In Petrograd the revolutionary parties finally realised what was happening. They formed a Soviet (Council). This had the loyalty of the army, navy and industrial workers.
The Provisional Government (a small group of Liberal and Socialist politicians led by Prince George Lvov) declared themselves in control. From the beginning they ruled only because the Soviet allowed them.
Problems of the Provisional Government
The economy was in crisis
Inflation, a goods shortage and food famine, the breakdown in transport and huge mounting public debt meant a loan had to be negotiated from the Russia’s Western allies. This would only be given if Russia stayed in the war.
The Provisional Government did not represent the people
It wanted success in the war. Most of the country wanted peace. Members were Liberals with some Social Revolutionaries. They were unrepresentative of the country but they promised elections.
Dual power with the Petrograd Soviet
This could only continue if the Provisional Government kept to its agreement. This weakened its control over the army, police and political control in Petrograd. The city became a mix of conflicting political groups.
The Provisional Government then made the situation worse.
- They proclaimed free speech, freedom of the press and an amnesty for political prisoners.
- They delayed redistribution of land until after a national election for a Constituent Assembly. They postponed the election, hoping to win the war and increase their political standing.
- The Liberals were forced out of the government when the Milyukov Note was leaked. This committed Russia to an offensive war.
- They were replaced by Socialist Revolutionaries led by Oleg Kerensky, who became Prime Minister.
- They could not prevent the return to Petrograd of Vladimir Ilych Lenin. He proclaimed total opposition to them in his April Theses. ‘Bread, Peace and Land’ was a powerful programme which started to gain support. They could find no evidence that he was a German spy and did not imprison him.
- An offensive against Germany in June 1917 was a fiasco. It led to a retreat. Communist agitation and army desertions were already common.
- In the ‘June Days’ they put down Bolshevik anti-war demonstrations in Petrograd with force. This ruined their reputation as upholders of liberty.
- They did not provide any leadership after June. The army began to fall apart. Support for the Bolsheviks grew.
- The Commander in Chief of the army, General Kornilov, tried to take troops to Petrograd to take control in late August. The railway workers resisted his coup. This resulted in the arming of the largely Bolshevik Red Guards. They became the patriotic defenders of the revolution.