Six Red Months in Russia

by Louise Bryant



KERENSKY again in the limelight! Kerensky visiting the world's capitals and hobnobbing with the world's potentates! A new Kerensky, reported to have grown a beard to hide his too apparent youth. Socialist--comrade-Kerensky now out of politics--comes thence on a special mission--to explain the revolution! Ah, well and good--the world is surely in need of explanation. But who in any country, in any language, can explain the enigmatic Kerensky?

I was in Russia when he was at the height of his political career, when he received ovations and lived in the palace of the Romanoffs. It was a meteoric career--from the Korniloff rebellion to the November revolution--just three months, until Kerensky was fleeing in disguise; his only following a few political leaders and a handful of Cossacks who deserted him and tried to turn him over to the Bolsheviki. He could not rally a single regiment of soldiers, a single company of sailors, the workmen he had armed to repel Korniloff were his bitterest enemies, using the very same arms against him. Even the reactionaries were bent on his destruction. His faithful friend, General Krasnov, advised him to give himself up after the Cossacks were defeated at Tsarskoe Selo. He promised, begged a moment in which to "compose himself"; and in that moment he escaped, leaving his embarrassed protectors to explain as best they could. Perhaps no popular hero ever had a more ignominious exit. The revolutionists were surprised and hurt. What could he have been thinking of to start civil war--to march with the Cossacks against the people? Was it not for this very act that he branded Korniloff a traitor? Did he not join hands with the very element he had been fighting all his life?

A week passed. From his place in hiding came a hysterical letter which was published in the Volia Naroda, beginning, "It is I, Alexander Kerensky, who speaks!" He asked the people to put down the usurpers; life went on as usual. In the same issue of Volia Naroda was an editorial apologising for the letter, saying Kerensky was a sick man, a man who had finished his political career, it was best to be lenient with him; and Volia Naroda was Kerensky's official organ!

Half a year--almost eight months, to be exact--and no further word from Kerensky. Now and again one wonders what could have happened to him. One remembers that he has always been ill and thinks perhaps the poor fellow has died. Suddenly startling headlines inform us that he is in London--in Paris--in Washington! Alexander Feodorovitch Kerensky will not stay put. I have a feeling as I write this that whatever I say will be ancient history in the light of new, violent developments in the career of this remarkable character. Perhaps he will star in the movies, perhaps ... but no ... he can never be a drawing-room favourite; he is not as cultured as Lenine or Trotsky; he speaks only Russian and a few words of French, while they speak any number of languages, are well up on the classics and even chatter of music. Trotsky looks like Paderevski and Lenine like Beethoven. What chance has he against them? Still--Kerensky is playful, ministers in the Winter Palace claimed that he kept them awake all hours of the night, singing grand opera airs. ...

I had a tremendous respect for Kerensky when he was head of the Provisional Government. He tried so passionately to hold Russia together, and what man at this hour could have accomplished that? He was never wholeheartedly supported by any group. He attempted to carry the whole weight of the nation on his frail shoulders, keep up a front against the Germans, keep down the warring political factions at home. Faster and faster grew the whirlwind. Kerensky lost his balance and fell headlong. ...

Everything in Russia was so different from what I had expected it would be. I had been told that the Russians were all for the war--when I got there I heard nothing but peace and the talk of the soldiers was strange talk for warriors. Conditions at the front were alarming. There was a shortage of ammunition, of food and of clothing. Soldiers stood, knee-deep in mud, muttering. Many had no coats and the rain came down in a cold, miserable drizzle; many had no boots. ... One regiment had been without food for three days except for some carrots they had dug from a field behind the lines. When an army gets to such a pass anything is possible.

This was in October. And in Petrograd the art treasures were all being removed from the Hermitage, the old tapestries stripped from the walls of the Winter Palace. All night long wagons passed my window laden with priceless old treasures bound for Moscow to be stored in the Kremlin. What could it mean except evacuation? Even machinery was removed from some of the factories. In the Council of the Russian Republic, Trotsky got up and asked why they were getting ready to turn Petrograd over to the Germans. The burden of all the speeches was peace. And through all the confusion moved Kerensky, far from serene, occasionally breaking down, crying out from the tribunal, to indifferent ears: "I am a doomed man. I cannot last much longer!"

It was through Babushka that I met Kerensky. She gave me a note one afternoon and I went to his office to get an interview. A friendly little Russian girl, one of the numerous secretaries in the Winter Palace, said that she would arrange everything. Kerensky's own secretary, Dr. Soskice, was away for a week. I was relieved, because he was death on correspondents. My friend disappeared into the inner office and came running back. "Ah, you are fortunate!" she exclaimed. "He says to come right in."

