The rule of the last two tsars, Alexander III and Nicholas II, in the years 1881 to 1904. Alexander III Alexander III (1845-94) was the second son of Alexander II. He was in the army until the death of his elder brother in 1865. He was tutored by Konstantin Pobedonostev, a firm upholder of autocracy and repression, who taught him that any concessions would be indications of cowardice and failure on his part. Alexander had watched his father die and was so fearful of revolutionary activity that he lived in a fortified palace in Gatchina. Alexander was very strong and looked like an autocrat. He had a commanding character. He married a Danish Princess, Dagmar (Maria Feodorovna), and had six children. He died young, of a kidney ailment, possibly brought on by heavy drinking. Nicholas II Nicholas II (1868-1918) grew up in his father’s shadow and was never rated very highly by him. He was small, naturally reserved and regarded by his father as a dunce and a weakling. Alexander even referred to him as ‘girlie’. Nicholas had excellent manners, a good memory and could speak several languages, but he was not a practical man. Politics bored him. When his father died in 1894, Nicholas said to his cousin, ‘What is going to happen to me and all of Russia? I am not prepared to be a tsar. I never wanted to become one. I know nothing of the business of ruling. I have no idea of even how to talk to the ministers.’ However, he accepted his inheritance as God-given and set out to rule in the ‘Romanov way’, asserting himself against the growing reform movement. His reign was marked by revolutions in 1905 and 1917. The reigns of Alexander III and Nicholas II were characterised by three things: Repression and an end to reform (up to 1904). The development of opposition groups. The beginning of industrial progress and modernisation. Both tsars believed that.... • their power was undermined by western ideas and urban discontent. • the solution was to turn back the clock and halt reform, even avoiding the ‘western’ St Petersburg. • strong centralised control should be reasserted with the nobility and police given a central role. • concessions were a sign of weakness. Neither tsar was prepared to contemplate the dilution of autocracy by a system of representative assemblies (this can be seen as the influence of Pobedonostev.) Alexander III • Wanted to re-assert the personal authority of the tsar – he began his reign by hanging those who were involved in his father’s death. • Alexander introduced new legislation to extend the powers of the police. The Gendarmerie was the uniformed security police responsible for law enforcement and state security. The Gendarmes investigated political and criminal cases, tracked down fugitives, controlled riots and was staffed entirely by noble army officers who relied on a network of informers. • The Gendarmerie operated around the country and the Okhrana was based in St Petersburg, Moscow and Warsaw. They intercepted mail, checked up on factories, army and universities and detained suspects, often resorting to torture and executions. Communists, socialists and trade unionists were particular targets of their investigations but they also watched members of the government. • From 1882 any area of the Empire could be deemed an ‘area of subversion’ and police agents could search, arrest, detain, question, imprison or exile those who had committed a crime or were thought likely to! • Arrested persons had no right to legal representation. • There was also a drive to recruit spies, counter-spies and ‘agents provocateur’ who would pose as revolutionaries to incriminate others. Alexander III • Land -Captains - recruited from the nobility and given wide-ranging powers, inculding the power to overrule the zemstva and ignore judicial process and overturn court judgments. Until 1904 they could publicly flog peasants for minor offences. In 1889 they were given the powers of magistrates. • An 1885 decree re-introduced closed court sessions without juries for a number of crimes. • 1890 peasants’ vote in elections for the zemstva reduced. Nicholas II • Less suited to being an autocrat – indecisive/ fearful of capable minsters • Profound misjudgement – dismissed the complaints of the zemstva and ignored their calls for constitutional govt, purging the zemstva of liberals in 1900 • He ignored the disturbances created by the growing working class in the towns who, encouraged by the revolutionary groups of the 1890s began to organise illegal strikes, demand higher wages and better conditions • However, under Witte more police were recruited and surveillance stepped up 1893 – army called out 19 times/1899 – 50 times/1902 – 522 times. • Under martial law, strikers could be arrested and executed without trial. • Lower class children excluded from secondary education • Universities state controlled/women barred/under both tsars student demonstrations crushed e.g. In 1901 - Heavy-handed police action in St Petersburg – mounted Cossacks charged into a crowd of students, killling 13. This radicalised others. Both tsars - Nationalism and Russification • Both tsars believed in ‘Nationalism’ which was spread through a state policy of Russification which involved forcing the Russian language and culture on different ethnic groups. • It also involved anti-semitism which resulted in the pogroms against the Jews, most horrifically in 1881 in the Ukraine. The authorities turned a blind eye, with the Okhrana probably encouraging the rioters. Troubles continued intermittently until 1884 – Jewish property burnt, women raped and many killed. • Pobedonostev was a partcular anti-semite and laws brought in which discriminate against them. • Poland and Finland suffered attempts to destroy their national culture. • Risings of ethnic peoples mercilessly suppressed. • The effect was to drive many Jews abroad, others joined revolutionary groups, especially Marxist ones. • 1897 – General Union of Jewish Workers set up which played a significant part in the growth of opposition to Nicholas II. • Prominent Jews included Trotsky and Martov. By 1904 Russia in turmoil • Widespread unrest in towns and countryside and Nicholas seemed powerless, dismissing competent men like Witte in 1903. • No effective leadership in these years from the tsar and where he did act he created resentment ‘autocracy without an autocrat’. • True – a difficult job in changing times but he lacked the wisdom to change or take advice, indulging in a fantasy of absolute power. • 1903-04 turbulent - so much arson in countryside that time known as ‘the years of the Red Cockerel’. Peasants set fire to their landlords’ barns, destroying grain • Industrial strikes escalated in the towns:- 17,000 in 1894 to 90,000 in 1904 • In 1901 the Obukhov factory in St Petersburg saw violent clashes with armed police and whip-carrying Cossacks. Such sights became common over the following years.