petrograd soviet

Bolshevik-Inspired Uprising in Petrograd

The scene on the Nevsky Prospekt on July 17 soon after some of the few troops loyal to the Provisional Government fired on the crowd marching on the Tauride Palace.

July 16 1917, Petrograd–The garrison in Petrograd had been the vanguard of the revolution that overthrew the Czar.  Since then, at the Soviet’s insistence, the garrison had remained unchanged; the garrison could be relied upon to defend the revolution from any reaction against it.  The Provisional Government, however, was concerned that these soldiers were too radical and might try to rebel against them, as the sailors at Kronstadt had done.  Using the Kerensky Offensive as an excuse, many radical elements of the garrison now had orders to depart for the front.

Many of these units were determined not to leave, and soon considered armed action against the Provisional Government.  They were encouraged in this by the Bolshevik Military Organization and many Bolshevik-affiliated politicians (like Trotsky).  The top Bolshevik leadership had urged patience, however, at least until the Kerensky Offensive was over–but in early July, Lenin himself was on vacation in Finland and could not provide direction himself.

On the morning of July 16, the soldiers took to the streets, and were soon joined by workers mobilized by the Red Guards.  They congregated mostly around the Tauride Palace, seat of the Petrograd Soviet, hoping to encourage them to take power from the Provisional Government.  The next day, the crowds grew as sailors arrived from Kronstadt.  But the crowds were largely leaderless, and their cries of “All Power to the Soviets!” depended on the Soviets wanting to take power–which, apart from the Bolshevik minority, they were not.

Lenin arrived that day, but could not make up his mind on how to proceed.  He addressed the Kronstadt sailors for a few moments, but did not say much beyond a few platitudes.  As they marched towards the Tauride Palace, shots were fired and order broke down.  The crowd could have easily taken the Palace, defended only by eighteen soldiers (fewer than the number of exterior doors).  The Provisional Government was in hiding or, in the case of Kerensky, had already fled the city (in the guise of departing to inspect the front).  

At around 5PM, it began to rain heavily and much of the crowd dispersed.  However, a more committed core, led by the Kronstadt sailors, remained and began to enter the palace.  They seized one of the leading Socialist Revolutionary members, Victor Chernov, with one man telling him: “Take power, you son of a bitch, when it’s handed to you!”  Again, however, the Bolsheviks backed down, and Trotsky ordered Chernov to be released.  Within an hour, a new regiment of soldiers arrived; they were unclear what they were supposed to do, apart from “defend the revolution.”  With the lack of effective leadership from the Bolsheviks, the Soviet leadership soon persuaded them to serve as guards for the palace.

The uprising fizzled out on the 18th, as troops loyal to the Provisional Government began to arrive in the city.  A warrant was issued for Lenin’s arrest, alleging that he was receiving funds from the Germans; he soon fled the city.

Today in 1916: 50,000 National Guard on Mexican Border
Today in 1915: D’Annunzio Made Official War Chronicler; Maria Luisa Perduca’s The Vigil
Today in 1914: Russians Gain Increasing Evidence of Austrian Plans

Sources include: Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy.

March 15, 1917 - Tsar Nicholas II Abdicates

Pictured - The war claims its first sovereign.

The Tsar was in his train on March 15, waiting to get back to his capital. Revolutionaries had halted it on his way back to military headquarters at Mogilev, which forced him to take a longer way home through Pskov. That morning, however, he received a telegram from Mogilev. It was from the army’s Commander-in-Chief, General Alexeyev.

Alexeyev had gotten in touch with the Russian army’s generals and urged them to join him in asking the Tsar to abdicate. None of them dissented. General Brusilov was emphatic that abdication was the only way to save the monarchy and keep Russia in the war, and even the staunchly monarchist General Sakharov in Romania agreed. They knew their soldiers would cease fighting otherwise. The Tsar’s cousin Grand Duke Nicholas, the former Commander-in-Chief, wrote the same thing. At half past two in the afternoon, Alexeyev telegraphed what they had said to Pskov.

