Kerensky and the Revolution (2024)

Table of Contents
I II III FAQs References
By E. H. Wilcox


ALEXANDER FEODOROVITCH KERENSKY is the most striking human phenomenon of the war — one might even say, of our time. Last year he was a struggling political dissident, dogged at every step by the agents of the police, and never certain that he might not be seized the next moment and spirited off to that heart-breaking Siberian exile in which so many of his friends were already languishing. Now he is the virtual dictator of Russia — the real ruler of a nation of one hundred and seventy million souls, the accepted master of a larger number of human beings than have ever before willingly submitted to the sway of a single man. It is small wonder if the peoples of the world, a little dazzled by this human meteor who has rushed so suddenly into their ken, should be asking themselves, in some confusion of mind, what is the meaning of this strange unheralded apparition.

If, on the eve of the Revolution, you had scrutinized the ranks of the Imperial Duma, Alexander Kerensky would probably have been the last man whom you would have picked out as a successor to the autocrat of all the Russias. In many respects, he was the least distinguished figure in that assembly, and, so far as externals were concerned, one of the least ingratiating. As he hurried through the lobbies with short nervous steps, you might have taken him for an underpaid clerk or the reporter of a gutter newspaper. His undeveloped, undersized form was clad in a shabby, dark-colored sack suit, and the only noticeable characteristics of his pinched features were the morbid and blotchy pallor of his complexion, and a certain furtiveness in the expression of the eyes, which was possibly due to the perpetual anxieties of his revolutionary life. Neither the face nor the manner of the man would have inspired confidence in a stranger, though the indications of suffering and ill-health might have prompted to pity.

The writer last saw Kerensky before the Revolution, but it is evident from his recent photographs that the change in his fortunes has been accompanied by a corresponding change in his personal appearance. No doubt the sense of power and of high achievement, and the general recognition of great public services is having its mellowing and mollifying effect on the wan, drawn face of Alexander Kerensky.

On the tribune Kerensky seemed even more out of place than in the lobbies. The level of eloquence in the Duma was not a high one. Oratorical skill was no qualification for the Cabinet, and was consequently seldom found there. On those rare occasions on which a minister of the Tsar condescended to oral communication with the elected of the Russian people, he repeated in monotonous tones a dry official statement learned by heart, or even read it out with his eyes glued to the typewritten text. Those of the deputies whose names are best known outside Russia were speakers rather than orators, and what they said was more effective to the eye than to the ear. No doubt that was as it should have been, for more result was to be hoped for from the newspaper reader than from anything that was likely to happen in the Chamber itself.

One man with real oratorical gifts the Duma did boast of, but he was always on the wrong side. That was Nikolai Evgenievitch Markoff, member for Koursk, who assumed the leadership of the defenders of reaction, corruption, and incompetence when their former chief, Vladimir Mitrofanovitch Puriskievitch left for the front as an organizer of the work of charity and underwent a Pauline change, which, in spite of his continued adhesion to monarchical principles, made him one of the chief contrivers of the death of Gregory Rasputin and a revolutionary force of tremendous potency. Markoff, who is a man of gigantic stature and picturesque exterior, — his large square head is crowned with bushy black curls, — has a complete command of all the classical tricks of oratory. The spacious gesture, the nicely modulated voice (his is mellow and resonant), the lightning repartee, the carefully calculated pause, were all employed by him with great adroitness and effectiveness. It was always an aesthetic pleasure to hear him and watch him speak in the Duma, and it was only when one read one’s paper the following morning that one realized that he had said nothing. He had, indeed, nothing to say, for he was the champion of a cause which had been hopelessly lost through its own utter hollowness.

On the other hand, the speeches of the opponents of the old régime, though unimpressive in delivery, made convincing reading in the parliamentary reports. Kerensky stood out from the other members by virtue of the vehemence and pitch of his utterance. Their monotony was that of a babbling brook, his that of a railway whistle. He was always at the white heat of passion, and poured out an unbroken torrent of fierce words at the very top of his voice. One was amazed that his vocal chords did not give way, and that his puny frame was not broken by the storm of uncontrolled gesture which kept every limb in ceaseless febrile motion. As a matter of fact, his speeches actually left him quite exhausted, and he stepped from the tribune with his whole body trembling and perspiration pouring down his pallid cheeks.

