Alexander Kerensky, the man who failed to create democratic Russia, died far way from home in US on 11 June 1970. He was a Russian lawyer and revolutionist who was a 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 Trudovik 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.
On 12th June 1970 published a long article about this Russian leader, telling the story of a man that Soviet Union wanted dead for so long time.
„Alexander Kerensky, who led the first phase of the Russian Revolution in 1917 until he was overthrown in the Bolshevik coup, died yesterday of arteriosclerotic heart disease at St. Luke’s Hospital. He was 89 years of age.
The former Premier entered the hospital April 24 to recover from a broken elbow and pelvis sustained in a fall, according to Countess Sira llinska, a longtime confidante.
For a brief and meteoric moment Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky, 36 years old and a lawyer, was at the vortex of the Russian Revolution, the greatest social, political and economic convulsion since the French Revolution. The complex forces that generated that event overwhelmed him, and the power he exercised for little more than four months dribbled from his grasp to be picked up and held onto by the Communists. For the remainder of his life he was the epitome of failure in a revolution, a man derided by the victors, an exile from his country who was a curiosity in his adopted land and who passed his time in fulminations against the Soviet State and attempts to justify his actions in the Provisional Government of 1917.
Fortuitously involved in the drama of the revolution, Kerensky (pronounced KAY‐ren ski) seemed to some, in perspective, to deserve Leon Trot sky’s verdict: “Kerensky was not a revolutionist; he merely hung around the revolution.” Nevertheless, from July to November, 1917, when he was head of the Provisional Government that followed some 300 years of autocratic rule by the Romanov Czars, the eyes of the world were upon him as the giant seeking to bring stability and a measure of democratic rule to the vast domain of Russia and her 170 million people.
Described by a British writer in those months as “a frail young man with a sullen mouth, deadly serious and endowed with that gift of tongue which is bestowed only on prophets and world movers,” Kerensky appeared to many of his countrymen and to many abroad to personify Carlyle’s “Ablest Man,” the hero of a “new” Russia. Yet so swiftly did the engines of revolution run that by early November he had fled Petrograd, then the capital of Russia, never to re turn as the man in charge. His historical moment had concluded.
Born in Same Town
The man who took his place and who fashioned the world’s first Communist revolution was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, the hardy, professional Bolshevik leader known as Lenin. Like Kerensky, Lenin was a law yer; but the supreme irony was that the two men shared the same birthplace, Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk), a sleepy provincial town on the middle Volga; and that Kerensky’s father was the director of the gymnasium from which young Lenin graduated. (Indeed, Fyodor Kerensky had praised the youth’s academic and personal record and had been close enough to the family to offer advice on his university education.) There is no evidence, however, that Kerensky met Lenin, 11 years his senior, in Simbirsk or later.
Lenin was harsh in his judgment of his benefactor’s son. Kerensky, Lenin wrote during the revolution, was a “loud mouth,” an “idiot” and “objectively” an agent of Russian bourgeois imperialism.
Kerensky’s assessment of Lenin was scarcely less cordial. In his “Russia and History’s Turning Point,” published by Duell, Sloan & Pearce in 1965, the former Russian leader insisted that Lenin was a paid agent of the German General Staff who had thwarted the Provisional Government “with a stab in the back.”
“Lenin,” he wrote, “had no moral or spiritual objection to promoting the defeat of his own country.” He argued that “Lenin’s chief aim [in 1917] was to overthrow the Provisional Government as an essential step toward the signing of a separate place [with Germany].”
Kerensky denied that he was unaware of Communist peril, but in his summing up of events in 1965 he contended that attacks from Rightist military men and political leaders had undermined his Government and had opened the way for Lenin’s success. Kerensky put it this way:
“I feel it is very important to the cause of freedom every where to ascribe the main reason for the defeat of Russian democracy [in 1917] to this attack from the Right instead of to the foolish myth that Russian democracy was ‘soft’ and blind to the Bolshevik danger.”
In 1917 Kerensky was a moderate Socialist, a member of the Social Revolutionary party. He was, however, not a doctrinaire, but fitted rather the description of him by George F. Kennan, an American authority on Russia, as “a Socialist of sorts.” His political convictions were molded by his experience in the turbulence of Russia, starting with the Revolution of 1905.
Born April 22, 1881, to a family of some station (his father was a school superintendent and his mother was an army officer’s daughter), Kerensky was reared with considerable privilege. In his youth he wanted to be a musician or an actor (he was then living in Tashkent), but when in 1899 he entered the university in St. Petersburg (later Petrograd, now Lenin grad), it was to study history, classical philology and jurisprudence.
