The Kornilov Conundrum


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During the summer months of 1917, Russian Society was in the process of completely breaking down: workers frequently resorted to strikes and other disruptive behaviors that halted factory production, peasants seized land that did not belong to them, the upper class’s fears about chaos below them were manifested, and the government led by Kerensky seemed oblivious to the disastrous economic and social situation that they had inherited.

In the midst of all the disarray, General Lavr Kornilov emerged as Supreme Commander of the Russian Armed Forces and as Lewis Siegelbaum states in his essay entitled “Kornilov Affair,” “those who backed [Kornilov’s] candidacy for the role of military dictator included several key politicians from the conservative and centrist parties, top military personnel, and banking and industrial leaders associated with the Society for the Economic Rehabilitation of Russia and the Republican Center.” Sensing the fragility of the current political situation and overestimating the support he had from important actors, Kornilov ordered one of his subordinates, General Krymov, to lead a march with his loyal troops on Petrograd in order to dissolve the Soviet and reinstall discipline into the military. The attempted coup was a catastrophic failure for a number of reasons, but mainly because the Soviets effectively mobilized a defense to keep Kornilov’s forces out of the city. These makeshift defense units were composed mostly of armed workers organized into Red Guards, elements of the Petrograd garrison, and other workers who were able to keep forces from advancing because of the occupations they held. Shortly after his failed charge, Kornilov was imprisoned and several of the other key orchestrators were dead.

According to Seigelbaum, the main victor in the entire affair was the radical left, and particularly the Bolsheviks, who had long warned about the consequences of a counterrevolutionary movement. Furthermore, Kerensky’s authority was openly challenged and the way was opened for Lenin’s soviets to seize control. Freeze supports and expounds upon Seigelbaum’s assertions, noting that “the Kornilov affair, though a farce and fiasco, further eroded support for Kerensky’s government and facilitated the Bolshevik seizure of power, without, however, in any way pre-ordaining the methods or timing of the October Revolution” (288).

hammer-keyboard-2This post earned a spot in “Comrade’s Corner” from the editorial team.


Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 1997. Print.

Kornilov Affair Seventeen Moments. 



15 thoughts on “The Kornilov Conundrum

  1. Thank you for your insightful post on the counterrevolutionary movement and its influence on the ultimate control of power by the Bolsheviks. Kornilov’s military response only confirmed the provisional government’s inadequacy, especially being an outright failure of an attempt. I appreciate your balance of the Freeze text and the Seventeen Moments sources, and I’m interested in further unpacking that Savage Brigade film!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Max! First off, loved the title-very creative! Secondly, I thought this post was really insightful and helped piece together moments of the counterrevolutionary movement that really paved the way for the Bolsheviks into Russian government. I also find it interesting, as you note, that the Bolsheviks “had long warned about the consequences of a counterrevolutionary movement” and then it happened anyways. Great post!


  3. Thanks for this, Max! (And for finding Katelin’s post on Kornilov as well). Why do you think the troops loyal to the Soviet (the other half of “Dual Power,” along with the Provisional Government) were able to thwart Krymov’s forces? I agree with Drew — we should definitely take a look at the Eisenstein clip in class tomorrow if we have time.


    1. Thank you for the question, Dr. Nelson! I think there were two primary reasons the troops loyal to the Soviet were able to thwart Krymov’s forces. First, I think the Red Guard so passionately believed in the revolutionary cause that they were fighting for that they were willing to sacrifice anything, whether it be time, resources, or even their lives, to ensure that Krymov’s contingent could not seize St. Petersburg and emplace Kornilov in charge, effectively ending their revolution. Second, and probably more important, was the advantage they held over securing the city because of the occupations they held. For instance, many of the railway workers were able to prevent Krymov’s trains from entering the city because they were trained to work the rail system so the coup’s transportation was disabled, and factory workers deserted their posts in order to blockade other strategic points as well. I think the bottom line is that when someone firmly believes in a cause, they will devote all of their energy toward making it become realized, and that was what occurred with the Kornilov affair.


  4. I really liked this post! I think you highlighted the role of the provisional government and how their inefficiency and loose grip on power contributed to the revolution. I liked how you talked about the tension between the government and the leftist movements/soviets.


  5. As you already know, we wrote very similar topics! However, I appreciate how yours set the stage for Kornilov before he came into the picture, while mine focused on his time as Commander-in-Chief and ultimately how he allowed the Bolsheviks to rise to power. I believe we used some of the same sources, but I like the quotes you pulled from Seigelbaum. This was insightful, and it allowed me to get an even better understanding of something I wrote about. Overall, well done with this post!


  6. It’s interesting to hear about the counterrevolutionary movement in Russia during the 20th century. It’s not the side of the story that is usually learned in most general courses. It’s fascinating to see the lengths that the conservative elements of society were willing to go in order to preserve a semblance of the status quo and restore the old order.


  7. Your post clearly demonstrates how Kornilov overestimated his influence. His militaristic approach and coup failed against the strength of the Soviets. I like that the end of your post focused especially on this failure as an opportunity for Lenin. It represents the government’s instability that fueled workers’ rage which the Soviets used to rally more support. Good post!


  8. This is a really cool post! Prior to this class, I was not familiar with Kornilov. You painted him as a really interesting, though sometimes forgotten, character in Russia’s history.


  9. I like that you mentioned the right’s support for Kornilov’s military dictatorship as a solution to the chaos of the workers’ protests. I thought it was interesting that that particular group would see an authoritarian government as a long term solution, considering the failure of the tsar’s authoritarianism.


  10. Very interesting and insightful post. I like how you focused on a person and told a short history of the counterrevolution through his lens because I haven’t seen too many posts that are focused on the story of an individual in Russian history. Overall, it added an important piece to the revolution and the failure of the provisional government during this time.


  11. Very insightful post, great job. I like how you highlighted Kornilov’s resolve to ended the revolution and his confidence in military superiority only to be ultimately defeated by the masses. This is a great parallel into the revolution as there was no confidence in not only the government but also the military.


  12. It’s interesting to me that a failed coup contributed to a revolution in a kind of indirect way. I can see how it undermined the Provisional Government, I think especially because you said that it was the Soviet that stopped the coup. That definitely would have made Kerensky look ineffective. Great post!


  13. This post really helped me understand the rise of the Bolsheviks. It’s interesting that something intended to weaken the Bolshevik movement would only make them more powerful. Good job!


  14. Nice post! The more I read everyone’s blogs it continues to occur to me how long Russia dealt with such civil unrest. Protests, revolutions and uprisings went on for so many years, it is crazy to imagine a life in such a broken country. Good job!


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