General Kornilov
General Kornilov

In August of 1917, famed Russian general Lavr Kornilov staged a military coup in the midst of World War I. Kornilov was upset at the Provisional Government, of which Alexander Kerensky had recently assumed power. The Provisional Government, lacking the authority to control all of Russia, had established a dual governance with the Petrograd Soviet. The country’s soviets, and citizens, were becoming increasingly radicalized and Bolshevik power was rising. In July a popular demonstration erupted led by workers and some soldiers that was beaten back by troops who were loyal to the Provisional Government. Public blame went to the Bolsheviks who supported the demonstrations but had not led them. Put that with the recent military revolt, and the unrest that was supposed to end with the abdication of the Czar hadn’t.

In step Kornilov, the Russian military’s commander-in-chief. To him the Provisional Government had become in danger of falling to the radical left. In a conversation with Kerensky it was implied that Kornilov should take power. But when Kornilov put a train full of troops on the way to Petrograd, Kerensky panicked and had the soviets organize a defense. The resulting armed workers were known as the Red Guard and they along with railway workers detained the train (as seen in this video excerpt . Within days Kornilov was in jail and the duality remained intact.

The derailment of his coup was only half of why the Kornilov Affair was a train wreck. The aftermath paved the way for the eventual October Revolution. Kerensky lost most of his power once it was found out the part he had played in Kornilov’s counter-rebellion. The formation of the Red Guard and their success in defending the government put power into the soviets hands like they had never had before. The soviets had a way to defend their vision by force which decreased the Provisional Government’s power even more. In the October Revolution, the Red Guard would be instrumental in seizing the Winter Palace and disposing of the Provisional Government and afterward defending the fledgling communist government in a civil war.




Seventeen Moments in Soviet History–1917: Kornilov Affair

2 thoughts on “The Kornilov Train Wreck

  1. I really enjoyed reading this article, it shows the military as just as much to blame for setting the stage for the eventual October revolution and is very similar to my post in regards to the struggles the military faced fighting a war, and dealing with major internal political struggles.

  2. This article was really interesting to me. Its curious how the man in charge, Kerensky, would play a part in a coup to take control of the government he was one head of. I wish I knew more about his motivations when he decided/agreed to allow Kornilov to step in and take charge. The Kornilov affair is a fascinating piece of the revolution that played a bigger role than at first glance it seemed to in the shuffling of political power.

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