856 that saw Russian borders erode back to eastern territories which left unattended defense against the French and British navy that could attack from the Black Sea. As with any monarch, reforms came from whom the ruler was but the reforms that the Russian people needed and paved the way to modernization first were the ideas of Peter the Great, expanded upon under Catherine the Great, and materialized during Alexander II’s wearing of the crown. First notion to mimic western cultures first came to pass during Peter the Great reign. Already established as a great land empire, Peter I did not changed ruling policies of past emperors. He did add changes in economy and culture by benchmarking western innovations. Peter’s first major change was in his military structure. Peter recruited bureaucrats from outside of the aristocracy. This led to the creation of his secret police force which kept the aristocracy in check. Peter the Great also created the Imperial navy; the council of nobles was disbanded and replaced by provincial governors that Peter was able to control. The tax system was reformed to place more burdens on the serfs. Serfs began to work in the manufacturing industries and operations. Peter decreed that nobles had to have shave beards and dress in western style. Finally, Peter attempted to invest in his countries future by promoting mathematics and technical subjects. After Catherine the Great took control, she centralized government authority by using the Pugachev peasant rebellion. Although she was brought up with French interests, her belief in a strong royal authority kept Russia from truly encompassing the Enlightenment culture. Catherine gave new power to nobles over serfs. She also oversaw the expansion of the Russian Empire into new territories gained from the Ottoman Empire and colonization migrated into Siberia and Alaska. Catherine partook in the partition of Poland. At the time of her death, Catherine grew the Russian Empire into a great land empire never seen before. She valued the Enlightenment but fear of rebellion of her people due to the French Rebellion, prevented Russia from taking part in this culture paradigm shift. During Tsar Nicholas I’s period, Russia maintained its tradition of territorial expansion. Russian maintained its authority over Russia thanks to Congress of Vienna treaty Nicholas put down a revolt by Polish landowners that was supported by liberal aristocrats and loyal Catholics. After the defeat of this revolt, Russia turned its attention to the Ottoman Empire and the notion of overtaking Constantinople which would provide Nicholas access to the Mediterranean Sea. A stalemate resulted when France and Britain gave support to the Turks, not from apathy but fear from Russian expansion if Constantinople fell. Nicholas’s attention quickly turned to internal domestic affairs in regards to lagging economic and social problems. With Russian failing to keep pace with its western neighbors, the economic need for Russia to rely on western products took a great hit in the grain market. By failing to update to more modern agriculture methods, Russian landlords turned to tightening labor requirements on their serf to maintain any type of profit from gain exports. Serfs were labor slaves to their landlords. They produced large surplus of grain to be exported to the West. In exchanged for these exports, western merchants gave the landlords luxury items. That aspect was not shared with the serfs. Most serfs remained poor, illiterate, and paid higher taxes. Overall, their conditions and society burdens got stiffer and harder throughout the eighteenth century. The onslaught of the Crimean War and enduring defeat finally made Russia realize the need to modernize so that Russia can be on the same leveling field as it bordering neighbors and adversaries. One major factor that Alexander II knew he must change is the subject of serfdom. For Alexander II to get Russia into the industrial age, he needed to have a mobile labor force. Some of Russia’s aristocrats believed that a free labor system would motivate the serfs to work harder which would produce higher profits. Alexander II knew that he must change the policies that affected the serfs’ lack of freedom, undue obligations, and lack of land ownership. Peasant uprisings incline during the 1950s, in large part to bad harvest seasons. Russia had over 22 million serfs that equaled 44 percent of Russia’s population. They were owned by 100,000 landlords. With Alexander II’s coronation, public opinion shifted to favoring emancipation, which many believed would advance Russia’s economics. In 1856, Alexander 11 spoke before the Moscow gentry and challenged them to consider emancipation. He feared that a great revolt for the peasants if they did not receive fairer treatment. He also introduced his new government policy, glasnost, greater freedom of the press and thought. In 1861, Alexander II issued his Emancipation Manifesto. This outlined that freed serfs must pay for their freedom collectively and established communes for freed serfs to farm on. The government felt that it was easier to manage a commune versus nomadic serfs. Although the decree of emancipation is admirable, the beginning of serf suffrage began. Promised futile farm land is not want the serfs received. Serfs received 18 percent less of land promised and 42 percent received land that were insufficient to maintain a lifestyle. This led to serfs rebellions and accusations that a really emancipation was being kept from them from their former landlords. Alexander II also transcended administrative polices. He created the zemstvo which was district assembly areas which forced local gentry and peasants to reach compromised. The zemstvo was responsible for education, medical, and infrastructure. They also went recruiting for teachers, doctors, other professionals. Along with the zemstvo, the legal system was reformed. The judiciary became a separate branch of government. Courts were more transparent and to be equal of justice regardless of society class. Trial by jury was established. Investment in the Industrial Age emerged with the expansion of the Russian railroads. This allowed for farmers to import crops further distances and kept cost at a reasonable rate. The railroad allowed for Russian to expand grain and mineral mining exports which led to more revenue to invest in more industrialization. In 1860, Russian only had about 1,200 miles of track laid. By 1880, the distance grew to over 15,500 miles of railroad tracks. Russian stagnation to invest in education of the Russian populace led to student rebellions and the downfall of Alexander II. Having fewer universities that France or Britain, students felt that governmental reforms neglected their ambition for individual thinking. Political activism increased since students were interested in the utilitarianism positivism and materialism of western ideologies. They resented authority and denounce the ideals of their parents’ generation. As more student protests emerged, government hostilities increased. In 1873, Russian students studying in Switzerland were ordered home which launched the “to the people” movement. After the defeat of the “to the people” movement, the “Land and Liberty” secret organization was created which led to more arrest of student protests. The “Land of Liberty” transformed into the “Will of the People” that supported the striking industrial workers. The “Will of the People” promoted democracy, worker ownership, peasant-owned lands, and complete freedom of speech. Some saw the killing of Alexander II as an opening for new leader that had liberal views that aligned with the “Will of the People”. In March 1888, that assassination was carried out as Alexander II bleed to death from a package that exploded at his feet. The conditions for Russian to have everlasting reforms for society change not monarchy change finally came to a head in the eighteenth century. First reforms were conceived by Peter the Great by invoking certain western ideals to increase economic revenue in grain production. Catherine the Great had a desire to lead the Russian Empire into Enlightenment but her duty to royal authority cut Russia’s full involvement into individual thinking. Only after the defeat during the Crimean War did Alexander II realize the crucial need for Russian to modernize to the same level as its enemies. Alexander II knew for Russian to capitalize on the emerging industrial revolution, the conditions of serfdom must be emancipated for increase production output.

