Reforms had been happening all the time even during the reign of AIII and they did not stop during the reign of NII, some of them quite substantial. So it is a question which reforms rather then “reform or no reform, this is the question”. Social (liberal) reforms as a default for “reforms” do not work well within framework of the Russian history because the acknowledged “reformers” like PI and CII turned serfdom into slavery while the ill-reputed reactionary, Paul I, was the 1st monarch who extended loyalty oath to the serfs, thus officially making them subjects of the empire (underprivileged but nonetheless).A Nicholas who is aware to the needs of reformation?
As above, now you have my attention.
I have the sudden need to reread my copy of Massie's "Nicky et Alix"...
By the time in question the social reforms proved to be a resounding failure and in this TL the record is much worse because not only AII, who was neglecting his security, but also AIII who made very good security arrangements, had been assassinated. Taking into an account their different political views, a logical conclusion would be that the terrorists are going against a monarch no matter what. How from that experience the next monarch can jump to a conclusion that what is needed is more liberalism is not quite clear to me. One obvious conclusion would be that existing security system (including legalistic aspect) is still not adequate for the task and needs a comprehensive upgrade. In practical terms this means:
(a) Dramatic expansion of the security apparatus, especially the (almost non-existing) branches dealing with the political crimes.
(b) Issuing the new laws seriously expanding rights of these organizations in the areas of spying, arresting and interrogation (basically, creating some early equivalent of GPU).
(b) Changing the penalties for political crimes: making the political convicts serving the sentence as the common criminals (aka, making them “eligible” for hard labor and physical punishment and placing them together with the common criminals, no comfortable exiles with the expenses paid by the government). The violent political crimes has to be tried by the special tribunals, not by jury, with a death penalty being on a table.
(c) Make non-reporting the known revolutionary conspiracy a crime. This surely would produce a terrible outcry among the educated classes.
(d) Improve security measures for the imperial family by creating specially trained units. The Guards were not good for anything of the kind - there would be a need for specially trained professional.
(e) Establish professional clandestine operations for tracking and exterminating the revolutionaries hiding abroad (a very delicate activity).
How all of the above (and probably much more) can go together with more liberal agenda I can’t figure out.
A popular idea that creation of an elected legislative organ is going to solve all problems is not backed by any evidence. After 1905 the political terrorism kept flourishing, the “educated classes” remained permanently unhappy, the universities had been infested by the “progressives” who regularly were interrupting the learning process by manifestations and even “stinky bombs”, Duma proved to be extremely ineffective both due to a pure incompetence of most of its members and because out of principle it was resisting any meaningful action of a government (like Stolypin reform). There was some progress in the labor laws but this was just a logical extension of the fundamental package adopted during the reign of AIII. In the military area Duma expanded already insane budgeting for a naval buildup at the expense of army. So, by itself constitution did not solve any of the fundamental problems.
Now, as far as the “court” is involved, the problem was not it being the snakes pit (and it is not like Witte was a bleeding heart liberal) but plain and simple shortage of money. The Grand Dukes and Duchesses had been entitled to certain level of income that was coming from the estates of the imperial family. The problem was that, even after AIII tightened rules of eligibility and drastically cut expenses of the imperial household, the available income was not enough for providing life style fitting their status. Situation was so bad that widowed empress Maria Fedorovna had been using her yacht for sneaking expensive delicacies bypassing the customs. As a result, the Grand Dukes had to serve and the older members of the family had been holding high positions in the army and navy (admiral-general, commander of the Guards, inspector of artillery, etc.). Some of these positions, like admiral-general (person in charge of all naval development), provided a vast opportunity for getting massive bribes or simply misusing the funds (a member of the imperial family could not be put on trial) and of course none of these persons would give up their position easily (NII managed to get rid of two of his uncles only after the RJW and fiasco of the “bloody Sunday”). If not an army, then it was a high administrative position like governor-general of Moscow (this uncle had been killed by the revolutionaries). Only few of them, like Alexander Mikhailovich, had been truly competent and useful people. Grand Duke NN was considered the main military specialist in the family and only wwi demonstrated his shortcomings. But what was even worse, he had been married to Princess Stana of Montenegro and “Montenegrian gang” had a considerable influence on Alix.
Now, what could be done about them is a very big question. Of course, they could not be just summarily executed. They could not be left without a suitable income because this would ruin prestige of the imperial Russia. If the senior generation is removed from their positions, NII would have to somehow compensate their losses from the already inadequate incomes from family properties. There was, in theory, a possibility to increase income from the imperial estates but this was not done to avoid criticism about preferential treatment (IIRC, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich provided details in his memoirs). Small wonder that the get rich fast schemas like Bezobrazov affair got. support among the imperial family.
BTW, I’m not sure that Witte would be such a great advisor on the court-related issues: he was not making his career at the court and hardly had in-depth knowledge of its intrigues.