Alexander III bequeathed Russia a revolution. How far do you agree with this statement?
Alexander III bequeathed Russia a revolution. How far do you agree with this statement?
Alexander III bequeathed Russia a revolution but there are a few factors that could suggest revolution was inevitable. It could be said that the rumbling of revolution in Russia had been gathering strength underneath the calm surface for some time; and Alexander III's reactionary repressions were all that was needed to push them over the edge.
It was through Alexander III's desire to maintain dominant Autocratic rule that he crushed the shoots of liberalism that had just started to grow. Unlike Alexander III, his father was known as the 'Tsar Liberator' and had brought in many reforms which changed the overall balance of society in the Empire. However, through the assassination of his father, Alexander III abhorred the thought of losing complete control and supremacy. Any reforms to Russia would almost definitely lead to the decline in power of Russia's autocracy. Any reduction in the power of Russia's autocracy might also impact the power of Russia's monarchy. One of his main priorities was to make sure that Autocracy never weakened. He made it very clear he did not approve of his father's reforms and as soon as he became Tsar he went on a process of reversing and undoing the progress set in motion by his father.
Alexander III made several changes to the government structure and his ministers; and this pushed Russia closer to revolution. Firstly, he appointed Konstantin Pobedonostsev as his chief minister and Procurator, who was a man of great power and influence. Pobedonostsev hated anything which went against Russia's Autocratic government. Only five weeks after the assassination of Alexander II, Alexander III's Manifesto was issued. The document summed up Alexander's counter reform policies. This was an extreme act of repression and contrasted greatly with the reforms of Alexander II. The new government was immediately determined to destroy the People's Will organisation and stamp out any other government opponents. One way in which dominating, repressive control was brought in was through the establishment of The Statute of State Security. This was issued by the new Interior Minister in August 1881. This statute included the return of government controlled courts and the establishment of the Okhrana (the secret police). They had extensive powers of: surveillance, arrest, and the ability to repress and restrict. Increasingly, the people felt the effect of censorship with many newspapers; journals; and foreign literature being 'muzzled'. The Intelligentsia (who were well educated and wanted modernisation) were becoming a worry to Alexander III and the government; because they had the ability to influence the proletariat (working class) in cities. The statute was extremely important to stop the Intelligentsia from spreading anti-Autocratic views; although this repression only had the effect of pushing them ‘under-ground’.
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Alexander III further increased political tensions when he tried to unify Russia through Russification, thereby pushing Russia further toward revolution. Russification was not new to Russia but it was the intensity of Alexander's policy that made it different after 1881. This was a series of laws passed with the intention of bringing cohesion to all the different people groups, thereby eradicating signs of non-Russian nationality. Alexander III wanted to rid Russia of western ideas that he believed had weakened the nation. This caused great public outrage as entire people groups had laws passed against them and their way of life. Russification motivated minorities to push for independence, and this proliferated revolutionary groups. Only 55% of the people were true Russians and now the Russian language was the only one that could be spoken in schools, placed on signs and official documents. This led to the creation of the Marxist party; set up by Trotsky (who was a Jew). This proves that Russification only increased revolutionary feeling in the heart of Russia. It could be said that Alexander III did not think this political policy through because in effect half of the population now had another reason to hate the Tsar.
One of the key events in what would turn out to be the start of Russia’s autocratic ruin was: appointing Sergei Witte as financial Minister in 1892. Russia was a vast and underdeveloped country whose economy was mainly based on agriculture. It had not had an industrial revolution whereas many other European powers had. Sergei Witte believed Russia should be more powerful and his views on how to do so were centred around economic development. Witte's reforms, known as 'The Great Spurt', brought in many transformations and gave the peasants a sense of freedom and progress never experienced before. Unfortunately, for all its advantages, industrialisation had some adverse consequences. The working class was: exploited, poorly treated, and clustered together in large numbers and therefore susceptible to revolutionary ideas. Witte's policies included: the emphasis on production of capital goods such as iron, steel coal and machinery; the building of the Trans-Siberian Railway; the creation of a new educational system (to train personnel for industry); and the 'Witte system' for economic development. He also undertook a major currency reform; this led to increased investment activity and an increase in the inflow of foreign capital. This was an extremely successful economic development as countries began to see the potential in Russia. Some 30 % of investment was sponsored from abroad, mainly from France. Not only was this the first time Russia had borrowed money from outside its borders but it brought Russia out of isolationism.
By using a strange mixture of repression and industrialisation throughout his reign, Alexander III confused the peasants. Industrialisation had caused some people to leave the countryside to find work and a better life in towns and cities. Sadly, living conditions were terrible as no planning was put in place for this sudden rise in population. Filthy, cramped and impoverished conditions were widespread which only helped solidify the feelings of disgruntlement held against the Tsar. Very importantly, due to Witte's industrialisation, a new class of people had been created... the working class. The lives of the working class were suddenly transformed by industrialisation and many questions would now be asked that had never occurred to them before. These people who worked in the newly built factory cities felt that they deserved rights and protection for their new lives. This prompted the making of many trade unions. These gatherings of workers were very powerful as they had one voice, speaking for the downtrodden. Discontent was stirred through these unions, and the cramped and impoverished living conditions only added to the problem. Public unrest was stirring as people became wiser to the situation around them and of the rights they felt they should have. The seed of change had now been planted in the heart of Autocratic Russia.
Not all desire for change had come as a result of the oppression felt through Alexander III's reactionary rule. The stage for revolution had already been set because of the liberal actions of his father. With Alexander II being known as the 'Tsar Liberator' many reforms were put in place that brought Russians a sense of development and progress. He was best known for the 'Emancipation of the Serfs' which gave peasants the full rights of free citizens. Also the introduction of a new judicial system meant that there was a trial by jury that ordinary Russians participated in instead of the Tsar's officials. He also introduced the first form of elective government known as the zemstva. These local units were limited but had control over elementary education and road building. Because Russians had started to feel what progress and development was like; they resented Alexander III’s reactionary rule.
It was Alexander's determination to return to dominant Tsarist control that bequeathed Russia a revolution. By the end of Alexander III's reign there was no doubt that Autocratic power had been re-established. All of Alexander II's social and political progress had been eradicated and modernisation halted. 'Russia was now the most repressive state in all Europe'. Alexander III did not have the ability to foresee that the causes he cared for and the means by which he obtained them caused the eventual destruction of the way of life and government he wished to preserve. His repressions helped set into motion the events that would eventually take Russia to the brink of revolution. Unrest had built under Alexander III and what seemed to be the government's ability to keep control was actually just a temporary solution to a much wider problem. Those who wanted change knew that they would have to take it, as they could not expect major reform to come from the government of Russia. The desire for change began before Alexander III stepped onto the throne. He just completed the journey already set in motion by Alexander II's liberal reforms.