Why was the Russian Provisional government of 1917 Essay Example
Why was the Russian Provisional government of 1917 Essay Example

Why was the Russian Provisional government of 1917 Essay Example

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  • Pages: 9 (2237 words)
  • Published: December 15, 2017
  • Type: Essay
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As Trotsky once said 'war is the locomotive of change'. In a `purely metaphorical sense it was the long standing 'social `war', waged by generations of Russians against poverty, `bureaucracy, autocracy and finally mediocrity, which for a `brief moment was triumphant in February 1917. However, it was `the very real, and very bloody, war on the eastern front which `served as the catalyst for revolution and sounded the death `knell for the 300 year old Romanov throne.

The economy was in `chaos, throughout the empire people were short of food and `fuel, due to widespread strikes the communications system was paralysed and industry at a virtual standstill. When the `population of Petrograd took to the streets, with the full `support of the military garrison, the Tsar was effectively `finished. When the Tsar abdicated it fell to the leading members of the `Duma, headed by Prince


Lvov, to form a provisional government `until a Constitutional Assembly could be elected which would `then express the desires of the nation.

The Provisional `government, in its brief eight month tenure, tried to reflect `the political make-up of Russia by adopting ministers from a `broad political spectrum, it was eventually dominated by the centre Socialist Revolutionaries led by Alexander kerensky. The `failure by Kerensky's government to establish strong links with `either the peasants, the military or the urban workers led to `its early demise reminiscent of the downfall of the Tsar: `massive indiffference tinged with contempt.

In this essay we `will examine the relationship between the Provisional government `the peasants, the military and the urban proletariat. And then `go on to explore the possibility that it was perhaps `unreasonable to expect any semblance

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of liberal-democratic `government to function in Russia at that time, given the institutionalised autocracy of the past 300 years and the `disparate nationalities that made up the Russian empire. `"Give us an organization of revolutionaries and we will turn `Russia upside down. All power to the Soviets".

This was the uncompromising doctrine adopted by the Bolsheviks `which eventually led to them resting control of the workers `councils from the Mensheviks and the SR's, enabling Trotsky `to fashion a military force from the Soviets capable of `toppling the Provisional government The Councils of Workers and Soldiers Deputies were `reconstituted in Moscow and Petrograd immediately following the February Revolution, this example was quickly copied by both `the peasantry and the soldiers serving at the Front.

The `emergence of an alternative form of government throughout the `urban area's of Russia seriously hampered the Provisional `governments freedom of action. Without the acquiscience of the `prestigious Moscow and Petrograd Soviets, who controlled `transport, communications and the military garrisons, `implementation of government policy was virtually impossible. `Indeed total power was offered to the Soviets on numerous `occasions by a population eager to be rid of an ineffectual `government.

However, this generous offer was repeatedly `rejected by the ideologically fastidious Mensheviks and SR's, `who believed that the Revolution had to pass through the `bourgois stage before reaching its inevitable socialist `conclusion. The growth of the political and military clout of the Soviets, `concomitant with the radicalization of the urban working class, `sprang directly from the continuing disintegration of the economy. When the proletariats expectations of an immediate improvement `in living and working conditions failed to materialise, their `bitter disillusionment centred on the Provisional government who

became synonymous with the hated factory owner. The spring `and summer months in Petrograd were characterised by lock-outs, `strikes and mounting violence culminating in the 'July Days' `when it semed that kerensky and his cabinet must fall. However, `the timely introduction of loyal officers and troops from the `front line together with a crackdown on the subversive `activities of Bolsheviks gave the Provisional government a new `lease of life.

The failure of the Provisional government to consolidate its `power in the major cities dealt a serious blow to its `credibility. The Soviets remained a powerful form of alternative authority and the continued animosity between the `working and capitalist classes was threatening the post- `revolution consensus. Underpinning all of this was the economic `dislocation caused by the war effort, further complicated by the `intransigence of the peasantry. Between 1861 and 1913 the agricultural population of Russia had `more than doubled, however, the land available to the peasants had `only increased by about 50%.

This would explain the peasants `overwhelming desire for land. As one peasant put it "the land must `belong to those who work it with their hands, to those whose sweat `flows. " [Hoskins,P. 37] The peasants supported the Provisional Government only as long as `they thought it advocated wholesale and speedy land reform. `Therefore, when it became obvious that the government was only `prepared to set up land committee's to oversee gradual change, the `peasants soon took matters into their own hands and occupied the `land by force.

This growing disrespect for property rights was `further enflamed by the break up of the army, as the soldiers `returned home to their villages they brought with them

their `rifles and news of land seizures in other areas. The government `was powerless to arrest the drift towards anarchy in the countryside, which was wrecking the economy and undermining the `war effort. All the government could do was appeal to the `peasants sense of duty and patriotism, as in this address by `Chernov the minister of agriculture: "The settlement of `agricultural disputes by local action cannot be tolerated... uch `arbitrary acts are bound to lead to national disaster. " [Thompson, `P. 76] The peasants simply ignored these entreaties and during the `summer and autumn months began to cut themselves off from the `money economy and trade with the cities. The Provisional `government was of course unable to force the peasants to give up their produce, a fact which only served to heighten the tension in `the towns and cities as the bread supply began to run out. `With hindsight it is very easy to criticize the Provisional `governments policies with regard to the peasants.

By not acceding `to the wishes of the peasantry they not only failed to form a `powerbase in the countryside but alienated the majority of the `population. However, the Provisional government was not a cohesive `political unit, it had to balance the wishes of the SR's for `radical land reform against the liberals respect for the sanctity `of private property, and of course the collective ideological conviction that major policy decisions should be left until the `election of the Constituent Assembly.