Longman, Addison Wesley. World Civilizations: The Global Experience. http://occawlonline. accessed May 31, 2013.

Smitha, Frank E. Imperial Russia, 1856-1903. accessed May 30, 2013.

Stearns, Peter N, Adas, Michael and Schwartz, Stuart B. Russia and Japan – Industrialization Outside the West. accessed May 31, 2013.

[ 1 ]. Addison Wesley Longman, World Civilizations: The Global Experience. accessed May 31, 2013.
[ 2 ]. Ibid.
[ 3 ]. Addison Wesley Longman, World Civilizations: The Global Experience. accessed May 31, 2013.
[ 4 ]. Peter N Stearns, Michael Adas, and Stuart B Schwartz. Russia and Japan – Industrialization Outside the West. accessed May 31, 2013.
[ 5 ]. Ibid.
[ 6 ]. Ibid.
[ 7 ]. Frank E. Smitha, Imperial Russia, 1856-1903. accessed
May 30, 2013.
[ 8 ]. Ibid.
[ 9 ]. Ibid.
[ 10 ]. Peter N Stearns, Michael Adas, and Stuart B Schwartz. Russia and Japan – Industrialization Outside the West. accessed May 31, 2013.
[ 11 ]. Frank E. Smitha, Imperial Russia, 1856-1903. accessed
May 30, 2013.
[ 12 ]. Ibid.

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