Interview with Kerensky
[Reprinted from Fragments, January-March
the Moscow Soviet,
set his motto of humanity with the words:
'I will not be the Marat of the Russian Revolution.' " --
"He used simple words and he threw in 'tovareesh'
occasionally, and looked at the galleries most effectively. When he
concluded, people rushed down the aisles, and threw roses at him and
all sorts of flowers. Soldiers on the stage kissed him. Fortunately,
I got down by the door just as he passed out to his auto -- so
jammed in the crowd it could not move for some time. Face brown and
he looked full of vigor, though tired. Fine build and looks as young
as his 36 years. Hard to believe that with T.B. of the kidneys he is
not likely to last long." -- Graham R. Taylor (Reference to
Kerensky, in Diary, June 8, 1917)
AS I waited in the library for Alexander Kerensky to come down, on.
this bright January morning in New York, I found it difficult to
believe that close to fifty years had elapsed since the meteoric rise
and fall from power of this almost-legendary figure of the past. I had
the strangest feeling that he would appear for one brief moment of
eternity, summarize -- ever so sketchily -- the fantastic events of
Long Ago and Far Away, and then vanish once again. All of his
contemporaries -- Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Clemenceau, Wilson, the
Kaiser, the Czar -- had long since departed from the arena of life. He
In a flash, I felt myself back in the Russia of my youth; witnessed,
once more, the wildness, the excitement, and the joy of the March
Revolution; heard again the playing of the "Marseillaise";
and saw crowds, crowds, crowds -- cheering -- idolizing -- only one
name: the magic name of Kerensky!
Kerensky! The brilliant young lawyer, who courageously championed the
cause of the underdog; the dynamic member of the Fourth Duma, who
attacked the monarchy with fiery oratory; the mercurial Minister of
Justice, who helped abolish capital punishment; the theatrical
Minister of War, who inspired the soldiery with impassioned eloquence;
the very youthful Prime Minister, who valiantly saved the lives of all
political enemies, even those of the Czar and his family; and,
finally, the Great Persuader, who helped establish the new republic,
only to see it destroyed in eight months by the savage hordes of
Kerensky! The man of whom it was said that he would rather run than
walk; whose roots went so far back in history that most people did not
know he was still alive, much less that he was living in the City of
New York; the man who, had he had the chance, would have given at
least fifty brilliant and productive years to his country! Instead,
Destiny had fashioned him to become the Wandering Russian, spending
most of his life in exile, dwelling always on but one year of his
What would have happened to Winston Churchill (who was Kerensky's
British Cabinet contemporary) were he to have left England in 1917?
Would he have spent the rest of his life writing memoirs about 1917
In any case, here I was in New York, on this day in 1965, waiting to
interview the person who was once Russia's Man of the Hour --
thousands of miles away from his birthplace (and mine). What would
this interview reveal?
Thus I mused as I waited. My thoughts came to a sudden end. I heard a
stir in the hallway. The elevator door opened -- and Kerensky entered
The stately old gentleman of eighty-four who had haltingly walked
into the library, and who now sat facing me, was a disturbing contrast
to the volatile, young, dashing, and dynamic Kerensky of history and
my imagination. Ailing, somewhat irritable, he brushed aside many
questions with ill-disguised impatience. Yet, a spark was still there.
The mind was alert. The responses were keen.
Into the rich tapestry of the past, I began weaving the rather plain
thread of my questions.
Mr. Kerensky, were not the Kadets (who espoused
principles similar to those of some Western libertarians) the
largest party in the First Duma?
"The Constitutional Democratic (Kadet) Party may have been the
largest party in terms of numbers, but the Labor (Trudovik) Party, to
which I belonged, was the most popular with the peasants."
To some extent, the Kadets did participate in the first Cabinet of
the Provisional Government. Prince Lvov, a member of the Kadets,
became Prime Minister. Paul Miliukov, the party leader, became Foreign
Was not Professor Miliukov the champion of
"Miliukov was a brilliant historian. Politically speaking,
however, he lacked intuition, and made a bad impression on the Army
and on the people."
In what sense did he lack intuition?
"He thought he was a diplomat, but he knew nothing. He advocated
the same policy as did the Czarist ministers. He proposed annexation
of Constantinople -- and was forced to resign after only two months in
What about the distinguished Kadet jurist, Basil
"Maklakov was Miliukov's antithesis. He was more positive than
Miliukov. Although we were never friends, Maklakov and I had pleasant
relations with each other. However, in 1917, the Kadets were no longer
of true political significance."