General Russky at Pskov went to see the Tsar armed with the telegrams. The Tsar looked over the messages for over a few moments; his cousin’s signature made the most impact. Without any discussion, he telegraphed back to Alexeyev: “In the name of the welfare, tranquility and salvation of my warmly beloved Russia I am ready to abdicate from the throne in favour of my son. I request all to serve him faithfully.”

So ended the Romanov dynasty’s 300-year rule over Russia. The first Romanov, Tsar Michael, had come to the throne in 1613. In Petrograd, the Duma moved into the Tauride Palace and officially formed the Provisional Government, but the Petrograd Soviet remained in session outside in a blatant challenge. The Tsar had given up his power lightly. Few of the revolutionaries would do the same.

Lenin Arrives in Petrograd

Lenin’s arrival at the Finland Station, in a Stalin-era painting.  Note how Stalin is pictured above Lenin; he was not actually present, and in fact was not overly impressed by Lenin’s April Theses.

April 16 1917, Petrograd–After a long journey via Germany, the Baltic, Sweden, and Finland (then part of Russia), Lenin arrived by train in Petrograd shortly before midnight on April 16.  This happened to coincide with the last day of the All-Russian Bolshevik Conference, and they gave him a grand welcome at the train station, along with representatives of the Petrograd Soviet.  A band struck up the Marseillaise (not Lenin’s preferred Internationale) as revolutionary sailors stood at attention.

Lenin was not expecting this sort of reception, and gave a short impromptu speech in the waiting room of the station.  His fellow Bolsheviks soon escorted him outside the station, to an armored car that was to lead a procession to the conference.  Lenin went up onto the turret of the armored car, silhouetted by a electric light, and started an impassioned speech that continued as the armored car went along the streets of Petrograd.  The speech’s text is unknown; here is a short selection from his speech in the waiting room:

Any day now the whole of European capitalism may crash.  The Russian revolution accomplished by you has prepared the way and opened a new epoch.  Long live the worldwide socialist revolution!

At the meeting of the Bolsheviks that night, Lenin delivered a ninety-minute speech in a similar vein, starting at two in the morning.  He was convinced that the “second stage” of the revolution, in which the proletariat would take power.  He called for an immediate end to the war, and to not negotiate with the other liberal or socialist parties that merely called for a war without annexation.  “To demand of a government of capitalists that it should renounce annexations is a nonsense, a crying mockery.”  

The speech was not received well; most thought that Lenin’s urging for a continued revolution (even if he did acknowledge some patience might be required) were ill-thought-out at best.  Lenin had not been in the country for years, had not been present in February; even so, they thought, he still must have known that Russia was not ready for such a drastic step, which would only lead to reaction and counter-revolution.  Lenin recognized this attitude as his speech was winding down, and concluded: “You comrades have a trusting attitude to the government.  If that is so, our paths diverge.  I prefer to remain in a minority.” Lenin crystallized these thoughts in a short treatise, his April Theses, which were published in Pravda, after some delay, and with a note explaining that it did not represent the view of the rest of Petrograd’s Bolsheviks.

Earlier Today:  The Nivelle Offensive

Sources include: Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution; Catherine Meridale, Lenin on the Train.

March 31, 1917 - Vladimir Lenin Decides to Return to Russia

Pictured - Red wave.

On March 27, the Petrograd Soviet called on soldiers and workers to protest the Provisional Government and its continuation of the war. Soon, they would have a leader capable of making the Soviet the only power in Russia. Four days later, Vladimir Lenin decided to leave the Swiss exile he had been living for over a decade and return to Russia. The German government approved Lenin and agreed to his transit via Germany, Sweden, and Finland, back to Petrograd. A revolutionary like that, though the Germans, could stir up more trouble in Russia and lead them out of the war.

