Trotsky reporting on Kornilov's insurrection and its defeat by the soviets.
Chapters 9 and 10 of History of the Russian Revolution.
"As early as the beginning of August, Kornilov had ordered the transfer of the Savage Division and the 3rd Cavalry Corps from the South-Western front to the sector of the railroad triangle, Nevel-Novosokolniki-Velikie Luie, the most advantageous base for the an attack on Petrograd - this under the guise of reserves for the defence of Riga. At the same time the commander-in-chief had concentrated one Cossack division in the region between Vyborg and Byeloostrov. This first thrust into the very face of the capital –from Byeloostrov to Petrograd is only thirty kilometres! –was given out as a preparation of reserves for possible operations in Finland. Thus even before the Moscow Conference four cavalry divisions had been moved into position for the attack on Petrograd, and these were the divisions considered most useful against Bolsheviks. Of the Caucasian division it was customary in Kornilov's circle to remark: "Those mountaineers don't care whom they slaughter." The strategic plan was simple. The three divisions coming from the south were to be transported by railroad to Tsarskoe Selo, Gatchina, and Krasnoe Selo, in order from those points "upon receiving information of disorders beginning in Petrograd, and not later than the morning of September 1" to advance on foot for the occupation of the southern part of the capital on the left bank of the Neva. The division quartered in Finland was at the same time to occupy the northern part of the capital.
Through the mediation of the League of Officers Kornilov had got in touch with Petrograd patriotic societies who had at their disposal, according to their own words, 2,000 men excellently armed but requiring experienced officers to lead them. Kornilov promised to supply commanders from the front under the pretext of leave-of-absence. In order to keep watch of the mood of the Petrograd workers and soldiers and the activity of revolutionists, a secret intelligence service was formed, at the head of which stood a colonel of the Savage Division, Heiman. The affair was conducted within the framework of military regulations. The conspiracy made use of the headquarters' apparatus.
The Moscow Conference merely fortified Kornilov in his plans. Miliukov, to be sure, according to his own story, recommended a delay on the ground that Kerensky still enjoyed a certain popularity in the provinces. But this kind of advice could have no influence upon the impatient general. The question after all was not about Kerensky, but about the soviets. Moreover, Muliukov was not a man of action, but a civilian, and still worse a professor. Bankers, industrialists, Cossack generals were urging him on. The metropolitans had given him their blessing. Orderly Zavoiko offered to guarantee his success. Telegrams of greeting were coming from all sides. The Allied embassies took an active part in the mobilisation of the counter-revolutionary force. Sir G. Buchanan held in his hands many of the threads of the plot. The military attaches of the Allies at headquarters assured him of their most cordial sympathies. "The British attache in particular," testifies Denikin, "did this in a touching form." Behind the embassies stood their governments. In a telegram of August 23, a commissar of the Provisional Government abroad, Svatikov, reported from Paris that in a farewell reception the Foreign Minister Ribot had "inquired with extraordinary eagerness who among those around Kerensky was a man of force and energy." And President Poincare had "asked many questions...about Kornilov." All this was known at headquarters. Kornilov saw no reason to postpone and wait. On or about the 20th, two cavalry divisions were advanced further in the direction of Petrograd. On the day Riga fell, four officers from each regiment of the army were summoned to headquarters, about 4,000 in all, "for the study of English bomb-throwing." To the most reliable of these officers it was immediately explained that the matter in view was to put down "Bolshevik Petrograd" once and for all. On the same day an order was given from headquarters to supply two of the cavalry division with several boxes of hand grenades: they would be the most useful in street fighting. "It was agreed," writes the chief-of-staff, Lukomsky, "that everything should be ready by the 26th of August."
As the troops of Kornilov approached Petrograd an inside organisation "was to come out of Petrograd, occupy Smolny Institute and try to arrest the Bolshevik chiefs." To be sure in Smolny Institute the Bolshevik chiefs appeared only at meetings, wheras continually present there was the Executive Committee which had appointed the ministers, and continued to number Kerensky among its vice-presidents. But in a great cause it is not possible or necessary to observe the fine point of things. Kornilov at least did not bother about them. "It is time," he said to Lukomsky, "to hang the German agents and spies, Lenin first of all, and disperse the Soviet of Workers' and Peasants' Deputies - yes, and disperse it so it will never get together again."
Kornilov firmly intended to give the command of the operations to Krymov, who in his own circles enjoyed the reputation of a bold and resolute general. "Krymov was at that time happy and full of the joy of life," says Denikin, "and looked with confidence on the future." At headquarters they looked with confidence upon Krymov. "I am convinced," said Kornilov, "that he will not hesitate, if need arises, to hand the whole membership of the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies." The choice of this general, so happy and full of the joy of life, was consequently most appropriate.
At the height of these labours, which drew attention from the German front, Savinkov arrived at headquarters in order to dot the i's of an old agreement, and introduce some secondary changes into it. Savinkov named the same date for the blow against the common enemy as that which Kornilov had long ago designated for his action against Kerensky: the semi-anniversary of the revolution. In spite of the fact that the conspiracy had split into two halves, both sides were trying to operate with the common elements of the plan -Kornilov for the purpose of camouflage, Kerensky in order to support his own illusions. The proposal of Savinkov played perfectly in the hands of headquarters: the government had presented its head, and Savinkov was ready to slip the noose. The generals at headquarters rubbed their hands: "He's biting!" they exclaimed like happy fishermen. Kornilov was quite ready to make the proposed concessions, which cost him nothing. What difference will the non-subordination of the Petrograd garrison to headquarters make, once the Kornilov troops have entered the capital? Having agreed to the other two conditions, Kornilov immediately violated them: the Savage Division was placed in the vanguard and Krymov at the head of the whole operation. Kornilov did not consider it necessary to choke on the gnats.
The Bolsheviks debated the fundamental problems of their policy openly: a mass party cannot do otherwise. The government and headquarters could not but know that the Bolsheviks were restraining the masses, and not summoning them to action. But as the wish is father to the thought, so political needs become the basis for a prognosis. All the ruling classes were talking about an impending insurrection because they were in desperate need of one. The date of the insurrection would approach or recede a few days from time to time. In the War Ministry - that is, in the office of Savinkov - according to the press, the impending insurrection was regarded "very seriously." Rech stated that the Bolshevik faction of the Petrograd Soviet was assuming the responsibility for the attack. Miliukov was to such an extent involved in this matter of the pretended insurrection of the Bolsheviks in his character of politician, that he has considered it a matter of honour to support the tale in his character of historian. "In subsequently published documents of the Intelligence Service," he writes, "new assignments of German money for Trotsky's enterprise relate to exactly this period." The learned historian, together with the Russian Intelligence Service, forgets that Trotsky - whom the German staff for the convenience of Russian patriots was kind enough to mention by name - was "exactly at this period," from 23rd July to the 4th September, locked up in prison. The fact that the earth's axis is merely an imaginary line does not of course prevent the earth from rotating on its axis. In like manner the Kornilov operations rotated round an imaginary insurrection of the Bolsheviks as round its own axis. That was amply sufficient for the period of preparation. But for the denouement something a little more substantial was needed.
One of the leading military conspirators, the officer Vinberg, revealing in his interesting notes what was going on behind the scenes in this business, wholly confirms the assertion of the Bolsheviks that a vast work of military provocation was in progress. Even Muliukov is obliged, under the whip of facts and documents, to admit that "the suspicions of the extreme left circles were correct: agitation in the factories was undoubtedly one of the tasks which the officers' organisations were supposed to fulfil." But even this did not help: "The Bolsheviks," complains the same historian, decided "not to be put upon," and the masses did not intend to go out without the Bolsheviks. However, even this obstacle had been taken into consideration in the plan, and paralysed as it were in advance. The "republican centre," as the leading body of the conspirators in Petrograd was called, decided simply to replace the Bolsheviks. The business of imitating a revolutionary insurrection was assigned to the Cossack colonel, Dutov. In January 1918, Dutov, to a question from his political friends: "What was to have happened on the 28th of August, 1917?" answered as follows (the quotation is verbatim): "Between the 28th of August and the 2nd of September I was to take action in the form of a Bolshevik insurrection." Everything had been foreseen. This plan had not been laboured over by the officers of the general staff for nothing.
Kerensky, on his side, after the return of Savinkov from Moghiliev, was inclined to think that all misunderstandings had been removed, and that headquarters was entirely drawn into his plan. "There were times," writes Stankevich, "when all those active not only believed they were all acting in the same direction, but that they had a like conception of the very methods of action." Those happy moments did not last long. An accident occurred, which like all historic accidents opened the sluice-gates of necessity. To Kerensky came the Octobrist, Lvov, a member of the first Provisional Government - that same Lvov who as the expansive Procuror of the Holy Synod had reported that this institution was filled with "idiots and scoundrels." Fate had allotted to Lvov the task of discovering that under the appearance of a single plan there were in reality two plans, one of which was directed in a hostile manner against the other.
In his character as an unemployed but word-loving politician, Lvov had taken part in endless conversations about the transformation of the government and the salvation of the country - now at headquarters, now in the Winter Palace. This time he appeared with a proposal that he be permitted to mediate in the transformation of the cabinet along national lines, incidentally frightening Kerensky in a friendly manner with the thunders and lightenings of a discontented headquarters. The disturbed Minister-President decided to make use of Lvov in order to test the loyalty of the staff - and at the same time, apparently, that of his accomplice, Savinkov. Kerensky expressed his sympathy for the plan of a dictatorship - in which he was not hypo-critical - and encouraged Lvov to undertake further mediations - in which there was military trickery.
When Lvov again arrived at headquarters, weighed down now with the credentials of Kerensky, the generals looked upon his mission as a proof that the government was ripe for capitulation. Only yesterday Kerensky through Savinkov had promised to carry out the programme of Kornilov if defended by a corps of Cossacks; today Kerensky was already proposing to the staff a co-operative transformation of the government. “It is time to put a knee in his stomach.” The generals justly decided. Kornilov accordingly explained to Lvov that since the forthcoming insurrection of the Bolsheviks has as its aim “the overthrow of the Provisional Government, peace with Germany, and the surrender to her by the Bolsheviks of the Baltic fleet,” there remains no other way out but “the immediate transfer of power by the Provisional Government into the hands of the supreme commander-in-chief.” To this Kornilov added: “…no matter who he may be”–but he had no idea of surrendering his place to anybody. His position had been fortified in advance by the oath of the Cavaliers of St. George, the League of Officers and the Council of the Cossack army. In order to make sure of the “safety” of Kerensky and Savinkov from the hands of the Bolsheviks, Kornilov urgently requested them to come to headquarters and place themselves under his personal protection. The orderly, Zavoiko, gave Lvov an unequivocal hint as to just what this protection would consist of.
