The Kornilov Affair and the Rise of the Bolsheviks

After escaping from a Hungarian prisoner-of-war (POW) camp in 1916, General Lavr Kornilov came back to Russia and found that the army needed a restoration of discipline. Appointed as the Commander-in-Chief of the army by Prime Minister Kerensky, Kornilov was determined to achieve his political goals while increasing the army’s fighting capacity (Freeze, 287).


One of Kornilov’s political goals was to rid Russia of democracy, to which he responded with a march on the capital of the Russian Empire, Petrograd. His ulterior motives, however, were to take over the city, “destroy the soviet”, and appoint himself as the “Napoleonic strongman.” This attempted coup didn’t go over well, though, as Kornilov’s troops were stopped in their tracks by Red Guards, a transitional military force made up of activists in organized militias.

Not only was the Kornilov Affair cut short by militia, but also by railway workers. En route to Petrograd, Kornilov’s army was halted in their trains and were unable to make progress to the capital. This was an important event for industrial workers because this was their way of contributing to the government’s suppression of a threat without actually being a part of the militia. Soon after this attempted coup, Kornilov was arrested and his troops were disarmed. However, the internal legitimacy of Prime Minister Kerensky began to fade as his “new government” led to strike after strike. The Kornilov Affair weakened Kerensky’s authority, which facilitated a takeover of power by the Bolsheviks.

Industrial, factory, railway, etc. workers all began to cease production. This was their only way of contributing to the politics that affected their everyday lives, so the working class exploited every opportunity to throw a wrench in industrialization and production to make a statement to the government. The Bolsheviks saw this as a way to gain a “following”- a mobilization of ‘forces’ and control over a vast group of people. Despite rallying in favor of workers’ rights and telling the workers what they wanted to hear, the Bolsheviks would eventually undermine the workers’ wishes and use them as a means to gain power just in time for the October Revolution.

The Kornilov Affair was critical in weakening the authority of Kerensky, thus allowing the Bolsheviks to gain political power. Without an illegitimate (by the citizen’s standards) Prime Minister in control, the Bolsheviks would not have been able to strategize and exploit the situation as they did. The counter-revolution of October 1917 would have ended very differently if it weren’t for the rise of power by the Bolsheviks.

Russia A History, Gregory L. Freeze (287-291)


14 thoughts on “The Kornilov Affair and the Rise of the Bolsheviks

  1. This is a wonderful overview of an important event that was confusing to me. The strengthening of the Bolsheviks was dangerous leading up to the October Revolution. Another interesting point in one on the strikes of the proletariat of Russia at this time, which increased the need to rid Russia of the “bourgeois government”.


  2. I wrote on this same topic and I really enjoyed the perspective you brought into it. Kornilov was clearly a visionary who saw himself as having more influence and support than he did, and this ultimately backfired as Kerensky essentially through him under the bus and shut the coup down. It is interesting to see how the Bolshevik’s used this counter-revolutionary movement to show how much influence they actually held with the Russian populace.


  3. Max makes an important point in his comment about why Kornilov ended up deepening the revolution he sought to prevent. (His post is here if you haven’t found it already: ). Your conclusion – that Kornilov’s attempted coup eroded the authority of the Provisional Government and thus helped strengthen the left — is really important. We’ll talk in class tomorrow about the nature of “dual power” and how “dual polarization” makes the months between the Feb. and Oct revolution so radical.


  4. I thought this was a great post! It was really helpful that you gave background information regarding Kornilov’s goals. Having those goals presented at the beginning of the post made it easier to understand the flow of information and what happened. I thought it was really interesting when you touched on the fact that the Kornilov Affair was cut short by railway workers! It seems that those railway workers did a tremendous amount to stop the Kornilov Affair from continuing. Really great post to read!


  5. I found it really interesting how you discussed how the working class did what they could to influence politics even though they did not have a lot of power. The fact that the railroad workers stopped or had a huge influence in stopping the Kornilov Affairs is an aspect that is really important to understand especially because Kornilov wanted to get rid of any ounce of democracy. Regardless of what the government was trying to do, the people stood up for what they wanted and its awesome to see that they won this fight.


  6. I thought it was interesting the way you brought in the railroad workers into the affair, and how they were able to cut it short. It’s interesting to read about how the workers really were either doing one thing to help the government or another to help the revolution. It was particularly interesting the railway workers were able to help the government like they did because they seemed to receive so many issues. I wrote about the trains carrying grain being ambushed by peasants, and I remember reading about the unrest of rail workers early in the semester. I think it’s interesting how they play a large role in everything.


  7. I really liked your focus on the passive resistance of the rail and factory workers and their role in affecting change. It really shows how much power the lower classes had despite their neutered role in government.


  8. It’s interesting to me that this attempted coup ended up with the Bolsheviks gaining power. If Kornilov had not attempted this overthrow, would the Reds have ended up in power? It’s crazy how the actions of even a single man can change the course of history.


  9. This post was pretty cool. I didn’t know how big of a part the working class had in stopping Kornilov’s attempted rise to power. It is very interesting to see how influential the working class really was. They were able to see some remedies to the turmoil they were living through. Nice post!


  10. Kornilov is known for saying he wished to “destroy the soviet” in his attempt to rise to power. I’m not absolutely certain at what he was getting when he said that. ‘Soviet(s)’ back then were workers’ councils that multiple political organizations were involved in. Later the Bolsheviks used the term for their program of government (see ). Perhaps Kornilov wished to rid himself of other political competition during his attempted coup?


  11. The Kornilov incident brings in a lot of interesting (though ultimately pointless, but still) what-if questions. What if the coup had been successful… would another coup from the Soviets have in turn overthrown him, making their rise to power inevitable? Would a military dictatorship have been set up and all opposition crushed, putting Russia on some different path? The general incompetence of the leaders at the time (Nicholas having abdicated, Kerensky’s “betrayal” of Kornilov in the PG as mentioned in the textbook) seems to play a big role in the development of the revolutionary movement, fueling the dual power/dual polarization which we talked about in class today.


  12. I like the fact that this was such a broad overview in a very complicated situation. It made it a lot easier to read about! I also like that you started out with somewhat of a background on a particularity person then went into the larger concepts. I think it added depth to the people behind some of the events. I also really like how you pointed out that there had to be an “illegitimate” Prime Minister in control in order for some of the events to happen. I wonder what would have happened if the people had seen him as legitimate.


  13. Great explanation of an event I wasn’t quite familiar with. In what seemed to be a positive thing with General Kornilov’s return from a POW camp, we find out that a somewhat downhill domino effect was to follow. Despite The Kornilov Affair’s failure the door was opened for the Bolsheviks to takeover. Good job on depicting the true power of a revolting industrial working class.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s