Тарелка «Кто не работает, тот не ест». Адамович М.М., Альтман Н.И. 1922 г. Государственный фарфоровый завод. Петроград.

Painted plate “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat”. M. Adamovich, N. Altman, 1922. State Porcelain Factory. Petrograd.

anonymous asked:

I'm new to leftism and still reading around. One of the most popular arguments made by Leninists is that anarchist critique of Lenin does not take into account the material conditions the Bolsheviks find themselves in. Would you mind addressing that?

Sure! You do often hear this, although it’s just as often rather sketchy as to what exctly the material conditions justified, and even more sketchy is the basis for the idea that dealing with these difficult material conditions should have been the sole responsibility of the Bolshevik party. The Bolsheviks were not the most popular revolutionary party during the revolution, and at no point were they given a mandate to institute a single party dictatorship by the Russian people. Even the high level of popularity they had among the proletariat (roughly 10% of the population) didn’t last until the end of 1918. There was a wave of strikes and protests across the industral centres in 1918, and if you look at the resolutions passed by those revolutionary workers, it’s obvious that Bolshevik policies were deeply unpopular - for example the strike at the Putilov plant in Petrograd, where the demands were things like the unbanning of socialist newspapers, an end to summary executions by the Cheka, freeing of SR prisoners etc.

The vast majority of Bolshevik party members worked in offices as administrators, in factories they couldn’t even count on votes, shown by the fact that Bolsheviks actually altered the makeup of the Petrograd soviet to allow for less factory representation in the elections in summer 1918, as well as employing widespread voter intimidation and electoral fraud. The number of party members in Petrograd plummeted - from 50,000 in October 1917 to 3000 in September 1918. (There were many reasons for this, including party members being sent elsewhere etc, but it still shows pretty clearly the absence of a mandate to rule)

In 1918 the Cheka spent their time breaking strikes, arresting strike leaders, putting down street protests…during the Obukhov plant strike, the Bolsheviks just closed down the plant and fired every single worker - ironically they drafted 300 sailors from Kronstadt to go and disarm these workers by the way - the Kronstadt sailors were still loyal to them at this point. They remained loyal until after the white armies had been defeated, and only then did they leave the party in their thousands and begin pressing for a return to genuine soviet democracy.

The fact is that Bolshevik policies made the “difficult material conditions” worse, not better. The insensification of coercive labour practices after the civil war was effectively over in 1920 did not have the desired effect of boosting productivity, it had the opposite effect. Factory discipline broke down completely and in 1920-21 there was another wave of strikes, involving 77% of all medium and large scale enterprises in the country. War communism was an abject failure, so I never understand the argument that it was justified due to adverse conditions, it created adverse conditions, and had a lot of working class people shot for not working hard enough in the process.

Discontent Among Russian Military Leaders; Kerensky New War Minister

Kerensky, pictured later in the month, visiting the troops as War Minister.

May 13 1917, Petrograd–The leaders of Russia’s military, both military and civilian, were growing increasingly frustrated with the government (or lack thereof) in Petrograd.  Military discipline had broken down after news of the Petrograd Soviet’s Order No. 1 (which technically only applied to the Petrograd garrison) made its way out to the army as a whole.  Desertions were on the rise, and officers found it increasingly difficult to have their orders followed.  On May 13, General Kornilov, commander of the Petrograd garrison since the Revolution, resigned in protest at the Soviet’s increasing attempts to subvert his authority.  The Soviet, (rightfully) worried that Kornilov would attempt to use the garrison to overthrow them, were not content with having the power (via Order No. 1) to overturn Kornilov’s orders, asked that Kornilov submit all orders to the Soviet for their endorsement before issuing them to his troops.  Kornilov protested to the Provisional Government, but was overruled and resigned in protest on May 13.  This is not the last we will see of Kornilov; he was soon sent south to command the Eighth Army, Brusilov’s old command.

