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)

6/7/1917 Finland declares independence from Russia #1917Live

At the front, any hopes that the Kerensky Offensive will lead to a great victory are rapidly unravelling. Although the Russians are pushing back the Austro-Hungarians, the main effort against the Germans is coming badly unstuck and the stresses of battle are hastening the Russian army’s disintegration.

This reverse is not the only crisis facing the Provisional Government. Aside from the increasingly chaotic situation in the heart of the country, Russia is increasingly beset by separatist movements on the periphery. The Rada in Ukraine has already declared autonomy. Now the parliament of Finland goes one step further, today declaring independence for what had hitherto been a self-governing part of the Russian empire.

The Finnish declaration causes consternation in Petrograd. Both the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet are opposed to Finland’s unilateral declaration of independence. The Soviets resolve to persuade the Finns to revoke their declaration but the Provisional Government adopts a more forceful position, preparing to use force if necessary to keep Finland in the empire.

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The Grand Duchy of Finland (Wikipedia)

3/7/1917 The Kerensky Offensive comes unstuck #1917Live

Russia’s Kerensky Offensive (named after the War Minister) started well. After a heavy artillery bombardment the infantry went forward to find the enemy trenches largely abandoned. But the Germans had not run away; forewarned of the offensive they had just retreated to their second line trenches. Once the Russians found themselves facing the main enemy defence lines the Russian advance stalled. The assault troops have mostly not been as well trained as those who tool part in Brusilov‘s offensive last year. More crucially they have lost any commitment to the war and are extremely loth to put themselves at risk of death.

Some units continue to press on. The Women’s Battalion of Death penetrates the German second line of defence, as do some other specially trained assault units. But without the support of the rest of the army they are unable to hold their positions. When the Germans begin to counterattack the Russian army starts to collapse, with officers powerless to stop their men retreating and risking their lives if they even try.

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Still image from the film Battalion (Wargaming Miscellany)