"Alexander II transformed the lives of the peasants" How far do you agree?

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Saiba Shah

“Alexander II transformed the lives of the peasants” How far do you agree with this view?

Alexander II did introduce a number of reforms in terms of changing the lives of the serfs, which were quite revolutionary for that period of time. The serfs were a big aspect of Russia’s life as they made up approximately 90% of the population and it was in Alexander’s interest to modernise Russia and with this idea in mind he introduced the Emancipation Edict of 1861 which was, in essence, supposed to be a dramatic change and thus would mean agreeing with the statement. However, to say that Alexander transformed the lives of the peasants, that is to say he completely changed the lives of the peasants, is rather inaccurate and it could be argued that, although many aspects were reformed and dealt with, peasants were living in similar conditions from the beginning of the period to the end.

Economically, there were times in the period of Alexander II’s reign that the peasants’ lives did improve with the economic liberal Minister of Finance Michael Reutern who increased awareness of the government to promote economic development actively. Alexander II understood the need to emancipate the serfs in order for them to move around freely and develop, ultimately to begin to help with the industrial and financial progress of Russia, and because of this, under him, there was 20 times as much railway mileage as in 1855. Alongside that, by 1881 the telegraph network in Russia had expanded to 50,000 miles, compared with 1,300 in 1855. There was a sense of a basis for rapid economic development during this period to aid the peasants’ lives.

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However, overall industrial progress was still very slow especially compared to the West in production of steel, iron and coal. A specific aim of emancipation was to aid the development of free mobile wage labour and encourage the growth of large-scale mass consumer market to act as stimulus and incentive for economic; but, this did not take place for the majority. The unexpected and highly inconvenient redemption payments that had to be paid to landlords by serfs had the serfs practically tied to their landlords even though they were technically freed as they had to pay it off before ...

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