A. F. Kerensky



Source: The Prelude To Bolshevism: The Kornilov Rising
Transcriber: Zdravko
HTML Markup: Jonas Holmgren
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.

AFTER the breaking of the Russian front near Tarnopol on the 19th of July, 1917, it was decided to replace the Commander of the South-western front, General Gutor, and later also the Commander-in-Chief, General Brussilov, and the choice fell on General Kornilov. Kornilov's good qualities and defects were both well known to the Provisional Government, but at this moment his good qualities made him the only suitable candidate. His defects, especially his impetuosity in success, did not then seem to offer any danger; moreover, the views that he professed seemed to exclude the possibility of a conflict. He advocated the cessation of a further offensive; he, alone among the generals, attributed the responsibility for the failure not only to the soldiers, but also to the officers. He spoke with sympathy of the army elective organizations, of the commissaries, and so forth. Therefore the appointment of Kornilov was due to serious considerations in his favour, and not at all to "irresponsible influences" on the Premier, Kerensky.

But after his appointment Kornilov immediately revealed his dangerous side. In his telegram accepting the duties of Commander-in-Chief he made a series of demands regarding reforms in the army. These reforms were acceptable in their essence; they were even approved in principle, and were already being worked out by the Provisional Government before Kornilov's nomination, but Kornilov presented his demands in an inadmissible form. He interpreted his rights as Commander-in-Chief in an even broader way than did the Grand Duke Nicholas, and he assumed towards the Provisional Government such a tone as compelled Kerensky to propose his immediate dismissal to the Provisional Government. Kornilov was, however, permitted to retain his command, partly to avoid changes in the High Command at that critical moment, and partly because his conduct was ascribed to the influence of adventurers surrounding him at Headquarters. After the events of the beginning of July, 1917 (the breaking of the front and the Bolshevik rebellion in Petrograd), the Provisional Government, supported by the whole of the country and in particular by the democracy, quickly took a series of energetic steps, including the restoration of capital punishment at the front, and occupied itself in further planning for the reorganizing of the army. In spite of this, Kornilov, supported by Savinkov, started an energetic campaign against the Provisional Government. On his arrival in Petrograd on the 3rd of August for the purpose of giving the Provisional Government an account of the military situation, Kornilov brought with him a memorandum in which he demanded a series of army reforms, but the discussion of the proposed changes in the army was delayed, and Kornilov's memorandum was handed to the War Ministry to be brought into agreement with the proposals of the War Minister. In this way was prevented the publication of Kornilov's memorandum in a form so exceedingly sharp and tactless that it would inevitably have led to his retirement.

In the meantime the attack on the Provisional Government by those in favour of "decisive measures" was being continued. Kornilov's memorandum of the 3rd of August was handed over to Savinkov, the Deputy Minister of War, for the purpose of co-ordinating it with the plans of the War Minister. Savinkov, who all the time was attempting to carry on a personal line of politics without taking into consideration the directions of his chief, the War Minister, wanted to benefit by this occasion and, with Kornilov's help, to force the Government to accept quickly, en bloc, a program of most serious military measures at the front and at the rear without these measures having first received the sanction of Kerensky, the Prime Minister and the Minister of War, and even without previously reporting to him about them.

This attempt, made immediately before the Moscow Conference, did not succeed, but still it created great excitement in political circles. This excitement might have manifested itself at the Moscow Conference in an acute form, and the Government took measures to save the unity of the country and to safeguard the army from all possible disputes. Finally, the Moscow Conference went off without a hitch. General Kornilov made a speech which did not realize the expectation of the extremists, as it differed from the War Minister's speech enunciating his program only by its tactless form and a brief allusion to the necessity of "measures in the rear, at the front, on the railways and in the factories".

The regeneration of the fighting capacity of the army was the task of the Prime Minister, Kerensky, from the very first moment when he took over office from Gutchkov. It was necessary to liquidate the tendency of army reforms which had been carried out during the first two months of the Revolution, but in striving with this object the War Minister, Kerensky, could not permit the too harsh and premature steps which were demanded by the irresponsible partisans of "strong power". Such steps could give only a negative result in the unbalanced conditions in which the country then was. After the Moscow Conference, Savinkov admitted that the plan of reforms traced by the War Minister coincided in the main lines with his and Kornilov's wishes. He admitted also that his conduct during the period just before the Moscow Conference was a breach of discipline, and after this the Prime Minister recalled the order for Savinkov's resignation.

