Internal Divisions and Crises

Inter-Revolutionary Events

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Ben Whitten

Learning Objectives


The Provisional Government

Establishment of Provisional Government

  • The Provisional Government was formed on March 1st, 1917 following the February Revolution – it meant to be a temporary body that would govern Russia in place of the Tsar until elections

  • The Provisional Government was unelected unlike the Petrograd Soviet – many saw it as a dictatorial body of upper-class citizens

  • Elections were delayed and the Provisional Government was in power until later in the year

  • The Provisional Government took major decisions – Russia continued its military action in WWI and land reforms were postponed – both rulings greatly affected Russians

  • This made the government increasingly unpopular and provided ammunition for revolutionaries who called for its dissolution

Establishment of the Soviets

  • The Soviets were councils elected by workers, soldiers and sailors

  • After the February Revolution, the first Soviet appeared in Petrograd – soon Soviets had been elected in Moscow and other cities

  • They were usually chaotic, rowdy and disorganised – but they were elected unlike the Provisional Government

  • Lenin declared “all power to the Soviets” implying that the Soviets should govern Russia in place of the Provisional Government – this became an extremely effective Bolshevik rallying cry

Dual power

  • The existence of both the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet meant that power was shared – the Petrograd Soviet accepted that the Provisional Government would make decisions for Russia until elections could be held

  • The existence of two political bodies increased potential for political disagreement – this was especially the case as the two bodies held polar views

  • The Provisional Government consisted of Octoberists and Kadets – they only wanted moderate changes to the government of Russia

  • The Petrograd Soviet was made up of Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks – they wanted to give power to the working classes

Economic Problems

-  Economic difficulties had played a major role in Nicholas II’s fall from power – the Provisional Government had very limited success in dealing with these problems

-  The price of goods continued to increase

-  Food was in short supply

-  Fuel shortages made living conditions unbearable, especially during harsh Russian winter

-  The government could not guarantee enough grain, ammunition or weapons for troops fighting in the war

-  The government did not try to solve the land issue in the countryside and the desire of peasants for more control of land was not met

-  As a result, seizures of land from landowners became widespread

-  The continuing economic crisis discredited the Provisional Government and strengthened the appeal of the Bolsheviks

Continuation of War

The Russian people wanted the war to come to an end, however the Provisional Government decided to continue Russia’s involvement – they feared that foreign investment from Britain and France would cease in the event of a Russian withdrawal

-  In March 1917, the Petrograd Soviet declared that it would no longer support an offensive war against Germany

The June Offensive

-  The Provisional Government persisted with military campaigns

-  Alexander Kerensky, Minister of War, ordered the June Offensive of 1917, an attempt to push the Austrians back

-  This failed and contributed to protests during July

-  The morale of the army declined further and there were huge increases in the level of desertions

-  The Soldiers became more receptive to Bolshevik propaganda and the loyal of a number of units to the Provisional Government was now uncertain

The Petrograd Soviet

The July Days

-  Following the failure of the June Offensive morale in the army fell rapidly – increasing number of soldiers deserted and other lost their loyalty to the government

-  Shortages continued and there was widespread unrest in Petrograd between the 3rd and 6th of July

-  Sailors from Kronstadt protested in the city, soldiers joined them – soon thousands of protesters awaited instructions from the Petrograd Soviet and the Bolsheviks

-  There was little in the form of direction from Socialist Revolutionaries – Lenin did not take advantage of the situation, perhaps because only small numbers of soldiers and sailors actively supported the Bolsheviks

-  The uprising was suppressed by loyal troops who were brought in by the Provisional Government

-  A number of Bolshevik leaders, including Trotsky, were arrested – Lenin fled to Finland

The Kornilov Revolt

-  In August 1917, Lavr Kornilov, a Russian General, made an attempt to seize power for himself

-  His army advanced on Petrograd – the Provisional Government, now under the leadership of Alexander Kerensky, seemed powerless to stop him

-  Kerensky called on the Petrograd Soviet to defend the city – this meant arming the Soviet, a move that would not be easy to reverse

-  Under Trotsky’s direction, the Red Guards organised the defence of the city – Bolshevik agents infiltrated Kornilov’s troops and encouraged them to desert

-  The Bolsheviks also organised strikes by railway workers, disrupting Kornilov’s supplies and communications

-  By the end of the month, Kornilov had been relieved of his command and put under arrest

-  An important result of the Kornilov Revolt was a marked increase in support for the Bolsheviks – they were seen to have saved the revolution from a loyal Tsarist general

-  By September, the Bolsheviks had gained control of the Petrograd Soviet