Alexander III (1881—1894)
- Alexander II, deservedly known as the “Czar Liberator” fell a victim to an assassin’s bomb. With his death the cause of reform in Russia received a stout blow and the country was given over to unmitigated reaction. This in its turn provoked revolutionary movements with the result that the domestic history of Russia became a tale of struggle between the Czarist government and the liberal and revolutionary forces. It was marKed on the one side by bombings and assassinations, and on the other by hundreds of executions, and by proscriptions and exilings. It was to end in the complete destruction of the Czardom in Russia. Russia (1881—1914)
- After the tragic death of Alexander II, his son ascended the throne as Alexander III. The new Czar had none of the generous impulses of his father. His outlook was narrow; his ideas were medieval. Hence he proved himself an unbending reactionary, distrustful of the new forces of the time. He held that the regeneration of Russia was to be brought about not by the parliamentary institutions and liberalism of the West but by the great principles indigenous to Russia. These were autocracy, orthodoxy and Slavic nationalism. In the attitude he took up he had a powerful supporter in Pobedonostsev, the Procurator of the Holy Synod, who developed a veritable philosophy of reaction. He taught that the social and political institutions of Western Europe were essentially bad in themselves, and were inapplicable to Russia as they were alien to her tradition. The ideal of Russia should be ‘”one Czar one Church, one Russia”. It was this ideal which alone could save Russia from the anarchy and scepticism of Western Europe. As the great mass of the Russian people was essentially conservative, the Czar’s policy succeeded for a time. Russia (1881—1914)
- Alexander III first turned his attention to the unruly elements in the country. His father’s assassins were ferreted out and executed or banished to Siberia. Other nihilists and terrorists were hunted down with a vigour so terrible that the reign was marked by a seeming lull in revolutionary propaganda. The Press was gagged, the students and professors were strictly watched and the power of the Zemstvos severely curtailed. Towards the subject races of the Empire the Czar pursued a policy of “Russification”. In other words, he wanted to introduce uniform conditions by taking away the privileges that had been enjoyed by non-Russian peoples, (such as the Finns and Poles) in the empire. All parts of his domains must have one language, one religion and one law. Homogeneity must be enforced at all costs and dissident faiths and less important languages were to be stamped out. The Protestant Stundists of the south were mercilessly harried, sermons were censored and dissent of every kind was persecuted. The Poles, the Germans of the Baltic provinces, and the Finns, all felt the weight of this policy of Russification. But no class or race suffered so much as the Jews. They were confined to certain towns of the west, excluded from local government, partly debarred from education and forbidden to engage in agriculture or to hold property outside the towns to which they were limited. They were subjected to organised attacks (called pogroms) attended with the plunder of their property and burning of their homes. In most cases these outrages were connived at by the Government. Russia (1881—1914)
- The reign of Alexander III, though one of terror and reaction, saw the beginning of industrial and economic development. One of his ministers, Count Witte, was a man of exceptional energy and vision and it was largely through his efforts that foreign capital came into Russia, attracted by the vast untapped resources of the country and the quantity of cheap labour now made readily available by the emancipation of the serfs. The railway system was extended and the great Trans-Siberian railroad begun. Mines’ were opened, industries sprang-up and the banks multiplied. Witte adopted a high protective tariff to foster home industries. It should be noted that this material development was largely aided by loans mostly obtained from France. For this good office Alexander III swallowed his dislike of French republicanism and agreed to the famous Dual Alliance between France and Russia.
Nicholas 11(1894—1917) | Russia (1881—1914)
- On the death of Alexander III his son Nicholas II, the last of the Czars, ascended the throne. His reign was a continuation of that of his father, for he was a thorough believer in absolutism and was determined to maintain it undiminished. Weak and irresolute, subject to irresponsible influences like those of the Czarina who in her turn was guided by a vile monk named Rasputin, Nicholas was singularly unfitted to play the role which fate had assigned to him. He reposed the utmost confidence in Pobedonostsev, the philosopher of reaction and in Plehve, the incarnation of reactionary autocracy. The result was that under a weak monarch the Government became exceptionally oppressive. Any sign of liberalism was promptly suppressed. The legislation against the Jews was enforced, and the number of pogroms increased. The intellectuals, from whom the revolutionaries were largely recruited were cruelly persecuted. The constitution enjoyed by Finland was abrogated and that country was subjected to a through process of “Russification.” An army of spies was employed to give information, and no one was secure against arrest imprisonment and exile. It was suffocating atmosphere for any man of the slightest intellectual independence. In one direction alone, that of trade and industry, remarkable progress was made under the able guidance of Count Witte.