But all the danger from the activities of too hasty "reformers" was nothing in comparison with the terrible consequences of the secret intrigue which was carried on at the same time at Headquarters and in other places with the object of making a forcible coup d'etat, and which already by the time of the Moscow Conference had attempted to accustom Russia and Kornilov himself to the idea of the military dictatorship of the latter. Information about conspiracies began to reach the Provisional Government as early as July, 1917; the break through near Tarnopol deeply touched the feeling of national pride; moreover, after the abortive Bolshevik rising many thought that a courageous and well organized assault on the Government was sure to succeed. Parallel with the open propaganda of the idea of a military dictatorship, secret work was going on. At the first stage separate conspirative circles were organized in which some military elements took an active part, among them a part of the members of the Main Committee of the old Russian Officers' League, Later, these circles united, and the technique of the conspiracy improved. Some dubious persons, such as Aladin and Zavoiko, were accepted in their midst; they formed the link between the military conspirators, the civil politicians, and the financial circles that were supporting them. In this way a real organization was created, which later took such a definite shape that General Alexeiev could menace it with revelations at the trial of General Kornilov, should the civil participants, who remained unknown, withhold financial help from the families of the arrested conspirators. At one time the partisans of "strong power" sent out feelers to Kerensky; not meeting with any sympathy there, they directed their attention to Kornilov. "Kerensky does not want to be a dictator; then we will give him one", said V. Lvov. At the moment of the All-Russian Conference in Moscow on the 12th-25th of August, the idea of Kornilov's dictatorship was already quite ripe, and the preparation of the coup d'etat, anticipating the sympathy of the Conference, was in full swing. A "reliable" Cossack detachment was summoned to Moscow, and the officer-cadets who were guarding the building where the Conference took place were given notice that a proclamation of dictatorship was possible during the Conference. A whole series of organizations, before the Conference, carried threatening resolutions to the effect that Kornilov must not be dismissed. A ceremonious entry of Kornilov into Moscow was being organized; various public men "introduced" themselves and presented "memoranda". A pamphlet was distributed in Moscow entitled "Kornilov - The People's Leader".

Contrary to the expectations of the conspirators, the desire of all parts of the population for union and the force of the Provisional Government became so evident at the Moscow Conference that all plans to profit by the Moscow Conference had to be postponed; on the other hand the conspirative preparation of the coup d'etat became more intense. A few days later Aladin attempted through the intermediary of Prince George Lvov to obtain an audience with Kerensky; having failed, he and his friends deter mined to use V. Lvov for this purpose, knowing that his position as a former member of the Provisional Government made it possible for him without difficulty to obtain an audience with the Prime Minister.

On the 31st of August Lvov, who was prepared suitably by Aladin and Dobrinsky, went to Petrograd, where he was received by the Prime Minister, but he limited himself to a conversation of a general character about the necessity for strengthening the Government's authority by the inclusion in it of new elements with "power" behind them. Kerensky did not attach any importance to this visit, as at that time many people came to him whose conversation was of this character. Lvov returned to Moscow and went immediately to Headquarters with a letter from Aladin to Zavoiko. The meaning of this sending of Lvov to Kerensky, as well as of Aladin's attempt to interview the Prime Minister, was that the conspirators wished to secure for themselves means of contact with the Prime Minister independent of the ordinary channels of communication between Headquarters and the Government.

At the same time at Headquarters Kornilov and his friends were working out the final plan of "military" pressure on the Provisional Government. It is difficult to determine exactly when Kornilov became a conscious participant in the conspiracy and the head of the movement directed against the Government. In the first information about the conspiracies his name was not mentioned, but already on the 3rd of August, in the conversation with Kerensky, Kornilov spoke about a military dictatorship as about a possibility which might become a necessity. At the Moscow Conference the behaviour of Kornilov towards the Provisional Government was very provocative. On the 23rd of August, at Headquarters, Kornilov spoke harshly to Savinkov about the Provisional

Government; he found the continuation of Kerensky's power to be obnoxious and unnecessary and so on. But on the following day, on the 24th of August (6th of September, N.S.), before Savinkov's departure to Petrograd, Kornilov told him that he was going loyally to support the Provisional Government; he asked him to inform Kerensky of this, and Savinkov went away reassured. Now on this day the work of the conspirators was already in full swing.

The presence at Headquarters of the Deputy-Minister of War, Savinkov, from the 22nd to the 24th of August was called for, amongst other reasons, by the necessity for clearing up the conditions for the transference of the army of the Petrograd Military District to the Commander-in-Chief, also the conditions for sending a military detachment from the front at the disposal of the Provisional Government in connection with the proclamation of martial law in Petrograd. The proclamation of martial law in Petrograd was necessitated by the military situation created after the fall of Riga, which had brought the battle front nearer to the capital, by the necessity for transferring the Government institutions to Moscow, by the increase in numbers of refugees from the Baltic provinces and in the licence of the Petrograd garrison, by the proposed transfer of the other troops of the Petrograd Military District to the command of General Kornilov, and by the possibility of riots and various attempts from the Left and from the Right.

