The system of serfdom is where an agricultural worker in feudal Russia who cultivates land and belongs to a landowner. The emancipation of the serfs happened for a mired of reasons. Most of which are tied to Russia as a nation. The defeat in the Crimean war for example was a huge blow to Russia as a world power. The national prestige was lost as Russia lost the Crimean war to the allied powers of Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Sardinia. The humiliation that was felt through losing this war was based off of Alexander II’s viewing of a serf army falling at the hands of free men from Britain and France.

This implied a certain lack of conviction that the militarized serfs portrayed. Alexander II felt that the best way to gain back military prowess was to free the serfs and give them self worth, and perhaps in turn give them something to fight for. [1] There are three parts of the emancipation of the serfs. The first is of the defeat of the serf armies in the Crimean war. The great dishonor of the prize of the Russian empire could not be pushed aside so Alexander II did whatever it took to regain that military prestige. The second is whether or not the emancipation did the serfs any good.

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And the third is the view that the emancipation was due to the symptomatic unwillingness of the tsarist system to embrace much needed total reform. Alexander II came into the throne in 1855 right in the middle of Crimean war, so he was unable to save the Russians from military defeat. However the war taught him a valuable lesson in the form of an idea. This idea was reform. Alexander II realized through the humiliation that was suffered that if he ever wanted to have stability, as well as peace at home and to be honored abroad then military and domestic reforms needed to happen.

He declared that even in this dark hour that there was a silver lining Alexander II knew that the first step to reform was to get rid of serfdom. This was because of how inefficient it was the beneficiary was no one. This was the moment where he wanted every Russian to realize that under the protection of law, the Russians could begin to enjoy the fruits of his own labor. The reasons that Alexander II dealt with during this period of time were simply put a list of pros and cons. The fear of peasant revolt was the biggest reason to move toward reform.

If a peasant revolt were to ever happen then this would create a serious political challenge to the state. Stability in Russia is another reason that the tsar would move toward reform. If emancipation were to happen then you would solidify the opinion of the serfs and quell any ill feelings toward the state. This would both bring peace as well as stopping any peasants from even the inkling of a revolt. The movement of labor is another reason Alexander II should move towards reform. After the emancipation then serfs might feel the need to move to a city and enter into a factory.

This would help with increasing the world prestige of Russia, as well as reversing the backwardness that every Russian was aware of. This movement in labor toward the social class of the worker would also help improve the economy. The worker would work and create a product that could be exported to create profit and would increase the areas where Russian economy is lacking, trade and national income. The Tsarist worldview at this point was one of this: The Russian army of the great symbol of worth. As long as its army was strong Russia could afford to ignore its backwardness as a nation.

But the Crimean defeat hand undermined this notion of Russia’s invincibility. Few now had reasoned objections to reform. Serfdom was not working. It failed to provide the caliber of soldier that Russia needed. Rural unrest occurred in 1856 because of the defeat in the Crimean war. These instances were isolated however if that were to change then the implications would be huge for the Russian autocracy. Because when isolated is not a problem but when it is joint effort then there is purpose and goals behind it. Then real reforms have to happen because of the amount of numbers.

Russian peasants accounted for eighty per cent of the Russian population at this time. When eighty per cent of your population wants something and is not opposed to take things by force then there are serious problems for the Russian autocracy. The positive side of the emancipation of the serfs was plentiful in its achievements. The emancipation was a prelude to the most sustained program of sustained reform that imperial Russia had experienced. It also accomplished these great reforms without violence or mass coercion.

It is pretty evident that the only way that this could have been achieved was through a government of an absolute ruler; it could have not been done by a nation ruled by democracy. The only other social change that is even comparable to the emancipation of the serfs is the freeing of the African –American slaves in 1865. However this should still be held to a lesser degree the emancipation of the serfs. This is because some fifty million serfs were set free without any violent implications or precursors. [2] A key reform falling on the positive side of the emancipation was the restructuring of the local government.

The land from the landowner was granted to the commune and not the peasant. [3] These peasant communes were responsible for the collection of taxes, redemption dues, repartitioning the land, granting permission to leave, and also judicial responsibilities. The peasant commune became the hub of life in the countryside. However the motive behind the restructuring of the local government was not a cultural motive it was an administrative one. The aristocracy needed a way to keep order in the countryside. As well as taking the responsibilities off of the autocracy’s shoulders.

This was a way of making a scapegoat out of the peasants who are placed into the commune committee. Was this freedom provided by emancipation really that great of a freedom? It is arguable that a peasant freed from serfdom still was as restricted as a serf bound to a lord. Instead of being tied to their respective lords, the peasant is now tied to the village and the peasant commune. As a serf, before the emancipation, you had no rights of your own. Everything that a serf wanted to be done needed permission from the landlord.

The main terms of the emancipation manifesto states that all Ex-serfs are now able to own property, buy land assigned from their previous owners estates, marry according to their own choice, they were enabled to trade freely, as well as sue in courts, and they were now able to vote in local elections. This is important because these are the things in the emancipation manifest that were actually given to the serfs. [4] On the negative side of the emancipation however whatever the emancipation offered to the peasants it was not genuine liberty. The upper classes of Russia denoted a mixture of fear and deep distaste toward the peasantry.

