Alexander III

Exacerbated by his father’s assassination, Alexander III led Russia into a mode of obstinate autocracy. Alexander III disclaimed the decree for elected commissions his father had signed the day of his death, as well as the liberal ideas his father had tolerated during his reign. Revolutionaries, particularly Nihilists, had strengthened under Alexander II and Alexander III held liberalism responsible for the murder of his father (his life being taken by a bomb of the People’s Will.) Alexander III believed liberal institutions had corrupted Slavic Russia with westernized ideals which were in all ways incompatible with the very nature of the Russian character. Alexander III looked to strengthen the autocratic system of government by enforcing a type of Russian purification (Russification) and by purging it from anarchical disorder and revolutionary agitation by means necessary.

Alexander III, heir to the thrown only because of his brother’s death, with a military background, and among influences, can be illustrated as a person who acted mainly upon instinct rather than intellect. The reactionary policies he undertook counteracted his father’s earlier "liberalizing" reforms. The recently developed zemstvos were supervised by government appointed proprietors. This put the power back into the hands of the nobles and left the peasantry empty handed. Jews were susceptible to pogroms, among many oppressive restrictions. Viatscheslav Plehve was appointed head of the Third Section of the Okhrona, a part of the secret police without restrictions, which imprisoned revolutionaries to Serbia, sent them into exile, or sentenced them to death. The People’s Will (responsible for the assassination of Alexander II) was ultimately extinct. Critics of the government were altogether being silenced.

Alexander III followed strongly the Slavic principles of nationality, Eastern Orthodoxy, and autocracy. Strongly influenced by philosopher Pobiedonostsev, the idea of Russification was developed to maintain a purely Slavic Russia. Pobiedonostsev was chief official of Russification and lay head of the Russian Orthodox Church. He brought the idea that Russia was unlike western civilization, destined to lead a different fate. Russian idiosyncrasies didn’t need parliamentary institutions and liberalism, but a pure and uniquely distinct Russian society whose basis was an autocratic government (they believed that the Russian character was simply incapable of handling western principles, which seemed to be so.) As a result a uniform Russia was developed by whether or not forcing the surrounding minorities of Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians and Germans to accept Russian language, administration, and religion. "Cold Storage" came into effect; schools were kept from being corrupted by liberalism with the removal of professors and censorship of school curriculum tightened. Alexander III was going to make sure he would not hold the same fate as his father.

Coinciding with Alexander III reign was an industrialization of Russia which lasted from 1860 to 1900. Steel production developed strongly, as well as textiles become a worthy competitor of Britain in Persia. Most industries were controlled directly by the government which insured the Tsar’s control of absolutism. At first it had been Germany who helped finance Russia’s substantial growth. Yet due to troubles resting in the Balkans, and Bismarck’s alliance manipulation, France assisted Russia in becoming more independent from its alliances and Bismarck by supporting Russia with loans for modernization (Franco-Russian entente growing after 1891, Triple Entente by 1907). Count Witte, minister of finance, had been a major personality during the industrial development and started the beginning construction of the Trans-Serbian Railroad (giving Russia a chance to a warm-water port). As the industrializing of Russia waged on, the wage-earning classes increased and were restricted to oppose any controls the government hand upon them, yet their discontent was not alleviated.

Alexander III died on November 1, 1894 at a relatively young age of 49 from natural causes. His son, Nicholas II, succeeded him to the throne. Alexander III was successful in silencing those who opposed his rule, yet Russian society was only dormant in its government opposition. Russia had also been led in a very progressive path under Alexander III reign. Nicholas II, young and rather unprepared, found himself tsar of Russia in the midst of a brewing tension among much of Europe and China/Japan.

Sources: (online encyclopedia), and Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition