March 15, 2017


The February Revolution and Kerensky's Missed Opportunity (John Quiggin, Mar. 6th, 2017, NY Times)

The zenith of Kerensky's authority came with the July Days, a mass demonstration undertaken by the Bolsheviks but defeated by forces loyal to the government. With the failure of the July Days protest, Kerensky consolidated his position by becoming prime minister, replacing Lvov.

At almost exactly the same time, far away in Berlin, the socialist and social-democratic parties repented of their decision to endorse the war. Germans were almost as war-weary as Russians, with terrible casualties and widespread shortages caused by the Allies' blockade. A resolution in the Reichstag, the German Parliament, passed by a large majority, called for a peace "without annexations or indemnities" -- a return to the situation that had prevailed before war broke out.

By this time, however, Germany was effectively a military dictatorship. Power lay with the High Command, run by the generals Ludendorff and Hindenburg, both of whom were later to play prominent roles in bringing Hitler to power. Unsurprisingly, Ludendorff and Hindenburg ignored the Reichstag motion.

What is surprising, to anyone who has absorbed the standard victor's view -- according to which the Allies were fighting a defensive war to liberate small states -- is that Britain was disingenuous about its war aims, while France declined to state them at all. The reason is that those aims were too discreditable to avow openly. In a series of secret treaties, they agreed in the event of victory to carve up the empires of their defeated enemies.

From the Russian viewpoint, the big prize was the Turkish capital, Constantinople, now called Istanbul; this was promised to Russia in a secret agreement in 1915. The subsequent publication of this and other secret treaties by the Bolsheviks did much to discredit the Allied cause.

Kerensky could have repudiated the deals made by the czarist empire and announced his willingness to accept the Reichstag formula of peace without annexations or indemnities. Perhaps the German High Command would have ignored the offer and continued fighting (as it did when the Bolsheviks offered the same terms after the October Revolution at the end of 1917). But the circumstances were far more favorable in July than they were at the end of 1917. As the Kerensky offensive demonstrated, the Russian Army, while demoralized, was still an effective fighting force, and the front line was far closer to the territory of the Central Powers. Moreover, Kerensky commanded credibility with the Western Allies that he could have used to good effect.

Kerensky's determination to continue the war was a disaster. Within a few months, the armed forces were in open revolt. Lenin, who was transported across Germany in a sealed train with the High Command's acquiescence in the hope that he would help to knock Russia out of the war, seized the opportunity. The provisional government was overthrown by the Bolsheviks in the October Revolution. This Bolshevik Revolution consigned the February Revolution to historical oblivion.

After accepting a humiliating treaty imposed by the Germans, Russia was soon embroiled in a civil war more bloody and brutal than even World War I. By its end, the Bolshevik government, launched as a workers' democracy, was effectively a dictatorship, enabling the ascendancy of a previously obscure Bolshevik, Joseph Stalin, who would become one of the great tyrants of history. On the other side, the German High Command's rejection of peace similarly led to defeat, national humiliation and the emergence of the 20th century's other great tyrant, Adolf Hitler.

Posted by at March 15, 2017 10:03 AM