As England, Germany, and Western Europe in general were successfully expanding, Russia realized that she too must reform to western ways or be left behind. Through industrialization and the emancipation of serfs, labor systems were radically reformed. However, the reformers, the type of reforming, and ultimately the treatment of the serfs, did not change. From 1750 to 1914 Russia went from an agricultural state to an industrial one, and while serfdom was eventually abolished, horrible working conditions and an unskilled, uneducated populous labor force continued.
From 1762-1796 Tsar Catherine II the Great continued the abuse of serfdom, expanding it into Russia’s new territories. During this time period new western methods led to greater industrialization and the recruitment of a larger working class. Russian industrialism grew as evidenced by the number of factories increasing substantially as whole new industries were formed. Thus while serfs still suffered under Tsar Catherine II’s reign, the nation as a whole was striding towards an industrial boom.
Tsar Paul I, on the other hand, brought some change for serfdom. From 1796-1801, he repealed some of Tsar Catherine II’s harsh policies on the serfs and attempted to give the peasantry more rights. He called for overall better treatment of the serfs on agricultural estates. Alexander I also tried to improve the conditions of serfdom from 1801-1825, but ultimately workers whether in industry or agriculture were oppressed by their lords or employers.
But 1825-1855, under Tsar Nicholas, conditions again worsened for peasantry under serfdom. Much as in Tsar Catherine II, industry was booming. Nicholas imported industry goods and paid for them with exports. In 1837, another great industrial accomplishment was executed; the first railroad was built in St. Petersburg.
Tsar Alexander II brought real change for the labor force of Russia, from 1855-1881. He achieved great reforms, freeing the serfdom, while a enlarging the labor pool for industrialization at the same time. Under the Emancipation Manifesto, enacted by Tsar Alexander II in 1861, serfdom was abolished. This strengthened the fleeting bonds between the monarchy and the people. Before Tsar Alexander II, serfs tilled and cultivated land without pay. They were allowed to have their own farms, but had to take care of their lord’s land first, no matter the cost to their own families and property. Peasants finally had some rights, but were still dreadfully impoverished.
1881-1894 brought a new program of industrialization. Under the rule of Tsar Alexander III, existing industries modernized and new industries and mines were built with the help of the money and skills provided by foreign investors. Iron, coal, and oil became important industries. This time period saw the formation of a small, yet quickly growing industrial class. However, the horrible working conditions in factories, and costly programs with heavy taxes burdened the peasantry.
Tsar Nicholas the II brought further expansion of industrialization from 1894-1917. The industrial class saw a great increase at the influx of previous serfs and factory laws were created to solve the surfacing industrial problems. During this time period, Russians endeavored to mover forward from agriculture as Tsar Nicholas II attempted to relieve the peasants of their restrictions. He allowed them to leave their mires and become independent farmers, but this agreement came with strings attached; the serfs had to pay substantial taxes just to farm land.
From 1750 to 1914 Serfs continued to be treated badly, and even when reforms were instituted they were seen as lesser individuals and were still quite poor. Policies were made, then repealed, introduced, then change; they were made “for the people” but often ended up hurting the people. As Russia transitioned from an agricultural state to an industrial one to keep up with dominating work powers, she finally abolished the serfdom, but not the unskilled laborers and horrible conditions that went along with it.