The Petrograd Soviet and the Kornilov affair
The joint leadership of the provisional government and the Petrograd Soviet began to crumble in mid-1917. The ongoing war and mounting pressure for further social and economic reform led to protests and uprisings in Petrograd.
The provisional government, led by Alexander Kerensky, was struggling to maintain authority over the increasing opposition.
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The Kornilov affair took place in August. Lavr Kornilov was the commander-in-chief of the Russian military forces. He wanted to rid Russia of socialist dissent. He attempted to overthrow the provisional government and institute a military dictatorship. Kornilov targeted the Petrograd Soviet as the heart of socialism in Russia.
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Kerensky countered Kornilov's bid for power by calling upon all Russians to resist Kornilov. Kerensky turned to the Bolsheviks to help resist Kornilov. The Kornilov affair saw the Bolsheviks and soviets unite in the face of a common enemy and gain great popularity.
General Kornilov was a right-wing conservative who strongly disagreed with the socialist elements of Russian society. He believed that the Petrograd Soviet was undermining Russia's war effort. Of prime importance, for Kornilov, was the defeat of Germany in World War I. Resolving Russia's social problems was a matter that could be dealt with later.
Kornilov also targeted Lenin. Kornilov described Lenin as a German spy who should be hanged. Kornilov believed that the provisional government should be restructured with far-reaching powers and the socialist elements of Russian society, the soviets and the Bolsheviks should be stamped out.
The Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies was targeted by Kornilov. The soviet was established in March 1917 in the wake of the February revolution. The soviet represented the rights of Russian workers and soldiers.
The soviet had limited the power of the provisional government by issuing Soviet Order Number One in March. The order specified that soldiers were not to obey any legislation issued by the provisional government unless the soviet had approved it. The soviet encouraged the provisional government to restore civil liberties and make socialist reforms to the Russian constitution. The soviet also called for the immediate withdrawal of troops from the war. These socialist goals threatened Kornilov's position and power.
Kornilov's rebellion and Kerensky's response
In August, Kornilov announced that he was bringing troops into Petrograd to protect the provisional government and overthrow the Petrograd Soviet.
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Kerensky responded by calling upon loyal Russian citizens to defend Petrograd. Kerensky issued weapons to all those who would defend the city. He released and armed all Bolsheviks from prison. A total of 25 000 Bolsheviks formed a militia to defend Petrograd.
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Kornilov faced other problems beyond the great resistance he met in Petrograd. Railway workers refused to transport his troops into the city. The cavalry refused to attack the city's defenders. The soldiers refused to obey Kornilov's commands.
Facing defeat, Kornilov abandoned his plans and was placed under arrest.
The results of the Kornilov affair
The position of the provisional government was weakened. It did not have the power to defend Petrograd without the assistance of the soviet or the Bolsheviks, the two great enemies of the provisional government. The government was left in the throes of a leadership crisis. Kornilov, the leader of the military forces, could not be trusted. Kerensky was slowly losing his grip on power.
Kerensky had appealed to the Bolsheviks to help defend Petrograd. This allowed the Bolsheviks to recover from the humiliation of the July days. The Bolsheviks were seen as a powerful force. Their participation in the defence of Petrograd saw an alliance between the Petrograd Soviet and the Bolsheviks form. The two could work together to overthrow the provisional government, as Lenin had envisaged, to establish a society which was fair to all workers and soldiers.