Returning to Moscow, Lvov fervently urged Kerensky, as a “friend,” to agree to the proposal of Kornilov “in order to save the lives of the members of the Provisional Government, and above all his own life.” Kerensky could not but understand at last that his political playing with the idea of dictatorship was taking a serious turn, and might end most unfortunately for him. Having decided to act, he first of all summoned Kornilov to the wire in order to verify the facts: Had Lvov correctly conveyed his message? Kerensky put his questions, not only in his name, but in the name of Lvov, although the latter was not present during the conversations. “Such and action,” remarks Martynov, “appropriate for a detective, was of course improper for the head of a government.” Kerensky spoke of his arrival at headquarters the next day as a thing already decided upon. This whole dialogue on the direct wire seems incredible. The democratic head of the government and the “republican” general converse about yielding the power the one to the other, as though they were discussing a berth in a sleeping car!
Miliukov is entirely right when he sees in the demand of Kornilov that the power be transferred to him, merely “ a continuation of all those conversations openly begun long ago about a dictatorship, a reorganisation of the government, etc.” But Miliukov goes too far when he tries upon this basis to present the thing as though there had been in essence no conspiracy at headquarters. It is indubitable that Kornilov could not have presented his demand through Lvov, if he had not formerly been in a conspiracy with Kerensky. But this does not alter the fact that with one conspiracy –the common one –Kornilov was covering up another –his own private one. At the same time that Kerensky and Savinkov were intending to clean up the Bolsheviks, and in part the soviets, Kornilov was intending also to clean up the Provisional Government. It was just this that Kerensky did not want.
For several hours on the evening of the 26th, headquarters was actually in a position to believe that the government was going to capitulate without a struggle. But that does not mean that there was no conspiracy; it merely means that the conspiracy seemed about to succeed. A victorious conspiracy always finds ways of legalising itself. “I saw General Kornilov after this conversation,” says Trubetskoy, a diplomat who represented the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at headquarters. “A sigh of relief lifted his breast, and to my question, ‘This means that the government is coming to meet you all along the line?’ he answered: ‘Yes’” Kornilov was mistaken. It was at that very moment that the government, in the person of Kerensky, had stopped coming to meet him.
Then headquarters has its own plans? Then it is not a question of dictatorship in general, but of a Kornilov dictatorship? To him, to Kerensky, they are offering as if in mockery that post of Minister of Justice? Kornilov has actually been so imprudent as to make this suggestion through Lvov. Confusing himself with the revolution, Kerensky shouted out to the Minister of Finance, Nekrassov: “I won’t hand over the revolution to them!” And the disinterested friend, Lvov, was immediately arrested and spent a sleepless night in the Winter Palace with two sentries at his feet, listening through the wall with a grinding of his teeth to “the triumphant Kerensky in the next room, the room of Alexander 111, happy at the successful progress of his affairs and endlessly singing a roulade from an opera.” During those hours Kerensky experienced an extraordinary afflux of energy.
Petrograd in those days was living in a two-fold state of alarm. The political tension, purposely exaggerated by the press, contained the material of an explosion. The fall of Riga had brought the front nearer. The question of evacuating the capital, raised by the events of the war long before the fall of the monarchy, now came up with new force. Well-to-do people were leaving town. The flight of the bourgeoisie was caused far more by fear of a new insurrection than by the advance of the enemy. On August 26th the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks repeated its warning: “A provocational agitation is being carried on by unknown persons supposedly in the name of our party.” The leading organs of the Petrograd soviet, the trade unions, and the shop and factory committees, announced on the same day that not one workers’ organisation, and not one political party, was calling for any kind of demonstration. Nevertheless rumours of an overthrow of the government to occur on the following day did not cease for one minute. “In government circles,” stated the press, “they are talking of a unanimously adopted decision that all attempted manifestations shall be put down.” And measures had been taken to call out the manifestation before putting it down.
In the morning papers of the 27th there was not only no news of the insurrectionary intentions of headquarters, but, on the contrary, an interview with Savinkov declared that “General Kornilov enjoys the absolute confidence of the Provisional Government.” On the whole the semi-anniversary began in unusual tranquillity. The workers and soldiers avoided anything which might look like a demonstration; the bourgeoisie, fearing disorders, stayed at home; the streets stood empty; the tomb of the February martyrs on the Mars Field seemed abandoned.
On the morning of that long-expected day which was to bring the salvation of the country, the supreme commander-in-chief received a telegraphic command from the Minister-President: to turn over his duties to the chief-of-staff, and come immediately to Petrograd. This was a totally unexpected turn of affairs. The general understood –to quote his own words –that “here a double game was being played.” He might have said with more truth that his own double game had been discovered. Kornilov decided not to surrender. Savinkov’s urgings over the directed wire made no difference. “Finding myself compelled to act openly” –with this manifesto the commander-in-chief appealed to the people –“I, General Kornilov, declare that the Provisional Government, under pressure from the Bolshevik majority of the soviets, is acting in full accord with the plans of the German general staff, and simultaneously with the impending descent of hostile forces upon the Riga coastline is murdering the army and unsettling the country from within.” Not wishing to surrender the power to the enemy, he, Kornilov “prefers to die upon the field of honour and battle.” Of the author of this manifesto Miliukov subsequently wrote, with a tinge of admiration: “resolute, scornful of juridical refinements, and accustomed to go directly toward the goal which he has once decided is right.” A commander-in-chief who withdraws troops from the enemy front in order to overthrow his own government certainly cannot be accused of a partiality for “juridical refinements.”
Kerensky removed Kornilov upon his sole personal authority. The Provisional Government had by that time ceased to exist. On the evening of the 26th the ministers had resigned –and act which, by a happy conjuncture of events, corresponded to the desires of all sides. Several days before the break between headquarters and the government, General Lukomsky had already suggested to Lvov through Alladin, that “it would not be a bad idea to warn the Kadets that they should withdraw from the government before the 27th of August, so as to place the government in a difficult situation and themselves avoid any unpleasantness.” The Kadets did not fail to take congnisance of this suggestion. On the other side, Kerensky himself announced to the government that he considered it possible to struggle with the revolt of Kornilov “only on condition that the whole power be conferred upon him personally.” The rest of the ministers, it seemed, were only waiting for some such happy occasion to take their turn at resigning. Thus the Coalition received one more test. “The ministers from the Kadet Party,” writes Miliukov, “announced that they would resign for the given moment, without prejudicing the question of their future participation in the Provisional Government.” True to their traditions, the Kadets wanted to stay on the side-lines until the struggle was over, so that their decision might be guided by its outcome. They had no doubt that the Compromisers would keep their seats inviolable for them. Having thus relieved themselves of responsibility, the Kadets, along with all the other retired ministers, took part thereafter in a series of conferences of the government, conferences of a “private character.” The two camps who were preparing for a civil war grouped themselves, in a “private” manner, around the head of the government, who was endowed with all possible authorisations but no real power.
Upon a telegram from Kerensky received at headquarters reading, “Hold up all echelons moving towards Petrograd and its districts, and return them to their last stopping-point,” Kornilov wrote: “Do not carry out this order. Move the troops towards Petrograd.” The military insurrection was thus firmly set in motion. This must be understood literally: three cavalry divisions, in railroad echelons, were advancing on the capital. Kerensky’s order to the soldiers of Petrograd read: “General Kornilov, having announced his patriotism and loyalty to the people…has withdrawn regiments from the front…and…sent them against Petrograd.” Kerensky wisely omitted to remark that the regiments were withdrawn from the front, not only with his knowledge, but at his direct command, in order to clean up that same garrison before whom he was now disclosing the treachery of Kornilov. The rebellious commander of course was not slow with his answer. “The traitors are not among us,” his telegram reads, “but there in Petrograd, where for German money, with the criminal connivance of the government, they have been selling Russia.” Thus the slander set in motion against the Bolsheviks found ever new roads.
That exalted nocturnal mood in which the President of the Council of Retired Ministers was singing arias from the opera, very quickly passed. The struggle with Kornilov, whatever turn it took, threatened dire consequences. “On the first night of the revolt of headquarters,” writes Kerensky, “in the soldier and worker circles of Petrograd a persistent rumour went round associating Savinkov with the movement of General Kornilov.” The rumour named Kerensky in the next breath after Savinkov, and the rumour was not wrong. Extremely dangerous revelations were to be feared in the future.
“Late at night on the 26th of August,” relates Kerensky, “the general administrator of the War Ministry entered my office in a great state of excitement. ‘Mr. Minister,’ Savinkov addressed me, standing at attention, ‘I ask you to arrest me immediately as an accomplice of General Kornilov. If, however, you trust me, I ask you to give me the opportunity to demonstrate to the people in action that I have nothing in common with the revoltees…’” “In answer to this announcement,” continued Kerensky, “I immediately appointed Savinkov temporary governor-general of Petersburg, endowing him with ample authority for the defence of Petersburg from the troops of General Kornilov.” Not content with that, at the request of Savinkov, Kerensky appointed Filonenko his assistant. The business of revolting and the business of putting down the revolt were thus concentrated within the narrow circle of the “directory.”
This so hasty naming of Savinkov governor-general was dictated to Kerensky by his struggle for political self-preservation. If Kerensky had betrayed Savinkov to the Soviets, Savinkov would have immediately betrayed Kerensky. On the other hand, having received from Kerensky –not without blackmail –the possibility of legalising himself by an overt participation in the actions against Kornilov, Savinkov was bound to do his best to exonerate Kerensky. The “governor-general” was needed not so much for the struggle against counter-revolution, as for covering up the tracks of the conspiracy. The friendly labours of the accomplices in this direction began immediately.
