The Extent of Russian Modernisation Under the Rule of Alexander II

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The modernisation of Russia was benefitted Russian society due to the reforms orchestrated by tsar Alexander II. The tsar was aware of Russia’s weaknesses and recognized the necessity to introduce reforms to modernise Russia. Alexander II is best known for his first reform, the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. Changes to the military, the judiciary, local governments, education and finance also enabled Russia’s modernisation process to be more prompt in the forthcoming future. Alexander II modernised Russia focusing on the main aspects of Russia’s society that directly needed to be improved to enable Russia to become a modern Western power. Following the emancipation of the serfs, Alexander was now able to undertake reforms of other parts of Russian society and politics such as militaristic reforms, judicial reforms, local government reforms as well as educational and financial reforms. The main reform that Alexander II modified was the emancipation of the serfs. The emancipation of the serfs led to many other reforms of Russian society.

Following the serf emancipation, in 1864 the judicial system was also reformed. Secrecy, bribery and other areas of corruption had previously dominated within the judiciary. However, after the reform the new system was loosely based upon the structure of Western powers. The advanced system approved for lawyers and trials by jury. Secrecy was abolished, the trials were made public and Russian newspapers published the court proceedings. The reform of the judicial system had many benefits resulting in trials to become fairer, and as a wider result had a positive impact upon developing Russia. These legal reforms gave Russia one of the most progressive legal systems in Europe. Furthermore, a court hierarchy was established. On the other hand, the reform did have limitations such as juries could not handle cases of treason and could still dictate their own punishments to the convicted. The extent of modernisation caused by this reform was significant, introducing the idea of equality and abetted more unbiased justice, making the system fairer and reducing the power of the nobles in the system of law. However, even though the modernised law system was substantial to a great extent, the police still had extensive powers.

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The Russian military was also vastly reformed by Alexander II, transforming a large and inefficient army into a smaller yet at a supplementary improved quality one with a better sense of professionalism. Furthermore, the literary classes accompanied with recruitment into the army enabled Russian peasants to receive the ability to read. Evidently, a smaller militaristic force required less money, therefore benefitting Russia’s economy as more money could be spend on modernising other areas of the country that needed to be further developed due to previously being in a poor state. The shortened military service was ideal to cutting down the size of the army and the establishment of military schools aided the upgrade of the quality of the army. There was strong opposition from nobles and merchants who objected being on the same level as peasants. Nevertheless, the military reform occurred in 1875. The result of this reform allowed for additional funds to be spent on other reforms, such as building schools for education. The improvement of the military had a large effect upon Russia, as seen in the Russo-Turkish War in 1877, in. which Russia emerged victorious, proving that the smaller army was more effective. Likewise, improved literacy, resulted from army education also was an important part to the modernisation of Russia and had a large impact upon the standard of peasant life.

Moreover, local governments were created reducing the singular governmental power by the noble class. Local governments allowed for educated peasants to speak for the remainder of the peasant class, enabling Russian peasants to have a say within the government. This was known as the zemstvo. These local assemblies implied that Russia could have a representative political system as the assembly officials were elected every year. This was the beginning of proper local governments. The promotion of welfare, hygiene and public health by the zemstvo was effective for modernisation as the standard of living would increase resulting in lesser morality rates and increasing average lifespan. For the peasant class, the local governments proved effective due to the promotion of affects that prevented modernisation. However, despite the successful promotion of education, hygiene and the environment, limited progress was made on alcoholism, poverty, epidemics and famines. Because of limited progress with poverty etc, a peasant class remained preventing effective modernisation of the governing system. Additionally, nobles could use votes to their advantage as the majority of people who voted were from the noble class. However, the zemstvo offered valuable opportunity, helping such men develop a superior understanding of the lives and needs of the peasants, creating a new group of critical thinkers to participate in the government increasing the idea of equality.

In addition, the educational reforms also greatly benefitted the country. The establishment of schools and universities permitted a higher standard of literacy across the country. The improved standard of the peasant class allowed for a reduction in poverty, a boost in economic growth and increases income. Further, it increases the chance of having a healthy life and reducing a high death rate. The reform would allow for more critical and independent thinkers to emerge through the universities. The educational reforms resulted in a larger amount in the number of people attending universities. Especially, the option of scholarships with the reduction of fees meant that people not from the noble class could obtain a university education. Alexander’s educational reforms led to a rapid growth in the number of schools. Educational reforms endorsed for jobs such as doctors and teachers to further maintain a modernised society. The extent of the modernisation of Russia was clearly improved in education as many peasants became literate and some to be critical thinkers, who could think and further help to improve the country.

Accompanying this, financial reforms were also made in an effort to improve and develop Russia’s economic status. Russian hierarchy lacked a middle class and peasants barely made enough to prevent complete starvation. A significant development in Russia’s economy would enable development within industry and agriculture. Economic growth was ideal for Russia’s future as without a strong economic base with funds and resources to improve and modernise, the aim to achieve imperial and militaristic success needed to re-establish Russia’s global status was unmanageable. The financial reform set up a taxing system as well, appointed a minister of finance and a state bank. The establishment of the expanding railway network had a positive impact as resources could be imported and exported setting up a base for trading. Furthermore, these resources could be used in further modernisation. Consequently, reduce tariffs increased trade, increasing Russia’s finance. The financial reforms had a massive effect upon Russian economy benefitting society significantly. Finance could be spent on reforms to improve and modernise the quality of life, whilst resources from trading enabled for buildings that the reforms needed permitted for the modernisation of Russia to succeed.

In conclusion, the reforms by Alexander II were significant in modernising Russian society. Although some of the reforms had their limitations, the benefits outweighed them forever changing the developing country. The first reform, the emancipation of the serfs, legally changed the status of Russian peasants however very little changed in terms of their lifestyle or freedom. A similar example of this was the educational reform; the government gave the universities freedom only to attempt to take it away when subversive ideas began to form. However not all the reforms failed in changing Russian life and institutions. Alexander II was able to revolutionise the justice system in Russia, give Russia the proper base of local government for the first time and completely modernize the army. To a significant extent Russia was modernised by Alexander II.

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