Questions and Anwers: Russia
1. What effect did the Decembrist Revolt had upon the character of Czarist rule?
The rising of the Decembrist Russia was due to a momentary confusion over the succession. In 1825, Alexander I died suddenly. Alexander's younger brother, Constantine, who was next in line, had no desire to assume the troublesome burden of ruling and unsettled and distrusted empire, so he renounced his right of succession in favour of his brother Nicholas. Nicholas, however, had been left unaware of the official details of the change and on learning of Alexander's death he proclaimed Constantine emperor at St. Petersburg, at the same time as Constantine in Warsaw was proclaiming Nicholas. For nearly three weeks in December 1825 the throne remained vacant.
Russian officers and troops had come into contact with currents of liberal thought, with new social conditions, and with new political institutions in western Europe during the struggle against Napoleon. Upon their return home they saw that the idea of the rights of man was regarded with contempt by their rulers, that their country by trodden under the heel of an autocracy which made all progress impossible. As they had no legitimate means making their desires known, they organised secret societies which agitated for reforms, including the establishment of a constitution. These societies, afterwards called the Decembrists, were planning a widespread uprising but, when Alexander suddenly died, resolved to take advantage of the uncertainty that existed regarding the succession to attempt a coup d'etat. But the plotters had no clear plan or organisation and had made no adequate preparations. They were crushed with great severity. Thus, the Decembrist Revolution came to an end and a regime of the darkest autocracy began.
Nicholas I, a narrow-minded man with strong conviction, never forgot the rebellion. It is reported that for the rest of his life he trembled at the "spectre of revolution". To forestall any further attempts to change the status quo he fought liberal ideas relentlessly, seeking to stamp them out by every means at his command. A ruthless suppression of all liberal views was organised by the police--- the "Third Section of the Chancellery". It was a higher police authority designed to prevent any resurgence of Decembrist activities. It operated partly through a force of military gendarmerie, divided into districts so as to cover the whole of Russia and commanded by upper-class officers. The secret societies, accordingly, were swept away, but not the need for them nor the ideals they had stood for. In addition, a large network of secret agent, including women and even school children, furnished reports on political and religious dissidents, foreigners living in Russia, and other categories of suspects. To prevent the spread of liberal ideas a strict censorship was imposed upon the press, and firm control was established over the bureaucracy and the army. Not only so, but Uvarov as minister of education made it his business to build "intellectual dams to hold up the flow of new ideas into Russia" and introduced a stricter regime in the universities themselves, placing the appointment of professors, the control of students behaviour and the scope of the curriculum like under ministerial supervision. Only - limited number of students were permitted to attend the universities because the government needed only a limited number of educated servants. Education for others was a "pernicious luxury" in the eyes of Nicholas. He particularly opposed the education of the poor because, as he put it, they "became accustomed to a way of life, the way of thinking, and to idea which are not compatible with their position." In March 1848, the Czar withdrew permission for teachers to travel abroad, and a subsequent remodeling of the universities gave an opportunity for banning the study of the constitutionally of European states.
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