By the mid 1850’s Russia was starting to look unstable and the tides were beginning to turn on the authority of tsarism. While repression was rife, it only served to drive the opposition underground and concessions were to needed to appease areas of society, particularly the serfs. So , in reference to the question, what were the main reasons that Russia had to be reformed by the mid 19th century?One factor leading towards the need for reformation in Russia by the mid 1850’s are the changing attitudes following the Napoleonic wars. After having liberated Europeans from Napoleon’s army, the Russian army, many of whom were serfs, returned home with a different spirit. Although they were proud of Russia’s leadership, they aimed to change Russia to make it more in line with Western Europe.
They wanted to end serfdom, a system which kept serfs, 90% of the Russian population, as slave’s to their land owners. Returning Russians also desired the combined ideals of liberalism, constitutionalism and nationalism which existed in enlightened states such as France and the USA.The changing attitudes seen after the Napoleonic wars can be seen to be the seed of sympathy and a desire for western values to be implemented in Russia (westernisers) in the 1840’s. This group, a prominent branch of the intelligentsia favoured the civil and political rights and economic productivity found in Western Europe. Although the influence of the Napoleonic wars may appear a weighty factor it is of course true it did not stir the serfs to rebellion merely on the large part serve as a minor annoyance and hopes of civil liberties and a constitutionalism were distant dreams and did not seem realistic for most Russians.The need for reform in Russian can also be attributed to economic and technological backwardness. In the early nineteenth century an increasing number of governmental officials realised that Russia’s economic structures were undermining Russia’s power.
The fact that the economy was primarily agrarian and revolved around the system of serfdom clearly inhibited Russia’s economic growth by limiting the tax base. If Russia’s economy diversified into industry, following a British industrialisation model it would thus increase the tax base and allow average Russians to become richer, reducing general discontent, allow Russia to Strengthen her army and improve infrastructure. The backwardness of the economy also stifled technological innovation which could have lead to developments in agricultural practise and also in industry. However in reality Russia was not ready for industrialisation, which would occur a century later and Russia needed to progress to a market economy with some private enterprise. Also, after the defeat in the Crimea in 1856, the government of Alexander II realised that technological and economic backwardness were beginning to severely limit undermine the army, the foundation of the government’s authority and in this respect reform was needed in order to cement the state’s authority especially after unrest, as seen in the 1825 Decembrist revolt.
The superannuated state of Russia’s social structure can also be seen as attributable to the necessity of reform by the mid 1850’s. As previously highlighted, the system of serfdom was highly inefficient economically and can be seen to undermine Russia’s power. Also, in the face of western ideals within the westernised ruling group, serfdom was no longer seen as morally tolerable and it was thought that it’s continuation would lead to revolution as the peasants could easily overthrow their oppressors as a unified mass alongside an army mutiny as previously seen in the Decembrist revolt of 1825. A desire for reform, perhaps the enlightening the “dark masses”, can be attributed to the Napoleonic wars where Europe represented a new world of industry, urbanisation and science against the traditional superannuated world of peasants, religion and autocracy.Other than being fundamentally unfair, it is also worth mentioning that the emancipation of the serfs as a class would be beneficial to the state as the serfs could become petty entrepreneurs thus becoming more motivated once he is free and has property rights. Having said all this, social alongside the previously discussed economic backwardness can be seen as crucial to the Russian autocracy as if the “dark masses” were kept unenlightened to the possibilities of liberalism and private enterprise they may be more devout followers of autocracy. However, it is also worth mentioning that as the world progressed, change would have to come eventually and the Russian people could not be suppressed forever so maybe it was in the favour of autocracy and tsarist to appease the peasants, supporting the requirement for reform.The actions of Catherine the great and Alexander I alongside can also be seen in crucial in the need for reforms by the mid nineteenth century.
Catherine the great was also key in introducing educational reforms opening the Moscow University Catherine was also responsible for the explosion in the written word and an “era of enlightenment”. This development can be seen as good for Russia however a more educated society could spell danger for autocracy as more people would be in a position to criticise the system, especially bearing in mind the system in Western Europe. However this criticism was driven underground by censorship and resigned to the intelligentsia, a class bolstered by Catherine’s reforms. During Alexander’s early reign he can be seen to be progressive once discussing a Russian constitution after the Napoleonic wars.
However increasing repression at home and the reform of universities, Alexander’s opposition to movements for national independence in Greece and elsewhere seen dissolution those hoping for a continuation of the liberal reform plans of his early reign. This brief flirtation with Western values may have aroused some of the people’s hopes and could have added to anti abolitionist’s sentiment perhaps supporting the need for concessions by the mid 1850’s. oweHHsdfsddsdsdsdHowever the era enlightenment can be less cynically viewed as a genuine humanitarian help opposed to what it can be regarded a hot bed of anti tsarist sentiment.
In reference to the question, I believe that the most important reason to why reforms were needed by the mid 1850’s was the fact that the Russian social and economic structures were both superannuated and were not suited to a nation set to be great European factor. I believe this because Russia was a comparatively a medieval state in a new world of firearms, industrialistation and democracy. However I would regard all the above outlined factors as important. I believe that while the Napoleonic wars were not that important as the glimmer of reforms under catherine and alexander as these set the precident for reform while the impact of napoleonic wars were a minor gripe comparitvely as they were in little position to act on this discontent.