This type of overwrought oratory does not impress a parliament; and Kerensky was listened to in the Duma mainly because there was no knowing what he might not say next. The majority of his colleagues heard him with a half-contemptuous curiosity, and heaved a sigh of relief when he reached the end of his peroration without having provoked open scandal. Outside the ranks of the extreme democratic parties, his demagogic frenzy aroused both dislike and distrust. He was regarded as a man of insatiable ambition, to whom it was of less importance that the fabric of the Tsar’s government should be tottering than that he had struck the blows which had loosened it from its foundations. In this respect the attitude of the house toward him was in strong contrast to the amiable indulgence which it showed toward the leader of Socialism pure and simple, Nikolai Tcheidse, whose dull preaching of a more intense doctrine was further subdued by a strong Caucasian accent, and the permanent success of whose methods in the chair of that exceedingly stormy assembly, the Petrograd Council of Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Delegates, has been not the least surprising among the paradoxes of the Revolution.

There was, however, one portion of Kerensky’s audience on which his eloquence worked like a succession of powerful electric shocks, and to which, no doubt, it was chiefly directed. That was the groups of workmen, always marked out by their blouses and high boots, in the public galleries of the Tauride Palace. It was precisely those passages of his speeches which the censor had deleted from the newspaper reports which were best known in the artisan quarter on ‘the Viborg side’ and in the ship-yards and iron-works at the mouth of the Neva. The Trudoviki, or Laborites, are a representation rather of the landless rural peasant than of the urban masses; but with a sure instinct the Petrograd proletariat quickly recognized in Kerensky their born champion; and in the months of doubt and despair which preceded the Revolution he was the man they swore by through thick and thin.

For nearly a couple of years before the storm burst it was clear to close observers that he had only to lift a finger to fill the streets of Petrograd with men and women ready for almost anything. It was in August, 1915, that the head of the metropolitan Obrana (secret political police) drew the attention of the Minister of the Interior to this danger. His report, which is one of many interesting confidential documents brought to light by the Revolution, may be quoted textually: —

The strikes with a political background which are at present occurring among the workmen, and also the ferment among them, are the result of the revolutionary activity of members of the Social Democratic and Labor fractions of the Duma, and especially of the leader of the latter, the lawyer Kerensky. The revolutionary propaganda of Kerensky has expressed itself in the watch-word ‘Struggle for power and for a constituent assembly,’ and has led to a systematic discrediting of the government party in the eyes of the masses. For the success of these demands Kerensky has recommended the workmen to establish impromptu factory groups for the formation of councils of workmen’s and soldiers’ delegates on the model of 1905, with the object of impelling the movement in a definite direction at the given moment, with the cry for a Constituent Assembly which should take into its hands the defense of the country. For the greater success of his agitation Kerensky is circulating among the workmen rumors that he is receiving from the provinces numbers of letters with the demand that he overthrow the Romanoff dynasty and take its power into his own hands.

The aforesaid criminal activity of Kerensky has had the result that the present strike movement, in spite of the protests of the Social Democrats of the Lenine type, has had success only because the SocialDemocrat liquidators and popular Social revolutionaries replied definitely that ‘for more than a week their Duma deputies had been knocking at the door of the proletariat in search of sympathy and support; and that it would be criminal on the part of representatives of the proletariat not to support the deputies.’ As I propose, with the object of checking further revolutionary propaganda, to carry out the arrest of the most active of the revolutionary agitators, I beg for instructions how I should act with respect to the chief ringleader of the present revolutionary movement, the member of the Imperial Duma Kerensky.

This document is one of the few pieces of tangible evidence we have on one of the most important and, as yet, most obscure questions of the Revolution, namely, how the movement was organized and set in motion among the working classes of Russia and in the rank and file of the army. We have known from the outset that it was the Imperial Duma, with those great organizations, so closely affiliated to it, the All-Russian Union of Zemstvos and the All-Russian Union of Municipalities, which prepared the ground among the commercial and professional classes and among the officers of the army and navy, and it is not difficult to imagine how they did their work. But under the conditions then existing in Russia, anything like a universal organization for an illegal purpose of the masses of the civilian population and the army seemed out of the question.

The report of the head of the Petrograd Obrana gives us a hint how this apparent impossibility was brought about. Some day we may learn why it was that Kerensky was left at liberty till his revolutionary work was accomplished. A mere fraction of his transgression had sent thousands to Siberia; bu t it appears to have been only on the strength of his last Duma speech, on the very eve of the Revolution, that the Ministry of the Interior decided that his time was ripe, and issued an order for his prosecution.


