16/8/1917 The Bolsheviks adopt an ominous new slogan #1917Live

Since the Provisional Government survived the crisis of the July Days Kerensky has been steadily consolidating his power. He has taken over from Prince Lvov as Prime Minister and formed a new government. This has a majority of socialists but these are mostly from the less radical wings of their parties and they are in the government as individuals rather than representatives of their parties. Kerensky’s government is also no longer tied to the programmes of the Petrograd Soviet.

Kerensky has appointed Kornilov to head the army, now in a chaotic state following the failure of the recent offensive. Kornilov wants to restore order in the army through iron discipline and has become popular in conservative circles. He demands more powers from Kerensky.

The Bolsheviks meanwhile are on the back foot, their leaders in exile or on the run, with Lenin accused of being a German spy. However the party remains active and continues to look to the future. Its congress meets today and discusses the way forward. Following the failure of the Petrograd Soviet to accept power in July, they abandon the slogan “All power to the Soviets”. In its place they are now for “Complete Liquidation of the Dictatorship of the Counterrevolutionary Bourgeoisie”.

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Lenin in disguise (Marxist Internet Archive: Russian Revolution)

3/8/1917 Kerensky shuts down the Finnish parliament but loses Czernowitz to Austria #1917Live

Kerensky has been emboldened by the recent failure of radicals to overthrow the Provisional Government. Now the Russian Prime Minister flexes his muscles, arranging for loyal troops to shut down Finland’s parliament, the Sejm. The Sejm had a socialist majority following elections earlier this year and it recently passed a resolution declaring Finland’s effective independence from Russia. This unilateral separation is unacceptable to Kerensky (and to many on both right and left in Russia); his shutting down of the unruly Finnish parliament is widely supported in Russia. Even in Finland many conservatives support the measure, fearing that without the link to Russia the Finnish socialists would be uncontrollable.
Kerensky finds it harder to bend the army to his will. He has appointed Kornilov as its commander in chief and accepted his demands for the reintroduction of the death penalty for desertion. But Kornilov’s attempts at repression are a failure. The army continues to disintegrate and the Germans and Austro-Hungarians continue their advance that began with their counter-attacks against Kerensky’s offensive. Now they recover the Galician town of Czernowitz, captured by the Russians in Brusilov’s offensive last year. The Russian army looks increasingly unable to prevent further advances by the enemy.

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The Eastern Front (Wikipedia)

Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary salutes the liberators of Czernowitz (Wikipedia)

31/7/1917 Kerensky replaces Brusilov with Kornilov as army commander #1917Live

Something has gone very wrong with the Russian army. The recent offensive in Galicia has been a disaster, leading to a breakdown in discipline and a surge in desertions. Now the Germans and Austro-Hungarians are attacking in their turn and making great gains.

The offensive had been the brain child of Kerensky, then the war minister and now Prime Minister. Two days ago he met senior generals at the army headquarters in Mogilev, where they blamed the Revolution for the army’s plight. Denikin is particularly scathing of interference in the army’s affairs by the Petrograd Soviet and the invitation to insubordination he sees in its order that army units should elect soldiers’ committees and disobey orders that conflict with its own resolutions.

Now Kerensky decides that something will have to be done about the army. He dismisses Brusilov, thereby deflecting the blame for the offensive’s failure from himself. Brusilov’s replacement as commander in chief is Kornilov. Kornilov’s appointment is greeted with delight by those who feel that the Revolution has gone too far and that order needs to be restored. They hope that he will not merely restore order within the army but within society at large.

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Lavr Kornilov (Spartacus International)

22/7/1917 Alexander Kerensky, Russia’s new Prime Minister #1917Live

The crackdown following the recent unrest in Petrograd sees the Bolsheviks in some disarray. They have been blamed for all the trouble, their leader Lenin denounced as a German spy. Senior Bolsheviks now languish in jail or lead a precarious existence on the run. Lenin himself and Zinoviev have fled to Finland, still part of the Russian Empire but a place in which it is easier for them to lie low.

Meanwhile the rise of Kerensky continues. The recent political turmoil has all been too much for Prince Lvov, who now resigns as head of the Provisional Government, naming Kerensky as his successor. This young man of destiny now sets about forming his new cabinet.