“At four o’clock on the morning of August 28th,” testifies Savinkov, “I returned to the Winter Palace, summoned by Kerensky, and their found General Alexeiev and Tereshchenko. We all four agreed that the ultimatum of Lvov had been nothing more than a misunderstanding.” The role of mediator in this early-morning conference belonged to the new governor-general. Miliukov was directing it all from behind the scenes. During the course of the day he will come out openly upon the stage. Alexeiev, although he had called Kornilov a sheep’s brain, belonged to the same camp with him. The conspirators and their seconds made a last attempt to declare the whole business a “misunderstanding” –that is, to join hands in deceiving public opinion, in order to save what they could of the common plan. The Savage Division, General Krymov, the Cossack echelons, the refusal of Kornilov to retire, the march on the capital – all these things were the mere details of a “misunderstanding”! Frightened by the ominous tangle of circumstances, Kerensky was no longer shouting: “I will not hand over the revolution to them!” Immediately after the conference with Alexeiev he went to the journalists’ room in the Winter Palace and demanded that they withdraw from the papers his manifesto declaring Kornilov a traitor. When in answer the journalists had made it clear that this was a physical impossibility, Kerensky exclaimed: “That’s too bad.” This miserable episode, described in the newspapers of the following day, illumines with marvelous clarity the figure of the now hopelessly entangled super-arbiter of the nation. Kerensky had so perfectly embodied in himself both the democracy and the bourgeoisie, that he had now turned out to be at the same time the supreme incarnation of governmental power and a criminal conspirator against it.
By the morning of the 28th, the split between the government and the commander-in-chief had become an accomplished fact before the eyes of the whole country. The stock exchange immediately took a hand in the matter. Wheras it had reacted to the Moscow speech of Kornilov threatening the surrender of Riga with a fall in value of Russian stocks, it reacted to the news of an open insurrection of the general with a rise of all values. With this annihilating appraisal of the February regime, the stock exchange gave unerring expression to the moods and hopes of the possessing classes who had no doubt of Kornilov’s victory.
The chief-of-staff, Lukomsky, whom Kerensky the day before had ordered to take upon himself the temporary command, answered: “I do not consider it possible to take the command from General Kornilov, for that will be followed by an explosion in the army which will ruin Russia.” With the exception of the commander-in-chief in the Caucasus, who after some delay declared his loyalty to the Provisional Government, the rest of the commanders in various tones of voice supported the demands of Kornilov. Inspired by the Kadets, the head committee of the League of Officers sent out a telegram to all the staffs of the army and fleet: “The Provisional Government, which has already more than once demonstrated to us its political incapacity, has now dishonored its name with acts of provocation and can no longer remain at the head of Russia…” That same Lukomsky was the respected president of the League of Officers. At headquarters they said to General Krasnov, appointed to command the 3rd Cavalry Corps: “Nobody will defend Kerensky. This is only a promenade. Everything is ready.”
A fair idea of the optimistic calculations of the leaders and backers of the plot is conveyed by the code telegram of the aforementioned Prince Trubetskoy to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “ Soberly estimating the situation,” he writes, “it must be acknowledged that the whole commanding staff, an overwhelming majority of the officers, and the best of the rank-and-file elements of the army, are for Kornilov. On his side at the rear stand all the Cossacks, a majority of the military schools, and also the best fighting units. To these physical forces it is necessary to add…the moral sympathy of all the non-socialist layers of the population, and in the lower orders…an indifference which will submit to the least blow of the whip. There is no doubt that an enormous number of the March socialists will come quickly over to the side” of Kornilov in case of his victory. Trubetskoy here expressed not only the hopes of headquarters, but also the attitude of the Allied missions. In the Kornilov detachments advancing to the conquest of Petrograd, there were English armoured cars with English operatives –and these we may assume constituted the most reliable units. The head of the English military mission in Russia, General Knox, reproached the American Colonel Robbins, for not supporting Kornilov: “I am not interested in the government of Kerensky,” said the British General, “it is too weak. What is wanted is a strong dictatorship. What is wanted is the Cossacks. This people needs the whip! A dictatorship –that is just what it needs.” All these voices from different quarters arrived at the Winter Palace, and had an alarming effect upon its inhabitants. The success of Kornilov seemed inevitable. Minister Nekrassov informed his friends that the game was competely up, and it remained only to die an honourable death. “Several eminent members of the Soviet,” affirms Miliukov, “foreseeing their fate in case of Kornilov’s victory, had already made haste to supply themselves with foreign passports.”
From hour to hour came the messages, one more threatening than the other, of the approach of Kornilov’s troops. The bourgeois press seized them hungrily, expanded them, piled them up, creating an atmosphere of panic. At 12.30 noon on August 28th: “The troops sent by General Kornilov have concentrated themselves in the vicinity of Luga.” At 2.30 in the afternoon: “Nine new trains containing the troops of Kornilov have passed through the station Oredezh. In the forward train is a railroad engineering battalion.” At 3 pm: ‘The Luga garrison has surrendered to the troops of General Kornilov and turned over all its weapons. The station and all the government buildings of Luga are occupied by the troops of Kornilov.” At 6 in the evening: “Two echelons of Kornilov’s army have broken through from Narva and are within half a verst of Gatchina. Two more echelons are on the road to Gatchina.” At two o’clock in the morning of the 29th: “A battle has begun at the Antropshino Station (33 kilometres from Petrograd) between government troops and the troops of Kornilov. Killed and wounded on both sides.” By nightfall comes the news that Kaledin has threatened to cut off Petrograd and Moscow from the grain-growing south of Russia. “Headquarters,” “commanders-in-chief at the front,” “British mission,” “officers,” “echelons,” “railroad battalions,” “Cossacks,” “Kaledin” –all these words sounded in the Malachite Hall of the Winter Palace like the trumpets of the Last Judgement.
Kerensky himself acknowledged this in a somewhat softened form: “August 28th was the day of the greatest wavering,” he writes, “the greatest doubt as to the strength of the enemy, Kornilov, the greatest nervousness among the democracy.” It is not difficult to imagine what lies behind those words. The head of the government was torn by speculations, not only as to which of the two camps was stronger, but as to which was personally the less dangerous to him. “We are neither with you on the Right, nor with you on the Left” –those words seemed effective on the stage of the Moscow theatre. Translated into the language of a civil war on the point of explosion, they meant that the Kerensky group might appear superfluous to both Right and Left. “We were all as though numb with despair,” writes Stankevich, “seeing this drama unfold to the destruction of everything. The degree of our numbness may be judged by the fact that even after the split between headquarters and the government was before the eyes of the whole people, attempts were made to find some sort of reconciliation…”
“A thought of mediation…was in these circumstances spontaneously born,” say Miliukov, who himself preferred to function in the capacity of mediator. On the evening of the 28th he appeared at the Winter Palace “to advise Kerensky to renounce the strictly formal viewpoint of the violation of the law.” The liberal leader, who understood that it is necessary to distinguish the kernel of a nut from the shell, was at that moment a most suitable person for the task of loyal intermediary. On the 13th of August, Miliukov had learned directly from Kornilov that he had set the 27th as the date for the revolt. On the following day, the 14th, Miliukov had demanded in his speech at the Conference that “the immediate adoption of the measures designated by the supreme commander-in-chief should not serve as a pretext for suspicions, verbal threats, or even removals from office.” Up to the 27th Kornilov was to remain above suspicion! At the same time Miliukov promised Kerensky his support –“voluntarily and without any argument.” Kerensky upon his side acknowledges that Miliukov, appearing with his proposal of mediation, “chose a very comfortable moment to demonstrate to me that the real power was on the side of Kornilov.” The conversation ended so successfully that in conclusion Miliukov called the attention of his political friends to General Alexeiev as a successor to Kerensky against whom Kornilov would offer no objection. Alexeiev magnanimously gave his consent.
And after Miliukov came a greater than he. Late in the evening the British Ambassador Buchanan handed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs a declaration in which the representatives of the Allied Powers unanimously offered their good services “in the interests of humanity and the desire to avoid irrevocable misfortune.” This official mediation between the government and the general in revolt was nothing less than support and insurance to the revolt. In reply, Tershchenko expressed, in the name of the Provisional Government, “extreme astonishment” at the revolt of Kornilov, a greater part of whose programme has been adopted by the government. In a state of loneliness and prostration, Kerensky could think of nothing better to do than to call one more of those everlasting conferences with his retired ministers. In the midst of this wholly disinterested business of killing time, some especially alarming news arrived as to the approach of the enemy’s echelons. Nekrassov voiced an apprehension that “in a few hours Kornilov’s troops will probably be in Petrograd.” The former ministers began to guess “how in those circumstances the governmental power would have to be formed.” The thought of a directory against swam to the surface. The idea of including General Alexeiev in the staff of the “directory” found sympathy both Right and Left. The Kadet Kokoshkin thought that Alexeiev ought to be placed at the head of the government. According to some accounts, the proposal to tender the power to some other was made by Kerensky himself, with a direct reference to his conversation with Miliukov. Nobody objected. The candidacy of Alexeiev reconciled them all. Miliukov’s plan seemed very, very near to realisation. But just here – as is proper at the moment of highest tension –resounds a dramatic knock on the door. In the next room a deputation is waiting from the “Committee of Struggle against the Counter-Revolution.” It was a most timely arrival. One of the most dangerous nests of counter-revolution was this pitiful, cowardly and treacherous conference of Kornilovists, intermediaries, and capitulators in the hall of the Winter Palace.
This new Soviet body –The Committee of Struggle against Counter-Revolution –had been created at a joint session of both Executive Committees, the worker-soldiers’ and peasants’. It was created on the evening of the 27th, and consisted of specially delegated representatives of the three Soviet Parties from both executive committee, from the trade union centre, and from the Petrograd Soviet. This creation ad hoc of a fighting committee was in essence a recognition of the fact that the governing Soviet bodies were themselves conscious of their decrepid condition, and their need of a transfusion of fresh blood for the purposes of revolutionary action.