One curious point about Kerensky is this, that, according to Russian conceptions he is an aristocrat, a ‘nobleman.’ Taine said of the great personalities which eventually emerged from the French Revolution, ‘these men had no ancestors, but they were themselves ancestors.’ The same could not be said of the men who up to now have been in the forefront of the Russian Revolution. Kerensky and Tcheidse are both members of the ‘Dvorianstvo,’ or nobility, and the same is true of most of those who so far have been the real architects, and not merely the site-clearers, of the Revolution. Prince Lvoff, the head of the first Provisional Government, belongs to this caste as a matter of course; and so do his namesake, who was Procurator of the Holy Synod, and Rodzianko, and Milyukoff. On the passports of those two great popular tribunes Kerensky and Tcheidse you would have found the word ‘Dvorianin,’ which the nearest available Russian-English dictionary translates by the single word, ‘nobleman.’

In those Caucasian restaurants of Petrograd and Moscow to which you must go if you want to taste pilaf or shashlyk in their authentic form, your meal will probably be cooked by one prince and served by a second, while a third will relieve you of your hat and coat as you enter, and consider himself suitably rewarded for their restoration, when you leave, by a gift of twopence ‘for tea.’ The reason for this is that when the Tsardom annexed Georgia, it granted to all the feudal chiefs, great and small, the right to bear the only genuine Russian title, and the highest one in the country, namely ‘Kniaz,’ which is invariably translated ‘prince,’ and apparently can be only so translated. Where ‘princes’ are waiters, and messengers, and bootblacks, it is not surprising that a great part of the mere ‘nobility’ should be sunk in poverty and even destitution, and that Kerensky, though a ‘nobleman,’ should have been compelled to sub-let one of the four rooms of his flat, and should have had considerable difficulty in finding a tenant because he could not afford to keep the place properly heated. All the same, it is an interesting fact that this great democratic movement of the greatest aggregate of Christian people existing on the earth should have been headed by a man whose family traditions connect him with privilege and prerogative.

If, on the eve of the Revolution, an outside observer had been asked to sketch a portrait of Kerensky as a man and a publicist, he would probably have done so in something like these terms: ‘An ambitious and shrewd young lawyer, of impoverished aristocratic stock, who has had the foresight to realize that in the democratic development of Russia, which it is no longer possible to arrest, the popular side offers the best scope for his somewhat morbid talents and energies; a voluble and tempestuous orator of pronouncedly demagogic type, who has been intoxicated by the exuberance of his own verbosity and, in the process of convincing others, is gradually raising his own convictions to the point of fanaticism.’ Such a judgment would have been no serious disparagement of his honesty and sincerity.

Probably such a portrait would not have been far from the truth; but the Kerensky we know now is something quite different. It is not merely that his physical and mental powers, warmed by that great fire of revolutionary enthusiasm which he did so much to kindle, have been purified and enhanced. They have been radically transformed and enriched and ennobled by the addition of something which before was not of them. The old Kerensky could not have become the hope and the rallying-point of all that is honest and patriotic in a nation of one hundred and seventy million people. A rebirth, a renaissance, a ‘conversion,’ — to use the word that perhaps most aptly suggests the alteration in this man’s soul — was necessary for that. The truth would seem to be that, under the influence of the great emotional storm which the Revolution let loose, what was to Kerensky formerly a political conviction, has now become a pious faith, a religious fanaticism. He has been called the great statesman of the Revolution. That may be true ultimately, but so far, as I shall point out later, it is not. Statesmanship is more a matter of experience than of inspiration. But what Kerensky can be called is the Prophet of the Revolution, the High Priest of liberty. A vast and overpowering belief in the thing he professes has seized his soul, burned all the dross out of it, and wakened to throbbing life qualities which were lying dormant and had not yet responded to any summons.

It is no longer possible to doubt Kerensky’s sincerity or honesty. Calculating ambition can do much, but only faith can supply the supernatural force which has borne him up since he took over the Ministry of War. Before the Revolution a single speech seemed to leave him on the verge of collapse. Since then he has gone on for weeks on end, delivering a dozen or a score of such speeches in a single day, and finding time in the intervals between them to pour out proclamations, appeals, and decisions on the most critical matters of the most vital of all the departments of state.

I have read every word that the chief Russian papers have printed of Kerensky’s doings since he became a member of the Cabinet, and only once has it been recorded that he had to disappoint his audience because his throat had broken down under the strain. During General Korniloff’s so promising thrust at Stanislau, he seemed to be ubiquitous all up and down the front, exhorting here, cajoling there, threatening somewhere else, darting ceaselessly backwards and forwards between observation-posts, trenches, and reserve formations, everywhere working under the extremest tension of mind and body. Here, as in his great oratorical tour at the beginning of his tenure of the War Ministry, his working day often extended into the small hours of the following morning, and one can only wonder when he could have found time for sleep.

