4.-OPENING AN EPOCH.
Years afterwards, Bakunin explained the mental atmosphere of Russia at the time that he studied at the Artillery School. He also outlined the aims and objects of the Decembrist conspiracy. It was the beginning of a new epoch.
No one who was born in America or one of the Western European countries, not even a Frenchman who received his political education under the reign of Napoleon III., or a German who went to school with Bismarck in order to learn how to become a free citizen, or an Italian who suffered under the Austrian yoke, could imagine what a terrible condition Russia was in under the regime of Nicholas. Perhaps, to-day, someone living under Hitlerism, or in Italy, under Mussolini, can imagine the Russia of "Nicholas with the Big Stick."
The accession of Nicholas erected a memorial stone, i.e. the suffocation of the military uprising which had been prepared silently through a great aristocratic conspiracy. This is the movement which we call the conspiracy of December, not because it was started but because it was killed in that month. And when I call that movement an aristocratic one I do not mean to insinuate that their programme was aristocratic. On the contrary, their goal was democratic; in many directions, even socialistic. It was called an aristocratic movement from the fact that nearly all who took part in it belonged to the noble-class, and formed, so to speak, the intelligence of the time.
This was the main object of the Decabrist conspiracy, to end privilege. There were two societies, one in the North and the other in South Russia. The first embraced St. Petersburg and Moscow, as well as the military and official element. It was much more aristocratic and political in the sense of state power than the second one. In it were the Muraviews. The members seriously considered the liberation of the serfs, and laboured to this end. They were, at the same time, great believers in a great and united Russia, with a liberal constitution. As their goal was a united Russia, they were opposed, naturally, to the independence of Poland.
The second, the South Russian society, whose seat was Kiev, was more revolutionary and democratic in the full sense of the word. This society also consisted mostly of officers and officials who hailed from Central Russia. The cause of the more revolutionary character of the organization is to be found in the fact that it was directed by the more thoughtful personalities, such as Colonel Muraview-Apostol, Dotozeff-Rumen, and the genial colonel of the general staff, Pestel.
In a certain sense, Pestel was a federalist and socialist. He was not satisfied with the wish to liberate peasants from their bondage, and give them their personal liberty. He demanded that they