Alexander Kerensky

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Alexander Kerensky
Karenskiy AF 1917.jpg
Kerensky in 1917
2nd Minister-Chairman of the Russian Provisional Government
In office
21 July 1917 – 7 November 1917
[8 July – 26 October 1917 Old Style]
Preceded by Georgy Lvov
Succeeded by Office abolished
(Vladimir Lenin as Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars)
Personal details
Born Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky
4 May 1881
Simbirsk, Simbirsk Governorate, Russian Empire
Died 11 June 1970 (aged 89)
New York City
Resting place Putney Vale Cemetery, London, England
Nationality Russian
Political party Socialist Revolutionary (Trudovik Parliamentary breakaway group)
Education Saint Petersburg State University
Profession Lawyer, politician

Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky (Russian: Алекса́ндр Фёдорович Ке́ренский, IPA: [ɐlʲɪˈksandr ˈkʲerʲɪnskʲɪj]; 4 May 1881 – 11 June 1970) was a Russian lawyer and key political figure in the Russian Revolution of 1917. After the February Revolution of 1917 he joined the newly formed Russian Provisional Government, first as Minister of Justice, then as Minister of War, and after July as the government's second Minister-Chairman. A leader of the moderate-socialist Trudoviks faction of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, he was also vice-chairman of the powerful Petrograd Soviet. On 7 November, his government was overthrown by the Lenin-led Bolsheviks in the October Revolution. He spent the remainder of his life in exile, in Paris and New York City, and worked for the Hoover Institution.

Early life and activism[edit]

Alexander Kerensky was born in Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk) on the Volga River on 4 May 1881 and was the eldest son in the family.[1] His father, Fyodor Mikhailovich Kerensky, was a teacher[1] and director of the local gymnasium and was later promoted to Inspector of public schools. His maternal grandfather was head of the Topographical Bureau of the Kazan Military District. His mother, Nadezhda Aleksandrovna (née Adler),[2] with the first-named Nadezhda (meaning "Hope"; her patronymic last or "maiden" name was Kalmykova), was the daughter of a former serf who had had to purchase his freedom before serfdom was abolished in 1861. He subsequently embarked upon a mercantile career, in which he prospered, allowing him to move his business to Moscow, where he continued his success, becoming a wealthy Moscow merchant.[3][4]

Kerensky's father was the teacher of Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin), and members of the Kerensky and Ulyanov families were friends. In 1889, when Kerensky was eight, the family moved to Tashkent, where his father had been appointed the main inspector of public schools (superintendent). Alexander graduated with honours in 1899. The same year he entered St. Petersburg University, where he studied history and philology. The next year he switched to law. He earned his law degree in 1904 and married Olga Lvovna Baranovskaya, the daughter of a Russian general, the same year.[5] Kerensky joined the Narodnik movement and worked as a legal counsel to victims of the Revolution of 1905. At the end of 1904, he was jailed on suspicion of belonging to a militant group. Afterwards he gained a reputation for his work as a defence lawyer in a number of political trials of revolutionaries.[6]

In 1912, Kerensky became widely known when he visited the goldfields at the Lena River and published material about the Lena Minefields incident.[7] In the same year, Kerensky was elected to the Fourth Duma as a member of the Trudoviks, a moderate, non-Marxist labour party founded by Alexis Aladin that was associated with the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, and joined a Freemason society uniting the anti-monarchy forces that strived for the democratic renewal of Russia.[8][9][10] He was a brilliant orator and skilled parliamentary leader of the socialist opposition to the government of Tsar Nicholas II. On May 28, 1914 Kerensky appealed to Rodzianko with a request from the Council of elders to inform the Tsar that to succeed in war he must: 1) change his domestic policy, 2) proclaim a General Amnesty for political prisoners, 3) restore the Constitution of Finland, 4) declare the autonomy of Poland, 5) provide national minorities autonomy in the field of culture, 6) abolish restrictions against Jews, 7) end religious intolerance, 8) stop the harassment of legal trade union organizations.[11]

Kerensky was an active member of the irregular freemasonic lodge, the Grand Orient of Russia’s Peoples,[12] which derived from the Grand Orient of France. Kerensky was Secretary General of the Grand Orient of Russia's Peoples and stood down following his ascent to government in July 1917. He was succeeded by Menshevik, Alexander Halpern.


