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How valid is the view that the reign of, Alexander II achieved nothing of significance for Russia?

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Introduction

How valid is the view that the reign of, Alexander II achieved nothing of significance for Russia? Alexander II was tutored by a broad-minded army general, whose influence was undoubtedly transferred to Alexander: one of the most enlightened tsars in Russian history. His liberal approach to autocracy earned him the popular title of "Tsar liberator". Preceding his reign had been that of his father, Nicholas I, a cruel man who ruled Russia in a despotic manner, with little regard for the suffering caused by his policies. Seen in this light, Alexander's reign brought welcome relief to a great many Russians. Alexander can be credited with beginning the process of modernizing Russia to attempt to bring it more into fine with democratic western states such as Britain and France. One of Alexander's most important reforms was the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. This was not a new idea; in fact it had been around for about two hundred years, although no Russian leader until Alexander II had been brave enough to put it into action. The move effectively ended what had been practically slavery in Russia's rural regions. It had been prompted by increasing doubts about serfdom's ethical credibility. It was also feared that the serfs would revolt if they were not freed soon. Alexander II said himself that "it is better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait for the time when it will begin to abolish itself from below." The serfs were freed from their land-owning overlords, and allowed either to purchase the land on which they worked or to go to one of the developing big cities to seek work in the factories that were becoming more common with the spread of industrialization through Russia. ...read more.

Middle

The reforms in the Russian judicial system were effectively an extension of human rights. This policy was taken further by Alexander when he agreed to the issue of passports to many Russians. This meant that many could travel abroad for the first time. One of the most important areas of Alexander's reforms was the economy and industry. Serfdom had impeded the creation of a large workforce, and, as such, the Russian economy had been almost completely agrarian. The abolition of serfdom allowed that situation to change, and a huge new workforce was suddenly created. Also, Russia's previously untouched deposits of coal and other raw materials began to be exploited. Central to the policy of industrialisation was the construction of railways. These were very useful. They allowed settlement of new areas (especially useful in Siberia), they allowed greater control over the country to be exercised by the tsar and they improved communication and made transportation of raw materials and industrial goods easier. Construction of railways in Russia began under Nicholas I but did not really take off until Alexander II came to the throne. In 1866 3,000 miles of railway track criss-crossed Russia. By 1883 that figure had climbed to 14,700 miles. Freight traffic carried by the railways underwent a similar explosion. In the same period it climbed from 3 million tons to 24 million tons. Under Alexander II Russia developed a large and important textile industry. Also, she began to produce large amounts of iron and steel, so important in the construction of railways, ships, armaments and factories. (By 1890 80% of Russia's new locomotives were built at home.) There were many metal works in the Ural Mountains and in the Donets Basin. ...read more.

Conclusion

Although Alexander II and, later his son, repeated many of these reforms, the very fact that the Russian people had been allowed to see their effect for a short period of time was valuable in itself: it allowed them to have a taste of what life could possibly be like under a democratic government, if autocracy was discarded. This was vital in breeding a revolutionary movement in Russia, that eventually culminated in the events of 1917. This is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your view of autocracy. Many would say that it was a good thing to eliminate such a cruel form of government. Looked at in this way, Alexander II's reign was a positive thing for Russia. Looked at in another way, though, Alexander ll's reign was neither good nor bad. He was self-contradictory, and this gives a very confusing picture of him as a man. He was unwise not to stick to one policy, either liberalism or reaction. His ambivalence caused much discontent and violence in his reign. He effectively gave the Russian people what they wanted with one hand and then took it away with the other. Many of his reforms did not have time to work properly because they were not in force long enough. This can be blamed on Alexander II, but also Alexander III. Many of his reforms, like the emancipation of the serfs and the measures introduced in the army, however, were permanent and so of lasting worth for Russia. Most importantly, Alexander ll's industrial and economic policy was a good thing, and this was continued by Alexander III. Russia became recognised as an important industrial power in the world. So Alexander III did achieve things of lasting worth for Russia, but his reign was not as valuable as it might have been. ...read more.

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