Dealing with Kornilov

V. N. L’vov, Memoirs. August 24, 1917

… It was 10:00 o’clock in the evening [of August 24] when I entered Kornilov’s office. I greeted him and said: “I come from Kerenskii.” Kornilov’s eyes sparkled with an evil glint.

“I have a proposal to make to you,” I continued. “It is wrongly believed that Kerenskii is anxious to stay in power. He is ready to resign if he is in your way. But the power must be legally transferred from hand to hand. The power cannot be abandoned, but neither can it be seized. Kerenskii has agreed to reorganize the Government so as to draw all elements of society into it. This is my proposal- an agreement with Kerenskii.”

Kornilov calmed down and replied:

“I have nothing against Kerenskii. When he wanted to resign at the Moscow State Conference, I advised him against it. Then he asked me whether I would support him, and I promised him my support. But, then, Kerenskii does not fight against the Bolsheviks. Days go by and he does nothing in this respect. This is wrong. If a Bolshevik uprising occurs in Petrograd, there will be an incredible mess. I was commander of the Petrograd forces and I know the mood of those men. Some of the regiments will support the Bolsheviks, others will be against it. In this mess the Provisional Government will perish. This must not happen. Some action must be taken to prevent this. I know Kerenskii, and I know that one can reach an understanding with him. But Kerenskii is hated and I cannot vouch for his life. Today Savinkov came here to complain to me about the Soviet. What can I do when I cannot get the Government to place under my command all the troops at the front and in the rear? Regimental committees interfere with military orders. However, I cannot complain about them as far as the economic is concerned: in this respect they are useful. But come at 10:00 o’clock tomorrow morning for the final answer.”

I left, fully satisfied that Kornilov was in favor of an agreement …

At 10:00 A.M. on the following day (August 25) I was going up the stairs of the Governor’s house where Kornilov was located, when an elderly enlistee met me on the top flight. He was a tall, stout man; his hair was dark with streaks of gray. He introduced himself: “Zavoiko.” Zavoiko apologized on behalf of the Supreme Commander for asking me to wait …

I entered Kornilov’s office and sat down by his side at the desk. Kornilov started speaking to me in a firm and assured manner. The hesitating tone of yesterday was no longer evident.

“Tell Kerenskii,” Kornilov said to me, “that Riga fell because the draft bills I submitted to the Provisional Government have still not been approved. The fall of Riga arouses the indignation of the whole army. There can be no further delay. Regimental committees must have no right to interfere with military orders; Petrograd must be included in the sphere of military operations and placed under martial law; all units of the front and the rear must be subordinated to the Supreme Commander. From counterintelligence reports submitted to me, the Bolsheviks are planning to stage an uprising in Petrograd between August 28 and September 2. The aim of this uprising is to overthrow the Provisional Government, proclaim the power of the Soviet, conclude peace with Germany, and give up the Baltic Fleet to Germany … In view of such a formidable threat to Russia, I can see no other way out than to transfer the power of the Provisional Government to … the Supreme Commander.”

I interrupted Kornilov.

“The transfer of military power alone, or civil as well?” I asked.

“Both military and civil,” Kornilov explained.

“Allow me to write all this down so as to remember it.”

“Please,” said Kornilov, and offered me a pencil and paper.

“Perhaps it would be better simply to combine the office of Supreme Commander with the office of President of the Council of Ministers,” I interposed.

Kornilov was embarrassed.

“Possibly your scheme is also acceptable,” said Kornilov.

“Of course, all this is before the Constituent Assembly,” Kornilov remarked.

“Furthermore,” he continued, “warn Kerenskii and Savinkov that I cannot vouch for their lives …, and, therefore, let them come to Stavka where I will personally be responsible for their safety.”

I was moved by these words … and said to Kornilov:

“You are an honorable man.”

Kornilov continued:

“It is not my concern who will be the Supreme Commander as long as the Provisional Government transfers the power to him.”

I said to Kornilov:

“If it’s a question of a military dictatorship, then who is to be the dictator, if not you?”

Kornilov nodded and continued:

“At any rate, if the Romanovs rise to the throne, it will only be over my dead body. As soon as the power is transferred, I will form my cabinet.

“I no longer trust Kerenskii, he is not doing anything.”

“And do you trust Savinkov?” I asked.

“No. I do not trust Savinkov either. I don’t know whom he wants to stab in the back. It could be Kerenskii, it could be me,” Kornilov replied.

“If you have such an opinion of Savinkov, why didn’t you arrest him yesterday while he was here?”

Kornilov was silent.

“However,” Kornilov continued, “I could offer Savinkov the portfolio of Minister of War, and Kerenskii-the portfolio of Minister of Justice.”

At this point, to my complete surprise, Zavoiko … entered the office unannounced, interrupted the Supreme Commander, and said in a tone that teachers use toward pupils:

“No, no, not Minister of Justice, but Vice-President of the Council of Ministers.”

I looked in amazement first at Kornilov, then at the orderly. Kornilov appeared disconcerted.

“Then is it your wish that I relay all this to Kerenskii?” I asked Kornilov.

Zavoiko answered:

“Of course, of course, legal succession of power is important.”

“In this case,” I turned to Kornilov, “would you reserve a seat for me on the train since no tickets are being sold?”

Zavoiko said that he would personally accompany me to the station and arrange everything.

I bade farewell to Kornilov and left the office.

Zavoiko invited me for lunch at his place; he was located in the same building. I entered his place and found Dobrynskii and another gentleman whom I had not met … Zavoiko introduced us:

“Professor Iakovlev.”

Then Zavoiko sat at the desk, took out a piece of paper on which something was written, and began reading aloud. It was Kornilov’s manifesto to the army in which Kornilov, calling himself a son of a Cossack, was taking Supreme Power in the name of saving the native land. Then … Zavoiko pulled out another paper from the desk and started reading. That was Kornilov’s proclamation to the soldiers. It promised 8 desiatins of land to every soldier when he returned home. This turned out to be the agrarian program drawn up by Professor Iakovlev who was sitting before me.

“Where are you going to find so many desiatins for every soldier?” I asked.

Iakovlev explained that he had everything calculated precisely.

After reading the manifesto and the proclamation, Zavoiko slipped me a copy of each. I put them automatically into my pocket without knowing why he gave them to me. Then, taking a piece of paper with a casual air, Zavoiko said:

“And so, the Vice-President of the Council of Ministers will be Kerenskii.”

Source: Robert Paul Browder and Alexander F. Kerensky, eds., The Russian Provisional Government, 1917: Documents (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1961), Vol. III, pp. 57-59.

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