Why Did the Russian Provisional Government Fail in 1917

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  • 7/29/2019 Why Did the Russian Provisional Government Fail in 1917


    Why did the Russian Provisional Government fail

    in 1917?

    The Russian Provisional Government failed in 1917 for a variety of reasons. Perhaps most

    importantly, they refused to end the countrys involvement in World War One. Due to the

    governments preoccupation with winning that War, many economic and social problems were

    overlooked or ignored. Institutions known collectively as The Soviet were also attempting to gain

    more power. They didnt want to run the government, but they did want greater autonomy for the

    workers. In effect, they sucked power away from the Provisional Government. These issues and

    several others led to the failure of the Provisional Government and the seizure of power by the

    Bolsheviks in October of 1917.

    The Russian Provisional Government was formed in the aftermath of Tsar Nicholas IIs abdication

    from the throne on March 2, 1917. After Nicholas departure, the Duma was the only real legal

    authority left to run the country. Out of this body the Provisional Government was formed by a

    coalition of various Duma parties. It was intended to be an interim body to hold power until the

    Constituent Assembly could be called and a constitution could be written.[1] Headed first by Prince

    G. E. Lvov, the new government saw as its primary task as winning the War, only then would other

    issues be dealt with.

    Massive economic and social problems, inefficient decision making by the Tsar, as well as Russias

    high casualty rate in World War One had led to the collapse of autocracy. The Duma, which had

    pressed for gradual liberalization of the country, was headed mostly by the Octobrists and the

    Kadets, the center-right political parties. This was by design, as the electorate had been severely

    restricted so that only those two parties could win a majority. They were tasked with preparing the

    country for national elections and the Constituent Assembly. This would require granting full

    freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion, and equality to all citizens.[2]

    However, there was another body claiming power as well, the Soviet. They claimed to represent the

    peasants and workers interests. They provided services for workers and sailors. This Dual Power

    created a complex system of authority that did not function efficiently. The Provisional Government

    might have had authority, but it was unclear whether or not they had power. Whether or not the

    population would follow them was not known. The Soviet, on the other hand, held true sway with

    the workers and peasants.

    The soviets were formed as workers councils, and were made up of both common people and the

    intelligentsia. They worked to secure rights for workers and after March 1917, they sought to

    protect the gains made by the first Revolution. The Petrograd Soviet was the head of a nationwide

    network of soviets that were located throughout Russia. Far more radical than the Duma, they were

    composed mostly of Socialist Revolutionaries and Social-Democrats.[3] The Petrograd Soviet also

    included many of the soldiers stationed in the citys garrison and sailors stationed at the nearby

    naval base of Kronstadt.

    At first the soviets and the Provisional Government coexisted rather peacefully and the Petrograd

    Soviet approved of the new governments policies. However, as time went on, they began to fight

  • 7/29/2019 Why Did the Russian Provisional Government Fail in 1917


    for control over the military and foreign policy. Order Number 1, issued by the Petrograd Soviets

    army section, authorized army units to elect soldiers to represent them in the soviets. It also stated

    that army units did not have to obey orders given by the Government unless those orders were

    approved by the Soviet first.[4]

    In 1917 the majority of the Russian Army was made up of peasants, who were confused as to what

    exactly they were fighting for. With no clear motivation to fight or stake in victory, they made a poor

    fighting force. While many of the soldiers continued to fight on the Front, they were more loyal to

    the soviets than the Provisional Government. This was because the soviets were calling for the

    nationalization of land. It seemed to most of the peasantry that the soviets were fighting for their

    interests while the Provisional Government was simply continuing the policies of autocracy.

    The new government felt it had to fulfill its obligations to the Allies and continue the war and fight

    for lasting peace through victory. The Provisional Government was immediately recognized by the

    Allied forces. Secret treaties signed by the government implemented a new expansionist war policy,

    hoping to gain territory in the Ukraine and Austria-Hungary. The soviets protested this by calling for

    the European workers to overthrow their governments and achieve a just and democratic peace

    without annexations and indemnities. [5]

    In April of 1917 Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolsheviks, returned to Russia from exile in Switzerland.

    His new tactic was no confidence or support to the new government, primarily because they were

    continuing the War. In time, he would sway most of the Bolshevik leadership to his line of thinking.

    In his April Theses, published shortly after his return, he denounced any cooperation with the new

    government. Lenin states, the war on Russias part remains a predatory imperialist war.[6] Due

    to this fact, the soviets must not support the ongoing war and must completely break off any

    support for the Provisional Government.

    Later in the Theses, Lenin explains, It must be explained to the masses that the Soviet of Workers

    Deputies is the only possible form of revolutionary governmenttherefore, our task is, while this

    government is submitting to the influence of the bourgeoisie, to present apersistent analysis of its

    errors and tactics[7] No support for the Provisional Government and All Power to The Soviets!

    were the two principles of the April Theses. While not a majority in the Soviet yet, the Bolsheviks

    were gaining influence.

    While the Provisional Government was preoccupied with winning the War, the countrys economic

    and social problems began to grow worse. In three [domestic] areas in particular the governmentsresponse was found wanting: the nationality question, the agrarian crisis, and industrial relations.

    Russia had been a large, multiethnic empire and now the various nationalities were demanding

    autonomy. Disagreements about how to handle the nationality question led to the fall of Lvovs

    government on July 15. [8]

    The second pressing domestic issue, the agrarian crisis, was growing worse with time. Immediately

    after the Tsars abdication, and in the power vacuum that followed, peasants began seizing the land

    of nobles in the countryside. Many peasant soldiers deserted their posts to go back home and

    participate in the land grabbing. The Provisional Government, fearful of even more peasants

  • 7/29/2019 Why Did the Russian Provisional Government Fail in 1917


    deserting the army, refused to implement any sort of land reform. Their inaction made the problem

    worse because now the peasantry had no reason to support the new government.

    The third domestic issue was that of industrial relations which had been an ongoing problem for

    some time. As Russia began to industrialize in the early 1900s, the population of industrial workers,

    especially in Petrograd and Moscow, exploded. Most of the manufacturing was centered on these

    two cities. Low wages, inflation, lack of work, lack of adequate housing and food was making life

    increasingly harsh for the factory workers. In industry workers began to organize factory

    committees to defend themselves and to keep the factories open in the fact of economic disruption

    and lockouts.[9]

    One reason that the Provisional Government did not settle many of these domestic issues was

    because they wanted to wait for the Constituent Assembly. Realizing that most of the people would

    only accept the legitimacy of a government elected by that assembly, they put off many issues until

    it could be convened. It was scheduled to open in January 1918.

    Alexander Kerensky emerged as the new leader of the Provisional Government after Lvovs exit.

    Kerensky was a moderate socialist who believed that the goal of the new government was to finish

    the agenda set by autocracy.[10] He was the only person to be involved in both the leadership of the

    soviet and the Provisional Government and it put him in a precarious position. While the Soviet had

    forbid any of its members in participating in the new government, they made an exception for


    In July 1917, a failed Bolshevik uprising led to the imprisonment of most of the partys leadership

    and Lenin once again fled the country, this time to Finland. It appeared as though the Bolsheviks

    were now eliminated as a threat to the Provisional Government. However, a chain of events wouldsoon see them released.

    On August 26 General L.G. Kornilov of the military high command called for the surrender of the

    Provisional Government. In place of that government he planned to install a military

    dictatorship.[11] It is unclear whether or not Kornilov himself would have headed this government,

    but it was a threat nonetheless. He threatened to have his troops march on Petrograd, if the

    Provisional Governmen