Why didn’t the “right” defend the monarchy in 1917?

PHOTO: Demonstration of the Black Hundreds in Odessa shortly after the announcement of the Manifesto on 17th October 1905[1]

The crisis of the Russian monarchy lasted more than a dozen years. It began during the Revolution of 1905-1907, which forced Nicholas II to make concessions, and ended in 1917, when he was forced to abdicate.

The February 1917 Revolution did not meet any organized resistance at all, neither from the Black Hundreds[2], nor from the military elite, nor from officials or the “moderate right”. Few of Russia’s military elite stood by Nicholas II, including Count Fyodor Arturovich Keller[3] (1857-1918); Alexander Pavlovich Kutepov[4] (1882-1930) and Commander of the Guard Cavalry Corps Huseyn Khan Nakhchivanski[5] (1863-1919) defended both their Emperor and the monarchy. In 1917, the conservative forces in Russia either left the political scene or were forced to “play by new rules.”

It is clear that by 1917 the Black Hundreds had greatly thinned out, were split and even in the Duma itself no longer had any particularly influence in the state of affairs. It is clear that the military could not leave the front and storm the insurgent Petrograd. It is clear that representatives of the military elite, industrialists, “moderate rightists”, even some monarchists like Vasily Vitalyevich Shulgin[6] (1878-1976) took an active part in the revolution itself.

Nevertheless, a number of features of “February” made the resistance of the pro-monarchist elements complicated and senseless. How so?

Circumstances led to a situation in which the Russian monarchists had to become “greater royalists than the Tsar himself.”

It was their belief, that as Nicholas II himself had abdicated the throne, it meant that he freed the rest of his supporters from any obligations to the monarch. Researcher A.A. Ivanov notes an important difference between the Revolution of 1917 and the Revolution of 1905:

“Taking into account past mistakes, the leaders of the liberal opposition managed to play the patriotic card, depriving the right of their main trump card – the monopoly on patriotism. Patriotic rhetoric allowed the liberal opposition (in contrast to the times of the first Russian revolution) to establish close contact with the highest ranks of the army and attract them to their side … thus, leading to the rapid defeat of the right in 1917.”

PHOTO: Meeting of the Local Council of the Orthodox Church in the Moscow Diocesan House, which existed from August 1917 to September 1918 (!). The Patriarch was elected in November 1917, already de facto under the Bolsheviks.

Following the example of the liberal opposition, the Bolsheviks also began using patriotic rhetoric to further their cause. Lenin would scream out slogans, such as “The Socialist Fatherland is in danger”, etc. Patriotism is a powerful tool, especially when used correctly and the right words are chosen.

Many future White generals in their memoirs write about the mistakes of the Provisional Government. And they themselves sometimes answer the question of why they didn’t intervene: they would have intervened, “had it not been for the war against the Germans, it’s impossible to turn it into a Civil War, and the Tsar had abdicated”.

Patriotic rhetoric and the formal “voluntary” abdication of the Emperor turned the hypothetical attempts of the right to change the situation into a rebellion against the will of the monarch, in a situation of war with an external enemy.

“The weakness and fragmentation of the monarchist forces, the self-elimination of the government, the “voluntary” abdication of the Tsar and the national character of the revolution, which met with the widest support in all strata of Russian society, deprived the political struggle for the restoration of autocracy … ” added A. A. Ivanov.

A few words must be said here about the Church[7]. After all, de facto, these are the main “pillars” of any monarchy – military power and religion. Russia has never been an exception in this regard. In 1917, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church promptly changed the texts of oaths (ordination to the clergy) and prayers (“now we pray for the Provisional Government”), their actions thus recognizing the new shift in power. Those who disagreed were dismissed (as in the army). They even recommended that monarchical literature be removed from the parishes.

There is also a point of view according to which the church was interested in February, since the fall of the monarchy allowed it to free itself from the “excessive tutelage of the state” (which will also later play against them, as in the case of the liberal opposition).