The very character of his oratory appears to have participated in the rebirth of the man. That his utterances should have brought down showers of popular offerings; that the platforms on which he had just spoken should have been littered with gold chains, brooches, necklaces, and military medals, sacrificed spontaneously for the common good, does not in itself say very much. It was a time of extreme emotions, in which high-pitched oratory of the Kerensky type was necessary to give expression to the popular mood. But in some mysterious way he has evidently caught the power of sweeping off their feet even those who have been hardened to the appeal of the platform by long experience of public life.

Nemirovitch Danchenko is one of the oldest and ablest of Russian journalists, whose critical faculties have been sharpened by many years’ service on the battlefields of war and politics; but he writes of the wizardry of Kerensky’s oratory in terms of positive ecstasy.

Listening to him [he says] you feel that all your nerves are drawn toward him and bound together with his nerves in one nexus. It seems that you yourself are speaking; that on the platform it is not Kerensky but you who are standing before the crowd, dominating its thoughts and feelings; that it and you have only one heart, wide as the world and as beautiful. Kerensky has spoken and gone. You ask yourself how long he has spoken — an hour or three minutes? On your honor, you cannot say, for time and space had vanished. They had ceased to be; only now have they returned.

Again, he says: —

All impediments between himself and his audience are intolerable to him. He wants to be all before you, from head to foot, so that the only thing between you and him is the air completely impregnated by his and your mutual radiations of invisible but mighty currents. For that reason he will hear nothing of rostra, pulpits, tables. He leaves the rostrum, jumps on the table; and when he stretches out his hands to you, — nervous, supple, fiery, all quivering with the enthusiasm of prayer which seizes him,— you feel that he touches you, grasps you with those hands, and irresistibly draws you to himself.

To Danchenko, Kerensky is ‘a volcano hurling forth sheaves of all-consuming fire,’ actuated by ‘an impulse of such headlong centrifugal feeling as could be compared only with lightning if lightning had the thought and consciousness where it must strike and what destroy.’ For this hardened observer, although his past associations have been in circles with little sympathy for Socialistic views, there can be no doubt as to the abandoned fervor of Kerensky’s conviction. Kerensky ‘loves nobility, and, seeking it, finds it in every soul, which becomes purer responding to his appeal.’ The driving power behind him is ‘the indestructible and insatiable faith in the eternal and omnipotent truth of freedom,’ and ‘ you follow him because you never for a moment doubt that if he calls you to a feat of daring, he will himself be in front, taking on his sunken chest, his weak and narrow shoulders, all the blows of the yet unvanquished monster of the evil past.’

Of the overwhelming power of Kerensky’s personality in direct contact with the masses of his fellow countrymen, we have an example so astonishing, so incredible, that one hesitates to put it forward without the strongest possible authentication. Let the incident, therefore, be told in the words of the correspondent of the Rietch, Arzoubieff, who reports what he saw with his own eyes and heard with his own ears. It was in the first days of Kerensky’s rule at the War Ministry and he was visiting one of the ‘sick’ (disaffected) regiments on the Dvina front. Arzoubieff says, —

The soldiers gave a friendly enough answer to Kerensky’s greeting. He shook hands with the officers and the members of the Regimental Committee, and ordered individual soldiers to come nearer. They formed round him in a wide close circle. And he began to speak.

All the time he talked of the same thing: how we had gained our precious and longawaited freedom, and how we must guard, strengthen, and defend it, voluntarily submitting to a reasonable discipline, dictated not by fear but by a sense of duty.

When he had finished, some soldiers standing in the front row asked: ‘But will you tell us what we must do to strengthen this same freedom? Do you mean that we should attack?’

The question was asked in a calm and peaceable, not at all in a provocative tone. Yet, all the same, one’s heart trembled with some ominous presentiment. Not mine alone — of that I am sure. Hundreds of eyes were fixed upon the questioner.

Kerensky explained, that to strengthen freedom means, in the first place, to organize. Committees must be elected — by companies, regiments, divisions. These committees will decide matters together with the Command Staff. And if it proves that an advance is indispensable then an advance must be made.

‘If we attack,’ remarked the soldier calmly, quietly, and with conviction, ‘we shall all perish. And what good will it be, this freedom, to a dead man? The dead need neither land nor freedom.’

