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    I'm studying Russia 1855-1917 and I keep reading about how the Crimean War was a major factor in encouraging Alexander II's reforms, but nowhere seems to explain how exactly. Is it just that the defeat showed how the army system of conscript serfs was inefficient?
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    It was one of the contributing factors to reform (in my opinion).

    Due to the remote location of the Crimea, troops had to march by foot for hundreds of miles. Communication in the region was poor so supplies were very delayed in getting there. As a result, more funding was put towards the development of the railway track. From the end of the Crimean war up until 1881, 20,000 kilometres of track had been put down. However it was single lined, and unfinished in places.

    As for the emancipation of the serfs, not all were 'freed'. Many Slavophiles saw the serfs as an internal weakness and a reason for the failure in the war. Alexander II sympathised with this idea and made progress which eventually lead to the edict. Morale was low and as serfs and peasants were conscripted by force so that didn't help things. The ownership of serfs was just seen as another internal weakness which was preventing Russia from becoming a world power.

    Following on from the emancipation edict, the creation of zemstvos (sp?) was a significant reform. Elected representatives worked to make decisions on the local area and it gave the elite (who were disgruntled due to the emancipation) a say in the governing of Russia. Realistically Alexander II still retained all the power and initially the Zemstvos had very little influence.

    In regards to the war, the emancipation only really came about because of the low morale and it being perceived as an internal weakness. The creation of the zemstvos were merely a cascade affect of the edict.

    I think it was under Alexander III that all classes were conscripted. However I would advise checking for sure.
 
 
 
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