(RUSSIA, 1856-1900 – continued)

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RUSSIA, 1856-1900 (3 of 6)

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Other Reforms and Economic Growth

Instead of trying to rule all of vast Russia from his central bureaucracy, Alexander II decided to give Russians some local control. In 1864 he created a district assembly for rural areas called the zemstvo. In these, both the local gentry and common peasants had representation, the two forced to work together and occasionally to compromise. The zemstvo was responsible for education, medical care, veterinary service, insurance, local roads and the storage of food reserves. Medical care was communal – socialized medicine. The zemstvo would attract teachers, doctors, veterinary surgeons, bookkeepers and other professionals.

Also in 1864, Russia reformed its legal system. The judiciary became an independent branch of government and a single unified system. Bureaucratic secrecy was replaced by a new openness as to what the courts were doing. Favor under the law for the wealthy and upper classes was replaced by what was supposed to be equality before the law. Trial by jury was created for serious criminal offenses, and for minor civil and criminal cases justices of the peace were created.

In 1870, cities and towns were given powers similar to the zemstvo – power to pursue municipal economic development and to look after the welfare of its inhabitants. A limited democracy of sorts was created in the form of town councils, its members elected by property owners and taxpayers.

Alexander reformed the military, reducing duty obligation from twenty-five years to six, with recruits drawn by lot and people from all classes obliged to serve, with exemptions for hardship cases. For the military, corporal punishment was abolished, and an effort was made to improve the professionalism of the officer corps. In the military all who lacked an elementary education were to receive it. And Alexander put his army into more comfortable uniforms.

Under Alexander II, the system for state finances was improved, laying a foundation for industrial expansion. That expansion began as it had in Western Europe and the United States, with the expansion of rail lines. The growth in rail lines enabled farmers to send their crops to consumers farther away and to sell their crops at a more stable price. Railway expansion increased Russia's ability to export grain, providing Russia with money to invest in more industrialization, and railway expansion allowed a growth in the mining of minerals.

The coal, iron and steel industries were growing, as was the railway-equipment industry. There was more demand for rails, locomotives and other goods, stimulating the economy. Industrial suburbs appeared around Moscow and St. Petersburg and industrial workers grew in number. In the early 1860s the Russian Empire had about 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) of railroad track. By 1880 it had about 24,000 kilometers (15,500 miles) of track.


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