Pestel, Pavel Ivanovich

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(17931826), a leader of the Decembrist movement.

Pavel Ivanovich Pestel, the son of Ivan Borisovich Pestel and Elisaveta Ivanovna von Krok, was born in Moscow into a family of German and Lutheran background. He was sent to Dresden at the age of twelve to be educated, and on his return four years later he joined the Corps of Pages in St. Petersburg, where he began to study political science. On graduating Pestel entered the army and in time joined several secret societies. The most important of these was the Society of Salvation, founded in 1817 and later renamed the Society of Welfare. Several of Pestel's fellow officers had been in Paris and Western Europe during the war against Napoleon, and from them he became familiar with the ideas of the French Revolution. Transferred to the southern Russia in 1818, Pestel organized a local branch of the Society of Welfare, where he and his friends discussed such ideas as constitutional monarchy and republican government, as well as the means by which the imperial family might be coerced into accepting the former or made to abdicate in favor of the latter.

Pestel left two unfinished works, Russkaia Pravda (Russian Truth ) and Prakticheskie nachala politicheskoy ekonomy (Practical Principles of Political Economy ). The first outlines a program for political reform in Russia; the second, a rambling essay on economics, expresses admiration for the prosperity made possible by political freedom in the United States. Pestel's ideas, especially in their tendency to favor radical solutions to the problem of Russia's political backwardness, relied heavily on the ideas of the French writer Antoine Louis Claude Destutt de Tracy, but they had other French and German sources as well.

When Alexander I died in December 1825 there was some confusion about the succession. There was also confusion among those who were plotting a revolt. The more radical revolutionaries were in the south under Pestel's leadership. Betrayed by informants in the Southern Society, Pestel was arrested on December 13, the same day that three thousand soldiers demonstrated in Senate Square in St. Petersburg on behalf of Alexander I's brother, Constantine, who had already given up his claim to the throne in favor of his brother, Nicholas. Pestel's colleague Sergei Muraviev-Apostol attempted to lead a revolt, but it was crushed by imperial troops. Pestel was found guilty of treason and executed in 1826 with four of his fellow revolutionaries, Muraviev-Apostol, Peter Kakhovsky, Mikhail Bestuzhev-Ryumin, and Kondraty Ryleyev.

See also: decembrist movement and rebellion; ryleyev, kondraty fyodorovich


Mazour, Anatole G. (1937). The First Russian Revolution, 1825: The Decembrist Movement: Its Origins, Development, and Significance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Walsh, Warren B. (1968). Russia and the Soviet Union: A Modern History. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Paul Crego