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Kerensky

Kerensky was a young man in 1917. In many ways, that was the tragedy of Russia in 1917, that such huge responsibility was placed on the shoulders of such an inexperienced man. Kerensky was also foolish. He was a great orator. He was very theatrical in his gestures. He was the darling of the Petrograd intelligencia. Young girls fell in love with him. Many of them wrote him love poems. There was a cult of Kerensky indeed. His rhetoric was sickly sweet, which in the euphoria in the spring 1917, was just what was needed. To a certain extent he suffered from his slightly girlish gestures. He had a squeaky high-pitched voice. He often fainted after speaking to large public gatherings. And, in many ways his historical reputation never recovered from the fact that on October 25, just as the Bolsheviks were taking over Petrograd, he was alleged to have fled to the Front in a nurses uniform. But, back in the spring of 1917, he was the hope of the democratic intelligencia and he played on that role. He had one foot in the camp of the Soviets, and one in the liberal Da camp. And, he saw himself as a man destined to lead Russia out of chaos to freedom. He saw himself as a Bonaparte and indeed kept a figurine of Napoleon on his desk. He was theatrical in his oratory. He was a man prepared to play any role provided it promoted his own power. In the Da, he would wear a bourgeois morning coat, starched collar. When he crossed over to the other wing of the Tauride Palace and spoke in the Petrograd Soviet, he tore off the collar, took off his morning coat and appeared as the man of the people. When he went to speak before the army he put on khaki, and had his arm in a sling with a wound which there was no account of, in order to appear more military. So, he was a man who wanted to appear all things to all men.

The offensive of the summer of 1917, was Kerensky’s offensive. He initiated it. He made sure it went ahead despite the warnings of his generals. Alexsaiv, who he sacked as commander and chief in April, had said that the army could not launch an offensive that summer because it was too demoralized; supplies were not there, it was too undisciplined, and the Soviets wouldn’t back it. So, Kerensky appointed Brusilov as commander in chief who had, perhaps, a slightly naive optimism in the fighting. But, even Brusilov, by May, was beginning to warn Kerensky that the offensive could not succeed. But, Kerensky deluded himself that the offensive would. He went on a tour of the Front where, of course, the most loyal and patriotic soldiers were lined up to greet him. He saw only the officers, the committee men, the commanders. He did not see the rank and file soldiers. At one meeting near Tarnipol, one of these rank and file soldiers, a Bolshevik, broke through, insisted on meeting Kerensky. And, he said to him: “Minister of war, you say we should go and fight the Germans so that we, the peasant soldiers, can go home to our villages and divide up the land. But, what’s the use of my fighting Germans if I’m dead and there’s no land to have?” Kerensky was taken aback. He obviously believed that this was an exception and told the commanding officer to send him home, to make an example of him. The commanding officer was astounded. The soldier indeed fainted in disbelief. The officer tried to tell him: “But this is the view of all the soldiers. If I send him home, I should send the whole lot home!” But Kerensky would hear none of it, and believed that the soldiers should fight at the Front.

John C. Miylr, Crisis in Russia. 1979


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