Problems in Russia in the 1800s and Alexander II’s Reforms

From the IBDP History Paper 3 HL exam:

 This essay received 10/20 from the IBO
With examiner comments:

 This essay received 7/20 from the IBO:

From a former student who received a final grade of 7 in the course at High Level [click to enlarge]:

Revision Notes:

 Reform in Russia always followed military defeat, as it did in the 1980s.
A. Tolstoy fought in the Russian army in the Caucasus against the Chechens and against “the West” when Britain and France attacked Russia in the Crimean War in 1856. The humiliating defeat in the Crimea led to serf revolts and general unrest.
1. The young Emperor Alexander II (tsar from 1855–1881) realized that if the peasants were not freed from above, they would soon free themselves from below and that Russia needed to catch up with the West.

2. The most important reform was emancipation of the serfs in 1861, but this presented a huge problem:
Liberating the serfs risked the destruction of the basis of the entire regime.
3. The nobility as a land-owning class was vital to the monarchy, and to take away their serfs might ruin them economically.
4. The final scheme was cunning. All personal serfdom was abolished, and the peasants were to receive land from the landlords and pay them for it. The state advanced the money to the landlords and recovered it from the peasants in 49 annual sums known as redemption payments.
5. The peasants got a raw deal. The average holding was tiny (less than 10 acres), and redemption
payments were high.
6. The peasant commune now had legal responsibility for those payments, which was a way of
reinforcing the mir and preventing anarchy at the base of society by slowing movement to towns.
7. Another reform affected Tolstoy’s position, the introduction of the zemstvo, a local assembly that
functioned as a body of provincial self-government in Russia from 1864 to 1917. Each district elected representatives, who had control over education, public health, roads, and aid to agriculture and commerce. The district zemstvos elected committees and delegates to the provincial assemblies, which in turn, elected an executive committee for the province.
8. The local nobles, such as Tolstoy, could represent themselves for the first time. Tolstoy was, first and foremost, a noble landlord.
1. War and Peace was written in the years 1863 to 1869, the years of the emancipation of the serfs and other reforms. On his estate, Tolstoy had to face the consequences.
2. War and Peace tells the story of the Russian struggle against the Napoleonic Empire between 1805
and 1815. Though the book is set in a period 60 years earlier, the reform era of the 1860s plays an important, if not obvious, part in it. Tolstoy became more and more hostile to artificial and abstract plans for reform, especially those imported from the West.
3. Tolstoy belonged to the so-called Slavophile side in the debate on modernization and reform. He believed in the unique communal principles of Russian peasant life.
4. The Russian people defeated the West in the form of Napoleon and his army, as portrayed in War and Peace, but Tolstoy believed that they must also reject Western-style schemes, plans, and models.

Sample Essay: Problems in Russia in the 1800s and Alexander II’s Reforms

When Tsar Nicholas I passed away in 1855, he left the country in a state some may describe as a national entropy. There were numerous problems, which were now Alexander II’s (Nicholas I’s eldest son and successor) to resolve. This essay will venture to concern itself with the difficulties encountered within the Russian military as well as social, economic and political predicaments which arose or had already emerged during/before the era of “the Liberator”. Furthermore it will examine the course of action undertaken by the Tsar in an effort to rectify the unfavourable circumstances.

A matter of great significance in the 19th century was the military. This was not only a substantial fraction of Russia, but that of any functional country in Europe at the time. One grave dysfunction of the Russian army was the fact that it consisted predominantly of serfs (=peasants) which had been sold to the army by their owners.1 In the early 1850s, the army consisted of around 900,000 regular soldiers, with a percentage of around 80% - 95% being peasants.2 This can be and evidently was detrimental to the general efficiency of a military force, as the majority of soldiers are likely to lack true enthusiasm and devotion. Before the emancipation, serfs were given no true reason to fight for their country. Their government treated them as property and failed to grant them any freedom or adequate reward for their labour, so naturally it was in their interest to see this system collapse. It is therefore plausible to proclaim an extensive demotivation within the army. With intentions of removing this injustice and henceforth creating a more spirited and forceful army, Alexander II had introduced conscription to all classes by 1870.3 Young men from all social stratums were now being compulsorily enlisted. As a result of this sudden abundance of soldiers, the service time could be reduced from 25 years to 15 years and training/education for soldiers was widely improved by, for example, investing more in the facilities.4 Military tax was raised by the Zemstvo as well as the Duma in order to support this by providing the financial means needed for these improvements.5

