Alexander II Dilemmas Views Emancipation Serfs Essay

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Alexander II dilemmas views emancipation serfs

The background of Emancipation serfs: The foundation of serfdom extends back to as earlier as 11th century and continued in the Russian society till the time, Tsar Alexander finally announced to demolish this system in 1861. The serfdom was an altered form of slavery for a number of people, who were restricted for every need of life and bound to take permission from their lord. They could not get married, start a business, own land or even travel with liberty. In the nineteenth century, however, the people of Russia, seeking for major political, economical and social reforms, desired for end of serfdom. Furthermore, the involvement of Russia and than a defeat in Crimean War resulted as the final event stimulating consequent reform decisions in the country. Alexander II felt the insecurity of analysts in his shrewd leadership after the unusual defeat (Gorshkov, 2005).

Pre-Reform Era: Before the advent of Emancipation, the peasants living in Russia were mostly living in two categories. Either, they were living on state lands and were owned by the ministry of the state or living on the land of landlords, or private lands. These people were owned by landlords and were totally dependent on them for every need of their lives. They were termed as serfs and were treated as slaves. The restrictions growing with the passage of time, new rules, and more denials from their rights and no autonomy allowed in their decisions made it very difficult to differentiate between serfs and slaves. Though other European countries had mass of people or tribes treated on similar level, however the Russian serfs constituted a high frequency of total population. Documents show that almost 38% of Russian population included serfs and peasants. It is documented that by the time of nineteenth century, almost half of the peasants in Russia were serfs. The most dominating era of serfdom started in sixteenth century when the prohibitions for any activity of serfs reached its peak. The serfs were even not allowed to leave the locality in which they were born, they could not change the lords and were not allowed to get married with their own consent. Household serfs were the in worst of state compared to other serfs as their status was no better than some domestic slave having almost no right on their own lives.

It was nineteenth century when the people started to focus on their condition due to unstable circumstances in Russia. They wanted some main practical changes and reforms for social, economical, political and industrial growth of Russia as well as for keeping pace with the rest of the world in terms of modernism. Alexander II had an indefinite position due to his defeat in Crimean War and thus he took the decision for major reforms that could turn the dark phase of disappointment, the nation was going through to the dawn of prosperity, integrity and a hope of a new Russia. This led him make his mind up for liberating the serfs, as it was most desired subject under discussion and focus of all the critics as well as progressive minded people. Thus, despite of opposition by gentry of Russia, he determinedly gave the verdict of liberating serfs of Russia, entitling them as free citizens and allowing them basic rights of their own lives. His fundamental rationale behind this verdict included to lessen the economic deficiency of serfs, make them socially reputable as well as to grant them independence in their basic human rights. They could buy lands, start their own business, marry independently and were not restricted to move or bound to their lords anymore. This decision brought with it many expectations for both lords; in the form of fear and progressive minded people, in the form of a new prosper Russia. But what it actually was, time was the only power to decide (Gorshkov, 2005).

The expectations and realism: This royal command of Alexander II gave rise to new expectations of those, longing for some social reforms in Russia to overcome the disappointment they had faced after an unpredicted defeat in Crimean War in 1854. Equally intensified terror grabbed the attention of those, Landlords primarily, who did not want to lose control over serfs, as it could be a threat for their dominance and power. The concept of emancipation of serfs remains controversial in terms of the intension of Alexander behind this social and cultural change. One school of thought considers the decision to be the result of his thinking to place the status of Russia in economically and socially advanced countries, while the other emphasizes this decision to be his effort to ensure his own rule over the country and favor of his people, who were in doubt of his capabilities as a judicious leadership due to weakened situation of his regime at that time (Lynch, 2003).

Whatever the intension was, this decision had long-term impact on more than 23 million people, who availed their liberty. However, the glow of all hopes faded away very soon when the practical realities of the emancipation saddled the newly freed serfs. The applauded decision of Alexander II turned out to be huge failure, as the serfs had to pay the price of their lives in debt in return of freedom they could not even avail. What we intend to explore is the prime reason involved in rotting such a splendid decision into a dilemma for the serfs. Also, the real beneficiaries behind this reform will also be highlighted (Lynch, 2003).

Verdict to implementation gap: Though Alexander II had announced it 1856, to free the serfs, his decision was initially opposed and objected by the gentry. The lords initially gathered and forced Alexander to take his decision back, showing him how devastating results it could end in, for economy of Russia. In 1858, it seemed that this pressure will work out and Alexander will have to revert with his decision, but he remained determined and ordered them to plan for the procedure of emancipation at once. The next move, nobles opted for was the option of granting them freedom and not the land. Again revoked by the determination of his decision, they decided to give off the land on their own prices. As the legislation was being in charge by one of the most powerful lords of Russia, the Count Panin, who owned more than 20,000 serfs, peasants had to face the worst of unexpected disguised behind this generous reform5.

Disguised policy of nobles:

A very famous statement of Alexander is quoted in context of this reform, as mentioned here;

'It is better to begin to destroy serfdom from above than to wait until that time when it begins to destroy itself from below' and also, 'I ask you, gentlemen, to figure out how all this can be carried out to completion.'

In the statement above, he was asking the nobles of Moscow to put in their effort and devise a procedure to implement his obvious decision. It was a very wise move by Alexander that unchained him from any appalling consequences of this decision (Lynch, 2003).

Hence, the most dynamic role, behind this entire transformation, was played by the nobles and landlords of Russia. History also demonstrates markedly high benefits; the nobles availed from this reform. So does it show what impacts were faced by the serfs, as a result of plans and measures for implementation, contained in 360 pages of 22 separate documents. These measures were drafted by the same nobles who were obliged to free the serfs by Alexander, but were given the freedom to plan the procedure themselves.

The main objective of majority of gentry was to get the maximum compensation from the freedom serfs owned by them. The basic threat these landlords had, was losing their cheap servants necessary for maintaining a lifestyle, land and elegance. This threat led them to formulate a legislation that could provide them with best of treasury compensation as well as land. Also, the rules of very high taxes and loans were also devised in a particular manner, so as to seldom allow the serfs to grow and prosper equally to their former lords. Initially, the nobles insisted on allowing freedom to the serfs and not the land, but due to several reasons, chiefly the resolute decision of Alexander, they agreed to sell the land, but only of their own choice (Russia and Empire, 1856-1903 Retrieved on January 6, 2013).

Options utilized for best compensation: When Alexander himself directed the nobles to draw a plan for emancipation of serfs, they found an opportunity to set up the procedures that provide them best compensation of all they give up. They took the full advantage of this opportunity and worked out for their objectives. At the end, when the plan was implemented on peasants, the actual beneficiaries were not them, but the nobles.

The compensation prices decided was very high than the actual market value of their lands. Furthermore, the landlords…

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