Kerensky started back as if he had been struck in the face. A shiver ran through those who were present.

It was, indeed, an awkward moment. Here was the Commander-in-Chief, here was the Commander of the Army. Some hundred days back none would have dared blink in their presence. A soldier who had presumed to utter words like those just spoken would have been struck, not only off the roll of the regiment, but off the roll of the living. And mark, that not only here, in the former army of the Tsar, was it so, but it was so in all the armies of the world, in those of our allies as in those of our enemies.

Moreover, what are generals, and who thinks of generals now? Here was Kerensky — the living incarnation of the victorious revolution; the supreme wielder of revolutionary power in the army. If he departs hence humiliated and shamed, the whole Russian Revolution is a brag, a piece of tomfoolery, an absurdity. It means that our Revolution is good for nothing, a rotten rag, and the first peasant you meet has the right to spit on it according to his pleasure.

Kerensky and the soldier stood face to face. The representative of the spirit and the representative of the body, they measured one another with their eyes as if before a duel.

‘Comrades,’ Kerensky began.

‘What is the use of talking?’ cried the soldier, sharply and roughly, not at all as he had spoken hitherto; ‘we must make peace quickly, that’s all.’

Some one’s sympathetic voice murmured in the back ranks. Another moment and the peasant would have won a victory over the Russian Revolution.

‘ Silence when the War Minister is speaking!’

There was a hush. All were on the alert — as still as death. It seemed that one could hear the quickened beat of hearts.

‘Colonel,’ said Kerensky in a choking voice, ‘take this man’ —

‘And have him shot?’ the mind involuntarily asked itself. The emotion of the moment was such that no one would have been surprised to hear such words. But no.

— ‘ and to-morrow issue an order that he has been flung out of the ranks of the Russian Army. He is a coward. He is unworthy to defend the soil of Russia. He may go home.’

A stream of phrases, trenchant and merciless as the blows of a whip. ‘Coward, coward, coward!’ Kerensky repeated this word with the fury of one possessed. The face of the soldier took on the hue of death, became as gray as the earth. He began to sway to one side, ever farther to one side, and finally fell heavily to the ground.

‘He is playing the simpleton,’ some one shouted.

But it was not so. The soldier was in a deep swoon.

This time mind had triumphed over body. The revolution had humbled the recalcitrant peasant in the dust.

Here again we may say that the Revolutionary Kerensky proved himself different from and greater than his former self.

Moreover he has unquestionably developed powers of assimilation, intuition, and decision which even those most closely associated with him in his earlier life had never suspected. When he was appointed Minister for War he shut himself up in his room, having given orders that he was on no pretext to be disturbed, and for twenty-four hours at a stretch tore the essential facts out of a mass of military manuals. Emerging from his seclusion on the following day, he remarked to one of the members of his family, ‘Now, it seems, I know a little about it and can leave for the front.’

This recalls that power of Napoleon — almost as remarkable as his specifically military genius — to absorb within a few hours all the main features of a complex and unfamiliar problem and at once to supply the best solution of it. It should be remembered that till Kerensky became Minister for War, the army was an absolutely unknown field to him. He had not even served the usual term in the ranks. And yet he had been only a few days on the visit to the front which followed his appointment, when General Brusiloff enthusiastically exclaimed, ‘Kerensky is the very man the Russian army needs! ’

There is much to be said against Kerensky’s decisions, as indeed against the whole line of his policy, but there has, at any rate, never been any hesitation about them. While the government as a whole was encouraging anarchy by vacillation and temporizing, his personal decisions, so far as is known, were always instant, peremptory, irrevocable; and though some of them were fraught with mischievous consequences, the immediate result of his swift intuition and prompt action was undoubtedly a salutary one.

At an early stage of the Revolution Kerensky coined one of its most precious and memorable phrases. ‘The Russian Revolution,’ he said, ‘will astound the world by its magnanimity.’ And to this fine principle he has ever since remained true. When clamor was raised in the Petrograd Council of Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Delegates and elsewhere for a retaliatory persecution of Nicholas II and his family, he flatly declared that, so long as he was Minister of Justice, there should be nothing of the kind; and he told the murmuring Maximalists that free Russia should be the last country to allow the impartial administration of the law to be influenced by feelings of vengefulness, however great the provocation might have been. This rule he also applied in his own personal relationships. More than once he defended the right of the Maximalists to freedom of speech, at a time when the chief use they were making of it was to blacken his character and undermine his authority. Untold harm was done in the Twelfth Army by a Leninite organ called the Okopnaya Pravda [Trench Truth], which attacked him with especially scurrilous bitterness. At last the Executive Committee of the army decided to have the editor of this sheet, a certain Lieutenant Haustoff, arrested on the charge of libeling the War Minister. When Kerensky heard of this he at once telegraphed to the Government Commissary with the army: ‘I beg you personally to investigate this matter, and if Lieutenant Haustoff has been arrested merely for criticizing my words and actions, then, since we have freedom of speech, I consider such arrest as unpermissible, and I beg you to make representations for his liberation.’