Introduced to politics as a university student, Kerensky was first drawn to the moderate agrarianism of the Narodnik (Populist) movement, and his sympathies for those op pressed by Czarism were lively. Indeed, after being admitted to the bar in 1904 he began his professional career by giving free legal advice to poor urban workers in St. Petersburg.
He was quickly caught up in the Revolution of 1905. After the “Bloody Sunday” massacre in January of that year, when a workers’ procession petitioning the Czar was cut down by troops, Kerensky was one of a committee that aided the massacre’s victims and their families. His displeasure with the Czar evaporated in October, however, when Nicholas II pro claimed a moderate constitutional reform that included a Duma, or parliament. Writing in 1965 of his feelings on hearing the Czar’s manifesto, Kerensky said:
“I spent the rest of that night in a state of elation. The age long bitter struggle of the people for freedom … seemed to be over. . . A wave of warmth and gratitude went through my whole being, and my childhood adoration for the Czar revived.”
His mood shifted, however, and the volatile young man volunteered to help assassinate Nicholas. His offer was rejected “because I had no experience of a revolutionary and could not therefore be relied on.” After a brief imprisonment In 1906 (he was convicted of possessing revolutionary literature), he eschewed politics until he was elected to the fourth (and most spurious) of the Czar’s Dumas in 1912.
In the interval he accumulated celebrity throughout Russia as an eloquent defense lawyer. He defended Estonian peasants charged with sacking a baronial estate; he was counsel to striking workers, mutinous soldiers, rebellious peasants and revolutionary intellectuals.
Kerensky’s most famous legal exploit occurred in 1913 when Mendel Beiliss, a Jew, was tried on charges of having committed a ritual murder of a Christian boy. Kerensky was one of the chief sponsors of a resolution of the St. Petersburg bar that assailed the trial as “a slanderous at tack on the Jewish people.” His action won him acclaim in the Jewish community and among enlightened Christians. Nonetheless, he was sentenced to eight months’ detention in 1914 for his role in attacking the Czarist judicial system.
Kerensky’s election to the Duma, through whose creaking doors he was to enter history, was adventitious.
“I had never given much thought to the future and I had no political plans,” he wrote later. “My only desire, since the beginning of my political life, had been to serve my country. As a result I had been taken unawares when … asked … to consent to stand for election for the Fourth Duma as a ??dovik [semi‐Liberal and semi‐Populist] candidate.”
In the Duma Kerensky supported World War I and urged “a reconciliation be tween the Czar and the people.” “I felt,” he said, “that the battle we had been waging against the remnants of absolutism could now be postponed.” (In later years, how ever, he contended that “the great war was absolutely contrary to the national interests and aims of Russia.”)
‘Flashes of Lightning’
In the course of the war Czarist repression increased and Kerensky became progressively disenchanted with the regime. His speeches in the Duma took on greater passion. In one of them he said:
“Have you fully understood [that] the historic task of the Russian people . . . is the abolition of the medieval regime immediately at any cost? If you refuse to listen to the warning voice, you, gentlemen, will meet facts instead of warnings. Behold the flashes of lightning that are already flaring here and there across the skies of the Russian Empire!”
Toward the beginning of 1917, reverses in battle against the Central Powers shook the already fragile Romanov court. Adding to dis content at the front were war weariness at home, economic privation, industrial dislocation and bureaucratic rigidity. Criticism of the Czar, his family, his ministers mounted daily; and reflecting this with in the Duma was a bloc of Liberal and Leftist deputies that by the end of February controlled 240 of that body’s 402 votes.
But what touched off the one‐week rising that was the February Revolution was a strike of 90,000 St. Petersburg workers that began Feb. 23 and by the following day involved 200,000 workers. Sketching how this unrest was transformed into a revolution, Prof. Adam B. Ulam, an authority on Russia, wrote in “The Bolsheviks” (Macmillan, 1965):
“Strikes were followed by street manifestations and dis orders. What transformed the riots into a revolution was the behavior of the garrison of Petrograd. Called upon to help the police quell the disorders, the soldiers refused, and in some cases fired upon the police.
“… The Czarist regime dis integrated . . . Confronted by events it could not control or even understand, it simply stopped functioning . . . What took its place were several authorities, which tried to dis charge the task of governing the vast country, sometimes working together, sometimes at cross purposes, but increasingly powerless in the face of growing defeat and anarchy and finally conquered by them.”
