Assess the View That the Tsars Preferred Repression to Reform in the Period 1855 to 1906

Topics: Alexander II of Russia, Alexander III of Russia, Nicholas II of Russia Pages: 7 (2567 words) Published: December 2, 2009
Assess the view that the Tsars preferred repression to reform in the period 1855 to 1906 While the reforms between 1855 and 1906 strongly suggest the Tsars preferring a policy of reform rather than repression, the unexpected consequences of many if not all of the reforms lead to repressive policies. Tsar Alexander II in particular, was very determined to modernize Russia but was not prepared for the liberal and democracy encouraging consequences and thus felt the need to counter reform. This was furthered by his far more reactionary son, Alexander III, who desperately tried to re-establish state control with very little success. Initially a significant departure from the previous system, Serf emancipation had the unexpected consequence of substituting the serf’s personal relationship with the land owner with a more formal and commercial relationship with the state. Under the proposed emancipation, the Serfs would receive the land upon which they currently worked and the landowners would be compensated by the government. The newly liberated serfs, would in theory, be able to independently farm and manage their own land which they could use to generate profit. However in reality, the government was woefully short of money and instead of simply granting the new peasants their land, the peasants would now have to pay 49 years worth of redemption taxes as well as paying taxes which they had never had to pay previously. Furthermore, the land owning nobility (who were tasked with formulating the emancipation) greatly overvalued the land and as a result many of the newly liberated peasants were working 20% land then they had previous to their emancipation. Indeed far from receiving more freedoms and liberties, peasants were now legally forced to carry a passport, were unable to freely migrate and, crucially, were now liable for conscription. Yet, to 1881, the peasants were on the whole more autonomous, though in practicality they were limited by having to pay taxes and work less land. Following 1881, land captains were sent to peasant villages and would enforce taxes and laws which represented a return to the previous system, though under a different guise. By 1906, though a very small number of freed serfs had effectively worked their way up into the middle class, the majority were in a considerably worse situation than before emancipation as they no longer enjoyed the close relationship with the landowner. Similar to the agrarian reforms, he reform of administration of Russian provinces and the creation of the Zemstvos was born out of a desire to create a more efficient and effective state, yet ultimately was counter reformed to prevent a national congress of Zemstvos in 1904. The reforms were initially successful, and represented a significant shift in the administration of Russia. The Zemstvos represented a welcome change to the corrupt and ineffective bureaucracy, as they administered schools, hospitals and helped to establish much of the infrastructure that was needed to modernized Russia. Surprisingly, and evidence of the initial liberal nature of the reform, the Zemstvos were able to raise taxes to sponsor the infrastructure and lead to a far more efficient system then had existed previously. However, in a trend evidenced through a number of the reforms, the creation of Zemstvos began to lead towards a more liberal society which would present a challenge to the regime. The creation of Zemstvos led to a new sub-class in society referred to as the obshchestvennost (conscientious public and social workers), who were engaged and active within society and sought more power for the Zemstvos. The obschestvennost represented a threat to the regime and lead to many of the counter reforms to limit the power of the Zemstvos. In 1886, spending of the Zemstvos was severely curbed to limit their ability to create liberal institutions such as schools. Even more crucially, in 1891 the franchise for Zemstvos was changed to limit their...
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