Alexander Kerensky

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Alexander Kerensky
Алекса́ндр Ке́ренский

In office
21 July 1917 – 7 November 1917
[8 July – 26 October 1917 Old Style]
Preceded by Georgy Lvov
Succeeded by Office abolished

In office
21 July 1917 – 7 November 1917
Preceded by Georgy Lvov
Succeeded by Vladimir Lenin (as Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars)

Born 4 May 1881
Simbirsk, Russia
Died 11 June 1970 (aged 89)
New York, NY, United States
Resting place Putney Vale Cemetery
London, United Kingdom
Nationality Russian
Political party Socialist Revolutionary
Profession Politician

Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky (May 2, 1881 - June 11, 1970) served as the second Prime Minister of the Russian Provisional Government until the Bolshevik October Revolution.

Early life and activism

Kerensky, a son of a headmaster, was born in Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk), the same town as Lenin (whose surname was then Ulyanov). At one point Kerensky's father, Fyodor, had taught the young Vladimir Ulyanov at Kazan University. Kerensky's uncle and grandfather were said to be orthodox priests. [1] Kerensky graduated with a degree in Law from St. Petersburg University in 1904. He showed his left-wing political allegiances early on, with his frequent defences of anti-Tsarist revolutionaries. He was elected to the Fourth Duma in 1912 as a deputy for the Trudoviks, a Labour Party who were closely associated with the Socialist Revolutionary Party. A brilliant orator and skilled parliamentary leader, he became a member of the Provisional Committee of the Duma as a Socialist Revolutionary and a leader of the socialist opposition to the Tsar, Nicholas II.

February Revolution

When the February Revolution broke out in 1917, Kerensky, a republican, was elected vice-chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. He simultaneously became the first Minister of Justice in the newly-formed Russian Provisional Government. When the Soviet passed a resolution prohibiting its leaders from joining the government, Kerensky delivered a stirring speech at a Soviet meeting. Although the decision was never formalized, he was granted a de facto exemption and continued acting in both capacities.

On March 6, the new Foreign Minister, Miliukov, saw the British Ambassador, Sir George Buchanan and told him that the Provisional Government was disposed to allow the Imperial Family to leave for England if it could be arranged. British Prime Minister Lloyd George, however, thought this a bad idea and made a very pessimistic report on the matter to his King. Between March 21 and July 31 (Julian calendar) Kerensky visited the Imperial family regularly, although after July 9 his visits became solemn events as he had succeeded Prince Lvov. On one of his earlier visits Tsar Nicholas noted that Kerensky seemed "completely outside the nation's preoccupations". The Soviet historian, Bikov, thought Kerensky too easy on the family and cited a valet who said that the Tsarina said to him of Kerensky "I have no complaint to make against him, he's a decent man and one with whom one can talk." Many others, however, felt Kerensky's courtesy was insincere. This appears to be born out by the final meeting with the Tsar on July 31 when he told Nicholas that he was sending him and his family not to the Crimea or one of his family's great estates, but as prisoners to Tobolsk in Siberia.[1]

On July 2, 1917, the first coalition collapsed over the question of Ukraine's autonomy. Following widespread unrest in Petrograd and suppression of the Bolsheviks, Kerensky succeeded Prince Lvov as Russia's Prime Minister. The came the Kornilov Affair at the end of August, and the resignation of the other ministers. Kerensky now appointed himself Supreme Commander-in-Chief as well. He retained his other posts in the short-lived Directory in September, and the final coalition government in October 1917 until it was overthrown by the Bolshevik coup.

Keeping Russia in the War

Kerensky and the other political leaders continued their obligation to Russia's allies by continuing involvement in World War I - fearing that the economy, already under huge stress from the war effort, might become increasingly unstable if vital supplies from France and the United Kingdom were to be cut off. Some also feared that Germany would demand enormous territorial concessions as the price for peace (which indeed happened in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk).

After the first government crisis over the new Foreign Minister Pavel Milyukov's secret note re-committing Russia to its original war aims on May 2-4, Kerensky became the Minister of War and the dominant figure in the newly formed liberal-socialist coalition government. Under Allied pressure to continue the war, he launched what became known as the Kerensky Offensive against the Austro-Hungarian/German South Army on June 17 (Julian Calendar). At first successful, the offensive was soon stopped and then thrown back by a strong counter-attack. The Russian Army suffered heavy losses and it was clear - from many incidents of desertion, sabotage, and mutiny - that the Russian Army was no longer willing to attack. Kerensky failed to grasp that Russia was exhausted after three years of war, while the provisional government did not offer much motivation for a victory outside of continuing Russia's obligations towards its allies. Furthermore, Lenin and his Bolshevik party were promising "peace, land, and bread" under a communist system via subversion and leafleting. The army was now plagued by a lack of discipline, and there was desertion in large numbers.

