During the first years of the reign of Nikolay Pavlovich, his aspiration to put things in order in official bodies, to eradicate abusing and to ratify the legality, gave to the population hope of changes in the good direction.
At the end of 1820s and the beginning of 1830s, the Moscow State University became the center of the public ferment. Among its students were being created circles, in which plans of conducting anti-governmental propaganda (a circle of brothers Kritskie) developed, and also armed revolt and the introduction of the constitutional system (N.P.Sungurov's circle). Gertsen and Ogarev unified a group of supporters of the republic and utopian socialism in the beginning of the 30s. All these student's secret societies existed not for long, because authorities crushed them; the punishment of their participants was severe: prisons, exile, giving in soldiers.
At the same time a student of the Moscow university, V.G.Belinsky (1811-1848), organized "Literary society of the 11th room" in which his anti-serfdom drama 'Dmitry Kalinin" was discussed, questions of philosophy and aesthetics. In result Belinsky in 1832 was sent down from the university. N.V.Stankevich's circle, also at the Moscow university existed a little bit longer. He was distinguished by his liberal political moderation. N.A.Melgunov, K.S.Aksakov, I.and P.Kireevskye and other participants were interested in the German philosophy, especially Hegel, and also in history and literature. After the departure of Stankevich in 1837, the circle gradually broke up. From the end of the 30s the liberal direction took the form of ideological currents of the West and the Slavophilism. They did not have their own publishing organs (till 1856), and discussions were taking place in literary rooms.
Slavophiles, basically thinkers and publicists (A.S.Homyakov, I. V. and P.V.Kireevskie, I. S. and K.S.Aksakovs, Y.F.Samarin) idealized Russia- before-Peter, insisted on its originality that existed in the peasants community, alien of social enmity, and in the Orthodoxy. Westerners, mainly historians and writers (I.S.Turgenev, T.N.Granovsky, S.M.Soloviev, K.D.Kavelin. N.Chicherin), were the supporters of the European way of development and supported the peace transition to parliamentary build.
However, the main position of Slavophiles and Westerners coincided: they supported the realization of political and social reforms from above, and were against revolutions.
The radical direction was generated around magazines "Sovremennik" and "Domestic notes" over which V.G.Belinsky supervised, with A.I.Gertsen and N.A.Nekrasov participation. The supporters of this direction also considered, that Russia would go on the European way of development, but unlike liberals, considered that the revolutionary shocks are inevitable. Up to the middle of the 50s the revolution was a necessary condition for the cancellation of the serfdom and for Gertsen. Having kept away from the Western way of life at the end of the 40s, he came to the idea of "Russian socialism" which was based on the free development of the Russian community and artels in connection with ideas of the European socialism.
The independent figure in the ideological opposition to Nikolay's reign became P.Y.Chaadaev (1794-1856). Denying the official theory of the "surprising" last and "magnificent" present of Russia, Chaadaev stated rather gloomy appreciation of the historical past of Russia and its role in the world history; he pessimistically estimated the possibilities of public progress in Russia. As for him, the main reason of the separation between Russia and the European historical tradition was the refusal of Catholicism for the benefit of the religion of serf slavery, that is Orthodoxy.
The circle of the socialist-utopist M.V.Butashevich-Petrashevsky, occupied a significant place in the history of social movement of the 40s. Since 1845, every Friday in his house, were meeting up friends for discussion of philosophical, literary and political questions. It was F.M.Dostoevsky, A.N.Maikov, I.N.Plesheev, M.E.Saltykov, A.G.Rubinstein, P.P.Semenov. Gradually around the Petrashevsky's circle in St. Petersburg was created an illegal group of his supporters. By the year 1849, a part of Petrashevists, assigning hopes for peasants revolution in Russia, started discussing about plans of the creation of a secret society which purpose would be overthrow of autocracy and the destruction of the serfdom.
In April 1849, the most active members of the circle were arrested, and their intentions were considered by a court of inquiry, as the most dangerous "plot of ideas", and the military court sentenced 21 Petrashevists (among them F.M.Dostoevsky) to death penalty. At the last moment, the sentence was changed to penal servitude and hard labor or exile. The period called by A.I.Gertsen "epoch of the agitation of intellectual interests" finished. In Russia stepped a reaction. A new revival began only in 1856.