A further weighty hindrance was the ratio of leader to obstacle. Alexander II was often left in a quandary as he was only one man facing the problems of a nation. One man could not travel the land by horse and carriage, personally collecting taxes from each individual commune. He could not simply pursue all criminals on the run and bring them to justice. Essentially it was important for the Tsar to have an assemblage of staff members to handle these affairs. This issue was widely resolved with the initiation of the Zemstvo in 1864.6 This was a form of local government which consisted of a representative council and of an executive board. All social classes were now permitted to take part in the voting process and hence even peasants were represented in the councils. The Zemstva were primarily in charge of collecting tax money, settling land issues as well as local legal disputes. In essence, they were the local representatives of a main national legislature.7

An inconvenient aspect of Russia’s financial state of affairs was the eminent prevalence of corruption. At one point in time it was legal for government officials to use the means of the state for their own asset, this form of bureaucracy was known as the ‘Kormlenie’.8 In 1715 however, as officials began to receive fixed salaries, inducement became a crime. Though the Kormlenie made various reappearances followed by disappearances throughout the reigns of several Tsars, its illegality was eventually finalized by Alexander II in 1864.9 Nevertheless, the allocations of tax money were not conspicuous to the Russian citizen.10 Generally Russian state finances were a nebulous matter, which made it effortless for anyone who is presented with the opportunity to use governmental funds for their own benefit. Eventually the Tsar gave rise to a more transparent national budget.11 The tax payer was now more or less correctly informed of how the money was being utilized.12 This is crucial to a functioning relationship between government and tax payer, seeing as the ill informed citizen is likely to question and eventually resist or challenge the system. This national budget transparency did not include the Tsar, however.

Perhaps one of the most eminent difficulties in Russia during the 19th century was the social division. One third of the countries population in 1855 comprised agricultural workers. These peasants (about 80% of the total population) were either owned by landlords or by the state. Essentially the gentry had absolute supremacy over peasantry.13 This comes to show that the vast preponderance of Russians were living in burdensome, strenuous circumstances and had no actual quality of life. The labor on the seemingly boundless fields was arduous and unsafe and the majority of money and harvest had to be relinquished. There was no gain for the peasants, so they were bound to begin questioning and eventually resisting. This was a scenario which had to be avoided by all means, seeing as a revolt of the serfdom (80% of the population!) would result in substantial economic difficulties. In an effort to create better living conditions and thereby prevent this from taking place, Alexander II signed the ‘Emancipation Edict’ in 1861.14 This essentially allowed peasants to own their own agricultural land. They were granted freedom of choice regarding what they wanted to do and be where they wanted to be at any given time, so in essence they were no longer owned. Though it sounds far more humanitarian on paper than slavery, it didn’t really change much as far as the lifestyle of the peasantry is concerned. They were still forced to work the same type of labour in order to make a living. In addition, they were forced to live in communes (also known as Mir) in order to make tax collection an easier affair.15 The nobles now received the majority of tax money in order to compensate for the new-found shortage of slaves. Peasants families were issued a piece of arable land according to the amount of children in the family. If a child died, the land was reallocated to another family.16 Whether or or not the emancipation of serfs in 1855 was truly in the interest of the peasants, is presently still controversial amongst historians.17

In conclusion, the problems of sheer size of the country in combination with the major social divisions were a sizeable responsibility for the Tsar to tackle, though generally the reforms of Alexander II can be viewed as a success toward modernizing Russia. Though the above were not the only reforms lead into action by the Tsar, they were definitely substantial in shaping Russia as we know it today.

1 2 3 Notes 4 5 6 7 Video shown in class 8 9 10 Notes 11 Notes 12 13 Textbook, p. 16-17 14 15 16 17

International Baccalaureate

Extended Essay

Compare and Contrast the Reforms of Tsars Alexander II and Alexander III of Russia in connection with the peasantry.


Compare and contrast the reforms of Tsars Alexander II and Alexander III of Russia in connection with the peasantry”.

