Pestel, Pavel

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Pestel’, Pavel Ivanovich


Born June 24 (July 5), 1793, in Moscow; died July 13 (25), 1826, in St. Petersburg. Revolutionary of gentry origin; Decembrist, and colonel. Son of I. B. Pestel’, a high official.

After attending school in Dresden from 1805 to 1809, Pestel’ entered the Corps of Pages in 1810. He graduated the following year as an ensign in the Lithuanian Life Guards Regiment. He fought in the Patriotic War of 1812 and the foreign campaigns of 1813 and 1814. He was appointed commanding officer of the Viatka infantry regiment in 1821.

Pestel’ possessed great scholarly knowledge, outstanding organizational abilities, and a strong will. In 1816 he joined the Union of Salvation and was the principal author of its statutes. Two years later he organized a council of the Union of Welfare in Tul’chin. He convinced the members of the union to adopt a republican program, thus initiating the republican tradition in the Russian liberation movement. He argued the need for regicide and the killing of the entire imperial family. In March 1821 he established and assumed leadership of the Southern Society of Decembrists. He went to St. Petersburg in 1824 seeking to effect the merger of the Northern and Southern societies.

In 1821, Pestel’ began drafting a plan for the socioeconomic and political transformation of Russia. The plan, which Pestel’ called Russkaia Pravda in 1824, was adopted as a political program. The second version of this document gave evidence of a further democratization of its author’s views. It demanded the immediate emancipation of serfs, with subsequent allotment of land, the restriction of estate land tenure, the creation of public and private land funds, the abolition of estate privileges, and the granting of political rights to all males of 20 years and older. Pestel’ was an ardent champion of a republic and governmental centralization. According to The Constitution: A State Covenant, a synopsis of Russkaia Pravda, the unicameral Popular Veche (a Russian parliament) would have legislative power, the Duma of the State would have executive power, and the Supreme Assembly would exercise supervisory power. In its socioeconomic content, the program was bourgeois, with certain democratic elements; in his religious and philosophical views, Pestel’ was a deist. The period in which Pestel’ lived is in some measure responsible for his inconsistent resolution of the issue of estate land tenure and his orientation toward a military revolution unconnected with a mass movement.

In 1825, Pestel’ conducted negotiations with representatives of the Polish Patriotic Society concerning joint revolutionary action. Arrested on Dec. 13, 1825, in Tul’chin, Pestel’ was hanged in Petropavlovsk fortress with four other Decembrists.


Vosstanie dekabristov: Materialy i dokumenty, vols. 4, 7, and 8. Moscow-Leningrad, 1927-58.
Semevskii, V. I. Politicheskie i obshchestvennye idei dekabristov. St. Petersburg, 1909.
Pavlov-Sil’vanskii, N. P. P. I. Pestel’. Petrograd, 1919.
Nechkina, M. V. Dvizhenie dekabristov, vols. 1-2. Moscow, 1955.
Nikandrov, P. F. Mirovozzrenie P. I. Pestelia. Leningrad, 1955.
Lebedev, N. M. Pestel’—ideolog i rukovoditel’ dekabristov. Moscow, 1972.


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