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 subject of this book is an historical episode but the book itself is not history. It is simply the story of an eyewitness, who accidentally found himself in the center of events marking the turning point in the history of the biggest nation on the European continent.

A correct conception of present developments in Russia is impossible without some understanding of the inner substance of the Russian Revolution of March, 1917, i.e., of the period between the fall of the monarchy and the establishment of Bolshevist absolutism.

It would be strange and ludicrous, however, to demand from me, a close participant of those events, that measure of historical objectivity and impartiality which we have the right to expect from the scientific historian describing the deeds of others.

The participant in historical events does not perceive clearly the consequences of his own actions, but merely grasps, more or less, the significance of these consequences. He does know well, however, the psychologic motives which prompt him to this or that practical decision. On the other hand, the historian finds it extremely difficult to penetrate into the inner spiritual laboratory of the actors of an historical drama—into those recesses of the soul where these events matured. He does see well the consequences of the actions of other men. By viewing these actions from the vantage point of time he acquires the privilege of objectivity.

To be sure, any participant of an historical drama can by the force of hindsight advance the portrayal of the conduct and actions of his contemporaries and those of his own to a point of view approximating that from which the events will be seen ten, twenty or thirty years hence. But such historical narration cannot really pretend to be history, because the writing of history requires the maturing through a process of many decades of the events described.

Nevertheless epochs close to periods particularly rich in historicity (as measured by years and not by substance) bring forth many "objective histories" from the pens of falsifiers. In Russia we have had our full quota of these after March, 1917.

I make bold to believe that this book will not add to the number of such works, for I have not tried to write history but have merely sought to add some raw material for history.

My unhistorical objectivity consists precisely and only in the fact that I present the events and psychology of the March Revolution as they really were, concealing nothing and refraining from falling under the influence of the political and psychologic attitudes of the present moment.

My task here consists in portraying the events of the Russian Revolution as a whole, i.e., as they really were, as they presented themselves to me then and not as they seem now. This is the only historicity of which the participant of historical events is capable: to reveal the true psychology of his epoch and to restore the motivization of his actions.

Having stood in the very center of the events that changed the course of Russian history and occupied in this center the mathematical point of centricity, I saw the Revolution more as a whole than in its details, and experienced the Revolution as a single act of national struggle for the emancipation and salvation of Russia, rather than as a series of separate episodes of the inner struggle of parties and classes.

I hope that the reader who will have the patience to read this book through to the end will realize that Russia's tragedy of 1917 is not to be explained by the erroneous conception prevalent abroad that the Russian people are unfit for liberty and incapable of democratic, cultured self-government.

The reader will see that the triumph of the Bolshevist counter-revolution was not due to the fact that ideology of Bolshevism, essentially Western in its origin, corresponds to the "savage, Asiatic character of the Russian people."

He will see that in the tragic moment of the struggle for the salvation of Russia from the double pressure of the Germans at the front and the Bolsheviki in the rear there was in the social consciousness of Russia sufficient force of sacrificial patriotism, and that Russia alone was not responsible for coming out of the war a vanquished victor.

In short, the reader will perceive how the entire process of the inner struggle in Russia, in 1917, against the consequences of the fall of the monarchy was inseparably bound with the continuing struggle at the front for the very existence of Russia as an independent nation.

The French Revolution of 1789 came before the outbreak of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. In Germany, in 1918, the monarchy fell after the War. In Russia the Revolution came in the midst of war, at its most acute and critical moment.

Russia's "guilt" consisted in the fact that all the consequences—psychologic, political and economic—of war tension and exhaustion manifested themselves long before they appeared in the West. And the West, having conquered its war and post-war difficulties, failed to understand and could not understand the meaning and substance of the extremely painful and complex process of the dissolution of the old social fabric in Russia, a process which was experienced in milder form after the War by all European belligerent countries.

For the sake of her victory, Germany in 1917 sent us Lenin and helped to poison Russia with Bolshevism. For the sake of allied victory, and with equal zeal, some of the Allies undermined the national, revolutionary Provisional Government of Russia. The Germans believed that all was permissible in war, while the Allies acted on the supposition that they could do anything they liked in Russia after the disappearance of the Czarist government.

This attitude may perhaps have been quite natural from the point of view of the interests of Germany or, let us say, England. But the struggle for the liberty and independence of Russia which we were then waging was not thereby made easier.

The key to an understanding of the grave difficulties experienced by Russia during the period of the Revolution and which she is experiencing to this day must be sought in the complex and at times ambiguous international situation as it existed during the war.

It is nonsense to say, as do some, that Russia was unfit for liberty and that by her entire past she was prepared for the barbarism of Bolshevism.

The Russia of the Czarist epoch was, indeed, a backward country politically. This is an undeniable truth. But her national culture, her social order, her economic development, her spiritual ideals were on a very high plane of development, in which there was no room for the zoologic experiments of Lenin.

Moreover, beginning with the period of the Russo-Japanese War and the liberation movement of 1905, after the establishment of a representative legislative assembly, Russia appeared to be maturing also politically. Before the World War there was no longer any doubt that the transition of Russia from a semi-constitutional absolutism to a parliamentary democracy was only a question of a few years.

The War interrupted the sound political evolution of Russia.

The Bolshevist reaction, born of the blood and horrors of war, threw Russia back a century.

In the struggle for a sound and free Russia, the Russian people will, however, win back their rightful place in the family of nations.

I may add one more point. In my narrative of the events of 1917 I am compelled to speak of myself to a greater extent than I desired. It was impossible to avoid this in speaking of the main acts of the Revolution. However, throughout the period of its activity the Provisional Government was at all times the the genuine instrument of expression of the overwhelming majority of the organized political forces of the country. For this reason the names of the leaders of the first Russian republican government are but the pseudonyms of that Russia which fought stubbornly for her national existence on the basis of liberty and independence.

In conclusion, I wish to say that the appearance of this book in English is due to the very kind and thoughtful cooperation given me by my friends, Mr. Joseph Shaplen and Mr. A. J. Sack, to whom I feel deeply indebted.

New York.



Last updated on: 2.17.2008