IB History HL, Extended Notes: Russia, the Tsars, the Provisional Govenment and the Revolution.

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Tsarist Russia

Alexander II 1818-1881


  • Mosse “the best-prepared heir apparent ever to ascend the Russian throne”
  • Had been prepared for Tsardom. Education included Russian and world history, natural sciences, and languages (Russian, German, Polish, and English).
  • Concluded with a 7 month tour of 30 provinces because the first member of the royal family to visit Siberia during this
  • When he returned he was given some responsible posts and was made Nicholas I’s deputy during his absence (had experience).


  • Had a sound and practical mind combined with a sense of duty to improve the well-being of his people. Recognized the need to modernize serfs, economy, army
  • Raleigh “He would be a wonderful sovereign in a well-organized country and in a time of peace…but he lacks the temperament of a reformer.” “Too kind, too pure, to understand people and to rule them.”
  • Was his father’s son in other respects, firm conservative and devoted to upholding autocratic government. Refused to consider a constitution for 25 years.
  • “The people see their monarch as God’s envoy…inseparable for their personal dependency on me…to forgo it would be to damage the nation’s prestige”

Forces of change

  • Alexander had no sympathy for radical or liberal ideas but recognized that improvements were necessary if he wanted to maintain autocratic control. First showed his support for reform by appointing liberal-minded ministers.
  • Grand Duke Constantine, Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, Milyutin (main man)


  • Seriously aware of the weakness of the Russian state this awareness was crucial since he had the power to over-rule powerful vested interests.
  • Showed intent by ending restrictions on the most “dangerous/radical” groups.
  • Lessened restrictions on university entrance so a wider social range could attend.
  • Foreign travel restrictions relaxed, circulation of more of exiles’ publications.
  • “The existing system of serf owning cannot remain unchanged…better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait for the time when it begins to abolish itself from below.”


  • Various groups expressed concern about the welfare of peasants under serfdom.
  • 1842 Nicholas I “serfdom in its present situation is an evil…it cannot last forever…only answer is to prepare the way for the gradual transition to a different order.”
  • Slavophile Landowner A.I. Koshelyov said that it was morally wrong for a landowner to own other human being like possessions and that is demoralized the owner.
  • Steton-Watson “Necessary for the welfare of our class itself more than the serfs.”

Crimean War

  • Revealed army leadership’s weakness and corruption.
  • Army depended on the loyalty of the serfs who had been conscripted; the hardship encouraged a more critical attitude among serfs. Expressed though an increasing number of agricultural disturbances.
  • Called into question the efficiency of the Russian army which had now become inferior to the French and English armies.
  • Milyutin warned that military reform was impossible while serfdom survived.
  • Kochan/Abrahams “Serfdom does not permit us to shorten the term of service not to increase the number of those on indefinite leave so as to reduce the number of troops on hand”
  • Revealed inadequacy in Russia’s communications. Recognized that railways were vital for deployment of troops and dispersal of food.
  • Poor food distribution had led to shortages which had hurt landlord and serf and improved transport would help cereal growers to compete in a world market. Also would help to form a commercial system of farming when serfdom ended.
  • Transport gave people mobility and migration to expanding areas of production while serfdom tied peasants to the village.


  • Serfdom was economically inefficient. Many argued that free wage labor was more productive than forced labor as there would be a motivating influence of wages being determined by market forces. This has been demonstrated in Siberia.
  • These views were not shared by the provincial nobility who were ignorant of free labor principles. Provincial opinion was more concerned with the social and political danger of maintaining serfdom, especially peasant unrest.
  • “Serfdom is a powder keg under the state…much more dangerous because of the fact that the army itself consists of peasants…better to begin gradually.”
  • Serfdom blamed for nobles’ rising debt. 1859 66% of their serfs had been mortgaged as security for loans from the State Loan Bank.
  • Government was in debt too as revenue from the poll tax was decreasing relative to revenue from the tax on vodka. 1855 54m rubles in debt.


  • Peasant disturbances had been increasing since the 1840s. By 1859 the country faced the prospect of peasant war (especially nobles living on rural estates).