As a result of these two very distinguished rules, the sentence above shall be the objective of this essay and a conclusion will be reached by taking into consideration the reforms - social, constitutional and military - that each of the Tsars integrated into the Russian society during their reign. The time frame in reference to these reforms is between 1855, when Alexander II began his rule, until Alexander III’s death and consequently the end of his reign in 1894.

By exploring the similarities and differences between the reigns of Alexander II and Alexander III, this essay aims to identify which of the two Tsars’ reforms would have provided the more favourable outcome as regards the suppression of the insurrectionist peasant class.

This is an important topic to investigate because it provides some of the background and reasons why the peasant class eventually became disgruntled with the Tsarist rule and attempted a revolution. This topic would be worth considering for anyone interested in examining the aforementioned causal links as well as investigating the reasons behind Alexander III’s noticeably distinctive rule.

This essay intends to gather information regarding any events during the lives of both Alexander II and Alexander III, which might have had an influence on their later dealings with the peasantry as well as what kind of beliefs the two may have held. Furthermore, it shall also find information concerning their social reforms (education, politics, and military) so that a compare and contrast method may be utilized in order to determine which of the two Tsars had the more efficient way of handling the peasant class. This information will be gathered using a collection of literature written on or around the topic. Such as: Russia in the Age of Alexander II, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, Russia, 1855-1991: From Tsars to Commissars, Russia 1848-1917 and by also looking at first hand accounts quoted/referenced within.

Compare and Contrast the attitudes of Tsars Alexander II and Alexander III of Russia towards the peasantry.


‘Like father like son’. This is an expression that one hears a lot in everyday life and finds quite often to be true, anecdotally speaking. However, if this is to be the case, then why was Alexander II known as “a great reformer”[1] and Alexander III known as “a great reactionary”[2]? By extension, were both Tsars equally admired or disliked; or did their policies and methods of ruling create distinctions between the two? In line with these thoughts, this essay would like to compare and contrast the reigns of Tsar Alexander II (1855 - 1881)[3] and his son Tsar Alexander III (1881 - 1894) [4] of Russia.

The approach will be to look at different aspects of reforms (social, military and political) of each Tsar and to determine wherein the similarities lie and the differences in order to ascertain which had most effective attitude towards the peasantry. The level of effectiveness here is calculated by examining the intent of each reform based on intent, namely, how closely the outcome mirrored the design of the initial concept and whether or not that worked to fuel or subdue the revolutionary attitude becoming ever more prevalent during the late 1800s.

For each section, this essay will consider first the reforms of Alexander II, then Alexander III, followed by a third paragraph in which the effectiveness of the reforms will be compared. Thereafter it will be stated which Tsar had the most effective reform(s) in that particular branch of social policies and thus the better attitude toward the peasantry.

The thesis, therefore, is that it is in the opinion of this essay that Tsar Alexander III had the more successful and effective reign as regards his ability to quell social unrest amongst the peasant class.

The Social Reforms of Alexander II and Alexander III

Alexander II:

In 1863, Alexander II brought about important education reforms, which entitled universities to a much greater level of autonomy[5] in their affairs. In addition to this, there was the Elementary School Statute of 1864, which was instituted to aid in the combat against high illiteracy rates among the serfs, or peasants. Women were even given the opportunity to receive enough education to pursue careers as teachers and in 1878, the Bestuzhev higher learning courses for women was created and saw a very positive response judging by the number of applicants[6]. This was a move in the direction of change as, before this educational reform was implemented, the system of education had come under extreme oppression and surveillance from Nicholas I[7]. There was even a high demand for these schools by the peasants, however, that demand did not have as much to do with the new reforms, as Alexander would have liked[8]. It actually originated from the peasants’ knowledge that being capable of reading and writing meant serving a shorter term of service in the military as well as quenching their thirst for salvation through the reading of holy books.[9]

Despite this, historian David Saunders still makes the remark that the liberal policies of the government made the schools into “powder kegs” and teaching lectures “appeared to be serving not only academic and economic purposes but also the promotion of political instability.”[10] Therefore Saunders believed that although the reform did much to ameliorate the standard of education throughout the nation, it seemed also that it was precipitating feelings of political turbulence.

