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Butashevich-Petrashevsky, Mikhail Vasilievich


(18211866), Russian revolutionary democrat and political organizer.

A graduate of St. Petersburg University Law Department and a clerk at the Foreign Ministry, Mikhail Butashevich-Petrashevsky founded (in 1844) and headed a clandestine society of educated youth, from moderate to radical, that were opposed to Tsarism and serfdom. The "Petrashevskians" (petrashevtsy) held gatherings at his home on Fridays; their members included Fyodor Dostoyevsky, then an upstart story writer, and a future nationalist thinker Nikolai Danilevsky. Petrashevskians engaged in the study of Western democratic and socialist thought, in particular, the works of Charles Fourier, French utopian socialist and advocate of reorganizing society into a federation of grassroots communes (falanstères). Petrashevsky apparently organized a falanstère in his own estate, although it was subsequently destroyed by peasants. Petrashevskians authored and published two issues of The Pocket Dictionary of Foreign Words (1846, 1849) that included explanations for a number of terms from the "revolutionary" lexicon and was later used against them as incriminating evidence. They also disseminated the Letter of Belinsky to Gogol that was banned in Russia. Their circle is viewed as Russia's closest reflection of the revolutionary movements of 1848 in Western and Central Europe. In 1849, with the onset of political repression in Russia after the revolutions in Europe had been crushed, Petrashevsky was arrested together with other members of his circle. Most of them, except himself, pleaded guilty of anti-government activities, and all were sentenced to death, but the sentence was revoked by Nicholas I; the announcement was made at the last moment at the scene of the execution. For Petrashevsky, death penalty was replaced by a lifetime sentence to forced labor in a penal colony in Eastern Siberia. In 1856 he declined the pardon offered by Alexander II to political prisoners as part of the general amnesty.

See also: danilevsky, nikolai yakovlevich; dostoyevsky, fyodor mikhailovich; petrashevtsy


Evans John L. (1974). The Petrasevskij Circle, 18451849. The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton.

Dmitri Glinski

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