USA funding

Other forces were also at work. The USA. The Westinghouse Company in Russia had been set up by Charles Crane, a financier member of the Root mission to Russia, and he had made dozens of visits to Russia. His son, Richard Crane, was confidential assistant to then Secretary of State Robert Lansing. Charles Crane had travelled to Russia in 1917 in company with the American Communist Lincoln Steffens, who was in touch with both Woodrow Wilson and Trotsky. It is asserted that Crane "did much to bring on the Kerensky revolution" and he did not return to the USA until well after the Bolshevik Revolution.[2]

In August 1917 Kerensky received in Petrograd the so-called "American Red Cross Mission to Russia", led by William Boyce Thompson, which was in fact made up in the majority by lawyers, financiers, and their assistants, from the New York financial district. Although this 'mission' was made up of Anglo-Saxon American bankers, Thompson was Manager of several Guggenheim family operations and syndicates, and, worse,they had employed three Russian interpreters, Captain Ilovaisky, a Bolshevik, Boris Reinstein, a Russian-American Jew who was later secretary to Lenin, and the Jewish head of Karl Radek's Bureau of International Revolutionary Propaganda, Alexander Gumberg (alias Berg, real name Michael Gruzenberg), who was a brother of Zorin,a Bolshevik minister. Gumberg was also the chief Bolshevik agent in Scandinavia. Several million roubles were handed by the 'mission' to Kerensky's secretary, David Soskice, for 'educational purposes'. Thompson invited Kerensky and Terestchenko to luncheon at the US Embassy with ambassador Francis. Over lunch Thompson showed his Russian guests a telegram he had just sent to New York's J.P. Morgan, bankers, for a transfer of 425,000 roubles to go towards the new Russian Liberty Loan. Kerensky and Terestchenko expressed their "great gratification". Thompson is also stated to have tried to convince Russian peasants to support Kerensky by investing one million US dollars in propaganda activities. Thompson made it clear at this juncture that he wanted Russia to remain in the war, arguing that it was the only way to "save the revolution". However, at the same time they gave the Bolsheviks US$1,000,000 dollars for the purpose of spreading their doctrine in Germany and Austria. The Red Cross had been used often from time to time as vehicle for revolutionary activities.[3]

Policy Failures

Kerensky was heavily criticised by the military for his liberal policies, which included stripping officers of their mandate (handing overriding control to revolutionary inclined "soldier committees" instead), the abolition of the death penalty, and the presence of various revolutionary agitators at the front. Many officers jokingly referred to Commander-in-chief Kerensky as "persuader in chief". Kerensky was also described as having "the heart of a lion and the brains of a sheep". The dilemma of whether to withdraw from the war was a great one, and Kerensky's inconsistent and impractical policies further destabilized the army and the country at large.

Kerensky adopted a policy that isolated the right-wing conservatives, both democratic and monarchist-oriented. His philosophy of "no enemies to the left" greatly empowered the Bolsheviks and gave them a free hand, allowing them to take over the military arm or "voyenka" of the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets. His arrest of Kornilov and other officers left him without strong allies against the Bolsheviks, who ended up being Kerensky's strongest and most determined adversaries, as opposed to the right wing, which evolved into the White movement.

October Revolution

During the Kornilov Affair, Kerensky had distributed arms to the Petrograd workers, and by October most of these armed workers had gone over to the Bolsheviks. On October 25 1917 - October 27, 1917 the Bolsheviks launched the second Russian revolution of the year. Kerensky's government in Petrograd had almost no support in the city. Only one small force, the First Petrograd Women's Battalion, was willing to fight for the government against the Bolsheviks, but this force too crossed over to the revolution without firing a single shot. It took less than 20 hours before the Bolsheviks had taken over the government.

Kerensky escaped the Bolsheviks and went to Pskov, ironically the same place where his Provisional Governments' delegates had extracted an abdication from Tsar Nicholas II the previous March. Here Kerensky rallied some loyal troops for an attempt to retake the capital, and managed to capture Tsarskoe Selo, but were beaten the next day at Pulkovo. Kerensky narrowly escaped, and spent the next few weeks in hiding before fleeing the country, eventually arriving in France. During the Russian Civil War he supported neither side, as he opposed both the Bolshevik regime and the White Movement.

Life in exile

Kerensky lived in Paris until 1940, engaged in the endless splits and quarrels of the exiled Russian democratic leaders. In 1939, Kerensky married the former Australian journalist Lydia ‘Nell' Tritton.[4] When the Germans overran France at the start of World War II, they escaped to the United States. Tritton and Kerensky married at Martins Creek, Pennsylvania. In 1945, his wife became terminally ill. He traveled with her to Brisbane, Australia and lived there with her family until her death in February 1946. Thereafter he returned to the United States, where he lived for the rest of his life.

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Kerensky offered his support to Stalin, but received no reply. Instead, he made broadcasts in Russian in support of the war effort. After the war he organized a group called the Union for the Liberation of Russia, but this achieved little support.

Kerensky eventually settled in New York City, but spent much of his time at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California, where he both used and contributed to the Institution's huge archive on Russian history, and where he taught graduate courses. He wrote and broadcast extensively on Russian politics and history. His last public speech was delivered at Kalamazoo College, in Kalamazoo, Michigan.


Kerensky died at his home in New York City in 1970, one of the last surviving major participants in the turbulent events of 1917. The local Russian Orthodox churches in New York refused to grant Kerensky burial, seeing him as being largely responsible for Russia falling to the Bolsheviks. A Serbian Orthodox church also refused. Kerensky's body was then flown to London where he was buried at a non-denominational cemetery.


Kerensky's major works include The Prelude to Bolshevism (1919) ISBN 0-8383-1422-8 , The Catastrophe (1927), The Crucifixion of Liberty (1934) and Russia and History's Turning Point (1965).

External link


  1. Alexandrov, Victor, The End of the Romanovs, Hutchinson, London, 1966, pps:117, 133, 157-9; 168-9, 170, 175-6.
  2. Dodd, William Edward, Ambassador Dodd's Diary 1933-1938, New York, 1941, p.42-3.
  3. Sutton, Antony C., Wall Street and the Bolshevik Revolution, Veritas Publishing, Western Australia, 1981, pps:74-8, 82-3 and 86. ISBN 0-9594631
  4. Tritton, Lydia Ellen (1899 - 1946) Biographical Entry - Australian Dictionary of Biography Online