The Provisional Government
The Provisional Government is the name given to the government that led Russia from March 1917 toNovember 1917. Throughout its existence, the Provisional Government met at the Tauride Palace. By July it was led by Alexander Kerensky – the man who had informed the Duma on March 11th that 25,000 troops were on the way to support them.
The Provisional Government had one major disadvantage: its leaders – especially Kerensky – were associated with the middle class. They were not seen as having anything in common with the working class, therefore, how could they possibly represent them?
The Provisional Government also committed two huge blunders:
1. It refused to give land to the poor peasants in the rural areas. This seemed to confirm the point above – that the Provisional Government did not understand the desires of the poor. To survive the peasants needed land and this was refused by Kerensky.
2. By far, the biggest blunder was the decision taken by the Provisional Government to keep Russia in World War One. This was a curious decision as the war was hated by the Russian people who had suffered greatly as a result of it.
The Provisional Government had to overcome two challenges to its authority : one was called the July Days and the other was the Kornilov Affair.
The July Days : the Russians continued to do badly in the war, food remained scarce and what food there was proved to be too expensive for many. Soldiers and sailors took to the streets of Petrograd in July 1917 and they were soon joined by workers in the factories. Riots occurred on July 16th and 17th against the Provisional Government. The government brought in troops loyal to it and they ended the riots. Lenin had returned to Russia in April 1917, and he was blamed by the government for starting these riots. In fact, he had little to do with it, but it proved a useful lever for the Provisional Government as they despised Lenin. False evidence was produced that proved that Lenin was working for the German government and the people in Petrograd turned on the communists. Lenin had to flee to Finland while others were not so lucky. In July 1917, it seemed that the Communists were still a long way from taking over the government.
The Kornilov Affair : this was lead by a right wing army officer called Lavr Kornilov. He wanted the government to deal much more harshly with the communists. He basically felt that the Provisional Government was too soft and that it should go. He was supported by many other army officers. Kornilov demanded that all socialists and communists should be arrested – Kerensky refused to do this as he did not want to be seen to be weak. If anybody was going to order arrests it was Kerensky and not anybody else.
Kornilov gathered troops together and marched on Petrograd. They were faced with those soldiers who had deserted the army and 20,000 Red Guards. This was a new force created by the workers of Petrograd to defend the city. With this type of force opposing him, Kornilov did not stand a chance and the attempted take over failed.
While it may appear that Kerensky came out of this well, the real winners were the communists. The Red Guards were credited with saving the city and the workers who formed the Red Guards were sympathetic to the communists. In fact, many were communists. Ironically, the man who gained most from this was not even in Russia as Lenin was still in Finland. But it was only a matter of time. Kerensky had lost a lot of support and his power base was rapidly disappearing. But Lenin’s preparations had to be perfect.
He had to strongly rely on the Petrograd Soviet. This was a group of workers and soldiers who had formed in 1917. Soviets were rather like councils. They had been made illegal by Nicholas in 1906 but he no longer had any power and they had re-formed after he abdicated in March 1917. The Petrograd Soviet had supporters in the railway service (so they could stop trains if they wished) and the banks (so they could stop the flow of money if they wished). The Soviet was made up of workers and it hated the Provisional Government as it was made up of middle class men. The workers in Petrograd were in the majority and it was these people who supported The Petrograd Soviet.