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.


ON August twenty-ninth the government returned to Petrograd, while Korniloff went back to General Headquarters. On September first the Germans launched a new attack on the Dvina, breaking through our lines and threatening Petrograd. On September third the Provisional Government made the following decisions:

1. To begin preparations for the government's removal to Moscow.

2. To transfer the troops of the Petrograd military district to the direct jurisdiction of the commander-in-chief.

3. To create a separate military area, consisting of Petrograd and its environs, under the jurisdiction of the Provisional Government.

4. To bring from the front a detachment of reliable troops, to be placed at the government's disposal.

This decision was made necessary by military and political considerations. Because of the unreliability and demoralization of the Petrograd garrison, it was necessary for the government to take proper measures guaranteeing its safe removal to Moscow, which was to take place at the end of November. In addition, the evidence at our disposal made it necessary for the government to be ready to repell any attack from the Right. It was only from that quarter that we faced any real danger at that time.

Immediately after the cabinet meeting at which the aforementioned decision was taken I dispatched Assistant War Minister Savinkoff and General Baranoffsky to General Headquarters, to cooperate in carrying out the government's decision. Before their departure I ordered Savinkoff to inform General Korniloff that, while he was at liberty to pick the troops to be sent to Petrograd, he was under no circumstances to delegate General Krimoff as commander of these troops. I also ordered Savinkoff to inform General Korniloff that the "Wild Division" was not to be included among these troops. My demands were motivated by the reliable information that General Krimoff and a number of the officers of the "Wild Division" had taken a direct part in the conspiracy. On September sixth General Korniloff categorically promised Savinkoff that my demands would be obeyed. This was reported to me by Savinkoff on September seventh. But on the same day General Korniloff, in a secret order, placed General Krimoff in command of the "Wild Division," which moved immediately in the direction of Petrograd.

In the order to his troops Krimoff declared that a Bolshevist revolution had broken out in Petrograd and that the government was unable to cope with it. On September ninth, when according to the calculations of General Headquarters Krimoff's troops were to have arrived near Petrograd, there appeared before me in the Winter Palace a former member of the Provisional Government, Vladimir Lvoff, who placed before me a verbal ultimatum from General Korniloff. The ultimatum did not surprise me, but I still entertained doubt as to whether General Korniloff had actually lent his name to it. The entire tragic significance of what was being contemplated appeared clearly before me. Only by quick action was it possible to save the situation. I immediately took myself in hand and pretended that I did not believe in the authenticity of the ultimatum. Lvoff became greatly excited, assuring me on his word of honor that all he said was true. I then demanded that he put the ultimatum in writing. I told him this was necessary as otherwise the Provisional Government to whom I, as premier and war minister, was to carry Korniloff's ultimatum demanding the government's resignation would consider me mad. Lvoff wrote down the ultimatum point by point:

1. Proclamation of martial law in Petrograd.

2. Immediate resignation of the government.

3. My departure the same night, together with Savinkoff, for General Headquarters, where we were to put ourselves at Korniloff's disposal.

I put the written ultimatum into my side pocket and agreed with Lvoff to meet him at seven o'clock in the evening at the long distance telephone at the War Ministry, when we were to converse with General Korniloff at General Headquarters. En route to the War Ministry I still entertained some hope that the ultimatum and my whole conversation with Lvoff were a horrible dream. Lvoff was late for the appointment. There was no time to lose. I called Korniloff at General Headquarters and in my name and Lvoff's, who had not yet arrived, I began to question Korniloff on all the points of the ultimatum, with the ostensible purpose of verifying the general's demands. I wanted to make absolutely sure that the ultimatum was in his name. I asked leading questions, which could be answered only by a person thoroughly familiar with the contents of the ultimatum. General Korniloff's replies showed he was well versed in the matter and had given it his full approval. Especially convincing was his final reply.

Without mentioning Savinkoff, whose name appeared in the ultimatum, I asked:

"Am I to come to General Headquarters?"

General Korniloff replied:

"Yes, and with Savinkoff."

There could no longer be any doubt. It was necessary to act with utmost rapidity. On my leaving the telephone I was met by Lvoff. We returned together to the Winter Palace. There, in my office, I repeated to him my conversation with General Korniloff. Lvoff again confirmed and explained everything. In a dark, far corner of the large office, unnoticed by Lvoff, sat an official of the Ministry of the Interior. He heard our conversation and noted Lvoff's statement. On completing my conversation with Lvoff I walked out into the corridor, summoned the officer on guard and ordered him to arrest Vladimir Lvoff, former member of the Provisional Government.

