Alexander II (1855 – 1881) came into power in the aftermath of the Crimean War.  Russian standards of living were not good during in the 1850s.  90 percent of the population lived at the subsistence level.  Alexander II did attempt to reform Russia internally, though.  The tsar freed Russia’s peasants, in total around 22 million, from serfdom.  However, this did not drastically improve Russian life.  Individuals did not receive their own land, and many fell into heavy debt.  The tsar also implemented a selection of social reforms, ranging from educational to military.  However, to the dismay of many, Alexander II refused the creation of a national assembly, unlike many of the other European nations.   Alexander II was assassinated by an organization known as People’s Will in march of 1881.



Alexander II was succeeded by Tsar Alexander III (1881 – 1894).  Reacting to the assassination of Alexander II and general instability, the tsar established a strong hold on the country.  The new tsar enlarged Russia’s secret police, censored media, and removed many of Alexander II’s reforms.  Towards the end of the 19th century, Alexander III, aided by Sergei Witte, attempted to industrialize Russian society.  They ordered the production of railroads and factories, funded by the French government. A small industrial class grew in Russia, however most of the country was still poor, and the government still was overly totalitarian. Russia’s own Marxist Social Democratic Party emerged in 1898, however its presence was not tolerated by the tsar and its leaders exiled from the country.




Nicholas II (1894 – 1914), the last tsar of Russia, favored military progress over social and economic reforms. Nicholas II waged war with the quickly industrializing Japan, however was fiercely defeated. While Russia was being militarily defeated, the monarchy was flanked by a variety of displeased factions, and forced to create a national legislature. The legislature was named Duma, meaning “thought” in Russian. Although civilian factions had finally managed to create a parliamentary body within the Russian government, much of the significant power, such as foreign affairs, military, and finance remained with the monarchy. Little further significant reforms would be enacted by Russia’s monarchy, until the 1910s with the Russian revolution and the creation RSFSR and the USSR.




Source: The West: a narrative history

Posted by Matthew Aneiro


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