The Failure of the Russian Revolution of 1825 | by Ida Larsdotter | April 2022

The Decembrist uprising finally paved the way for the successful revolution of 1917

Illustration of the Decembrist revolt by Vasily Perov. SD Public domain via Wikimedia commons.

JJthe imperial russian army and their Prussian and Austrian allies marched on Paris in March 1814. The Napoleonic Wars that had raged in Europe since 1801 were coming to an end. Napoleon is forced to admit defeat. The French military dictator had no choice but to surrender, abdicate and go into exile. A force of around 100,000 Russian troops began to occupy the French capital after winning the Battle of Paris.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Western Europe had begun to industrialise. Imperial Russia had not. The majority of Russians were poor agricultural workers and the Tsar was an autocratic dictator. The liberal ideas stemming from Clarification spread to Western Europe in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Ideas such as citizens’ rights had not yet entered Russian society.

While the soldiers of the Imperial Army stayed in France, they interacted for the first time with post-revolutionary Western Europe. Particularly young army officers of the aristocratic class in Russia were touched by the ideals to which they had been initiated. Pavel Pestel was one of the officers who brought these new ideas back to Russia.

Drawing by Pavel Pestel, artist unknown. SD Public domain via Wikimedia commons.

Pavel Pestel was one of the founding members of discreet dissident organizations in Russia. Had it been discovered that Pestel and his friends were meeting to express liberal views, they would surely have been punished by the Tsar. There were several secret societies where opponents of the Tsar socialized, but the most influential was union of salvation of which Pestel was a member. Pestel and his Salvation Union friends first engaged in discussions about peaceful reforms that could be implemented in Russian society. One proposal was to transform Russia into a constitutional monarchy. The members of the groups eventually became radicalized. In 1824 Pestel wrote a pamphlet which can be translated into “The Russian Truth” where he calls for the execution of the Tsar’s family.

The smaller groups all shared a disdain for the contemporary Russian system, but they all disagreed on how the country should have been run. after a hypothetical revolution. Some wanted a system similar to democracy, others wanted another authoritarian regime. While the opponents were still arguing and planning exactly what they wanted to do, news from a small, distant town reached St. Petersburg. The Tsar was dead.

Painting by Alexander l. 1806. By Stepan Shchukin. Public domain via Wikimedia commons.

alexander the was 48 years old. The Tsar was visiting a small town called Taganrog in southwestern Russia. He had not been ill, so his death was totally unexpected. The situation was further aggravated by the fact that the Tsar had no legitimate heirs. A succession crisis ensued over who would become the next Tsar. Alexandre l had two brothers, Constantin and Nicolas. Both were eligible to inherit the throne, and both brothers had ardent supporters who despised the other option. The secret opposition saw its chance to act.

Under Pestel’s leadership, the opposition group approached troops stationed in St. Petersburg. Pestel wanted the troops to refuse to swear loyalty to Nicolas and instead support Constantine. Uprisings were planned for December 14 in St. Petersburg and kyiv. But these were poorly planned. Troops loyal to Nicholas easily suppressed the insurgents. On December 13, Pavel Pestel was arrested with four other conspirators. They were all executed a few months later. Another 289 planned insurgents were arrested and sent to prison camps in Siberia. Nicholas ascended the throne and became Nicholas l.

Although the attempted revolution of December 1825 was suppressed, ideas like the abolition of serfdom and a new form of government did not die out. The sentiment surged again in 1905, was suppressed again, and then resurfaced in the revolution of 1917, which led to the creation of the Soviet Union.