One of the most influential conservative secret societies in pre-revolutionary Russia, the Black Hundreds – more formally known as the Union of the Russian People – was founded in 1905 in St Petersburg by V. M. Purishkevich, a reactionary agitator. Russia’s disastrous defeat in its 1904–05 war with Japan, along with serious economic and political troubles, forced the Tsar to grant limited political freedoms and to call the first Russian parliament, the Duma of the Empire. Purishkevich set out to discredit these changes by convincing the Russian masses that the new constitution and the Duma were part and parcel of a Jewish conspiracy against the Tsar. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a newly manufactured forgery claiming to disclose a Jewish plot for world domination, became a central element of Black Hundreds propaganda. See Antisemitism; Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

As the Union of the Russian People, the Black Hundreds ran candidates for office and held a handful of seats in the Duma. Meanwhile armed bands raised by the political wing of the organization carried out assassinations and pogroms against Jews, Freemasons, liberals, and ethnic minorities such as Armenians and Poles. The Hundreds received substantial support from Tsar Nicholas II, who wore its badge on his uniform, as well as from many influential aristocrats. It also received up to 2.5 million rubles a year from the imperial government itself.

The Black Hundreds remained a significant factor in Russian politics until the beginning of the First World War, when the government subsidies and support that kept it functioning had to be redirected to the war effort. When the Revolution broke out in 1917, most of its remaining members joined the White (anticommunist) side and were killed or exiled in the bitter civil war that followed. See Russian revolution.


The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006