Last Updated 25 May 2020

Alexander II and Reform

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Alexander II was known as a reforming czar. Was he primarily a reformer? Alexander II executed many reforms during his time in power but did he reform for the sake of reforming? In the essay I will conclude whether or not Alexander had objectives in which reforming only partook as a secondary effect, and if so, what “was” he primarily?

From a political point of view the landlords most likely opposed the peasant liberation reform in 1861 (Berghorn, 2009) which affected the Russian countryside. The landlords felt that they were being robbed of their property, the serfs. These were awarded full citizenship. (Lovett, 2003) This might have made Alexander II less willing to reform. However many of the serfs couldn’t leave the land they previously were bound to and so their freedom only existed legally as many remained, bound, to their landlords. (Lovett, 2003) This was as such a good solution to Alexander II as it inspired faith in some peasants that reforms were coming whilst sending a message to the landlords that their authority wasn’t threatened.

From a military point of view Alexander had seen Russia take heavy casualties in the Crimean war and as he feared Europe’s more militarily advanced countries gaining influence he started in 1857 to execute the army and naval reforms. (Troyat, 1992) (Lovett, 2003) This should therefore have been a very appealing option to Alexander II as he could claim the reforms in his own name and at the same time preserve his power.

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From an economic point of view the Russian Empire was outdated. In order for Russia under Alexander II to play an important role as an economic power they had to industrialize. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Russia) The emancipation reform could certainly have been an attempt to as well as pleasing the serfs demanding freedom trigger a movement of urbanization and increased factory production. In that sense the emancipation reform could have served yet another cause of trying to westernize and making it seem like Alexander was a man trying to please his people.

From an ideological point of view the theses of Alexander reforming secondarily is supported by the fact of some peasants and middle-class citizens adopting the socialist ideas of Karl Marx. This ideological standpoint was dangerous to Alexander II as it included an overthrow of the czar’s power. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Marx) Another ideological group dangerous to Alexander was the nihilists who later on came to practice terrorism which threatened his life. (Radzinskij, 2008) Contradicting the reasons to reform was the orthodox Christian church that could not agree to these reforms and had given him his power combined with his upbringing which had taught him to preserve royal power as a primary initiative.

From a social point of view czar Alexander might have reformed as a reaction to his father’s harsh policies imposed on the people as this was arguably a reason the pressured situation had emerged. An example of this would be the educational reform. (Lovett, 2003) Alexander also introduced a judicial reform based in the French system which greatly simplified criminal matter and rendered the different parties involved in a judiciary process more equal. (Troyat, 1992) The latter reform should reasonably have upped Alexander standings with many groups and fulfilled the cause of making him seem like a reformer in order to soothe radical group such as the nihilists mentioned above.

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