How Far Does Alexander II Deserve The Title Of ‘Tsar Liberator’?
Alexander II was Tsar of Russia from 1855 after succeeding his father, Nicholas I, and sought to fix many problems Russia was troubled with during the time. The country has no zemsta, people were relatively uneducated, the judicial system was extremely biased and therefore unfair, censorship was deceitful and strict and the serfs were still imprisoned by their lords. Alexander II searched for ways to reform these issues, attempting to give his people freedom and keep peace within the troublesome country dictated by nobles. He battled with walking a delicate line between preserving the countries Slavic patriotism and freeing his people from the struggles they endured. He clearly recognised that his country needed change to move forward in the rapid growth of the modern world. Despite this, many historians have heavily critiqued Alexanders motive for such reforms, questioning whether the title of ‘Tsar Liberator’ was an accurate description for Alexanders twenty-six-year reign.
Reforms were needed quickly at such a time, after a crushing defeat in Crimea in 1856 proved to be a pressing reminder to the head members of society that Russia was falling heavily behind its European rivals in terms of military efficiency and also technological improvement, with their ‘steamroller’ tactics proving a failure. Russia became a laughing stock after the war, and it became vital to their reputation that modernisation of the army had to take place for Russia to maintain its position in the wider world.
The reforms, supervised by Dmitri Milyutin from 1861 to 1881, introduced a large amount of changes to military regulations. Universal conscription for all social classes was introduced from the age of 21, meaning the army would no longer consists mainly of untrained serfs, as well as military based collages for artillery to engineering. Promotions were made more accessible, conditions for soldiers improved and the military was organised into 15 military districts. The aims were to break down social divide within the army, which worked predominantly in lower ranks, whereas nobles still dominated the occupations of higher ranking officers. However, due to Alexanders attempts to break down social divides, he created a lot of opposition from nobles whom did not want to mix with people who would’ve been enslaved by them previously, favouring the old system where promotions were merely possible. Merchants also opposed reforms, as it meant compulsory conscription for their sons who would’ve previously worked for them. Despite this, the army became more efficient and smaller, and the budget for other sectors could increase due to a more specialised, smaller group of soldiers.
Regarding socioeconomic context, the emancipation of the serfs – who made up around 80% of the Russian population - in 1861, seemed to be the area that most pressingly required change. Serfdom was effectively abolished,...