- But in spite of this repressive regime one could hear the first rumblings of the earthquake that was eventually to destroy of Czarist government. On the accession of Nicholas the Zemstvos began to co-operate with one another and ventured to advance a plea for greater freedom. They brought such pressure to bear upon the Government that Witte had to set up several agricultural committees to make recommendations as to necessary reforms. These committees demanded representative government, freedom of the press and guarantees of individual liberties. As their report was hostile to existing institutions, Witte was held responsible and dismissed from office (1903). Autocracy was now a full swing and Plehve kept up a tireless fight against the liberal and radical opinions of the time.
The Revolutionary Movement of 1905 | Russia (1881—1914)
- For a time the people remained in sullen silence, awaiting the time of explosion. That time came when in 1904 the Russo-Japanese War broke out. The war was badly conducted and the country was stirred by storms of official corruption and incompetence. When the news poured in of a succession of Russian defeats, there burst forth a strong feeling of national indignation. The system of autocracy stood discredited and Plehve, its agent, was murdered. The Zemstvos put forward demands for liberal reforms and to these demands were now added the agitations of the workmen in the towns. Strikes occurred in Moscow and other industrial centres. The Czar however continued along the path of repression. In 1905 a huge procession of strikes, headed by a priest named Father Gapon, was fired upon by troops on its way to present petition to the Czar. There were hundreds of casualties which earned for the day the appellation of “Bloody Sunday”. This incident sent a thrill of horror throughout the country and there was general unrest all over Russia. The peasants began to pillage the houses of the landlords and to murder police officers. The Czar’s uncle, the Grand Duke Serge, was assassinated in Moscow and there were even mutinies in the array and the navy. The very foundation of Czarism seemed to be crumbling. Russia (1881—1914)
- Frightened by the growing disorders the Czar attempted conciliation. He announced the summoning of a Duma or national assembly which was to be consulted in the matter of reforms. He dismissed Pobedonostsev and other reactionary ministers, recalled Witte and issued the famous October Manifesto (1905) containing guarantees of freedom of conscience, speech and association. The Duma was to be elected on a very broad franchise and was to be invested with legislative power.
- The first Duma met in May 1906 amidst great excitement but the experiment for the establishment of a constitutional government was a sad failure. This was largely due to the confusion of parties and aims both in the country and the Duma. The revolutionaries did not form a united party and were divided on the constitutional question. There were the moderate liberals known as the Octobrists who were content to accept the reforms as proclaimed by the October Manifesto of the Czar. They stood for constitutional government based on voluntary consent of the Czar; there was the more advanced group organised as the Constitutional Democratic Party and popularly known as the “Cadets”, who demanded responsible as well as representative government, that is, one based upon the doctrine of popular sovereignty. There were also Socialist sections. These different groups began to waste their energies in factional quarrels and the Government took advantage of the divisions in the ranks of its critics. It set up a second chamber of the proposed parliament so constituted as to make it essentially conservative, and issued Organic Laws which vested in the Czar an absolute power to veto all legislation. No real power was left to the Duma and when it tried to control the ministers (the executive), it was accused of exceeding its limits and was dissolved. In bitter disappointment the Cadets withdrew to Viborg in Finland and issued a Viborg Manifesto calling upon the Russian people to refuse to pay taxes and to render military service to a Government which had violated its pledges.
- But the revolution had by this time spent itself and so the Manifesto produced but feeble response. Its only result was to stiffen the Government which severely punished the signatories and many other revolutionaries. Russia (1881—1914)
- In March 1907 a second Duma met, but there was the same impasse between it and the ministry. As a consequence it was dissolved before it had set for four months. The third Duma met in November 1907. It was summoned on a fundamentally altered electoral law and reduced franchise. The result was that it came to be composed mostly of conservative elements amenable to the policy of the Government. The Duma became a docile, consultative body rather than a legislative assembly. It lasted till 1912 and was followed by a fourth Duma which had much the same political complexion as its predecessor and proved even more docile. Although the Duma was helpless to achieve anything, it at least could speak for the nation and thus contained within itself the germs of political democracy. This was the fruit of the Russian Revolution of 1905.
- Thus ended in failure the struggle for liberty in Russia. From 1907 reaction had set in and autocracy was in the saddle. The policy of the Government was directed by Stolypin, “The Russian Bismarck” who was appointed prime minister in 1906. He laboured to combine firm government with measures of reform. In other words, he wanted to maintain the autocratic system as well as the Duma as an auxiliary of the Government and not as a nucleus for revolution. He put down lawlessness with a heavy hand and at the same time sought to conciliate the working class and peasantry. He allowed the peasants to detach themselves from the Mir or village community and to become owners of the lands they tilled. He legalised trade unions and introduced a general scheme of workingmen’s insurance. Stolypin was, however, murdered in 1911 and with his death autocracy lost its great instruments and champion. The domestic history of Russia returned to its usual humdrum routine and the ministers took little thought of the morrow. And the morrow brought another terrible war which destroyed autocracy. Russia (1881—1914)
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