A. F. Kerensky

The Catastrophe


Source: The Catastrophe
Published: 1927
Transcriber: Jonas Holmgren
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). 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.


JUST as the old administrative machinery disappeared suddenly, unexpectedly, almost miraculously, in the country, so were the millions at the front left without a governing apparatus. The very spirit of the army was gone and its heart—the moving force of the word of command—ceased to beat.

Immediately after the Revolution the Russian army ceased to fight, for the soldiers ceased to obey and the officers lost the capacity to command. The power and authority of the officers disappeared.

All those who had the opportunity to observe the Russian Front in the last year before the Revolution, all those who had any more or less clear conception of the atmosphere at the front felt the deadly peril that was advancing upon the army together with the dissolution of the old regime. But no one expected all these symptoms of exhaustion and decay to culminate in the shocking picture of chaos that arose after the Revolution.

Of course, one must not paint the entire Russian Front as it appeared after the March explosion in one shade of black. Those troops who had won victories in the past or who had as commanders men of the less reactionary type, men who had shown sympathy with the more progressive circles of the country and had fought for the liberation of the government from the meshes of Rasputin, as well as the troops farthest removed from the poisonous influence of Petrograd— in the Caucasus, in the Southwest (Galicia), in Rumania, and the Black Sea Fleet—preserved their organization and their fighting capacity.

In every individual army the measure of dissolution was likewise uneven. As a rule, the artillery and all the specialized branches, containing the more intelligent and cultural elements of the army, the elements that had been regarded with suspicion under the old regime, remained after the Revolution but little touched by the wave of disintegration, or, if disintegration did appear, the process was a slow one.

Above all, it was the infantry which lost the capacity to fight and to obey. This is explainable. First of all, the Russian infantry in 1916-17, following the terrible defeats of 1914-15, no longer represented a regular army, but a poorly trained militia. The various infantry divisions were no longer coordinated harmonious bodies. The raw recruits from the villages, who had found their way hurriedly and accidentally into the various regiments, had no knowledge or conception of their respective regimental traditions. Frequently this was the case also with the commanders, the wartime lieutenants, who, after two or three months of ephemeral training, were hurled from their student desks or office swivel chairs into leadership of the strange gray masses of soldiery.

But even in the infantry the measure of disorganization was varied. The principal fields for the disintegrating propaganda and activity of Bolshevist and German agents were the so-called "third" divisions, the formation of which was begun in January, 1917. The transformation of the army corps on the basis of three instead of two divisions to a corps—a most unfortunate reform, which had met with sharp disapproval from General Alexeyeff and the majority of the General Staff officers—was carried out by General Gurko, temporary chief of staff of the commander-in-chief, the Emperor Nicholas II, at the time when General Alexeyeff was on furlough in the Crimea because of illness. These "third" divisions, consisting of units of which commanders of already existing divisions had sought to rid themselves, because of their uselessness, represented accidental masses of people without any organization and discipline, and operating under the very poorest material and technical conditions. Subsequently, during my inspection of the various fronts, I heard loud complaints against these accursed "third" divisions, which had become the carriers of cowardice, anarchy and disintegration. It was in the infantry where the Bolshevist and German agents concentrated their work. Only here did they have any real success. Only the very darkest, most ignorant and out and out reactionary sections of the Russian army came to the assistance of these worst enemies of Free Russia. Here all the slogans of the Revolution merged into one solid, brutal roar: "To the devil with the War! Let us go home! You have drunk enough of our blood!" The only language which these lower depths of the army could understand was the language of force. And as soon as this force was restored by the Provisional Government, it was put into effect.


But, at the beginning, in the first weeks of the Revolution, there were also other sentiments, in the army, as well as among the people. Russia was not only physically tired of the War; New Russia revolted spiritually against further bloodshed. She sought, perhaps naively, but honestly and sincerely, a way out of the seemingly hopeless impasse into which all warring Europe had fallen.

To many revolutionary enthusiasts, in the rear as well as at the front, it appeared only natural that the Russian Revolution, having freed Russia from all the evils of the old regime, would bring spiritual emancipation to the rest of suffering humanity. An immediate and fair peace for all the belligerent nations was the unrealizable but luring, almost hypnotic, struggle dominating the heart.

On March twenty-seventh the Petrograd Soviet of Workmen's and Soldiers' Deputies voted its celebrated "Address to all Peoples of the World," with an appeal for action for immediate peace. "It will come!" was the confident promise. For only the "imperialist governments" were at war with one another, while the peoples were compelled merely to obey. Now that the Russian democracy has entered as an "equal" into the "family of free peoples," it has renounced all the imperialist past of Czarist Russia. There is nothing, therefore, to prevent other peoples, acting "over the heads of their governments," from following the example of Free Russia and putting an end to the fratricidal slaughter. And, first of all, must Germany do away with her imperialist reaction. Wilhelm must be deposed, thus piercing the heart of world imperialism. And then, in the blinding light of truth and justice, will the new sun of peace and love ascend over Europe. The enemies of yesterday will unite in fraternal embrace. Thus ran the appeal of the Soviet.

