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Alexander Kerensky
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Alexander Kerensky

Alexander Fedorovich Kerensky (Russian:Алекса́ндр Фёдорович Ке́ренский) (April 22, 1881 (May 2, New Style) - June 11, 1970) was the chairman of the Russian Provisional Government after the downfall of the last Tsar and immediately before the Bolsheviks and Lenin came to power.

Kerensky was born in Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk) the son of a school principal. This was also Lenin's birthplace, and Kerensky senior at one point taught the young Vladimir Ulyanov at Kazan University. Kerensky graduated in law from Saint Petersburg University in 1904. He showed his political sympathies early on with his frequent defence of anti-Tsarist revolutionaries. He was elected to the Fourth Duma in 1912 as a member of the Trudoviks (a moderate labour party). A brilliant orator and skilled parliamentary leader, he became a member of the Provisional Committee of the Duma as a Socialist Revolutionary and a leader of the socialist opposition to the regime of Nicholas II.

When the February Revolution broke out in 1917 Kerensky was one of the revolution's most prominent leaders, and was elected vice-chairman of the Petrograd Soviet (workers' council). When the Provisional Government was formed he was initially Minister of Justice, but he became Minister of War in May and Prime Minister in July 1917. Following the failed coup of General Lavr Kornilov in August and the resignation of the ministers, he appointed himself Supreme Commander-in-Chief as well.

Kerensky's essential problem in office was that Russia was exhausted after three years of warfare and the Russian people wanted nothing but peace. Lenin and his Bolshevik party were promising "bread, peace and land" under a Communist regime, and the army was disintegrating as the peasant and worker soldiers deserted. But Kerensky and the other political leaders felt obliged by their commitments to Russia's allies to continue the war, and also correctly feared that Germany would demand enormous territorial concessions as the price for peace. Kerensky's refusal to withdraw Russia from the war proved his undoing.

During the Kornilov coup Kerensky had distributed arms to the Petrograd workers, and by October most of these armed workers had gone over to the Bolsheviks. Lenin was determined to overthrow Kerensky's government before it could be legitimised by the planned elections for a Russian Constituent Assembly, and on November 7 (New Style), the Bolsheviks militia staged a coup in Petrograd (later mythologised by Bolshevik propaganda as a working-class revolution).

Kerensky escaped the Bolsheviks and went to Pskov, where he rallied loyal troops for an attempt to retake the capital. His troops captured Tsarskoe Selo but were defeated the next day at Pulkovo. Kerensky narrowly escaped this defeat, and for the next few weeks he lived in hiding until he could leave the country, eventually arriving in France. During the Russian Civil War he supported neither side - he opposed both the Bolshevik regime and the reactionary White Army generals trying to restore the monarchy.

Kerensky lived in Paris until 1940, engaged in the endless splits and quarrels of the exiled Russian democratic leaders. When the Germans overran France, he escaped to the United States in 1940 where he lived until his death. When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Kerensky offered his support to Stalin, but received no reply. Instead he made broadcasts in Russian in support of the war effort. After the war he organised a group called the Union for the Liberation of Russia, but this achieved little.

Kerensky eventually settled in New York City, but he spent much of his time at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University in California, where he both used and contributed to the Institute's huge archive on Russian history, and where he taught graduate courses. He wrote and broadcast extensively on Russian politics and history. His major works included The Prelude to Bolshevism (1919), The Catastrophe (1927), The Crucifixion of Liberty (1934) and Russia and History's Turning Point (1966). He died in New York City in 1970, one of the last surviving major participants in the events of 1917.

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Preceded by:
Head of Government Prince Georgy Yevgenyevich Lvov
Leaders of Russia Succeeded by:
Vladimir Lenin as chairman of the Council of People's Commissars