A. F. Kerensky

The Catastrophe


Source: The Catastrophe
Published: 1927
Transcriber: Jonas Holmgren
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.


THE crisis of the Revolution, of which Tseretelli spoke on the day of the formation of the second coalition cabinet of the Provisional Government, was in truth the crisis of the state. It was, as already indicated, the victory of the state. Russian democracy emerged from its Soviet shell. Its voice began to resound everywhere—in city councils, zemstvos, cooperatives, trade unions, etc. Once again, also, was heard the voice of the hitherto silenced organizations of propertied, middle-class Russia. The government, supporting itself on the country, felt the need of an organ of public opinion, expressing itself in some organized manner. For technical reasons and because of the recent cabinet crisis the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, set for October thirteenth, had to be postponed until December sixteenth.

This was too long an interval. A new Congress of Soviets would have been inadequate, for its opinion would have been regarded less than ever as the opinion of the whole of Russia. At the very beginning of the cabinet crisis, immediately after the departure of Prince Lvoff, the Provisional Government had decided to convoke an All-Russian State Conference in Moscow, with the purpose of finding therein a new support for the strengthening of the government. Now we were no longer confronted with this need. The government had gained new confidence and felt its strength. Nevertheless, it was conscious of the need of making an inventory, so to speak, of the nation's political forces, to determine more clearly the balance of their respective weight in the nation, and to give to the political parties themselves, to the Soviets and other organizations an opportunity to sense the growth of the social forces and social organization in the country. For this reason the new coalition cabinet, immediately upon its formation, affirmed the plan for convocation of the Moscow State Conference. The date of the meeting was set for August twenty-sixth.

On the day of the opening of the conference, the Bolshoy Theater in Moscow was filled with thousands of people, representing the very best elements of political, social, cultured and military Russia. Only a pitiful handful of monarchists and Bolsheviki, who had virtually been driven underground, did not send their representatives to this conference, truly expressive of the whole of Russia.

The Bolsheviki even tried to organize a general strike in Moscow, in protest against the "reactionary assembly" which was to demonstrate the loyalty of "Russia's subjects" to the "dictator Kerensky." In extreme Right circles it was likewise whispered: "Kerensky is going to Moscow to be crowned." And, indeed, under the thunder of oratorical speeches in the main hall of the Bolshoy Theater, in the lobbies and behind the scenes, was being born, as we shall soon see, the mad idea of a dictatorship. The man who was to be the bearer of the dictatorial robe was General Korniloff, a man brave in war but quite unversed in politics.

Outwardly, the conference presented a most interesting picture. Running from the stage to the main entrance was the middle aisle, dividing the conference into two equal sides: on the left was democratic, peasant, Soviet, socialist Russia and on the right was liberal, bourgeois, propertied, capitalist Russia. The army was represented on the left by army committees and on the right by members of the commanding corps. Exactly opposite the main entrance, on the stage, sat the Provisional Government. My seat was precisely in the middle. On my left were the Democratic-Socialist ministers. On my right were the ministers from the bourgeoisie. The Provisional Government was the only center uniting both Russias into one. In this center I was the mathematical point of unity.

Those who attended the meetings of the Conference at the Bolshoy Theater in Moscow can never forget those days. All the complexity of political opinions, the entire gamut of social sentiments, the entire tension of the inner struggle, the entire force of patriotic concern, the entire fury of social hatred, all the pain of accumulated insults and injuries—all this flowed in a tempestuous, roaring stream towards the stage, to the table of the Provisional Government. Demands, accusations, complaints were heaped in a mass on the government table. Both sides wanted to help the government, from which some miraculous message was expected. Each of the two Russias wanted the government to be only with that particular side.

But the government was only on the side of the state, for we of the Provisional Government saw independently and as a whole what each of the struggling sides observed only from the point of view of the part that interested it alone. We saw that both sides were equally necessary to Russia. The significance of the Moscow Conference was, of course, not in the programs embodied in the various declarations, resolutions and speeches but in the determination of the measure of power represented by the various social organizations participating. The government sought to feel the pulse of the country, to sense its will. The representatives of the respective parties and organizations sought to weigh the authority of the government in the state: some aimed at strengthening it, while others searched for its Achilles' heel. The most acute, the most tense moment of the conference was the appearance of General Lavre Korniloff, Commander-in-Chief. For the Left side of the conference he was the symbol of future "counter-revolution." For the Right side he was almost a "national hero," destined to overthrow the "weak-willed Provisional Government, the prisoner of the Soviets," and to establish a strong authority.