To the Western world these words appeared to be naive, childish prattle. There not only the governments but the peoples themselves were engaged in a war to the death. They saw no way out of the war through revolution at home. The representatives of Russia's Soviet democracy soon learned this from the lips of Socialists and Laborites who had come to visit us from Paris and London. They soon learned that their struggle for peace, if it was to be successful, must needs be founded not on" rhetoric but upon the solid force of a restored front. However, already on March twenty-seventh, at the moment of the greatest infatuation with the faith in a European miracle, the leaders of the Russian proletarian democracy began to feel certain disquieting misgivings. They called upon the German workers to follow the example of their Russian comrades and put an end to the absolutism of the Hohenzollerns. But apparently they were not quite sure that their appeal would be heard, for among the pleading words of the Soviet's address there resounds unexpectedly the cry of warning: "The Russian Revolution will not retreat before the bayonets of conquerors and will not permit itself to be crushed by outside military power."

"Peace" with Ludendorff! But imperialist Germany, dominated by the dictatorship of Ludendorff, had no intention of threatening the "democratic conquests" of the Russian Revolution by resorting to "bayonets." The German General Staff was well informed about the sentiments of the Russian democracy and the rank and file of the Russian army in the first weeks of the Revolution. We find it, therefore, changing its strategy on the Eastern Front with a speed and farsightedness worthy of a genius. Instead of directing its heavy artillery and the blows of bayonets against Russia, it let loose a storm of proclamations more poisonous than the most poisonous gases.

The Russian Revolution wants peace. Then why tarry? Why overthrow Wilhelm when His Royal Highness, Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria himself, Commander-in-Chief of the Eastern Front, thinks of nothing else than helping the Russian workers and peasants, attired in soldier uniforms, the Russian proletarians oppressed by their own and the Anglo-French capitalists, to throw off the hated yoke of the international bankers, and by establishing firmly the reign of the toiling masses in Russia to bring eternal peace between Russia and Germany.

These were the actual contents of the German proclamations distributed among the Russian troops.

The proclamations of His Royal Highness to the Russian troops were not the only means utilized by the Germans in conveying their promise that not a single shot would be fired by the Germans without the provocation of an offensive by the Russians. Imperial Germany carried still further her diabolical play on the primitive naiveté of the Russian soldiers. Here and there from the German trenches "peace delegations," bearing white flags, moved towards the Russians. These "delegations" were driven away by Russian artillery fire. This provoked indignation in the Russian trenches, while new German proclamations spared no words of righteous wrath against the unwillingness of the Russian generals to give ear to Germany's peace proposals. General Dragomiroff then gave orders to receive one such German delegation and bring it before him. In the presence of delegates from the army committees the chief German parliamentarian was questioned. He had, of course, no peace proposal to make.

This local episode, however, passed by without salutary effect. Having provided themselves with such a powerful ally in their struggle for "peace at any price" our soldiers met every effort of their commanders to move them to action with indescribable resentment.

The Russian Front grew still. A gravelike silence ensued along the hundreds of miles of our lines. Russian soldiers were received as guests by the Germans. A wave of fraternization ensued, accompanied by interminable meetings. There was plenty of time for that, for the Russian troops refused even to clean their rifles. A virtual armistice was established on the Russian Front, while the friends of the Russian Revolution in the German General Staff were hurrying their Eastern divisions to the French Front.


It is difficult to say what the result of this situation might have been. But in the very midst of the game staged by the Germans there occurred a slight mistake. The heyday of the touching friendship between Prince Rupprecht and General Ludendorff with our illiterate Russian peasants in the trenches came to a sudden end.

At the moment of the greatest inactivity on the Russian Front the German troops suddenly assumed the offensive on the Stokhod. The quick blow produced great results. The Russian regiments, far removed from any idea of fighting, were caught unawares. Great masses of artillery and 25,000 prisoners constituted the German booty—the first result of the "struggle for peace" through fraternization, carried on in accordance with the instructions of Ludendorff and Lenin.

The impression produced by the Stokhod attack on that portion of the Russian democracy which was sincerely engaged in the struggle for an immediate, just peace was in truth shattering. Ludendorff, as he himself admits in his memoirs, quickly perceived the mistake of the German High Command. At German Headquarters it was decided not to permit the repetition of unfortunate accidents. There will be no more German attacks on the Russian Front, was the information conveyed to our trenches by the German command. This promise was kept by Ludendorff.

However, fortunately for us, the impression produced by the Stokhod offensive could not be eradicated. Somewhere in the subconsciousness of the soul of the Russian democracy occurred a deep and profound change.

With the Stokhod attack ended what may be called the pacifist period of the Russian Revolution. A new period, the period of defense, began. The Russian Revolution itself, and not the "imperialist" Provisional Government alone, determined to continue the War as long as circumstances demanded it. Of course, this new psychology of defense, which began to develop in the consciousness of the masses, did not appear in full force immediately after the Stokhod attack. On the contrary, the outer picture of the situation at the front and in the rear seemed more hopeless than ever and insoluble. At any rate, it was thus that the situation was regarded by Alexander Gutchkoff, the first war minister of the Provisional Government, and by his closest associates.



Last updated on: 2.17.2008