Essay on Alexander II

Submitted By Gabriel-Shaft
Words: 1786
Pages: 8

“The emancipation of the serfs in Russia was the only genuine reform introduced by Alexander II”.
To what extent do you agree with this assertion?

1881 saw the death of the Tsar known as “the Liberator” by some in Russia. He had emancipated the serfs, thereby abolishing the system of serfdom that was in place, a system where the peasant population were the property of the owner of the land. It can be argued that this was the Tsar's only genuine (sincere and authentic) reform, which is the amendment of something that is unsatisfactory or corrupt, which I believe is false, as there were many other reforms throughout his reign which indicate that the emancipation of the serfs was not the sole mission of Alexander II, however some of his later reforms show to some extent the fears of an ageing Tsar, which can be interpreted as being Muscovite. The process of emancipation and the emancipation itself also gives insight into the sincerity of Alexander II views on reforming Russia, allowing us to determine whether it was even a genuine reform in the first place.

The emancipation edict was came into effect in 1861 and was the life's work of the Tsar who had seen the harshness of the serf system since his early years. The edict itself was divided into three separate stages: freedom, temporary obligation and redemption operation. The first stage gave the serfs their personal freedom, however the serfs were obliged to continue working as serfs for two more years, in order for time to be allowed to survey and value all of the land. The second stage made the serfs pay rent to the landowners, whilst agreeing on the price of land that would be given to them. The third stage was the process of repayment: the ex-serfs would pay taxes to the government and would pay off the land that they had been allocated to the landowner. Judicial and administrative authority was also handed out to the volosts, which were newly formed village communes which were in charge of local courts and ensuring that payments were collected. The success and nature of the emancipation has been argued extensively by historians; David Moon argued that the emancipation did achieve economic development, slowly at first however it began to rise later on in the Tsar's reign, and he also argued that the peasants did experience steady improvement in living standards. It is convincing to draw this conclusion as there is evidence to support this. A middle class known as the kulaks did begin to form in the wake of the emancipation, who experienced significantly better living standards, and some peasants managed to work in the cities, where life was better. On the other hand though, many peasants experienced similar or worse standards of living, as on average they lost 20% of their former land and 15% of the peasant population was still in the second stage in 1881, due to the landowners refusal to agree on a price, hence we can see there were a variety in the different successes and failures of the emancipation. By looking at the aftermath of the emancipation, it is clear that the emancipation was genuinely intended to help the lower classes.

Genuine is used to describe something that is free from pretence, affectation or hypocrisy. A popular synonym is sincere. Was Alexander II decision to emancipate the serfs actually a genuine decision or was it out of necessity? On one hand, it can be seen that there were many practical arguments for emancipating the serfs. The Russian economy was stagnating, due to the lack of industrialisation, unlike what was being seen throughout Europe at the time. The nobles were also falling behind on payments as there wasn't enough grain being produced to export, which led 66% of serfs being mortgaged to the state by 1959, and furthermore the stagnation left the serfs unable to pay taxes, which led to 54 million roubles in tax arrears by 1855, hence it can be seen why reform was necessary in order to fix the economy, perhaps indicating that the