Between 1881 and 1905 Russia underwent some significant changes to make it a more modern state. In 1881 Russia had just had their Tsar (Alexander II) assassinated, this meant that Alexander III, who was now Russia’s newest and most repressive Tsar. Alexander II had introduced reforms, for example the emancipation of Serfs, this gave him the title of Tsar “Liberator”. After the assassination of his father, Alexander III introduced a manifesto, which stated that he had absolute political power. In 1881 Russia was considered to be one of Europe’s great power (this was purely judged on its’ military strength) however in economical value, Russia in comparison with France and Germany, was falling very behind.
To some extent Russia modernized however in other ways it almost seemed to become more brutal in some of its political views against Russia’s main social class the peasants. There ware many dilemmas for the Tsar’s faced with the opportunity to modernise. To some extent modernisation and industrialization was desired, however it was also seen as a great threat to the Tsarist regime as aristocrats believed it would be hard to maintain an autocratic system after seeing western European countries forming democratic states with their own parliaments. The Russian government had to compromise between modernisation and a revolution. It proved to be very hard to modernise under an autocratic system.
Tsarist Russia followed an autocratic system, this meant the tsar had no limits on his power, he was answerable only to God and he could pass laws on his own and therefore was the only person in the whole of Russia with enough power to reform it. Under Tsarist rule there was no parliament and only the aristocrats had any say on the way Russia was run. However to the Russian people it seemed as if Alexander had taken a backward step in modernizing the political and economic ways after his fathers’ reforms prior to 1881. This encouraged an increasing number of revolutionary parties forming underground. The political uprisings came from many middle class people and as Russification occurred, a large number of ethnic groups began to rebel and revolt as well. In 1881 Russia’s economy was in a terrible state, unlike Germany, Russia had not industralised and this meant that in the Franco Prussia wars, Germany had much less war equipment.
There were many reasons for holding Russia back from industralising. The sheer size of Russia meant that communicating from one end of Russia to the other was virtually impossible. This was because there was a lack of transport, for example there was only 1,500 miles of track where as England managed to have 15,000 miles of track. Another important reasons for Russia not undergoing modernization was that 82% of society was peasants and only 4% ( only 800,000) were urban workers. However possibly the most important reason for not industralising was the upper class and the aristocrats were extremely weary of economic modernisation. This was for many reasons such as the elite upper class wanted things to stay the same in order to maintain the status quo.
They also wouldn’t have wanted a big working class as this could lead to a revolution, they also didn’t want a large middle class out of fear that they would take some power away. Lastly however they were desperate for the peasants and workers to stay uneducated incase it would lead them to challenging the status quo. In 1881 the Tsar was faced with a dilemma, which to some extent slowed the economic and political modernisation. He didn’t know whether to industrialize so he could keep up with countries such as Germany and Britain. However the disadvantage of industrialization and modernisation would mean he might have to delegate some of his power. The Russian economy was also unable to advance as it had a poor banking system, which made it hard to make capital on a big scale. By 1881 Russian bankers still hadn’t worked out the best ways to borrow and invest, this then discouraged entrepreneurialism.
In 1881 Russia was obviously far behind on its political ways compared with other European nations, this was shown by the amount of control the Tsar had, unlike other countries, Russia still had no parliament. In 1881 it was still a criminal offence to oppose the tsar and his government. It was also illegal to set up an opposing political party, although between 1881 and 1905 the number of political groups underground increased heavily as more and more people had liberal views. Many of these secret societies were infiltrated by the Okhrana, which resulted in many raids and arrests.
There were also extremist groups, for example “the people’s will” who were a revolutionary terrorist group who assassinated Alexander II. The number of these also increased as people got more and more angry at the Tsar and upper class’s governing incompetence. Russia’s political backwardness was also highlighted by the existence of the “dark masses” who were feared and viewed with contempt by the governing elite. These people believed that the only way to keep them in check would be through strong discipline. This discipline was normally handed down from the superiors to the lower ranks, which often took time, this was another example of the Russian empires’ inefficiency. The peasants often had uprisings and revolts in order to make the Tsarist regime unstable during time of poor harvest. This was because with the likelihood of them starving to death was rather high and therefore they saw it as having nothing to lose.
