Reasons for Bolshevik success

Economic difficulties

Economic difficulties had played a major role in Nicholas II's fall from power. The Provisional Government had failed to address these same problems.

  • The price of goods continued to increase
  • Food was in short supply
  • Fuel shortages made living conditions unbearable, especially during the harsh Russian winter
  • The government could not guarantee enough grain, ammunition or weapons for troops fighting in the war.

The government did not to solve the land issue in the countryside and the desire of peasants for control of more land was not met. As a result seizures of land from landowners became widespread.

The continuing economic crisis discredited the Provisional Government and strengthened the appeal of the Bolsheviks.

Continuation of the war

The Russian people wanted the war to come to an end. However, the Provisional Government decided to continue Russia’s involvement. They feared that foreign investment from Britain and France would cease in the event of a Russian withdrawal.

In March, 1917, the Petrograd Soviet declared that it would no longer support an offensive war against Germany.

The June Offensive

The Provisional Government persisted with military campaigns. Alexander Kerensky, Minister of War, ordered the June Offensive of 1917, an attempt to push the Austrians back. However this failed and contributed to protests during July.

The morale of the army declined further and there were huge increases in the level of desertions. The soldiers became more interested in Bolshevik policies and the loyalty of a number of units to the Provisional Government was now uncertain.

The Petrograd Soviet

The July Days

Man holding rifle, with clenched fist in air, addresses crowd of factory workers
Factory workers are urged to support the Petrograd Soviet

Following the failure of the June Offensive morale in the army fell rapidly. Increasing numbers of soldiers deserted. Others lost their loyalty to the government.

Shortages continued and there was widespread unrest in Petrograd between the 3rd and 6th of July. Sailors from Kronstadt protested in the city. Soldiers joined them. Soon thousands of protesters awaited instructions from the Petrograd Soviet and the Bolsheviks.

However, there was little in the form of direction from Socialist Revolutionaries. Lenin did not take advantage of the situation, perhaps because only small numbers of soldiers and sailors actively supported the Bolsheviks.

The uprising was suppressed by loyal troops who were brought in by the Provisional Government. A number of Bolshevik leaders, including Trotsky, were arrested. Lenin fled to Finland.

The Kornilov Revolt

In August 1917, Lavr Kornilov, a Russian General, made an attempt to seize power for himself. His army advanced on Petrograd. The Provisional Government, now under the leadership of Alexander Kerensky, seemed powerless to stop him. Kerensky called on the Petrograd Soviet to defend the city. This meant arming the Soviet - a move that would not be easy to reverse.

Solider on horseback with fur hat and sabre
General Kornilov

Under Trotsky's direction, the Red Guards organised the defence of the city. Bolshevik agents infiltrated Kornilov's troops and encouraged them to desert. The Bolsheviks also organised strikes by railway workers - disrupting Kornilov's supplies and communications. By the end of the month, Kornilov had been relieved of his command and put under arrest.

An important result of the Kornilov Revolt was a marked increase in support for the Bolsheviks. They were seen to have saved the revolution from a loyal Tsarist general. By September, the Bolsheviks had gained control of the Petrograd Soviet.

The October Revolution

Led by Trotsky, the Military Revolutionary Committee was able to secure the support of the Petrograd Garrison and the Kronstadt sailors.

On 24th October, Prime Minister Kerensky tried to limit Bolshevik influence. He ordered the arrest of many of their leaders. In response, the Military Revolutionary Committee decided to take action.

The Red Guards and Kronstadt sailors gained control of key locations in the city. This included the bridges, railway stations, and post office.

On the night of the 25th, they moved against the Provisional Government. By this time the only defenders the Government had left were a few officer cadets and the “Women’s Battalion of Death”. Very few people were prepared to fight for it. The majority of troops remained in their barracks and did nothing to stop the Bolshevik takeover.

Kerensky left the Winter Palace to find help. Later that evening the Palace was surrounded by workers and soldiers. They were supported by the Kronstadt sailors who had arrived on board the cruiser Aurora. On the 26th of October, Red Guards entered the Winter Palace and arrested the members of the Provisional Government. There was little fighting.

The photograph shows a Communist recreation of the events which was staged in 1920. The real events took place at night.

Soldiers advance towards a large building
Storming of the Winter Palace