In response to bitter resentments held against the imperial favorite Grigori Rasputin in the midst of Russia's failing effort in World War I, Kerensky, at the opening of the Duma on 2 November 1916, called the imperial ministers "hired assassins" and "cowards", and alleged that they were "guided by the contemptible Grishka Rasputin!"[13] Grand Duke Nikolai Mikhailovich, Prince Lvov and general Mikhail Alekseyev attempted to persuade the emperor Nicholas II to send away the empress Alexandra Feodorovna, Rasputin's steadfast patron, either to the Livadia Palace in Yalta or to England.[14] Mikhail Rodzianko, Zinaida Yusupova (the mother of Felix Yusupov), Alexandra's sister Elisabeth, Grand Duchess Victoria and the empress's mother-in-law Maria Feodorovna also tried to influence and pressure the imperial couple[15] to remove Rasputin from his position of influence within the imperial household, but without success.[16] According to Kerensky, Rasputin had terrorised the empress by threatening to return to his native village.[17]

Rasputin was murdered in December 1916 by monarchists and buried near the imperial residence in Tsarskoye Selo. Shortly after the February Revolution of 1917, a group of soldiers were ordered by Kerensky to re-bury the corpse at an unmarked spot in the countryside, but the truck broke down or was forced to stop because of the snow on Lesnoe Road outside of St. Petersburg. It is likely the corpse was incinerated (between 3 and 7 in the morning) in the cauldrons of the nearby boiler shop[18][19][20] of the Saint Petersburg State Polytechnical University, including the coffin, without leaving a single trace.[21] Anything that had to do with Rasputin disappeared permanently.

February Revolution of 1917[edit]

Kerensky as Minister of War

When the February Revolution broke out in 1917, Kerensky was one of its most prominent leaders: he was a member of the Provisional Committee of the State Duma and was elected vice-chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. Simultaneously, he became the first Minister of Justice in the newly formed Russian Provisional Government. When the Soviet passed a resolution prohibiting its leaders from joining the government, Kerensky delivered a stirring speech at a Soviet meeting. Although the decision was never formalised, he was granted a de facto exemption and continued acting in both capacities.

After the first government crisis over Pavel Milyukov's secret note re-committing Russia to its original war aims on 2–4 May, Kerensky became the Minister of War and the dominant figure in the newly formed socialist-liberal coalition government. On 10 May (Julian calendar), Kerensky started for the front and visited one division after another, urging the men to do their duty. His speeches were impressive and convincing for the moment, but had little lasting effect. Under Allied pressure to continue the war, he launched what became known as the Kerensky Offensive against the Austro-Hungarian/German South Army on 17 June (Julian Calendar). At first successful, the offensive was soon stopped and then thrown back by a strong counter-attack. The Russian army suffered heavy losses, and it was clear from the many incidents of desertion, sabotage, and mutiny that the army was no longer willing to attack.

Kerensky in May 1917

Kerensky was heavily criticised by the military for his liberal policies, which included stripping officers of their mandates and handing over control to revolutionary inclined "soldier committees" instead; the abolition of the death penalty; and allowing revolutionary agitators to be present at the front. Many officers jokingly referred to commander-in-chief Kerensky as "persuader-in-chief."

On 2 July 1917, the first coalition collapsed over the question of Ukraine's autonomy. Following the July Days unrest in Petrograd and suppression of the Bolsheviks, Kerensky succeeded Prince Lvov as Russia's Prime Minister. Following the Kornilov Affair, an attempted military coup d'état at the end of August, and the resignation of the other ministers, he appointed himself Supreme Commander-in-Chief as well.

Kerensky's next move, on 15 September, was to proclaim Russia a republic, which was contrary to the non-socialists' understanding that the Provisional Government should hold power only until a Constituent Assembly should meet to decide Russia's form of government, but which was in line with the long proclaimed aim of the Socialist Revolutionary Party.[22] He formed a five-member Directory, which consisted of himself, minister of foreign affairs Mikhail Tereshchenko, minister of war General Verkhovsky, minister of the navy Admiral Dmitry Verderevsky and minister of post and telegraph Nikitin. He retained his post in the final coalition government in October 1917 until it was overthrown by the Bolsheviks.

