Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Reflections on the Black Hundreds
Contrary to what most believe, most of what the Black Hundreds did to further their cause was peaceful. They held special prayer meetings and Church services, organized lectures to educate the public on the sacred nature of the monarchy, the central role of the Church and the dangers posed by the revolutionaries. They held marches and demonstrations to show their loyalty to their Czar and to counter opposition rallies held by the revolutionary crowd. This is something that, while not being the whole story, is invariably ignored altogether but the fact is that the major of the activity of the Black Hundreds was completely non-violent and consisted of praying for their Czar and motherland and educating the populace on the importance of faith, loyalty and the Orthodox monarchy. However, there is also no denying the fact that there were those among the Black Hundreds who went further and not a few. This is the part that most historians talk about and are only too happy to relate. Anyone who has read anything about this period of Russian history will certainly have heard of the assortment of assassinations, violent demonstrations and pogroms in which the Black Hundreds were implicated. They are also usually quick to point out the support for the Black Hundreds that came from the Imperial Family when mentioning these.
Several politicians, for example, who had shown themselves to be enemies of the monarchy, were assassinated by elements of the Black Hundreds. Regardless of what one thinks of such actions, the fact is that they paled in comparison to the number of assassinations carried out by the revolutionaries and their motivations were completely different. Acts of violence committed by the revolutionaries were done in an effort to derail the legitimate Russian government, to thwart actions to improve the country and to cause chaos and turmoil. The acts of violence committed by the Black Hundreds were done in an effort to destroy treasonous elements (who made no secret of their treason by the way but in fact gloried in their status as traitors) and to protect the Russian Empire as it existed and had always existed. When they found revolutionaries or people supporting what was essentially treason or anyone who threatened the Russian monarchy, Orthodoxy or the unity of the Russian Empire, they took action. The revolutionaries were not playing by the rules, as it were, so the Black Hundreds saw no reason why they should not respond in kind. If the revolutionaries were prepared to kill to destroy the Russian Empire, the Black Hundreds were willing to kill to protect it.
There was, without question, plenty of anti-Semitism in the ranks of the Black Hundreds. The Jews were seized upon as a primary enemy, if not the primary enemy of everything that the Black Hundreds stood for. There is no denying that and it is clearly wrong to persecute anyone who was innocent of any crime. That is something pretty widely accepted. Just as important though, is to understand where this animosity came from and why it was not terribly surprising. There were certainly many Jews who were unjustly persecuted but there is also no denying the fact that the Jewish population was greatly overrepresented in the ranks of the revolutionary agitators. A disproportionate number of the revolutionaries plotting acts of terrorism to bring down the monarchy were, in fact, Jews. Given that, it is at least understandable why the defenders of the Russian monarchy would often take on an anti-Semitic mindset. Their fear and suspicion toward the Jews was not completely unwarranted. Plenty of Jews, in and outside of Russia, were enemies of the Russian Empire and made no secret of the fact. During the Russo-Japanese War for example, the Japanese war effort was bankrolled by a prominent German-American Jew named Jacob Schiff who loaned Japan huge amounts of money because he detested the way Jews were treated in Russia and hoped that a Japanese victory would destroy the Russian Empire.
Such attitudes are, of course, completely absurd. In the case of the Black Hundreds, however, the villainy they attributed to the Jews was exaggerated but not totally unfounded. Their fears and suspicions were based on real threats and, as stated above, among those who were threatening the very existence of the Russian Empire, who were building bombs, assassinating royals and colluding with enemy nations, the Jews were disproportionately represented. How most of the Black Hundreds felt about the Jews is well known but what is less well known is why they felt that way. This was not blind hatred that came out of nowhere. Any enemy of the Russian monarchy was an enemy of the Black Hundreds and, unfortunately, many of the enemies of the Russian monarchy were Jews. It is unfortunate that some went too far with that but, given the context of when the Black Hundreds were at their peak, they were not something to be condemned. I certainly would not. It was a violent time and many tragic things happened but when their country and their Czar were being threatened, the Black Hundreds decided to do something about it, to take action and do whatever they could to defend that which was most precious to them and that is something I find laudable.