John Reed Internet Archive
First Published: The Liberator Vol. 1, No. 2 April, 1918 pp.18-19
Transcription/Markup: Brian Bagsen and Damon Maxwell
Online Version: John Reed Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2009
October 23, 1917.
“I AM a doomed man,” said Alexander Kerensky from the tribune of the Council of the Russian Republic on October 13th, “and it doesn’t matter what happens to me . ...”
Doomed indeed. Tuberculosis of the kidneys, of the lungs, and they say tumor of the stomach. Extremely emotional, strung to an almost hysterical pitch, the awful task of riding the Russian whirlwind is wearing him down visibly.
“Comrades!” he said at the Democratic Assembly, “If I speak to you like this, it is because the cross I. carry, and which forces me to be far from you, is so terribly heavy!”
At the time of this writing, October 23, Kerensky is alone, as perhaps never leader has been alone in all history. In the midst of the class-struggle, which deepens and grows bitterer day by day, his place becomes more and more precarious. Things are moving swiftly to a crisis, to the “lutte finale” between bourgeoisie and proletariat – which Kerensky tried with all his strength to avoid – and the “Moderates” disappear from the stormy scene. Kerensky alone remains, stubborn and solitary, holding his way . ...
The revolutionary democracy says that he has “sold out” to the bourgeoisie and the foreign imperialists. The bourgeoisie and the reactionary foreign influences – with the British Embassy at their head – accuse him of having “sold out” to the Germans. Upon him is concentrated the hatred of both sides, as upon a symbol of Russia torn in half. Kerensky will fall, and his fall will be the signal for civil war.
The familiar vilifications are heaped upon him; he is everything from “traitor” to “corruptor of children.” A common tale, reprinted weekly in the newspapers, is that of his separation from his wife, and approaching marriage with a well-known variety actress – or even that the actress is living in the Winter Palace. One of the former Ministers, whose apartment was next to Kerensky’s, says that he was kept awake all night by the Premier singing operatic arias – and adds that Kerensky sleeps in the gold and blue bed of the Tsar Alexander III, which is a very wide bed . ... People repeat that Kerensky is surrounding himself with imperial pomp, and I have been told how, while speaking at the Moscow Conference, he kept two. officers standing at salute until they fainted – a myth which has been exploded by every eyewitness. But the most widely-spread accusation is that “he is just trying to make a name for himself in history.” And if that is Kerensky’s fell design, he has succeeded.
In all the multitudes of revolutionary leaders there is not one with Kerensky’s personal magnetism, his dramatic faculty of firing men. I first saw him at the Democratic Assembly, where he marched into the middle of the great Alexandrinsky Theater, in the midst of an immense hostile crowd firmly convinced that he was implicated in the Kornilov affair, and swept them off their feet by his passionate speech. At the opening of the Council of the Russian Republic I again heard him, and twice more, raising himself and his audience to heights of emotion, collapsing utterly afterward, and the last time weeping violently in his seat. A tall, broad-shouldered figure as he stood there, in his utterly plain brown uniform, rather flabby around the middle, with flashing eyes, bristling hair, abrupt gestures, and swift, resonant speech. What did he say? Nothing very concrete, except once when he bitterly denounced the Bolsheviki for provoking bloodshed. Otherwise vague defenses of himself, generalities about the necessity for disorder in the country to cease, about defending the revolution, about free Russia . . . . A man of moods, nervous, domineering, independent, of fearful capacity for work under frightful physical handicaps, absolutely honest but with no real fixity of purpose – as the leader of the Russian Revolution should have. And sick.
We had many appointments to see him at his office in the Winter Palace. Always at the last moment he would suddenly be taken ill, or busy – with meetings of the Government, the War Council, deputations from the front, from the Caucausus, Siberia, visits of the Allied Ambassadors, or a delegation like one we saw – reactionary priests objecting to the separation of Church and State . ...
Finally one day we penetrated as far as the private billiard-room of the Emperor, an immense chamber paneled in rosewood inlaid with brass, where in a corner beside the Gargantuan rosewood billiard table, below the shrouded portraits of the Tsars, was the plain desk at which he worked. The military Commissar for the Russian troops in France and Salonika was striding up and down, biting his nails. It appeared that the Minister-President was closeted with the British Ambassador, hours late for all appointments ...
Then, just as we were about to give up, the door opened and a smiling little spic-and-span naval adjutant beckoned. We entered a great mahogany room, lined with heavy Gothic book-cases, in the center of which a stairway mounted to a balcony above. This was the Tsar’s private library and. reception-room. I had time to notice the works of jack London, in English, on a shelf, when Kerensky came toward us. As he shook hands he looked into each face searchingly for a second, and then led the way swiftly across to a big table with chairs all around.
On his high forehead the short hair bristled straight up like a brush, grey-discolored. His whole face was greyish in color, puffed out unhealthily, with deep pouches under the eyes. He looked at one shrewdly, humorously, squinting as if the light hurt. The long fingers of his hands twisted nervously tight around each other once or twice, and then he laid them on the table, and they were quiet. His whole attitude was quizzically friendly, as if receiving reporters was an amusing relaxation. When he picked up a paper with questions on it, I noticed that he put it within an inch of his eyes, as if he were terribly near-sighted.
