The Decembrist Revolt of 1825, although an immediate and clear failure, succeeded in setting the stage for later revolutionaries to topple the Russian autocracy. The Decembrists were a group of disgruntled, educated elite calling for the security of the individual in Russian society and the improvement of Russian administration, particularly in regards to the corrupt judiciary. Most of these men were young, some even adolescent, and their age showed in the uprising’s lack of organization. The three thousand men who formed in Senate Square assumed that their cause would attract other guard units who were angered and confused by the succession of Nicholas to the throne, but no additional mutineers rose up and Nicholas quashed the display without a problem. The Decembrists were largely the product of European influence and domestic disappointment about the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars.
Napoleon’s invasion of Russia helped to foster significant amounts of nationalist pride within the country. When he was ultimately defeated, many of the countries he previously occupied, including Poland, received constitutions. Many of the enlightened Russian elite felt snubbed as some of Tsar Alexander’s prior reforms bred optimism about Russia moving towards a constitutional monarchy, but this did not come to fruition. Raeff attributes the distinction between the Decembrists and the generation before them to this optimism, which led to disappointment when Russia remained largely stagnant. The static nature of Russian culture starkly contrasted Western Europe. Much of the Decembrists inspiration came from the enlightenment and other Western ideals so the changes abroad became increasingly important in the actions of Russian Revolutionaries.
Enlightenment ideals developed into the Decembrist distrust for autocracy. The young men who orchestrated this uprising were the dregs of the previously powerful Russian nobility, but they found themselves increasingly at odds with their all powerful ruler. The rise of the bureaucracy had absorbed most of the responsibilities and powers previously reserved for the nobility and the threat of obsoletism was real. Despite the issues surrounding their decline in prominence, these young elite truly took on the ideals of the enlightenment. They felt the plight of the serfs in Russia and most believed the abolishment of serfdom was a necessary part of making their society just. The physical act of the Decembrist Revolt closely mimicked many of the eighteenth-century coups put on by palace guards, but their ideals set them apart and gave them a lasting legacy. Their sincere desire to better the lives of all their fellow Russians earned them the title of “the fathers and first martyrs of the Russian Revolution.”
Raeff, Marc. The Decembrists.