Kerensky’s Case

Russia and History's Turning Point

by Alexander Kerensky
Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 558 pp., $8.95

Alexander Kerensky
Alexander Kerensky; drawing by David Levine

Alexander Feodorovich Kerensky is now eighty-four years old. He has been an exile for forty-seven years. He has already survived Lenin by over forty years. Those of us who are privileged to know Mr. Kerensky admire his continuing vigor of mind and spirit, of which this latest book is eloquent proof. But Kerensky is an historic figure: whatever view one may take of his role in Russian history—and he has both his admirers and his detractors—no one can question the fact that this role was played by him at a critical turning point in the destinies of Russia. Yet there can have been few men of Kerensky’s historic importance who have had so long to brood over their actions after the event. A short and meteoric moment at the helm of his country’s destinies was all that fate vouchsafed him. But there are moments of intensity, of glory, passion, elation, and transport which transcend in their experience the slow pattern of succeeding years. No one who did not witness the euphoria of March 1917 in Petrograd can know what it was like—no one who lived through it will ever forget it. I was only nine years old when I witnessed it; but I can vividly recapture the memory of joy and relief, vividly symbolized for me by the astonishing sight of three elderly Jewish intellectuals (one of them a family friend) dancing in the street. Before long it was all to turn to cynicism and chaos—but I was too young to know about that. I can remember the emergence of the figure of Kerensky, his name on all lips and his picture on all walls. I was once taken by my father to hear him speak—it was not an experience one ever forgets.

Some forty years later I met Kerensky for the first time, when I had occasion to conduct an interview with him for the Third Programme of the BBC. I prepared a few questions of the normal kind, and we agreed upon the main topics in preliminary discussion. For a time all went according to plan. Then, suddenly, Kerensky “escaped,” brushed me aside, and launched into a magnificent speech, full of the old fire and rhetoric. It was superb. For me it recalled that long-distant meeting in a crowded, hot hall in Petrograd, with the passionate orator on the platform, almost dancing as he spoke. To my Third Programme audience what they heard that night was a piece of history more authentic than anything they could have gleaned from more conventional answers to my academic questions.

But that evening in the studio was a picture in microcosm of Kerensky the politician. He was no professor, with ready-made solutions, as were many of his colleagues: he acted on impulse, by instinct, with enthusiasm and with rhetoric. Indeed, there are some who hold that those who achieve greatness in politics must always…

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