In 1855, Alexander II took over the Russian throne following the death of his Father. As a new Tsar he faced many problems. There was low morale in the Army as he took over the throne just after the humiliating Crimean War, where many serfs were conscripted to fight, which caused unrest. The low morale was also present as the serfs were from different ethnic groups and were poorly educated so success was a rare for the army. He also faced the difficulties of the unfair system of ruling, making Russia a hard country to govern. Inevitably, the vast size of Russia didn’t help with the ruling by the Tsar as all the power was centralized and contained a huge amount of different religions which all had their own opinions. Inevitably, it made Russia a hard country to govern.
The most difficult problem that Alexander II faced was the social state of Russian people. Since the serfs were led by nobility, a clear contrast in class was shown, thus affecting the way people lived and behaved in towns and villages. Language and religious barriers was another problem of no unity between people. Alexander II didn’t bring successful reform to Russia even though reform attempts were made. During his reign, Alexander brought about many reforms some successful and others not so.
The Emancipation of the Serfs in 1861 was a positive turning point for Russia as it ‘freed’ the Serfs from powerful nobles who ruled over them. The main aim of this reform was help with the industrialization of Russia and to allow it to try and keep up with the powerful Western Europe. It was also an effort to reduce peasant revolts and to reform the army after the Crimean War. Which as a humiliating defeat for Russia. It highlighted the social and economic weakness within Russia; causing Alexander II to take decisive action. The main successes of the reform were that some peasants gained large amounts of land. But however, it also had its limitations. Taxes were put upon the serfs which amounted to large sums of money going in the form of redemption payments. Obviously most peasants could not afford to pay the redemption payment and so had to remain attached to the ‘Mir’ and work to pay off their debts. Therefore, many peasants were better off as serfs where they often got a bigger plot of land than present and had no redemptions to pay. Many disagreed with the liberation and thought that they would become worse off.
In 1863, Alexander II attempted to reform censorship by putting The Ministry of Interior in charge of it. In 1865 they issued a new set of guidelines for writers and editors to follow. The main aim of this reform was to extend the public ‘freedom of expression’ which had been heavily restricted in past years by severe censorship of papers and books. The reform had some successes as the emancipation of the serfs was openly discussed and the editors no longer needed to get approval from the Tsar. But like the emancipation of the serfs, it also had its limitations. In 1873, certain topics were forbidden. Again Alexander went back on his word, as the freedom of expression was restricted as was the serf’s freedom.
Alexander was also able to reform the industry in Russia, which overall was mainly successful. He was able to expand the workforce from 860,000 to 1,320,000 by 1887, which resulted in new industries and methods being able to be set up, for e.g. the increase in coal production and textile industries. This helped Russia to catch up with its powerful Western Europe Industries and allies
Education was reformed to prevent barriers between people as many serfs could not write or read. The government also wanted the schools to be regulated. To increase the amount of people educated, more public schools were built and established and a national curriculum was also introduced. The successes of this were reform were that many people learnt to read and write and the possibility of university was increased to all social class members. The successes though also led to failures as many more people went abroad to go to university and with this brought back dangerous ideas, which led to opposition and revolts.
The final major reform in Alexander II reign was of local government and law (judiciary). The local government needed to be reformed to control the majority of Russia’s population as the nobles had lost control over the serfs after their liberation. It was also needed, as Russia was an ungoverned society. To reform and keep in line the local governments, the Zemstva (an elected assembly) was set up to represent towns, peasants and gentry. The reform was successful as it provided people- especially the peasants with a new opportunity to be involved in politics. But there were also many limitations, like the emancipation of the serfs and also the censorship reform, there was restrictions on how much power the Zemstva were allowed to have, it was also still very autocratic so the wealthy were still dominant as they were before. The Russian Judiciary needed reforming as the trials were very unfair, and the accused were assumed to be guilty before they were even tried. The law courts were also very corrupt and the judges were easily bribed by the wealthy. To combat this, Alexander introduced laws in 1804 to reform the Legal System’. The judges were also paid higher wages, so the chances of them accepting bribes were reduced. This was successful as there was now a freedom of expression within the courts but they were still operated by the secret police and Tsar who had a lot of power over the court cases, and also political cases were not tried in courts.
In conclusion, though Alexander attempted to reform many aspects of Russia, he only did it at ‘limited measures’ and during his reign there was very little reform in financial policies, the poll tax is a key example. It was a heavy burden on the peasants but gentry were exempt from which caused grief and unrest between the civil classes. As a result of Alexander’s reforms many people began to revolt and oppose his rule. Revolts were also caused by the bad harvests, when there was low morale due to the lack of food and increase risk of disease. Even though Alexander II introduced many reforms, none of them were entirely successful in bringing about reform in Russia as he didn’t actually change anything, just adapted the structure of rule that was already standing. This probably explains why he was assassinated in 1881.