Encourage revolutionary activity

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How successful was Alexander II in overcoming opposition to his regime? In 1861 Russia was a backward state, other countries in Europe had undergone the industrial revolution but Russia was still an agricultural country with a large lower class of serfs. Alexander II made the decision to emancipate the serfs in 1861 mainly due to a fear of revolt but also as a cause of liberal pressure and in the interest of economic growth. Throughout this decision and decisions to make other reforms different political groups opposed Alexander II.

In the first instance from left wing revolutionary groups who were against the autocratic state and desired a democratic state. The different revolutionary groups used different methods of proposing their beliefs, some used violence. Alexander II was in some ways successful when overcoming opposition to this group as his appointment of Shuvalov saw that revolutionaries were tried in military courts. However a revolutionary group eventually assassinated Alexander in 1881, making his attempts to overcome opposition unsuccessful.

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Other forms of opposition were the liberals who wished for reforms to be made, but for the state to remain under the ruler ship of the Tsar. They wanted a parliamentary government with a constitutional monarchy. Alexander II created opposition to his regime from this group when he introduced counter reforms, turning liberals to revolutionary ideas and methods. Alexander II was mostly unsuccessful when aiming to overcome opposition to his regime. One of the first examples of this was when he made reforms concerning the university statute of 1863, which encouraged revolutionary activity.

The universities were now allowed to self-rule, which meant more modern subjects, which encouraged liberal ideas. The relaxation of censorship in 1863 accentuated this, as students were able to openly discuss radical ideas the following was published in a journal by a group of student revolutionaries called Young Russia, “There is only one way out of this oppressive and terrible situation which is destroying contemporary man and that is revolution- bloody and merciless revolution”.

They believed that “the sovereign has betrayed the hopes of the people”. The growth of students led to an increase of educated people who were critics of the Tsarist regime, this was the opposite of what Alexander II had wanted to achieve when he made university more accessible and relaxed censorship. Between the years 1861 to 1865 Alexander II made a substantial amount of liberal reforms, which led revolutionaries and liberals alike to believe that Russia was beginning to improve.

From 1865 to 1880 Russia entered into a repressive stage and Alexander II introduced many counter reforms this involved the appointment of Count Dmitri Tolstoy in 1866 as the minister of education. Tolstoy blamed the university system for the spread of revolutionary activity. To combat this he replaced subjects, which encouraged independent thought with traditional subjects such as Latin, Greek and Church history. He also made it increasingly difficult for poorer students to reach university.

This however proved to be counter productive as students began to move to Switzerland to pursue their studies, where they could freely listen to critics of the Tsarist regime, therefore encouraging the growth of revolutionary activity. Count Peter Shuvalov was also appointed in 1866 as head of the third section. Repressive methods were introduced to keep order this included the use of military courts to try cases of political violence. Shuvalov also tightened censorship as it had been before the reforms.

The repressive methods that were introduced were a contributing factor to the significant amount of liberals who were turned to revolutionary ideas. They had believed Alexander II would make further reforms however they had lost trust and revolutionary activity increased between 1873 and 1877. Alexander II had failed in overcoming the opposition this was confirmed when the revolutionary group “Peoples Will” assassinated him in 1881. On the contrary some people believe Alexander II was successful in overcoming opposition to his regime.

Alexander II had emancipated the Serfs meaning they were free to travel, marry and engage in business therefore in some aspects giving them a better quality of life and in some ways improving the economy through the business minded, wealthier peasants who became known as “Kulaks”. The emancipation satisfied modernisers and humanitarian groups who were interested in Russia’s economy and the welfare of Russian peasants. Another way Alexander II appeared successful in overcoming opposition to his regime was the joint effort of Tolstoy and Shuvalov.

The restrictions Tolstoy placed on universities in Russia stopped the spread of revolutionary ideas within Russia to an extent. The new university system disenabled students to study subjects that may encourage opposition to the Tsarist regime. Shuvalov cracked down on the young revolutionaries and between 1877-8 there were two major trials of populists with 243 young revolutionaries put on trial. Despite Alexander II’s assassination in 1881 supporters to his success of overcoming opposition to his regime would argue that he was successful due to the fact that the Tsarist regime was continued and was supported by the church and he army.

Despite the success Alexander II experienced through the trial of revolutionaries and also the emancipation of the Serfs he was unsuccessful in overcoming the opposition to his regime. This was mainly due to the counter reforms he made after his original reforms which caused a growth in the opposition and led people to believe that the sovereign had betrayed them. The control over censorship and universities led to an increase in radical ideas, which were sourced from alternatives countries. In conclusion I believe Alexander II was unsuccessful in overcoming opposition to his regime.

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