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How Significant Was the Emancipation of the Serfs in Russia?

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How significant was the emancipation of the serfs in Russia? 


The Emancipation Reform of 1861 in Russia was the first and most important of liberal reforms effected during the reign (1855-1881) of Emperor Alexander II of Russia, it has been compared to the abolishment of the slavery in the USA. For many years the problems that faced Russia was usually blamed on serfdom. Some short term positive impacts of the emancipation were the like of the serf being allowed to marry whoever they want. Although in the long run it is often questioned whether the emancipation was successful. 


There were a number of positive short term impacts, it meant that the serfs were able to marry, own property. Each of the serfs were guaranteed an allotment of the land from their landowner, although the landowners often offered the allotment that wasn’t arable land.  The significance of the emancipation of the serfs caused an increase in economic growth of 4.6% between 1860 and 1900, it was a clear increase, although it hardly compared to competitive countries like Britain and Italy, of having 9.2% and 8.5% respectively. An increase in commercial farming had a large impact on Russia’s agricultural part of the empire, and the changing nature of the working and middle classes led to an increase in the number of people qualified to take on management roles in factories and industry and therefore increasing productivity, meaning more jobs opened up for serfs, although it would take many years for the serfs to become skilled workers and for class systems to change because nearly 80% of the population were serfs and they are uneducated. Industrial development had increased from 860,000 to 1,320,000 by 1887, there had also been a huge increase in the amount of coal being produced, it was raised from 300,000 in 1861 to 4,428,000 in 1887. The serfs’ change in status also led to a much more vibrant commercial market in Russia, as serfs had consumer choice and the class system was beginning to become more flexible, although it the scheme of things I didn’t change it much. The individuals who led the reform favoured the economic system promoting a more capitalism and free market economy, which would increase enterprise in the economy, to try and compete with the neighbouring European countries. These reforms had aimed to promote development and to encourage the ownership of private property, free competition and hired labor, and therefore creating a more "laissez-faire" economy. Soon after the reforms there was a substantial rise in the amount of production of grain for sale. Because of this there was also a rise in the number of hired laborers and in farm machinery. A significant measuring stick in the growth of the Russian economy post-reform was the huge growth in non-gentry private landownership. Although the gentry land-holdings fell from 80% to 50%, the peasant holdings grew from 5% all the way to 20%. 



Arguably these reforms led to social unrest, some historians view this as to the main reason for the two revolutions of 1917 and 1905. one of the main problems was the heavy burden of redemption payments- these huge redemption payments would have to be payed for the next 49 years with 6% interest rates. Many of the wealthier serfs were able to have a decent standard of living however huge numbers of serfs that didn’t have money before, which was the majority, were stuck in debt for the rest of their lives. It lead to many of the among peasants in rural Russia. In addition, the boom in Russian industry led to a rise in the population of cities, this meant that working conditions got much work and workers had a low standard of living as there werentnenough jobs to go around in the big cities, so workers worked for very little.  A famous quote about Alexander II was that his reforms “the freedom he has give was not real” – the land that the peasants had was reduced since emancipation and the reforms didn’t occur until 1865 nearly 5 years after.  Another example of how the significance of the emancipation was minimal was the land the peasants received – they received 75% allotment 4 dessyatinas, the peasants received 20% less farming land than before.  many of the private estate serfs had received far less land than was actually needed for survival, which led to social unrest, the serfs had to pay all the money they made from farming back for the redemption tax, they were trapped in a life of debt. Many of the landowners that used to have serfs working on their land forced the newly freed serfs to pay 'rent' for their land. The peasants had to pay back the same landowners by working on their field, for the "labor payments" - it often meant that the peasants would neglect the fields and leave because they were now under no obligation to stay. Over the next few years, the yield of the crops didn’t increase much at all, which led to widespread famine. It was clear to see that the change for the emancipation of the serfs had no real change in continuity in Russia and it led to uprisings. Many travelled 100s of miles to see the Tsar, to inform him about the injustice. The emancipation manifesto of 1861, had very little impact in the continuity of Russia, there were 647 peasant uprisings - because in my opinion radically changing traditions that have been there for over two centuries would take a lot of time for it be effective. It had produced a lot of political instability, obviously due to the assasination of Alexander II and the 7 different attempts at his life. 


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