Following the death of his father, Tsar Nicholas, Alexander


the death of his father, Tsar Nicholas, Alexander II came into power in
February 1855, inflicting both positive and negative social and economic
vicissitudes to the people of Russia. Although a believer in autocracy, the
reign 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 he
introduced the Emancipation of the Serfs on March 3RD 1861. The reason as to
why the Emancipation of the serfs occurred was down to the Crimean war, Russia
was economically backwards, meaning the soldier’s equipment they had were
inadequate. The army could not be reorganised until the question of serfdom was
addressed. Alexander II wanted to reform Russia ‘from above’ rather than ‘from
below. ‘the single greatest liberating measure in the whole history of Europe.’
M.S Anderson. Alexander’s first move was to instantly terminate all army
recruitment, whilst also releasing all the Decembrists who remained in exile or
still 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, 26k
passports were granted to travel abroad. When the Great Emancipation Statute
was announced, it affected only privately owned serfs, meaning the state serfs
had to wait a few more year’s. The Emancipation resulted in military reform
being a priority for Alexander’s government as it was military considerations
which had done the most to convince the bureaucracy of the need to abolish
serfdom. Alexander moved rapidly in order to reform the army, suspension of
recruitment occurred in 1856 and all military colonies had been abolished
altogether. The introduction of military reforms meant that Russia would be
able to fight on equal terms with Western forces in any future conflict. By
1856, 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 the
armed forces in this area. A general staff was established to oversee further
changes. 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 classes
paid members of the peasantry to take their place – and as such the army
remained mainly of a low-educated and unhealthy nature. Unfortunately, this
only had slight improvement. The opportunity for peasants to enter the army
leadership through shows of competence was introduced. – but in reality the
upper class were reluctant to let this happen and the occasions this actually
took place were minimal. Nonetheless, it can be said the increased equality
motivated the lower classes and that competence was increased VERY minimally.
Improvement was limited by the reluctance and traditionalism of the army
command in general – it took until WW1 for them to give up their misguided
belief in the usefulness of the bayonet. New weaponry and technology was
introduced – very slowly. For example, the “breech-loading” rifle
took 20 years to reach a point where it was really utilized. Weaponry
organisation was still not great. The different units often ended up with
different rifles and ammunition – creating hostility and jealousy that often
rose to open mutiny.

Education in
the army was attempted through literacy programmes – but it still remained low,
even with the improvements this provided. All the improvements had a minimal
effect due to reluctance and a general lack of competence in their integration,
which often was incomplete and fragmented, with some units receiving new
weaponry and technology quicker than others – causing tension. The upper class
army leadership was especially opposed to change. The Russian army was still
far inferior to most others of the time, especially those of Western
Europe.  In late-1861 Alexander II set up
a committee of jurists to investigate the general princip1es of legal reform.
The result of the committee was to work out ‘those fundamental principles, the
undoubted merit of which is at present recognized by science and the experience
of Europe, in accordance with which Russia’s judicial institutions must be reorganized.
The committee identified some 25 defects in the existing system and proposed a
number of radical solutions. These included the separation of judicial and
administrative powers; trial by jury for criminal cases; trial of petty cases
by Justices of the Peace in summary courts; the introduction of full publicity
in tribunals; and the simplification of court procedure. The last of these
ended the ridiculous situation where cases could sometimes last for as long as
two or three decades! The new system nevertheless suffered from numerous
imperfections. There was a shortage of trained lawyers, and interference from
the bureaucracy often prevented the law from being applied universally (there
was no trial by jury in Poland, the western provinces or the Caucasus).
Further, the existence of peasant courts negated the fundamental principle of
equality 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 before
the reforms, as evidenced in the famous Vera Zasulich case of 1878. The
abolition of the patriarchal authority of the gentry in 1861 required that a
new local government system be implemented. This was to occasion some of the
greatest constitutional hopes of the nineteenth century, which were
unsurprisingly dashed by the autocratic regime. A Commission, appointed to
investigate the reorganization of local government, decided upon a system of
district and provincial zemstva (local assemblies). The ensuing debate over the
nature and function of these organisations, however, revealed the extent of
nineteenth-century Russia’s backwardness. A reactionary faction of the
bureaucracy headed by the Minister of Interior, P. A. Valuev, persuaded
Alexander II to limit the local assemblies to being innocuous organs of the
central government. Consequently, zemstva presidents were appointed rather than
elected and the zemstva were not allowed to levy taxes. The preponderance of
the 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 limited
scope afforded to them, and improvements were made in the provision of local
services, particularly education. Alexander II’s reign was notable for its
achievements in education. Elementary education had, for centuries, been
controlled largely by the Church, and the standard of teaching was generally
poor. After 1864, however, the zemstva became an important agency in the
provision of public services. They administered local primary schools through
school boards. The Ministry of Education presided over a large increase in the
number of primary schools, from 8,000 in 1856 to over 23,000 in 1880. The
quality of teaching in these secular schools was improved significantly. The
secondary education curriculum was modernised and the number of students
doubled to around 800,000 during the first decade of Alexander’s reign. In 1863
Alexander also approved new statutes allowing universities to exercise
administrative autonomy. Preliminary censorship was relaxed and judicial
procedure substituted for administrative repression, a ‘thaw’ in censorship
that encouraged publishing. This liberalization was effected by Golovnin, the
Minister for Education (1861-1866), but further developments to liberalize the
whole system of education and censorship in Russia were precluded by
assassination attempts on the Tsar in the later part of his reign.