On the same day, War Minister Guchkov resigned as well.  This was due in part to what he perceived as being the overreach of the Soviet into army matters: “There is a limit [to Army democratization] beyond which disintegration is bound to begin.”  More relevant, however, was the fallout over a note sent by Foreign Minister Miliukov to the Allies, promising that Russia would uphold in full its commitments made to the Allies, and heavily implying that Russia still wanted to gain control over the Straits from the Ottomans at the end of the war.  Leaked by the Bolsheviks, it caused a popular outcry, with many no longer believing the Provisional Government’s public declarations that it was fighting for a war without annexations.  The Provisional Government was forced into a direct coalition with the Soviet, accepting many of its members into the cabinet, and Miliukov and Guchkov were forced out as a result.  Three days later, rising star Alexander Kerensky became War Minister in his place.

Meanwhile, at Stavka, the front commanders were, like Kornilov, increasingly frustrated with the breakdown of morale and discipline in their armies.  The next day, they discussed the idea of resigning en masse in protest, but ultimately decided to go to Petrograd and air their grievances to Kerensky.

Today in 1916: First (and Only) Submarine Caught in Otranto Barrage
Today in 1915: HMS Goliath Sunk At Dardanelles; HMS Queen Elizabeth Recalled

Kadets Leave Provisional Government over Ukraine

Prince Georgy Lvov (1861-1925), Prime Minister March - July 1917.  He resigned after the coalition he was leading fell apart due to the Kadets’ departure.

July 15 1917, Petrograd–The Provisional Government was composed of an uneasy coalition of various revolutionary parties, ranging from the liberal Kadets on the right to the radical Mensheviks on the left.  (Lenin’s Bolsheviks were not represented in the Provisional Government, but had a considerable presence in the Soviets and the armed forces.)  The leaders of the Provisional Government hoped that these parties could put aside their differences for the sake of the revolution and the war effort until a permanent government was established, but this truce fell apart entirely by early July.

The Kadets, already indignant about the other parties’ positions on land and labour reform, were outraged when the Provisional Government agreed on July 15 to recognize Ukraine’s self-declared autonomy.  Miliukov, no longer Foreign Minister but still the most influential Kadet, called it the “chopping up of Russia under the slogan of self-determination.”  Later that day, the remaining Kadet ministers resigned from the government, breaking apart the revolutionary coalition and severely weakening the Provisional Government.

The Prime Minister, Prince Lvov, despaired for the revolution and resigned the next day (though this, and his replacement by Kerensky, would not be announced for another four days).  Though by this point, events on the streets may have contributed to this decision as well.  He wrote his parents:

It was already clear to me about a week ago that there was no way out.  Without a doubt the country is heading for a general slaughter, famine, the collapse of the front, where half the soldiers will perish, and the ruin of the urban population.  The cultural inheritance of the nation, its people and civilization, will be destroyed.  Armies of migrants, then small groups, and then maybe no more than individual people, will roam around the country fighting each other with rifles and then no more than clubs.  I will not live to see it, and, I hope, neither will you.

Today in 1916: South Africans Fight for Delville Wood
Today in 1915: South Wales Coal Miners Strike
Today in 1914: Lützow Warns British Ambassador of Imminent Austrian Note To Serbia

Sources include: Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy.

Kronstadt Naval Base Rebels Against Provisional Government

June 1 1917, Kronstadt–The naval base at Kronstadt, in the Gulf of Finland twenty miles west of Petrograd, was in the vanguard of the revolution in February.  Its sailors–young, literate, bored, and with universal hate for their officers–were among the most radical of the revolutionaries.  Many of the officers were killed during the revolution, while others were imprisoned.  Repeated efforts by Kerensky to restore a normal military hierarchy and transfer the imprisoned officers to the mainland were rebuffed.  The fortress was controlled by the Soviet formed by the sailors, and this was dominated by the Bolsheviks, Anarchists, and Socialist Revolutionaries.