In any case, in 1917, both the military and civilian “right”, simply had nothing to rely on. Foreign policy, the balance of power, brute force, ideology – everything now worked against them …


[1] The Manifesto was issued by Nicholas II, under the influence of Sergei Witte (1849–1915), on 30 October [O.S. 17 October] 1905 as a response to the Russian Revolution of 1905. Nicholas strenuously resisted these ideas, but gave in after his first choice to head a military dictatorship, his first cousin once removed Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich (1856-1929), threatened to shoot himself in the head if the Tsar did not accept Witte’s suggestion. Nicholas reluctantly agreed, and issued what became known as the October Manifesto, promising basic civil rights and an elected parliament called the Duma, without whose approval no laws were to be enacted in Russia in the future.

[2] The Black Hundreds, was a reactionary, monarchist and ultra-nationalist movement in Russia in the early 20th century. It was a staunch supporter of the House of Romanov and opposed any retreat from the autocracy of the reigning monarch.

The Black Hundreds were founded on a devotion to Tsar, church and motherland, and lived by the motto: “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality”. Despite certain program differences, all of the Black Hundreds organizations had one goal in common, namely their struggle against the revolutionary movement.

[3] Keller was military leader of the Russian Imperial Army and cavalry general. He was one of the leaders of the White movement in the South of Russia in 1918, a monarchist. He remained loyal to Nicholas II until the end of his life.

On 6th March 1917, Keller sent a telegram addressed to Nicholas II, in which he expressed indignation on behalf of the corps and himself against the troops that had joined the rebels, and also asked the Tsar not to leave the Throne.

The intercepted telegram came to the attention of General Mannerheim, who made an attempt to persuade Keller to submit to the Provisional Government, or, at least, to persuade him to refuse to influence his subordinates in this regard. However, the count did not make concessions, refused to swear allegiance to the Provisional Government, saying:

I’m a Christian and I think it’s a sin to change my oath.”

[4] Kutepov was a Russian military leader, general from infantry (1920), pioneer, active participant in the White movement, and a devout monarchist. Between 1928-1930, he served as Chairman of the Russian General Military Union (ROVS).

During the February Revolution, Colonel Kutepov, who was on a short vacation in Petrograd , was the only senior officer who tried to organize effective resistance to the insurgents.

On 26th January 1930, Kutepov was kidnapped in Paris by Soviet intelligence agents. Documents about the circumstances, place and time of his death are still secret and inaccessible to historians.

[5] A Muslim by religion, Khan Nakhchivanski remained loyal to the Russian Orthodox emperor and refused to swear allegiance to the Provisional Government.

When in the winter of 1917 the February Revolution began in Petrograd, he sent a telegram to the headquarters of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief to offer Nicholas II the use of his corps for suppression of the revolt, but Nicholas II never received this telegram.

It is presumed by a number of historians that Khan Nakhchivanski was executed in February 1919 together with four Romanov Grand Dukes in the Peter and Paul Fortress. However the exact circumstances of Khan Nakhchivanski’s death and his burial place still remain unknown.

[6] Shulgin was a Russian conservative monarchist, politician and member of the White movement. Shulgin opposed the revolution, but he was opposed to the idea of an absolute monarchy in Russia. Together with Alexander Guchkov (1862-1936) he persuaded Nicholas II to abdicate the throne since he believed that a constitutional monarchy with Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich (1878-1918) being the monarch was possible, and that this or even a republic, if a strong government was established, would be a remedy for Russia. For the same reason he supported the Provisional Government and Kornilov’s coup. When all hope was lost he moved to Kiev where he participated in the White movement.

[7] Click HERE to read my article How the Orthodox Church supported the overthrow of the monarchy, published on 8th March 2020

© Paul Gilbert. 14 December 2021

Nicholas II, the Union of the Russian People and the Black Hundreds

History tells us of the assassination and murder by revolutionaries of ministers and other government officials during the reign of Russia’s last tsar Nicholas II, however, there were a number of powerful counter-revolutionary political organizations and groups who carried out their own campaigns after the 1905 Revolution.

The most popular among them were the Union of the Russian People (URP), known not just for their anti-socialist, anti-liberal, and anti-Semitic views. but also for standing up against revolutionaries in defence of the monarchy and the Tsar.

The Union of the Russian People (URP) was a loyalist right-wing nationalist political party, the largest among the Black Hundreds monarchist political organizations in the Russian Empire between 1905 and 1917.

Who, making prayer, honours the people and the Tsar, in whom neither conscience nor mind staggers, who saves Russia from troubles under a hail of slander, he is called the Black Hundred!

For Faith, Tsar and Fatherland!

