The abdication of Czar Nicholas II in March 1917 meant power in Russia passed to a newly-formed provisional government, led by Alexander Kerensky. The provisional government’s members came from the Duma, or Russian parliament, but their period in government lasted only eight months. On October 24, 1917, Bolshevik troops stormed the Winter Palace in Russian capital city Petrograd and arrested the provisional government. Seventy-four years of Communist rule had begun.
From the start, the provisional government found itself handicapped by the presence of the Petrograd Soviet. The provisional government had to share power with this left-wing grouping, which boasted that its members would not recognize the authority of any other organization. The provisional government’s attempts to increase political freedom in Russia only strengthened the Soviet position, since Bolshevik leaders like Vladimir Lenin were able to spread their political ideas across Russia. The influence of the Soviet was such that the period of the provisional government is sometimes referred to as the “Dual government.”
World War I
World War I was a key factor in removing the Czar from power and it also played a crucial role in the fall of the provisional government. Ordinary Russians were fed up with war and the decision of the provisional government to continue to fight was unpopular, both at home and in the trenches. Fifteen million Russians were serving in the army and 1.7 million had been killed since 1914, while five million more had been wounded. An unsuccessful military assault on Austria in June 1917 led to millions of soldiers deserting.
Conditions at Home
The overthrow of the Czar had not altered any of the immediate difficulties facing Russian society, argues Roger Marwick of the University of Newcastle, Australia. Russians still faced food and fuel shortages and unemployment, while Russian society desperately needed land reform. The left-wing Soviets were able to use these issues to criticize the provisional government, arguing that they should be doing more to improve the lives of ordinary Russians.
Rebellion and Revolt
Matters came to a head in August, when an attempted coup, led by General Lavr Kornilov, failed. The historical evidence is unclear, but it appears provisional leader Kerensky tricked Kornilov into sending troops into Petrograd to quell a Bolshevik uprising, then accused him of treason against the government and had him arrested. His ruse failed: the Kornilov affair lost Kerensky the support of the army officers, while the role the Bolsheviks played in defending Petrograd against Kornilov won them widespread support. When the Petrograd Soviet seized power in October, it met with little resistance.
- BBC History: War and Revolution in Russia, 1914-1921
- BBC: Higher Bitesize History, The Causes of the October Revolution 4
- BBC: GCSE Bitesize History, Russia, Provisional Government and its Problems 1
- BBC: Higher Bitesize History, The Causes of the October Revolution 1
- University of Newcastle, Australia: Humanities and Social Science, The 1917 Russian Revolution
- BBC: GCSE Bitesize History, Russia, Provisional Government and its Problems 2
- Encyclopedia Britannica: USSR, Lenin and the Bolsheviks
- BBC: Higher Bitesize History, The Causes of the October Revolution 3
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images