Radischev’s book A Journey from Saint Petersburg to Moscow (1790) criticized the social and political foundations of the Russian Empire so strongly that the government of Empress Catherine II banned the book and ordered Radischev’s beheading (a sentence later commuted to exile in Siberia). In condemning serfdom, Radischev also implicitly criticized the autocracy, the established social order, and Russia’s claim to full membership in Western civilization. His book was also unappreciated in Russia because it coincided with, and was influenced by, the French Revolution.
Although Radishchev was fully pardoned in 1801, he was demoralized by his exile. His later writings were deliberately noncontroversial. In 1802 he committed suicide after receiving criticism for his work in a state legal commission.
After Radishchev’s suicide, A Journey from Saint Petersburg to Moscow continued to circulate illegally within Russia, where it was interpreted as a protest against tyranny that won Radischev mythic status in the eyes of later social critics. Often called the “father” of Russian social radicalism and the first repentant nobleman, Radischev inspired numerous followers, including Alexander Pushkin, the Decembrists, and Alexander Herzen. His book remained accessible to later generations; it was reprinted in London in 1858, was published in Russia during the reign of Czar Nicholas II, and was reissued by Joseph Stalin’s regime in 1935.