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assassination of Alexander II, brought to the throne his son Alexander III.
Alexander III condemned the influence of Western culture, ideas, and liberalist
reforms supported by his father. In his earlier years, Alexander III’s
ministers passed more liberal reforms similar to his fathers in order to
strengthen autocracy. The reforms included: 1882 – 1885: Labour
legislation – to protect the rights of women and children in the workplace
1886: Law specifying procedures for hiring and firing workers and paying wages.
These reforms were inadequate – factory inspectors were mistrusted and the
reforms therefore failed.  Other Reforms introduced: 1881 – Law to end
temporary obligation, reducing redemption payments for serfs. 1882-90 – Laws
created 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 good
land and produce a surplus while peasants just became poorer and poorer).
1883-86 – Abolition of the poll tax. 1885 – Noble’s Land Bank introduced to
provide cheap credit for nobles. The main reason that they failed was due to a
growing conservative support.  As Alexander III’s childhood tutor, Pobedonostsev
was responsible for Alexander’s conservative outlook and with liberalist
ideologies growing, he attempted to inflict a more conservative approach
towards society. He believed that Russia had lost its domineering role in
Eastern Europe due to Western liberalism and the only way for Russia to regain
its position was through a process he instituted called
“Russification.” Russification meant that the use of the Russian
language was insisted upon, all documents were written in Russian and any other
languages were forbidden in schools. Russification was unpopular, especially in
central Asia as many people were Muslim. The Jewish population suffered most
under the Tsar. The government approved many organized mobs towards them,
in which many Jews would killed and beaten.  Alexander’s political
ideal was a nation containing only one nationality, one language, one religion
and one form of administration; and he did his utmost to prepare for the
realization of this ideal by imposing the Russian language and Russian schools
on his German, Polish and other non-Russian subjects, by fostering Eastern
Orthodoxy at the expense of other religions, by persecuting Jews and by
destroying the remnants of German, Polish and Swedish institutions in the
outlying provinces. The aim of Russification was to crush the influence of
other nationalities and allow Russian customs and traditions to
prosper.  Russification was used by the Tsar to hinder the movements
of the Intelligentsia from gathering more support and spreading their ideas
into politics, the police force or, even worse, the army. It is not surprising
that opposition did exist because of the introduction of Russification. The
Social Democrats were becoming extremely popular in Finland, the Baltic States
and Georgia, especially the Mensheviks. Russification was a long term factor
for the 1905 and 1917 revolution. Despite the pogroms and limitations on Jews,
Russo-Jewish culture still expanded with Sholom Aleichem becoming prominent in
literature, the Rubinstein brothers in music, Leonid Pasternak and Mark
Antokol’sky in the arts. Many wrote in Hebrew or Yiddish, completely
undermining the policy of Russification. This encouraged Jews to study Marxism
and anarchism, and the Jewish Social Democratic Party was vital in industrial
and political unrest



In 1917, the
Russian revolution arose, also known as the Bolshevik or October revolution,
which forced Nicholas II to resign. The transformation of the Russian Empire
into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republicans (USSR) took place. The February
Revolution on 7th March 1917, which was followed in the same year by the October
Revolution, bringing Bolshevik rule and a change in Russia’s social structure, and paving the
way for the Soviet
Union. A mixture of women, industrial strikers and
disaffected soldiers were involved in the revolution; the women were the ones
rioting over bread rationing, who took to politicizing the International
Women’s Day march. They also were the ones whom persuaded the men to join in by
calling them ‘cowards’ and persuaded workers to join the march. The revolution
was caused by several economic and social factors. The revolution was provoked
by Russian military failures during the First World War For instance, Towns
were overcrowded and had poor living conditions, famine was common as food
supplies was unreliable, there was poor sanitation and water supplies, men and
women worked long hours for little pay, Health and education systems were poor
which created social inequalities, Worker strikes and lock-outs created high
levels of tension, war meant disruption of supplies and essentials were in
short supply, factories closed down leaving thousands out of work, prices and
inflation rocketed. Alexander
Rabinowitch ‘The February 1917 revolution…grew out of prewar political
and economic instability, technological backwardness, and fundamental social
divisions, coupled with gross mismanagement of the war effort, continuing
military defeats, domestic economic dislocation, and outrageous scandals
surrounding the monarchy.’


