Peasants arming themselves in Autumn 1917 on hearing of General Kornilov’s attempted coup

2. Peasants armed themselves in the autumn of 1917 on hearing of General Kornilov’s attempted coup

Source: Marx Memorial Library (MML)


After the Russian failure of the July 1917 offensive on the Eastern Front, Kerensky appointed Kornilov as Commander-in- Chief of the Russian army. In Kornilov’s view the army had degenerated into a rabble. He insisted on imposing the strictest discipline, but by September 1917, he decided that the underlying cause of all Russia’s ills was the Provisional Government itself. He thus commanded the resignation of Kerensky and the entire cabinet to be replaced by Kornilov himself as supreme ruler of the country in all civilian and military matters.

Unsurprisingly, Kerensky refused this demand, seeing it for what it was, as a coup d’état, and consequently dismissed Kornilov who then launched a rebellion beginning in Petrograd – the ‘Kornilov Revolt’. Having insufficient force at his disposal to defeat Kornilov, Kerensky called on the Soviets and the Red Guards to defend Petrograd.

Kornilov was defeated and imprisoned, but Kerensky’s reliance on the Bolsheviks highlighted the ever-growing weakness of the Provisional Government. However, at the end of November, less than a month after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Kornilov escaped with other generals of the Russian army to the south of the country where he set up the ‘Volunteer Army’ (later known as the Whites). This counter-revolutionary force took control of very important areas in the south. This was the beginning of the Civil War.