Which of the two sides represented the majority of the people at that time, August twenty-sixth to twenty-eighth? The answer to this question was quite clear to all who were not blinded by party passion and social hatred. To learn the answer it was only necessary to examine the list of organizations which signed the declaration read by Tcheidze, President of the All-Russian Executive Committee of the Congress of Soviets.

The list included the Committee itself, the Executive Committee of the Congress of Peasants, the committees representing the front and the army, the cooperative organizations, the All-Russian Union of Zemstvos and Municipalities, the All-Russian Railway Union, the majority of city councils elected on the basis of universal suffrage, etc. etc. In a word, on the Left was represented the Russia of the people, all the democratic, revolutionary elements of the country, into whose hands had fallen the entire apparatus of national and local administration. After six months of experience of the Revolution, this Russia recognized the supreme authority of the Provisional Government and, instead of the previous abstract declarations, it brought to the Moscow Conference a practical program for the political and economic restoration of the country, a program which, while not entirely suitable as the basis of immediate government policy, was none the less a realistic, concrete program. The social organizations and parties comprising the Left sector of the Moscow Conference represented collectively an unquestionable buttress of the state. They constituted the dam behind which the elemental class antagonisms, of the lower strata of the population were still raging, fanned by Bolshevist demagogy and German agents.

But who was on the Right? The entire financial and industrial aristocracy of the country. The elite of the urban liberal intelligentsia. These two forces were necessary to the new Russia. But at the Moscow Conference they were already represented by a majority of "has-beens," speaking for groups which as such had disappeared into history on March 12, 1917.

Here were representatives of the Duma, the State Council, the Union of the Landed Nobility appearing under its new name of the "Union of Landowners," former city and zemstvo officials, professors, journalists and, finally, representatives of the high command, the All-Russian Union of Officers, the Council of Cossacks, the Union of the Knights of St. George and other military organizations. As a matter of fact, the officers' organizations, headed by the commanding corps, represented the only physical force at the disposal of the entire Right sector of the conference. Shortly before the opening of the conference the propertied elements of Russia had set up in Moscow a permanent political center under the name of the "Conference of Public Leaders." This conference became a real Soviet, the nucleus of what was then "white" Russia, and which, under certain circumstances, behaved exactly as did the Soviet in the first weeks of the Revolution.

On the last day of the conference occurred the celebrated scene when Tseretelli, chief spokesman of the Left wing of the conference, and Bublikoff, leading representative of industrial and financial Russia, shook hands on the stage of the Bolshoy Theater, symbolizing thus the union of all the people around the nonpartisan, national Provisional Government, the armistice between capital and labor in the name of the struggle for Russia. But at that very moment, behind the scenes of the conference, certain leaders of the Right sector, together with former and active commanders at the front, were signing the death warrant of the new coalition, of the union of the labor and bourgeois forces of the country, by giving their sanction to the mad effort of a pitiful group of officers and political adventurers to destroy the Provisional Government, i.e., to destroy completely the sole levee which alone could save Russia from a new outburst of anarchy.

On my return from the Moscow Conference I felt more than ever that Russia could be saved only by following unswervingly the path along which the Provisional Government had led it from the very first day of the Revolution. To be sure, at the beginning of August there were only three members of the original Provisional Government in the cabinet— Terestchenko, Nekrassoff and I. But the changes in the composition of the ministry did not in any way change the line of policy laid down by the government created by the Revolution. All three of us, who for more than six months had followed the course of events in Russia from day to day from the very central point of vantage, perceived how slowly but surely the new Russia was growing in strength and stability, overcoming one after another all political, economic and psychological obstacles. The end of the 1917 fighting season was drawing closer. The general interallied problem at the front was solved. Lenin was in hiding. The Soviets were relegated to the background of national life. The power of the state was consolidated. Within three months the Constituent Assembly was to meet, three months during which much hard work was yet to be done, but within the framework of a stronger, firmer state organization.

All this was quite clear to any one possessing any common sense, objective vision. It seemed that it was not too much to expect such objectivity from the political and cultured upper elements of Russia, who had but a few months before witnessed the dissolution of the monarchy and who had with their own hands felt all the ulcers of the old regime. They, the old, experienced political leaders should have understood better than others the tremendous, superhuman patience required in the governing of Russia in the first months following the catastrophe, the equal of which had not perhaps been witnessed since the period of the fall of the Roman Empire.

However, there was not enough patience!

The still shaky levee, protecting Russia from ruin and disintegration, was blown up by the hands of men who could have been accused of anything but lack of patriotism. But there is apparently a blind love of country which is worse than open hatred. The Moscow Conference became the prologue to a terrible drama which developed between Mohileff, the headquarters of the commander-in-chief, and Petrograd, seat of the Provisional Government.



Last updated on: 2.17.2008