Initially, two improvised governments appeared in Petrograd, the capital. One rep resented the Duma, which, refusing to disband on the Czar’s order, set up an emergency committee that formed the nucleus of the 11‐member Provisional Government. Head ed by Prince GeorgiLvov, it included Kerensky as Minister of Justice.
Simultaneously, the city’s workers organized the other improvised government, the Petrograd Soviet (Council) of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. Its Provisional Executive Committee included Kerensky as one of its two vice chairmen, and he acted as intermediary between the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet for some time. Both groups professed to speak and act in the name of all the Russian people.
With the almost immediate abdication of Czar Nicholas H, Kerensky became in fact, if not in name, a dominating figure in Russian affairs. His comparative youth, his talents as a popular declamatory orator, his seeming grasp of the popular mood, his quick mind brought him to the fore.
“From the moment of the collapse of the monarchy . . I found myself in the center of events,” he recalled in 1965. “I was, in fact, their focal point, the center of the vortex of human passion and conflicting ambitions which raged around me.”
In the first days of the revolution there was a degree of harmony between the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet. In this period Kerensky was responsible for initiating such democratic reforms as freedom of speech, assembly, press and religion, equal rights for women and, universal suffrage.
As significant as these re forms were, they did not go to the core of popular demands for peace and for breaking up the landed estates. Indeed, the first fragmentation of the Provisional Government’s authority appeared when it decided to carry on the war. The second element sapping its precarious strength was the grass roots democracy of the Petrograd Soviet: It, more than the Government, held the confidence of the workers; and it, more than the Government, exercised effective control among the troops. The So viet’s Order No. 1, for example, sought to make every military unit in Russia subject to it; and to an increasing degree troops harkened to the Soviet.
In the convulsive events of February and March the Bolsheviks played a minor role. They had no representatives in the Provisional Government and only a few in the Soviet. The Social Revolutionaries, of whom Kerensky was then one, and the Mensheviks (left‐of center Socialists) were in control of the Soviet, while even more moderate elements composed the Government.
This inherently unstable balance of forces was tipped left ward, starting in April, when Lenin returned to Petrograd from exile in Switzerland shortly after other Bolshevik leaders, including Josef Stalin, were re leased from Czarist detention.
More Soviets Set Up
Shortly afterward, Lenin and his Bolsheviks began to put forward a Communist revolutionary program — seizure of land by the peasants, control of industry by the workers, cessation of the war and concentration of state power in the soviets. Lenin’s central slogan— “All Power to the Soviets!”— eventually caught the imagination of key sections of the public, especially as more soviets were established throughout Russia. And in the months that followed, Bolshevik influence in these soviets (and in the Petrograd Soviet in particular) in creased measurably.
Although Lenin was the furiously busy mastermind of the Bolsheviks, one personality stood out then as the embodiment of the revolution to come. Describing his role, Harvard’s Professor Ulam has written:
“In May there returned an other political exile, Lev Trot sky. . . . With his arrival the tempo of Bolshevik activity quickened. . . . From the be ginning, Trotsky, his old quarrel with Lenin laid aside, sup plied the missing element in Bolshevism. He was unmatched as a revolutionary orator and agitator.”
In May also there was a grave ministerial crisis in the Provisional Government when the Foreign Minister resigned at Kerensky’s insistence. The is sue was Pavel N. Milyukov’s espousal of annexationist aims in the war. In the resulting shifts Kerensky became Minister of War and the Navy. The Cabinet, in which Kerensky was definitely the strongest man, still agreed to continue the war and called for “a general democratic peace.”
To revive shattered discipline among the armed forces and to instill patriotism in the troops, Kerensky toured the battle fronts and exhorted the men to fight on. He would cry in his mighty voice:
“The destinies of the country are in your hands, and she is in great danger. We have drunk liberty and we are slightly intoxicated. However, we do not need intoxication but the great est soberness and discipline. We must enter history so that on our graves it will be written: ‘They died but they were never slaves’”
But words were not enough. The massive offensive that Kerensky ordered late in June against German and Austrian forces ended in disastrous defeat for the Russians. The only winners were the Bolsheviks, and their insistent appeals for peace and bread.
Nonetheless, there was a dramatic reversal of Kerensky’s fortunes in mid‐July, when a Bolshevik adventurist attempt to seize power in Petrograd was suppressed (although Kerensky barely escaped being captured) and a number of Communist leaders, Trotsky among them, were jailed. The Provisional Government’s ordeal in quelling the uprising intensified conflicts within the Cabinet, and Prince Lvov, its nominal but shadowy Premier, resigned his office to Kerensky.