Drawing up the decree

  • Majority of the nobility hoped Alexander would drop his plans for emancipation if they stalled for long enough; this had worked on previous Tsars.
  • 18 months with no progress caused Alexander to finally force the issue and he instructed the Minister of the Interior to produce a plan in a week. This plan was published in November 1957 and each province was instructed to for a committee to consider the proposal.
  • March 1859 “drafting commissions” appointed to examine the comments and proposals of the provincial committees. Appointed General Rostovstev as head.
  • Rostovstev worked with Milyutin, organized commissions in favor of change.
  • Proposals were divided into those who supported emancipation and those who did not.
  • Support came from 19 provinces which supported emancipation and some distribution of land to the peasants. Favored local rather than central administration of the reform.
  • Pro-reform representatives went to Moscow in late 1859 and were seen in small groups and gave their view orally.
  • Others criticized the reforms and these people were heard in 1960.
  • Rostovstev died in 1960 and Panin (known reactionary) was appointed. Some saw this as vested interests exerting power over the Tsar as had happened with previous Tsars but others see this as a way to deflect criticism.
  • Alexander continued his push and drafting committees continued to work. Some concessions were mane to conservatives but they were minor. Finish in Oct 1960.
  • Tsar supported proposals personally in the Council of the State and they passed. Published in Feb 1861, retained spirit of original proposal.

Terms of the Decree

  • Long, complex, and obscure. 17 articles with at least 100 sections each. First article was clear “Right of bondage is forever abolished.”
  • Serfs would buy their homes & land from the estates of the nobility which would, in theory, be the same amount of land they had cultivated before emancipation.
  • State paid compensation to the nobility and the peasants would repay the state through “redemption payments” over the course of 49 years.
  • Mir was established as the official form of self-government. It held land collectively and was collectively responsible for the collection of taxes and redemption dues. Also administered justice through special courts. Landlords would keep their policing powers.
  • Serfs were now free to enter trade or marry without permission but were still subject a separate system of justice than the rest of Russia.
  • Landowners would be compensated for the loss of their land but not for the loss of their serfs.  
  • Theory and practice were very different.

E. Acton Russia

Government’s overriding concern to ensure domestic stability ruled out the possibility of landless emancipation… peasant agriculture must not be jeopardized and that the peasantry…remain closely bound to the land…landless proletariat avoided…nobility were able to reduce the quantity and quality of land in peasants hands…police told employers to work their men to the point of exhaustion in order to leave them too weary to protest…military was fully alerted…State continued to be guided by a primary concern for the interests of the landed nobility.”

Implementation of Reforms

  • Reforms did not take immediate effect but were phased in over a period of years.
  • Huge task, 50 of 60m of European inhabitants were peasants of some kind. 23m serfs of nobility or gentry, 20m state peasants.
  • Took 20+ years for the process to be completed.
  • Volosts were an administrative structure set up to protect interests and prevent confusion. They were a unit of local administration (300-2000 people) and had their own law courts and were administered by an assembly of representatives.

Phase 1 1861-1863

  • 23m landlord serfs given freedom, controlled own lives (could marry, travel, had legal status now). Forced to remain under lord’s control and allowed to farm land they had previously farmed for 2 years.
  • Landlord kept land he farmed himself and would farm this with hired labor.
  • Serfs kept cottages and surrounding areas (usad’ba) but had to buy other land they worked.
  • Small, scattered strips not consolidated and lost rights to meadows, pastures, and woodlands as they reverted back to the landlord. Rights declined.
  • Especially in the Black soil and middle Volga provinces with high pressure for land. Serfs worse off after emancipation here.
  • Communal fields went to the Mir which continued to distribute allotments, regulate dues, and accept tax responsibility. Tied to Mir.
  • Inventories drawn up to identify land used by the peasants & landlords as well as feudal dues exacted.

Phase 2 1863 onwards

  • Ex-serfs remained under “temporary obligation.”
  • Communal courts replaced nobles’ legal control over peasants, managed by ex-serfs and supervised by officials and a peace officer (noble).
  • Arrangements made for redistribution of land and redemption payments’ size.

Phase 3 No fixed time

  • Began once an agreement had been reached about the transfer of land.
  • Provisions made for peasants to pay the government back over 49 years.
  • Payments were much like direct taxation and were roughly equal to pre-emancipation feudal dues.
  • Land was overvalued to benefit the landowners. Peasants were burdened with debt which was aggravated by the poll tax.
  • Once peasants had reach this final stage their legal and economic ties with their landowners were transferred to the commune and the government.

Effects on peasants

  • Freedom from noble interference and control as well as forced military service
  • Mir’s power was strengthened which aided local autonomy.
  • Kulaks emerged and were resented by the peasants.
  • Overall loss of land (4% in less fertile regions and 23.6% in the Black Soil)
  • Forced to rent land at higher prices, burden of redemption payments, higher tax burden, tied to the village with redemption payments
  • Subject to communal courts (volosts) thus didn’t have full rights; Mir replaced gentry in the role of controlling peasants’ lives. It also encouraged farming on an extensive rather than intensive basis. Sustenance farming increased famines.
  • Peasants lost privileges, protection, and security the landlord provided.