All these considerations compelled the Government to demand for its own use a well disciplined army force. Savinkov, in transmitting this order of the Provisional Government to the Commander-in-Chief, pointed out that the strict conditions for sending troops for the use of the Provisional Government were that the detachment to be dispatched should not include the Caucasian "Savage Division" which was not reliable from the Government's standpoint, and that General Krimov should not be appointed to command it. General Kornilov definitely promised Savinkov on the 21st of August to fulfil exactly the proposal of the Provisional Government and not to send to Petrograd either Krimov or the "Savage Division"; but on the following day the 3rd Cavalry Corps was already moving towards Petrograd, with the "Savage Division" at its head, and the whole under the command of General Krimov, who had received definite instructions from Kornilov. It was proved later that General Krimov, who had been nominated as commander of one of the armies of the South-western front in order to divert attention from him, had been already, as a matter of fact, for some time at Headquarters working out a plan of military pressure upon the Government. Owing to the events of the 26th of August (September 8th, N.S.), which will be mentioned later, the Provisional Government had time to take measures; Krimov's army did not reach Petrograd (where he was expected by the local conspirative organizations), and he committed suicide. But the role of this unit was so important in carrying out the conspiracy that it was only after Kornilov had learned the fate of this detachment that he took actual measures to put an end to the adventure.

While General Krimov's detachment was approaching the capital, the conspirators attempted to get hold of the power "legally" by terrorizing the Government. On the 26th of August (8th of September, N.S.) Lvov, who had arrived in Petrograd from Headquarters, presented an ultimatum to the Prime Minister in the name of Kornilov. The Provisional Government must give up its power the same evening, transferring it to General Kornilov, who would form a new Government. Kerensky and Savinkov must immediately, during the night of the 26th-27th of August, depart for Headquarters, as Kornilov proposed to offer them posts as ministers in his Cabinet and would not take the responsibility for their lives if they remained in Petrograd. At the request of Kerensky, Lvov on the spot put in writing Kornilov's demands; then Kerensky asked Kornilov to come to the direct telegraphic wire, and Kornilov himself repeated to him the proposal to come immediately, confirmed Lvov's authority, and indirectly confirmed all that had been said by the latter. To gain time Kerensky promised Kornilov to come to Headquarters, and at the same time took immediately all steps to cope with the rebellion at its very commencement. In the meanwhile, after the above "favourable conversation" by the direct wire, the most prominent political men in opposition to the Government were invited to Headquarters; the ultimate form of the dictatorship was being finally settled and the composition of the Government agreed upon. But on the following day, the 27th of August, a wire was received from the Prime Minister ordering Kornilov to surrender his office immediately and to come to Petrograd. Kornilov did not obey this order, but confirmed to Savinkov by the direct wire his refusal to submit to the Government. On the same day appeared Kerensky's appeal to the population about the Kornilov rebellion and Kornilov's appeal saying that he was "provoked" to make the rebellion and that he was acting against the Government, which was submitting to the "Bolshevik majority of the Soviets" and "working in agreement with the plans of the German General Staff".

Thus the armed revolt against the Government began. For two days, while this attempt was being crushed, different "conciliators" besieged the Prime Minister, attempting to persuade him to compromise "as the real force is on the side of Kornilov". But already on the 29th of August it became evident that the whole of the real force of the country was against Kornilov, and, as had been predicted to him by Kerensky himself some time before, Kornilov found himself in splendid isolation. On the 13th of August the rebellion was definitely and bloodlessly suppressed. It was easy to deal with it. Kornilov was not backed by a single important political organization, nor could he rely upon the force of any class. Owing to their political inexperience, Kornilov and those of the officers who were with him mistook for a real force the grumbling of the "man in the street", irritated by the Revolution, but passive by nature, together with the instigation of various adventurers and the promises of support from isolated politicians. The financial help of a certain group of banking-houses artificially exaggerated the dimensions o f the movement.

But Kornilov's adventure, though predestined to fail, played a fatal part in Russia's destiny, as it shook profoundly and painfully the consciousness of the popular masses. This shock was the more serious as it was unexpected. An adventure of a small group was transformed in the inflamed imagination of the masses to a conspiracy of the whole of the bourgeoisie and of all the upper classes against democracy and the working masses. The Bolsheviks, who up to the 13th of August were impotent, became masters in the Petrograd Soviet of Workmen's and Soldiers' Delegates on the 7th of September, gaining a majority there for the first time during the whole period of the Revolution. The same happened everywhere with lightning rapidity. Massacres of officers again began; again the commanding officers lost all their authority. "Throughout the whole country, as in the first days of the March Revolution, there appeared spontaneous organizations which seized the functions of governmental power under the pretext of fighting the counter-revolution. In the soldiers' and workmen's masses the authority of the leaders, who were fighting against the cry of "All authority to the Soviets" and who were defending the idea of a national power basing its authority on the will of the whole people, was annihilated. The wave of anarchy broke the Russian front and overflowed the State. Nobody will ever succeed in breaking the fatal link between the 27th of August (September 9th, N.S.) and the 25th of October (November 7th, N.S.) 1917.



[1] This introduction gives a resume of the events discussed in the book.


Last updated on: 9.1.2007