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)