“The Bolshevik Revolution occurred and succeeded because of the weakness of the Provisional Government.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?
The Provisional Government was Russia’s official government from the day Tsar Nicholas abdicated on March 2nd 1917 to the Bolsheviks’ seizure of power on October 25th. Regarding the occurrence and success of the Bolshevik Revolution, there are two widely held positions: the first is that strong Bolshevik organization, leadership and competence led to the success of the revolution; the second that external conditions such as the Provisional Government led to the Revolution and its success. This essay will analyze the weaknesses of the Provisional Government and in turn, examine the opposing stances regarding its effect on the Bolshevik Revolution.
To understand the weaknesses of the Provisional Government, one must first address the conditions that led to its existence. The February Revolution, fueled by food shortages and a deteriorating economy, triggered the Tsar’s abdication. When the Provisional Government officially replaced the monarchy, the people expected it to address their grievances. They wanted to improve living conditions, an end to the war, or at least a stop to offensives since casualties were at 6 million at that point. There was famine, food shortages and insufficient resources while Russia’s economy declined. The Government ostensibly took the monarchy’s place, but it still represented the bourgeoisie. It consisted of former Duma politicians and did not institute the right reforms. The Government was loyal to its treaties with the Allies and continued the War even with considerable losses. Kerensky, the Minister of War, issued the July offensive, which resulted in nearly 60,000 casualties. It issued reforms such as freedom of press, release of political prisoners and the abolition of the death penalty but these were not the reforms the people wanted. Additionally, the Government did not genuinely have power. When a rationing system was introduced in April, it had still not been implemented two months later. It could not actually carry out reforms, only to issue them. Due to the Government’s only ostensible authority, refusal to issue appropriate reforms, insistence on fighting the War and bourgeoisie nature, the problems that helped bring down the Tsar worsened and Russia was in chaos. There was greater industrial decline, shortage in fuel and economic decline than there was during the February Revolution.
The “socialism by default” argument goes that all the above weaknesses led to the occurrence and success of the Bolshevik Revolution, that the Revolution was due more to the Government’s failure than to Bolshevik competence and leadership. When the Government failed to address and contributed to the people’s grievances it created the opportunity for radical parties to rise and set the stage for the Bolsheviks. Even the Petrograd Soviet, which consisted of the Social Democrats, Kadets and Mensheviks, became associated with collaborating with the Government and therefore less popular. When the Bolsheviks entered the scene as a party untainted with collaboration with the Government and completely detached from its failures, the people responded with support. The Bolshevik Party became all the more appealing because of the incompetence of the Government and its failure to mollify the people through the right reforms. It seems that the main reason he Bolsheviks found success was because they did right what the Government did wrong. While the Government banned land seizures, the Bolsheviks advocated redistribution of land. While the Government failed to fill the power vacuum created by Nicholas’ abdication, Lenin’s prominence as party leader was promising. While the former represented the middle class and bourgeoisie, Lenin wanted power to the proletariat. Furthermore, there was no blood spilt on the night the Bolsheviks seized power; the Government’s “power” was easily taken. The distinct contrast between the Government’s failures and the Bolsheviks’ policies led to the occurrence and success of the Bolshevik Revolution.
Conversely, the “socialism by design” stance maintains that regardless of the Government’s weakness, the Bolsheviks seized power due to their competent leadership and organization. On October 23rd, the Bolsheviks’ Central Committee voted for a resolution stating that “an armed uprising is inevitable and that the time for it is fully ripe.” This resolution had been rejected before but when Lenin himself came to persuade the Committee, it passed. Lenin was absolutely dedicated to violent revolution. It was he who decided to seize power. His oratory and charisma convinced the Committee even when they thought the conditions were not right. Therefore, the decision was not made collectively; the general consensus did not acknowledge that it was the opportune moment to stage an uprising. Furthermore, the Mensheviks and the Social Democrats had controlled the people until Lenin’s arrival to Russia. According to Graham Darby, the Mensheviks and the SRs controlled the soldiers’ committee, the peasants and the Labor Unions. These two parties represented socialism in the Petrograd Soviet and if the people’s dissatisfaction with the Provisional Government led them to socialism, these two parties had greater support. However, the Bolsheviks set themselves apart. Lenin’s April Theses explicitly stated the Bolsheviks’ anti-war and pro-proletariat position. The Bolsheviks recruited workers and soldiers to effectively preach their cause. They distributed land in some areas and recognized the people’s grievances. Additionally, there were 900 soviets by October 1917 and amid the division in the Government and soviets, the Bolsheviks had a clear leader with the potential to fill the power vacuum. The Bolsheviks won a majority in the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets in August and September because of their policies and effective leadership. Lenin’s position as Party leader led him to make all the decisions, even if the Party did not agree. Therefore, the Bolsheviks’ policies and effective leadership were the primary reasons for the Revolutions occurrence and success.
To conclude, it is quite unlikely that the Bolsheviks would have risen to power if the Provisional Government had not been such a complete failure. The Bolsheviks’ distinct leadership and policies played a considerable role in their seizure of power, although it would have probably not sufficed without the Government’s failures to contrast to. And so the latter’s weakness was the primary cause of the Bolshevik’s seizure of power and its success.