How successful was opposition to the tsarist regime between 1861 and 1881 in achieving its aims? There was a great deal of opposition to the tsarist regime between 1861 and 1881 and many were successful. The opposition came from the liberal minded intelligentsia who were determined to change what they believed to be outmoded and inhibiting Russian ways. The Populists, who aimed to win over the peasantry to their socialist ideas by stirring up their resentment of the Tsarist Autocracy. Although there were very few intelligentsia, their size and influence grew in the 1970s due to the development of the law courts, as a result of reform. These courts produced an unexpected crop of professionally trained lawyers, who were ready to question and challenge Russian autocratic practices. They were determined to change what they believed to be outmoded and inhibiting Russian ways. Some of the younger generation, who were influenced by the Nihilists, wanted to sweep away everything from the past so a new society could be born.
The St Petersburg Zemstvo almost immediately demanded a central body to co-ordinate the regional zemstva, but the tsar disagreed with the proposal. However, the increase in repression from 1866 onwards only increased the zemstva demands for constitutional change and heightened student idealism and determination. This shows that they were successful in challenging the tsar even when he stood firm against the proposal and they were able to put pressure on for change. This ideology was thereafter aimed to persuade the peasants and fuel their resentment towards the Russian autocracy by the Populists. Sergei Nechyev, a radical of peasant extraction inspired a circle of young revolutionaries, the “Chaikovsky circle”, which produced many pamphlets and smuggled in books officially banned in Russia.
This, in turn, led Pyotr Lavrov to lead a group of around 2000 young men and women, mainly from the nobility and intelligentsia in 1874 and “go to the people”. They became known as the Populists. The populists aimed to win over the peasantry to their socialist ideas, by stirring up their resentment against the lack of land and the heavy tax burden they still carried, despite emancipation. They believed that the future of Russia depended on land redistribution and the development of the peasant commune. The movement did succeed in carrying out some assassinations – General Mezemstev, head of the Third section in 1878, as was Prince Kropotkin.
What worried the authorities in particular was the public sympathy won by such assassins and the way they seemed able to escape with popular support. There were even some talks between the Zemstva and the Populists to try to place more pressure on the Autocracy for constitutional reform. This shows that they were successful in gaining support from the public for their actions. However, both the populists and the Intelligentsia were not always successful in their opposition to the tsarist regime.
The Intelligentsia didn’t really achieve much, especially what they set out to do. Even though they gained some power and ploughed on pressure for constitutional change, they were not able to change the outmoded and inhibiting way of Russia. When the Zemstvo demanded a central body to co-ordinate the regional zemstva, the tsar stood firm against this proposal. They were not able to change the Russian state in anyway and were not granted more individual freedom. Furthermore many of the Populists, who tried to influence and win over the peasantry with their socialist ideas, were arrested in the autumn of 1874, 1600 of the total 2000 to be precise. They tried to dress up and talk like peasants to persuade the villagers of their importance to Russian society.
However, the peasants’ ignorance, superstition, prejudice and deep-rooted loyalty to the tsar ensured they were arrested. From this you can see that many peasants were loyal to the tsar and did not believe and want revolution, they were unwilling to accept socialist ideas and challenge the tsarist regime. In conclusion, I believe the opposition was successful in achieving its aims between 1861 and 1881 because the Intelligentsia were able to demand constitutional changes which they could not do before because they lacked knowledge and determination. Moreover, the populists were able to get away with assassinations and this worried the authorities as these assassins gained a lot of public sympathy and escaped due to public support. Even though they struggled, in the end they still achieved some changes and this shows the opposition were successful in achieving their aims against the tsarist regime.
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