The Revolutionary Masses
young man, Alexander had not shown himself to be more liberal than his father
Nicholas I. However, many analysts agree that he had had the advantage of a more
enlightened and humanitarian upbringing under the tutorship of excellent
teachers and mentors including the Russian poet Vasili Zhukovsky.
Being the heir apparent of the Russian Emperor, Alexander prepared
himself very seriously for his future vocation.
For almost twenty years from the day he came of age to the day he
ascended to the throne, he was very actively engaged in the running
of the state. His father introduced him into top governmental
agencies, such as the Senate and Synod, the committee of ministers
and even the State Council. He frequently deputized for Nicholas in
the Tsarís absence. In 1848 he carried out a variety of diplomatic
tasks at the courts of Vienna, Berlin and other European capitals.
Thus he gained extensive experience in the affairs of state -
military, diplomatic and legal.
accession to the throne on 19 February 1855 came at a very difficult
time for Russia. The situation on both the foreign and domestic
fronts looked extremely grave. The obvious failures of the Russian
army in the Crimea were demoralizing for the entire nation.
Therefore, the first task facing the new ruler was to end the
Crimean campaign as quickly as possible on terms which were more or
less acceptable, and this did indeed soon took place.
of the Crimean War led to a critical re-examination of Russian
institutions. Serfdom was blamed for the backwardness of Russiaís
military industry as well as the ignorance and poor health of the
armyís rank and file, who were conscripted serfs. Moreover, the
labor of serfs could no longer be considered economically efficient.
It was clear that serfdom had become a drag on Russiaís economy. In
addition, a series of liberal-minded writers, philosophers,
historians and literary critics, starting with Alexander
Radishchevís inflammatory book, put the moral case against serfdom.
Their work aroused moral concerns of the educated classes over the
condition of millions of their countrymen - fellow-Christians - who
were exploited and treated like slaves. By the end of Nicholasí
reign educated members of the nobility accepted that serfdom was
discussion circles which appeared in the 1840s and 1850s had brought
together the more enlightened representatives of educated society
and progressive members of the bureaucracy and thus provided a forum
for the exchange of ideas, knowledge and practical experience
necessary for the success of the impending reform. After Alexanderís
accession, liberal-minded intellectuals, including both prominent
Westernizers and Slavophiles, were brought into government
departments to help reform-minded civil servants draw up plans of
Russiaís transformation. All this partly helped overcome the
alienation of the intellectual elite from the officialdom, typical
of Nicholasí era.