This is a question about Tsarist Russia: "The immense progress made by Alexander II was completely undermined and set back by his son Alexander III after 1881" To what extent do you agree with...

This is a question about Tsarist Russia:

"The immense progress made by Alexander II was completely undermined and set back by his son Alexander III after 1881" To what extent do you agree with this verdict?

Please could you help me out answering this question with:

a) The broad points that could encompass specific arguments on either side of the debate set up by the question,

b) The specific historical knowledge supporting these arguments,

c) Specific historiographical links and analysis in either side of the argument.

Expert Answers
beardian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A. Broad points that support both arguments:

Alexander II undermined Alexander III:

  • Alexander III blamed his father's death on the liberal reforms of his father, and as a result moved closer to an authoritarian government.  
  • Alexander III was less tolerant of local government and reduced the electoral votes.
  • Alexander III was anti-Semitic and less tolerant of others
  • Alexander III did not support westernization and attributed it to Russia's revolutionary problems, while Alexander II introduced westernization as a way of boosting the economy and supporting all classes.

Alexander II did not undermine Alexander III:

  • Alexander III kept the Russian people first above Western influence, which did not directly contradict his father's policies. (Alexander II = westernization, Alexander III = Russification)
  • Alexander III maintained a good relationship with the church, as did his father. 

B. Historical Knowledge supporting these arguments:

Alexander II set up a series of reforms.  Political reform: He created the zemstvo: local, rural district assemblies where peasants had representation.  The Zemstvo was reponsible for education, medical care, insurance issues, local infrastructure, and food storage.  This attracted teachers, laborers, bookkeepers, and other professionals to the countryside.  Legal reform: Judiciary system became an independent government body.  Secrecy in the bureaucracy/executive government became more transparent.  Trial by jury was instituted for serious criminal offenses.  Military reform: Mandatory service was reduced from 25 years to 6 years, and all classes were expected to serve.  Corporal punishment for the military was abolished, and basic education (elementary level) was given to all recruits who needed it.  The uniforms were also updated and made more comfortable.  Economic reform: The state finance system was improved, which paved the way for industrial expansion.  Rail lines were put in which allowed peasants to send their crops farther away, making a more profitable and stable agricultural economy.  The iron, coal and steel industries took off with the arrival of rail lines, and generally Russia experienced widespread economic growth.  

When Alexander III became leader upon Alexander II's assassination, he attributed his father's assassination with the liberal reforms instituted by his father.  Westernization, he argued, was causing the downfall of Russian institutions, and only the traditional authoritarian rule of the Romanov family could salvage Russia from the revolutionaries.  Alexander was also very anti-Semitic, saying things like "Let us never forget that it was the Jews who crucified Jesus" and blaming the Jews for his father's death (in reality, it was political revolutionaries who assassinated Alexander II).  Alexander III restricted education for women and Jews, changed property requirements for Jews (taking power away from the Zemstvo and back into the monarch's hands), and increased the power and influence of the church.

C. Links to support the arguments

Background info on both monarchs

Information on Alexander III's policy of Russification

Reign of Alexander II