A similar spirit of magnanimity actuated him when he refused the St. George’s Cross unanimously voted to him by the cavaliers of St. George in the third Caucasian Army Corps, and sent to him at Pet rograd.

The army corps sought to justify the conferment by appeal to a definite clause in the Statutes of the Order of St. George; but the legal mind of Kerensky saw that this passage had been construed a little liberally in his favor, and he refused the proffered honor, though both in his revolutionary career and on his visits to the firing-line he had undoubtedly many times shown courage which would have morally entitled him to accept it. In his case, however, physical courage is eclipsed by that much rarer and higher quality, moral courage, of which he has shown countless examples.


Nevertheless, with all our appreciation of the superb qualities of Alexander Feodorovitch, and of the elemental forces which the Revolution has awakened in him, we must also admit that the difficulties and dangers in his way were largely of his own creation. Unhappily, the Russian Revolution as it appeared to distant observers in the days of its birth will remain one of the great might-have-beens of history, and Kerensky is in large measure responsible for the pitiful culmination of a splendid promise.

Thanks to the unusual nature of the circ*mstances, — the thoroughness of the work of disintegration carried out by the old régime, the useful lessons of the great dress-rehearsal of 1905-06, and the war, which delayed action till the full ripeness of the opportunity, — the Russian Revolution made a better beginning than any similar movement recorded in the annals of our kind. It is questionable whether there ever was a government in which disinterested patriotism, ability, and energy were more abundant than they were in Prince Lvoff’s first Cabinet. Several of its members had run grave risks and paid heavy penalties in the cause of popular freedom. They were nearly all experts in their departmental subjects, besides being practiced politicians. At the outset, at any rate, public opinion was solid at their backs, and it was inspired by a noble and highminded impulse. With this magnificent start, there was really no reason in the nature of things why the Revolution should have got out of hand.

Yet within a few months the whole country seemed to be rapidly dissolving into a state of primordial chaos. Regiments, societies, towns, districts, vast areas with populations of many millions, were threatening to throw off the authority of the Central Government or actually defying it. Industry was rapidly being brought to a standstill through the lack of fuel and raw materials, the expulsion of the technical staffs from the factories, or the insistence by the workmen on hours of labor and rates of pay which had hitherto not even been dreamed of in any country. A licentious soldiery was running riot through the land, commandeering express trains and passenger steamers, looting drink-shops, sacking country mansions, and spreading disorganization and demoralization in all directions. The transport system, on which depended the lives both of the armies at the front and of the civilian populations in the rear, had sunk into a state of inextricable disorder and confusion, and the railway sidings were becoming daily more and more congested with broken-down locomotives and wagons which there was neither the labor nor the material to repair. Public expenditure was rising by leaps and bounds, and as the normal sources of revenues had almost completely dried up, the only way to keep pace with it was to flood the already perilously diluted currency with paper money, which was being turned out at the maximum pressure of the government printing-machines. There could not have been a more lamentable contrast than that between the first promise of the Revolution and its fruition a few months later.

And why was this? No doubt the situation was always one of enormous difficulty, — the old régime had also seen to that, — but the real cause of the failure to cope with it successfully is unquestionably to be found in that ‘duplication of authority’ which arose out of the pretensions and intermeddlings of the Petrograd Council of Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Delegates. Prince Lvoff’s first Cabinet was never allowed to be a government at all in the ordinary sense of that term, though it should have been obvious, even to those of the revolutionary leaders who had had the least political experience, that, if ever there was a time when unity and firmness of authority were indispensable, it was then, when an exhausting war, bringing in its train a grave economic crisis, had suddenly been complicated by the destruction of the whole machinery of administration and the relaxation of the accustomed bonds of civic discipline.