Orthodoxy! Autocracy! Nationality!

Holy Russia, keep the Orthodox faith, in it is your affirmation!

The movement was founded in October 1905, by two minor government officials Alexander Dubrovin (see below) and Vladimir Purishkevich, who participated in the killing of Grigori Rasputin in 1916. The URP’s aim was to rally the Russian people behind nationalism and the Tsar. By 1906 it had over 300,000 members. Its paramilitary armed bands, called the Black Hundreds, fought revolutionaries violently in the streets. Its leaders organised a series of political assassinations of deputies and other representatives of parties which supported the Russian Revolution of 1905.

Monarchy is an idea, a moral idea, that is, the idea of ​​harmony and justice, honesty and decency, trust and respect of people for each other. The monarchy is based on the best qualities of the human conscience and strives to maximize human self-realization, not as a unit of the electorate, but as a highly spiritual and self-sufficient person. A monarchist will not agree that the state should be ruled by a politician, instead he will prefer a person who has been trained and educated to rule. 

In his book “Manual of the Monarchist – Black Hundreds” (1906), the founder of the Black Hundreds Vladimir Andreevich Gringmut (1851-1907) wrote: “The enemies of the autocracy called the “Black Hundreds” simple Russian people, which during the armed revolt of 1905 stood up and defended the autocratic Tsar. Is this an honourable name, “Black Hundred”? Yes, very honourable!”

In 1905, the Union of the Russian People was established to protect the Faith, Tsar and Fatherland from godless revolutionaries The emergence of the Union of the Russian People in the fall of 1905, when all major cities of the Russian Empire were engulfed in revolutionary unrest, and the murders of the Tsar’s loyal servants had become an almost daily occurrence. Nearly 1000 Black Hundred organizations sprang up across the Empire, calling on the Russian people to stand under the banners bearing the sacred words for any Russian Orthodox patriot: “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality.” Among them were the Society for the Active Struggle against Revolution and Anarchy that emerged in St. Petersburg, the Russian Assembly, the Society of Russian Patriots in Moscow, the Russian Brotherhood in Kiev, the Patriotic Society in Tiflis, the Tsar-People’s Russian Society in Kazan, the People’s Monarchist the party in Saratov, the White Banner Union in Nizhny Novgorod, the People’s Party of Order in Kursk,

The Russian people woke up and all over the country rising up to fight against revolutionary sedition, creating for these purposes numerous national unions, societies and organizations. But the Union of the Russian People had become a truly massive, all-Russian movement, rallying many thousands of Russian patriots under its banners. It is quite symbolic that the Union first declared itself on 4th November (O.S. 22nd October), 1905, on the day of the Feast of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, on the day of overcoming the turmoil of the 17th century.

The first organizational meeting of the Union took place on 21st November (O.S. 4th December) 1905, in  the Mikhailovsky Manege in St. Petersburg. The meeting was attended by more than 20,000 people, including members of the clergy, monarchists, and prominent members of the nobility.

The Union’s Manifesto expressed a ‘plebeian mistrust’ of every political party, as well as the bureaucracy and the intelligentsia. The group looked at these as obstacles to ‘the direct communion between the Tsar and his people’. This struck a deep chord with Nicholas II, who also shared the deep belief in re-establishment of autocratic personal rule, as had existed in the Muscovite state of the 1600s.

PHOTO: John of Kronstadt (1829-1909)

Several prominent members of the Russian Orthodox Church supported the organisation, among them the Imperial family’s close friend and future Orthodox Saint John of Kronstadt (1829-1909), Hieromonk Iliodor (1880-1952), and Hermogenes, Bishop of Tobolsk and Siberia (1858-1918). It also had support from leading members of the Imperial Court and government, including Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevich (1856-1929), Alexander Trepov (Prime Minister from 1916-17), and Minister of the Interior Nikolay Maklakov (1871-1918).

Emperor Nicholas II was highly supportive of the Union and patronised it: he wore the badge of the Union, and wished the Union and its leaders ‘total success’ in their efforts to unite what he called ‘loyal Russians’ in defence of the autocracy. The Tsar also gave orders to provide funds for the Union, and the Ministry of the Interior complied by funding the Union’s newspapers.