Why were they so angry?

  • In the first 4 months after emancipation there were 647 serious instances of riots. In all of 1861 there were 499 riots which required armed intervention.
  • Peasants could not understand why they were being asked to pay for the land that their families had farmed for generations, according to them it was theirs by right.
  • Many serfs believed that the Tsar never meant for them to pay and thus that the landowners were lying to them. Abstract property rights were beyond them.

Sir Donald Mackenzie Wallace Russia on the eve of War and Revolution

If the serfs had a great many ill-defined obligations to fulfill, such as the carting of the master’s grain to market…they, on the other hand, had a good many ill-defines privileges…grazed their cattle on the manor land…received wood…logs for repairing their huts…lent or gave them a cow or a horse when they had been visited by the cattle plague of horse stealer…replaced with clearly defined, unbending, inelastic legal relations…apply to the village usurer, who probably considers 20 or 30 percent by no means an exorbitant rate of interest

Effects on landowners


  • Some increase in estate size
  • Lost rights over serfs but gained local administrative powers through the zemstva


  • Poorer (lost serfs, feudal dues, up to 30% of land) and redemption payments went towards repaying old debts.
  • Lost some local power and some demanded elected local government assemblies, independent judiciary, and freedom of the press. Alexander refused.
  • Power over conscription decreased necessitating military reforms.
  • Majority remained conservative and resentful of change.

Terence Emmons The Russian Landed Gentry and the Peasant Emancipation of 1861

The legislation…sow destructive discord between peasant and landowner and cause incalculable harm to agriculture…unable to receive the income from the land remaining to them because the obligatory labor of free men is unthinkable…grain on the market has decreased and will decrease still more

General effects


  • Old abuses questioned & a more questioning attitude among nobles and peasants
  • New local government (zemstva)
  • Decline in labor services and the spread of a money economy, new spirit of enterprise, encouraged growth of railways, banking, industry, and cities.
  • Removal of noble’s legal power necessitated legal reforms.
  • Some growth of liberalism leading to pressure for more reforms


  • Technical backwardness of agriculture strengthened.
  • Sense of resentment began to be used by those intellectuals who challenged the autocracy

Administrative reforms

  • Emancipation required a new system of local government. 1860 Alexander appointed a Commission headed by Milyutin and then Valuyev.
  • Decided to set up zemstva.


  • Elected rural local councils at district and provincial level. Elected by 3 groups (nobles, townspeople, and peasants).
  • Dominated by the nobility, allowed them to preserve local authority to make up for losses from emancipation.
  • Had limited powers to approve local projects (roads, prisons, public health, etc).
  • Other powers (levying taxes, appointing officials, maintaining law and order) remained in the hands of the governors appointed by the Tsar.  
  • Similar councils were introduced in cities in 1870 called Dumy.
  • Liberals hoped that these reforms would lead to a national assembly but Alexander refused to surrender autocratic control. Supported by:
  • Reactionary landowners fearing loss of privileges.
  • High officials wanting to preserve their power and prestige.
  • Progressives who feared the national assembly would be dominated by landowners who would block progress. Wanted to wait until the masses were educated enough to take part in the assembly.


  • Local initiative in place of administrative control, benefitted from local knowledge.
  • Became critical of the regime as they became concerned with local issues such as education and welfare.
  • Liberal minded doctors, teachers, and scientists were appointed and would later become a focal point for further reform.


  • Spread slowly (43/70 provinces by 1914). 74% nobles in provincial assemblies.
  • Dominated by landowners so they could run local affairs to their advantage.
  • Demotivated by governors’ power to reverse decisions. Reforms did not continue.

Judicial reforms 1865

  • Alexander inherited a chaotic, arbitrary, secret, and cruel judicial system.
  • High officials were out of jurisdiction of local courts, special bench tried crimes against the state, banish anyone regarded as dangerous or politically suspicious.
  • “fundamental principles, the undoubted merit of which is present recognized by science and the experience of Europe”


  • Different classes had different courts and cases could be transferred between them.


  • Equality before the law (ended separate courts) and volost (lower courts) would replace serf owners as local magistrate


  • Unqualified and illiterate judges. Those writing down decisions had great power.


  • Judges to be better trained and justices would be elected every 3 years by local councils


  • Police had judicial role, both investigated crimes and imposed punishment


  • Separated judiciary and administration making judiciary more independent/


  • Bribery and abuse of power encouraged by low salaries


  • Judges to be better paid and to be removable by the government.


