BASEES Annual Conference 2022

V. D. Nabokov, the Constitutional Democrats and Liberal Antisemitism

Fri8  Apr02:00pm(20 mins)
CWB Syndicate Room 2
Miss Anoushka Alexander-Rose


Anoushka Alexander-Rose


Originally seen as a party that represented, and was represented by, Jews, the Constitutional Democrats (Kadets) often fade into pre-Revolutionary Russian history. This paper uses a specific case study, jurist Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov (the father of the author), to map how the Kadets evolved from holding Jewish emancipation at the forefront of their party manifesto, to engaging in Judeo-Bolshevik rhetoric and supporting Volunteer Army-led pogroms. Whilst the Kadets have been neglected in scholarship of this period, V. D. Nabokov’s role as both politician, and advocate for Jewish rights, has been over-emphasised by literary biographers trying to justify a “family strain” of liberalism. V. D. Nabokov’s apparent pro-Jewish activism – scathing attacks on government-endorsed pogroms and reporting on the Mendel Beilis case – can be problematised by evidence of racial antisemitism in his 1917 memoir. This shift requires a wider, overlooked, context: during the Civil War, the Kadets turned a blind eye to Denikin’s widespread pogroms and by 1919 some even blamed Jews for their role in the Revolution. I will examine through primary sources how V. D. Nabokov and the Kadets perceived the Jewish Question as a liberal cause but were willing to disavow this for the sake of political strategy. Following Nabokov’s assassination by Monarchists in 1922, his son committed to honouring this sacred legacy, defending him against accusations and rewriting history in the process.