On June 1, the Kronstadt Soviet declared itself free from the authority of the Provisional Government, and ejected the commissar that Kerensky had sent from the Petrograd Soviet.  That the main naval base protecting Petrograd was now in the hands of the Bolsheviks and other radicals frightened the city.  One of the Bolshevik leaders on Kronstadt recalled (though perhaps playing up its significance):

In their eyes, Kronstadt was a symbol of strange horror, the devil incarnate, a terrifying specter of anarchy, a nightmare rebirth of the Paris Commune on Russian soil.

The Bolsheviks on the mainland, however, were less enthusiastic.  Lenin, while an advocate of further revolution, knew that the Petrograd Soviet was not the right target–and was also furious that they had gone against his wishes.  Trotsky, on the other hand, newly arrived from his detention in Canada, had encouraged the revolt, though he was not himself a Bolshevik at this point.

Within a few days, after negotiations with a Menshevik representative from the Provisional Government (and daily berating from Lenin), the Kronstadt Soviet backed down.  They recognized the authority of the Provisional Government, but now got to elect their own commissar.

Today in 1916: Jutland: Scheer Escapes
Today in 1915: Kaiser Limits U-Boat Campaign; Bryan Confronts Wilson

Sources include: Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy.

Provisional Government Losing Control of Enlisted Soldiers

April 21 1917, Petrograd–The revolution in Russia had removed the Czar and most of the useless royalty from the military.  The Provisional Government was now on paper the ultimate authority in the country, but was finding it had little power in practice.  In late March, War Minister Guchkov wrote to Alexeyev:

The Provisional Government does not yield any real power and its orders are carried only to the extent allowed by the Soviet…the troops, railroads, postal service, and telegraph are in its hands.  I can say directly that the Provisional Government only exists so long as the Soviet allows it to.

The order from the Petrograd Soviet that had reached the troops the most was Order No. 1, which let soldiers form their own committees that would have final say over the use of military equipment.  It has often been misinterpreted as letting soldiers let their own officers–and this was a misinterpretation common at the time.  On April 21, Guchkov had to explicitly order that the election of officers was forbidden.  This did little to ease relations between officers and soldiers, or to strengthen officers’ authority.  In some cases, officers were so afraid of their own men that they committed suicide.

With the breakdown in military and political authority came an increase in desertion.  Between the two revolutions in 1917, over 2 million soldiers deserted.  Guchkov recognized this fact, and on the same day gave blanket amnesty to deserters, provided they returned to their units by May 14; it is unlikely this was effective.

Sources include: Randal Gray, Chronicle of the First World War; David R. Stone, The Russian Army in the Great War.

July 16, 1917 - Russian July Crisis Begins, Protesters Demand End of War

Pictured - Kronstadt sailors protest the Provisional Government in Petrograd during demonstrations organized by Leon Trotsky.

The February Revolution was only the first step for Russia’s radicals. The Tsar had been toppled, but the moderate-leftist Provisional Government that replaced it had to be overthrown as well. That looked like it might happen soon enough. The Kerensky Offensive on the front, named after the Prov. Government leader Alexander Kerensky, had been meant to re-inspire Russian motivation for the war against Germany. Instead the attack had become a train-wreck. Soldiers refused to leave their trenches, deserting or surrendering in droves.

On the home front too, Russian people were sick of the war. Had not the Tsar been overthrown? Why not make peace? The Provisional Government no longer seemed legitimate to many people. Its Duma was composed mostly of liberal politicians and businessmen. Recently many members of the Duma had resigned over giving Ukraine more autonomy. This liberal party, the Kadets, supported expanded war aims. To many Russians, it looked like the Provisional Government might make things worse by continuing to fight, rather than tackling unemployment and starvation at home.

Another body in the city streets seemed more palatable. That was the Petrograd Workers’ and Soldiers’ Soviet, which was composed mostly of radical socialists like the Mensheviks, the Socialist Revolutionaries, and the Bolsheviks. On July 16 the soviet organized demonstrations for peace in Petrograd. Many soldiers and sailors joined them. By evening there were 10,000 people marching through the streets in opposition to the war.

