Alexander II came to the throne in 1855, following Russia’s defeat in the Crimean war. The effects of this left Russia devastated. The war highlighted the ‘backwardness’ of Russia’s society and subsequent inability of the army and economy. Alexander had no sympathy for radical or liberal ideas, but he recognised that some improvements were necessary to preserve his autocratic system of government. One of the major problems that faced Alexander II upon his succession was the issue of Serfdom. Serfs were peasants that were bound to their landlord.
They were forced to work on land and were given little in return. They were also restricted in their freedom, which was very limiting on their social life. Following Alexander’s rise to the throne there was an increase in moral speculation of serfdom and its immorality. This was proving harmful to Russia’s international reputation. Another major issue regarding serfdom was their conscription to the Russian army which was … Finally serfdom was argued to be economic stagnation as it prevented the enterprise of the masses.
Overall serfdom was seen as the main cause of Russia’s inefficiency and needed to be abolished before further reform could take place. Alexander began to alter this with the Emancipation of the Serfs in 1861. This meant that serfs were now free however with the downside that they had to pay ‘obrok’ (labour services) for two years. Alongside this the peasant commune, the MIR had an increase in power such as tax collection which meant that the peasants were now collectively owned by the MIR.
Although the emancipation did help with the social and moral problems by allowing serfs freedom in marriage, trade and work; the reforms were flawed. A prime example of this was the lack of compensation for the Lords. Who were not given any substitute for their loss of serfs. Overall there was a feeling of discontent with the reforms as Russian society was now being changed for no apparent reason as the serfs were not freed. Alexander simple transferred control over the peasants from the landlords to the MIR.
When assessing how well Alexander dealt with the issue of Serfdom we can infer that his attempt was a success in starting the process of reformation, however the reform of the serfs itself seems to lead massive disruptions within society, the economy and agriculture. However, when criticising we must take in to consideration that the problem was one of great complexities which although did not succeed in itself, it encouraged a more questioning and liberal attitude amongst many. The Emancipation of the serfs was seen as the initial reform under ‘Alexander the Great.
The lead to further reforms such as within the military. The Crimean War revealed the weakness and corruption of leadership within the Russian army. Prior to the reforms the duty of military service fell exclusively on the lower class and peasants. The ranks were conscripted from Serfs for 15 years compulsory service. This caused many social and moral dilemmas. Women were left widowed as it was almost certain their husbands would not return, however if they did they were not compensated with a pension or land. This meant the army was extremely disorganised and lacked in moral.
It was obvious that reform was needed in order for Russia to attain a successful army which would leader to a strengthening in internal and international control. In 1864 there was reorganisation of conscription. However; it was not until 1874 when major reform began to take place. This started with conscription being extended to all Russians over the age of 21. With the exception of those in education, conscription was partially exempted. To ensure equality names were drawn out of an annual ballot. Furthermore, the term of active service was reduced from 25 to 6 years.
In addition, the army were able to recall men for a further 9 years after their return home. Despite Alexander’s attempts to reform the military system, there were limitations. His attempts to even out the class divide were successful in soldiers, this however did not reflect in the role of officers, who were still mainly aristocrats. Alexander did succeed more effectively in financial issues within the army. The shortened service time for soldiers and recall system proved cheaper than maintaining a massive army. This meant that the military budget was utilised in more important areas such as training and supply.
Modern weapons such as rifles were introduced to allow Russia to compete with the West. The improvement of transport such as railways meant that troops were mobilised to a greater extent and Alexander even introduced military collages for training purposes. However these new reforms were limited due to the low levels of national education which meant that the effectiveness of training was limited. The extent to how far Russia had to go in terms of military reform was evident in their defeats by Japan in 1904-5 and by Germany in 1914-17.