Northern Society of Decembrists

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Northern Society of Decembrists


a secret revolutionary organization in Russia that existed from 1821 to 1825, the largest organization in the Decembrist movement. The Northern Society was established in St. Petersburg as a successor to the Union of Welfare. The founders of the society were N. M. Murav’ev, N. I. Turgenev, M. S. Lunin, S. P. Trubetskoi, and E. P. Obolenskii. The bylaws, adopted in December 1823, declared the organization’s ultimate goal to be the establishment of a republic; they also outlined the society’s structure and the activities of its members. At the head of the organization was a duma, consisting of three persons elected for a term of one year. The society also had a number of groups. Members were divided into two categories: the “elders,” or “committed,” and the “subscribers.” The former elected the duma and oversaw its activities, admitted new members, and headed the various groups. No action could be undertaken without the consent of the elders. The rights of the “subscribers” were very limited.

The most important ideological document to come out of the Northern Society of Decembrists was the Constitution of N. Murav’ev, a program that outlined changes to be implemented by a revolution in Russia. Although not adopted as the program of the entire society, it was supported by many members who were partisans of moderate reforms and tactics, such as the establishment of a constitutional monarchy, the preservation of gentry landholding, and the continued dependence of the peasants on the gentry.

In 1823, K. F. Ryleev joined the Northern Society, pushing it toward a more democratic and radical position. The bolder members of the organization, including the brothers A. A. Bes-tuzhev, N. A. Bestuzhev, and M. A. Bestuzhev, I. I. Pushchin, P. G. Kakhovskii, A. I. Odoevskii, W. K. Küchelbecker, and A. I. Iakubovich, rallied around Ryleev, and from late 1824 theirs was the predominant influence in the society. Under the influence of the Ryleev group and P. I. Pestel’, who visited St. Petersburg in 1824, the Northern Society moved closer to the revolutionary program of the Southern Society of Decembrists.

Both societies planned a joint action for 1826, but the change in circumstances connected with the death of Emperor Alexander I forced the Northern Society to act on Dec. 14, 1825. According to the plan worked out by the society, the Senate was to be compelled, by force of arms, to proclaim the overthrow of the government and the convocation of a Constituent Assembly, which would decide the question of a constitution and the form of government in Russia. However, indecision and a narrow dvorianstvo (gentry) outlook, characteristic of all the Decembrists, caused the failure of this first organized armed uprising against the autocracy.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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