Industrial Revolution in Russia


  • By 1815, Russia was the largest nation in terms of power, population and area.
  • Peter the Great and Catherine the Great had added lands on the Baltic and Black seas, and Tsars in the 1800s had expanded into Central Asia.
  • During the 19th century Russia exported large quantity of grain to Europe, but revenues where wasted in luxury lifestyle.
  • Autocratic and despotic rulers did not allowed extensive deployment of industrial policies.
  • Russia’s defeat in Crimean War (1853-56) exposes the empire’s lack of development and the urgent need for Russian industrialisation.
  • Another obstacle was the social structure of Russia; Landowning nobles dominated society and rejected any change in economic order. Masses were serfs. Most serfs were peasants. Others were servants, artisans, or soldiers forced into the tsar’s army.

Case to understand who is a Serf:

Sam is a poor European farmer in the Middle Ages. Here’s the political situation: he doesn’t own the land he lives on. It’s rented from a baron or a duke. He and his neighbours share a plough and they combine their oxen into teams to till the soil together. There’s not much social mobility: his parents and grandparents before him worked this same land. He doesn’t even have the legal right to leave the property, without the permission of his landlord. He is a serf, in a feudal economy.

Reforms of Alexander II

  1. Alexander II brought Emancipating the serfs (1861). Called as The Liberator.
  2. Emergence of Kulak: it is a proto-capitalist class. He would own larger tracts of land, livestock or machinery, hire landless peasants as labourers, use more efficient farming techniques, sell surplus grain for profit.
  3. Alexander II set up a system of elected local government responsible for matters such as road repair, schools, and agriculture.
  4. Since 1870s, development of railway became prominent.
  • Russia finally entered the industrial age under Alexander III and his son Nicholas II.

Government encouraged railroads to connect iron and coal mines with factories and to transport goods across Russia and secured foreign capital to invest in industry and transportation systems, such as the Trans-Siberian Railroad, which linked European Russia to the Pacific Ocean.

  • Role of Sergei Witte: construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway, incentives for investments, moved the Russian Ruble to the gold standard, borrowed fund for public work and infrastructure.

Issues with Russian IR

  • Rise of humungous population of industrial proletariat.
  • Growing of ramshackle dormitories and tenements.
  • Working class was exploited, poorly treated, and clustered
  • Poverty, disease, and discontent multiplied in the slum areas.
  • Industrial units crumbled during the Russo-Japanese War (1904). Consequently, frustrated workers began to strike. In January of 1905 Moscow was crippled by strikes.
  • Socialism and communism gain currency throughout Russia.
  • Russian Industrial revolution began to slow down and continued in the same trend till end of Russian Revolution. After the revolution, under the leadership of Lenin and Stalin, Russia picked up again on the path of rapid industrialisation through the planning process (socialist state).
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