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
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, 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 (1857-1918); Alexander Pavlovich Kutepov (1882-1930) and Commander of the Guard Cavalry Corps Huseyn Khan Nakhchivanski (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 (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. 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 …
 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.
 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.
 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.”
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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
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