Paul I (1796-1801), who succeeded his mother, evidently unbalanced, represented a sad parenthesis; to Alexander I (1801-25), perhaps partly responsible for the suppression of the mysterious father, now he fell the task of leading Russia before and after the victory over Napoleon, on the way to a moral and social renewal. Everything seemed to herald it: the liberal education received by the Tsar, the country’s openness to European books and ideas, the new awareness of the younger generations, the Western influence suffered by nobles and soldiers through the wars with the French, the spiritual union of all Russians in the face of foreign invasion. Yet Alexander managed to frustrate these promises, passing in a few years from an unrealistic liberalism and from the vast programs of constitutional reforms prepared by Speransky (1809-12) to an equally amateur mysticism (the Holy Alliance of 1815) and, later, under the influence of the almighty minister Arakčeev and Metternich, to a clearly reactionary position both in front of his subjects and in front of the nations that invoked freedom (1820-25). In the early years of Alexander’s reign, trade and education had clearly progressed thanks to the atmosphere of freedom that encouraged initiatives, but after the wars of 1812-15 any prospect of rebirth disappeared and the working classes plunged back into their economic and economic slavery. legal. Even the creation of the new kingdom of Poland, assigned to the Tsar, did not bring any advantage to either the Russians or the Poles due to the impossibility in which the government of St. Petersburg found itself to solve the problems of other peoples, not knowing how to solve its own.
It was logical that, after 1816, secret societies would arise in Russia, born from the discontent of the upper classes, which the reaction seemed to favor but whose most enlightened members (mostly army officers) were agitated impatiently in the face of an absolutism that was no longer justifiable. The deposition of Alexander or even the tsaricide was planned; there was (December 1825) the attempted coup d’état of the Decembrists, failed due to organizational errors, but revealed a profound crisis. Having inaugurated the kingdom with this dramatic event led Nicholas I (1825-55), brother of Alexander, to take the path of an organized reaction from the very beginning. Nicola wanted to be the “gendarme of Europe”; his moral consistency and good faith, so much greater than those of his brother, enabled him to immobilize Russian history in the rejection of every novelty and in the fight against every idea that threatened the sacred trinomial: orthodoxy, autocracy, nationalism. For Nicholas, the salvation of Russia lay in resisting the contagion of Western ideas, which fatally pushed the entire opposition into opposition.. The control of the thought and activity of the real and presumed enemies of the Nicola regime, exercised by a very careful police, blocked any attempt at protest or revolt. It is true that Russian arms were victorious on more than one occasion: they stifled the Polish insurrection (1830-31), advanced into Caucasia, Persia and Central Asia, and defeated the Hungarians who had rebelled against Vienna (1849). But the Crimean War (1853-56) represented a serious setback, not only because it unleashed the major military forces of the West in defense of Turkey or because it made Russia lose its dominance over the Black Sea, but above all because it revealed the disorganization of Turkey. army, the incapacity of the leaders, the existing corruption above and below. Alexander II (1855-81), who ascended the throne at a very critical moment, animated by liberal intentions, began his reign with the precise design of a reform of the state in the modern sense and above all of a solution to the agrarian question.
Russia seemed to find a new vitality in a regime that encouraged education, the press, economic initiatives. The emancipation of serfs (1861) was a great turning point in Russian history more for its political-moral significance than for its immediate consequences; in reality both the owners and the peasants were disadvantaged. Meanwhile, lively currents of thought faced each other in the country; already in the preceding decades, the Westernists and the Slavophiles, united in hoping for the social and political transformation of Russia, separated when choosing the Innovative West or the old traditions of the Russian people. Under Alexander II many intellectuals turned to populism, trying to reawaken in the peasants the hope of being able one day to be the arbiter of their destiny. Fighting groups arose from the populist matrix, some of which chose terrorism as the only suitable weapon to combat the spirit of reaction that returned to animate the governmental spheres. Alexander II, who had also achieved some political-military success in the Balkans (1877-78), who had given impetus to industry, trade, railways and who had sincerely hoped for a development of Russia in a European sense, ended up collecting distrust and hatred from right and left and he died murdered by a terrorist (1881), much less regret than he deserved. But the coming to the throne of his son Alexander III (1881-94) the situation worsened: under the nefarious influence of Pobedonoscev, the cult of the three “myths” of the time of Nicholas returned to rule. But autocracy, more than a fact, was considered a dogma; orthodoxy became persecution of Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, or otherwise dissident subjects; nationalism was a compression of non-Russian nationalities, a forced substitution of the Russian language for other national languages. It seemed that tsarism, now dying, wanted to accentuate all the injustices and errors of the past. The Jews were the most mistreated, affected as they were by frequent and legal measures. Local self-government, promoted by Alexander II with the creation of the zemstvo, he had engaged nobles, bourgeois and peasants in fruitful common work; but Alexander III destroyed all this, restoring administrative responsibilities to the noble class and emptying all the reforms of his predecessor of meaning. Despite this blindness of the government, which multiplied its presuppositions to avoid the revolution, Russia towards the end of the century had made giant steps in industrial production, but the large profits had not contributed to the well-being of the population having ended up in the coffers of the state. or in the hands of a few capitalists, almost always foreigners. In foreign policy, Russia, having come into conflict with its ally Germany both for economic reasons and for the disappointments suffered in the Balkans in the face of the policy of Vienna supported by Berlin, moved towards a ‘ alliance with France (1891). With Nicholas II (1894-1917) economic progress was even more sensitive, thanks to the energetic action of S. Ju. Vitte, Minister of Finance, the greatest Russian statesman of his time (1892-1903). With industry, the urban proletariat grew in number and strength, ready to accept no longer the word of terrorists, but the Marxist teaching, with other revolutionary ideologies that the government pursued without being able to suppress them.