Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Moscow Historian Praises Notorious Black Hundreds of the End of Imperial Times

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 12 -- In the course of a discussion of a debate among the Muslim leaders of Russia in which he attacks one who challenges another who calls for unqualified support for Vladimir Putin, Aleksandr Kobrinsky attacks Mufti Damir Mukhetdinov for his criticism of the Black Hundreds movement at the end of the imperial period.

            Kobrinsky, a history professor at Moscow State University and the director of the Agency for Ethno-National Strategy, says that Mukhetdinov remains a prisoner of Soviet historiography as far as the Black Hundreds are concerned and fails to understand the reasons for their emergence and their real role (

                The historian continues: “the Black Hundreds organizations begin to appear in Russia [only] after the wave of pogroms; and it is commonly known that after their formation, pogroms took place only in that part of the Russian Empire which today is occupied by Poland and where where there weren’t any Black Hundreds organizations.”

            According to Kobrinsky, “investigators still have to give an assessment of the role [of the Black Hundreds] in the stabilization of the situation in the state.” And he points out as if an aside that pogroms against Jews continued in Poland long after the Russian Empire ceased to exist and the Black Hundreds ceased to operate.

            “Black Hundreds organizations were opponents of Western liberal ideology and their name traces its roots not to the color mentioned but to the name of the category of the population which paid taxes directly to the state rather than to the landowner or the church,” a group that in medieval times had organized themselves into militias.

            “Their ideology,” he continues, “was the theory of official nationality of Count Uvarov. Organizations included in the Black Hundreds spoke in support of the official power from a defensive position and enjoyed well-known support in society, being the natural enemies of revolutionary organizations who declared a hunt on representatives of the Black Hundreds.”

            Almost everything Kobrinsky says about the Black Hundreds isn’t true: they existed in Poland, they were involved in pogroms against Jews in many parts of the Russian empire, they were recruited in many cases by the state from lumpen elements in urban areas, and they lacked the sophisticated attitude about nationalism he suggests they had.

            But what is most troubling is that his obvious support for them and indeed for any group that supports the state no matter how noxious its ideas and behavior suggests that there are those in the Russian establishment – he is a professor at Moscow State University after all – who are now reaching back beyond Stalin to even more horrific figures in the Russian past.

            Not only does that open the way for still more authoritarian ideas and actions, but it specifically reflects and may even encourage anti-Semitism, always a default setting of bigotry for some Russians.  Like the Black Hundreds, such writers and the poisonous attitudes they display deserve to be condemned by all people of good will, Russian and non-Russian alike.

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