Economic, social and political policies

6 June 2016

How successful were the economic, social and political policies of the Tsar’s government from 1894-1914? In 1894, Nicholas II ascended to the throne following the death of his father, Alexander III. Woefully unprepared for such a role, Nicholas II has been characterized as a naive and incompetent leader. At a time of enormous social and political change in Russia, Nicholas held fast to the outdated, autocratic policies and opposed reform of any kind. His inept handling of the military matters and insensitivity to the needs of his people helped to fuel the 1914 Russian Revolution. It can be argued that the most successful economic policies were of those, set by Sergei Witte; however, these policies had successes and failures.

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Sergei Witte, a finance minister from 1892 to 1903, was the architect of Russian industrialisation. Witte believed that, because Russia was so far behind other countries, the state had to play a large role in stimulating industrial growth. He launched Russia into an age of Russia into an age of heavy industry, using the railways as a starting point. Some successes of Witte’s policies were that Russia was modernising from a position that was further behind the economies of other countries. The economic modernisation allowed Russia to equip their armed forces with more sophisticated weaponry and compete as a World power. These successes allowed the Tsar to gain support for his regime. To compare, there were many failures of Witte’s policies which could cause a threat to the tsarist regime.

The Russian political system did not modernise and educational opportunities remained limited for the minority, this caused there to be an increased political opposition to the Tsarist system of government. Witte increased direct and indirect taxes in Russia, which helped boost the economy by squeezed the peasants causing a widespread anger which lead to strikes becoming more common in Russia cities. Another man who helped the economy was Peter Stolypin. Both Stolypin and Witte had a shared objective – the preservation of the Tsarist system.

However, Stolypin was interested in developing the agriculture of Russia, and set out to win over the peasantry who had been the tsarist traditional supporters. He recognised that some of the grievances of the peasants stemmed from their long-standing resentment of the limitations of the emancipation in 1861 and the burden of the redemption payments. A recurring demand during the 1905 Revolution had been for more land and relief from the financial indebtedness. Stolypin aimed to create a class of prosperous independent smallholding peasants at the expense of the Mir, reduce the power of the Mir, improve the efficiency of agriculture by ending backward methods of farming practised by the Mir and encourage the transfer of land from the inefficient unenterprising peasants to the prosperous peasants who were looking to set themselves up as big farmers.

Stolypin’s measures achieved some success as the authority of the Mir was reduced as peasants were free to leave the village, there was a substantial amount of land transfers, redemption payments were ended in 1907 and farming methods were improved. Machinery and artificial fertilisers were introduced. This helped improve the Russian agriculture leading to grain being produced for home consumption and raw cotton, sugar-beet and tobacco were produced for export. It can be argued that both men successfully helped the economic policies as many successes can be shown. However, both Stolypin and Witte had different intentions and ways in improving the economic state of Russia.

Although progress was made to modernise Russia and improve its stability, overall it was not stable. This is demonstrated through the unrest in Russia, for example, The Lena Goldfields incident, where industrial worker were shot for causing unrest. This is a factor of little importance but shows that the people of Russia were unhappy with the government. In addition, in 1914 there was a major increase in the number of strikes, this highlights the fact that the Russian people were unhappy so therefore wanted to cause unrest in order to get what they wanted. Nicholas took over from his father and stuck in his father’s reactionary ways and ruled Russia as an autocrat. This meant that he had supreme power over Russia.

All political parties were made illegal, this meant that the only way to challenge the Tsar’s authority was to cause disruption, such as strikes. It can be argued that this shows that Russia was politically stable as no-one could challenge the tsarist regime however it shows a lack of political stability as many groups of people became political opposition to the Tsar. To compare, it can be said that Russia was becoming politically stable. The most significant factor to show this is the October Manifesto. Concessions such as freedom of speech, the right to form political parties and a formation of a national parliament were formed during the October Manifesto. As a result of the October Manifesto, the Duma was set up.

This is an equally significant factor as it shows that Russia had the possibility to become a democratic country, as there were now political parties and a freedom of speech. During the third and fourth Duma, many laws were passed including National Insurance. However, some may argue that because four Dumas were formed, Russia did not have a very successful political system, as the national parliament kept changing. Peter Stolypin helped to make the political policies in Russia successful by de-revolutionising the peasants. This banned the redemption payments and appeased the peasants, to persuade them to support the Tsar. This was important as it helped prevent the majority of peasants from revolting.

Therefore, it can be said that the political policies between 1894 – 1914 were successful as the Tsar gained more support but then they were unsuccessful as the revolution occurred in 1905 and again in 1914. Many of the social policies were put in to place to keep the people of Russia quiet and under control. In the second part of the nineteenth century Nicholas carried on and imposed more rigorously, the policy of Russification. This policy involved making non-Russians use the Russian language instead of their own and adopt Russian customs and habits. Russian officials were brought in to run regional governments in Non-Russian parts of the Empire, such as Finland and Poland.

This policy was not successful as the national minorities saw Russification as a fundamental attack on their way of life and a monstrously unfair policy that discriminated against them. Arguably the Jews formed a sizeable ethnic group and were forced to live in an area known as the Pale of Settlement. They suffered under a deliberate social policy known as Anti-Semitism which places social, political and economic restrictions upon them. Encouraged by the authorities, ultra-conservative nationalists known as the Black Hundreds, carried out many organised attacks on their homes and businesses.

It can be said that all social policies were unsuccessful as they created a large opposition groups towards the Tsar and his regime. Therefore, to conclude, it can be argued that the social, political and economic had successes and failures. However, it can be said that the failures outweigh the successes as there was a Russian Revolution in 1905 and then again in 1914. Also, due to his policies the Tsar gained major opposition groups which acted as a threat to overthrow the Tsarist Regime.

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