Through August apparent calm returned to the surface in Russia. Some discipline was re stored in the armed forces, democratic reforms were pushed and the influence of the soviets seemed to be abating. With Lenin in Finland, the Bolsheviks appeared to be in retreat. A party congress, how ever, claimed a membership of 240,000, a startling increase from the 50,000 in April.
Taking advantage of the lull, Kerensky sought to give his Government a wider constituency among the various segments of society by convoking a National State Conference in Moscow, by proclaiming Russia a republic and by convening a pre‐parliament, the Council of the Republic.
But the fatal shortcoming of all these exertions was that Kerensky and his colleagues held only the shadow of power in a succession of explosive events in which no single group or organization exercised continuing authority. Cessation of the war was the imperative that Kerensky and his associates declined to undertake.
Many historians consider that Kerensky lacked understanding of the basic forces with which he was dealing and that his policy errors stemmed from intellectual shallowness. His worst error, in the opinion of many writers, was his appointment of Gen. Lavr G. Kornilov as supreme commander of the army and his early champion ship of him. The general, ac cording to a fellow officer, had “the heart of a lion and the brains of a sheep.” He became disgruntled with the regime and lent himself to those who be lieved that a military dictator ship could save Russia from the muddle she was in.
In early September Kornilov, believing he had Kerensky’s se cret personal support, marched on Petrograd in an attempt at a coupdetat. To counter this threat to the Government, Kerensky was obliged to seek help from the Left. Trotsky and other Communist leaders were released from prison as Keren sky appealed to the soviets and the populace of Petrograd to repulse Kornilov.
Lenin was quick to grasp and to exploit the Kornilov plot. Urging Bolsheviks to fight the general without building up Kerensky, he said, “We shall now show everybody the weakness of Kerensky.” And instead of winning credit for saving Russian democracy, Kerensky emerged from the coup (which, was easily quashed) as inept. He lost not only the confidence of the officer corps, many of whom backed Kornilov, but also the respect of the main revolutionary elements; for who had balked Kornilov but the soviets?
Kerensky himself regarded the Kornilov affair as decisive. He argued afterward that financiers, industrialists and Rightists had supported the general and that he had also enjoyed British and French backing.
Beset from the Right and the Left, Kerensky’s Government was virtually paralyzed. Two million army deserters symbolized both the sentiment for peace and the regime’s lack of authority. Inflation was un curbed in the cities, land re form was faltering in the countryside. The result was that Kerensky lost his meager cred it with the Russians, and nothing he could do could prevent the ineluctable drift to the October Revolution.
Trotsky in Charge
As power filtered from Kerensky, the Petrograd Soviet set up a Military Revolutionary Committee, whose actual lead er was Trotsky. To the Soviet and to this committee, power gravitated. This picture of Petrograd in those climactic days emerges in Professor Ulam’s study:
“In any other place and time except the fantastic Petrograd of 1917 the setting up of the Military Revolutionary Committee and its subsequent countermanding of the Government’s orders would have been taken as the beginning of a mutiny. But in fact nobody got unusually excited . . . Kerensky’s Government continued in its peaceful coma.”
The coup degrace by which the Bolsheviks finished off Kerensky’s Government was exe cuted with astonishing dis patch. Carefully planned by Lenin and Trotsky and their close associates, the seizure of power took about a day, and it was accomplished Oct. 25 by the Julian calendar, or Nov. 7 by the Gregorian. Troops loyal to the Bolsheviks simply occupied the principal Government buildings, virtually with out opposition, and arrested the ministers. Kerensky fled.
Writing long after the event, he remained persuaded that the toppling of his Government was the result of a conspiracy, between Lenin and the German’ General Staff.
“The Germans needed a coup detat in Petrograd to stop Austria from signing a separate peace treaty. For Lenin, an immediate peace with Germany after his accession to power was the only way he could establish a dictatorship,” Kerensky wrote in 1965 in “Russia and History’s Turning Point.” Then he added:
“I am firmly convinced that the uprising of Oct. 24–25 was deliberately timed to coincide with the serious crisis in Austro‐German relations.”
Kerensky always maintained that he had rejected an offer to be driven out of Petrograd under the American flag and that he had ridden boldly in his own automobile. Many historians, however, dispute this. William Henry Chamberlain, writing in “The Russian Revolution” (Macmillan) and citing the American Ambassador in Russia, said:
“About 10 in the morning [of Oct. 25] Kerensky decided that his only hope was to make his way to the front and return at the head of reinforcements. One of his adjutants requisitioned a car which belonged to Secretary Whitehouse of the American Embassy; and Kerensky made off in this car, which carried the American flag and, aided by this dis guise, slipped through the numerous Bolshevik patrols which were already active in the city.”
