Book Cover: Russian Autocracy 1880-1914

This 5000 word booklet on Russian Autocracy is designed to help those tackling the topic at the GCSE level. Covering the Tsars, The 1905 Revolution and changes in Russian Politics, it helps the reader understand just how the Russian Empire moved towards a socialist system of government. It starts with a brief description of Alexander II and the policy of emancipation (pre 1880) and gradually winds its way to the repression of the revolution and the failing people's opinion of Tsar Nicholas II.

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19th century Russia would be behind the times when compared with much of Europe. Though it was a vast and militarily strong Empire it had an almost feudal system of government. The way in which the land was controlled was almost medieval, with peasants (known as serfs) owned by the nobility and forced to work the land.

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   This backward system, that was almost a form of slavery, would lead to many rebellions over the years and each would be suppressed through the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of people. Tsar Alexander II of Russia would be the first to recognise that such a way of thinking was no longer acceptable and the country needed reforms. No-one had stood up to the nobles before. Telling them that they could no longer simply use the serfs would be taking away a large piece of their wealth and would come across as removing their own property. However, in 1861 Alexander decided that the time had come.

   Reforms were passed that would give serfs their freedom (emancipation). They would be allowed to buy the land off the nobles and were no long property to the upper classes. However, the state loaned them money to make the purchases, with the serfs providing 20% of the cost and the government providing 80%. This tied up many serfs in debt that they struggled to pay off. To them it seemed as if they had been cheated. Alexander would continue making his changes, agreeing to a constitution that allowed some control over the Tsar’s power. Even so, by the end of his rule he had many enemies; nationalists from countries that the Russian Empire controlled; nobles whose power had been stripped away; and revolutionary parties who felt the Tsar had not lived up to his word when he had agreed to help the people. All these saw Alexander II as a target. In 1881 he was assassinated, the seventh attempt on his life.

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