The Conspiracy of General Kornilov

General Kornilov

This image features General Lavr Kornilov (August 18, 1870 – April 13 1918) who served during World War I and the Russian Civil War 4,5. However, he is most notably remembered for his attempted coup d’état of Alexander Kerensky’s Provisional Government. Alexander Kerensky (May 4, 1881 – June 11, 1970) himself had planned for the arrival of Kornilov to help strengthen the Provisional Government’s armed forces against that of the dissatisfied lower Russian classes. Since the July Days, the Russian populace had grown skeptical of Kerensky’s government and their ability to handle the economic and social problems of the country as a whole 3. After several correspondences between Kornilov and Kerensky, Kornilov thought it best to install a new regime with himself as a sort of dictator over the Russian Empire 2. The Petrograd Soviet, a city council in Petrograd, were warned of Kornilov’s treachery. They were quickly and efficiently able to muster their defenses against Kornilov. Ultimately, the whole affair ended in utter failure; General Kornilov himself was placed under arrest and sentenced to be incarcerated in the Bykhov Fortress. This event also saw an increase in the amount of distrust in Kerensky’s Provisional Government 4.

With the occurrence of this event, the Provisional Government lost all of its credibility and resulted in its ultimate demise 3. Vladimir Lenin (April 22, 1870 – January 21, 1924) seized power shortly after the Provisional Government’s fall through the Bolshevik October Revolution that occurred on November 7, 1917 1. A few months earlier, Kerensky had released several Bolshevik supporters after their arrest during the events of the July Days. During the Kornilov Affair, Kerensky had to plea to the Petrograd Soviet for their support – this led to the re-militarization of the Bolshevik Military Organization and the release of even more Bolsehvik political prisoners, including Leon Trotsky 4. With the release of these workers, the events of the October Revolution were able to take place. The failure of General Kornilov allowed for the success of the Bolshevik Party to take control of the whole of Russia 3. I believe it was best put by Steven Brust when he stated that, “One man’s mistake is another’s opportunity.” This was definitely the case for the Bolsheviks’ and their October Revolution.

I would personally like to know more about the actual events that had ensued during Kornilov’s Revolt. It was stated several times throughout my research that the event was very fast-paced and confusing for most of the constituents involved. Some initial questions that arose in my mind include:

  • Why did General Kornilov forsake his position and attempt to overthrow the Provisional Government?
  • How did the correspondence between Alexander Kerensky and General Kornilov affect his decision to perform a coup d’état?
  • To what extent did the Bolsheviks’ influence the outcome of this event?

Ultimately, more research into the subject will need to be completed before any of these questions can be answered. Maybe one day we can fully appreciate and understand the full scope of how General Kornilov affected the take over of Russia by the Bolsheviks’.

Works Cited:

  1. Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 2009.
  2. Yegorov, Oleg. “The Kornilov Affair: How the Military’s Last Attempt to Stop Revolution Failed.” Russia Beyond, 14 Sept. 2017,
  3. “Kornilov Affair.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 29 Dec. 2015,
  4. “Kornilov Affair.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Feb. 2018,
  5. “General Kornilov Inspecting Russian Troops, 1st July 1917.” Getty Images, 1 Jan. 1917,

8 thoughts on “The Conspiracy of General Kornilov”

  1. Good post and great questions! I let others chime in as well, but will note that Kornilov’s main target was the Soviets. He thought the PG was weak and ineffective and hoped to co-opt it. As for the “why did he do it” question, I imagine that he felt that the country was descending into chaos — with desertions from the front, peasants rebelling in the countryside, severe shortages of food and fuel in the cities, increased crime, class tensions, etc., etc. Trying to establish order might have seemed like the best (only) course of action for an aspiring military strongman.


  2. Great post! I also did my blog post on the Kornilov incident. It’s very true that the event was confusing (and at times, hilarious), which is complicated by the fact that many historians like to demonize either Kornilov or Kerenskii, depending on their political leanings. In response to your second question, one of the sources I found stated that Kerenskii had exhibited confusing behavior in the few days prior to the “coup.” Kornilov took this behavior to mean that Kerenskii was being held politically hostage by the Petrograd Soviet, and was signaling for help. So, Kornilov (who had previously been considering attacking the Soviet) decided it was good time to invade Petrograd. The whole affair was a very interesting mess of events like this.


  3. The Kornilov Affair is an interesting case. In order to save Russia, Kornilov must establish himself a military dictator. In the end, Kornilov’s attempted coup pushed Russians further into the arms of the Bolsheviks, something Kornilov did not want. Its a story that seems closer to Shakespeare than real life. I have always wondered what would happen if Kornilov succeeded, would be capable enough to rule Russia?


  4. I enjoyed the story you told through your post, it was well done. I also thought your questions at the end were warranted and I also had the same ones. Another question I would submit just out of curiosity was how were The Petrograd Soviets informed of the possible treachery? It might just had to the mystery of the actions.


  5. Austin, what a very interesting article. Based off my own opinion I think if Kornilov had taken over the government his rule wouldn’t have lasted that long it. He may have delayed the revolution for a few years, but I believe that at this point there was no stopping an eventual revolution where the Bolshevik red army takes over Russia. The Bolsheviks and the workers and peasants who supported them didn’t want another “king.” It’s ironic because they would actually end up getting a worse ruler, in the form of Stalin. They wanted to rule themselves so I’m sure it would only be a matter of time before Kornilov was over thrown as well.However, this is just my own speculation, there is no real way to know for sure.


  6. As others have noted, I am skeptical as to how successful Kornilov’s coup would have been even if he had succeeded in overthrowing the Provisional Government. I can’t imagine, unless Kornilov was a very popular figure, that his rule would have lasted very long at all. I also wonder why the affair resulted in heightened distrust of the Provisional Government. Was it that the people saw it as a sign of weakness? Did they see the Soviets as more powerful and legitimate because of their ability to stop Kornilov’s coup?


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