“Reluctant Reformers.” How Far Do You Agree Withthis View of Russian Rulers from 1855-1964?

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“Reluctant reformers.” How far do you agree with this view of Russian Rulers from 1855-1964? There is a common theme through most of the period that Russian rulers and the reforms they introduced were less than radical, and were indeed ‘reluctant’ in their approach. As the tsars were only the most recent of a long line of autocratic and orthodox rulers it is hardly surprising that they may not be particularly progressive. This essay will define reform as changes to government and processes wherein that cause a notable impact upon the population. The areas to investigate include political, economic, social and military reforms from the Russian government in order to see if they are ‘reluctant reformers’ or not. Socially, Alexander II introduced arguably the most radical reform in 1861 by emancipating the serfs and granting peasants freedom. This is by far the reform that affected the population most widely in the period – by granting this, peasants were allowed to own themselves in body and soul and could dictate their own lives as far as they could. Class bias was reduced and education was given more widely across Russia, regardless of social standing. This certainly fights against the view that Alexander II was reluctant in his reforms on the surface – however, once investigated, the limits of emancipation are clear. The 49 year redemption payments were a huge limiting factor in allowing peasants economic freedom to then have social freedom, and class was still a major issue even if it had been reduced. The highly inflated land prices that ensued meant that very few peasants could afford land, and Alexander II did nothing to resolve this. It does lend to the idea of his ‘radical’ reforms being fairly reluctant as he did not go further with them. Alexander III took an even more conservative view during his reign, repealing many of Alexander II’s social
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