Often referred to as the ‘dark masses’ the peasants were seen as a dangerous force that needed to be repressed. Underneath the words of the emancipation were the real feelings of Russian autocracy, unless controlled and directed, the peasants are the real threat to the existing order of things. Emancipation while seeming to be impressive at first carried a heavy price for the serfs. The landlords were the real beneficiaries to the real emancipation. This should not be surprising because of the way that Alexander II handed over the process of delegating the emancipation over to the landlords.

However it being a brilliant political move, for it made the land owners hard-pressed to resist his command as well as taking himself out of the place of blame should the plans prove faulty, it put the peasants into a place of disadvantage once again. The landowners made sure that the recompense that they received for giving up their land was well above the market value of their property. They land lords were also entitled to decide which parts of land to give up. This meant that the landowners could keep the best land for themselves while the serfs got the unwanted and leftover land.

So little was the amount of affordable land that the peasants were forced to buy small strips which yielded very little of anything. The landowners were also given monetary compensation for what they gave up, meaning that the peasants had to pay for their new land. Since no peasants had savings they were given one hundred pre cent mortgages, eighty per cent coming from the bank and the other twenty from the landlord. The catch with these mortgages was the repayments. These redemption payments became a life long burden for the peasants and after death the payments were moved to their children. [5]

The restrictions on peasants did not end there. The government restricted the peasants to their localities. This was achieved easily because most ex-serfs bought their land from the estates, which they were already living. The peasants received an amount of land equivalent to what they were farming before the emancipation. [6] The impact that the emancipation had on the peasants was huge. After the emancipation there was a lot of resentment and frustration at the process and the rewards that emancipation gave the peasants. The frustration was due to the indebtedness that emancipation left the serfs with.

Resentment of the peasants moved after the emancipation from the nobility to the tsar. This was because of high expectations that were not met. [7] Most peasants believed that the tsar was not responsible for the peasants having to pay for their land, which in their minds they already owned. These peasants believed that it was another plot of the nobility to keep them down. However as time past the peasants began to see that their great tsar was not so on their side, as they believed. This created an audience for more radical views, which in turn was the beginning of the downfall of the autocracy.

Around the historic community there is an acceptance to the view that the emancipation of the serfs was symptomatic of the unwillingness of tsarist system to embrace total reform. The emancipation was a way of controlling the peasant population. Alexander II had hoped by granting freedom to the serfs of Russia while tightening control over them, Alexander II planned to lessen the social and political threat that the peasants represented. This was because the number of countryside riots and uprisings were increasing as Russia started to lose the Crimean war, and after singing the Paris peace treaty.

Above all the tsar had hoped that through the gratefulness that the peasants would feel after the emancipation that they would produce fitter and morally worthier recruits for the Russian army, which would in turn restore the prestige, that Russia had been striped of after the Crimean war. The achievement of the emancipation has been noted and credit given to Alexander II, however the reality of the emancipation suggests that it was a failure. It raised the expectations of the Russian peasantry to newfound heights, which were then dashed by the lack of reform actually carried out.

Alexander II gave promises of entering a new age of reform and enlightenment. But what the peasants of Russia received was repression, restriction, and regression. Radical thinkers at this time thought that Alexander II deliberately set out to deceive the serfs. [8] However E. J. Dillon suggests in The Eclipse of Russia that Alexander II’s prime motive in emancipation was to produce results that were beneficial to his regime. [9] Where Alexander II needed to take responsibility in the reforms was when it all started to slow down.

He did not take the reformation of Russia far enough. Alexander II struggled with the same problem that all the tsars from Peter the Great onward struggled with: how to enact reforms while maintaining the power of the privileged classes. This question was never truly answered by the Romanovs. This is because once their plans were not going as accordingly or did not work out the Romanov family resorted to coercion and repression and abandoned reform. The emancipation was intended to give Russia social and economic stability and pave the way for industrial and commercial gains.

However the emancipation ended in failure. It frightened the privileged classes and greatly disappointed the peasants. And socially it was a failure, the Slavophil’s stated that the emancipation went to far and needed to cling to its old roots, and it did not go far enough for the reformists who wanted major social alteration in Russia. This inevitably lead to the Russian revolution of 1917 because the reformists were not happy, and neither were the peasantry. Since the peasantry was unhappy this created both unrest and an audience for revolutionary ideas.

The revolutionary audience of the peasants would inevitably join forces with the radical Bolshevik party and overthrow the aristocracy atop of the Russian government and create a new government based under the principles of Marx. [10] Although the emancipation of the serfs had great intentions behind it, it failed to bring about the kind of mass freedom that was promised to the serfs. Behind the wording of a document that was supposed to set free eighty percent of the population of Russia there was a back plot, which was determined to repress the serfs under the guise of freedom.

The emancipation put the ex-serfs right back into the type of repression that they were held under before it. The only real thing that changed was that instead of answering to a landlord they answered to the peasant commune. Once the peasants realized that their hopes were to be dashed they began to open their ears to the voice of the radicals, which turned their resentment from the nobility towards the tsar himself. This turn of popular favor unavoidably gave serious weight to the Bolshevik movement. Bibliography