Should Alexander II Reform Russia?

History AS - Unit 1


Defeat in Crimean War:

  • backward economy compared to prosperous Western countries (difficult to maintain)
  • defeat in Crimean War - reduced Russia's power (Black Sea declared a 'neutral zone')
  • short supply of weapons - poor war tactics
  • bad communication system; lack of railways - improving would increase trade
Political Considerations:
  • pressure from Intelligentsia (Great Aunt)
  • 300 peasant uprisings - military conscription (peasants disagreed)
Economic Considerations:
  • Serfdom is holding back Russia's economy; should be abolished - limited capital accumulation + prevented movement of workers to factories
  • Russia in great debt (cannot afford to maintain extent of military features required)
Moral + Intellectual Considerations:
  • mistreatment/unfair treatment of peasants etc.
  • French Revolution - uprising/awareness of distress/turmoil in France


  • too much freedom; potential overthrow
  • abolishing serfdom - compensation must be paid/given to landowners - lose properties (+ Russia has no money to give)
  • must conserve autocracy - political stability
  • massive re-organisation required
  • does not want to repeat 1986 issues in France with reform
  • unavoidable institutional reform
  • alienating existing support


  • Reform from above vs. Reform from below - unbearable pressure - potential revolution


  • serfs released from bondage; free men (free to marry, own property, set up businesses, travel etc)
  • serf families - keep cottage/allotment
  • landlords received compensation
  • peasants required to pay 'redemption payments' - had to stay within mir until all was paid (49 annual payments + 6% interest)

Pros + Cons of Emancipation - PEASANTS


  • free serfs; freed from obligations
  • new organisation
  • perpetual use of land
  • landowners/government agreed to lend assistance + adapt to their needs
  • rights to earn wages
  • could buy extra land from 'less prosperous' neighbours - increased estates + more surplus produced - ability to export


  • arrangement would take 2 years (had to be obedient until then)
  • peasants lost other areas of land; did not want to pay when it was originally theirs - disliked 'redemption payments'
  • some given less land than due/had to pay more
  • freedom to travel - restricted

Pros + Cons of Emancipation - LANDOWNERS


  • great respect from government for compromise
  • better relationship with serfs
  • compensation - ability to escape from debt + invest more


  • limited rights over peasants
  • some material losses - peasants allowed full ownership over lands
  • legislation no longer favours upper/middle classes
  • mistreated - no reason to hand over their land
  • disputes over landholding (647 riot incidents - army often had to step in - 70 dead)
  • noble bankruptcies/lack of profit - used to pay government debt
  • some had to sell up/move to town - blamed government for losses



  • service in army - no longer a punishment
  • military colonies abandoned - better provisioning/medical care
  • length of service reduced from 25 years to 15 years (6 years army + 9 years reserves)
  • conscription compulsory for all classes (from age 20) - education could reduce length of service
  • military punishments - less severe
  • military colleges set up - better training + privates could rise to officer rank
  • modern weaponry/steamships + railways constructed - improve transport


  • universities could govern themselves (appointing own staff) - needed approval of 'Ministry of Education'
  • responsibility for schooling transferred to zemstva (from Church)
  • primary/secondary education extended (quadrupled) - less traditional offered 'gymnazii'
  • schools 'open to all' (including women)


  • system of elected local councils - 'zemstva'
  • 'electoral colleges' - separate for nobles, townspeople, church + peasants - nobility dominate
  • ability to improve public services; roads, schools, public health etc
  • administer relief during hard times


  • new principle of equality before law
  • judges appointed by Tsar
  • proceedings open to public - accused could see judge/employ defense
  • judges - better training + pay
  • senate heard appeals for most dangerous crimes
  • Freedom of Press extended legal reporting


  • placed under control of 'Ministry for Internal Affairs'
  • foreign publications could be sold in Russia (with government approval)
  • press allowed to print editorials with comment on government policy
  • press/book publishers received new codification of regulations - reduced restrictions
  • Ministry of Internal Affairs could stop publications/fine publishers - fairer court system


  • treasury reformed - new system for collecting taxes etc
  • tax-farming abolished
  • banks/credit facilities extended; 1860 - state bank, 1862 - municipal banks, 1869 - savings bank
  • liberal trade policies/lower tariffs
  • foreign investment encouraged + supporting development of cotton industry etc
  • private entrepreneurs able to develop railways (needed to be increased 14X in next 20 years)
  • Jews allowed to trade throughout Russia (not just Pale of Settlement)


  • talented/educated/charismatic priests - promotion to key positions in church hierarchy