In an hour I submitted a report to the Provisional Government together with the incriminating ultimatum and received from the cabinet extraordinary powers for the liquidation of the Korniloff mutiny, which was about to begin with the arrival, expected at any moment, of Krimoff's troops in Petrograd.

I will not go into further details. As I foretold, the rebellious general found himself suddenly without troops and railways, and cut off at General Headquarters from the entire country. Without firing a single shot we were victorious, for the rank and file of even the "Wild Division" refused to follow their officers when emissaries dispatched by me to head off and arrest Krimoff informed the troops of the use to which they were being put. Krimoff himself was brought a prisoner to my office. While under arrest in my office, General Krimoff committed suicide by shooting himself with his revolver.

On September twelfth the adventure was finished. On September thirteenth I issued an order to the army and navy presenting a picture of the anarchy and demoralization provoked anew by the Korniloff adventure.

Following the arrest of Korniloff and his immediate associates, the supporters of the Korniloff movement launched a widespread campaign through the press against the Provisional Government. Amply supplied with funds they successfully spread the falsehood that there had been no conspiracy, that Korniloff was the victim of a "misunderstanding" between himself and the Provisional Government. It was even asserted that I had been in "agreement" with Korniloff through Savinkoff and "betrayed" him under pressure from the Soviet. This slanderous invention was immediately taken up by the Bolsheviki, who used it as dynamite with which, within a few days, they succeeded in destroying the confidence of the rank and file of the army in the Provisional Government.

The Korniloff uprising destroyed the entire work of the restoration of discipline in the army, achieved after almost superhuman efforts.

Lenin, still in hiding, immediately grasped the significance of the service performed for him by the organizers of the Korniloff rebellion.

"General Korniloff," wrote Lenin to the Central Executive Committee of the Bolshevist party from Finland, whither he had fled after the issuance of my July order for his arrest, "has opened for us quite unexpected perspectives. We must act at once."

The movements of the Bolsheviki were facilitated by the crisis provoked by the Korniloff rebellion in the parties comprising the government coalition. The sympathy which had been extended to Korniloff by many prominent liberals roused among the socialist parties a strong movement against continuance of cooperation with the bourgeois parties. The Provisional Government could no longer be maintained in the composition upon which it was based on the day of the Korniloff mutiny. A directorate was set up, in whose name I had to conduct prolonged negotiations with the respective parties for restoration of the government coalition. All these conversations proved endless because virtually no one believed in the possibility of restoring mutual confidence among the parties.

In the meantime the new wave of anarchy and disintegration rose high under the stimulus of Bolshevist propaganda and demagogy. The Korniloff rebellion was crushed on September twelfth. On September eighteenth, for the first time since the Revolution, the presidium of the Petrograd Soviet was captured by the Bolsheviki. Having formed from among the soldiers' section of the Soviet a military-revolutionary committee, Trotsky began to prepare the garrison for another uprising against the Provisional Government.

As in the beginning of March, heaps of telegrams came to my desk, telling of local uprisings and mutinies, agrarian disturbances, attacks by soldiers against officers, etc. But then, in the spring, all hopes were before us. Now, in the autumn, all the fires of hope were dying. The revived anarchy inside the country combined soon with a new wave of mass desertions from the front.

This tragedy came to pass exactly at the time when all our sacrifices were about to find their justification. The Austro-Hungarian government, having realized that the situation of Austria-Hungary was untenable, addressed to the Provisional Government a request for a separate peace. The move was made without knowledge of Berlin. It was particularly significant because Foreign Minister Terestchenko had long been preparing, with the cooperation of the diplomatic representatives of the United States in Bulgaria and Turkey, a plan for negotiations which would have meant the exit of Bulgaria and Turkey from the War. There could be no doubt, with Austria's example before them, that similar peace proposals would have followed soon from Sofia and Constantinople. The exit to the Mediterranean would have been opened for Russia. The blockade of Russia would have been broken and Germany would have stood completely isolated in Europe. Russia was on the verge of her greatest victory.

Instead of victory we received Brest-Litovsk. The news of Austria's separate peace proposal reached Petrograd on November fifth. On November seventh, suddenly and unexpectedly—unexpectedly for us, but not for Berlin—came the Bolshevist counter-revolution. The Bolshevist General Staff had originally planned the uprising for the day of the contemplated transfer of the Provisional Government to Moscow, which was not to have taken place before the middle of November.



Last updated on: 2.17.2008