Alexander III:

Whereas Alexander II’s reforms enabled almost everyone to receive primary schooling, relaxed censorship laws and encouraged children to attend school and university, Alexander III did the opposite, imposing on Russia a level of “bureaucratic and police-rule more intense than the country had ever known,”[11] seen at first with the enactment of the “Statute Concerning Measures for the Protection of State Security and the Social Order” decree, which was initially intended to only be in operation for a short while but continued until 1917 and subjected the entire nation to “regulations similar to martial law”.[12]  After Alexander II’s assassination in 1881, the state received the power from the Second State Duma to pursue revolutionaries, meaning that at any time they could declare a section of the country under “extraordinary protection.[13]” This entailed banning public gatherings[14], closing schools and universities and charging individuals for political crimes and holding them in prison without trail, regardless of whether they were guilty or not. This went directly against one of Alexander II’s legal reforms in which Russians were offered the chance to have a fair trail[15] for the first time in November 1864. Restrictive Press Laws were set up in 1881; education came under close government control, striving to limit opposition and revolutionary ideas to the best of their ability. School fees were increased in order to keep those of lower class—those suspected to be most involved with the revolutionaries—away from any kind of formal education. The peasants were at first reluctant to rise against the Tsar but in the long run, these new social forces began to highlight contradictions in society, leading to social unrest amongst the peasants[16].

Seeing as the point behind both of these reforms was the same—to stamp out any insurgents or insurgent ideas—the lack of revolutionary disturbances and the peaceful reign of Alexander III clearly shows that his repression of opposition had been successful. Therefore, it is in the opinion of this essay that this venture of snuffing out opposition fulfilled its full intent and was more effective than the reforms implemented by Alexander II.

The Constitutional Reforms of Alexander II and Alexander III:

Alexander II:

Having to face the aftermath of the Crimean war and the ‘backwards’ label it consequently handed Russia, Alexander II was thrown into a different political and social climate to the one experienced by his father, Nicholas I. Therefore, he found that in order to do all he could to prevent peasant uprisings due to social unrest, he had to implement many new reforms, the most famous of which was the Emancipation Edict of 1861[17]. This notion was more than welcomed by the over twenty-two million serfs and other liberal intellectuals in Russia but heavily opposed by the landowners[18]. There were even 647 peasant riots in the first four months following the publication of the Edict.[19]

However, though the serfs were now free, they found themselves still having to buy or rent land from their former masters. The areas granted to the serfs were often too small and landlords charged inflated prices, leaving millions in hopeless poverty and debt, which did not in any way help with the much needed transformation of the serfs into a prosperous new class of consumers.[20] In addition, according to historian Orlando Figes, “any government trying to change the basic system of property owning throughout the entire country is taking the risk of becoming deeply unpopular, especially with the people whose land their expropriating… the serfs were property. ‘Property’-owning meant serfs and land.”[21]

The full intent of the Emancipation Reform was not realized in that it had two main objectives: proclaim the emancipation of serfs on private estates as well as the domestic serfs and grant them full rights as citizens, meaning they could now own property and a business. However, Alexander II’s reform had only succeeded in alienating the principle classes in Russia - he was unable to earn the gratitude of the peasants and simultaneously lost the devotion of the nobility[22]. 

Alexander III:

Alexander III did not use such moderate methods as his father. As a result of his father’s assassination by The People’s Will[23] he resorted to his conservative instincts, instilled in him through his education by his tutor Pobedonostsev[24], a conservative, and soon ceased all proposed constitutions, perhaps acting on the advice he had been receiving from Pobedonostsev even prior to his father’s death[25]. Like his father, Alexander III was also focusing a large amount of his time and energy on dealing with the peasantry, but that is where the similarities end. Despite the fact that both men were trying to bring about peace within their nation, their methods were poles apart.

Alexander II was attempting to do so through appeasement because he knew it was “better to begin abolishing serfdom from above than to wait for it to begin to abolish itself from below.”[26]. In contrast, Alexander III’s main interest at the time was the suppression of the very rapidly growing opposition groups, dubbed ‘Populists’[27], whom of which had a proclivity for terrorism and assassination.[28] In 1887, in an effort to revive the opposition, an attempt was made on the Tsar’s life but failed[29] and as the efficiency of the Okhrana, political police[30], increased, opposition died down for the time being[31]. Between 1881 and 1894, Alexander III and his government added conservative alterations to Alexander II’s reforms. For example, Land Captains were introduced in 1889 and consisted solely of nobility[32]. These Land Captains had total authority in local administration and had the power to override the zemstva[33]. Changes in the way the voting system functioned reduced the peasant self-government[34], giving them less power with which to protest or use against Alexander III. Alexander’s policy of Land Captains was so effective in its intent that former serfs feared that he might go as far to reinstitute serfdom. He did not ever take such action, however, in 1893 he banned peasants from leaving the mir[35], thereby gaining full control of their freedom to move around. Alexander III had almost all but completely done away with his father’s emancipation reforms by now, and achieving much better results.