So far it is impossible to apportion fairly the blame for the collapse between the Government and the Council. Before we can do that, we must be enlightened on one very material point which up to the present has been kept in obscurity. We know that the first Provisional Government was the result of an agreement between the Executive Committee of the Imperial Duma and the Council, but we have not been given cognizance of the negotiations between these two bodies or of the terms of their compact. It is almost inconceivable that Prince Lvoff should not have insisted on those conditions of plenary and undisputed authority, without which no government can fulfill its functions even in the most favorable of circ*mstances, and if that is so, then the Council was guilty of a deliberate, systematic, and continuous breach of faith. From the very beginning it arrogated to itself administrative functions, issued proclamations, and assured the credulous populace that it was the only body to which the adhesion of true democrats was due. One consequence of this was that lawless and wayward spirits refused to obey the Government because it was not the expression of the will of the people, and the Council because it was not the government.

For this untenable relationship Kerensky must accept a large share of the responsibility. He was one of the creators, if not the creator of the Petrograd Council; he was its first vicechairman and apparently still holds that post; he had an incomparable authority, both with its members and with the Petrograd proletariat and garrison who had elected them, and it is exceedingly improbable that it adopted any of its hasty and ill-considered steps without his knowledge.

The first and most fatal of these was the notorious ‘Proclamation No. 1,’ said to have been drafted by the Jew Maximalist Nahamkes, who calls himself Stekloff. This document enunciated the principle that the troops had the right to choose their own officers, and thus at one stroke cut away the whole foundation of the discipline of the army before anything had been devised to take its place. The accumulated effect of all the other agents of disintegration did not together contribute so much to the riot that produced the catastrophe of Tarnopol as did this one foolish and fatal proclamation. It was the main cause of the débäcle which Kerensky assumed the premiership to stem, and at the same time it was his own work.

Nor is that the only case in which he has had, in a sadder and wiser mood, to repair the consequences of his own ill-advised measures. One of his first steps as Minister of Justice was to abolish the death penalty. The act doubtless was nobly inspired, but it was not statesmanship, and it caused rivers of blood to flow. Less than six months later Kerensky himself was compelled to reinstate the death penalty on a scale on which it had never been applied since the days of Ivan the Terrible. Instead of sending individuals to the scaffold, he was compelled to have whole battalions of Russian troops mown down by Russian artillery or cut to pieces by Cossack charges. He proclaimed unrestrained freedom of the press and of speech; but six months later, he closed down the Leninite papers with as little ceremony as if he had been a Plehve or a Protopopoff, and suspended the right of public meeting at the front. In solemn words, he assured the Council of Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Delegates that troops should never be brought from outside to intervene in the crises of the capital; but it was only with the help of regiments from the front that he made himself master of the open rising of treason, reaction, and anarchy which broke out in the middle of July. With proud confidence he issued the charter of soldiers’ rights which his predecessor as War Minister, the really statesmanlike Alexander Gutchkoff, had refused to sign; but already its fundamental clauses have been revoked, and it will be long before they are again put into force.

These are only some of the mistakes which Kerensky has made, and the catalogue could be indefinitely extended.

His must be the major responsibility, because he was the only man in the country whom the masses of the people absolutely trusted and were ready implicitly to obey. If he had not been blinded by his own enthusiasm and faith in the miraculous workings of freedom, he would have told Russia that the Revolution was an accomplished fact, and that the only forces which could rivet the old shackles upon the nation were its own impatience and impetuosity. He would have pointed out that, after but a few months’ delay, Russia as a whole would be able to speak through the Constituent Assembly, and decide once and for all what the future destiny of the country was to be. He would have indicated all the dangers of hasty experiments in the uncertain and insecure conditions of the interregnum, and would have earnestly exhorted his vast and submissive following to think for the moment only of the duties and not of the privileges of freedom. Finally, he would have insisted on the primary necessity of absolute obedience to the government and to it alone.

He did not do these things, and his responsibility is twofold. He is responsible as the most influential member of the corporation which encouraged license and undermined the authority of the government, and he is responsible as the most influential member of the government which retained office under these impossible conditions.

All men have the defects of their qualities and the calm calculations of a statesman were not to be expected from a man possessed by the religious fervor with which Kerensky greeted the Revolution. His mistakes have been grievous, but he would have been a less interesting and sympathetic figure had he not been the man who was bound to make them.

Kerensky and the Revolution (2024)


What was the role of Kerensky in the Russian Revolution? ›

Aleksandr Kerensky (born April 22 [May 2, New Style], 1881, Simbirsk [now Ulyanovsk], Russia—died June 11, 1970, New York, New York, U.S.) was a moderate socialist revolutionary who served as head of the Russian provisional government from July to October 1917 (Old Style).

