The Industrial Revolution in Russia
Russia, which began its industrial revolution at least a half century
behind most of the West European countries, had to meet a number of
special challenges. Russia moved to industrialisation in stages. An
uncertain experimental phase – which Russia had already experienced to
an extent before 1870 – included larger reforms that helped free up
economic change. This preliminary period was followed by more rapid
growth in a society still overwhelming agricultural. Russia had
well-developed industrial sectors by the early 20th century, but
paused well behind the West. Russia became the only society to
experience full-fledged political and social revolution after the
industrialisation process was well under way.
The reform period in the 1860s that brought limited freedom for the
serfs also produced a host of other political changes, some of which
involved economic policy. The Abolition of Serfdom in 1861, had slowed
down the creation of a large workforce, and, as such, the Russian
economy had been almost completely agrarian. Also, Russia’s previously
untouched deposits of coal and other raw materials began to be
Government budget procedures were regularized and state bank was
created in 1866 to centralize credit and finance. Government policy
also encouraged more foreign investment.
Russia’s reform ended in 1881 with the assassination of Alexander II,
after which highly cruel policies went into effect in most quarters.
The Ministry of Finance, however, maintained a commitment to change.
The minister of finance during the 1890s, Serge Witte, dedicated his
great talents to stabilize Russian finance. Witte’s background was as
a railroad official, and he advocated rapid additions to the Russian
network. Mileage doubled between 1895-1905, the additions including
almost the whole of a line across Siberia that opened the vast
resources of this region to industrial use. Private companies, working
under government allowances, did much of the work, but after 1880
state control increased.
A key factor in Russia’s early industrial revolution, along with
increasingly focused government planning and railway development,
involved foreign entrepreneurs, from whom Russia gained much-needed
capital and technical knowledge. West European industrial countries
such as Germany and France, were quite aware of Russia’s vast
potential. The huge population, though largely peasantry and with a
traditional agriculture, presented a tempting market to target.
Smaller business class in Russia made the foreign presence there even
more noticeable and its role in guiding industrialisation even
greater. Foreign capital was absolutely essential to Russian industry.
It constituted at least 20% of all capital invested before the 1890s
and then began...