The Military Reforms of Alexander II and Alexander III:

Alexander II:

On January 1st, 1847, Alexander II began the universal military conscription. Every man over twenty was made liable to conscription[36], irrespective of his social class, if medically able to do so.  Harsh corporate punishments and the branding of soldiers were done away with in an effort to improve the professionalism of the officer corps. All members of the military who lacked an elementary education were to receive it. Alexander II even set up reserve soldiers. Those who joined the army were also given shorter sentences, which meant that joining was no longer a ‘life sentence.’ Six years service for conscripts, followed by nine years in the reserve and five spent in the militia was now the requirements instead of 25 years.[37] As a result, the military reserve was raised from 210,000 to 553,000 by 1870[38].

The second main military reform implemented by Alexander II was to improve the competency of the soldiers. Count Dmitry Milyutin, Minister of War, was in charge of the far-reaching military reforms that changed the face of the Russian army during Alexander II’s reign[39].  Milyutin created a more civilized and efficient army through his reforms[40]. The training and discipline of the soldiers no longer made up of brutal mistreatment, such as flogging or ‘running the gauntlet’[41] and he effectuated military cadet schools and colleges in order for the officers to be well trained.[42] The intent of Alexander’s military reforms were to expand the Russian army and strengthen it after their brutally embarrassing defeat in the Crimea[43] and without a doubt this is exactly what he was able to accomplish.  

The peasantry reacted positively to this, no longer feeling that they were being forced into a life-long sentence when joining the army. They were also contented with the fact that nobles were no longer exempt from conscription.[44]

Alexander III:

Alexander III’s military reforms were very similar to those of his father if not exactly the same. When it came to that aspects of their nation, they both wanted the same thing—a strong military that would be ready and able to fight and defend Russia should the need present itself. This was one area in which the similarities in their reforms can be seen. Alexander III continued to do away with the barbaric forms of punishment used in the army and to replace them with more productive methods. He also managed avoided any foreign wars from 1881-1894[45], rightly earning himself the title ‘The Peacemaker’[46]. This period of peace allowed the army to continue to grow and gain new skills through the cadet training schools implemented by Milyutin during Alexander II’s reign. There was also ample opportunity now for Russia to move towards industrialization.[47]

The peasants, still experiencing a bitter aftertaste of the Crimean war, would most likely have been very please with this. And they would have been able to be a part of their country’s regrowth into the strong force it had been prior to 1853 when the war began.


The aim of this essay was to closely examine a few of the reforms of Russian Tsars Alexander II and Alexander III in order to determine which of the two men had the better and more effective rule. The idea was to do this by considering how well Tsarist oppression was either simply subdued or completely eradicated. It is safe to say that while neither of them managed to do the latter, Alexander III was the palpable victor in this regard. Despite Alexander II’s endeavors to please as many factions of Russia as possible, the best description of his ventures is with the modern day aphorism: “You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” And it was true in his case; he either had the gentry at his every beck and call or he had the support of the peasants, but never both; the new freedom granted through his reforms lead to unrealistic expectations of the Tsar and when these were not being met, opposition began to peak again[48]. Alexander III lacked the support of these two principle groups as well, however, that was never his intention. After his father’s assassination, he had grown fearful of terrorist groups[49] - so much so that he resided in Gatchina instead of the Winter Palace - and did all in his power to crush their rebellion. 

When one completely dissects the reforms made by both men, a mutual goal can be clearly seen - avert an insurgency of the peasantry. And though it is debatable that without Alexander II there would have been no foundation for his son to build upon, if one does choose to take that side of the argument then the fact that Alexander II was assassinated by the very people whom he had tried to help, irrespective of the immediate results of his reforms, would render the argument that Alexander II provided a basis for a peaceful and successful rule for Alexander III void.

