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Q6: Compare the reform measures of Czars Alexander II and Nicholas II with respect to their contents and effects.
Russia had undergone tremendous changes during the 19th century and from 1861 to 1917, two Russian Czars Alexander II and Nicholas II had totally two different methods of dealing with the problems in Russia. Alexander II introduced much reform and people gave him the title “Czar Liberator”. However, Nicholas II introduced just the opposite, reactive and oppressive measures which finally drove the Romanov Dynasty to collapse in 1917. The reform measures of the two Czars are quite different in respect to their contents and effects. However, both of them have the same aim that is to preserve Czardom and to maintain stability of their rule in Russia.
The aims of the two Czars introducing reforms were different. Alexander II wanted to strengthen Russia as a whole, preserve his rule and stop any revolutionary movements against him. But Nicholas II introduced reforms because of Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904. However, Nicholas II was in a way not sincere in implementing reforms but both of the Czars also wanted to preserve Czardom and to maintain autocratic rule.
Alexander II introduced one of the most important reforms in Russian history -The 1861 Emancipation Edict. He managed to “abolish serfdom” and “freed the serfs” literally. He even distributed land for the serfs and allowed them to engage in trade and marriage freely. The serfs had “freedom” in one sense. After emancipation, the serfs were only literally free. However, they still had high redemption payments to make to the government and they were still bound to the mir, which controlled their mobility in a way land was not distributed fairly and equally as stated and innovation in farming methods was still in a traditional way.
The emancipation made the serfs and peasants became more discontented and this caused many of them joined the secret society against the Czar. Under the rule of Nicholas II, he appointed Stolypin to implement land reform, the peasants were now, from 1905 onwards, truly “freed” from the restriction of the mir community. The motives of introducing land reforms were suppressing social bitterness and increasing support of Czarist system, so that Nicholas II could maintain his autocratic rule.
As to reforms concerning the local government, Alexander II in 1864 and 1870 set up zemstva, which is the local elected council, and Duma respectively. Both of them were given responsibility for public education, public health, local economic development, road building and provision of services.
However, the Czar was still autocratic because he did not let the people in the zemstva have control over taxes and police and also the membership of the zemstva favored the nobility in order to make sure the Czar was still in control. But it no doubt provided greats representation to the people and they have a chance of taking part in public affairs. Nicholas II introduced the Duma in the October Manifesto in 1905. But the Duma was ineffective in a way that the Czar still possessed absolute power over the Duma. Afterwards, Nicholas II totally dismissed four Dumas and from the second one onwards, it was only a puppet of the Czar Nicholas, he regarded the Duma as a tool to gain the support from the people.
The effect of both these government representations was great that people had more say and opportunity to express their opinions out. However, because of the autocratic nature of both Czars, the zemstva and Dumas were ineffective and gradually lost control by the Czar. People were becoming more and more dissatisfied with Czardom over this issue that eventually led to the 1917 Revolution.
Alexander II during his reign, he introduced also judicial, military and education reforms. The judicial reforms made the Russian courts more efficient, just and fair. Trials became public, trial by jury was introduced and Justices of the Peace were elected as well. However, special trials for revolutionaries were still set up to stop the spread of revolution and unrest that threatened Czarist rule. Nicholas II was even more reactive because he completely banned the revolutionary movements and no public trials were set up for them. Secret police were all over Russia, killing those who were “looked” to be revolutionaries. Special government-controlled courts were set up and judges, magistrates and officials who ere sympathetic towards liberal ideas were removed from office. Hence, people became more dissatisfied.
As for military, Alexander II appointed Miliutin as Minister of War, abolished cruel corporal punishments. Military code was revised, military schools were set up and the compulsory length of service for conscripts had already been reduced from 25 to 16 years. But for Nicholas, not much was done for military, hence the Russian army finally defeated in the 1914 WWI.
The education reforms of Alexander II were greatly improved with expansion of primary education and women were more educated at that time. New schemes of work were developed and prizes were offered for the best textbooks produced. Most importantly, the freedom of speech was given in Universities; this led to more ideas and opinions spreading in Universities. However, in 1866, because of the attempt to assassinate the Czar, he resorted to repressive measures. As for Nicholas II, it was worse that he totally banned any freedom of expression in Universities and secret police infiltrated into the student societies. Students were more dissatisfied and this led them to join secret societies in the future.
The economic reforms of both Alexander II and Nicholas II were far reaching, both of them hoped to expand the power of Russia. Alexander II introduced an efficient centralized administrative system and developed Russia’s financial institutions. Under the economic reforms carried by Witte, he negotiated large loans and investments from abroad, encouraged the inflow of foreign capital, and set up the protective tariffs. Money was also invested in railways and heavy industries. However, the financial conditions of workers and lower-class was still poor, hence, this led more people to be discontented and the Russian Czardom did nothing to improve their problem and this led to Revolution in 1905.
Apart from Emancipation, reforms on military, economic, education, judicial and local government, Alexander II has also introduced Russification and industrialization in order to strengthen Russian as a whole. He has also released the tight censorship.
Even the aim of both Czars was the same, they wanted to preserve their autocratic rule and prevent any revolutionary movements, but why did the Romanov Dynasty collapse under the reign of Nicholas II but not Alexander II? Although both of the Czars tried to carry out reforms in order the prevent any revolutions, Alexander II implemented sincere reforms in order to gain the support from below, however, Nicholas II carried out repressive measures which brought him negative effects and finally led to Revolution in 1905 and collapse of Romanov Dynasty. Hence, in some senses that, Alexander II was more successful with his reforms than Nicholas II.
As we can see, the nature of the reform measures of both Czars was autocratic in nature that hoped to pacify the people in order to continue Czardom. However, in my opinion, the good sounds Alexander II laid down till 1881 was weakened by Nicholas II and he missed the opportunity to save Czardom because Russian reforms were resorted to repressive measures again in 1905.