Reform and Reaction

The Russian Colossus

By 1815, Russia was the largest most populous nation in Europe. The Russian Colossus had immense natural resources. Reformers hoped to free Russia from autocratic rule, economic backwardness, and social injustices. One of the obstacles to progress was the rigid social structure. Another was that, for centuries, tsars had ruled with absolute power, while the majority of Russians were poor serfs.

Emancipation and the stirrings of Revolution

Conditions in Russia 1800's

Alexander II became tsar in 1855 during the Crimean War. Events in his reign represent the pattern of reform and repression of previous tsars. The war, which ended in a Russian Defeat, revealed the Country's backwardness and inefficient bureaucracy. People demanded changes, so Alexander II agreed to some reforms. He ordered the emancipation of the serfs. He also set up a system of local, elected assembles called Zemstvos. Then he introduced legal reforms, such as trial by jury. These reforms, however, failed to satisfy many Russians. T Radicals pressed for even greater changes and more reforms. The tsar then backed away from reform and moved toward repression. This sparked anger among radicals and, in 1881, terrorists assassinated Alexander II. In response to his father's death, Alexander III brought back harsh policies. He also suppressed the cultures of non-Russian peoples, called Russification. This led to official persecution called pograms, or violent mobs attacks on Jewish people. Many left Russia and became refugees.

The drive to industrialize

Russia began to industrialize under Alexander III and his son Nicholas II. However, this just increased political and social problems because nobles and peasants feared the changes industrialization brought. News of military disasters added to the unrest. On Sunday, January 22 1905, a peaceful protest calling for reforms turned deadly when the tsar's troops killed and wounded hundreds of people. In the months that followed this "Bloody Sunday," discontent exploded across Russia. Nicholas was forced to make sweeping changes. He agreed to summon a Duma. He then appointed a new prime minster, Peter Stolypin. Stolypin soon realized Russia needed changes, not just punishment. Unfortunately the changes he introduced were too limited. By 1914 Russia was still an autocracy, but the nation was simmering with anger.