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Liberalization in Tsarist Russia: Alexander II

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in Tsarist
Alexander II
Section 13.67
Tsarist Russia after 1856
Outcomes of the Crimean War
showed the strength of the western
nations and the backwardness of
the “enormous village”
Huge empire (Poland to Pacific)
was unable to repel the limited but
efficient attacks of the west
Alexander II (1855-1881)
Assumed tsardom during the war
Not a born liberal but knew he had
to act
The European examples again
become the model for Russian
Two major perspectives of what
Russia was:
Westernizers: Russia is destined to
become more like Europe
Slavophiles: Russia is destined to
be unique (Just not sure what!)
Autocracy of the Tsar
Russia’s 1st fundamental institution was tsar’s
autocratic rule
But it wasn’t exactly like absolutism (Louis XIV fashion)
European conceptions were missing
– Like that spiritual authority is independent of state
authority (separation of Church and State)
– People have certain rights or claims for justice
(English Bill of Rights, Declaration of the Rights of
Man and Citizen)
Rule by law was substituted with ukase (arbitrary laws
created by tsar), police action, and the army
Developing technology was replaced with importing
technology and forcing reforms onto the population
“the Russian empire was a machine superimposed
upon its people without organic connection
(bureaucracy pure and simple)”
Those within Russia that were exposed to western
ideals objected to the pure bureaucracy
– �poisoned’ with foreign ideas (liberty, fraternity, just
and classless society, value of the individual,
freedom of consciousness
Huge government was actually afraid of its own people
Press and universities were censored
The Severity of Russian Serfdom
2nd fundamental institution was serfdom
Majority of population were serfs
Resembled American slavery
Serfs were owned, could be bought and sold,
used in occupation other than agriculture
(factories, mechanics, evening migrating city
Serfs that had some mobility had to pay fees to
the lord
Serfs lot depended on the personality or
economic circumstances of their owners
Gentry served as local government of sorts
Law did little to interfere with gentry privilege
over his serfs
Many conservatives and liberal Russian began to
feel that serfdom must end (mid 1800s)
Wasn’t profitable anymore
Made the muzhiks into “illiterate and stolid
drudges, without incentive, initiative, self-respect,
or pride of workmanship
Made for very poor soldiers
Western Ideas and Education
3rd fundamental institution (arose in mid 1800s
was the intelligentsia
Educated Russians were full of Western Ideas
Estranged from the government, from the
Church, from the uneducated peasants
And felt some guilt for the condition of the
Became the “intelligentsia: felt themselves a
class apart
Free to think, not free to do much
Made up of students, university graduates,
people who had time to read
They tended to adopt sweeping and allembracing philosophies
Believed that intellectuals should play a large
role in society
Had an exaggerated view of the influence
thinkers have had on historical events
Some turned to revolution and terrorism
Government responded with more repression
The Emancipation Act of 1861 & Other Reforms
1855 Alexander II became tsar and sought the
support of intelligentsia
He eased the controls on the universities
Censorship was reduced and followed by a great
outburst of public opinion
Polar Star of Alexander Herzen (a revolutionary) in
London gained wider audience
Resulted in outburst of public opinion
One point of agreement was the emancipation of the
Even reactionary Nicholas I (who hated liberalism
and used the “Third Section” (secret political police)
wanted to alleviate serfdom
How to achieve the goal of emancipation was unclear
Alexander II set up a special branch of gov to figure
this out
Needed to avoid throwing the labor system into
Did not want to ruin the gentry class
Serfdom was abolished by an imperial ukase of
Subjects of the government not of their owners
No longer could forced or unpaid labor be demanded
Act of Emancipation of 1861
• It did:
• Allocated about 50%
of cultivated land to
gentry and 50% to
former serfs
• Serf had to pay
redemption to gentry
• It did not:
• Weaken the gentry
• Now had possession of
ВЅ arable land, received
redemption $, free of
serf responsibility
Land allocation
Peasants did not own property in
western sense (private individual)
Peasant land became mir or village
(collective) property
Village was responsible to the gov for
payment of the redemption
Could demand forced labor from
members that defaulted on their
portion of the redemption
Could prevent peasants form moving
away (would leave them with burden
of paying redemption)
Mir periodically reassigned lands to
village members (depending of family
size) & supervised cultivation
Land could not be sold outside the
Discouraged the investment of
outside capital
Agriculture in Russia would lag behind
the technical advancements of the west
Inequality Among Peasants
Some had right to work more land
than others while others were lowly
day laborers
Some had inheritance rights to land
(not all land was controlled by the
Some rented gentry land
Some peasants leveraged their
position by renting land from the
gentry and hiring other peasants to
work (kulaks)
Others ended up displaced from
the land and destitute
None possessed full individual
freedom of action in the western
Legal Reforms
• Void of the gentry was replaced
with westernized legal system
• Edict of 1864 sought to alleviate
the evils associated with
arbitrary lord serf relationship
• Public trials
• Right to representation (with
lawyers of their own choosing)
• Class distinctions in judicial
matters were abolished
• A clear sequence of lower and
higher courts was established
• Training for judges on state
• Jury trials
A System of Self-Government
• Alexander II hoped to win over liberals and to
give upper and middle classes some public
• Another edict of 1864 established a system of
provincial and district councils (IE. Regional
• Called Zemstvos
• Members were elected by peasants and other
• Took care of education, medical relief, public
welfare, food supply and road maintenance
• Developed a sense of civic responsibility
among its members
• Some liberal members wanted a Zemsky
Sobor (a Duma)
– A representative body for all Russia
• Alexander II would not allow it
– Rebellion in Poland led by liberals caused
Alexander II to pull in the reigns of reform
Zemstvo having a dinner
by Grigoriy Myasoyedov.
Revolutionism in Russia
Several assassination attempts were made against
Alexander II
1866, shot at in 1873, 1880 missed explosion by
ВЅ hr
1881 Alexander was killed in a bombing
Revolutionaries were not pleased with the reforms
Reforms only strengthened the existing order
These dissatisfied intelligentsia began to call
themselves nihilists (said they believed in nothing,
except science
Took a cynical view of the reforms of Alexander II
Peasants were saddled with heavy redemption
Intellectuals fanned the peasant discontent
They had a mystic belief in the role the peasant
would play in a future revolution
Socialists came to believe that the future of
socialism was with Russia
Weakness of capitalism in Russia
Kind of collectivism was already established in
the village communes
Bakunin and anarchism
Ultra radicals Bakunin and Nechaiev
Promoted terrorism (assassination) to remove the
existing government
Pamphlet called People’s Justice called for terrorism
against tsarist officials and liberals too!
Catechism of a Revolutionist stated
that true revolutionary is “devoured by one
purpose, one thought, one passion—the
“Every that promotes the success of the revolution
is moral, everything which hinders it is immoral.”
Marxism rejects terrorism because socialism needed
no prodding (it was inevitable)
In order to stem the rise of radical socialist the Czar
turned to the liberalism 1880
Liberals demanded follow through with earlier
Czar abolished the secret police (Third Section) of
Nicholas I
Allowed more freedom of the press
Agreed to a pseudo-parliamentary system on March
13, 1881
March 13, 1881 Alexander II was assassinated by the
People’s Will
Alexander III
Alexander III (1881 to 1894)
Abandoned his father’s
idea of parliamentary-like
Brutally resisted liberal
and revolutionary interests
He did allow peasant
emancipation, judicial
reform and zemstvos to
Even Russia (with
autocracy on the right &
revolutionaries on the left)
was caught up in the
liberalism of the times
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