Why did the Provisional Government last for only 8 months, March–November 1917

(Government That’s Provisional Will Be Killed)



The Provisional Government's main mistake was to carry on the war.   The burden proved disastrous as it tried to face the threat of the Bolshevik Communists, who  were working through the Soviets to bring down the government.



The Provisional Government

What was a 'soviet'?


   What Problems faced the Provisional Government, and how successful was it in dealing with them?

The Provisional Government


The February Revolution was a popular uprising which brought the middle class to power.   The Duma took over the government, and it set up a ‘provisional government’ – a temporary 12-man executive led by Alexander Kerensky.   It was a moderate government, and – although faced by difficult problems – it tried to rule Russia in a way which was not too revolutionary.




Events of the Provisional Government

March     The Provisional Government was faced by massive problems (inflation, hunger, peasant riots, war, Bolshevik and Tsarist revolutionaries).

                  The Petrograd Soviet issued Order No. 1 – workers and soldiers must obey the Provisional Government only if the Soviet agrees.    However, the Soviets were still controlled by the Mensheviks (moderate Communists).  

April       The German government smuggled the Bolshevik leader Lenin back into Russia.   He published his manifesto: the ‘April Theses’.  

June        Failure of the June military offensive against Austria.  

July         Bolshevik riots – the July Days – were defeated, but the Bolshevik Party was not banned.  

August   General Kornilov revolted, but was defeated by the Bolsheviks. 

Sept        The Bolsheviks (extremist Communists) took over the Petrograd Soviet (Trotsky became its President).

6–7 Nov  (24–25 October old style) Bolshevik Revolution.



1.   Which was the biggest problem facing the Provisional Government?

2.   You may get asked what the 'weaknesses' of the provisional government were.   Just change a few words to present the 'problems' as 'weaknesses'.   Can you do this?

3.   Which was the turning point in the fortunes of the Bolsheviks - the time when their success became likely?



Problems of the Provisional Government   


Problems/ Weaknesses





The Petrograd Soviet was very powerful – it built up a nation-wide network of Soviets which took their orders from it.

Order Number 1 forbade soldiers and workers to obey the provisional Government unless the Soviet agreed.

       (ie the govt. was powerless to act unless the Soviet agreed.)  



The Provisional Government did nothing to try to end the power of the Soviets.  


Terrible conditions

Inflation and hunger got worse because the war didn’t end.

       (ie the people stayed angry.)  



The Provisional Government didn’t manage to end the food shortages or inflation.  



Started taking the nobles land.

       (ie anarchy in the countryside.)  


The Provisional Government sent troops to take back the land.   This made the peasants very angry  




The Provisional Government tried to continue the war.   It attacked Austria in June 1917, but after initial successes, the Germans moved in and the Russians were defeated.   Soldiers deserted. There was a naval mutiny

       (ie the war was a disaster.)  



The Provisional Government set up ‘death squads’ to execute deserters. This made things worse – by October 1917, soldiers were deserting, going home, killing the landlords, and taking land.  



Lenin returned and published his plans for Russia: the ‘April Theses’ (‘Peace, Bread, Land’; ‘all power to the Soviets’; state ownership of factories and banks).

They tried to take over the government by rioting in the ‘July Days’.

      (ie government under attack)  


The Provisional Government allowed freedom of speech and the press, and released political prisoners

After the July Days, the Provisional Government arrested the leaders, but let the Bolshevik Party continue.

This HELPED the Bolsheviks.  




Kornilov tried a right-wing/ pro-Tsar army coup in August 1917.

      (ie government under attack)  



The Provisional Government had no control of the army and had to ask the Bolsheviks to help it.   This made the government seem weak AND made the Bolsheviks popular (they took control of the Soviets).



Source A

In the introduction to these units I quoted Hannah Arendt's 'noteworthy fact' that we do not expect governments to survive defeat in modern war.   Defeat worsened the problems created by the war: it undermined the authorities' faith in themselves; it undermined the military, the last line of defence of the government...   Kerensky was unable to establish and maintain control in Russia arguably because of his determination to continue the war in the teeth of popular hostility, and because of his inability to provide land for the peasants and food for the population as a whole.

Clive Emsley and David Englander, The Russian and German Revolutions (1990)

Emsley and Englander were writing the textbook for the Open University course: War, Peace and Social Change.   Hannah Arendt, writing in 1963, had claimed: 'we almost automatically expect that no government will be strong enough to survive defeat in war', and that revolutionary change was 'among the most certain consequences' of defeat in modern war.   Emsley and Englander were applying her theory to the Russian Revolution.


Source B

The Provisional Government ... had many weaknesses:

  1. It was made up of too many political groups - it was hard for them to agree on policies.

  2. It wanted to leave most decisions until the new government was elected, even the redistribution of land that the peasants wanted.   This made the Provisional Government look even weaker...

  3. It decided to go on fighting the war...

  4. The Petrograd Soviet ... was well organised and had clear aims...

Tony Hewitt and Jane Shuter, Modern World History (2001)

Hewitt and Shuter were writing a simplified textbook for less able pupils doing GCSE History.