(3,419 words)


Works cited:


                    I.      Peter Oxley, Oxford Advanced History: Russia: 1855 - 1991, From Tsars to Commissars (Oxford University Press, 2001)

                   II.      Olga Bain, University Autonomy: Higher Education In Russia Since Perestroika (Taylor & Francis, May 1, 2003)

                  III.      Nicholas Valentine Riasanovsky, Nicholas I and Official Nationality in Russia, 1825-55 (University of California Press, 1959)

                 IV.      William Mills Todd III, Literature and Society in Imperial Russia, 1800 - 1914 (Stanford University Press, 1978

                   V.        David Saunders, Russia in the age of reaction and reform 1801 - 1881 (Longmann, 1992)

                 VI.      Michael Kort, The Soviet Colossus: History and Aftermath (M.E Sharpe, Jan 1, 2001)

                VII.      Jonathan Bromley, Russia 1848 - 1917(Heinemann, 2002)

               VIII.      Roxanne Easley, The Emancipation of the Serfs in Russia: Peace Arbitrators and the Development of Civil Society (Taylor & Francis, Aug. 15, 2008)

                 IX.      Junius P. Rodriguez, The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery (ABC-CLIO, Jan 1, 1997)

                   X.      Walter Moss, Russia in the Age of Alexander II, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (Anthem Press, Jan. 1, 2002)

                 XI.      Sally Waller, History for the IB Diploma: Imperial Russia, Revolutions and the Emergence of the Soviet State 1853 - 1924 (Cambridge University Press)

                XII.        J.N. Westwood, Russia Against Japan, 1904 -1905: A New Look at the Russo-Japanese War (SUNY Press, 1986)

Electronic sources:

                               I.         Russian Federation - History and background

                              II.         Bragg, Melvyn: Figes, Orlando; Catriona, Kelly; Lieven, Dominic, Tsar Alexander II’s Assassination, BBC: In Our Time, Jan. 6th, 2005 (podcast)


A letter to the future Alexander III, 4th December, 1879, from the Procurator of the Holy Synod, K. P Pobedonostsev[50]:

All the officials and learned men here sicken my heart, as if I were in the company of half-wits or perverted baboons. I hear from all sides that trite, deceitful and accursed word: constitution… But I also meet and talk with some

 Russian men… Their hearts are seized with fear; above all else they fear that basic evil, a constitution. Among the common people everywhere the thought is spreading; better a Russian revolution and ugly turmoil than a constitution. The former could soon be repressed, with order restored throughout the land; the latter is poison to the entire organization.”

