Tsar Alexander I’s revolutionary abolition of serfdom in 1861 was a major step in modernizing Russian society, which was severely lagging behind its western European counterparts in many respects. The Crimean War in particular had highlighted the shortcomings of Russia’s military, which was comprised mainly of serfs, so Alexander set about removing the shackles that tied them to the owners of the land on which they lived. In reality the Emancipation Reforms were highly exploitative. The freed serfs were forced to buy small plots of low quality land from the landowners under crippling loans, which meant that the expected economic benefits of the reforms were non-existent in reality. In 1857 around 80 per cent of Russia’s 60 million population comprised private and state serfs. The emancipation promoted serf population growth through increased freedoms to such an extent that Russia’s population had doubled by around 1900.
— OR —