March 14, 1917 - February Revolution: Tsar’s Train Stopped by Revolutionaries, Petograd Soviet Issues Order No. 1, No Saluting Officers Off-Duty and All Weapons Must be Given to Elected Soldiers’ Committees

Pictured - Power to the people! The Red Guards of Vulkan Factory, Petrograd.

Revolutionaries halted the Tsar’s train on March 14 as it approached the capital from Mogilev, the military headquarters where he had been staying. Inside the city, street-fighting continued between revolutionaries and the few soldiers and policemen who had remained loyal to the Tsar. There were already two distinct revolutionary movements in the city claiming to hold predominance. One was the Provisional Government, formed from members of the Duma. The other was the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, composed mostly of radical Mensheviks and Bolsheviks.

That day, the Provisional Government had ordered the soldiers to return to their barracks, lest the situation get too out of hand. Skeptical of the Provisional Government and particularly of head deputy, Mikhail Rodzianko, a conservative with ties to the Tsar, the Soviet issued it’s own Order No. 1: all weapons should be turned over to elected committees of soldiers, and they should only follow orders from officers who could be trusted to follow the Revolution. Military discipline would be maintained, but democratized, and soldiers should no longer salute their officers when off-duty, and refer to them as “Sir,” rather than the traditional “Your Excellency.”

March 20, 1917 - Russian Provisional Government Vows to Stay in the War

Pictured - A double-headed eagles holds a scroll reading “Enlightenment,” while the banner at the bottom is the founding date of the Provisional Government. Inside the shield reads “This is what makes Russia strong.”

Russia’s new democratic government immediately set to work ending the worst abuses of the Tsarist regime, releasing prisoners from the gulags and curbing Russia’s aristocracy. But even these reforms could not placate many die-hard revolutionaries, especially when the government promised to remain in the war against Germany, honoring Russia’s commitments and debts to the Allies.

Petrograd’s rival center of power, the Petrograd Soviet, immediately decried the decision. So too did Lenin when he heard, still in his Swiss exile. A new slogan emerged in the capital city: “All Power to the Soviets!” The government’s Foreign Minister, Paul Miliukov, ignored their protests and vowed Russia’s commitment to the Allies. “She will fight by their side against a common enemy until the end, without cessation and without faltering.” The former Tsar too went to military headquarters at Mogilev and told the troops there to be loyal to the Provisional Government and the prosecution of the war. Their commitments were huge relief to the British and French, who feared a Russian withdrawal that would allow the Central Powers to turn all their might against the Western Front.

Revolution in Petrograd

Revolutionaries firing on Petrograd police headquarters.

March 12 1917, Petrograd–The demonstrations in Petrograd on International Women’s Day had grown over the following days.  The Czar, who was still at Stavka, decided that order needed to be restored by force, rather than any concessions, and on the 26th Petrograd was effectively under military occupation.  Despite this, people still converged on Nevsky Prospekt in the afternoon, and in multiple instances the poorly-trained troops fired on the crowds.  At Znamenskaya Square, over 50 people were killed.  While this dispersed some of the crowds, it emboldened others.  More importantly, it made the stakes incredibly clear to the soldiers in Petrograd; a restoration of order would require much more violence than had been seen on Sunday.

That night, soldiers in many of the regiments in the capital, most of whom were peasant recruits, debated what they should do the next day.  In the regiment that had been involved in the massacre at Znamenskaya recalled:

I told them that it would be better to die with honor than to obey any further orders to shoot at the crowds: “Our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, and brides are begging for bread,” I said.  “Are we going to kill them?  Did you see the blood on the streets today?  I say we shouldn’t take up positions tomorrow.  I myself refuse to go.”  And, as one, the soldiers cried out: “We shall stay with you!”

