12 September is Alexander Radishchev Memorial Day

On 12 September 1802, Alexander N. Radishchev died (according to unofficial data, he committed suicide). This is Alexander N. Radishchev’s day of remembrance.

Alexander N. Radishchev was born on 31 (20) August 1749 in Moscow. He was the first-born son of the nobleman Nikolai A. Radishchev, the son of Peter I’s orderly.

After receiving a general education in the Corps des Pages military academy, Sasha was sent to the University of Leipzig to study law, where he also studied natural sciences. The writings of French enlighteners played a special role in shaping his worldview.

On his return to Russia in 1771, Radishchev was appointed a protocol officer in the Senate, then served as a legal adviser to the headquarters of the Finnish division in Saint Petersburg. The beginning of his literary activity dates back to this time – he performed a number of translations.

Radishchev paid great attention to the problems of education – he was the founder of Russian revolutionary pedagogy, ethics and aesthetics. He attached importance to the Word (literature, poetry, oratory). His works “The Creation of the World,” “The Lay of Lomonosov” and others were devoted to the active and creative power of the Word. Radishchev’s ode “Freedom” (1783), the first work of Russian revolutionary poetry, was a generalization of historical and political concepts.

Radishchev’s next work was “The Life of Fyodor V. Ushakov” (1789), where some of his essays were included. Taking advantage of the decree on free printing houses of Catherine II, Radishchev started his own printing house at home. In 1790, he printed there his “Letter to a friend who lives in Tobolsk due to the duty of his rank.”

After him, Radishchev published his main work, “A Journey From Saint Petersburg to Moscow.” Having first shown the utter lawlessness and powerlessness that reigned in all areas of Russian life, the author directly pointed out the main sources of evil – autocracy and serfdom. He led the reader to the conclusion that the only means of changing life is the complete breakdown of political and social relations, the destruction of the autocratic-serf system through a people’s revolution. At the same time, Radishchev made it clear that there were no conditions for a revolution in modern Russia.

The book was quickly sold out. Its bold arguments about serfdom and other negative phenomena of contemporary social and state life attracted the attention of the Empress herself. Although the book was published with the permission of the established censorship, prosecution began against the author.

Radishchev was arrested. The court sentenced him to death, which the Empress replaced with deprivation of rank and nobility. He was exiled to Siberia for 10 years.

Soon after the accession of Paul I, in 1797, Radishchev was transferred to one of his father’s estates in Kaluga Governorate under police supervision. In exile, he created a philosophical treatise “On Man, on his Mortality and Immortality” and a number of economic, historical and poetical works.

When Alexander I became Emperor of Russia, Radishchev was “forgiven”, summoned to Saint Petersburg and assigned to serve in the Commission for drafting laws. In legal works and legislative projects, he carried out the previous ideas, demanding the destruction of serfdom and class privileges.

On 24 (12) September 1802, in response to the threat of a new exile, Radishchev committed suicide by taking poison. It was a realization of the concept of the human right to suicide as a form of protest. Although the burial records mentioned his natural death – for example, in the bulletin of the Volkovsky cemetery church in Saint Petersburg, among those buried is listed “collegiate adviser Alexander Radishchev; fifty-three years old, died of consumption.”

Alexander Radishchev’s ideas had a significant impact on Pushkin, Herzen, the Decembrists, on all subsequent generations of Russian revolutionaries, on Russian poetry and the development of realism in literature.


President of the Union of Criminalists and Criminologists

Igor M. Matskevich

Translated by Elizaveta Ovchinnikova

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