Economy (1850-1914)


The situation in Russia at the beginning of the nineteenth century was marked by great social contrasts … on one hand,  was the people living in backwardness, poverty and repression, established by the czars, and on the other were the great families of the Russian aristocracy, that were well known in the world for their luxury.


>Russian industrialization

Industrial activity in Russia, compared to other European countries, became less important during the nineteenth century. In the eighteenth century it had been the largest producer of steel, and by the middle of the nineteenth century it was already in fifth place, with a tendency to recede. Its economy was very laggard, being more frequent the payment in kind and barter rather than the use of money. Monetary economics developed after the liberation of the peasants of feudal serfdom, in the second half of the nineteenth century. The first Russian industries were just a complement to the rural economy and just since 1880, an accelerated industrialization was boosted thanks to the intervention of the State. The large distances between the mining centers of major cities forced the government to build railroads before the beginning of full industrialization, and it was the same y construction (14,000 miles between 1861 and 1880) one of the factors that triggered the Russian and late industrialization.

Periods of Russian economy

With Nicholas I (1825-1855) the period of greatest imperialist expansion and major internal repression began.

Nicholas I’s government failed in its economic policy, since he got progressively indebted, and faced peasant revolts exploding every year due to poverty and hunger.


Nicolas I of Russia

The latest adventure of Nicholas was the Crimean War. By which the great economic and technical backwardness was evident, as well as the poor preparation of the Russian people to support a war,  in contrast with the Napoleonic invasion in 1812 where the Russians were able to repel the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Later on, during the rule of Alexander II, successor of Nicholas I, a liberalizing policy started. Russia saw tremendous growth of industry, private business, banking and trade, while increasing social tensions and discontent toward czarist power. One of his most important reforms was the abolition of serfdom in 1861 (existing since the sixteenth century). Since then,  the national economy  was more boosted than ever before.

After his fast rise in the nineties, the Russian economy falls again between 1901 and 1903, in a serious crisis and just when recovered it suffered a great strike again due to the war against Japan and the civil revolution in 1905.

After a series of unquiet years internally, since 1909 a new strong peak ws produced due to new military projects. The achievements in the Russian economy in the two decades precursor to the First World War were impressive. Its economy was based on coal mining, steel and iron production.

First World War


Five-ruble gold coin, 1899, with the effigy of Tsar Nicholas the II.

The direct economic impact of the First World War was the increase in military disbursement. In 1915, the budget deficit was 8.561 million rubles and 8,620 million in military spending. The deficit was unsustainable and the Central Bank was allowed to print 300 million rubles backless. While inflation rose, gold, silver and even copper coins began to disappear from the market, as people kept them as a way to preserve the value of money while the paper currency grew devaluated. This strong weakening of the Russian economy ended with the Russian Empire in 1917.


Wolfgang, J. Mommsen. Historia universal del siglo XXI: La época del imperialismo.
Argentina: Siglo XXI, 2002.

Sheptun, Alla. «Russian Monetary Reformers: Speransky, Mordvinov and Bunge». Economics in Russia: studies in intellectual history.  Consultado el 12 de noviembre de 2011.


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