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The political need for reforming serfdom, initiated by Alexander II because military losses

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Why did Alexander II carry out a policy of reform in Russia?

The first reason for Alexander II’s policy of reform in Russia was their disastrous defeat in the Crimean War. Although Russia had many more soldiers than the nations that it fought, they were still beaten on home soil. This suggested that there was a problem – immediately identified, the concept of serfdom. He needed to reform this, as serfs were often sent into the army as a punishment, meaning there was extremely low morale (augmented by the corporal punishments). The army had no resolve; traditional practices needed to change. Serfs had little training on how to fight, so education needed to be brought in, in the form of army colleges.

This defeat in the Crimean War also highlighted the need for technology to advance in Russia. It was very backwards, with farming completely without machinery and very poor, old weaponry – not even enough per soldier. Alexander II realised that the Western ways needed to be followed, and an industrial revolution was vital. This would allow technology to develop, improving the armed forces of Russia as well as food production. However, this required greater reforms, as to industrialise requires investors. As around 80% of the population were serfs, these were mainly subsistence farmers and could barely afford to live, let alone to spend money on new equipment or machinery. Also, they were not allowed to move around which meant that railways were practically redundant. They would not make enough money with so few people using them, so there were hardly any. This slowed supplies reaching troops during wartime, further damaging their efforts.

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Therefore money was needed for industrialisation, as well as people to use the actual products created. This ensured Alexander II that emancipation of the serfs, a policy of reform, was necessary. This emancipation brought new problems which required further reforms, as the nobility had been in charge of local affairs – they lost much of their land and no longer did things such as repair bridges and roads, meaning that local governments needed to be created. They took care of ex-serf masters’ old responsibilities.

This industry deemed necessary by Alexander II needed workers. These had to be educated to a certain degree, and as most of the country had been uneducated serfs, few decent systems were in place for them. Therefore the education system needed reformation. An educated workforce could combine with an internal market, available to invest money in projects which would advance Russia technologically. By creating a demand for things such as railways through these reforms, Alexander II sought to better the Russian economy (as serfdom was not a stable form of income) and make the transport, infrastructure and communications better through rail links and other advances. This improvement in industry would have enhanced their ability in battle, giving them modern weapons and a greater chance of not repeating the disaster of the Crimean War.


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