Finding themselves compelled to seek the support of the masses against the rebellious general, the Compromisers hastened to push their left shoulder forward. They immediately forgot all their speeches about how all questions of principle should be postponed to the Constituent Assembly. The Mensheviks announced that they would press the government for an immediate declaration of a democratic republic, a dissolution of the State Duma, and the introduction of agrarian reform. It was for this reason that the word “republic” first appeared in the announcement of the government about the treason of the commander-in-chief.
On the question of power, the Executive Committees considered it necessary for the time being to leave the government in its former shape – replacing the retired Kadets with democratic elements – and for a final solution of the problem to summon in the near future a congress of all those organisations which had united in Moscow on the platform of Cheidze. After midnight negotiations it became known, however, that Kerensky resolutely rejected the idea of a democratic control of the government. Feeling that the ground was slipping under him both to the left and right, he was holding out with all his might for the idea of a “directory,” in which there was still room for his not yet dead dreams of a strong power. After renewed fruitless and wearisome debates in Smolny, it was decided to appeal again to the irreplaceable and one and only Kerensky, with the request that he agree to the preliminary project of the Executive Committees. At seven-thirty in the morning Tseretelli returned with the information that Kerensky would make no concession, that he demanded “unconditional” support, but that he agreed to employ “all the power of the state” in the struggle against the counter-revolution. Wearied out with their night’s vigil, the Executive Committees surrendered at last to that idea of a “directory” which was as empty as a knot-hole.
Kerensky’s solemn promise to throw “all the power of the state” into the struggle with Kornilov did not, as we already know, prevent him from carrying on those negotiations with Miliukov, Alexeiev, and the retired ministers, about a peaceful surrender to headquarters –negotiations which were interrupted by a midnight knock on the door. Several days later the Menshevik, Bogdanov, one of the members of the Committee of Defence, made a report to the Petrograd Soviet in cautious but unequivocal words about the treachery of Kerensky. “When the Provisional Government was wavering, and it was not clear how the Kornilov adventure would end, intermediaries appeared, such as Miliukov and General Alexeiev…” But the committee of defence interfered and “with all energy” demanded an open struggle. “Under our influence,” continued Bogdanov, “the government stopped all negotiations and refused to entertain any proposition from Kornilov…”
After the head of the government, yesterday’s conspirator against the Left camp, had become to-day its political captive, the Kadet ministers who had resigned on the 26the only in a preliminary and hesitating fashion, announced that they would conclusively withdraw from the government, since they did not wish to share the responsibility for Kerensky’s action in putting down so patriotic, so loyal, and so nation-saving a rebellion. The retired ministers, the counsellors, the friends –one after another they all left the Winter Palace. It was, according to Kerensky himself, “a mass abandonment of a place known to be condemned to destruction.” There was one night, August 28-9, when Kerensky was actually walking about almost in “complete solitude” in the Winter Palace. The opera bravuras were no longer running in his head. “A responsibility lay upon me in those anguishingly long days and nights that was really super-human.” This was in the main a responsibility for the fate of Kerensky himself: everything else had already been accomplished over his head and without any attention being paid to him.
THE BOURGEOISIE MEASURES STRENGTH WITH THE DEMOCRACY
On the 28th of August, while fright was shaking the Winter Palace like a fever, the commander of the Savage Division, Prince Bagration, informed Kornilov by telegraph that “the natives would fulfil their duty to the fatherland and at the command of their supreme hero…would shed the last drop of their blood.” Only a few hours later the division came to a halt; and on the 31st of August a special deputation, with the same Bagration at the head, assured Kerensky that the division would submit absolutely to the Provisional Government. All this happened not only without a battle, but without the firing of a single shot. To say nothing of its last, the division did not shed even its first drop of blood. The soldiers of Kornilov never even made the attempt to employ weapons to force their way to Petrograd. The officers did not dare give them the command. The government troops were nowhere obliged to resort to force in stopping the onslaught of the Kornilov army. The conspiracy disintegrated, crumbled, evaporated in the air.
In order to understand this, it is only necessary to look closely at the powers which had come into conflict. First of all we must notice –and this will not be an unexpected discovery –that the staff of the conspiracy was the same old czarist staff, composed of clerical people without brains, incapable of thinking out in advance two or three moves in the vast game they had undertaken. Notwithstanding the fact that Kornilov had set the day of the insurrection several weeks in advance, nothing whatever had been foreseen or properly reckoned upon. The purely military preparation of the uprising was carried out in an inept, slovenly and light-headed manner. Complicated changes in the organisation and commanding staff were undertaken on the eve of the action – just on the run. The Savage Division, which was to deal the first blow at the revolution, consisted all told of 1,350 fighters, and they were short 600 rifles, 1,000 lances and 500 sabres. Five days before the beginning of active fighting, Kornilov gave an order for the transformation of the division into a corps. This measure, which any schoolbook would condemn, was obviously considered necessary in order to attract the officers with higher pay. “A telegram stating that the lacking weapons would be supplied at Pskov,” writes Martynov, “was received by Bagration only on August 31st after the complete collapse of the whole enterprise.” The sending of instructors from the front to Petrograd was also taken up at headquarters only at the very last moment. The officers accepting the commission were liberally supplied with money and private cars, but the patriotic heroes were in no great hurry, it seems, to save the fatherland. Two day later railroad communications between headquarters and the capital were cut off, and the majority of the heroes had not yet arrived at the place of their proposed deeds.
The capital, however, had its own organisation of Kornilovists numbering about 2,000. The conspirators here were divided into groups according to the special tasks allotted to them; seizure of armoured automobiles; arrest and murder of the more eminent members of the Soviet; arrest of the Provisional Government; capture of the more important public institutions. Vinberg, the president of the League of Military Duty, known to us above, says: “By the time Krymov’s troops arrived, the principal forces of the revolution were supposed to have already been broken, annihilated, or rendered harmless, so that Krymov’s task would be merely to restore order in the town.” At Moghiliev, to be sure, they considered this programme exaggerated, and relied upon Krymov for most of the work, but headquarters did also expect very serious help from detachments of the republican centres. As it turned out, however, the Petrograd conspirators never showed themselves for an instant, never lifted a voice, never moved a finger; it was quite as though they did not exist in the world. Vinberg explains this mystery rather simply. It seems that the superintendent of the Intelligence Service, Colonel Heiman, spent the decisive hours in a roadhouse somewhere outside of town, while Colonel Sidorin, whose duty it was, under the immediate command of Kornilov, to co-ordinate the activities of all the patriotic societies of the capital, and Colonel Ducemetiere, the head of the military department, “had disappeared without a trace and could not be found anywhere.” The Cossack colonel Dutov, who was supposed to take action “in the guise of” Bolsheviks, subsequently complained: “I ran…and called people to come into the streets, but nobody followed me.” The sums of money set aside for organisation were, according to Vinberg, appropriated by the principal participants and squandered on dinner parties. Colonel Sidorin, according to Denikin’s assertion, : “fled to Finland, taking with him the last remnants of the treasury of the organisation, something around a hundred or hundred and fifty thousand roubles.” Lvov, whom we last saw under arrest in the Winter Palace, subsequently told about one of the secret contributors who was to deliver do some officers a considerable sum of money, but upon arriving at the designated place found the conspirators in such a state of inebriation that he could not deliver the goods. Vinberg himself thinks that if it had not been for these truly vexatious “accidents”, the plan might have been crowned with complete success. But the question remains: Why was a patriotic enterprise entered into and surrounded, for the most part, by drunkards, spendthrifts, and traitors? Is it not because every historic task mobilises the cadres that are adequate to it?
As regards personnel the conspiracy was in a bad case, beginning from the very top. “General Kornilov,” according to the right Kadet, Izgoyev, “was the most popular general…among the peaceful population, but not among the soldiers, at least not among those in the rear whom I had an opportunity to observe.” By peaceful population, Isgoyev means the people of the Nevsky Prospect. To the popular masses, both front and rear, Kornilov was alien, hostile, hateful.
The general appointed to command the 3rd Cavalry Corps, Krasnov, a monarchist who soon after tried to become a vassal of Wilhelm II, expressed his surprise that “Kornilov conceived such a great undertaking, but himself remained at Moghiliev in a palace surrounded by Turkomen and shock troops, as though he did not believe in his own success.” To a question from the French journalist, Claude Anet, why Kornilov himself did not go to Petrograd at the decisive moment, the chief of the conspiracy answered: “I was sick. I had a serious attack of malaria, and was not in possession of my usual energy.”
There were too many of these unfortunate accidents: it is always so when a thing is condemned to failure in advance. The moods of the conspirators oscillated between drunken toploftiness, when the ocean only came up to the knees, and complete prostration before the first real obstacle. The difficulty was not Kornilov’s malaria, but a far deeper, more fatal, and incurable disease paralysing the will of the possessing classes.
The Kadets have seriously denied any counter-revolutionary intentions upon the part of Kornilov, understanding by that the restoration of the Romanov monarchy. As though that were the matter in question! The “republicanism” of Kornilov did not in a the least prevent the monarchist Lukomsky from going hand in hand with him, nor did it prevent the president of the Union of Russian People, the Black Hundreds, Rimsky-Korsakov, from Telegraphing Kornilov on the day of the uprising: “I heartily pray God to help you save Russia. I put myself absolutely at your disposal.” The Black Hundred partisans of czarism would not stop for a cheap little thing like a republican flag. They understood that Kornilov’s programme was to be found in himself, in his past, in the Cossack stripes on his trousers, in his connections and sources of financial support, and above all in his unlimited readiness to cut the throat of the revolution.
Designating himself in his manifestoes as “the son of a peasant” Kornilov based the plan of his uprising wholly upon the Cossacks and the mountaineers. There was not a single infantry detachment among the troops deployed against Petrograd. The general had no access to the muzhik and did not even try to discover any. There was at headquarters, to be sure, an agrarian reformer, some sort of “professor,” who was ready to promise every soldier a fantastic number of dissiatins of land, but the manifesto prepared upon this theme was not even issued. The generals were restrained from agrarian demagogism by a well-justified dread of frightening and repelling the landlords.
A Moghiliev peasant Tadeush, who closely observed the environs of the staff in those days, testifies that among the soldiers and in the villages nobody believed in the manifestoes of the general, “He wants the power,” they said, “and not a word about the land and not a word about ending the war.” On life-and-death questions, the masses had somehow or other learned to find their way during the six months of revolution. Kornilov was offering the people war and a defence of the privileges of generals and the property of landlords. He could give them nothing more, and they expected nothing else from him. In his inability to rely upon the peasant infantry –evident in advance to the conspirators themselves – to say nothing of relying upon the workers, is expressed the socially outcast position of Kornilov’s clique.
