About twenty years ago I was a guest at a dinner party on the West Side of New York City and was seated next to an elderly man with a crew cut and a foreign accent, whose name, for some reason, I hadn’t heard during the course of the evening. We fell into conversation about modem Russian history—a subject on which I have always thought myself to be knowledgeable—and I eventually found myself explaining to him how the Russian Revolution might never have happened if Denikin’s troops had moved faster on their way to relieve Petrograd.
“It wouldn’t have mattered,” he said, in a guttural voice.
“Of course it would,” I replied.
He shook his head. “No, no,” he said sadly. “You see, they’d left their artillery and their machine guns behind. Even if they’d arrived when they were supposed to, they wouldn’t have been any use to the Provisional Government.”
Something about the old man’s authoritative tone made me ask what his name was.
There was a pause. He smiled at me. “Aleksandr Kerensky,” he said. “Head of the Provisional Government.”