Following the 1905 Revolution, the Union was horrified by Tsar Nicholas II’s refusal to strike down harshly on the Leftist revolutionaries. The Union, therefore, decided to organise this for the Tsar, and organised paramilitary bands, which came to be known as the ‘Black Hundreds’ by the democrats, to fight revolutionaries in the streets. These militant groups marched through the streets holding in their pockets knives and brass knuckles, and carrying religious symbols such as icons and crosses and imperial ones such as patriotic banners and portraits of Tsar Nicholas II.

PHOTO: «Ру́сское зна́мя» (Russian Banner), newspaper of the URP

On 28th November 1905, the first issue of the printed organ of the Union of the Russian People – the newspaper «Ру́сское зна́мя» (Russian Banner) was published. The newspaper with a very symbolic name soon became the flagship of patriotic journalism, the fighting organ of the Russian resistance to the growing political turmoil.

On 23rd December 1905, Emperor Nicholas II received a deputation of 24 members of the Union of the Russian People, headed by its leader Alexander Ivanovich Dubrovin (born 1855).

During the reception, Fr. Arseny presented the Tsar with an icon of the Archangel Michael, under whose shadow the Union was born, and made a very welcoming speech. Dubrovin read out an address in which he reported to the Tsar about the rapid growth of the Union’s membership throughout the Empire, noting that “the heart of the people sensed that the Union of the Russian People rallied for an important and urgent matter.” The chairman assured the Tsar of the loyalty of members of the organization to him.

In conclusion, Dubrovin presented the Emperor with the insignia of the Union of the Russian People for both Himself and and for his son and Heir Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich, asking him to accept them on behalf of the Union. The Emperor, having carefully examined them, received them, thanking Dubrovin. By accepting the insignia, the Tsar and Tsesarevich thus became members of the Union of the Russian People.

Apollon Maikov, who read the address from a group of loyal residents in the capital, fervently concluded: “Sovereign, we will all die for you!” The Tsar, who graciously accepted the deputation, wished the Union of the Russian People to grow and prosper, expressing the hope that with the help of God and the Russian People, He would be able to accomplish a lot for the good of Russia. Thanking everyone, the Tsar praised the monarchists: “Trust in God and trust in Me”. The good news of the highest reception of the Union deputation, the gracious treatment extended by the Sovereign to its members and his acceptance of their insignia as a member of the organization contributed to the further growth of the Union’s ranks and the realization of their activities.

Another significant event in the life of the Union of the Russian People was the solemn consecration of the banner of the Union, which took place on 26th November 1906 on the day of memory of the Holy Great Martyr and Victorious George (consecration of the Church of the Great Martyr. George in Kiev) in the Mikhailovsky Manege in the presence of about 30 thousand supporters. To the general joy of those present at this solemn event, Fr. John of Kronstadt, who, ascending the dais, bowed on all four sides to the people, who, in turn, responded with a low bow to the revered priest. Fr. John spoke to the monarchists, the essence of which was that “as a body without a soul is dead, so Russia is dead without an all-enlightening Orthodox Faith and life-creating Autocratic Power.” Then Bishop Sergius (Stragorodsky) arrived, and the divine service began, culminating in the singing of many years to the Sovereign and the House of Romanov, as well as to the founders and leaders of the Union of the Russian People and eternal memory to all who fell for the Faith, the Tsar and the Fatherland. Having sprinkled the Union banner with holy water, Fr. John of Kronstadt, kissing the banner with reverence, handed it to Dubrovin, after which the Black Hundreds, who were present at the consecration of the banner and banner, swore allegiance to Orthodoxy, Autocracy and the Russian people.

PHOTO: “The days of vengeance have befallen us …
let us repent so that the Lord will not destroy us”
From the Collection of the State Museum of the History of Religion, St. Petersburg

Between 1905-1907, an unknown artist painted “The days of vengeance have befallen us … let us repent so that the Lord will not destroy us”, marking the 1905 revolution and the creation of the Union of the Russian People. The ideological component of the painting is a call to the Russian people to abandon the revolution, to repent for participating in it; protect the tsar and preserve the monarchy, otherwise the wrath of God will overtake Russia and the Russian people will perish.