We entered the beautiful little private library of Nicholas II. Kerensky lay on a couch with his face buried in his arms, as if he had been suddenly taken ill, or was completely exhausted. We stood there for a minute or two and then went out. He did not notice us. ...

I had time to note some of the Tsar's favourite books as I passed along-various classics and a whole set of Jack London, in English.

"Something serious must be the matter with your Minister-President," I remarked. "I heard him speak at the Council of the Russian Republic a few days ago and in the middle of his speech he rushed from the platform and burst into tears." "I know," she said. "He really is hysterical. If he does not weep there he weeps here; and he is so dreadfully alone. I mean, he cannot depend on anybody."

Then she went on to tell me all the things that were wrong with Kerensky's health. According to her, he had serious stomach trouble, a badly affected lung and kidney trouble. The only way he could keep up was by taking morphine and brandy. That cautious correspondent, Ernest Poole, makes the same statement in his last Russian book. It seemed incredible that this man was holding the reins of great, seething Russia.

"How long can he manage it, I wonder?" was my almost involuntary question.

She answered with that outward resignation so peculiar to Russians. "Well, surely not very long. We are goings to wake up here some morning and find that there is no Provisional Government." In two weeks her prediction had been carried out.

A few days after my unsuccessful visit to Kerensky a courier brought me a large important looking envelope containing an official invitation for an interview.

Kerensky did everything in his power to beep up the morale of the army. Every week he used to go to the front, visit the trenches and make speeches; but the disharmony grew. The officers refused to work with the soldiers' committees; deep conflict ensued. Kerensky had nothing definite to offer the soldiers; there were no peace plans; he was standing for coalition and they disapproved; he did not dare give the peasants the land; no one was satisfied.

Every time he came back from one of these trips he was more discouraged. He admitted the situation quite frankly. "The masses of the people are too economically tired to do much more fighting. And by that," he added gravely, "I do not mean that the revolution has failed or the revolutionary army has failed."

One week when he was supposed to be at the front he went out to Tobolsk to visit the Tsar. The Tsar surprised him by being extremely cordial. Kerensky said that he treated him like a favourite minister and made him feel quite embarrassed. The Tsarina had been haughty with the guards and they were offended. Kerensky spoke to the Tsar about it and he agreed that she ought to be more gracious. Poor, weak Nicholas, for a lifetime he had made it a point to agree with the last visitor. I wonder what final conversation he had with that Red executioner, if indeed he is really dead.

The guards were suspicious of one of the Grand Duchesses. They said that they overheard her talking about Dan, Lieber and Gotz, three of Kerensky's political supporters, and they thought the conversation ought to be investigated, "it sounded so much like German... ."

The common gossip in Petrograd was that Kerensky was to marry a famous Russian actress. This rumour both Kerensky and the actress denied, rather superfluously, since both of them were already married and had begun no divorce proceedings. Madame Kerensky did not live in the Winter Palace and was never seen with her husband. She lived quietly in another part of Petrograd with her two children. Whatever their relations were, however, she was essentially loyal to her husband. After the Provisional Government fell, she was arrested for tearing off Bolshevik posters from the walls--tearing them off with her bare hands. The soldier who took her to prison found out who she was as soon as the officials began to question her, and he was filled with remorse. He said that he could understand her actions under the circumstances, and begged the officials to let her off. This request was immediately granted.

Kerensky was not blind to the approaching class struggle, but he did not know how to time its appearance. During the last interview he ever gave as Minister-President, he said: "Remember, 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 a very complicated process for all the different nationalities in Russia. Remember, that the French revolution took five years and that France was inhabited by one people; that France is the size of one of our provincial districts. No, the Russian revolution is not over--it is just beginning."

Another statement he made that day, and that I am sure he would still maintain, was in regard to material assistance from America to Russia. I asked him how America could best aid Russia. "First," he replied, "by trying to understand us by trying to understand the soul of the Russian people and what they are going through. And secondly," he smiled, "by sending us clothes, machinery and money."

The Associated Press correspondent who was with me at the time asked him if American soldiers would be of assistance. He said that that proposition was not practicable, the difficulties of transportation were too great and besides there were plenty of men in Russia--but no supplies.

Russian politicians here claim that Kerensky is now for intervention by the Japanese, and his secretary in London contradicts all this. In the meantime the masses in his own country, having forcibly ejected him, now go on with their struggles without considering him at all.