Friday, October 19, 2007

Kornilov Affair
The Kornilov Affair (Russian: Корниловщина, Kornilovshchina) was a confused struggle between General Lavr Kornilov and Aleksandr Kerensky in August/September, 1917, in between the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II and the October Revolution. Recently appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Russian army, General Kornilov may have been the victim of Kerensky's jealousy of a possible rival. Kerensky was later to claim that the affair was a turning point in the revolution, in the sudden revival – and eventual triumph – of the Bolsheviks.
Kornilov shared the widespread belief of many Russians that the country was descending into anarchy and that military defeat on the Eastern front against the Central Powers would be disastrous for Russian pride and honour. Lenin and his 'German spies', he announced, should be hanged, the Soviets stamped out, military discipline restored and the provisional government restructured. He thought, thanks to unclear and perhaps deliberately distorted communications from Petrograd, that Kerensky had authorized him to impose order in the capital and restructure the government, and ordered the Third Corps to Petrograd to place it under martial law.
Ignoring attempts by Boris Savinkov, who suspected there was a misunderstanding, to mediate, Kerensky dismissed his commander-in-chief from his post on September 9, claiming Kornilov intended to set up a military dictatorship. Kornilov, convinced Kerensky had been taken prisoner by the Bolsheviks and was acting under duress, replied by issuing a call to all Russians to "save their dying land." Uncertain of the support of his army generals, Kerensky was forced to ask for help from other quarters – these included the Bolshevik Red Guards. When Kerensky wired General Krymov to halt the Third Corp's advance on Petrograd, Krymov obeyed once he realized the capital was not in fact in the hands of the Bolsheviks.
Kornilov's attempt to seize power collapsed without bloodshed as his Cossacks deserted the cause. He and some 7000 supporters were arrested. Although Kerensky survived the Kornilov coup, the event weakened his government substantially and paved the way for the Bolsheviks to seize power shortly thereafter in the October Revolution. The fact that Kerensky had also armed the Red Guards meant that when the October Revolution came the Red Army was more powerful than it perhaps could, and should have been.
Richard Pipes summarizes as follows (p 463): "Was there a 'Kornilov plot'? Almost certainly not. All the available evidence, rather, points to a 'Kerensky plot' engineered to discredit the general as the ringleader of an imaginary but widely anticipated counterrevolution, the suppression of which would elevate the Prime Minister to a position of unrivaled popularity and power... A commission appointed in October 1917 completed in June 1918... an investigation into the Kornilov Affair. It concluded that the accusations leveled at Kornilov were baseless: Kornilov's military moves had been intended not to overthrow the Provincial Government but to defend it from the Bolsheviks. The Commission completely exonerated Kornilov, accusing Kerensky of 'deliberately distort[ing] the truth in the matter of Kornilov from lack of courage to admit guilt for the grandiose mistake' he had committed."

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