To what extent did Nicholas II’s Government introduce political and social reforms in the period 1906-1914
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This question focuses on an evaluation of the social and political policies carried out by Stolypin and his Duma in 1906-1914. Stolypin’s plans for the regeneration of Russia were based on counter terror and reform in a period after 1905 revolution up until the start of the First World War. In 1906, Stolypin became a newcomer to the Council of Ministers and he was appointed chairman in 1907. The Duma, which was brought about by the October Manifesto, was not a law-making parliament in the western sense and ministers were not accountable for it. The Tsar could dismiss it at will and manipulate the elections to influence its composition.
In order to determine the success or otherwise of Stolypin’s reforms, those reforms, namely Agrarian reform to stimulate the appearance of a class of prosperous land owning peasants; Political repression to counter terrorise revolutionary violence; decision to work with a suitably conservative assembly of the Duma; encouragement of migration to Siberia and the land commandments being replaced by the reinstated Justices of the peace providing health insurance and education policies, will need examination. The first policy that will be examined is his Agrarian reform to stimulate the appearance of a class of prosperous land owning peasants.
Stolypin believed that reform was essential to stabilise the Tsarist regime and he turned to the more deep-rooted problem of the Russian peasantry. The basis of the agrarian policy for the regime was the support of a prosperous peasantry by removing the authority of the mir and the land captains and encouraging peasants to consolidate and develop their holdings. A law formulated in November 1906 through the government’s emergency powers, meant that a peasant had the right to withdraw from his land or commune. By 1914, 2 million peasants had consolidated land.
However, the actual effects of this reform introduced by Stolypin and the government were limited. After some initial enthusiasm, applications from peasants for permission to break away fell after 1909. Crop yields remained poor and a rising population continued to put pressure on the land. The measures inforced by this reform soon lost their stimulus. Another view of Stolypin’s was that counter-terror was also essential for the reconstruction of Russia. After being the ruthless governor of Saratov during the revolutionary year, he engaged in an oppressive war against violent political opposition.
In 1907, an estimated 1,231 officials and 1,768 private citizens died in terrorist attacks. Stolypin then created his ‘field courts martial’, operating under Article 87 of the fundamental Laws, and carried out 1,144 death sentences from May 1907 to February 1908. In this period also 600 unions and 1000 newspapers were closed down. Stolypin’s repressive measures against those involved in the 1905 revolution are generally held to have been effective in helping to restore order, especially in the countryside.
Political assassinations in also dropped to 365 in 1908. After the failure of the first two Dumas, the more successful third and forth Dumas resulted from Stolypin’s decision to work with an official conservative assembly and to revise the electoral laws. This was successful because it became a truly representative assembly and although the government had never wanted such a thing, by 1914, political parties were legally established and while rebellion was punished, open political discussion was tolerated and was allowed to appear in the press.
Stolypin’s encouragement of migration from the crowded areas in Europe and Russia to Siberia was helped along by the Trans-Siberian railway, which opened up the country and provided better communication links. During 1906-1913, never less than 200,000 peasants moved to Siberia every year and in 1908 alone, 758,812 peasants moved to Siberia. The restored Justices of the Peace provided compulsory health insurance to industrial workers in June 1912 and progress was made in Russian education.
Universal primary education within 10 years was adopted in May 1908 and in 1914 it was 50% towards completion. Figures for attendance at secondary schools (510,000) and at universities (40,000) in 1914 do not reflect a similar advance however. Tsar Nicholas II’s government along with Stolypin’s introduction of political and social reforms were a success in that they helped to restore order in a time of chaos during attempted revolution but also helped Russia develop into a represented assembly with more freedom of speech than before.
Migration was also successful with never less than 200,000 peasants moving to Siberia and primary education increasing to incorporate 7. 2million children. The policies were also unsuccessful in that they did not achieve all that was needed. Although the period after 1906 saw a more prosperous peasantry, helped by the state through loans etc, the central problems remained unsolved. Higher education was also not targeted, meaning that although a lot of the population was now literate, there was a lack of skills developed.
Also while many of the peasants may have retained some loyalty to the regime, little was done to strengthen the loyalty of other classes, particularly in towns. These indications, along with the infamous Lena Goldfields Massacre, where in 1912 workers were massacred after petitioning for improved employment conditions, and the growing number of industrial strikes deemed ‘political’ in the months before war, show that the reforms introduced were although partially successful, not radical enough.