Kerensky in office

Kerensky's major challenge was that Russia was exhausted after three years of its participation in World War I, while the provisional government offered little motivation for a victory outside of continuing Russia's obligations towards its allies. Russia's continued involvement in the war was not popular among the lower and middle classes, and especially not popular among the soldiers. They had all believed that Russia would stop fighting when the Provisional Government took power, and now they felt deceived. Furthermore, Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik party were promising "peace, land, and bread" under a communist system. The army was disintegrating owing to a lack of discipline, leading to desertion in large numbers. By autumn 1917, an estimated two million men had unofficially left the army.

Kerensky and the other political leaders continued their obligation to Russia's allies by continuing involvement in World War I, fearing that the economy, already under huge stress from the war effort, might become increasingly unstable if vital supplies from France and the United Kingdom were cut off. The dilemma of whether to withdraw was a great one, and Kerensky's inconsistent and impractical policies further destabilised the army and the country at large.

Furthermore, Kerensky adopted a policy that isolated the right-wing conservatives, both democratic and monarchist-oriented. His philosophy of "no enemies to the left" greatly empowered the Bolsheviks and gave them a free hand, allowing them to take over the military arm or "voyenka" of the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets. His arrest of Lavr Kornilov and other officers left him without strong allies against the Bolsheviks, who ended up being Kerensky's strongest and most determined adversaries, as opposed to the right wing, which evolved into the White movement.

October Revolution of 1917[edit]

During the Kornilov Affair, Kerensky had distributed arms to the Petrograd workers, and by November most of these armed workers had gone over to the Bolsheviks.[citation needed] On 6–7 November [O.S. 25–26 October] 1917, the Bolsheviks launched the second Russian revolution of the year. Kerensky's government in Petrograd had almost no support in the city. Only one small force, a subdivision of the 2nd company of the First Petrograd Women's Battalion, also known as The Women's Death Battalion, was willing to fight for the government against the Bolsheviks, but this force was overwhelmed by the numerically superior pro-Bolshevik forces, defeated, and captured.[23] It took fewer than 20 hours for the Bolsheviks to seize the government.[citation needed]

Kerensky at the National Press Club in 1938
Kerensky at the National Press Club, Washington, DC, in 1938

Kerensky escaped the Bolsheviks and fled to Pskov, where he rallied some loyal troops for an attempt to re-take the city. His troops managed to capture Tsarskoe Selo, but were beaten the next day at Pulkovo. Kerensky narrowly escaped, and he spent the next few weeks in hiding before fleeing the country, eventually arriving in France. During the Russian Civil War he supported neither side, as he opposed both the Bolshevik regime and the White Movement.[citation needed]

Personal Life[edit]

Kerensky was married to Olga Lvovna Baranovskaya and they had two sons, Oleg and Gleb, who both went on to become engineers. Kerensky's Grand son (named too Oleg) played his grandfather's role in the 1981 film Reds. [32][30] Kerensky and Olga were divorced in 1939 and soon after he settled in Paris, and while visiting the United States he met and married 1939 the Australian former journalist Lydia "Nell"Lydia Ellen (Nell) Tritton (1899–1946). The marriage took place in Martins Creek, Pennsylvania. [31]

When Germany invaded France in 1940, they emigrated to the United States.[24] After the Nazi-led invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Kerensky offered his support to Joseph Stalin.[25] When his wife Nell became terminally ill in 1945, Kerensky travelled with her to Brisbane, Australia, and lived there with her family. She suffered a stroke in February 1946, and he remained there until her death on 10 April 1946. Kerensky returned to the United States, where he spent the rest of his life.[26]

Kerensky eventually settled in New York City living in Upper East Side on 91st Street near Central Park[27] but spent much of his time at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California, where he both used and contributed to the Institution's huge archive on Russian history, and where he taught graduate courses. He wrote and broadcast extensively on Russian politics and history. His last public speech was believed delivered at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1967.[citation needed]. In fact, he was booked for a speech in late 1969 at the Student Union on Berkeley campus of University of Calif. He was booed by left-wing peace activists for unclear reasons. He was already quite frail at the time.

