Followingthe death of his father, Tsar Nicholas, Alexander II came into power inFebruary 1855, inflicting both positive and negative social and economicvicissitudes to the people of Russia. Although a believer in autocracy, thereign of Alexander saw a quantity of prominent economic and social reforms.Alexander II felt that it was his duty to transform and revolutionise Russia,whilst also keeping the tradition of autocracy and nobility.
To do this heintroduced the Emancipation of the Serfs on March 3RD 1861. The reason as towhy the Emancipation of the serfs occurred was down to the Crimean war, Russiawas economically backwards, meaning the soldier’s equipment they had wereinadequate. The army could not be reorganised until the question of serfdom wasaddressed. Alexander II wanted to reform Russia ‘from above’ rather than ‘frombelow. ‘the single greatest liberating measure in the whole history of Europe.’M.
S Anderson. Alexander’s first move was to instantly terminate all armyrecruitment, whilst also releasing all the Decembrists who remained in exile orstill in prison; involved in the overthrowing of his father in 1825. Moreover,he also allowed the restriction on foreign travel to be lifted- in 1859, 26kpassports were granted to travel abroad. When the Great Emancipation Statutewas announced, it affected only privately owned serfs, meaning the state serfshad to wait a few more year’s.
The Emancipation resulted in military reformbeing a priority for Alexander’s government as it was military considerationswhich had done the most to convince the bureaucracy of the need to abolishserfdom. Alexander moved rapidly in order to reform the army, suspension ofrecruitment occurred in 1856 and all military colonies had been abolishedaltogether. The introduction of military reforms meant that Russia would beable to fight on equal terms with Western forces in any future conflict. By1856, major reforms of the army were introduced.
The empire was divided into 15 districts -each with a commander who had sole charge of the supply and recruitment of thearmed forces in this area. A general staff was established to oversee furtherchanges. This improved administration and organisation within the army.Conscription was made universal – it had previously only applied to peasants,but now the upper classes were involved. However, many in the upper classespaid members of the peasantry to take their place – and as such the armyremained mainly of a low-educated and unhealthy nature. Unfortunately, thisonly had slight improvement. The opportunity for peasants to enter the armyleadership through shows of competence was introduced.
– but in reality theupper class were reluctant to let this happen and the occasions this actuallytook place were minimal. Nonetheless, it can be said the increased equalitymotivated the lower classes and that competence was increased VERY minimally.Improvement was limited by the reluctance and traditionalism of the armycommand in general – it took until WW1 for them to give up their misguidedbelief in the usefulness of the bayonet. New weaponry and technology wasintroduced – very slowly. For example, the “breech-loading” rifletook 20 years to reach a point where it was really utilized. Weaponryorganisation was still not great.
The different units often ended up withdifferent rifles and ammunition – creating hostility and jealousy that oftenrose to open mutiny. Education inthe army was attempted through literacy programmes – but it still remained low,even with the improvements this provided. All the improvements had a minimaleffect due to reluctance and a general lack of competence in their integration,which often was incomplete and fragmented, with some units receiving newweaponry and technology quicker than others – causing tension. The upper classarmy leadership was especially opposed to change. The Russian army was stillfar inferior to most others of the time, especially those of WesternEurope. In late-1861 Alexander II set upa committee of jurists to investigate the general princip1es of legal reform.
The result of the committee was to work out ‘those fundamental principles, theundoubted merit of which is at present recognized by science and the experienceof Europe, in accordance with which Russia’s judicial institutions must be reorganized.The committee identified some 25 defects in the existing system and proposed anumber of radical solutions. These included the separation of judicial andadministrative powers; trial by jury for criminal cases; trial of petty casesby Justices of the Peace in summary courts; the introduction of full publicityin tribunals; and the simplification of court procedure. The last of theseended the ridiculous situation where cases could sometimes last for as long astwo or three decades! The new system nevertheless suffered from numerousimperfections. There was a shortage of trained lawyers, and interference fromthe bureaucracy often prevented the law from being applied universally (therewas no trial by jury in Poland, the western provinces or the Caucasus).Further, the existence of peasant courts negated the fundamental principle ofequality before the law.
