Alexander Kerensky was an ‘accidental revolutionary’, who had led Russia’s provisional government in the months after the fall of Tsar Nicholas II in March 1917 and before the Bolsheviks’ ascent that October. Kerensky first became the provisional government’s minister of justice, then minister of war, and finally minister-president.
Bloody Sunday and Its Effects
In 1905, the troops of Tsar Nicholas II fired on unarmed demonstrators in St. Petersburg. The event, known as Bloody Sunday, was followed by a general strike that threatened to cripple the Russian economy. The tsar gave the appearance of capitulating to popular pressure and issued what became known as the October Manifesto. It promised to guarantee civil liberties, and establish a popularly elected legislative body, the Duma.
However, Nicholas dissolved the first duma after just two months. He dissolved the second duma the next year, after it proved even more provocative to him. Then he imposed certain restrictions to guarantee that a third duma would be a much more malleable body.
Opposing this, Alexander Kerensky joined a militant organization of agrarian socialists known as the Socialist Revolutionary Party. However, he was arrested and imprisoned for distributing party propaganda. He then joined a breakaway group, the Trudoviki Party; and in 1912, he was elected to the duma.
Kerensky wasn’t nearly as radical as most Socialist Revolutionaries. His political sensibilities lay somewhere between moderate socialism and liberalism.
By this time, labor unrest was a perennial problem for the Russian imperial government. In 1912, workers in Siberian gold mines refused to work owing to their abysmal conditions. Hundreds of unarmed miners were wounded or killed in the resultant firing by the tsar’s army. Kerensky, as a lawyer, defended surviving miners who were put on trial by the state. The high-profile cases magnified his prestige in the duma and made him famous.
This article comes directly from content in the video series The Great Revolutions of Modern History. Watch it now on Wondrium.
The First World War
Meanwhile, those in the tsar’s inner circle were worried that the imperial regime would collapse under political and economic pressure.
Yet, the public was jubilant when Russia entered the First World War during the summer of 1914. Workers who had protested their working conditions now gathered in St. Petersburg’s Palace Square to cheer the tsar.
However, there were some structural disadvantages that Russia faced during wartime. The country’s industry and munitions, as well as its transportation system and infrastructure, were backward for the time. So, when Germany and Austria’s combined forces surged into Russia in the spring of 1915, the tsar’s forces had no choice but to retreat.
2.5 million Russian soldiers were killed or wounded and 1 million were taken prisoner in 1915 alone. Refugees flooded the cities, inflation soared, and basic supplies disappeared. Hoping to turn the tide, Nicholas assumed command of the army, and recessed the duma to squelch dissent while he was away.
Nicholas left his wife Alexandra in charge while he was away. However, Alexandra’s life was focused on her son Alexei, who was seriously unwell. Alexandra placed her confidence in a self-described holy man named Grigori Rasputin. But Rasputin was a debauched opportunist interested in promoting his own wealth and power. He advocated tactical and personnel decisions that compromised imperial Russia’s interests. Over time, more and more Russians came to believe that Rasputin and Alexandra were spies.
Putilov Factory Strike
In November 1916, the duma reconvened, but the tensions between socialists and liberals were surging. In February 1917, amid food scarcity and rising prices, workers at the Putilov metal-working factory in Petrograd, the largest in the country, went on strike. Factory management declared a lockout, leaving thousands of workers and their families struggling to survive.
The Putilov workers elected a strike committee and sent a representative to the duma to speak with Kerensky, who was known to be a labor supporter. Thousands of women flooded the streets the next day to mark International Women’s Day. With the striking workers joining them, their numbers reached approximately 100,000 by sundown. By the next day, the number of protestors had doubled. Police and soldiers were deployed to dispel the crowds.
On February 25, the duma debated about how to proceed. While Kerensky realized that it would be difficult to repress the protestors, the tsar ordered troops to fire on demonstrators, causing nearly 100 casualties. Surprisingly, entire regiments of soldiers joined the demonstrators. With the situation reaching a fever pitch, the duma convened at Tauride Palace.
Kerensky: The Minister of Justice
Kerensky suggested defying Nicholas’s order to disband. The lawmakers settled on a less-confrontational alternative: constituting themselves as a provisional committee of the duma, until order could be restored.
Still, Kerensky and an ally, Nikolay Chkeidze, got a special news dispatch printed stating that the duma refused to disperse and would continue to meet. This maneuver conferred ‘a mythical legitimization’ on what would become the provisional government.
Various military regiments, soldiers, workers, students, and members of the intelligentsia joined Kerensky at Tauride Palace to defend the lawmakers. Kerensky himself stayed there for four days, from February 27 to March 2, surviving on coffee, brandy, and little food.
On March 2, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated the throne when he realized that his power and reign were over. Still, the full duma did not reconvene at this point. Instead, an informal group of political centrists, along with a few socialists, resolved to fill the power vacuum until a constituent assembly could be elected. Prince Georgy Lvov, a reform-minded aristocrat, was named president-minister, and Alexander Kerensky became the minister of justice.
Common Questions about the Rise to Power of Alexander Kerensky
In 1905, tsarist troops in St. Petersburg fired on a mass of unarmed demonstrators. The event was known as Bloody Sunday. This was followed by a general strike that threatened to cripple the Russian economy. Then, the tsar issued the October Manifesto which promised to guarantee civil liberties, and establish a popularly elected legislative body, the duma.
There were some structural disadvantages that Russia faced during wartime; the country’s industry and munitions, as well as its transportation system and infrastructure, were backward for the time.
Grigori Rasputin was a self-described holy man. He was a debauched opportunist interested in promoting his own wealth and power. Alexandra, while she was in charge in Tsar Nicholas’s absence, placed her confidence in him. However, he advocated tactical and personnel decisions that compromised imperial Russia’s interests.