Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

19 Dec 2001, 13:02 p.m.

One reason that Tsar Alexander II emancipated the serfs: a…

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2001 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

One reason that Tsar Alexander II emancipated the serfs: a minister of his, Miliutin, pointed out that serfdom interfered with the making and maintenance of a good military. Russia's army was too big to support, yet too small to really respond to its defense needs (remember that this was just after Russia ran home with its tail between its legs at the Crimean War). So, it needed a small army with a large reserve corps. But training serfs and then sending them back to the villages would facilitate peasant unrest. The solution: end serfdom.

As I go through the lecture notes, I see that Professor Zelnik warned us that every year, at least one person says on the final that this is the reason for emancipation, and writes one sweeping answer that disregards all other explanations (e.g., the need to industrialise). Got it. Glad I caught myself.