Ebba Henningsson2/09/2010 History Why and with what success did Alexander II impose so many reforms? Alexander II (1818-1881) has on several occasions been referred to as “Alexander the Liberator” due to the emancipation of the serfs, which was one of the many reforms he imposed during his reign as Tsar of Russia. The emancipation, along with the reform of the military, the installation of a judicial system, an educational reform, combined with his other “smaller” reforms, are all reforms which created a more democratic Russia; liberal to a further extent, if you will.
Alexander II was however the head of an autocracy in which he had absolute power which leads one to ponder as to what his incentives for these reforms were and how successful he was in imposing these? Alexander was the successor of his father Nicholas I who passed away during the Crimean war, and it can be argued that Russia’s defeat in this war, which was fought in Russia herself, is one of the main reasons for many of Alexander’s reforms. This defeat was a hard one for Russia who had been one of the leading military powers in the previous century as well as the personal loss it presented for Alexander.
These defeats may very well have been the reason for the military reform, one problem that the Russian army had was the age of the average soldier who would be considerably older than those of the western powers. Alexander changed this by reducing the years of service a soldier faced from 25 years to 6. Conversely, a soldier who had served these 25 years returned as a free man. This meant former serfs, who constituted most of the army, would return younger with full military training creating two social classes on the country side, resulting in more peasant revolts.
In order to prevent this Alexander found that he would have to remove the order that made them into free men, however to do this he would have to present some other enticement or solution to keep the army conscription rate up. Alexander’s solution to this became the, most probably, reason for the reform of the constitution of serfdom; the emancipation. This meant that all serfs would become free for a period of two years with their own land, something that had not occurred before where serfdom had been much like slavery.
Introducing the emancipation meant that Alexander could carry out his military reform whilst keeping the peasants under control. The land that the peasants now got was that previously owned by the nobility and to compensate the latter the peasants had to pay redemption dues to the state which would then be given to the nobility. Alexander relied heavily on the nobility to keep his rule intact in even the country side and therefore it was important for him that these remained loyal and at good peace with him and his reform scheme.
However with all these new free citizens some sort of order system had to be presented. The zemstvo seemed to be Alexander’s solution for this, which along with the new legal body of Russia assembled Alexander’s judicial reform. These new bodies created a lot of question about Alexander’s goals with the reformation as a whole as this was creating a much more liberal society for the common Russian. To mayhap calm the nobility Alexander said “The existing order of serfdom cannot remain unchanged. It is better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait for the time when it will begin to abolish itself from below”.
This quote has moved to become quite important when judging whether Alexander wanted to move towards a democracy or keep his autocracy intact. However another reform which, too, brought Russia further towards a democratic liberal state, was the education reform. A reason for this reform could be to educate the people of Russia seeing as the literacy rate was very low in the country side, additionally to , perhaps, integrate Russia more into Europe and the other western states society. New foreign school books were introduced along with more open universities where both women and men were allowed.
This educational reform could have been inspired by Alexander’s possible wish to industrialize Russia. The emancipation of the serfs would also have helped improved that industrialization, seeing as the serfs would now be able to chose to do something other than what the nobility had ordered them to do previously. This industrialisation could have been desired due to the fact that Russia was falling behind the other European states economically. Additionally one of the major problems that had caused Russia to lose the Crimean war had been the malfunctioning railway system along with the deficiency of arms.
It is often easier to draw conclusions in retrospect but when judging how successful something was there are several different aspects that ought to be considered, the emancipation of the serfs was indeed successful in its immediate goal, to free the serfs. However with the redemption dues and the shortage of land the everyday life of a serf did not change very much and in fact their economical situation decreased, hence this reformation was not good long term for neither the serfs nor for Alexander who now had the ill wishes of the serfs against him. The military reform was nonetheless very successful.
Alexander managed to reduce the amount of time a soldier spent in the army, additionally he created a reserve army which was ready to step in if needed. This resulted in a much stronger and younger army, so in his military reform Alexander was very flourishing. Alexander’s judicial reform was also very thriving, both as a short term and a long term development. Short term it provided the Russians with a judicial system that was independent from the government and therefore incorrupt, furthermore the zemtsvo kept control in the country side and kept Alexander’s orders intact.
This reform was therefore both beneficial for both Alexander and his Tsardome as well as for the common population of Russia who got a just law system. The educational restructuring is hard to judge as a matter of success. Even though the conditions of the students and the universities significantly improved it was not advantageous for Alexander himself. As he allowed the students to access outside information they learnt about other governmental systems which eventually, introvertably lead to his death. Hence, in itself the reform was successful however its consequences were, most likely, not those wished for by Alexander.
If Alexander wished to reform Russia’s economy and industrialise her one could argue he was not very successful in doing so. The industrialisation never thoroughly commenced during Alexander’s reign and the now freed serfs kept at the new land they had gotten from the nobility. So this aspect of his overall reformation was not very triumphant either. All things considered, Alexander the second was a great reformer who managed to impose several different reforms in a large country without creating a sever debacle which would have harmed the already weak Russia. Several of his reforms were not only successful short term but also long term.
Most of the reforms seem to have been brought forward due to the Crimean war, and the realisation that the Russian state was down falling. However seeing as it is unbeknownst what his objectives with these reforms were it is hard to state whether he was successful or not, he did manage to change Russia for a more liberal democratic state but he brought his own demise upon himself. Considering the reforms in themselves he was very successful in imposing them however their consequences were not favourable for himself, as well as the peasant population of Russia.
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