How Effective was the Emancipation of the Serfs
Before answering this question, we have to understand the complexity and how difficult Alexander II’s task was. The Tsar had to completely change the structure of the country by destroying the system that it had been using for many years. Something had to be done as this system caused Russia to become a backwards economy which caused a once powerful country to fall behind the other great powers of Europe.
Alexander II’s main aims for the emancipation were to prevent Russia’s economy to further decline, help Russia become a modern industrial economy and to improve the weak military. Although Russia had the largest army, 1.2 million soldiers, they were the weakest in training and power.
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Alexander II proposed to “abolish serfdom from above rather than wait until it abolishes itself from below”. The Emancipation allowed the peasants to gain freedom by owning land and having the ability to start their own business. This led to an increase in population and a substantial growth in industrialisation as peasants had the freedom to leave their farms and work in factories. 85% of the peasants became landowners and met the payments. The nobles thought that by the peasants gaining part of their land, they would lose money, but they were repaid due to the interest payments made by the peasants. This allowed the government to obtain more tax as there was a taxable population with many consumers. The Emancipation proved to be a success early on as Russia was showing signs of making a transition towards a modern economy and industry, but at 1914, Russia was still trailing behind the European powers.
The Emancipation act provided the millions of peasants in Russia to acquire land and freedom. But this freedom did not last. ‘Their’ land was owned by the state and they were forced to pay redemption payments over a period of 49 years at 6% interest, thus creating a new form of slavery. The so called ‘free’ serfs in turn paid for this freedom. Most peasants had no skills in agriculture and so sold their land in order to make the heavy payments. This made the serfs, which were over 80% of the population, very discontented as they felt that the land should be owned by them. Furthermore, the Tsar planned on creating investive farmers to boost the economy, but there were no incentives to do so as it could easily be divided up with the other serfs. Serfs had no money to spend or even invest and due to this, Russia was unable to improve economically.
The Emancipation at first seemed very beneficial but with great reform comes great consequences and these were put on Alexander II which made him seem naïve and people questioned if he was a good Tsar. Alexander II attempted to do too much by trying to make both the peasants and the nobility happy.