All of these factors `contributed to their increasing unpopularity with the peasants: `their officials were met with mistrust and their demands with `resentment. As far as the rural soviets were concerned

the `Provisional government was a government in name only. `On the eve of revolution in February 1917 the Russian army `consisted of over six million men plus many hundreds of thousands `in the garrison towns. The Russian troops had proved more than a `match for the Austro-Hungarians, but not the Germans, and the horrendous supply problems seemed to have been overcome by the `prodigious industrial effort of 1916.

The War, like the Tsar, was `not popular but there was a grim determination not to cede any `more of the motherland to the hated German enemy. In a few short `months, however, the army, demoralized and disaffected, began to `break up and the most important power base remaining was supremely `ambivalent to the fate of the Provisional government. `The Petrograd garrison was instrumental in the success of the `February revolution. This fact, plus their military strength at `the very heart of the empire, was reflected in their power on the Soviet and the subsequent adoption of Order No 1 which rapidly `spread throughout the army.

In essence, this meant that military `discipline need only be maintained during close combat operations. `Naturally, this was anathema to the High Command and upper echelon `officers who felt that the successful prosecution of the war lay `in iron discipline and supreme sacrifice, preferably not their `own. However, the fact of the matter remained that the two self `interest groups in the army: soldiers and officers had got what `they wanted, but not from the Provisional government.

The soldiers councils were encouraged to view the All Russian Soviet as the `arbiter of supreme power, while the conservative wing of the army `soon became disillusioned

in May when the reformed cabinet, in an `attempt to respond to public opinion, announced a revision of war `aims... peace without annexations or indemnities. The events of April and May changed the political nature of the `Provisional government and had the curious consequence of `alienating the government from two ideologically opposed groups at `the same time.

The Army High Command regarded the new ministers as `too socialist, while the increasingly radical soviets regarded them as too bourgeois. Alexander Kerensky, a moderate socialist, `was installed at the war ministry and immediately began to whip up `support for a major offensive in order to restore morale and `resuscitate the war effort. The offensive was launched in July `and, initially, was a huge success making great gains against the `Austrians in Galicia. The Germans, however, rushed reinforcements `to the Austrian sector and the offensive quickly turned into a `rout.

The effects of this crushing defeat were twofold: the army `began to disintegrate concomitant with evermore strident calls for `peace from the civilian population. And the Army High Command `blamed the soviets for the disaster, regarding them as a cancer `eating away at the heart of the army. `By the end of the July Kerensky had become Primeminister and was `still committed to the war. His government hung on during the `'July Days', when the soviets again rejected power, and was saved `when loyal troops arrived in the capital to restore order and `neutralise the Bolsheviks.

The next crisis to hit the government `was the attempted counterrevolution by General Kornilov which `effectively polarized public opinion and sheared away the last `vestiges of popular support left to Kerensky, opening the way to

the revival of the Bolsheviks and the subsequent civil war. `Kornilov, the supreme commander of armed forces, mobilised a force `of cossacks and specialist divisions with the avowed aim of `destroying the soviets and restoring discipline in the rear. The `military coup was ill thought and ill advised and the right wing `support envisaged by Kornilov never materialised.

Kerensky `appealed to the Soviet to protect the capital and save the `revolution. However, the Red Guards and the military garrison were `never needed as the soldiers of Kornilov's army responded to the `entreaties of their comrades to lay down their arms and join the revolution. The abortive coup severely damaged the Provisional `government as it ended Kerensky's drift towards the right and `alienated the officer corps. The soviets suspected the government of `having secret negotiations with Kornilov and were henceforth extremely `wary of any dealings with them.

As September led into October and `the politcal fall-out of the counterrevolution subsided, it began to `be become clear that the "radicalization of right and left was such `that Kerensky, once the fulcrum of Russian politics, was reduced to `an impotent refugee marooned on a tiny island of moderation. `[Kochan,P. 291] `So far, all the explanations put forward for the early demise of the `Provisional government have emphasised the short run costs of `neglecting to cement close relations with any of the important `power groups.

However, there are good reasons to suspect that `certain long term trends in Russian society made it difficult for `any type of liberal-democratic government to survive in any `circumstances. Apart from the centrifugal forces in operation, with `many of the disparate nationalities demanding autonomy and `threatening to

tear the Russian empire apart, was the fact that, due to the nature and longevity of the previous autocratic regime, a `sizeable middle class had never evolved in Russia.

The middle- `classes had often acted as a stabilizing influence in many other `european countries, but in Russia "the elites of town and country `were often not even strong enough to act as transmission belts for `orders from above, in their absence the governments intentions often `petered out ineffectually in the vast expanses of the landscape. " `[Hosking,P. 20] It is quite posiible that without the adverse affects `of the First World War the Provisional government could have evolved into a party which was capable of reconciling the widely differnt `aims of the peasants, the workers and the bourgeoisie.

But, it is `also quite possible that the common ground, esential for consensual `government, was missing. Therefore, the natural sequence of events `would have indicated a strong central government emerging, having `to exercise totalitarian control in order to avoid short term chaos. In many respects the policies and ministers of the Provisional `government were admirable and the adherence to their ideological `convictions commendable. But there was a growing need in Russia for radical policies to combat radical problems.

The formation of a `national government simply led to a collection of self-interest `groups with no interest in each other. The continued prosecution of `the war led to the radicalization of the Russian population and was `incompatible with the expectations of the vast majority of people, `who above all wanted peace, bread, land and freedom. "As in the `February revolution the government was in part the engine of its own `destruction. Not

much of a push from the Bolsheviks was needed; the `Provisional government collapsed as much as it was toppled. "

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