Footnotes:  [1] Peter Oxley, Oxford Advanced History: Russia: 1855 - 1991, From Tsars to Commissars (Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 51  [2] Ibid.    [3] [3] John Etty, Primary Sources in Russian (First and Best in Education, 2009), p. 6  [4] Ibid. p. 45  [5] Olga Bain, University Autonomy: Higher Education In Russia Since Perestroika (Taylor & Francis, May 1, 2003)  [6] Russian Federation - History and background  [7] Nicholas Valentine Riasanovsky, Nicholas I and Official Nationality in Russia, 1825-55 (University of California Press, 1959), pgs. 213-218  [8] William Mills Todd III, Literature and Society in Imperial Russia, 1800 - 1914 (Stanford University Press, 1978), p. 123  [9] Ibid.  [10] David Saunders, Russia in the age of reaction and reform 1801 - 1881 (Longmann, 1992), p. 251  [11] Michael Kort, The Soviet Colossus: History and Aftermath (M.E Sharpe, Jan 1, 2001), p. 24  [12] Michael Kort, The Soviet Colossus: History and Aftermath (M.E Sharpe, Jan 1, 2001), p. 24  [13] Marshall Shatz, Judith E. Zimmerman, Landmarks (M.E Sharpe, Jan 1, 1994), p. 112  [14] Peter Oxley, Oxford Advanced History: Russia: 1855 - 1991, From Tsars to Commissars (Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 44  [15] Jonathan Bromley, Russia 1848 - 1917(Heinemann, 2002), p. 32  [16]Bragg, Melvyn: Figes, Orlando; Catriona, Kelly; Lieven, Dominic, Tsar Alexander II’s Assassination, BBC: In Our Time, Jan. 6th, 2005  [17] Ibid. p. 176  [18] Roxanne Easley, The Emancipation of the Serfs in Russia: Peace Arbitrators and the Development of Civil Society (Taylor & Francis, Aug. 15, 2008)  [19] Peter Oxley, Oxford Advanced History: Russia: 1855 - 1991, From Tsars to Commissars (Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 27  [20] Junius P. Rodriguez, The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery (ABC-CLIO, Jan 1, 1997), p. 561  [21] Bragg, Melvyn: Figes, Orlando; Catriona, Kelly; Lieven, Dominic, Tsar Alexander II’s Assassination, BBC: In Our Time, Jan. 6th, 2005  [22] Peter Oxley, Oxford Advanced History: Russia: 1855 - 1991, From Tsars to Commissars (Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 27  [23] Ibid. p. 37  [24] Ibid. p. 43  [25] See Appendix: A letter to Alexander III  [26] Peter Oxley, Oxford Advanced History: Russia: 1855 - 1991, From Tsars to Commissars (Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 26  [27] Ibid. p. 52  [28] Ibid.  [29] Jonathan Bromley, Russia 1848 - 1917(Heinemann, 2002), pgs. 79, 80  [30] Michael Kort, The Soviet Colossus: History and Aftermath (M.E Sharpe, Jan 1, 2001), pg. 24  [31] Ibid. p. 43  [32] Ibid. 26 p. 44  [33] Ibid. 26 p. 45  [34] Ibid. 26  [35] Ibid. 26  [36] Walter Moss, Russia in the Age of Alexander II, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (Anthem Press, Jan. 1, 2002), p. 154  [37] Peter Oxley, Oxford Advanced History: Russia: 1855 - 1991, From Tsars to Commissars (Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 29  [38] Ibid.  [39] Ibid. 36.  [40] Sally Waller, History for the IB Diploma: Imperial Russia, Revolutions and the Emergence of the Soviet State 1853 - 1924 (Cambridge University Press), p. 46  [41] Ibid.  [42] Ibid.  [43] Ibid. 37.  [44] Ibid. 40, p. 46  [45]Michael Kort, The Soviet Colossus: History and Aftermath (M.E Sharpe, Jan 1, 2001), pg. 25  [46] J.N. Westwood, Russia Against Japan, 1904 -1905: A New Look at the Russo-Japanese War (SUNY Press, 1986), p. 3  [47] Ibid. 45.  [48] Peter Oxley, Oxford Advanced History: Russia: 1855 - 1991, From Tsars to Commissars (Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 33  [49] Sally Waller, History for the IB Diploma: Imperial Russia, Revolutions and the Emergence of the Soviet State 1853 - 1924 (Cambridge University Press), p. 76   [50] Peter Oxley, Oxford Advanced History: Russia: 1855 - 1991, From Tsars to Commissars (Oxford University Press, 2001)