  • Accused never saw the judges and had no opportunity to challenge evidence which was submitted in writing and considered according to rigid guidelines.
  • Bribery of witnesses
  • Lower social rank meant it was harder to achieve justice


  • Evidence to be considered in the open and a defensive council allowed, public tribunals, press coverage of cases.
  • Trial by jury for criminal cases and the accused had the right to appeal.
  • Simplification of court procedures to speed decisions.

Positive results

  • Major contribution to modernization H. Seton-Watson “raised general moral and political standards…court room was the one place with real freedom of speech”
  • Promoted a climate based on rule of law


  • Shortage of trained lawyers and they were still influenced by the government.
  • Trial by jury not universally enforced (excluded in Poland)
  • Volost courts for peasants kept them outside the judicial system and underlined their status as a separate group without equality before the law.
  • Government officials, priests, the military, and the regime’s critics outside of this system.
  • Critics of the regime harassed by the Third Section and faced arbitrary administrative arrest and in the 1870s special courts.

Military reforms 1875

  • Necessary because of defeat in the Crimean War and emancipation.
  • Led by Milyutin who aimed to remove abuses evidenced during the Crimean War and showed little regard for established privileges.

Reforms (over a 20-year period)

  • Modern weapons (rifles and screw-driven ironclad steam ships) introduced. Emphasis on engineering (railways for transport, supply, and medical care).
  • Officer corps was given real training and military colleges were introduced that admitted non-nobles. Promotion made more open.
  • 15 regional commands set up to improve administration.
  • Criticized serf-based conscription and aimed to create a smaller, more professional, and less expensive army
  • Ended the conscription of convicts and military colonies.
  • Reduced the size and annual conscription to 100 and the length of service to 15 years of active service and 10 years “leave” in the reserves.
  • Extended liability to military service to all classes, including nobles.
  • Reducing offences carrying capital punishment and abolishing flogging.


  • Produced large savings in state expenditure (1846 budget was 45% military). Milyutin had restored Russia’s international reputation.
  • Developed a trained reserve which could be mobilized when needed and it helped the spread of literacy as 2-3m were educated 1870-1890


  • Took longer to defeat a declining Turkey in 1877 than it should have and Russia suffered defeats in the Russo-Japanese 1905-1904 and World War One.
  • People could still be substituted and officers remained highly aristocratic.
  • Still based on peasant conscription, illiteracy reduced the effectiveness of training.
  • Problems in supply, provisioning, and leadership remained

Educational reforms

  • Overall standard was improved as responsibility was transferred from the Church to the zemstva in 1864

Primary school

  • Schools declared open to all classes.
  • 1856 8000 primary schools 1880 23000.
  • Aimed to “strengthen religious and moral notions and spread basic knowledge”


  • Women to be included in secondary schools from 1864 onwards.
  • Numbers doubled to 800000 during the 1860s.
  • Curriculum extended to include the classics, modern subjects (natural science and drawing). Taught divinity, history, geography, Russian language & lit, and math.


  • Given greater independence in 1863 but these were short-lived. Revolutionary disturbances in the 1870s led to resumption of state supervision.
  • Grew from 3600 to 10000, revolutionary activity did too.
  • T. Kemp “the efforts of Tsarism to survive and reform in order to conserve inevitably increased the numbers of the educated and potentially critical
  • Government retained its right to veto university appointments and ban student organizations. Many universities were closed and students prosecuted after 1871.


  • Reorganized and relaxed with limited success


  • 1862 censorship relaxed and moved to Ministry of the Interior
  • 1863 prepublication codes reduced, allowed publication of liberal idea and anything not considered dangerous to the regime.
  • 1865 Press could discuss government policy
  • Foreign publications allowed into Russia but required political approval.
  • Editors given more freedom over what they could publish.
  • Responsibility was ambiguous with separate state, military, and Church censors.
  • 1855 1020, 1865 1836, and 1894 10691 books published (equal to the combined US and British output).
  • Counter reaction in the 1870s and tight censorship returned.

Financial and economic reforms

  • Reutern tried to improve auditing of accounts and revenue collection but there was no tax reform.
  • Ruble was not stabilized and 1/3 of expenditure went to repay old debt.
  • Foreign trade, railways, and banking were encouraged but with mixed success.
  • Government guaranteed a dividend which attracted foreign investors and railway traffic grew which boosted fuel, metallurgy, and engineering but few lines were profitable.
  • 1866 3000 miles and 3m tons freight traffic, 1883 14700 miles and 24m tons
  • Grain output 1861-1865 76m poods, 1876-1880 257m poods

Kirchner Russian History

The great reform laws of 1860-1865 altered the structure of the empire fundamentally, but years would elapse before their practical effect was fully felt. Officials learned only gradually how to work cooperatively…In the meantime the progressives, belonging to all classes of the population, became impatient. Socialist tendencies increased…attempt on the life of Alexander II, the “Tsar Liberator” was made.”