Even so, the new system was far superior to the old,for there was less corruption and a sense of fairness that had been absent beforethe reforms, as evidenced in the famous Vera Zasulich case of 1878. Theabolition of the patriarchal authority of the gentry in 1861 required that anew local government system be implemented. This was to occasion some of thegreatest constitutional hopes of the nineteenth century, which wereunsurprisingly dashed by the autocratic regime. A Commission, appointed toinvestigate the reorganization of local government, decided upon a system ofdistrict and provincial zemstva (local assemblies). The ensuing debate over thenature and function of these organisations, however, revealed the extent ofnineteenth-century Russia’s backwardness.
A reactionary faction of thebureaucracy headed by the Minister of Interior, P. A. Valuev, persuadedAlexander II to limit the local assemblies to being innocuous organs of thecentral government. Consequently, zemstva presidents were appointed rather thanelected and the zemstva were not allowed to levy taxes.
The preponderance ofthe nobility in the zemstva meant that they retained their local authority,which was by way of concession for the ‘losses’ they had endured in 1861.Nevertheless, the zemstva were able to operate successfully within the limitedscope afforded to them, and improvements were made in the provision of localservices, particularly education. Alexander II’s reign was notable for itsachievements in education.
Elementary education had, for centuries, beencontrolled largely by the Church, and the standard of teaching was generallypoor. After 1864, however, the zemstva became an important agency in theprovision of public services. They administered local primary schools throughschool boards.
The Ministry of Education presided over a large increase in thenumber of primary schools, from 8,000 in 1856 to over 23,000 in 1880. Thequality of teaching in these secular schools was improved significantly. Thesecondary education curriculum was modernised and the number of studentsdoubled to around 800,000 during the first decade of Alexander’s reign. In 1863Alexander also approved new statutes allowing universities to exerciseadministrative autonomy. Preliminary censorship was relaxed and judicialprocedure substituted for administrative repression, a ‘thaw’ in censorshipthat encouraged publishing.
This liberalization was effected by Golovnin, theMinister for Education (1861-1866), but further developments to liberalize thewhole system of education and censorship in Russia were precluded byassassination attempts on the Tsar in the later part of his reign. Theassassination of Alexander II, brought to the throne his son Alexander III.Alexander III condemned the influence of Western culture, ideas, and liberalistreforms supported by his father. In his earlier years, Alexander III’sministers passed more liberal reforms similar to his fathers in order tostrengthen autocracy.
The reforms included: 1882 – 1885: Labourlegislation – to protect the rights of women and children in the workplace1886: Law specifying procedures for hiring and firing workers and paying wages.These reforms were inadequate – factory inspectors were mistrusted and thereforms therefore failed. Other Reforms introduced: 1881 – Law to endtemporary obligation, reducing redemption payments for serfs. 1882-90 – Lawscreated by Alexander’s ministers working to protect children and women,reduce working hours in factories and factory inspectors appointed. 1883 -Introduction of the Peasant Land Bank, (kulaks used this to buy up all the goodland and produce a surplus while peasants just became poorer and poorer).1883-86 – Abolition of the poll tax. 1885 – Noble’s Land Bank introduced toprovide cheap credit for nobles. The main reason that they failed was due to agrowing conservative support.