Kerensky died of arteriosclerotic heart disease[27] at St. Luke's Hospital in New York City[27] in 1970, one of the last surviving major participants in the turbulent events of 1917. The local Russian Orthodox Churches in New York refused to grant Kerensky burial, because of his association with Freemasonry and because they saw him as largely responsible for Russia falling to the Bolsheviks. A Serbian Orthodox Church also refused burial. Kerensky's body was flown to London, where he was buried at the non-denominational Putney Vale Cemetery.[28]



  1. ^ a b "Alexander Kerenski". First World War. Retrieved 1 April 2013. 
  2. ^ N. Magill, Frank (5 March 2014). The 20th Century Go-N: Dictionary of World Biography, Volume 8. Routledge. p. 1941. ISBN 978-1-317-74060-5. 
  3. ^ "Александр Федорович Керенский". Archived from the original on 2014-07-25. 
  4. ^ Encyclopedia of Cyril and Method[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ A Doomed Democracy Bernard Butcher, Stanford Magazine, January/February 2001
  6. ^ Political Figures of Russia, 1917, Biographical Dictionary, Large Russian Encyclopedia, 1993, p. 143.
  7. ^ The Lena Goldfields Massacre and the Crisis of the Late Tsarist State by Michael Melancon [1]
  8. ^ "Prominent Russians: Aleksandr Kerensky". Russia: RT. Retrieved 23 April 2014. 
  9. ^ Medlin, Virgil D. (1971). "Alexander Fedorovich Kerensky" (PDF). Proceedings of the Oklahoma Academy of Science. 51: 128. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2016. 
  10. ^ Tatyana MironovaGrigori Rasputin: Belied Life – Belied Death
  11. ^ Alexander Kerensky. The Democrat in charge of Russia
  12. ^ "Noteworthy members of the Grand Orient of France in Russia and the Supreme Council of the Grand Orient of Russia's People". Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon. 15 October 2017. 
  13. ^ The Russian Provisional Government, 1917: Documents, Volume 1, p. 16 by Robert Paul Browder, Aleksandr Fyodorovich Kerensky [2]
  14. ^ A. Kerensky (1965) Russia and History's turning point, p. 150.
  15. ^ The Real Tsaritsa by Madame Lili Dehn
  16. ^ The Russian Provisional Government, 1917: Documents, Volume 1, p. 18 by Robert Paul Browder, Aleksandr Fyodorovich Kerensky [3]
  17. ^ A. Kerensky (1965) Russia and History's turning point, p. 163.
  18. ^ Rasputin G. E. (1869–1916). A.G. Kalmykov in the Saint Petersburg encyclopaedia.
  19. ^ Nelipa, pp. 454–455, 457–459.
  20. ^ Moe, p. 627.
  21. ^ The boiler-building – Images of St Petersburg – National Library of Russia
  22. ^ Party manifesto listed in McCauley, M Octobrists to Bolsheviks: Imperial Russia 1905‐1917 (1984)
  23. ^ "Women Soldiers in Russia's Great War". Great War. Retrieved 1 April 2013. 
  24. ^ Tritton, Lydia Ellen (1899–1946) Biographical Entry – Australian Dictionary of Biography Online
  25. ^ Soviet's Chances. By Alexander Kerensky. Life, 14 July 1941, pp. 76-78, 81.
  26. ^ "Lateline - 22/09/2003: The Half-Hearted Revolutionary In Paradise . Australian Broadcasting Corp". Retrieved 2017-03-20. 
  27. ^ a b c "Alexander Kerensky Dies Here at 89". New York Times. 
  28. ^ Alexander Kerensky at Find a Grave

Further reading[edit]

  • Abraham, Richard (1987). Kerensky: First Love of the Revolution. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-06108-0. 
  • Lipatova, Nadezhda V. "On the Verge of the Collapse of Empire: Images of Alexander Kerensky and Mikhail Gorbachev." Europe-Asia Studies 65.2 (2013): 264-289.
  • Thatcher, Ian D. "Post-Soviet Russian Historians and the Russian Provisional Government of 1917." Slavonic & East European Review 93.2 (2015): 315-337. online
  • Thatcher, Ian D. "Memoirs of the Russian Provisional Government 1917." Revolutionary Russia 27.1 (2014): 1-21.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Georgy Lvov
Minister-Chairman of the Russian Provisional Government
21 July 1917 – 8 November 1917
Succeeded by
Vladimir Lenin
(Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars)
Lev Kamenev
(Chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee)