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.


THE reminscences of my childhood in Simbirsk connect me with the Lenin (Ulianoff) family. In my youth fate brought me together with Korniloff.

Following our removal from Simbirsk, my father was chief inspector of schools in Turkestan. My high school years were spent in Tashkent.

The capital of Russian Turkestan was, above all, a military center. Many of the leading figures of the Great War, particularly officers of the General Staff, served at one time or another of their career in Tashkent. Among them was the young Captain Korniloff, who came to Tashkent immediately upon his graduation from the Military Academy. Slight of build, thin and wiry, with slanting, slightly Kalmyk eyes, Korniloff was of simple origin. ("I am General Korniloff, peasant, son of a Cossack," wrote the future rebellious general in one of his proclamations to the people.) General Korniloff spent little time in fashionable drawing-rooms, although their doors were always open to any officer of the General Staff, and had no liking for the ladies of the social set. He was regarded as rather shy and even somewhat of a "savage."

Very soon Captain Korniloff became the talk of the capital. Having mastered one of the local dialects, Captain Korniloff carried out a very brave enterprise. Alone, disguised as a native merchant, he made his way into the buffer state between Russian Turkestan and British India, at that time heart of Afghanistan, forbidden ground to all foreigners, particularly military men. On his return to Tashkent, the young captain became the hero of the hour. However, he did not permit himself to be carried away by the prospect of social success. Very soon he again astonished the "high society" of the provincial capital by marrying the daughter of a minor official in my father's department. This was too much: the doors of society were closed to him!

Many years later, almost on the eve of his revolt against the Provisional Government, General Korniloff, Commander-in-Chief, breakfasted with me at the Winter Palace. After a rather tense conversation in my office, we engaged in light chatter at breakfast.

"You probably do not remember me," said General Korniloff to me jocularly. "I used to visit your people and even danced in your house in Tashkent."

"Of course, how can one fail to remember that," I said, recalling the impression produced on all by his bold expedition to Afghanistan.

Korniloff remained all his life a man of simple tastes, a man of the people. There was nothing of the hereditary bureaucrat or of the aristocratic landed noble in him. Incidentally, all the three leading figures of the "white" movement—Korniloff, Alexeyeff, Denikin—were of lowly origin and had made their way to the top of the military hierarchy by their own efforts. Being poor, they experienced fully the burdens of an officer's career under the old regime. All three were distinctly hostile to the privileged elements in the army, represented by the Guards. All three made brilliant records at the Military Academy. And all three made rapid advances with the War, which ruined so many brilliant careers, of the kind promoted in court circles and ministerial anterooms.

Already in 1915, Alexeyeff made his way to General Headquarters as chief-of-staff to the Commander-in-Chief, Nicholas II. The outbreak of the Revolution found Denikin and Korniloff at the front. Both did remarkable work in all operations on the Galician Front. In one unfortunate operation, in which he showed all his personal daring and bravery, Korniloff was taken prisoner by the Austrians. His bold escape and spectacular return to the Russian lines became the source of a kind of Korniloff legend, although it did not reach the broad masses of the people and of the army rank and file.

Of all the three future leaders of the White armies Korniloff was least fit for political work. On the other hand, General Alexeyeff had considerable political acumen but was too much of a politician. In military science Korniloff was not a strategist but only a tactician, which corresponded entirely with his impulsive, unthinking nature, given to no consideration in moments of danger and acting in such moments with lightninglike boldness, oblivious to the possible consequences.

Apparently, it was this very characteristic of all too great and unthinking determination and zeal, not always desirable in responsible military leaders, that impeded Korniloff's advancement. Up until the Revolution he remained in the shade. After the Revolution, his career developed contrary to the will of his immediate military superiors. His very appointment in the first days of the Revolution as commander of the Petrograd military district failed to win the approval of General Alexeyeff. However, in this post General Korniloff proved himself entirely "weak," and, being unable to handle the Petrograd garrison, he returned to the front in May.

Immediately preceding his resignation as war minister, Gutchkoff wanted to appoint Korniloff commander of the Northern Front, but met with the strong disapproval of General Alexeyeff, who under threat of his own resignation compelled Gutchkoff to abandon his intention. Korniloff thereupon became commander of the thirteenth army in Galicia, where Zavoiko found him.

When at the time of the Tarnopol break and the beginning of the German counter-offensive in Galicia, I suggested to General Brusiloff, Commander-in-Chief, the removal of the obviously incompetent General Koutor and the substitution for him as commander on the Galician Front of General Korniloff, I met with almost the same opposition from Brusiloff as was experienced by Gutchkoff from Alexeyeff. Nevertheless Korniloff was appointed to the post. Contrary to similar opposition by military authorities, General Korniloff was at my suggestion named, on August first, commander-in-chief of the Russian armies, in place of Brusiloff, who had lost his will to command.

I have set down this account of General Korniloff's career in order that the reader may understand the events that followed and may realize why I did not and could not to the very last moment see General Korniloff among the conspirators, despite all the indications of the military conspiracy in preparation against the Provisional Government and the great amount of evidence gathered on it by myself. In pushing him forward to the highest post in the army, in the face of the opposition of his superiors and of his unpopularity among the political Left; in ignoring his own extremely undisciplined utterances with regard to the Provsional Government and in exercising on occasion all too much patience in this respect, I believed firmly that the incomparably brave soldier would not engage in political hide-and-seek games and would not shoot from ambush.

To Russia's great misfortune this did happen.



Last updated on: 2.17.2008