As Alexander III’s childhood tutor, Pobedonostsevwas responsible for Alexander’s conservative outlook and with liberalistideologies growing, he attempted to inflict a more conservative approachtowards society. He believed that Russia had lost its domineering role inEastern Europe due to Western liberalism and the only way for Russia to regainits position was through a process he instituted called”Russification.” Russification meant that the use of the Russianlanguage was insisted upon, all documents were written in Russian and any otherlanguages were forbidden in schools. Russification was unpopular, especially incentral Asia as many people were Muslim. The Jewish population suffered mostunder the Tsar. The government approved many organized mobs towards them,in which many Jews would killed and beaten. Alexander’s politicalideal was a nation containing only one nationality, one language, one religionand one form of administration; and he did his utmost to prepare for therealization of this ideal by imposing the Russian language and Russian schoolson his German, Polish and other non-Russian subjects, by fostering EasternOrthodoxy at the expense of other religions, by persecuting Jews and bydestroying the remnants of German, Polish and Swedish institutions in theoutlying provinces.
The aim of Russification was to crush the influence ofother nationalities and allow Russian customs and traditions toprosper. Russification was used by the Tsar to hinder the movementsof the Intelligentsia from gathering more support and spreading their ideasinto politics, the police force or, even worse, the army. It is not surprisingthat opposition did exist because of the introduction of Russification.
TheSocial Democrats were becoming extremely popular in Finland, the Baltic Statesand Georgia, especially the Mensheviks. Russification was a long term factorfor the 1905 and 1917 revolution. Despite the pogroms and limitations on Jews,Russo-Jewish culture still expanded with Sholom Aleichem becoming prominent inliterature, the Rubinstein brothers in music, Leonid Pasternak and MarkAntokol’sky in the arts. Many wrote in Hebrew or Yiddish, completelyundermining the policy of Russification.
This encouraged Jews to study Marxismand anarchism, and the Jewish Social Democratic Party was vital in industrialand political unrest In 1917, theRussian revolution arose, also known as the Bolshevik or October revolution,which forced Nicholas II to resign. The transformation of the Russian Empireinto the Union of Soviet Socialist Republicans (USSR) took place. The FebruaryRevolution on 7th March 1917, which was followed in the same year by the OctoberRevolution, bringing Bolshevik rule and a change in Russia’s social structure, and paving theway for the SovietUnion. A mixture of women, industrial strikers anddisaffected soldiers were involved in the revolution; the women were the onesrioting over bread rationing, who took to politicizing the InternationalWomen’s Day march. They also were the ones whom persuaded the men to join in bycalling them ‘cowards’ and persuaded workers to join the march. The revolutionwas caused by several economic and social factors.
The revolution was provokedby Russian military failures during the First World War For instance, Townswere overcrowded and had poor living conditions, famine was common as foodsupplies was unreliable, there was poor sanitation and water supplies, men andwomen worked long hours for little pay, Health and education systems were poorwhich created social inequalities, Worker strikes and lock-outs created highlevels of tension, war meant disruption of supplies and essentials were inshort supply, factories closed down leaving thousands out of work, prices andinflation rocketed. AlexanderRabinowitch ‘The February 1917 revolution..
.grew out of prewar politicaland economic instability, technological backwardness, and fundamental socialdivisions, coupled with gross mismanagement of the war effort, continuingmilitary defeats, domestic economic dislocation, and outrageous scandalssurrounding the monarchy.’ In November1917, Lenin took over Russia and a series of reforms were introduced toinstitute a new social system in accordance with communist ideology. He decidedto completely change the way education, literature, cinema and music wereportrayed. In order to preserve the Revolution during the Civil War, Leninlaunched a policy of War Communism. Thismade private businesses illegal, ended worker control over factories, placedthe largest under State control and introduced a strict code of discipline forworkers who could be shot if they striked. It also introduced forced labour andfood and goods rationing, while peasants had to sell their goods to thegovernment.
This was a disaster, as it paralyzed domestic and internationaltrade and caused hyperinflation. Grain production fell from eighty million tonsin 1917 to thirty-seven point six million tons in 1921. In response to this,Lenin introduced the New Economic Policy in 1921.