"Any party that did not take the peasant problem into
consideration was bound to fail. The Communist Party is similarly
doomed to failure. It fights the peasants, instead of helping them to
obtain what they mostly desire and need: bread and butter."
Why do you stress the peasant problem?
"The social development of Russia was different from other
countries. The peasants made up 80% of the population of the Empire.
Central Russia always had a peasant social movement."
In what way were the Trudoviks and -- more importantly
-- your government (when you became Prime Minister) more
representative of the Russian public?
"We attempted to follow the principles set in motion by Czar
Alexander n in 1861. We stressed 'land and freedom.' Our task was to
realize the desire of the people for democratic reforms."
How, specifically, were you proceeding along such lines?
"Our first objectives were to restore the machinery of
government (left shattered by the Czar), and to conclude, by means of
a general peace, the World War I effort that we inherited from
Nicholas II. Our other objectives were: to establish a free Russia; to
create a federated republic; to ensure spiritual liberty; to bring
about the equality of all nationalities and populations of Russia; to
recognize the inviolability of the individual; to conquer starvation
and maldistribution of wealth by means of necessary land reforms; and
to fight the tendency toward centralism."
You were taken to task by some critics for your failure
to call forth immediately a Constituent Assembly. Such an Assembly
had been the dream of radicals and libertarians for generations.
Your former aide, Woytinsky, claimed that such a convocation might
have prevented the rise of Bolshevism. What is your answer?
"It is easy for those to criticize who know nothing of the
facts. To begin with, there was a war on. Then, various crises arose,
first brought about by the abortive Bolshevik uprising in July, and
later by the catastrophic Kornilov conspiracy. As a matter of fact, we
did manage to prepare a convocation of the Constituent Assembly for
September 30th, but the administrative machinery was not ready, and we
postponed the elections."
What finally happened to the Constituent Assembly?
"Ironically, the Constituent Assembly elections - which we had
initiated -- did take place after Lenin and his gang seized power. The
Assembly had actually convened in January of 1918, but was dispersed
by Bolshevik bayonets. Thus ended Russia's dream."
How did the Bolsheviks seise power? Were they not an
insignificant minority f Did they not receive only 25% of the
Constituent Assembly votes -- even after they were in control?
"The Bolsheviks did not achieve any prominence until the
beginning of the First World War. It was then that the German State
began subsidizing them. British documents conclusively prove that
Lenin was a German agent. This fact can no longer be controverted."
Some commentators have criticised you for having been "soft
on Communism." Is this true?
"I am sometimes criticized for not having been 'too severe' with
Bolshevism and the Left. At other times, I am criticized for having
been 'too lax' with Kornilov and the Right. At all times, people find
things to criticize. Evidently, my detractors fail to understand that
I have always believed in freedom of assembly and speech. I did not
join the Provisional Government to perpetuate the autocracy of the
Czars -- as did the Communists when they captured the State."
One hears it said that only in "barbaric"
Russia could Bolshevism have arisen. What is your comment?
"This is a primitive question. Were Italy or Germany 'barbaric'?
The same concept of collectivism prevailed in all European countries
-- from the Urals to Spain. It is now spreading all over the earth.
The people who make such meaningless statements have no faith in the
What is it, then, that caused Bolshevism to arise?
"Bolshevism is a totalitarian concept brought about by the
consequences of World War I. Hatred and tyranny are the natural heirs
of greed and conquest. The personal dictatorship of a ruthless
minority would not have succeeded had not the Provisional Government
been betrayed by both the Left and the Right -- and had not Communism
been perpetuated by ignorant statesmen of the West, who failed to
recognize the menace of Bolshevism."
One of the greatest tributes paid to you is that you
helped bring about the abolition of capital punishment in Russia,
and almost personally saved the lives of even your most outspoken
enemies. Would you still adhere to the same humanitarian principles
if it were in your power to turn back the clock?
"To prevent war; to avoid bloodshed: these always were my
desires. They always will be."
What, in your opinion, will be the future of Russia?
"The generations of the future will return to a free life.
Democracy -- which had so brief a trial in 1917 -- will be restored.
Freedom -- a classic concept of our writers and dreamers -- will
triumph in Russia. Dictatorship will die."
The echoes of the Revolution of half a century ago still lingered
in my ears as, under the spell of by-gone days, I was slowly
descending the staircase. I was awakened to reality by the 1965
farewell of Alexander Kerensky: "Very cold to-day, isn't it?"
It was indeed. It was a bitterly cold New York day. And -- as I
stepped outside -- a New York City policeman was placing a green "illegal
parking" tag on the windshield of my American automobile.