“What do you consider your job here?” I asked him. He laughed as if it tickled him.
“Just to free Russia,” he answered drily, and smiled as if it were a good joke.
“What do you think will be the solution of the present struggle between the extreme radicals and the extreme reactionaries ?”
“That I won’t answer,” he shot back swiftly. “What’s the next?”
“What have you to say to the democratic masses of the United States?”
“Well . . .” he rubbed his chin and grinned. “What am I going to say to that ?” His attitude said, do you think I’m God Almighty? “Let them understand the Russian democracy,” he went on, “and help it to fight reaction – everywhere in the world. Let them understand the soul of Russia, the real spirit of the Russian people. That’s all I have to say to them.”
I then asked, “What lesson do you draw from the Russian Revolution for the revolutionary democratic elements of the world ?”
“Ah-hah.” He turned that over in his mind and gave me a sharp look. “Do you think the Revolution in Russia is over, then? It would be very shortsighted for me to draw Inv lesson from the Revolution.” He jerked his head in emphasis, and spoke vehemently. “Let the masses of the Russian people in action teach their own lesson. Draw the lesson yourself, comrade – you can see it before your eyes!”
He stopped and then began abruptly:
“This is not a political revolution. It is not like the French revolution. It is an economic revolution, and there will be necessary in Russia a profound revaluation of classes. And it is also a complicated process for the many different nationalities of Russia. Remember that the French revolution took five years, and that France was inhabited by one people, and that France is only the size of three of our provincial districts. No, the Russian revolution is not over – it is just beginning!”
I made way for the Associated Press correspondent, who had the usual Associated Press prejudices against common peasants, soldiers and workingmen who insisted upon calling one tavaristch – comrade.
“Mr. Kerensky,” said the Associated Press man, “in England and France people are disappointed with the Revolution –”
“Yes, I know,” interrupted Kerensky, quizzically. “Abroad it is fashionable to be disappointed with the Revolution !”
“I mean,” went on the Associated Press man, a little disconcerted, “people are disappointed in Russia’s part in the war.”
I remember it was the day after the news reached Petrograd of the great defeat of the Italians on the Carso; for Kerensky immediately shot back, with a grin, “The young man had better go to Italy!”
The Associated Press man tried again. “What is your explanation of why the Russians have stopped fighting?”
“That is a foolish question to ask,” Kerensky was annoyed. “Russia started the war first, and for a long time she bore the whole brunt of it. Her losses have been inconceivably greater than any other nation. Russia has now the right to demand of the Allies that they bring to bear a greater force of arms.” He stopped and stared for a moment at his interlocutor. “You are asking why the Russians have stopped fighting, and the Russians are asking where is the British fleet – with the German battleships in the Gulf of Riga?” Again he ceased suddenly, and as suddenly burst out again. “The Russian Revolution hasn’t failed and the Revolutionary Army hasn’t failed. It is not the Revolution which caused disorganization in the army – that disorganization was accomplished years ago, by the old regime. Why aren’t the Russians fighting? I will tell you. Because the masses of the people are economically tired – and because they are disillusioned with the Allies!”
The Associated Press man tried a new tack. “Do you think it would be advantageous to bring American troops to Russia ?”
“Good,” remarked the Premier off-hand, “but impossible. Transportation . . .”
“What can America do which would help Russia the most?” Without hesitation Kerensky answered, “Send us boots, shoes, machinery – and money.”
Abruptly he stood up, shook hands, and before we were out the room he went quickly across to a desk piled high with papers, and began to write . . .
November 25, 1917.
It is just a month since I wrote the first part of this article. Kerensky saw the truth but he could not gauge the excitation of spirit, the deep trouble of the slow-moving Russian masses. He thought the radical democratic program could be worked out slowly, by means of Constituent Assemblies and such-like, after the victorious end of the War which would have made “the world safe for democracy.” The idea of Socialism, or a Proletarian State, subsisting in the imperfect capitalist world of today, was to him inconceivable.
The Bolshevik peace cry had swelled into a chorus which drowned every other sound. It was at this time that a prominent American visiting Russia said to me, “There is only one real party in Russia – the peace party.”
But Kerensky defied the Bolsheviki, and commenced the struggle which ended when he fled, alone and in disguise from the battlefield where he had been defeated.
By that act he lost whatever popularity he had retained among the revolutionary masses . . . He hardly realized this, for after a silence he addressed to Russia an open letter in which he said:
“Be citizens, don’t finish with your own hands the country and the revolution for which you have struggled these eight months! Leave the fools and traitors! Return to the people, return to the service of the country and the revolution!
“It is I, Kerensky, who say this.
“Pull yourselves together!”
In that hysterical communication may be discerned all the traits of Kerensky’s character – the incomprehension of the movement, sympathy for the people, absolute and utter disbelief in the revolutionary method nervous bitterness, wounded pride . . . He could not then have grasped – and cannot now – the fact that the masses of poor people he loved and gave his life to help have turned away from him. At the moment he counts actually less in Russia than Bryan does at home.