Alexander Kerensky

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Alexander Kerensky : biography

04 May 1881 – 11 June 1970

Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky ( ; 22 April (4 May ) 1881 – 11 June 1970) was a major political leader before and during the Russian Revolutions of 1917.

Kerensky served as the second Prime Minister of the Russian Provisional Government until it was overthrown by the Bolsheviks under Vladimir Lenin in the October Revolution. He would spend the remainder of his life in exile, dying in New York City in 1970 at the age of 89.

Life and career

Early life and activism

Alexander Kerensky was born in Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk) on the Volga River into the family of a secondary school principal on 2 May 1881. His father, Fyodor Kerensky, was a schoolmaster. His mother, Nadezhda (Adler), was the daughter of a nobleman, Alexander Adler, head of the Topographical Bureau of the Kazan Military District. Her mother, Nadezhda Kalmykova, was the daughter of a former serf who had bought his freedom before serfdom was abolished in 1861, allowing him to become a wealthy Moscow merchant.

Kerensky’s father was the headmaster of Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) at a secondary school for boys in Simbirsk, and members of the Kerensky and Ulyanov families were friends. In 1889, when Kerensky was eight, his family moved to Tashkent, where his father had been appointed the main inspector of public schools (superintendent). Kerensky graduated with honors from a Tashkent secondary school in 1899. The same year he entered St. Petersburg University, where he studied history and philology in his first year. The next year he switched to the Law Department and received a law degree in 1904, getting married in the same year to the daughter of a Russian general. Bernard Butcher, Stanford Magazine, January/February 2001 He worked as a legal counsel to victims of government violence in early December 1905. At the end of the month 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.Political Figures of Russia, 1917, Biographical Dictionary, Large Russian Encyclopedia, 1993, p. 143.

He was elected to the Fourth Duma in 1912 as a member of the Trudoviks, a moderate labour party who were associated with the Socialist-Revolutionary Party. He was a brilliant orator and skilled parliamentary leader of the socialist opposition to the regime of the ruling Tsar, Nicholas II.

February Revolution of 1917

When the February Revolution broke out in spring of 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 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 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").