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Why was Russia Slow to Industrialize?

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Published: Tue, 25 Apr 2017

Why was Russia Slow to Industrialize

“Industrialization is the process by which a society transforms from farm-based to an industrial culture with increased productivity in agriculture, mining, manufacturing and transportation.” And it is always considered to be one of the indicators of development of a country.

In 18th to 19th century, most countries over Europe like Britain, Germany and France were industrializing, but Russia couldn’t industrialize as quickly as those western powerful countries. It was Czar Alexander III began to implement the industrialization for Russia in 1885 and by the late 1890s, Sergei Witte, a highly influential policy-maker in the Russian Empire made a visible impact on economic reforms.

Russia’s industrial revolution was later than most other countries in Europe because its geography, its agricultural based economy, poor-developed transportation system, as well as the economic and industrial growth halted with involving wars.

Russia was a large country isolated from the West which makes it hard for them to industrialize. Russia’s land is one-eighth of total inhabited land in the world. Russia’s resources were spread far apart which making it difficult to be gathered up. People also lived miles apart from each other making it hard to join forces. Russia also hadn’t develop a railway system, without efficient transportation system like national wide railroads, it was hard for the Russian to get resources and send out goods.

Russia was a large country with a mainly agricultural economy and czars did not do anything to help the people. This resulted in the lasting system of serfdom. Under the serfdom, all land was owned by landowners – nobility, Church and monarchs. Under the law made by the first czar, Ivan IV, in 1547, peasants were forced to become serfs who had to remain on the farms where they works in order to keep his land.

The continuation of serfdom means most people of Russia were peasants and they were not well-educated and poor. Even though Peter the Great (1682-1725) and Catherine the Great(1762-1796) made Russia a stronger and powerful empire, they didn’t improve people’s right and peasants still struggled with poverty. So serfdom made Russia uncompetitive, and resulted in delaying the beginning step in becoming industrialized.

Besides the czars, Russian nobles who possessed much land and wealth opposed reformation. They wanted to take advantages of surfs and this would make the change more difficult.

Russia did not develop country-wide transportation system which was crucial for industrialization.

As we known, Russia is the largest country with width about 9,000 km from Eastern Europe to the Pacific Ocean and length about 4,000 km from Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea. In such a vast continent, railroads would be the best way to move a lot of goods and people at low cost. However, the railway system hadn’t been developed enough to use before 1900 as the table shown below.



















Railway systems not only provided Russia’s domestic needs, but also serves as an efficient way to contact with the western industrialized countries. For example, air cargo had not developed at that time, sea ports like Saint Petersburg and Igarka are far away from inland, so all trades and transportations depended on railways heavily.

Without a convenient transportation system, people could not travel conveniently, factories could not transport resources and products efficiently, and therefore resulted in slow industrialization.

Russia’s involvement with the wars greatly halted industrialization.

For examples, the Seven Years War took place between 1754 and 1763. The war caused by the conflicts between the Anglo-Prussian alliance and the Austro-French alliance. The Russian Empire was originally aligned with Austria, but switched to Prussia after the succession of Czar Peter III in 1762. Russia won the war and became a powerful role in eastern Europe.

Another war is French invaded Russia in 1812. During the year of 1812, Napoleon had almost entire continental Europe under his control, but he still wanted to defeat England by banning other countries to trade with it. Russia at that time was trading partner of England became his first goal to invade. Napoleon was finally defeated by the harsh winter climate and Russia’s Scorch Earth policy which burn the lands and all the resources so that the enemy would not have anything useful in that area.

For the wars mentioned above, even though Russia was the winner but Russia still lost a lot, for example, many resources had been waste in the war and many people died. All the wars would consume Russia’s man power and reduce work force for any further development.

Wars usually cause people to starve, buildings to be destroyed and most of the resources reserved for the wars. By involving too many wars, not only weaken Russia’s economy strength but also consumed people’s strength, and even resulted in slowing industrialization.

In conclusion, industrialization widen the wealth gap between industrialized countries such as Britain and France and non-industrialized countries such as Russia. Those industrialized nations would increase their competition abilities and their people would enjoy a better life while the opposite would likely live in poverty. With Russia’s geography, agricultural based economy, poor-developed transportation system, and involving wars, it took more time for change in both political and economic development and therefore resulted Russian people in suffering a poor life.

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