The picture of political forces traced by the headquarters’ diplomat, Prince Trubetskoy, was correct in many things, but mistaken in one. Of that indifference of the people which made them ready “to submit to the least blow of the whip,” there was not a trace. On the contrary, the masses were as if only awaiting a blow of the whip in order to show what sources of energy and self-sacrifice were to be found in their depths. This mistake in estimating the mood of the masses brought all their other calculations to the dust.
The conspiracy was conducted by those circles who were not accustomed to know how to do anything without the lower ranks, without labour forces, without cannon-fodder, without orderlies, servants, clerks, chauffeurs, messengers, cooks, laundresses, switchmen, telegraphers, stablemen, cab drivers. But all these little human bolts and links, unnoticeable, innumerable, necessary, were for the Soviet and against Kornilov. The revolution was omnipresent. It penetrated everywhere, coiling itself around the conspiracy. It had everywhere its eye, its ear, its hand.
The ideal of military education is that the soldier should act when unseen by the officer exactly as before his eyes. But the Russian soldiers and sailors of 1917, without carrying out official orders even before the eyes of the commanders, would eagerly catch on the fly the commands of the revolution, or still oftener fulfil them on their own initiative before they arrived. The innumerable servants of the revolution, its agents, its intelligence men, its fighters, had no need either of spurs or of supervision.
Formally the liquidation of the conspiracy was in the hands of the government, and the Executive Committee co-operated. In reality the struggle was carried on within totally different channels. While Kerensky, bending under the weight of a “more than human responsibility,” was measuring the floors of the Winter Palace in solitude, the Committee of Defence, also called the Military Revolutionary Committee, was taking action on a vast scale. Early in the morning instructions were sent by telegram to the railroad workers, and postal and telegraph clerks, and soldiers. “All movements of troops” –so Dan reported on the dame day –“are to be carried out at the direction of the Provisional Government when countersigned by the Committee of People’s Defence.” Qualifications aside, this meant: The Committee of Defence deploys the troops under the firm name of the Provisional Government. At the same time steps were taken for the destruction of Kornilovist nest in Petrograd itself. Searches and arrests were carried out in the military schools and officers’ organisations. The hand of the Committee was felt everywhere. There was little or no interest in the governor-general.
The lower soviet organisations in their turn did not await any summons from above. The principal effort was concentrated in the workers’ districts. During the hours of greatest vacillation in the government, and of wearisome negotiations between the Executive Committee and Kerensky, the district soviets were drawing more closely together and passing resolutions: to declare the inter-district conferences continuous; to place their representatives in the staff organised by the Executive Committee; to form a workers’ militia; to establish the control of the district soviets over the government commissars; to organise flying brigades for the detention of counter-revolutionary agitators. In the total, these resolutions meant an appropriation not only of very considerable governmental functions, but also of the functions of the Petrograd Soviet. The logic of the situation compelled the soviet institutions do draw in their skirts and make room for the lower ranks. The entrance of the Petrograd districts into the arena of the struggle instantly changed both its scope and its direction. Again the inexhaustible vitality of the soviet form of organisation was revealed. Although paralysed above by the leadership of the Compromisers, the soviets were reborn again from below at the critical moment under pressure from the masses.
To the Bolshevik leaders of the districts, Kornilov’s uprising had not been in the least unexpected. They had foreseen and forewarned, and they were the first to appear at their posts. At the joint session of the Executive Committees, on August 27, Sokolnikov announced that the Bolshevik Party had taken all measures available to it in order to inform the people of the danger and prepare for defence; the Bolsheviks announced their readiness to co-ordinate their military work with the organs of the Executive Committee. At a night session of the Military Organisation of the Bolsheviks, participated in by delegates of numerous military detachments, it was decided to demand the arrest of all conspirators, to arm the workers, to supply them with soldier instructors, to guarantee the defence of the capital from below, and at the same time to prepare for the creation of a revolutionary government of workers and soldiers. The Military Organisations held meetings throughout the garrison; the soldiers were urged to remain under arms in order to come out at the first alarm.
“Notwithstanding the fact that they were in a minority,” writes Sukhanov, “it was quite clear that in the Military Revolutionary Committee the leadership belonged to the Bolsheviks.” He explains this as follows: “If the committee wanted to act seriously, it was compelled to act in a revolutionary manner,” and for revolutionary action “only the Bolsheviks had genuine resources,” for the masses were with them. Intensity in the struggle has everywhere and always brought forth the more active and bolder elements. This automatic selection inevitably elevated the Bolsheviks, strengthened their influence, concentrated the initiative in their hands, giving them de facto leadership even in those organisations where they were in a minority. The nearer you came to the district, to the factory, to the barrack, the more complete and indubitable was the leadership of the Bolsheviks. All the nuclei of the party were on their toes. The big factories organised a system of guard duty by Bolsheviks. In the district committees of the party representatives of small plants were put on duty. A tie was formed from below, from the shop, leading through the districts, to the Central Committee of the party.
Under the direct pressure from the Bolsheviks and the organisations led by them, the Committee of Defence recognised the desirability of arming individual groups of workers for the defence of the workers’ quarters, the shops and factories. It was only this sanction that the masses lacked. In the districts, according to the workers’ press, there immediately appeared “whole queues of people eager to join the ranks of the Red Guard.” Drilling began in marksmanship and the handling of weapons. Experienced soldiers were brought in as teachers. By the 29th, Guards had been formed in almost all the districts. The Red Guard announced its readiness to put in the field a force of 40,000 rifles. The unarmed workers formed companies for trench-digging, sheet-metal fortification, barbed-wire fencing. The new governor-general Palchinsky who replaced Savinkov –Kerensky could not keep his accomplice longer then three days – was compelled to recognise in a special announcement that when the need arose for the work of sappers in the defence of the capital “thousands of workers…by their irreplaceable, personal labour achieved in the course of a few hours a colossal task which without their help would have required several days.” This did not prevent Palchinsky, following the example of Savinkov, from suppressing the Bolshevik paper, the sole paper which the workers considered their own.
The giant Putilov factory became the centre of resistance in the Peterhoff district. Here fighting companies were hastily formed; the work of the factory continued day and night; there was a sorting out of new cannon for the formation of proletarian artillery divisions. The worker, Minichev, says, “In those days we worked sixteen hours a day…We got together about 100 cannon.”
The newly formed Vikzhel received a prompt baptism of war. The railroad workers had a special reason to dread the victory of Kornilov, who had incorporated in his programme the inauguration of martial law on the railroads. And here, too, the lower ranks far outdistanced their leaders. The railroad workers tore up and barricaded the tracks in order to hold back Kornilov’s army. War experiences came in handy. Measures were also taken to isolate the centre of the conspiracy, Moghiliev, preventing movements both towards and away from headquarters. The postal and telegraph clerks began to hold up and send to the Committee telegrams and orders from headquarters, or copies of them. The generals had been accustomed during the years of war to think of transport and communications as technical questions. They found out now that these were political questions.
The trade unions, least of all inclined toward political neutrality, did not await any special invitation before occupying military positions. The railroad workers’ union armed its members, and sent them along the lines for inspection, and for tearing up railroads, guarding bridges, etc. The workers in their enthusiasm and resolution pushed ahead of the more bureaucratic and moderate Vikzhel. The metal workers’ union put its innumerable office workers at the disposal of the Committee of Defence, and also a large sum of money for expenses. The chauffeurs’ union put in charge of the committee its technical and transportation facilities. The printers’ union arranged in a few hours for the issue of Monday’s papers, so as to keep the population in touch with events, and at the same time availed themselves of the most effective of all possible means of controlling the press. The rebel general had stamped his foot, and the legions rose up from the ground –but they were the legions of the enemy.
All around Petrograd, in the neighbouring garrisons, in the great railroad stations, in the fleet, work was going on night and day. They were inspecting their own ranks, arming the workers, sending out detachments as patrols along the tracks, establishing communications with neighbouring points, and with Smolny. The task of the Committee of Defence was not so much to keep watch over and summon the workers, as merely to register and direct them. Its plans were always anticipated. The defence against the rebellion of the generals turned into a popular round-up of the conspirators.
In Helsingfors a general congress of all the Soviet organisations created a revolutionary committee which sent its commissars to the offices of the governor-general, the commandant, the Intelligence Service, and other important institutions.
Thenceforth no order was valid without its signature. The telegraphs and telephones were taken under control. The official representatives of a Cossack regiment quartered in Helsingfors, chiefly officers, tried to declare themselves neutral: they were secret Kornilovists. On the second day, a rank-and-file Cossack appeared before the Committee with the announcement that the whole regiment was against Kornilov. Cossack representatives were for the first time introduced into the Soviet. In this case as in others a sharp conflict of classes was pushing the officers to the right and the rank-and-file to the left.
The Kronstadt Soviet, which had completely recovered from the July wounds, sent a telegraphic declaration: “The Kronstadt garrison is ready as one man at the first word from the Executive Committee to come to the defence of the revolution.” The Kronstadters did not know in those days to what extent the defence of the revolution meant the defence of themselves against annihilation: at that time they could still only guess this.
Soon after the July Days it had been decided by the Provisional Government to vacate the Kronstadt fortress as a nest of Bolshevism. This measure, adopted in agreement with Kornilov, was officially explained as due to “strategic motives.” Sensing some dirty work, the sailors had resisted. “The legend of treachery at headquarters” –wrote Kerensky after he himself had accused Kornilov of treachery – “was so deeply rooted in Kronstadt that every attempt to remove the artillery evoked actual ferocity from the crowd there.” The task of devising a way to liquidate Kronstadt was laid by the government upon Kornilov. Kornilov devised a way: immediately after the conquest of the city Krymov was to dispatch a brigade with artillery to Oranienbaum and, under threat of bombardment from the shores, demand that the Kronstadt garrison disarm the fortress and transfer themselves to the mainland, where the sailors were to undergo mass executions. But while Krymov was entering upon his task of saving the government, the government found itself obliged to ask the Kronstadters to save it from Krymov.
