The Provisional Government came into being on March 14th 1917. Based in the capital, Petrograd, the Provisional Government was first led by Rodzyanko and was formed in response to the fear that the old tsarist government in Petrograd would call in frontline troops to put down the rebellion that had occurred in the city. When Grand Duke Michael refused to take on the crown after the abdication of Nicholas II, the Provisional Government became the de facto government in Russia. Government ministers had sworn an oath of loyalty to Nicholas. Now that the royal family was no longer in existence, these men had no authority.
The Provisional Government was to last for 8 months. It was immediately recognised as the legitimate government of Russia by the Allies – not necessarily because they approved of the collapse of the Romanovs, but because they needed the Russians to keep open the Eastern Front so that the German Army was split and thus weakened. The Provisional Government kept Russia in the war – this was to be a huge error of judgement.
Within Russia, the Provisional Government ‘inherited’ a dire situation. The Duma had always been a chamber for discussion but it had never been in a position to make policy and then carry it out. The old established props of the tsarist regime, such as the civil service, crumbled away. The Provisional Government had a few competent people in it but not many. Laws were passed that seem to promise a new era for Russia – universal suffrage was introduced, Poland was given its independence, all people were declared equal and all government officials had to be elected by the people. But none of these got to grips with the immediate problems that Russia was experiencing and the leaders of the Provisional Government argued amongst themselves as to the way ahead.
This lack of unity led to Rodzyanko resigning. Prince Lvov replaced him. Lvov clashed with Kerensky over the issue of land being given to the peasants and he resigned in May. Kerensky became leader of the Provisional Government in July.
By now, Lenin had returned to Petrograd. Though the Bolsheviks were not the biggest political party in Petrograd, they had a leader who had a very clear idea as to what was needed. Lenin called for land to be given to the peasants, an end to the war, complete power to the soviets and bread for the workers in the cities.
Kerensky offered the people Russia’s continued participation in the war and no land deals for the peasants. In September, the Bolsheviks won a majority on the Petrograd Soviet. The rise in their power could only be at the expense of Kerensky’s power. In a last ditch effort to save his position and weaken that of Lenin’s, Kerensky issued a decree that called for an election to a constituent assembly, which would meet in January 1918. Lenin had no guarantee that the Bolsheviks would win this election. This pushed him into seizing power in November.