Reasons for the failure of the Provisional Government under Kerensky

The Provisional Government was set up in February 1917 to govern Russia. It was to eventually collapse in October when the Bolsheviks took power. It failed for a number of reasons:


The Provisional Government issued a number of reforms after February:

  • they abolished the Okhrana
  • they removed Tsarist Governors
  • they also allowed freedom of speech
  • they abolished the death penalty
  • they released political prisoners
  • they gave an amnesty to opponents of the Tsar

Although many of these changes were popular, they also made it easier for enemies of the provisional government to criticise them. There was little the government could do to prevent it.


As a provisional government it was only supposed to be a temporary measure until elections could be held for a Constituent Assembly. This meant that it lacked any real legitimacy and was often ignored. Failure to set a date for the elections also caused people to complain.

Dual power

The Provisional Government could not make decisions on their own. They had to share power with the Soviet. Indeed, the assembly of workers and soldiers deputies had more influence over many areas of everyday life. They controlled the railway, postal and telegraph services. This meant the Provisional Government had to listen to the Soviet.

A key example of this power was Order No. 1. It stated:

  • committees were to be elected to replace officers and control weapons and equipment
  • officers were not to be saluted
  • all soldiers and sailors were to obey the Soviet

This had an impact on the discipline of the army. Soldiers refused to obey orders and large numbers simply went home. This was particularly true of those from the countryside who wanted to take advantage of the disorder to seize land. The result was that there were very few troops who could be relied on to follow orders.

The main reasons for dissatisfaction with the Provisional Government concerned its failure to tackle three main issues:

  • continuation of the War
  • demands for land
  • economic and social problems facing the population

Continuation of the War

The Provisional Government felt it had to continue the war. It relied on loans and investment from Britain and France. It was afraid this would be withdrawn if Russia pulled out of the war.

The Government was afraid of the demands that the Germans might make if Russia asked for peace.

Some such as Alexander Kerensky (Prime Minister July to October 1917) believed that a victorious war would unite the people behind the Government.

The decision to continue the war was unpopular. In April 1917 the Government sent a note to the allies telling them they would continue in the war. The note suggested that Russia should be rewarded with land from Turkey in the event of a victory. This led to demonstrations and disorder. Many were unhappy because it appeared that the Provisional Government was no different to the Tsar's Government. The Foreign Minister who sent the note was forced to resign and order was restored by the Soviet.

In June 1917 a new Russian offensive failed with heavy casualties. Desertion quickly increased and the lack of discipline resulted in its disintegration.

Demands for land

The Government wanted to leave discussion of this issue until after elections. This caused the peasants to become unhappy with the authorities. It also ignored reality. After February 1917 the peasant had simply taken the land. The land seizures also encouraged many peasants to desert from the army. They were afraid they would miss out.

Economic and social problems facing the population

There were continued shortages of food in the cities throughout 1917. Food riots were common as the price of food rose much faster than wages.

The failure to tackle the major problems meant that the Provisional Government lost support. The Kornilov revolt meant it was relying on its enemies, the Red Guards, to defend it. By the autumn of 1917 few people were prepared to fight to defend Kerensky and his minsters.

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