The Executive Committee sent telephonograms to Kronstadt and Vyborg asking for the dispatch of considerable detachments of troops to Petrograd. On the morning of the 29th, the troops began to arrive. These were chiefly Bolshevik units. In order that the summons of the Executive Committee should become operative, it had to be confirmed by the central committee of the Bolsheviks. A little earlier, at midday of the 28th, upon an order from Kerensky which sounded very much like a humble request, sailors from the cruiser Aurora has undertaken the defence of the Winter Palace. A part of the same crew were still imprisoned in Kresty for participation in the July demonstration. During their hours off duty the sailors came to the prison for a visit with the imprisoned Kronstadters, and with Trotsky, Raskolnikov and others. “Isn’t it time to arrest the government?” asked the visitors. “No, not yet,” was the answer. “Use Kerensky as a gun-rest to shoot Kornilov. Afterward we will settle with Kerensky.” In June and July these sailors had not been inclined to pay much attention to revolutionary strategy, but they had learned much in a short two months. They raised this question of the arrest of the government rather to test themselves and clear their own consciences. They themselves were beginning to grasp the inexorable consecutiveness of events. In the first half of July, beaten, condemned, slandered; at the end of August, the trusted defenders of the Winter Palace against Kornilovists; at the end of October, they will be shooting at the Winter Palace with the guns of the Aurora.
But although the sailors were willing to postpone for a certain time a general settlement with the February regime, they did not want to endure for one unnecessary day the Kornilovist officers hanging over their heads. The commanding staff which had been imposed upon them by the government since the July Days was almost solidly on the side of the conspirators. The Kronstadt Soviet immediately removed the government commander of the fortress and installed their own. The Compromisers had now ceased to shout about the secession of the Kronstadt republic. However the thing did not everywhere stop at mere removals from office: it came to bloody encounters in several places.
“It began in Vyborg,” says Sukhanov, “with the beating to death of generals and officers by a sailor-soldier crowd infuriated and panic-stricken.” No, these crowds were not infuriated, and it would not be possible to speak in this instance of panic. On the morning of the 29th, Centroflot sent a telegram to the commandant at Vyborg, General Oranovsky, for communication to the garrison, informing them of the mutiny at headquarters. The commandant held up the telegram for a whole day, and to questions about what was happening, answered that he had received no information. In the course of a search instituted by the sailors the telegram was found. Thus caught in the act, the general declared himself a partisan of Kornilov. The sailors shot the commandant and along with him two other officers who had declared themselves of the same party. From the officers of the Baltic fleet the sailors required a signed declaration of loyalty to the revolution, and when four officers of the ship-of-the-line Petropavlovsk refused to sign, declaring themselves Kornilovists, they were by resolution of the crew immediately shot.
A mortal danger was hanging over the soldiers and sailors; a bloody purgation not only of Petrograd and Kronstadt, but of all the garrisons of the country, was impending. From the conduct of their suddenly emboldened officers, –from their tones, their side glances –the soldiers and sailors could plainly foresee their own fate in case of a victory of headquarters. In those localities where the atmosphere was especially hot, they hastened to cut off the road of the enemy, forestalling the purgation intended by the officers with their own sailors’ and soldiers’ purgation. Civil war, as is well known, has its laws, and they have never been considered identical with the laws of humane conduct.
Cheidze immediately sent a telegram to Vyborg and Helsingfors condemning lynch law as “a mortal blow against the revolution.” Kerensky on his part telegraphed to Helsingfors: “I demand an immediate end of disgusting acts of violence.” If you seek the political responsibility for these individual cases of lynch law –not forgetting that revolution as a whole is taking of the law into one’s own hands – in the given case the responsibility rests wholly on the government and the Compromisers, who at a moment of danger would run for help to the revolutionary masses, in order afterward to turn them over again to the counter-revolutionary officers.
As during the State Conference in Moscow, when he was expecting an uprising from moment to moment, so now after the break with headquarters, Kerensky turned to the Bolsheviks with a request “to influence the soldiers to come to the defence of the revolution.” In summoning the Bolshevik sailors to the defence of the Winter Palace, however, Kerensky did not set free their comrades, the July prisoners. Sukhanov writes on this theme: “The situation with Alexeiev whispering to Kerensky and Trotsky in prison was absolutely intolerable.” It is not hard to imagine the excitement which prevailed in the crowded prisons. “We were boiling with indignation,” relates Midshipman Raskolnikov, “against the Provisional Government which in such days of alarm…continued to let revolutionists like Trotsky rot in Kresty… ‘What cowards, what cowards they are,’ said Trotsky as some of us were circling around together on our walk. ‘They ought immediately to declare Kornilov an outlaw, so that any soldier devoted to the revolution might feel that he had a right to put an end to him.’”
The entrance of Kornilov’s troops into Petrograd would have meant first of all the extermination of the arrested Bolsheviks. In his order to General Bagration, who was to enter the capital with the vanguard, Krymov did not forget this special command: “Place a guard in prisons and houses of detention, in no case let out the people now under restraint.” This was a concerted programme, inspired by Miliukov ever since the April Days: “In no case let them out.” There was not a single meeting in Petrograd in those days which did not pass resolutions demanding the release of the July prisoners. Delegation after delegation came to the Executive Committee, which in turn sent its leaders for negotiations to the Winter Palace. In vain! The stubbornness of Kerensky on this question is the more remarkable since during the first day and a half or two days he considered the position of the government hopeless, and was therefore condemning himself to the role of the old-time jailkeeper –holding the Bolsheviks so that the generals could hang them.
It is no wonder that the masses led by the Bolsheviks in fighting against Kornilov did not place a moment of trust in Kerensky. For them it was not a case of defending the government, but of defending the revolution. So much the more resolute and devoted was their struggle. The resistance to the rebels grew out of the very road beds, out of the stones, out of the air. The railroad workers of the Luga station, where Krymov arrived, stubbornly refused to move the troop trains, alluding to a lack of locomotives. The Cossack echelons also found themselves immediately surrounded by armed soldiers from the Luga garrison, 20,000 strong. There was no military encounter, but there was something far more dangerous: contact, social exchange, interpenetration. The Luga Soviet had had time to print the government announcement retiring Kornilov, and this document was now widely distributed among the echelons. The officers tried to persuade the Cossacks not to believe the agitators, but this very necessity of persuasion was a bad sign.
On receiving Kornilov’s order to advance, Krymov demanded under threat of bayonets that the locomotives be ready in half an hour. The threat seemed effective: the locomotives, although with some delays, were supplied; but even so, it was impossible to move, since the road out was damaged and so crowded with cars that it would take a good twenty-four hours to clear it. To get free of demoralising propaganda, Krymov on the evening of the 28th, removed his troops several versts from Luga. But the agitators immediately turned up on the villages. These were soldiers, workers, railroad men –there was no refuge from them. They went everywhere. The Cossacks began even to hold meetings. Thus stormed with propaganda and cursing his impotence, Krymov waited in vain for Bagration. The railroad workers were holding up the echelon of the Savage Division, which also in the coming hours was to undergo a most alarming moral attack.
No matter how spineless and even cowardly the compromisist democracy was in itself, those mass forces upon which it again partly relied in its struggle against Kornilov, opened before it inexhaustible resources for action. The Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks did not see it as their task to conquer the forces of Kornilov in open struggle, but to bring the forces over to their own side. That was right. Against “compromises” along that line, it goes without saying, the Bolsheviks had no objection. On the contrary that was their own fundamental method. The Bolsheviks only demanded that behind the agitators and parliamentarians, armed workers and soldiers should stand ready. For this moral mode of action upon the Kornilov regiments, an unlimited choice of ways and means was suddenly discovered. Thus a Mussulman delegation was sent to meet the Savage Division on the staff of which were included native potentates who had immediately made themselves known, beginning with the grandson of the famous Shamil who heroically defended the Caucasus against czarism. The mountaineers would not permit their officers to arrest the delegation: that was a violation of the ancient customs of hospitality. Negotiations were opened and soon became the beginning to the end. The Kornilov commanders, in order to explain the whole campaign, had kept referring to a rebellion of German agents supposed to have begun in Petrograd. The delegates, arriving directly from the capital, not only disproved the fact of a rebellion, but also demonstrated with documents in their hands that Krymov was a rebel and was leading his troops against the government. What could the officers of Kornilov reply to that?
On the staff car of the Savage Division the soldiers stuck up a red flag with the inscription: “Land and freedom.” The staff commander ordered them to take down the flags –“merely to avoid confusing it with a railroad signal,” as the lieutenant-colonel politely explained. The staff officers were not satisfied with this cowardly explanation, and arrested the lieutenant-colonel. Were they not mistaken at headquarters when they said that the Caucasian mountaineers did not care who they slaughtered?
The next morning a colonel arrived at Krymov’s headquarters from Kornilov with an order to concentrate his corpse, advance swiftly on Petrograd, and “unexpectedly” occupy it. At headquarters they were obviously still trying to shut their eyes to the facts. Krymov replied that the different units of the corps were scattered on various railroads and in some places were de-training; that he had at his disposition only eight Cossack squadrons; that the railroads were damaged, overloaded, barricaded, and that it was possible to move farther only on foot; and that finally there would be no talk of an unexpected occupation of Petrograd, now that the workers and soldiers had been placed under arms in the capital and its environs. The affair was still further complicated by the fact that the possibility was hopelessly past of carrying out the operation “unexpectedly” even to the troops of Krymov himself. Sensing something unpropitious, they had demanded explanations. It had become necessary to inform them of the conflict between Kornilov and Kerensky –that is, to place the soldiers’ meetings officially on the order of the day.
An order issued by Krymov at just that moment read: “This evening I received from the headquarters of the commander-in-chief and from Petrograd information that rebellions have begun in Petrograd…” This deceit was designed to justify an already quite open campaign against the government. An order of Kornilov himself on the 29the of August, had read: “The intelligence service from Holland reports: (a) In a few days a simultaneous attack upon the whole front is to begin, with the aim of routing and putting to flight our disintegrating army; (b) An insurrection is under preparation in Finland; (c) Explosions are to be expected of bridges on the Dnieper and the Volga; (d) An insurrection of Bolsheviks is being organised in Petrograd.” This was the same “information” to which Savinkov had already referred on the 23rd. Holland is mentioned here merely to distract attention. According to all evidence the document was fabricated in the French war mission or with its participation.
