How Significant Was the Work of Reforming Leaders in Changing the Nature of Russian Government and Society in the Period from 1856-1964?

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How significant was the work of reforming leaders in changing the nature of Russian government and society in the period from 1856-1964? Intentionalist historians such as Westwood, would say that the most significant factor for changing the nature of Russian government and society was the work of reforming leaders, such as Alexander II who carried out the Emancipation of the Serfs in 1861: “with the possible exception of Khrushchev, no other Russian ruler did so much to reduce the suffering of the Russian people”1. I agree with intentionalist’s views to an extent because reforming leaders did have a major impact in pushing reforms through however other factors of change must be considered. I also agree with a structuralist point of view, that the Russian people and key pressure groups like the Social Revolutionaries also played a significant part in changing the nature of Russian government and society. In addition, World War II introduced change through industrialisation, which was key to Russia’s success in the war. These key reforming leaders and other factors of change saw Russia grow from a very deprived country in 1856 to an industrial superpower in 1964. Alexander II became known as ‘Alexander the Great Reformer’ and ‘the Tsar Liberator’ which suggests that his work and reforms changed the nature of Russian government and society to a large extent. The emancipation of the Serfs in 1861 initially appeared to have major benefits for the serfs. As Alexander II said: “We vowed in our hearts to fulfil the mission which is entrusted to Us and to surround with Our affection and Our Imperial solicitude all Our faithful subjects of every rank and condition”2. In the short term the serfs obtained certain freedoms that they’d never received before, such as no longer being owned landowners. Other positive outcomes included showing that people in nobility like Alexander
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