Liberalism was inappropriate for Russia

One cannot say definitely that liberalism was inappropriate for Russia. To insist on this view is subjective and arbitrary. Liberalism had not been put into full practice in Russia in the period, 1860-1917, so no one can say decidedly that it was not appropriate for Russia. We can only make assumptions. By observing the history of Russia in this period, one can say that liberalism could not develop as a powerful or influential force because of the absence of favourable conditions, the most important one being the rise of a rich and strong middle class. 

Liberalism meant a plea for the liberty of the individual and his rights to self-expression. It showed itself in demands for constitutional rights such as the right to vote, the right to take part in the government and civil liberties. In the 19th century, it became the political principle of the middle classes. They felt that in terms of status, income and education, they were uniquely qualified to govern. They wanted a limited democracy which meant a narrow franchise and 'constitutional rights' protecting them against the arbitrary rule by the king and the tyranny of the masses.

In Russia, industrialization started very late-in the 1890's. Therefore, there was a lack of a rich middle class of industrialists and capitalists to force the Czarist government to liberalize. In Western Europe, foe example in Britain and France, the middle classes were the major agent of liberalization. In Russia, the middle classes were small and weak. At first, they were mainly the intellectuals and the professionals. There were liberals in Russia but they were not powerful/ They had to face rivalry with parties of extreme ideas which were due to the severe repressive policy of the Czarist government.

Another obstacle to the growth of liberalism in Russia was the extremely autocratic government. It would repress and suppress any demand for freedom. Although some of the czars came under liberal influence, they failed to keep it up and returned to repression after a brief period of liberalization. These were the cases of Alexander I and Alexander II. Alexander II had been considered the most liberal czar with his revolutionary measure of the emancipation of the serfs and other measures to modernize Russia. However, he did not go far enough. His reforms were not thorough enough and he fell back on repression after 01 years. 

Nicholas II had been forced to grant constitutional rule to the Russians by the 1905 Revolution. However, since he was autocratic at heart, he very soon withdrew his concessions. The Duma became a rubber stamp for the Czar. However, the liberals were not strong enough to put pressure on him or force him to grant real freedom. Later, after the Czarist government had been overthrown, the Provisional Government, headed by liberals, also lacked capable leaders. This also lent support to the point mentioned above that the middle classes were weak.

Besides, the very repression of the Czarist regime gave rise to very extreme parties resorting to violence, revolution and even terrorism. The Russians had no proper channels to express their opinion and discontent, so they could only turn to extremism. In the 19th century, many parties of extreme ideas, for example, nihilism, anarchism, Marxism rose up against the government. Many Russian intellectuals were leaders and members of these groups. The extreme parties were popular with the lower classes. Such developments also helped to explain why the liberals could not become very strong.

Finally, the masses in Russia were ignorant and received little education. Most of the Russians were peasants, with the number of workers growing continuously after industrialization began in the 1890's. The Czarist regime had not been an efficient government. The peasants remained discontented after the end of serfdom because of the heavy redemption payments, the lack of land, heavy taxes. The government had not done much to help them. The workers in the cities were also suffering from low wages but long working hours and poor living conditions. The autocratic rule of the Czar had forced many to join the extreme groups. Under such conditions, it was very difficult for the liberals to capture their support. 

For all these reasons, we can say that liberalism could not develop into a powerful force in Russia. The circumstances were not favourable-the masses were ignorant and uneducated; the Czarist government was repressive; extreme ideas rose up against the government and they attracted the masses away from liberalism and there was a lack of a strong and rich middle class. However, one cannot just jump to the conclusion that liberalism was inappropriate for Russia. There was just a lack of favourable circumstances.