In the wee hours of March 27, the soldiers of a different regiment, the Pavlovsky, voted to disobey any future orders to fire on civilians.  A revolt by one company the previous afternoon had been met with relative leniency, and the other men realized that imperial authority was crumbling.  They probably did not intend to start a general mutiny, but after a confrontation with their senior officers turned violent, they and several nearby regiments turned out into the streets and joined up with the workers.

Over the course of the day, half of the garrison of 160,000 men joined the mutiny, while most of the remainder remained in their barracks.  The soldiers and people fought against the police, seized government buildings, and opened prisons.  By nightfall, the mutineers were in control of all but a few buildings in the city.

The speed of the revolution took all observers by surprise, even self-proclaimed revolutionary politicians.  Scrambling to catch up to events, Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries quickly formed a Petrograd Soviet in one of the wings of the Tauride Palace to organize the workers; they were soon joined by representatives of the other Socialist parties.  In the other wing of the palace, the Duma had been dissolved by the Czar the previous night, and remained paralyzed.  With the revolution in control of the streets, and the Soviet quickly setting themselves up as a possible authority, some members of the Duma formed a “Temporary Committee of Duma Members for the Restoration of Order in the Capital and the Establishment of Relations with Individuals and Institutions,” and then that evening proclaimed themselves to be the ultimate authority in Petrograd.

At Stavka, the Czar slowly learned the gravity of the situation in the capital.  All of his advisors, and even his wife, urged him to make immediate concessions, handing over most civilian authority to the Duma.  They thought this would prevent the spread of disorder, and would hopefully bring the soldiers back to the government’s side.  However, the Czar refused to give up his god-given authority, and believed the mutiny could still be crushed by force.  He brought General Ivanov out of effective retirement, and ordered him to proceed to Petrograd with reinforcements and restore order.

Today in 1916: Admiral Tirpitz Resigns
Today in 1915: German Counterattack at Neuve-Chapelle

Sources include: Jonathan Sanders, Russia 1917 [includes image credit]; Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy; Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution.

Kornilov Replaces Brusilov

August 1 1917, Mogilev–The spectacular failure of the Kerensky Offensive made it inevitable that the conduct of Russia’s war could not continue unchanged in its present form.  The obvious target, Kerensky himself, had more power than ever after the failure of the Bolshevik-inspired “July Days” in Petrograd and his accession as Prime Minister.  Kerensky did consider what may have been (in hindsight) the only sensible option, a separate peace with Germany.  Ultimately, however, he felt that starting his rule by signing a presumably-humiliating peace with Germany would have been politically disastrous, and decided against it.

Attention thus turned to Brusilov, commander-in-chief of the armies and military architect of the offensive.  He had had severe doubts in the final days before the offensive, only to be overruled by Kerensky, but he was still unavoidably tied to its failure. Furthermore, he was politically unpopular among the generals and the Kadets in the Provisional Government for tolerating and even welcoming the soldiers’ committees and other democratic reforms in the Army.  He also managed to (unintentionally) snub Kerensky when the latter visited Stavka on July 29.  Two days later, he was sacked.

On August 1, his replacement was announced in the form of General Kornilov, whose Eighth Army had achieved the most success in the offensive; in the chaos after its collapse, he had been promoted to command of the whole Southwest Front.  His higher command experience was relatively limited, having spent much of the war as an Austrian prisoner of war.  Alexeyev said he had “the heart of a lion, the brains of a sheep.” He had a large following among the right wing of the government, however, for his firm stance on military discipline and for standing up to the Petrograd Soviet during his short tenure as commander of the garrison there.  

Kornilov’s own ambitions, and more importantly, the ambitions of his political supporters, would soon become a source of conflict between him and Kerensky.  He demanded a restoration of the death penalty nationally (not just at the front) and an assurance that he would only be responsible to his “conscience and to the nation as a whole.”  While Kornilov soon backed down from his more aggressive demands, he was still clearly bringing the Army in a right-wing direction–and Kerensky would remember this implicit challenge to his authority.

Sources include: Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy