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Mollie Bentley –Rowe Essay

To what extent did Russia undergo economic and political reform in the years 1906 – 1914?

Russia underwent economic and political reform to a limited extent. Although Peter Stolypin was pushing for reform, he was undermined by the mindsets of peasants and the fundamental law.

From the years 1906 – 1914, Peter Stolypin was pushing to de – revolutionise the peasantry and put into place economic reform, and there is evidence of this working. During these years large amounts of agricultural reform were set in motion. In 1906 45.9 million tonnes of agricultural production was produced, by 1913 this had grown significantly to 61.7 million tonnes. The massive change in the amount of product shows that agricultural and therefore economic reform had taken place. Farmers, at this time, had also started paying higher taxes, which is sign of higher income, again strengthening this idea of economic reform occurring. Stolypin, however successful he was in his endeavours, was pushing fiercely for a more independent and de-revolutionised peasantry.

During November 1906, huge action was taken to change the way the peasants lived. They were freed from the constraints of commune control and land banks were set up to give money to those peasants who chose to leave. Many were also encouraged to move to Siberia, all of these reforms were starting to lay a foundation for a more independent peasantry. Economic reform was being pursued desperately by members of the government such as Stolypin, this can been seen by the copious amount of law, for example peasants leaving commune control, being put into place. The fact these laws were coming about shows that Russia was undergoing economic reform to some extent during this period, whether it was successful or not.

Much like economic reform, during this time frame, the government also showed signs that they were undergoing change. The fundamental law of 1906 shows that political reform was definitely taking place, as it established Russia’s first form of democracy and created the national parliament. The decisions of the Dumas reveal that there was an extent of change occurring within politics; they made reforms against capital punishment and a reform for famine relief. The third Duma also replaced land captains, created health and accident insurance as well as installing reform to the army and the navy. These polices mean that change was taking place as before 1906 it was barbaric to even suggest the idea of democracy in Russia. These changes show that the political side of Russia was undergoing reform to some extent.

As previously stated, there was a clear sign that economic reform was trying to be put into action, but because of peasant attitudes towards these ideas, Russia could only undergo reform to a limited extent. An attempt was made to modernise Russia farming technique from the almost archaic method of strip farming, however only 10% of Russian peasants actually took on board this reform and changed to a new method. The peasants were too stuck in their ways to change which hindered the amount of agricultural and therefore economic reform Russia could go through. Because of the peasants even the ministry of agriculture had started to lose faith in the reforms by 1913.

There was also a distinct lack in reform towards the natural side of Russia, with it more going backwards than forwards. For example, strikes from the ministry of trade and industry rose from 24 in 1911 to 2401 in 1914. This coupled with the mass slaughter of gold mine workers in 1912 (Lena Goldfields), highlights that the exact opposite of reform was happening and Russia was receding to events more like bloody Sunday than heading towards a new modernised country. This huge leap backwards means that there was little economic reform taking place and Russia was only undergoing it to a limited extent.

Although the Dumas showed signs of reform in political Russia, there was still a heavy autocratic rule on the new democracy, which limited the extent that Russia was allowed to undergo changes. The fundamental law, while being a step forward for political reform, also limited the extent to which it could be taken. It created a parliament compromised of an upper and lower house. The upper house was mainly chosen by the Tsar and consisted of aristocratic tsarist followers; it also had the ability to overrule the democratically elected lower house. This meant that the only laws to be passed would be in the Tsar’s best interests, severely restricting any reform that might take place. The fundamental law also stated that the Tsar had supreme autocratic power; the law hadn’t changed the positioned of dictator he had held previously. The fundamental law only served as a trick so the middle classes thought they were getting reform.

The first Duma lasted 73 days, made 391 requested of which 2 were passed. The difference in the request passed and the requests made shows that very little political reform actually took place. By the 3rd Duma, the voting franchise had been restricted so only the wealthy could vote, this Duma consisted of member the Tsar felt were right, they also had little reform and were know as the ‘Duma lords and lackeys’. A restricted voting franchise erases all the concepts of democracy, which makes it very hard for political reform to take place. It was the fundamental law which gave the Tsar the same autocratic power that he’d had previously that restricted the amount of change that could happen, and meant Russia only underwent political reform to an extremely limited extent.

In conclusion, in the years 1906-1914 Russia underwent political and economic reform to a limited extent. This is because peasants refused to change ideas, but there was still some evidence of agricultural produce improving, and while industry went on more frequent strikes, the farmers paying higher taxes shows that there were small changes in Russia’s economy. The fundamental law also became a hindrance to any reform that could take place politically and definitely limited the extent that Russia could undergo reform, however there were still some laws passed and the creation of a national parliament in the first place is a massive change, which meant although it was limited, some reform still happened.

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