While many believe that the artist of the painting is unknown, a number of prominent contemporary Russian experts believe with a high degree of probability, that the artist is Apollon Apollonovich Maikov, one of the founders of the Union of the Russian People. His work depicts the founders of the Union of the Russian People, with the inscription

“Now, following the example of angels, the main founders of the Union of the Russian People. In the sacred books it is said that when people deviated into idolatry, God destroyed them”.

In the centre of the painting, under a light conical pillar that rises to the sky, is the Crucifixion . Near the Crucifixion in the same pillar are depicted the Emperor Nicholas II praying to God for the salvation of Russia, his wife Alexandra Feodorovna and their children. Above the Crucifixion there are two soaring angels with a crown in their hands. The light pillar, which rises to the sky and in which the Romanovs are depicted, symbolizes prayer. A conical pillar is connected to a light cloud. The New Testament Trinity is depicted inside the cloud and around it, in the same bright cloud, praying saints… The connection of the pillar and the cloud symbolizes the connection of the prayer of the celestials – the saints and the Imperial family. In the lower part of the picture, around the praying Imperial family, the Black Hundreds defenders of the monarchy with flags of Russia are depicted, among them in the foreground are the founders of the Union of the Russian People. In the center is Hegumen Arseny, who holds the Cross and the Gospel in his hands, next to him is John of Kronstadt, who holds the Cross in his hands; on the right and left sides of them – the remaining 12 founders of the Union of the Russian People: Alexander Dubrovin; Ivan Baranov; Vladimir Purishkevich; Nikolay Oznobishin; Vladimir Gringmut; Prince Alexander Shcherbatov; Pavel Bulatsel; Rostislav Tregubov; Nikolay Zhedenov; Nikolay Bolshakov; Father Iliodor; and Apollon Maikov. Hegumen Arseny and Archpriest John of Kronstadt symbolize the Saviour, and the twelve other founders of the Lord’s disciples are the apostles; who, like angels, protect the autocartic power from the demons- revolutionaries; the revolution itself, according to the author of the picture, is idolatry .

The semi-ring of the Black Hundreds depicted in the picture is surrounded by revolutionaries with red banners. Individual revolutionaries have pistols in their hands, from which they shoot at the Black Hundred monarchists; some of whom fall dead. Fiery bonfires and pools of blood are depicted between monarchists and revolutionaries. Shots, puddles of blood and bonfires symbolize terrorism and the 1905-1907 revolution in Russia. In the upper part of the picture, black clouds are depicted around the light cloud in which the New Testament Trinity is located; lightning bolts are directed from the clouds to the heads of the revolutionaries. Lightning bolts symbolize the wrath of God against the revolutionaries.

The painting today hangs in the State Museum of the History of Religion, St. Petersburg.

PHOTO: Alexander Ivanovich Dubrovin

The Union was dissolved in 1917 in the wake of the Revolution, and its leader, Alexander Ivanovich Dubrovin (born 1855) placed under arrest. There is much debate surrounding Dubrovin’s death. According to one historian Philip Rees, Dubrovin was shot in 1918 for his activities against the October Revolution. A number of other sources however place Dubrovin alive after this date and his actual date of death remains unresolved. It is known that on 21st October 1920, Dubrovin was arrested in Moscow by the Cheka. He was charged as an organizer of pogroms, murders etc. in 1905-1917 when he was the chairman of URP. In their entirety these corpus delicti (components of crime) were qualified under the Criminal Code Article “the counter-revolutionary activity”. No activity after the 1917 Revolution has been incriminated to Dubrovin.

Dubrovin’s files at the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) archives document two consecutive death sentences dated 29th December 1920 and 21st April 1921 which indicates that at least one time Dubrovin’s appeal for amnesty was satisfied. No documental traces of the actual implementation of this sentence were found. Meanwhile, according to the Small Soviet Encyclopedia published in 1929 Dubrovin was still alive by that date.

PHOTO: badge of the Union of the Russian People (URP)

On 22nd November 2004, a meeting to revive the Union of the Russian People (URP) was held in Moscow, chaired by the Russian sculptor Vyacheslav Klykov (1938-2006), famous for his magnificent monument to Emperor Nicholas II in Taininskoye (Mytishchi), which is situated about 19 km northeast of Moscow. The meeting set the groundwork for a modern-day Russian Orthodox – monarchical organization, recreated in 2005 on the basis of the ideology of the pre-revolutionary Union of the Russian People.


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© Paul Gilbert. 23 November 2020