Kerensky on the same day telegraphed Krymov: “There is complete tranquillity in Petrograd. No demonstrations are expected. Your corps is not needed.” The demonstrations were to have been evoked by the military edicts of Kerensky himself. Since it had been necessary to postpone this governmental act of provocation, Kerensky was entirely justified in concluding that “no demonstrations are expected.”
Seeing no way out, Krymov, made an awkward attempt to advance upon Petrograd with this eight Cossack squadrons. This was little but a gesture to clear his own conscience, and nothing of course came of it. Meeting a force on patrol duty a few versts from Luga, Krymov turned back without even trying to give battle. On the theme of this single and completely fictitious “operation,” Krasnov, the commander of the Third Cavalry Corps, wrote later: “We should have struck Petrograd with a force of eighty-six cavalry and Cossack squadrons, and we struck with one brigade and eight weak squadrons, half of them without officers. Instead of striking with our fist, we struck with our little finger. It pained the finger, and those we struck at were insensible to the blow.” In the essence of the matter there was no blow even from a finger. Nobody felt any pain at all.
The railroad workers in those days did their duty. In a mysterious way echelons would find themselves moving on the wrong roads. Regiments would arrive in the wrong division, artillery would be sent up a blind alley, staffs would get out of communication with their units. All the big stations had their own soviets, their railroad workers’ and the military committees. The telegraphers kept them informed of all events, all movements, all changes. The telegraphers also held up the orders of Kornilov. Information unfavourable to the Kornilovists was immediately multiplied, distributed, pasted up, passed from mouth to mouth. The machinists, the switchmen, the boilers, became agitators. It was in this atmosphere that the Kornilov echelons advanced –or what was worse, stood still. The commanding staff, soon sensing the hopelessness of the situation, obviously did not hasten to move forward, and with their passivity promoted the work of the counter-conspirators of the transport system. Parts of the army of Krymov were in this way scattered about in the stations, sidings, and branch lines, of eight different railroads. If you follow on the map the fate of the Kornilov echelons, you get the impression that the conspirators were playing at blind-man’s-buff on the railroad lines.
“Almost everywhere,” says General Krasnov, writing his observations made on the night of August 30, “we saw one and the same picture. On the tracks or in the cars, or in the saddles of their black or bay horses, who would turn from time to time to gaze at them, dragoons would be sitting or standing, and in the midst of them some lively personality in a soldier’s long coat.” The name of this “lively personality” soon became legion. From the direction of Petrograd innumerable delegations continued to arrive from regiments sent out to oppose the Kornilovists. Before fighting they wanted to talk things over. The revolutionary troops were confidently hopeful that the thing could be settled without fighting. This hope was confirmed: the Cossacks readily came to meet them. The communication squad of the corps would seize locomotives, and send the delegates along all railroad lines. The situation would be explained to every echelon. Meetings were continuous and at them all the cry was being raised: “They have deceived us!”
“Not only the chiefs of divisions,” says Krasnov, “but even the commanders of regiments did not know exactly where their squadrons and companies were. The absence of food and forage naturally irritated everybody still more. The men …seeing all this meaningless confusion which had been created around them, began to arrest their chiefs and officers.” A delegation from the Soviet which had organised its own headquarters reported: “Fraternisation is going on rapidly…We are fully confident that the conflict may be considered liquidated. Delegations are coming from all sides…” Committees took the place of the officers in directing the units. A soviet of deputies of the corps was very soon created, and from its staff a delegation of forty men was appointed to go to the Provisional Government. The Cossacks began to announce out loud that they were only waiting an order from Petrograd to arrest Krymov and the other officers.
Stankevich paints a picture of what he found on the road when he set out on the 30th with Voitinsky in the direction of Pskov. In Petrograd, he says, they had thought Tsarskoe was occupied by Kornilovists; there was nobody there at all. “In Gatchina, nobody…On the road to Luga, nobody. In Luga, peace and quiet…We arrived at the village where the staff of the corps was supposed to be located…empty…We learned that early in the morning the Cossacks had left their positions and gone away in the direction opposite to Petrograd.” The insurrection had rolled back, crumbled to pieces, been sucked up by the earth.
But in the Winter Palace they were still dreading the enemy. Kerensky had an attempt to enter into conversation with the commanding staff of the rebels. That course seemed to him more hopeful than the “anarchist” initiative of the lower ranks. He sent delegates to Krkymov, and “in the name of the salvation of Russia,” invited him to come to Petrograd, guaranteeing him safety on his word of honour. Pressed upon all sides, and having completely lost his head, the general hastened, or course, to accept the invitation. On his heels came a deputation from the Cossacks.
The fronts did not support headquarters. Only the South-western made a somewhat serious attempt. Denikin’s staff had adopted preparatory measures in good season. The unreliable guards at the staff were replaced by Cossacks. The printing presses were seized on the night of the 27th. The staff tried to play the role of self-confident master of the situation, and even forbade the committee of the front to use the telegraph. But the illusion did not last more than a few hours. Delegates from various units began to come to the committee with offers of support. Armoured cars appeared, machine-guns, field artillery. The committee immediately asserted its control of the activity of the staff, leaving it the initiative only in operations against the enemy. By three o’clock on the 28th the power on the South-western front was wholly in the hands of the committees. “Never again,” wept Denikin, “did the future of the country seem so dark, our impotence so grievous and humiliating.”
On the other fronts the thing passed off less dramatically: the commander-in-chief had only to look around in order to sense a torrent of friendly feeling going out to the commissars of the Provisional Government. By the morning of the 29th, telegrams had arrived at the Winter Palace with expressions of loyalty from General Sherbachev, on the Roumanian front, Valuyev on the Western, and Przevalsky on the Caucasian. On the Northern front, where the commander-in-chief was an open Kornilovist, Klembovsky, Stankevich named a certain Savitsky as his deputy. “Savitsky, little known to anybody until then, and appointed by telegram at the moment of conflict,” writes Stankevich himself, “could appeal with confidence to any bunch of soldiers –infantry, Cossacks, orderlies and even junkets –with any order whatever, even if were a question of arresting the commander-in-chief, and that order would be promptly carried out.” Klembovsky was replaced, without further difficulties, by General Bonch-Bruevich, who through the mediation of his brother, a well-known Bolshevik, became afterward one of the first to enter the service of the Bolshevik government.
Things went a little better with the southern pillar of the military party, the ataman of the Don Cossacks, Kaledin. They were saying in Petrograd that Kaledin was mobilising the Cossack army and that echelons from the front were marching to join him on the Don. Meanwhile the ataman, according to one of his biographers, “was riding from village to village, far from the railroad…peacefully conversing with villagers.” Kaledin actually did conduct himself more cautiously than was imagined in revolutionary circles. He chose the moment of open revolt, the date of which had been made known to him in advance, for making a “peaceful” round of the villages, in order that during the critical days he might be beyond control by telegraph or otherwise, and at the same time might be feeling out the mood of the Cossacks. On the 27th he telegraphed his deputy, Bogayevsky: “It is necessary to support Kornilov with all means and forces.” However, his conversations with the villagers were demonstrating at just that moment that properly speaking there were no means or forces: those Cossack wheat-growers would not think of rising in defence of Kornilov. When the collapse of the uprising became evident, the so-called “troop ring” [the Cossacks’ name for their elective assembly] of the Don decided to refrain from expressing its opinion “until the real correlation of forces has become clear.” Thanks to these manoeuvres, the chiefs of the Don Cossacks succeeded in making a timely jump to the sidelines.
In Petrograd, in Moscow, on the Don, at the front, along the course followed by the echelons, here, there and everywhere, Kornilov had had his sympathisers, partisans, friends. Their number seemed enormous to judge by telegrams, speeches of greeting, newspaper articles. But strange to say, now when the hour had come to reveal themselves, they had disappeared. In many cases the cause did not lie in personal cowardice. There were plenty of brave men among the Kornilov officers. But their bravery could find no point of application. From the moment the masses got into motion the solitary individual had no access to events. Not only the weighty industrialists, bankers, professors, engineers, but also students and even fighting officers, found themselves pushed away, thrown aside, elbowed out. They watched the events developing before them as though from a balcony. Along with General Denikin they had nothing left to do but curse their humiliating and appalling impotence.
On the 30th August, the Executive Committee sent to all soviets the joyous news that “there is complete demoralisation in the troops of Kornilov.” They forgot for the moment that Kornilov had chosen for his undertaking the most patriotic units, those with the best fighting morale, those most protected from the influence of the Bolsheviks. The process of demoralisation consisted in the fact that the soldiers had decisively ceased to trust their officers, discovering them to be enemies. The struggle for the revolution against Kornilov meant a deepening of the demoralisation of the army. That is exactly the thing of which they were accusing the Bolsheviks.
The generals had finally got an opportunity to verify the force of resistance possessed by that revolution which had seemed to them so crumbly and helpless, so accidentally victorious over the old regime. Ever since the February days, on every possible occasion, the gallant formula of soldier braggadocio had been repeated: “Give me one strong detachment and I will show them.” The experience of General Khabolov and General Ivanov at the end of February had taught nothing to these warriors of loud mouth. The same song was frequently sung too by civilian strategists. The Octobrist Shidlovsky asserted that if in February there had appeared in the capital “a military detachment, not especially large but united by discipline and fighting spirit, the February revolution would have been put down in a few days.” The notorious railway magnate, Bublikov, wrote: “One disciplined division from the front would have been enough to crush the insurrection to the bottom.” Several officers who participated in the events assured Denikin that “one firm battalion under a commander who know what he wanted could have changed the whole situation from top to bottom.” During the days of Guchkov’s war ministry, General Krymov came to him from the front and offered to clean up Petrograd with one division –of course not without bloodshed.” The thing was not put through merely because “Guchkov did not consent.” And finally Savinkov, preparing in the interests of a future directory his own particular “August 27th” asserted that two regiments would be amply sufficient to make dust and ashes of the Bolsheviks. Now fate had offered all these gentlemen, in the person of the “happy” general “full of the joy of life”, an ample opportunity to verify the truth of these heroic calculations. Without having struck a single blow, with bowed head, shamed and humiliated, Krymov arrived at the Winter Palace. Kerensky did not let pass the opportunity to play out a melodramatic scene with him –a scene in which his chief effects were guaranteed their success in advance. Returning from the Prime Minister to the war office, Krymov ended his life with a revolver shot. Thus turned out his attempt to put down the revolution “not without bloodshed.”
