To what degree was the Decembrist movement revolutionary?

So far, we have read texts providing for a governmental “revolution” written by emperors themselves. The texts we have read for Monday’s class are thus unique in that they were written by members of a “military intelligentsia” who lacked the power to reform the government without some sort of coup. As such, should we consider the revolution of such characters as Pestel’, Trubetskoy, Murav’ev, and the members of the Union of Welfare as fundamentally different from those of Peter and Catherine the Great? In many ways, the documents produced by this “military intelligentsia” resemble Catherine’s Nakaz in the enlightenment influenced reforms they propose. Nonetheless, unlike Catherine’s, these documents directly attack the empire in both its current and past form. Whereas Catherine praised Peter the Great as a Europeanizer, Murav’ev attacks Peter the Great and his table of ranks for apparently the same reason in outlining his chapter on citizenship in his proposed constitution:

The division of men into fourteen classes is terminated. Civil ranks that were borrowed from the Germans, and which differ very little among themselves, are abolished in conformity with the ancient customs of the Russian people. Such titles and classes as freeholders, merchants, nobles, and eminent citizens are replaced by citizen or Russian.

This document, in a vein similar to those of the maxims outlined in the project for United Slavs, suggests a “revolutionary” turn away from Europe towards a Russia with a distinct national identity despite its markedly European enlightened government. Perhaps, then, the Decembrists could be called revolutionary in that they focused on a Russian, rather than a European national identity?

The question of violence must also be considered. Despite the fact that many of these Decembrists were part of an enlightened “military intelligentsia” they seemed unwilling to participate in a violent overthrow of the empire. Pestel’ himself says that chaos, disorder, and civil war were the Decembrists “implacable enemies.” Nonetheless, the Decembrist uprising seemed to fail precisely because of this lack of violence. Saunders seems to suggest as much when he notes “If the rebels had seized the initiative, the government forces may have changed sides.” Without this violent initiative can the Decembrist uprising be called truly revolutionary?

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