Karl Watts Alexander II’s Reforms, Causes, and Consequences

Russian intellectuals interpreted Alexander’s reforms as an attempt to perpetuate the existing political system…half-heated concessions on the part of those who hated to see the disappearance of the old order and tried to save as much of it as circumstances would allow…propaganda gave way to terrorism…assassination of Alexander in 1881…commitment to modernize Russia…moderated by its concern to perpetuate the interests of its ruling social class…alienated the intelligentsia…undermines the stability of the regime.”

Growth of a revolutionary movement

  • Alexander’s reforms failed to satisfy his liberal and socialist critics. The relaxation of censorship allowed them to discuss their ideas in the 1860s.
  • Manifestos published “the freedom he has given is not real”
  • The Organization was the most important. Started at Moscow University in 1863 and aimed to mould public opinion to accept a general rebellion.
  • Revolutionary developments divided educated Russia, many liberals became conservatives.
  • Alexander blamed the educational system and replaced those who had carried out the “Great Reforms” with outspoken reactionaries. Recommended strengthening of police, tighter control over universities and press and extension of Russification.


  • “To the People” and “The People’s Will” continued revolutionary activity in the 1970s despite repression. They were a legitimate threat to the regime’s survival.
  • Aimed to achieve a perfect society based on the peasant and village commune.
  • 1873-1874 2-3000 Populists from the nobility and intelligentsia “went to the people” to share in the true life of the peasant and educate them to rise up in rebellion against the Tsar and form a Populist state.
  • Peasants viewed them with deep suspicion and either beat them of reported them to the police. 243 were tried in 2 major trials in 1877 to 1878.
  • Populism had failed yet those who had escaped from exile kept the revolutionary movement alive.

Divisions in the Populist ranks

  • Some gave up hope on the conservative and traditional peasants and looked towards Marx’s writings based on the industrial worker.
  • Others, such as Land and Liberty, retained faith in the peasants but tried a new approach.

Land and Liberty

  • H. Seton-Watson “first revolutionary party in Russia”
  • Recognized the need for a strong central organization and enforced discipline within the ranks against the state machine of repression.
  • Developed a highly organized system of central and local command which included a section for prison escapes, assassination, and revenge for bad treatment of revolutionaries, and the discovery and punishment of informers.
  • Support grew as discontent increased from the 1877-1878 war with Turkey.
  • “Went to the people” in a new way by sending out revolutionaries into the villages in peasant clothes to work as doctors, teachers, or skilled workmen and organize them to resist tsarist officials and landlords.
  • Obvious that there would be no revolution from below though and it had died out by 1879.
  • Divisions emerged at this point which ended Populism

Black Partition

  • Centered activities on the peasantry’s interests which it aimed to advance through political reform and mass agitation rather and violence

       People’s Will

  • Believed in political terrorism and worked to assassinate the Tsar which they achieved in 1881.

Populism’s significance

  • Its methods had been very costly, both financially but also in terms of arrests.
  • Alienated members of the public who accepted its arguments but not its methods.
  • Succeeded in promoting political awareness in many and its actions influenced later generations of revolutionaries, especially the Socialist Revolutionaries.
  • SRs- democratic socialism, right of the people to govern themselves, attached importance to peasant organizations, encouraged peasant discontent.  

Reactionary turn 1865

  • Alexander’s eldest son died, wife got tuberculosis and retreated from private life, he alienated leading family members though a relationship with a young princess.
  • Close liberal members (Duke Constantine and Duchess Helen) who had pushed reform lost influence and could hardly obtain an audience with the Tsar.
  • Rejected reformist demands for a general assembly and began to support extreme conservatives and their desire to end reform after the assassination attempt.
  • Interest and dedication to reform waned as he grew weary of criticism from all sides.

Alexander the Traditionalist 1865-

Ministerial changes

  • Replaced reforming members with men such as Shuvalov who was put in charge of the Third Section.
  • Shuvalov’s appointment symbolizes the return to a conservative atmosphere and repression.
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Educational reforms

  • Tolstoy (Minister of Education) blamed university curriculums for the spread of revolutionary ideas.
  • Subjects with “independent thought” history, science, even Russian were replaced with math, Latin, Greek, and Church history.
  • Radical left-wing publications were shut down.
  • Schools were divided into gimnaziya which focused on a classical education and “real schools” which focused on modern subjects. Only those who went to gimnaziya could progress to universities, the rest went to technical schools.
  • Did increase the number of teacher training colleges and (although he was against it) he was forced to allow Moscow University to accept ...

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