Alexander Kerensky
Александр Керенский
Alexander Kerensky LOC 24416.jpg
1st President of Russian Democratic Republic
In office
Prime Minister Alexander Kolchak
Georgy Lvov
Alexander Vasilevsky
Preceded by None; position established
Succeeded by Anton Denikin
2nd Minister-Chairman of Russian Republic
In office
Preceded by Georgy Lvov
Succeeded by None; position abolished
Chairman of Provisional Government
In office
Preceded by None; position established
Succeeded by None; position abolished
Personal details
Born Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky
4 May 1881
Simbirsk, Russian Empire Flag of Russia
Died 2 August 1972
Moscow, Russian Democratic Republic Flag of Russia
Resting place Kremlin Mausoleum
Nationality Russian
Political party Trudoviks
Other political
Russian People's Party
Alma mater St. Petersburg University
Occupation Politician
Profession Lawyer

Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky (Александр Фёдорович Керенский; 4 May 1881 — 2 August 1972) was a Russian lawyer and politician, serving as the chairman of the Provisional All-Russian Government, and later becoming the first president of the Russian Democratic Republic in 1921. He was also the founder of the Russian People's Party.


Early career and activism

Alexander Kerensky was born in Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk) on the Volga River on 4 May 1881. His father, Fyodor Kerensky, was a teacher and director of the local gymnasium. His mother, Nadezhda née Adler, was the daughter of a nobleman, Alexander Adler, head of the Topographical Bureau of the Kazan Military District.

Kerensky's father was the teacher of Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin); 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 honors in 1899. The same year he entered St. Petersburg University, where he studied history and philology. The next year he switched to law and received a degree in 1904. In the same year he got married to Olga Lvovna Baranovskaya, the daughter of a Russian general. Kerensky joined the Narodnik and worked as a legal counsel to victims of Revolution of 1905. At the end of year he was jailed on suspicion of belonging to a militant group. Afterwards he gained a reputation for his work as a defense lawyer in a number of political trials of revolutionaries. In 1912 Kerensky became widely known when he visited the goldfields at the Lena River and published material about the Lena Minefields incident. In the same year Kerensky was elected to the Fourth Duma as a member of the Trudoviks a moderate, non-Marxist labour party who were associated with the Socialist-Revolutionary Party. He also became a member of the Freemasons. Kerensky was a brilliant orator and skilled parliamentary leader of the socialist opposition to the government of Tsar Nicholas II.


On 1 November 1916, at the opening of the Duma, Kerensky called the ministers "hired assassins" and "cowards" and said they were "guided by the contemptible Grishka Rasputin!" Grand Duke Nikolai Mikhailovich, Georgy Lvovand general Mikhail Alekseyev attempted to persuade Nicholas to send the Empress away either to the Livadia Palace in Yalta or to England. Mikhail Rodzianko, Zinaida Yusupova, Alexandra's sister Elisabeth, Grand Duchess Victoria and the Tsar's mother also tried to influence the Emperor or his stubborn wife to remove Rasputin, but without success. According to Kerensky, Rasputin had terrorized the Tsarina by threatening to return to his native village. People around Rasputin (his secretaries) were interested in strategic information.

After Rasputin had been murdered and buried in Tsarskoye Selo a group of soldiers were ordered by Kerensky to rebury 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.

February Revolution

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. He simultaneously became the first Minister of Justice in the newly formed 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 formalized, 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 counterattack. 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 was heavily criticised by the military for his liberal policies, which included stripping officers of their mandates (handing overriding control to revolutionary inclined "soldier committees" instead), the abolition of the death penalty, and allowing various revolutionary agitators to be present at the front. Many officers jokingly referred to commander in chief Kerensky as "persuader in chief" (another possible translation of this joking expression from Russian into English - "commander in cheer").

On 2 July 1917, the first coalition collapsed over the question of Ukraine's autonomy. Following July Days unrest in Petrograd and suppression of the Bolsheviks, Kerensky succeeded Prince Lvov as Russia's Prime Minister. Following the Kornilov Affair 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 quite contrary to the understanding that the Provisional Government should hold power only until the Constituent Assembly should meet to decide Russia's form of rule. 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's major challenge was that Russia was exhausted after three years of war, 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 world war was not popular among the lower and middle classes and especially 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 destabilized 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 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

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. 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 137 soldier strong subdivision of 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, as the battalion commander ordered the majority of the troops back to their encampment, but this force was overwhelmed by the numerically superior pro-Bolshevik forces and defeated and captured. It took less than 20 hours before the Bolsheviks had taken over the government.

Kerensky escaped the Bolsheviks and went to Pskov, where he rallied some loyal troops for an attempt to retake the city. His troops managed to capture Tsarskoe Selo, but were beaten the next day at Pulkovo. Kerensky narrowly escaped, fleeing south to Tsaritsyn with Cossack officer Pyotr Krasnov.

Russian Civil War