In November
1917, Lenin took over Russia and a series of reforms were introduced to
institute a new social system in accordance with communist ideology. He decided
to completely change the way education, literature, cinema and music were
portrayed. In order to preserve the Revolution during the Civil War, Lenin
launched a policy of War Communism.  This
made private businesses illegal, ended worker control over factories, placed
the largest under State control and introduced a strict code of discipline for
workers who could be shot if they striked. It also introduced forced labour and
food and goods rationing, while peasants had to sell their goods to the
government. This was a disaster, as it paralyzed domestic and international
trade and caused hyperinflation. Grain production fell from eighty million tons
in 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 on
peasant’s harvests and allowed them to sell their excess products for profit.
Small private businesses, such as shops, were allowed to open, which would
account for forty per cent of domestic trade by 1924. This served to increase
trade and reduce inflation. However, some Bolsheviks were against this policy,
as it aided the Kulaks, wealthy peasants who were seen as the enemies of
Marxism. Industry was nationalized and private trade was banned. Grain was
requisitioned from the peasants to feed the Red Army and strikes were banned.
The Cheka secret police launched the Red Terror to remove political opponents
of the Bolsheviks. However, by the end of the Civil War the Russian economy was
in tatters and Lenin proposed the New Economic Policy. After the revolution,
Lenin created free education throughout Russia. Children learned communist
ideas but they were still educated about the world. Another positive effect was
that Lenin four days after the October he made the eight-hour working day,
which greatly improved working conditions. He then went to introduce free
universal healthcare to all citizens of nation, which had positive effects on
the quality of life for the Soviet community.


Lenin’s death in January 1924, Stalin seized power by exiling Trotsky, Lenin’s
preferred 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 such
as coal and iron. The aims of this Plan, such as a two hundred and fifty per
cent increase in industrial development and a three hundred and thirty per cent
increase in heavy industry, were unrealistic, but the goals were to transform
the USSR economically and industrially, into a complete socialist state,
centrally-planned by Gosplan, the main planning authority. This Plan also
introduced the policy of ‘collectivization’ in agriculture. This meant state
control over the farms, especially over those controlled by wealthy peasants,
called Kulaks.  Another economic decision that Stalin made, was to take
approximately 90% of the farmers’ crops, and leave 10 % for the family to eat
and sell what was left.  Stalin used the profit from the harvests, to fund
his 5 Year Plans.  The speed at which he wanted to industrialize the USSR
was extremely costly and he needed that income to help fund it.  As a
result of the state controlling where the food went, millions of people starved
at this time in history.  It got so bad that people were dropping dead in
the streets because of lack of food.  The
second ‘Five-Year Plan’ in 1933 concentrated on the same aims as the first,
while the third ‘Five-Year Plan’ concentrated on defense spending, armament and
industrialization, effectively militarizing the economy. These plans were
overall successful as it helped to cement Stalin’s control over the state and
the Communist Party. It also led to huge numbers of industrial successes, such
as the vast ironworks build in Magnitogorsk and the hydro-electric plant built
on the River Dnieper. Other successes of Stalin’s economic policy were
rearmament, improved labor productivity and new transport links. However, it
would be incorrect to suggest that Stalin’s economic policy was completely
successful as there were also failures in the years 1928-1941. These included
the decline in the production of consumer goods during this period of time. It
should also be pointed out that although rearmament did take place, Stalin’s
economic policy did not succeed in fully preparing Russia for war. During the
190s Stalin introduced policies affecting women, the family and education.
Under Lenin, women had enjoyed state-provided childcare, the right to abortion
on demand and the right to divorce their husbands. However, women were forced
to 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 longer
on household duties, such as cooking and cleaning, then men. He encouraged many
women to join the workforce. For example, between 1928 and 1940, 10 million
women joined the workforce. Similarly, by 1945, 80% of collective farm workers
were women. Furthermore, communist government increased the number of places
for women in higher and technical education by 20% in 1940. In terms of
education, Stalin also focused on traditional values. He believed that students
should be disciplined, hard-working and respectful. To this end, he used the
communist youth movement to instruct children to respect their parents and
teachers and to be loyal to communist ideals. Within schools, traditional
skills such as literacy and numeracy were stressed. In addition, students
devoted time learning about famous Russians. During this period, students had
studied a more revolutionary curriculum and had encouraged to see themselves as
the equal of their parents and teachers. For this reason, Stalin’s education
policy can be indeed viewed as a success.



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