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What were the key motivations of Alexander III?

On the 13th March 1881 Tsar Alexander III became Emperor of Russia following the shocking  assassination of his father Alexander II by the radical group ‘People’s Will’. Alexander III as an tsar was an amalgamation of various different aspects. Physical  he was imposing, being described by artist Alexander Benois as “cumbersome and heavy” with a “mighty figure.” Alexander seemed to embody the Russian slavophile, as historian Walter G. Moss stated that he, “preferred the virile old Russian and Muscovite ways to the more refined and Westernised world of St. Petersburg.”  Contradictory to his nature the epithet he gained was of ‘Alexander the Peaceful,’ due to his lack of foreign expansion, a factor which suggests that Alexander had a different political position than stereotypes would indicate.  Alexander’s actions as ruler of Russia can be seen to originate in two key principles, the strengthening of the economy and the preservation of Russia through the preservation of Tsar Nicholas I’s ‘Three Pillars,’ orthodoxy, nationality and autocracy. Alexander II’s key motivations in eleven years of his rule were to further these two ideas, ultimately looking to further Russia’s power internationally as well as increase the nations political stability through the strengthening of tsarism. 

Developing the economy of Russia was a fundamental issue for Tsars in later half of 19th century Russian politics. Alexander II and his son both spend a large portion of their reigns trying to further the progression of business and industry, a belief rooted in the failure and humiliation of Russia during the Crimean War in 1853-1856. The underwhelming technology and lack of sufficient transportation during the war led to a period of self-evaluation of Russia by Alexander II which kick started a period of improvement which lasted the next several decades. Tsar Alexander III can be viewed as more instrumental in the evolution of the economy than his father. By the 1890s Russia was exporting more than it was importing, and thus had started to develop a large surplus of money, approximately 286 million by his death in 1894, which could be invested in the infrastructure of the nation. This in turn led to a rise of industrial growth of 8.03% between 1890-99, and sparked rises in agricultural production. The direction of the economy however, can be seen to originate not in the motivations of the Tsar but rather in his Ministers of Finance. The ‘Great Spurt,’ while a desire of Alexander’s, was not given much direction by the Tsar in terms of what was to be done in order for the economy to improve. What can be seen is that a liberal economic agenda, one which effected the aristocracy negatively, was unacceptable, a key reason behind the termination of his first minister Nikolai Bunge. Alexander seemed to agree with the motivation of his later two finance minister, particularly the of Ivan Vyshnegradsky who said, “Let us go hungry but export.” Alexander may not have initiated the financial agenda of the ministers, but he certainly didn’t disagree with them. Thus in terms of the economy, Alexander’s motivations can be seen to develop in relation to the views of his advisors, showing that he wasn’t a firm ideological leader. The movement of trade in Russia also had a significant effect on the nations urban and total population as more money flowed throughout the country. The economy however, was still not close to any of the other European nations as its GNP growth was closely followed by that of Germany, who already had a greatly superior economy to begin with. This meant that even though Alexander was helping the economy, it was still far behind its contemporaries in the 1890s.

 The motivation for the emphasis on the economy originates also, from the belief that Russia had to be a nation of great power within Europe, strong enough to content with the growing forces of Britain in the Middle East and the newly unified German Empire in Europe. Alexander’s belief can be summed up when in his analogy, “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep: I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.” This indicates that the Tsar was concerned with the growth and stature of the other nations, particularly in their ability to overwhelm Russian through strategy and strong leadership, as Napoleon nearly had in 1812. Without a strong economy Alexander III could not possible be able to defend Russia if either of the nations, particularly that of Germany, began to encroach on its territory. This suggests that the growth of industry and the advancement of the Trans-Siberian Railroad especially could be seen as preventative moves by the Tsar, looking to develop technology, weapons or transport, that could resist pressure on its western and southern fronts. Another way in which Alexander defended Russia in terms of foreign policy was through a retraction from all military involvement abroad. Traditionally Tsar’s promoted an expansionist agenda, with most of the Tsar’s in the earlier part of the century looking to gain land in central Asia. Alexander II began the retraction of Russian involvement in foreign nations, selling Alaska in 1867 to America for over $7 million, and coming involved in only one war during his time as Tsar. The involvement in the Russo-Turkish War in 1877-78 and Alexander’s role in the ‘Dreikaiserbund’ at the Congress of Berlin in 1878 did show some Russian engagement with foreign policy, a means for Russia to try and regain its prestige that it had lost following Crimea. Tsar Alexander III in comparison ran an inward looking regime, not becoming involved in any wars. Alexander believed that all foreign diplomacy would lead to the rise of rebel groups in Russia, an occurrence he heartily feared after the events which led to his fathers death. Thus while he wanted to create trade agreements he was adamantly against any form of diplomacy. The only provocative action that Alexander III took was in 1890 when her decided not to extend the Russian German Neutrality Pack, instead deciding to aline with France in the 1891 Russo-French Alliance. Though of minimal consequence during the period the aftereffect of this action can be seen in the forthcoming World War’s with Russia’s choice to side with Britain, meaning that his choice had a significant impact on Russian foreign policy even after the fall of tsarism in 1917. 

The ideology of Nicholas I’s ‘Three Pillars’ of autocracy, orthodoxy and nationality had a significant impact on the politics of Alexander III. Throughout the Tsar’s reign much of his political manoeuvres were based on the strengthening of his own position. In his 1881 manifesto of ‘Unshakable Autocracy’ Alexander stated that the new regime was were “Autocratic power” was “used for the benefit of the people.” This suggests that the forthcoming reign was to be one of a dictatorial nature with a foundation in the traditional rather than the progressive. After Alexander II’s assassination, his sons could be seen to reach strongly to the rise of radical groups. Alexander saw that there was a clear threat growing in Russia to his reign and thus began to impose measure which quashed any form of rebellion, focusing particularly on the position of the peasantry within the country. A key example of this is in his use of Russification in order to establish the monarchy as the clear source of all authority in Russia through brute force. Alexander wished to unite Russia under a common religion, identity and language, furthering the spread of pan-slavism across the nation. This was done through the imposition of the Russian language on his German, Finnish and Polish subjects, decrease of power to the zemstvo, the destruction of all foreign institutions in the nation and the patronising of Eastern Orthodoxy. The most significant way Alexander imposed the ‘Three Pillars’ was in his persecution of the Jews in 1882. Alexander limited Jewish access to education, putting a quota of numbers allowed into universities, and curtailed the area in which they could live, making 20,000 move out of Moscow alone. These action were all based upon the idea that by oppressing the class groups from which rebel forces originated he could control the development of radicalism, and thus protect the supremacy of the Tsar and all he symbolised. This unfortunately, had the opposite effect and instead increased the nationalist resentment causing a flood of people to revolutionary groups. Therefore, while Alexanders motive was to preserve, he instead helped further a movement which would lead to the end of tsarism. 

The motivations of Alexander III, though malleable, were based on principles of autocracy and tradition. Alexander wished to cement the ideas of his grandfather through the oppression of the revolutionary peasantry, the so of all instability

Catriona R. A Level English Literature tutor, GCSE English Literature...

2 months ago

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