Why Was Russia Difficult to Govern?

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 30 October 2016

Why Was Russia Difficult to Govern?

There are many reasons why Russia was difficult to govern, such as the size and diversity of the country and many differences in opinions contributed to the resentment of the government which in turn made the country very difficult to govern. One reason Russia was difficult to govern was because of the size and diversity of it. As the country was so large, and covered almost 23 million square kilometres in 1900, this made it very difficult to govern as it made it difficult for the Tsar to have complete control of a place that was more than 20 square kilometres away. The empire stretched across two continents which meant that millions of the emperor’s subjects had to travel very far to get the other side of Russia. The size of the country also meant that there were many different nationalities and languages within the empire, hundreds in fact. This also made it hard to govern Russia as the people had different opinions on what the empire should be like and so Many resented being dominated by the Russians as they did not agree with the Russian way of ruling. It also meant that an emperor living on the western side of Russia had to ensure he was being obeyed 3,000 miles away which was very difficult.

The size of the emperor was one of the main contributions to the difficulty of governing Russia because it also caused a huge difficulty with transport and communication. The terrain was almost impossible to travel across as in the north there was the tundra, with is permanently frozen subsoil which made communication very difficult and almost impossible in winter. There was also the deep woods and forests which meant that very little of the land was suitable for cultivation or transport which made it difficult for the emperor to make sure he was being obeyed on the other side of the country. There were then the deserts which were even more difficult to travel across meaning it was more difficult to govern the wide diversity of the Russian empire, to make it easier to rule Russia, policies such as Russification were introduced. Another reason Russia was difficult to govern was because of policies the government had put in place such as the Russification of the Russian empire. This policy was introduced to help the emperor to govern more efficiently as it was difficult to govern Russia with the hundreds of different nationalities.

However this policy was very unpopular as local languages were discouraged or even forbidden and so the non-Russian peoples resented the Russian empire as they did not have the freedom to speak in their own language. As the people resented the way Russia was ruled it made it more difficult to govern. The Russian empire was ruled by the Tsar and was an autocracy. The rulers of Russia were all hereditary too, meaning they were born into leadership and held all the power in the state. This was very important in the difficulty of governing Russia because the emperor may not be prepared to rule the empire or even know what to do, yet they were forced to take on leadership. They had to choose ten members of their ministerial council to run the government and could choose people who would not threaten their authority meaning they could introduce whatever policies they wanted and did not have to consult with anyone else. For example Nicholas ll’s style of government was described by one of the members of the council as ‘nothing consistent or firmly directed’ showing that the emperor did not have to be good at his job to become emperor in the first place which meant that sometimes Russia was poorly governed.

Even in the late 1900’s the aristocrats resented the government as the council was replaced with great ministries which were not controlled by nobles. The people couldn’t even change their name or get married without permission. As the government was quite unpopular during some autocracies the Okhrana were introduced. The Okhrana were also important in making Russia difficult to govern as instead of reducing the potential opposition towards the government they increased it. The Okhrana were the secret section of the State police department which dealt with anyone who were thought to be opposing the governments ruling as ‘sometimes a father must punish his children’ if they disobey him. They also did other jobs such as protected the Tsar’ family and intercepted mail to make sure it was safe. Undercover agents were placed everywhere to protect the Tsar. The Orthodox Church was another way the government tried to improve the resentment within the country.

The Orthodox Church was a major influence over the Russian people so the government turned it into a government department in the 1900’s to get more power and was run by a lay official appointed by the Tsar. Making the Orthodox Church a government department meant that the opinions within the church were expressed in favour of the Tsar and so the church in fact played a big role in the Russification of the empire as the government caused it to be this way. However this made Russia even more difficult to govern as people thought the priests were ‘no better than the peasants around him, he was paid by the state and was inferior to the middle and upper classes.’ He was seen as ‘a government agent and a hypocritical tool of the possessing classes.’ This made Russia difficult to govern as no one paid an interest in what the church had to say any more. The Okhrana tried to stop this opposition towards the government and the church but were very inefficient and did nothing to stop the assassination of Alexander ll in 1881 by the Intelligentsia. Another important reason why Russia was difficult to govern was because of the emperors enemies such as the Intelligentsia. The educated middle classes were what the emperors referred to as the Intelligentsia.

This was used as a form of abuse towards them as although they were only a small percentage of the population, their literacy and international contacts made the government feel threatened by them. They opposed the government and in the 1870’s even tried to stir peasants into a revolution but were unsuccessful. Other members joined terrorist organisations such as ‘the peoples will.’ These scared the government as they were very strong and attempted to seize power and in 1881 were successful in the assassination of Alexander ll which caused them to be one of the most important reasons why Russia was difficult to govern as it caused many problems for the emperor and many Tsars’s feared them. The main reason these people acted out was because they had international contacts which allowed them to see how backward Russia was and how behind they were compared to other countries.

Russia was very behind other countries with many things but one of the main attributes Russia lacked was to do with farming and agriculture and how the peasants were treated. A fifth reason Russia was difficult to govern was due to farming and the peasants. The majority of Russia’s population were peasants. There were many problems to do with the peasants. One of which was that they didn’t own their own land. This made them resent the government as they felt that they should own the land they farmed. This was very important in making Russia difficult to govern as the Russian population was mostly peasants who resented the government which made it harder for them to agree with what the government told them. The peasants felt that they were heavily taxed because the government wanted to get maximum profits and the government even introduced harsher working conditions to make sure they did get the profits they wanted.

The peasants disagreed with the government on many things and didn’t live in very good conditions which meant that epidemics were common and because of the terrain it was difficult to grow crops which meant that crop failure was also common. For example, in 1892 there was a huge famine in which nearly a ¼ of a million people died. Child mortality rate was also high as crop failure increased as there was not enough food to feed the population. Peasants were very low in Russian society; they were even as low as the workers who were treated appallingly. Another reason Russia was difficult to govern was because of the roles in society. Each group of people had a role in society and this made Russia extremely difficult to govern because it made the government extremely unpopular.

The slaves, Jews and the workers resented the government for the social system the most because they were treated very badly. Serfs were treated like slaves and could do nothing without permission; they couldn’t even get married without permission. Jews were attacked several times sometimes even with government permission which meant that they thought it was normal. This made Russia difficult to govern because then when an emperor had a different idea the people resented it. For example when Alexander ll, realised that serfdom was wrong and not acceptable in a modern society he was seen as giving in to social justice and so when he was assassinated in1881 many did not care. Workers were also treated very badly and lived in atrocious conditions. This made Russia very difficult to govern as the workers despised the government. Not only that but the people also despised the government as much of the industry was looked after by foreigners and this caused many complaints.

As the industry grew the problem became bigger because although Russia needed the industry to grow or they would remain behind other countries, the increase of industry meant more workers were needed and the new working class despised the government meaning the government was very unpopular. They hated the Tsarist system and the government feared that this would cause many rebellions against the government. Although Russia was very difficult to govern because of these reasons there were many success such as; the Russian agriculture had never been more productive since, which means that although the conditions were harsh and the peasants were not happy with the way they were treated, the techniques used must have been efficient in some way.

The peasants also had a right to vote for village council in 1864 which meant that they could have their say and they had a greater say than they have ever had so some things were successful. In conclusion Russia was difficult to govern for lots of reasons but the most important reason was mainly how unpopular the government was and the size and diversity of the country. If the government had been more popular and the empire smaller I don’t think that there would have been as much difficulty in governing Russia because there wouldn’t have been as many different opinions and languages within the empire and people would have listened more to what the government had to say.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 30 October 2016

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