During Alexander II’s time on the throne he introduced many reforms that changed the face of Russia. Some historians argue that the Tsar wanted to prevent more drastic change and protect the autocracy, for example the main reform that the Tsar is remembered for, is the emancipation of the surfs. This can be seen as the single greatest liberating measure in the history of Europe and it also gave motivation to further reforms. However Alexander made a speech saying; “It is better to abolish serfdom from above then to wait for the time when it begins to abolish itself from below” this speech starts to question why the Tsar was really instigating the reforms, it shows that he was very aware of the feeling of unrest among the peasants, and as they made up 80% of the Russian population, the Tsar felt it would be wise to improve their situation and as a result this would strengthen Russia as a whole. This can therefore be seen as an act of the Tsar to keep control of his country and his seat in power.
For that reason I feel that this shows that the main intention of this reform was to prevent any radical changes. Another reason why I feel that the emancipation of surfs was designed with the Tsars interest and fears of revolution at heart was when the serfs were freed, their landlords were given compensation for the loss of their land from the state. However the peasants were then forced to the make redemption payments to the Obshchina (community/village) over 49 years. In fact the peasants ended up with around 1/5 less land than before, due to the fact that they now had to pay for it. This showed that the Tsar did not create the reform solely for his people; he created it to help his economy and to prevent any radical change that may have been caused by an economic ruin.
However some people argue that this was not his main intension in all reforms. For example they feel that the Military reforms were beneficial for the country, as it would help Russia defend itself. The Tsar divided the empire into different military districts each able to make its mobilisation more efficient. I feel that this was not a defence against radical change but in response to the resounding defeat suffered by Russia in the Crimean War (1856), and to an awareness of military advances implemented in other European countries.
I also see the new judicial system that he created as a not have the prevention of change as its main intention, as I feel that it was very important for the surfs to be tried fairly which meant there was less corruption in the state. However some may see this reform as being guilty of having an underlying feeling that the Tsar was creating it so that the people were happy as they were now being tried fairly, therefore trying to prevent drastic change.
However I feel that it is unfair to completely dismiss emancipation as some see it not as a reform that focused the Tsar’s sole desire to prevent any drastic change but as a reform that was designed to give freedom to a class that had before been denied any form of independence, to me this shows that not all reforms were designed by the Tsar to prevent drastic change.
In conclusion I feel that Alexander II’s main intension in all of the reforms was to prevent more drastic change in Russia, as I feel that each of the reforms that he created have and underlying feeling that each was designed so that the autocracy benefited from it in some way, or so that there wouldn’t be anything that could lead to any radical change like an revolution of some kind.