An interesting question has been bothering me for quite a few days. Namely, what happened to the Russian Aristocracy after the Russian Revolution of 1917? I knew that some escaped to the United Kingdom and other Western European countries (courtesy: Downton Abbey, Peaky Blinders and a famous Defamation case), but what happened to those who stayed on? Vladimir Lenin was after all a son of a Russian Noble, and could afford to study and ‘radicalize’ himself due to his family’s wealth. Same goes for many Communist leaders, in India as well. But back to the question at hand: What happened to the Dvoryanin that populated Russian government and society for centuries?
[Note: Spoiler Alert for Peaky Blinders]
That question obviously made me google the answer, and after reading a series of articles, certain things became clear:
Those who stayed on in Russia were systematically eliminated, denied basic services, deported and more. The threat of constant arrest and execution was real. Many families concealed their surnames to survive repression. And many of them who were eventually executed actively supported or sympathized with the Bolsheviks.
Those who were able to flee Russia in the lead up to the revolution, or after, to Western European Nations or the Americas. In the British TV show Peaky Blinders, the leader of the Peaky Blinders Gang, Thomas Shelby is contracted to steal a batch of armoured cars for the use of the White Army in the Russian Civil War. This is indeed a reflection of what had happened historically. The Nobles who managed to escape attempted to take back their power in the grand coalition that was the White Army. They were, of course, ultimately unsuccessful.
It is a topic that isn’t so widely covered and talked about anywhere. After going through many articles, many were reviews or articles relating to a book, “Former People” by Historian Douglas Smith, one that I probably should read.
It seems that the revival and the restoration of the Russian Aristocracy has captured some headlines in Western Media. Russian Nobles are attempting to buy back or influence the government to move back into their earlier homes, in many cases fighting Russian oligarchs, the neo-elite, for their erstwhile homes.For their part, there are indications that the current Russian Government wants to look to before 1917 and the Russian Revolution. Meanwhile, a prominent noble says that “Russia needs a strong leader” and praises Putin.
There seems to be a trend among certain influential sections of the Russian Establishment to show an affinity to the Tsarist period and history. An Express UK article in 2015 for example, reports the move of a legislator linked to Putin inviting the Romanov heirs to take their residence in Moscow. In the same line, there are the Putin to Tsar comparisons, with reactionaries in the form of educators and monks, who want a revived monarchy.
Whatever be the goals for reactionaries and other royalists, Putin certainly wants to reflect himself as a guardian against Western Decadence and portray himself as a Modern Day Tsar, a return to the history and tradition that has been ignored in the Matushka Rossiya for over a 100 years. Putin revealed the statue of Tsar Alexander III in Crimea. Alexander III a conservative hardliner that had reversed the decisions of his more liberal and ‘democratic’ predecessor, Tsar Alexander II. The symbolism – unveiling the statue of an Autocratic Tsar in the newly acquired Crimea – should not be missed.
Those interested can read the full list of articles on this twitter thread of mine:
The family of Tsar Nicholas II, who were murdered by Bolshevik Soldiers on the order of Lenin.
In conclusion, more attention must be paid to what happened to the Russian Aristocrats, and the modern Russian imaginings of them. A comparison to the French Aristocracy is more than apt, I would suggest. The consequences for the Aristocracy in the aftermath of the French and Russian revolutions were quite the opposite. An extremely interesting topic to say the least.