The Menshevik’s Hat

Imperial Army capA couple weeks ago, when we were working on the Revolution of 1905 and Cara’s “student choice” post on anti-semitism in Imperial Russia, was stimulating such good discussion, a colleague sent me a photograph of Nicholas II wearing cap like this one.  He was interested in what the hat’s cockade meant, explaining that his grandfather, who had served in the Imperial army during the Russo-Japanese War had been photographed in such a hat as well.

Naturally, I was curious about about this remarkable grandfather’s biography. It turned out that he had been born around 1890 in shtetl Zaludok/Zoludec in Belarus. He served as an artillery soldier during the Russo-Japanese war and emigrated from Russia sometime between 1905 and 1910.  He was a Menshevik, and when he arrived in New York, could not get a job because of his labor-organizing activities. He settled in Philadelphia, and remained there for the rest of his life.

When I asked for more detail about his grandfather’s army experience, my colleague replied:

“My grandfather was in the cavalry and at age 60 or so was still able to do the maneuvers he used to do on his horse. His unit received medals for the Russo-Japanese war even though he did not see action. The unit that was supposed to get the medals was wiped out by the Japanese, so my grandfather’s unit received them instead.

He used to talk about life in the army and his rations (one of his meals each day was just hot water and bread).

He was given time off during one of the Jewish holidays, hid in someone’s basement while the army was searching for him, and managed to escape and get a train to Germany and then went on to the US.

He was always very proud of being a Menshevik.

I remember on one car trip to Canada with my parents and me in the 1960s, the border guard asked my grandfather where he was born. He said Russia, but then clarified that by proclaiming he was a Menshevik and not a Bolshevik. You can imagine how confused the border guard was.”

It’s a pretty remarkable story, and I wonder if anyone would like to write a post that contextualizes it terms of what you’ve learned about ethnicity, anti-semitism, the RSDRP (and the appeal of Menshevism in particular), and the conscript army.  Why might this person have joined the Mensheviks rather than the Jewish Bund?

Please let me know if this is something you are interested in. (It would count as one of your 10 posts, of course!)

The cockade signified that the hat’s wearer served in the Russian Imperial Army.

A. Nelson

I am a historian of Russia with expertise in cultural history and emerging interests in animal studies and environmental history. My current research projects include studies of the Soviet space dogs, the significance of the Belyaev fox domestication project, and the cultural implications of domestication, particularly in Eurasia. 

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