Why didn't Kerensky end the war? ›

The Government was afraid of the demands that the Germans might make if Russia asked for peace. Some such as Alexander Kerensky (Prime Minister July to October 1917) believed that a victorious war would unite the people behind the Government. The decision to continue the war was unpopular.

Did Kerensky flee Russia? ›

Alexander Kerensky had escaped from Russia in 1918, fully anticipating a quick downfall of the Bolsheviks, followed by his own return. Instead, he spent the rest of his life in exile, mostly in Paris and New York, where he wrote several memoirs and interpretations of the revolutionary period.

Who was Alexander Kerensky quizlet? ›

Between the fall of Nicholas II in March 1917 and the rise of Vladimir Lenin in October, Russia's most significant national leader was Alexander Kerensky. Both were also socialists, though Kerensky's socialism was of the moderate-liberal strand, while Lenin's was radical, impatient and obsessive.

Who tried to overthrow Kerensky? ›

The Kornilov affair, or the Kornilov putsch, was an attempted military coup d'état by the commander-in-chief of the Russian Army, General Lavr Kornilov, from 10 to 13 September 1917 (O.S., 28–31 August), against the Russian Provisional Government headed by Aleksander Kerensky and the Petrograd Soviet of Soldiers' and ...

What were the actions of Kerensky? ›

Like his predecessors, Kerensky has supported Russia's continued involvement in World War I, though his role as justice minister had allowed him to avoid the subject. In June 1917 Kerensky ordered a disastrous offensive against the Austrians and Germans in Galicia.

Who was the main leader of the Russian Revolution? ›

Vladimir Lenin, founder of the Soviet Union and leader of the Bolshevik party.

Why did the Kerensky government fall in Russia? ›

However, the most substantial reason for the fall of the government remains the continuation of Russia's participation in World War 1, which not only exacerbated the economic and social woes of Russia but further alienated the government from the people.

When did Bolsheviks overthrow Kerensky? ›

On Nov. 7, 1917 (Oct. 25, 1917 according to the old Russian Calendar): Bolshevik forces — led by Vladimir Lenin — attacked and overthrew the provisional government of Alexander Kerensky in Petrograd (now St.

What did Kerensky believe in? ›

He studied law at the University of St. Petersburg, where he was exposed to the socialist (or populist) revolutionary movement. After graduating in 1904, Kerensky joined the Socialist Revolutionary Party and became a prominent lawyer. He frequently defended revolutionaries accused of political offenses.

Why did Lenin take the name Lenin? ›

He first adopted the pseudonym Lenin in December 1901, possibly based on the Siberian River Lena; he often used the fuller pseudonym of N. Lenin, and while the N did not stand for anything, a popular misconception later arose that it represented Nikolai.

How many Russians died in the Kerensky offensive? ›

Altogether, the Central Powers were able to break the Russian defense and advance 145km within 10 days. During the retreat, the Russians sufferred heavy losses: casualties included 40,000 killed[40], and 20,000 wounded[41].

Was Kerensky a Duma? ›

In the same year, Kerensky was elected to the Fourth Duma as a member of the Trudoviks, a socialist, non-Marxist labour party founded by Alexis Aladin that was associated with the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, and joined a Freemason society uniting the anti-monarchy forces that strived for democratic renewal of Russia ...

Was Kerensky a Menshevik? ›

Nah. Kerensky was a Trudovik, a non Marxist party affiliated with Socialist Revolutionary Party. The Mensheviks were Marxist socialists. In the Duma during the Tsarist era, Kerensky was in a progressive bloc that included a number of Mensheviks and liberals.

What changes did Kerensky attempt to make? ›

The Bolshevik Revolution

Kerensky pursued his efforts to create some sort of representative assembly to give his government authority.

What role did Karl Marx play in the Russian Revolution? ›

Marx died in 1883. The first Russian Revolution wasn't until 1905. The Bolshevik Revolution was in 1917. Marx influenced many Russian revolutionaries, including the Bolsheviks, but he had no personal role in any Russian Revolution.

What was Rasputin's role in the Russian Revolution? ›

Historians often suggest that Rasputin's scandalous and sinister reputation helped discredit the Tsarist government, thus precipitating the overthrow of the House of Romanov shortly after his assassination.

What role did Provisional Government play in the Russian Revolution? ›

The leaders of the provisional government, including young Russian lawyer Alexander Kerensky, established a liberal program of rights such as freedom of speech, equality before the law, and the right of unions to organize and strike. They opposed violent social revolution.


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