The Man Whose Russian Affair Opened the Door for Lenin and the Bolsheviks

Kornilov waving to Crowds

Kornilov waving to Crowds

In March of 1917, in the face of societal unrest and military defeats, Nicholas II abdicated the throne of Russia. Nicholas relinquished power to his brother, Michael, calling on the people to support the tsar, working together to form a new Russia. The letter came when soldiers did not put down demonstrators against the tsar.  Following Nicholas II’s abdication, a dual power system was created between the Provisional Government and the Soviets led by the Petrograd Soviet. Aleksandr Kerensky became one of the leaders of the Provisional Government and would play a vital role in the Kornilov affair.

After the April Crisis, Kerensky appointed General Lavr Kornilov as the commander-in-chief and “he implicitly sanctioned Kornilov’s plan to restore the army’s fighting capacity by restoring discipline and the death penalty,” but Kornilov “doubted that the coalition had the will either to win the war or to stabilize the domestic front” (Freeze 287). Kornilov did not agree with the implementation of dual power and aimed to end dual power in Russia. Kornilov aimed to challenge the government of Russia, and his support for his cause is evident in hist address to the people, “The true son of the Russian people always perishes at his post, and sacrifices the greatest thing that he has, his life, for his Motherland” (Seventeen Moments)

General Kornilov, leader of the Kornilov Affair

General Kornilov, leader of the Kornilov Affair

With Kerensky’s alleged support, Kornilov led troops to Petrograd to restore order; however, Keresky took advantage of the general in order to gain personal power. The event became known as the Kornilov affair.

“The main victor in the Kornilov Affair was the radical left, and in particular the Bolsheviks” (Seventeen Moments). The affair compromised the authority of Kornilov, Kerensky, and the Provisional government.

The chaos of revolution opened the door for conflict between the political right and left. Contradictions on how to handle social and economic developments and crises led to drastic efforts to establish a government in line with a specific ideology. From dual power, Kerensky and Kornilov saw the opportunity to eliminate chaos and “save” Russia from destroying itself; however, the long-term effects of the failed Kornilov affair “facilitated the Bolshevik seizure of power” (Freeze 288).

Despite failures, strikes continued to intensify, leading to the October Revolution of 1917. As October, and the events surrounding revolution, approached, Lenin and the Bolsheviks poised for political change, building off the stresses of the war and civil unrest.

Cited Sources:

Abdication of Nicholas II, March 2/15, 1917 documents:

Seventeen Moments in Soviet History: 1917: Kornilov Affair:

Gregory L. Freeze, Russia: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 287-288.