Pressing matters however must be dealt with immediately. The scale of the disaster following the recent failed offensive against the Germans and Austro-Hungarians is now increasingly apparent, with enemy advances continuing and the Russian army gripped be desertion and indiscipline. Kerensky acts in an effort to stem the flood. General Kornilov is appointed commander of the South Western Front, where the army’s disintegration is most pronounced. Kornilov is known to be a tough general of the old school; if anyone can restore order, it is him. Starting as he means to go on, Kornilov demands the reintroduction of the death penalty for deserters.

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Alexander Kerensky (Wikipedia)

Lavr Kornilov (Wikipedia)

19/7/1917 Kerensky’s star rises as that of the Bolsheviks falls

In Petrograd the excitement of the last few days is fast abating. The radicals seeking to overthrow the Provisional Government have been dispersed. The Bolsheviks are blamed for inciting all the trouble, with Lenin, their leader, apparently revealed as a German agent. With their headquarters seized by the authorities Bolshevik leaders go on the run; those who fail to escape the dragnet find themselves imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress.

Kerensky, the defence minister now deems it safe to return to the city (from which he fled when the trouble started). He is greeted with a guard of honour and presents himself as the national hero who has saved Petrograd by summoning the loyalist troops that quelled the revolt.

However, not everything is going Kerensky’s way. The great offensive he insisted the army stage against the Germans and Austro-Hungarians has been a disaster. Now the Germans are staging a counter-offensive in strength. The Russians are reeling from the onslaught, seemingly unable to offer meaningful resistance. It now looks as though Kerensky’s offensive has broken the Russian army.

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Alexander Kerensky (Wikipedia)

Russians attacked by German cavalry (Metropostcard: The Eastern Front  1917-1919)

1/7/1917 The Kerensky Offensive: Russia attacks

Kerensky, Russia’s war minister, has ordered a great offensive against the Germans and Austro-Hungarians. Brusilov, the new army commander, presided over the preparations but he has become increasingly concerned that the Russian army is in no fit state for such an undertaking. Nevertheless, Kerensky has insisted that the offensive go ahead.

After two days of artillery bombardment today the infantry attack. Their target is the Galician city of Lemberg, known to the Russians as Lvov, which was occupied in 1914 but then recaptured by the enemy the following year. Initial progress is good, particularly against the Austro-Hungarians. The assault troops find the enemy trenches largely abandoned. It appears that the Teutons have been scared away by the artillery. The Russians press on.

But the Germans have not collapsed. Fraternisation between German and Russian troops meant they were fore-warned of the offensive. They have withdrawn to positions further to the rear and left the Russian artillery to pound their empty frontline trenches. Now they are waiting for the Russian infantry.

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The Eastern Front, summer 1917 (Wikipedia) (Lemberg is shown as the target of the two converging black arrows)

29/6/1917 The guns fire for Kerensky’s great offensive

Some thought that Russia’s revolution would mean that it would have to drop out of the war. Kerensky, the war minister, hopes to prove them wrong. He has ordered a great offensive against the Germans, with the aim being to capture the Austro-Hungarian city of Lemberg (known to the Russians as Lvov) and show the world what revolutionary Russia is capable of.

The offensive is taking place under the direction of Brusilov, the army’s new commander. Brusilov was one of the few generals who supported the revolution. Initially he was an enthusiastic supporter of Kerensky’s offensive, but he has begun to have doubts. Since he took over as army commander he has seen for himself how discipline has broken down. Officers are unable to make their men obey orders. The rebellious character of the men means that officers are now fearful of being lynched if they try to impose their will. Many officers have fled their posts. Many of their men have followed suit, deserting en masse and either heading home or living as brigands in rear areas.

There are also shocking reports of fraternisation between Russian troops and their German enemies. This seems to be encouraged by German commanders, who want to convince Russian soldiers that the war was forced on Germany by the elites of Russia and other Allied countries.

As preparations continue for the offensive rebelliousness in the army increases. A mutinous mood manifests. As units are moved up the front so many men desert that some lose three quarters of their strength. Soldiers are defiant towards their officers, declaring that the only authority they recognise is that of Lenin, the Bolshevik leader.

All this leads Brusilov towards the conclusion that the offensive will be a disaster. But when he puts his concerns to Kerensky he is ignored. Kerensky is adamant that the great revolutionary offensive must go ahead. And so today the artillery bombardment of the German positions begins.

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Kerensky addresses soldiers (Wikipedia)