The Russian economy benefited from Witte’s “Great Spurt” from 1892 to 1903. The new finance minister Sergei Witte wished to create a “spiral of upward industrial growth”. He planned on doing this by improving the railway system which would improve communications between major cities as well as increasing the demand for steel, iron and coal to help complete the railway construction. While Witte was in office the length of the railway doubled in kilometers. This shows that some aspects of the Russian economy were slowly improving. Prior to Witte, finance ministers Bunge and Vyshnegradsky both attempted to modernise Russia but using very cautious methods. Witte was the first finance minister to create any significant economic reforms.
He managed to do this using the “Witte system”. This system depended on foreign investment, from Belgium, Britain and most importantly France (82% of investments). Witte also encouraged people to listen to foreign expertise especially Western Europe engineers. These experts told them to focus on “capital goods” such as coal, iron, steel and machinery. Another way that the economy was improved was by raising taxes on the peasants on necessities like salt and alcohol. The peasants were treated badly so it created a lot of tension and political opposition, especially when the high interest rates and loans were introduced for peasants. One of the most promising methods of the Witte system was that it was completely led by the government including loaning money to industries, this made people feel looked after by their rulers, which increased the country’s morale.
It also increased other countries confidence in Russia, even more so when the Russian “rouble” joined the gold standard; this made other countries more eager to invest in Russia. Finally Russia’s fast raise in economic investments was in my opinion down to raise in tariffs on foreign imports, this encouraged Russians to buy only Russian goods. Witte’s system definitely helped the economic modernisation of Russia to some extent however it became too dependant on foreign loans, the economic growth was very localized (mostly in Western Russian cities) and there was also not nearly enough focus on agriculture, this led to aggravated peasants, who were still being heavily taxed becoming more open to revolting.
To a rather large extent however the “great spurt” which was powered by witte wasn’t that successful in economically reforming Russia. After 1902 there was a worldwide recession, which made one third of Russia’s workers unemployed. Russia was also unable to sell goods abroad as it was a worldwide recession and therefore every country was imposing high tariffs in order to make people buy and sell in their own countries. The crippling moment for Russia was when foreign investors had to call in loans during 1902 -1903. During the recession there was a lot of unrest among workers in factories in big cities. This led to many strikes, which made the Tsar introduce repressive ways for example arresting thousands and banning trade unions. It seemed the worse the economic state of Russia was, the more political opposition the Tsar faced.
Russia hadn’t drastically modernized its political ways by 1905, however underground things were developing very quickly, including the rise of opposition to the Tsar. There were two left wing parties, which grew to be the “Socialist revolutionary party” and the “Social democrats”. The social revolutionaries was the party which started out as the Populist Party and their main aim was to get rid of the Tsar and to give the power to the peasants. However they were held back by the disinclination to revolutionise due to their lack of education on the political state of Russia. Within the socialist revolutionary party there was a smaller left wing party the “Antichrists” who wanted no government at all and the “moderate social revolutionaries” who were more right winged and were willing to work with other parties such as the social democrats and the liberals.
The social democrats were also a left wing party but wanted power for the workers instead of the peasants. They believed that the working class needed to seize power in order to move onto the next part of Russia’s development. The lack of revolutionary feeling felt by the socialist revolutionary party was not replicated by the social democrats, due to the urbanisation, proletariat there became a lot of unrest between the workers, which led to a more revolutionary feeling among the people. Within the Social Democrats there was a division in ideas between the Bolsheviks who were led by Lenin and the Mensheviks who were led by Martov. They had very different ideas for example Lenin believed that the socialist revolution could happen without Russia being a fully capitalist country, however Martov didn’t agree and believed the proletariat wasn’t yet big enough. They also had differing views on the size of the party- Lenin wanted the party to be exclusive to educated revolutionaries and the decisions would be carried out by the elite, where as Martov was very open to a democratic discussion. The huge difference in opinions even within a party shows just how underground the political opposition was spreading and increasing in ideas.
In conclusion, by 1905 Russia had reached a point in between feudalism and capitalism. This was because the middle class was growing significantly after the 1890’s great spurt and so the Tsar was having to give up some of its power. The aim of the middle class was to take power completely from the Tsar and the elite government, however that hadn’t happened by the end of 1905, it was merely on its way. However for the peasants between 1881 and 1905 they were still treated in the same way, and although they may have got a job during Witte’s great spurt they will most likely have lost it again by 1902 due to the recession, or they may have given up and left the cities due to the appalling wages and living conditions that they had to endure. Witte’s system did to some extent help modernise Russia but there were many drawbacks, which made it inefficient. After the worldwide recession Russia found It hard to get foreign loans and imports and exports as every other country in the world was worried about their own economy and was doing anything in their power to look out for themselves.