Assess the success of Stolypin’s reforms in the period 1906-11.
Peter Stolypin was appointed prime minster of Russia by Tsar Nicolas II in 1906 after the failure of the 1905 revolution. The pressure of the revolution on the autocracy made Tsar Nicolas II take drastic political action to appease the revolting classes and was a huge turning point in Russian political history. Stolypin’s reforms create huge debate between historians arguing whether they were successful or just a ‘show of democracy’ and really did nothing and Russia continued to be an autocratic state that repressed its lower classes.
Stolypin heavily focused reforms on stamping out radicalism, just after the failure of the 1905 revolution the Tsarist state feared that the failure of the revolution, would just fuel the revolutionaries more to continue until the Tsar was over thrown and the system collapses. ‘He was dedicated to strengthening Tsardom in time of crisis’ (Reaction and Revolution Russia 1894-1924 Michael Lynch). Historian Michael Lynch suggests that Stolypin used repression to defend the Tsar and the reforms were acts of violence to re-gain control of Russia and prevent another revolution. Stolypin used harsh reforms to suppress radicals and revolting classes, 1906-09 Stolypin hung 3000 revolutionaries and the gallows were nicknamed ‘Stolypin necktie’ because of his repressive and murderous acts towards the revolutionaries and revolting lower classes. This historical knowledge agrees with Lynch’s interpretation of Stolypin and his reforms towards stamping out radicalism. ‘Suppression first and then, and only then, reform’. Stolypin’s own word also strengthens Lynch’s interpretation. Historian Robert Service also agrees and again adds weight to Lynch’s interpretation ‘Stolypin’s necktie, as it became known, reduced the countryside to quiescence. Order returned to town and villages’. Overall, to some extent Stolypin’s reforms were successful as they did stamp out a lot of radicalism and both historians Robert Service and Michael Lynch agree that peace was restored to Russia’s lower classes.
Another reform Stolypin focused on was altering the electoral system in the Duma. It’s widely accepted by many historians that Stolypin altered the electoral system in favour of the Tsar, making the Duma’s very right wing and full of loyalist and supporters of the Tsar and protecting the upper classes. Both historians Robert Service and Alan Wood agree that Stolypin made the alterations in favour of the Tsar ‘altered the electoral procedures by narrowing the franchise in favour of the landed nobility and the wealthy urban classes at the expenses of the peasants and workers’ Alan Wood ‘he was now determined to refashion the Duma by redrawing the electoral law and giving greater parliamentary weight to the gentry’ Robert Service. Both historians clearly suggest that Stolypin’s reforms to the electoral system was in favour of the Tsar and the upper classes, these views are also backed up with the historical event that took place, through all of the Duma’s Russia had the number of Radicals that had seats declined as each Duma was created and dissolved. These Duma’s were in a sense being dissolved to clear out the opposition and non-supporters of the Tsar. Overall, Stolypin’s reforms to the electoral system were completely unsuccessful, Stolypin made the Duma’s completely full of supporters of the Tsar however the Duma’s had to power and with the Fundamental laws stating that there is no opposition to the Tsar it made the radicals and opposition that didn’t have any seats of say in the powerless Duma’s turn to other extreme methods of voicing their views and leading to violence in Russia.
Stolypin’s most famous and to some extent most successful reforms were in agriculture. Stolypin knew that Russia was very backwards in agriculture and trailed Western Europe using ancient techniques, Stolypin tried to get Russia on a modern path of agriculture and industrialise Russia at the expense of the Russian workers with his reforms. Stolypin acknowledge that the obshchina system and the leadership of the commune directing the peasants was failing and holding back the agriculture progress. Stolypin introduced a reform which again was a huge turning point in Russian history which allowed peasants to privately own their land and could farm anything they choose which allowed agricultural progress and also kept the lower and poorer working classes content after the 1905 revolution allowing them reform which they wanted for many centuries. Historian Leonard Schapiro ‘As it was, even in the short time available, considerable improvements took place in Russian agriculture’ believes that Stolypin’s reforms were success however Alan Wood, Robert Service and Orlando Figes all disagree with Schapiro ‘Stolypin’s ‘wager on the strong’ certainly benefitted some of the richer peasants … the major deficiency was, however, Stolypin’s failure to tackle the agrarian problem as a whole’ Alan Wood. ‘What he meant by this was that the gentry landlords remained in positions of authority and dominated the countryside as they did in Prussia’ Robert Service. ‘The principles of family ownership and egalitarian partition were deeply ingrained in Russian peasant culture’ Orlando Figes. All three historians disagree with Schapiro and analysis Stolypin’s reforms as a failure because the reforms only benefitted rich peasants, the landlords still dominated and rules over peasants and centauries old traditions were being altered and was not accepted by many peasants. Robert Service also adds ‘Now only revolution could modernise the Russian economy’. Service believes that no matter what reforms Stolypin introduced whether they were success or not, only revolution could help the peasants and the collapsing Russian economy. The three historians have a lot of weight to their argument and a lot of reliability over Schapiro and historical events prove Alan Woods’s statement is reliable as the revolution did help the agricultural progress and economy after the fall of Tsarist system.
Overall, Stolypin’s reforms were a failure, Stolypin’s reforms in different areas didn’t only help but created more opposition towards the Tsar and increase tension. Stolypin’s reforms and coercions acts on the radicals to some extent was a success as it re-stored order , however many people saw Stolypin being repressive and murdering opposition creating a feeling of anger and increased the amount of opposition towards Stolypin and the Tsar. Stolypin’s reforms in the electoral system were also a failure as he only altered the Duma to fill it with supporters of the Tsar and loyalist, however this made opposition groups to the Tsar and parties lose their seats in the Duma and built up anger and proved that Stolypin’s reforms were only a show of democracy and were always in the favour of the Tsar and did very little to the people of Russia. And finally Stolypin’s reforms in agriculture were also a failure, only helping rich peasants and to some extent not even allowing progress which he wanted due to no reforms in agriculture tools and methods and Stolypin’s idea of strip farming was not success and was as bad as how the peasants were farming before the reforms and Stolypin being appointed Prime Minister.
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