This lowered the tax onpeasant’s harvests and allowed them to sell their excess products for profit.Small private businesses, such as shops, were allowed to open, which wouldaccount for forty per cent of domestic trade by 1924. This served to increasetrade and reduce inflation. However, some Bolsheviks were against this policy,as it aided the Kulaks, wealthy peasants who were seen as the enemies ofMarxism. Industry was nationalized and private trade was banned. Grain wasrequisitioned from the peasants to feed the Red Army and strikes were banned.The Cheka secret police launched the Red Terror to remove political opponentsof the Bolsheviks.
However, by the end of the Civil War the Russian economy wasin tatters and Lenin proposed the New Economic Policy. After the revolution,Lenin created free education throughout Russia. Children learned communistideas but they were still educated about the world. Another positive effect wasthat Lenin four days after the October he made the eight-hour working day,which greatly improved working conditions.
He then went to introduce freeuniversal healthcare to all citizens of nation, which had positive effects onthe quality of life for the Soviet community. FollowingLenin’s death in January 1924, Stalin seized power by exiling Trotsky, Lenin’spreferred successor, who was later assassinated. During the years 1928-41,Stalin’s five year plans successfully improve Russia’s economic. In 1928,Stalin began his ‘Five-Year Plan’ which placed heavy emphasis on industry suchas coal and iron. The aims of this Plan, such as a two hundred and fifty percent increase in industrial development and a three hundred and thirty per centincrease in heavy industry, were unrealistic, but the goals were to transformthe USSR economically and industrially, into a complete socialist state,centrally-planned by Gosplan, the main planning authority. This Plan alsointroduced the policy of ‘collectivization’ in agriculture. This meant statecontrol over the farms, especially over those controlled by wealthy peasants,called Kulaks. Another economic decision that Stalin made, was to takeapproximately 90% of the farmers’ crops, and leave 10 % for the family to eatand sell what was left.
Stalin used the profit from the harvests, to fundhis 5 Year Plans. The speed at which he wanted to industrialize the USSRwas extremely costly and he needed that income to help fund it. As aresult of the state controlling where the food went, millions of people starvedat this time in history.
It got so bad that people were dropping dead inthe streets because of lack of food. Thesecond ‘Five-Year Plan’ in 1933 concentrated on the same aims as the first,while the third ‘Five-Year Plan’ concentrated on defense spending, armament andindustrialization, effectively militarizing the economy. These plans wereoverall successful as it helped to cement Stalin’s control over the state andthe Communist Party. It also led to huge numbers of industrial successes, suchas the vast ironworks build in Magnitogorsk and the hydro-electric plant builton the River Dnieper. Other successes of Stalin’s economic policy wererearmament, improved labor productivity and new transport links.
However, itwould be incorrect to suggest that Stalin’s economic policy was completelysuccessful as there were also failures in the years 1928-1941. These includedthe decline in the production of consumer goods during this period of time. Itshould also be pointed out that although rearmament did take place, Stalin’seconomic policy did not succeed in fully preparing Russia for war. During the190s Stalin introduced policies affecting women, the family and education.Under Lenin, women had enjoyed state-provided childcare, the right to abortionon demand and the right to divorce their husbands. However, women were forcedto adopt to more traditional roles housewives and mothers. For example,communist party guidelines states that women were expected to run a’well-ordered communist home’ and during the 1930s women spent 5 times longeron household duties, such as cooking and cleaning, then men. He encouraged manywomen to join the workforce.
For example, between 1928 and 1940, 10 millionwomen joined the workforce. Similarly, by 1945, 80% of collective farm workerswere women. Furthermore, communist government increased the number of placesfor women in higher and technical education by 20% in 1940. In terms ofeducation, Stalin also focused on traditional values.
He believed that studentsshould be disciplined, hard-working and respectful. To this end, he used thecommunist youth movement to instruct children to respect their parents andteachers and to be loyal to communist ideals. Within schools, traditionalskills such as literacy and numeracy were stressed. In addition, studentsdevoted time learning about famous Russians. During this period, students hadstudied a more revolutionary curriculum and had encouraged to see themselves asthe equal of their parents and teachers. For this reason, Stalin’s educationpolicy can be indeed viewed as a success.