In the Winter Palace they breathed more freely, having concluded that a matter so pregnant with difficulties was ending favourably. And they decided to return as soon as possible to the order of the day –that is to a continuation of the business which had been interrupted. Kerensky appointed himself commander-in-chief. From the standpoint of preserving his political ties with the old generals, he could hardly have found a more suitable figure. As chief of the headquarters staff he selected Alexeiev, who two days ago had barely missed landing in the position of Prime Minister. After hesitating and conferring with his friends, the general, not without a contemptuous grimace, accepted the appointment – with the aim, as he explained to his own people, of liquidating the conflict in a peaceful manner. The former chief-of-staff of the supreme commander-in-chief, Nicholas Romanov, thus arrived at the same position under Kerensky. That was something to wonder at! “Only Alexeiev, thanks to his closeness to headquarters and his enormous influence in high military circles “ –so Kerensky subsequently tried to explain his wonderful appointment –“could successfully carry out the task of peacefully transferring the command from the hands of Kornilov to new hands.” Exactly the opposite was true. The appointment of Alexeiev –that is, one of their own men –could only inspire the conspirators to further resistance, had there remained the slightest possibility of it. In reality Alexeiev was brought forward by Kerensky after the failure of the insurrection for the same reason that Savinkov had been summoned at the beginning of it: it was necessary at any cost to keep open a bridge to the right. The new commander-in-chief considered a restoration of friendship with the generals now especially needful. After the disturbance if will be necessary to inaugurate a firm order, and accordingly a doubly strong power is needed.
At headquarters nothing was now left of that optimism which had reigned two days before. The conspirators were looking for a way to retreat. A telegram sent to Kerensky stated that Kornilov “in view of the strategic situation” was disposed to surrender the command peacefully, provided he was assured that “a strong government will be formed.” This large ultimatum the capitulator followed up with a small one: he, Kornilov, considered it “upon the whole impermissible to arrest the generals and other persons most indispensable to the army.” The delighted Kerensky immediately took a step to meet his enemy, announcing by radio that the order of General Kornilov in the sphere of military operations were obligatory upon all. Kornilov himself wrote to Krymov on the same day:” An episode has occurred –the only one of its kind in the history of the world: a commander-in-chief accused of treason and betrayal of the fatherland, and arraigned for this crime before the courts, has received an order to continue commanding the armies…” This new manifestation of the good-for-nothingness of Kerensky immediately raised the hopes of the conspirators, who still dreaded to sell themselves too cheap. In spite of the telegram sent a few hours earlier about the impermissibility of inner conflict “at this terrible moment,” Kornilov, half-way restored to his rights, sent two men to Kaledin with a request “to bring pressure to bear” and at the same time suggested to Krymov: “If the circumstances permit, act independently in the spirit of my instructions to you.” The spirit of those instructions was: Overthrow the government and hang the members of the Soviet.
General Alexeiev, the new chief-of-staff, departed for the seizure of headquarters. At the Winter Palace they still took this operation seriously. In reality Kornilov had had at his immediate disposition: a battalion of St. George, the “Kornilovist” infantry regiment, and a Tekinsky cavalry regiment. The St. George battalion had gone over to the government at the very beginning, the Kornilovist and Tekinsky regiments were still counted loyal, but part of them has split off. Headquarters had no artillery at all. In these circumstances there could be no talk of resistance. Alexeiev began his mission by paying ceremonial visits to Kornilov and Lukomsky –visits during which we can only imagine both sides unanimously squandering the soldierly vocabulary on the subject of Kerensky, the new commander-in-chief. It was clear to Kornilov, as also to Alexeiev, that the salvation of the country must in any case be postponed for a certain period of time.
But while at headquarters peace without victors or vanquished was being so happily concluded, the atmosphere in Petrograd was getting extraordinarily hot, and in the Winter Palace they were impatiently awaiting some reassuring news from Moghiliev which might be offered to the people. They kept nudging Alexeiev with inquiries. Colonel Baranovsky, one of Kerensky’s trusted men, complained over the direct wire: “The soviets are raging, the atmosphere can be discharged only by a demonstration of power, and the arrest of Kornilov and others…” This did not at all correspond to the intentions of Alexeiev. “I remark with deep regret,” answers the general, “that my fear lest at present we have fallen completely into the tenacious paws of the Soviet has become an indubitable fact.” By the familiar pronoun “we” is implied the group of Kerensky, in which Alexeiev, in order to soften the sting, conditionally includes himself. Colonel Baranovsky replies in the same tone: “God grant that we shall get out of the tenacious paws of the Soviet into which we have fallen.” Hardly had the masses saved Kerensky from the paws of Kornilov, when the leader of the democracy hastened to get into agreement with Alexeiev against the masses: “We shall get out of the tenacious paws of the Soviet.” Alexeiev was nevertheless compelled to submit to necessity, and carry out the ritual of arresting the principal conspirators. Kornilov offered no objection to sitting quietly under house arrest four days after he had announced to the people: “I prefer death to my removal from the post of commander-in-chief.” The Extraordinary Commission of Inquiry, when it arrived at Moghiliev, also arrested the Vice-Minister of Communications, several officers of the general staff, the unarrived diplomat Alladin, and also the whole personnel of the head committee of the League of Officers.
During the first hours after the victory the Compromisers gesticulated ferociously. Even Avksentiev gave out flashes of lightning. For three whole days the rebels had left the front without any command! “Death to the traitors!” cried the members of the Executive Committee. Avksentiev welcomed these voices: Yes, the death penalty was introduced at the demand of Kornilov and his followers –“so much the more decisively will it be applied to them.” Stormy and prolonged applause.
The Moscow Church Council which had two weeks ago bowed its head before Kornilov as the restorer of the death penalty, now beseeched the government by telegraph in the name of God and the Christlike love of the neighbour to preserve the life of the erring general.” Other levers also were brought into operation. But the government had no idea at all of making a bloody settlement. When delegation from the Savage Division came to Kerensky in the Winter Palace, and one of the soldiers in answer to some general phrases of the new commander, said that “the traitor commanders ought to be ruthlessly punished,” Kerensky interrupted him with the words “Your business now is to obey your commander and we ourselves will do all that is necessary.” Apparently this man thought that the masses ought to appear on the scene when he stamped his left foot, and disappear again when he stamped with his right.
“We ourselves will do all that is necessary.” But all that they did seemed to the masses unnecessary, if not indeed suspicious and disastrous. The masses were not wrong. The upper circles were most of all occupied with restoring that very situation out of which the Kornilov campaign had arisen. “After the first few questions put by the members of the Inquiry Commission,” relates Lukomsky, “it became clear that they were all in the highest degree friendly toward us.” They were in essence accomplices and accessories. The military prosecutor Shablovsky gave the accused a consultation on the question of how to evade justice. The organisations of the front sent protests. “The generals and their accomplices are not being held as criminals before the state and the people…The rebels have complete freedom of communication with the outside world.” Lukomsky confirms this: “The staff of the commander-in-chief kept us informed about all matters of interest to us.” The indignant soldiers more than once felt an impulse to try the generals in their own courts, and the arrestees were saved from summary execution only by a counter-revolutionary Polish division sent to Bykhov where they were detained.
On the 12th of September, General Alexeiev wrote to Miliukov from headquarters a letter which reflected the legitimate indignation of the conspirators at the conduct of the big bourgeoisie, which had first pushed them on, but after the defeat left them to their fate. “You are to a certain degree aware” –wrote the general, not without poison on his pen- “that certain circles of our society not only knew about it all, not only sympathised intellectually, but even, to the extent that they were able, helped Kornilov…” In the name of the League of Officers Alexeiev demanded of Vyshnegradsky, Putilov and other big capitalists, who had turned their backs to the vanquished, that they should collect 300,000 roubles for the benefit of “the hungry families of those with whom they had been united by common ideals and preparations…” The letter ended in an open threat: “If the honest press does not immediately begin an energetic explanation of the situation…General Kornilov will be compelled to make a broad exposure before the court of all the preparatory activities, all conversations with persons and circles, the parts they played, etc.” As to the practical results of this tearful ultimatum, Denikin reports: “Only towards the end of October did they bring to Kornilov from Moscow about 40,000 roubles.” Miliukov during this period was in a general way absent from the political arena. According to the official Kadet version he had “gone to the Crimea for a rest.” After all these violent agitations the liberal leader was, to be sure, in need of rest.
The comedy of the Inquiry Commission dragged along until the Bolshevik insurrection, after which Kornilov and his accomplices were not only set free, but supplied Kerensky’s headquarters with all necessary documents. These escaped generals laid the foundations of the civil war. In the name of the sacred aims which had united Kornilov with the liberal Miliukov and the Black Hundredist, Rimsky-Korsakov, hundreds of thousands of people were buried, the south and east of Russia were pillaged and laid waste, the industry of the country was almost completely destroyed, and the Red Terror imposed upon the revolution. Kornilov, after successfully emerging from Kerensky’s courts of justice, soon fell on the civil war front from a Bolshevik shell. Kaladin’s fate was not very different. The “troop ring” of the Don demanded, not only a revocation of the order for Kaledin’s arrest, but also his restoration to the position of ataman. And here too Kerensky did not miss the opportunity to go back on himself. Skobelev was sent to Novocherkassk to apologise to the troop ring. The democratic minister was subjected to refined mockeries conducted by Kaledin himself. The triumph of the Cossack general was not, however, long-lasting. Pressed from all sides by the Bolshevik revolution breaking out on the Don, Kaledin in a few months ended his own life. The banner of Kornilov then passed into the hands of General Denikin and Admiral Kolchak, with whose names the principle period of the civil war is associated. But all that has to do with 1918 and the years that followed.