I Soviet historians have add ed that Kerensky was garbed in woman’s attire.
In any event, Kerensky sought vainly to rally armed support for himself and his Government, but within days his cause was crushed and he went into hiding. He emerged, briefly, in January, 1918, when the Constituent Assembly was convened in Petrograd, and he offered to address it. His political friends, however, were against the plan. According to Kerensky, they told him:
“The situation in Petrograd has changed radically. If you appear at the Assembly it will be the end of all of us.”
Kerensky said that he contemplated suicide, but “I did not cross the Rubicon of death.” Instead, in May, 1918, he made his way out of Russia, departing Murmansk for Lon don on a French cruiser. He I was disguised as a Serbian officer.
A Forlorn Cause
In London he called on Prime Minister David Lloyd George and in Paris he saw Premier Georges Clemenceau, who, having pinned their hopes for up setting the Bolsheviks on Adm. Aleksandr V. Kolchak, no long er had any use for the former Premier.
In exile Kerensky pursued a forlorn cause. Until 1940 he lived mainly in Britain and France and made occasional lecture tours in the United States. In the thirties he edited an emigre paper in Paris, which he left in 1940 for the United States, where he wrote and lectured.
In 1956 he went to Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., where he studied and classified Russian documents at the Hoover Institute of War, Revolution and Peace. He also taught seminars at Stanford and lectured widely at colleges.
From the middle of the for ties until 18 months ago Kerensky lived as the house guest of Mrs. Kenneth F. Simpson, widow of a New York Republican leader, in her ??pacious townhouse on East 91st Street. He occupied the fifth and top floor. A longtime friend of the Simpsons, whom he had met in the twenties, he was invited to share the house when he had no other place to live.
He was a familiar figure in the neighborhood. For years, before his sight faded, he walked five or six miles a day, and one of his favorite strolls was around the Central Park reservoir.
Kerensky was easily identified in a gathering by his height (5 feet, 10 inches), his erect bearing, his piercing blue eyes, his deeply creased face and his close‐cropped white hair.
Kerensky married twice. His first marriage, in 1904, was to Olga Baranovsky and it ended in divorce in 1939. The couple had two sons, Oleg and Gleb, who lived in Britain. In 1939 Kerensky married Lydia Ellen Triton, daughter of an Australian industrialist. She died in 1944.
Defended His Role
Kerensky’s final years were passed in the backwater re served for men shunted aside by historical change. He spent much time attempting to de fend his leadership of what he came to call “the Kerensky revolution.” On its 50th anniversary in 1967, he asserted again that it had made Russia one of the freest countries in the world by establishing political, press and speech liberties for all. He also insisted again that the Bolsheviks had come to power through a coupdetat rather than a popular revolution.
Nonetheless, the verdict of even his non‐Communist critics was not kind. For example, re viewing “Russia and History’s Turning Point,” his last book and his most detailed apologia, The (London) Times Literary Supplement said:
“Behind this tale of woe there looms, of course, the fundamental question of whether a bourgeois democracy could have been established in the Russia of 1917 or of subsequent years. Mr. Kerensky is convinced he would have established it if only he had not received so many ‘stabs in the back’ from Milyukov and Kornilov, from the industrialists and bankers, from Lenin and Trotsky, from the Mensheviks, from his closest political associates and from the Allied em bassies.
“But do not all these ‘stabs in the back’ add up to the conclusion that parliamentary democracy had no chance of survival in Russia’s political and social climate?
“It was the height of naivete [on Kerensky’s part] to imagine that Russia, having in the middle of a war emerged from centuries of autocracy, with a shattered semifeudal structure, with a land‐hungry peasantry, with an underdeveloped bourgeoisie, with the national minorities in uproar and with a highly dynamic, Marxist‐orient ed and ambitious working class, could be charmed into the mould of a constitutional monarchy or a liberal republic.”
Kerensky is survived by his two sons, Oleg and Gleb, and by four grandchildren.
A Russian Greek Orthodox funeral mass will be said for the former Premier Sunday at 5 P.M, at Frank E. Campbell’s, Madison Avenue and 81st Street. Burial will be in Britain.
Special to The New York Times
MOSCOW, June 11 — Tass, the Soviet press agency, re ported the death of Kerensky in a one‐sentence dispatch from New York.
“Today in New York, in the 90th year of his life, died the former head of the Provisional Government of Russia, Alex under Kerensky.” it said