 To what extent had Russia’s economy been modernised by 1914 under Aleksandr III and Nikolas II?
The economic status of the Russian Empire in the context of the late 19th century to early 20th century can only be characterised as an inefficient combination of traditional agricultural peasantry and a developing modern industry. The roots of Imperial Russia’s economic crises can be traced back to the Serf Emancipation Act introduced under Aleksandr II in 1861; such unprecedented liberation ultimately de-stablised the basis of the entire Russian autocratic regime, given that the total population of around 122 million consisted of an overwhelmingly rural majority of nearly 80 percent. The repercussions of this act were inevitably passed down to successors Aleksandr III and Nikolas II, and paved the course of their economic policies specifically until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. This essay will evaluate the key elements of Russia’s economic modernisation from the beginning of Aleksandr III’s reign in 1881, up to 1914, whilst considering administrative and political developments in this period.
On the 13th of March, 1881, Tsar Aleksandr II was assassinated by extremist group Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will), passing the autocracy to his son, Aleksandr III at a mere 36 years old. In April, the newly-appointed Tsar delivered the Manifesto of Unshakable Autocracy in which he stated that Orthodoxy, autocracy, and ‘narodnost’ (cultural heritage) were the three principles which would save Russia from revolutionary turmoil and economic calamity. This address directly reflected his utmost fear of revolution while simultaneously foreshadowing the imminent course of his economic policy. His reign is regarded as a chiefly repressive period in the history of Imperial Russia, given that he sought to override the extent of his fathers’ ‘liberal tendencies’ and progressive reforms by subjecting Russia to ‘bureaucratic and police-rule more intense than the country had ever known’; this subsequently granted him the pseudonym ‘Russia’s last real autocrat’. In the elementary years of his rule, an estimated 90 percent of the population consisted of land workers; this was due to the basis of Russian economy relying primarily on grain exports. However, regardless that agriculture provided for the greater majority of the population’s livelihood, the peasantry ultimately bore the brunt of Russia’s economic dysfunction since the entirety of their household income barely sufficed for basic necessities; thus, the living and working standards of Russia at the time was incomparable to that of Western Europe, and subsequently prompted a series of prospective plans for the bettering of Russian
 economy. Nikolai Ignatyev, Alekseyevich’s successor and newly appointed Minister of War under Aleksandr III, formulated such plans specifically with the peasantry and zemstvos in the forefront of his agenda. These reforms detailed the lowering of peasant redemption payments by quartering the tax-burden, the abolishment of poll taxes, and an increased regulation of internal colonisation and subsequent land rents, all of which aimed to satisfy the public demand and general socio-economic unrest in the country. These developments were reinforced by the opening of peasant’s banks which allowed their purchase of land by Minister of Finance, Bunge, as well as through the enactment of the 1882 Factory Acts which targeted the preservation of worker health by decreasing work hours and appointing factory inspectors to regulate working conditions. Furthermore, Bunge aimed to expand the home market as a whole by increasing industry and agriculture while gradually abolishing capitation; in 1885 he went on to introduce private joint-stock banks, most notoriously the ‘Nobleman’s Land-Bank’ which consolidated the gentry’s position as well. His successor, Vyshnegradsky continued his ambitions by promoting industrialisation through the construction of new railway systems and by increasing the flow of foreign capital into Russia through the stabilisation of the rate of exchange of the ruble. Such an increase of reforms would suggest that Russia’s economy was being rapidly and effectively modernised, however working conditions ultimately remained inhumane, high-taxes were a prevalent motivation for social unrest and strikes, and in 1891 the country was ravaged by a famine which claimed nearly 400.000 lives. This is thought to have been a pivotal point in the reawakening of Russian Marxism, as the population was again let down by the Tsar, and shows that despite such efforts to modernise Russia, it was ultimately not successful.
Nicholas II succeeded Aleksandr III in November of 1894, however, from the beginning of his legacy he was notably criticised for his miscalculated delegation of authority amongst his subordinates, and embarrassed his reign through a series of military failures such as the Russo-Japanese War; this combination inevitably proclaimed him ‘the Last Autocrat’. Nevertheless, during the first ten years of his rule, Russia admittedly continued rapid industrial progress. Specifically, the Ukrainian metallurgical industry significantly prospered, and in 1897, Witte introduced the Gold Standard which manifested a considerable flow of foreign capital into Russia’s industry. This progress was stunted, however, following the 1905 Revolution which increasingly pressured Nicholas to grant political civil liberties and to select an elected
 legislature in the form of a Duma. In 1907, Pyotr Stolypin was appointed as Prime Minister, and initiated a series of major agrarian reforms in hopes of addressing economic wane and distilling public unrest. Such agrarian reforms increased grain outputs by a third, and similarly increased peasant landownership by 30 percent; thus, they not only modernised Russian industry, but subsequently also boosted her position amongst other European powers. Urbanisation also increased, which was necessary given that only an estimated 16 percent of the population inhabited towns and cities, and therefore it advanced heavy industry as the production of steel and iron grew by fifty percent. Despite this however, the 1912 strike at the Lena gold fields affirmed that vexation and heavy opposition to Tsarist regime still fueled the nation. Hundreds of protestors were killed by military police, which emphasised Nicholas’s tendency to violently suppress any public protests, and further soured his notions with the Russian people as he repeatedly failed to address their demands; this eventually led to the 1917 Revolutions and eventual overthrow of the Romanov dynasty.
To conclude, although Russia did see some progress in industrial growth and economic modernisation over the course of Aleksandr III and Nikolas II’s reigns, it was simply not enough to suffice for the exponentially-growing population of the nation and consistently failed to address the public’s demands. Thus, the combination of an unresolved serf-system, poor living conditions, and a lagging agrarian system was the inevitable consequence of failed modernisation, and therefore resulted in a transference of power to the Bolsheviks under Lenin in 1917.