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Was Alexander II more successful than Alexander III in coping with the problems he inherited?
During the reigns of both Alexander II and Alexander III both faced significant problems. Both rulers inherited some similar problems when they ascended to the throne for example both faced significant opposition, albeit in different forms. For example, at the time of Alexander II’s ascension to the throne opposition was disparate and far away from what it was by the time he was succeeded in 1881 by Alexander III. Problems regarding domestic policy were also inherited by both Tsars as well as problems on the international stage posing difficulties. It would seem that the more successful of the two leaders in dealing with these problems would be Alexander III as he managed to crush the opposition he faced surviving his reign unlike his father as well as being adept at dealing with international issues.
The opposition faced was a serious problem that was faced by both Alexander’s. Opposition to Alexander II was largely based on discontent from the serfs and peasantry that had been festering before he came to power. For example there were 1468 serf uprisings since the turn of the century. This group of the population were seen as potentially dangerous to the regime within Russia and as a result Alexander II recognised there was need for change. As a result he set about with the drafting of the Emancipation Act using the nobility to do it. While he did sympathise with the serfs the reason behind the eventual introduction of this act was to uphold the fundamental principles of Tsarism, these being autocracy, orthodoxy and nationalism. Though this reform was meant to drastically improve the position of the serfs, it instead made their situation worse in many cases.
This undoubtedly created more grievances on behalf of the, now, ex serfs. This growing discontent coincided with the emergence of an intelligentsia from the middle class. The intelligentsia were starting to become more organised forming early groups such as the Nihilists and then Populists. These groups were beginning to actively show their discontent at the limited reforms Alexander II had introduced would eventually result in the formation of the People’s Will, the group responsible for the assassination of Alexander II himself on 1st March 1881. It can thus be seen that Alexander II did not successful cope with the opposition he faced. In contrast it can be argued that Alexander III was successful in coping with the problem of opposition.
The situation he had inherited in this regard was much worse than that of his father. Opposition had become much more dangerous to the regime in the years between 1855 and 1881 clearly highlighted as they ended Alexander II’s reign. The assassination of the Tsar generated a mass of insecurity and a determination to crush the opposition on behalf of the new Tsar. The creation of the Okhrana was almost immediate; this was essentially a police force that aimed at data collection on political offenders and infiltration of terrorist organisation.
This came alongside the policy of Russification which forced the Russian on language onto those of foreign nationality and made the principle of Russian nationality fundamental to life within the country. The Okhrana were dedicated to enforcing religious, racial and national orthodoxy as well as restricting various parts of the population i.e. writers, teachers, Jews etc. As a result any opposition to Alexander III’s reign was suppressed. It would appear that the measures he introduced allowed him to successful cope with this opposition unlike Alexander II whose reforms caused opposition to develop further.
Alexander II came to the power with the backdrop of the Crimean War in 1855. This war had highlighted the various incompetency’s of Russia as a nation, making them appear weak and backward in comparison to the Western European nations. As a result Alexander II saw the need for the introduction of reforms to bring Russia up to date with the West. Aside from the aforementioned Emancipation Act there were various other reforms. He decided that the country needed to develop on an industrial level. In order to do this Alexander II drew up plans for a massive investment in railways. The emancipation, he hoped, would lead to greater agricultural output, in order to finance the railways, and the beginnings of Russia’s industrialisation. He also invested in new iron and steel works for armaments and new manufacturing industries.
However these plans never came to fruition during his rule with the dissatisfaction amongst the serfs playing a key part to this. Though he may have not been successful in this area the creation of Zemstvos as well as changes to the legal system and education on the surface appeared to bring Russia up to date with Western Democracies. The Zemstovs allowed people to have more representation at a local level, they were places where people could go to express opinions. The development of education and legal reforms also appeared as though the regime was becoming more liberal and to a certain extent this was true as people enjoyed greater freedom in society and thus showed distinct improvement in modernising Russia. On the other hand the rule of Alexander III can be seen to not offer such modernisation.
Though he was successful he in introducing a large system of railways across Russia, most notably the Tran Siberian system these were largely following the plans of his father. On a more social level the repression experienced under Alexander III was somewhat archaic and was a step in the completely wrong direction. The persecution of the Jews was most horrific, they were forced to live in restricted areas and only a limited number were allowed in education. There were even Jewish Pogroms which occurred when gangs of people violently attacked Jewish people. This added to the state interference through the Okhrana mean that Russia had moved away from modernising rather than towards it under Alexander III. In this way Alexander II was more successful in coping with the problem of modernising Russia through domestic policy.
A final problem both leaders faced were the issues taking place on the international stage. While the Crimean war had resulted in a need for domestic change it to had required Alexander II make changes to the army after being humiliated. Universal conscription was eventually introduced in 1874. This pointed the way to a large scale armed force with six year service and a long length of time in reserve this replaced the outdated old-fashioned system which had basically seen a serf army. Russia now looked to be on the path to developing a modern army on the Prussian model. However the Russo-Turkish 1877-1888 war saw the limitations of the army with the diminishing Ottoman Empire not being overrun by the new Russian army.
Although they made gains in several areas they took a huge financial hit and had been isolated from the other European superpowers as they allied together. When Alexander II came to power he thus inherited these problems. He however was much more adept at dealing with international affairs than his father and predecessor was. Alexander III proved to be quite the negotiator gaining the title of “Alexander the Peacemaker”.
He aimed at avoiding war at all costs and was tolerant of Otto von Bismarck, a conservative German statesman who dominated European affairs from the 1860s to his dismissal in 1890. Bismarck had a quite belligerent attitude towards Russia, and Alexander II was able to revive the ancient league of 3 emperors in 1884. During his reign as Tsar Alexander had managed to avoid war and create some kind of international security whereas under Alexander II Russia still seemed vulnerable as a result the problems inherited on the international stage were handled more successfully by Tsar Alexander III.
In conclusion, it can be seen that Alexander III was more successful than Alexander II in coping with the problems he inherited. Although Alexander II’s handling of domestic policy and modernisation was superior, Alexander III’s ability to successfully get rid of opposition, through things methods such as the Okhrana, and his handling of the international situation make it clear that he was the more successful Tsar in coping with the problems he inherited.