Why was Russia such a backward country in the end of the 19th century? The Tsarist state inherited by Nicholas II consisted of many weakenessesm, largely of political problems, social weaknesses and tensions, faults in the economy and other factors that all combined to make Russia a backward state. Russia’s problems went as follow: The agrarian situation was a something that no matter how many changes acurred, yet they remained repressed and backward in several important aspects. The government in Russia had been bankrupt following the Crimean War and so transferred the large debt to the freed peasants.
These debts were made worse by the inflated land values in the black soil and non-black soil provinces in Russia which also exacerbated the high interest payments on the peasants debts. The Emancipation Decrees of Alexander II also caused a stir as ex-serfs still bore a temporary obligation to their former masters until late 1881. Even though there was greater access to lands, the peasants became more empoverished, especially in the black soil provinces of the south where the holdings of ex-serfs fell by about 25%.
The empoverishment grew also from the loss of many customary rights to woodland and to common pasture. The virtual doubling of peasant population from 68 million in 1859 to 125 million in 1897 resulted in many people becoming landless and unemployed as they were not further instructed. The rural areas in Russia were not apt for a radical change in the social and economic structures as the State, ebing bankrupt, could not afford to train the peasants in new farming methods, thus not allowing industrialization to occur. Peasants still remained farming using the relatively unproductive “strip farming method”.
To aggravate peasant situation, they were still under the control of the Mir in order to insure uniformity of administration. The Mir did not allow the initiative and experiement that the lower class needed thus remaining the unpriviledged class with lesser rights than other Russians. The peasants did not gain the right to withdraw from teh Mir until 1905, but until then, old ideas and methods perpetuated in their lives. Another aspect that extremely pulled Russia back was the reationary policies of Alexander III after 1881.
The Tsar aimed to recreate the power of the nobility in the Russian countryside, replacind the forward looking institution of Justices of the Peace by the conservatices of Land Commandants, composed of members from the upper class. Alexander saw it as “a way of reasserting the authority of the autocratic government. ” The nobles however, were even more indebted despite the redemption payments. Many used the money they borrowed to subsidize their lifestyles rather than to invest in the productivity of the countryside.
Nicholas II pursued a policy of low bread prices to feed the emerging industrial cities, but his efforts were in vain becuase of the repeated harvest failures of the 1890s. By1900, although agricultural productivity had increased by about 20% in Russia since 1860, it had more than doubled in Japan during the same period. Agriculture in Russia was bled dry in order to finance industrialization, but the move became counter-productive in that the lack of investment driven development in agriculture meant that it could not provide enough money to finance an effective industrialization.
The reforms of Alexander II can be considered only half-filled as they had more virtual impact than actually a concrete one. Railway developement was not seriously undertaken until the 1870s to link the areas of industrial activity. These areas were only four of them, unfortunately. St. Petersburg, Moscow, the province of Nizhni Novgorod in Polan, and the Donbas and Krivoi Regions in Southern Russia. Compared to other worldwide economies, Russia was indeed extremely backward. Strong economies such as that of the USA, Britain, Germany and even Austria-Hungary, all had stronger industrial bases.
Russia’s main income, forty percent of it, came from the textile industry, which was dependent of a high degree of foreign investment, especially from France, Britain, Germany, Belgium, and the USA. Although there was in fact a dramatic increase in railway building, especially after the construction fo the Trans-Siberian Railway, only the major inter-city roads could be matched with European standards of the 1900s. Most natural resources could only be found in Eastern Russia and thus were not exploited. Russian coal production was lessn than 5% of Britain and by the late 1890s, more thant a quarter of Russia’s coal was imported.
Although at the end of the 19th century, Russia was still a backward society as through the towns of Moscow, Warsaw, Baku and Lodz, once can see that they increased dramatically in size between 1867 and 1897, but still took shapes of cities in the early stages of industrialization. Russia’s population reached 135. 6 million at the end of the century as compared to 41. 1 million for Britain, 56 million for Germany, and 75. 9 million for the United States. Despite these numbers, Russia remained predominately rural. Approximately 80 percent of Russia’s working population was associated with agriculture.
There was a great problem of overcrowding as many workers lived in slum conditions and though modern machinery was imported from the west, in the steel industry, there were only wheelbarrows to move the finished steelaround the plant. The political backwardness of Russia was another factor that simply did not allow the country to move forward. Although Alexander II had modernized and strengthened local government with the creation of the Zemstvas, it was still not enough as it was not uniform throughout the Empire and did not have control over imperial finances.
Alexander III made the Zemstvas a great target from his reactionary laws in 1890 and in 1892 the franchise was revised for rural and urban assembly elections order to restrict popular votes. The number of peasant delegates and westernized intellectuals was reduced from 21,000 people to 7,000 people. The representation of the nobles was markedly increased as the approval of the provincial governors was required for all zemstva employees, teachers, doctors, and lawyers. Zemstva’s decisions were subject to review by the provincial governors and the minister of the interior.