Provisional Government

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Provisional Government


in Russia, the central organ of state power created after the February bourgeois-democratic revolution of 1917; it existed from Mar. 2 (15) through Oct. 25 (Nov. 7), 1917. Serving as the supreme executive-administrative organ, the Provisional Government also exercised legislative functions. The local organs of the Provisional Government were provincial and district commissars. The Provisional Government was established as the result of an agreement between the Provisional Committee of the State Duma of 1917 and the Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary leaders of the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, without whose support the Provisional Government could not have existed or functioned during its first four months.

The Provisional Government consisted of the minister-president and minister of the interior, Prince G. E. L’vov, and the following ministers: foreign affairs, P. N. Miliukov (Constitutional Democrat, or Cadet); war and navy, A. I. Guchkov (Octobrist); transportation, N. V. Nekrasov (Cadet); trade and industry, A. I. Konovalov (Progressivist); finance, M. I. Tereshchenko (nonparty); education, A. A. Manuilov (Cadet); agriculture, A. I. Shingarev (Cadet); justice, A. F. Kerensky (Trudovik; after March, Socialist Revolutionary, or SR); chief procurator of the Holy Synod, V. N. L’vov (Centrist); and state controller, I. V. Godnev (Octobrist).

The Provisional Government was a government of the imperialist bourgeoisie and large landowners. The Cadets, who became the ruling party of the bourgeoisie after the February Revolution of 1917, played a definite role in establishing the composition and political line of the Provisional Government. Ruling circles in the United States, Great Britain, and France gave their full support to the Provisional Government. The United States was the first to recognize it on March 9 (22); Great Britain and France did so on March 11 (24).

Once in power, the Provisional Government did not and could not solve a single one of the most important problems of the revolution: the questions of war and peace, agrarian reform, labor, the struggle against economic disorganization and starvation, the nationality question, the organization of the government, and so on. The Provisional Government set forth its program in a declaration issued March 3(16) and in an appeal to Russian citizens on March 6 (19). Remaining silent on the fundamental problems of the revolution, the Provisional Government announced its intention to bring the war “to a victorious conclusion” and to unswervingly carry out the treaties and agreements concluded by the tsar with the Allies. In regard to domestic policy, the Provisional Government promised to introduce a number of political freedoms, to begin preparations for the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, and to replace the police with a people’s militia. The Provisional Government followed a policy of retaining the former government apparatus, and instead of democratizing the army, it attempted to maintain the authority of the reactionary officers over the soldier masses.

After long delays, on April 12 (25) the Provisional Government passed a law on freedom of meetings and associations. In regard to agrarian policy, it limited itself to the nationalization of crown lands by a decree of March 12 (25) and imperial appanage lands by a decree of March 16 (29). On March 9 (22) an order was issued on the prosecution of peas-ants for participation in “agrarian disorders.” In a special declaration on March 19 (April 1) the Provisional Government recognized the need for land reform but asserted that all arbitrary land seizures were illegal. On April 11 (24) the Provisional Government passed a law on the protection of crops, in which it promised to reimburse landowners for losses resulting from “popular disturbances.” The Provisional Government promised to refer the resolution of the agrarian question to the Constituent Assembly. For the purpose of “preparing” materials on the agrarian question for the Constituent Assembly, the Provisional Government, by a decree of April 21 (May 4), created central, provincial, district, and volost (small rural district) land committees, the majority of which were controlled by representatives of the bourgeoisie and landowners.

The Provisional Government did not resolve the national question because that would have necessitated a departure from the great-power idea of “great and indivisible Russia.” It refused to recognize the right to self-determination or even autonomy for such peoples as Finland and the Ukraine until the question could be decided by the Constituent Assembly. Only in the case of Poland was the right to independence recognized—by a decree of March 17 (30)—this was only because of foreign policy considerations.

The Provisional Government did not decree an eight-hour workday, nor did it pass a single law for the improvement of working conditions. A law of April 23 (May 6) on workers’ committees in industrial enterprises formally legalized the factory and plant committees that had come into existence everywhere in the course of the revolution, but in reality it confined their activities within “legal” limits. As regards food supply policy, the Provisional Government, under pressure from the popular masses, announced the establishment of a state grain monopoly on March 25 (April 7). In the field of finance, on March 8 (21) the Provisional Government declared its assumption of all domestic and foreign financial obligations of the tsarist government. The principal aim of the Provisional Government at that time was “to restrain the revolution as carefully and imperceptibly as possible, to promise everything and do nothing” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 34, p. 61). In the area of foreign policy, the Provisional Government pursued a course of strengthening its ties with the Allies, especially the United States.

The Bolshevik Party tirelessly explained to the masses the antipopular imperialistic character of the Provisional Government. V. I. Lenin’s April Theses proposed a plan for the transition from a bourgeois-democratic revolution to a socialist revolution and established the possibility of accomplishing this transition by peaceful means.

Dissatisfaction with the Provisional Government’s policies on the part of the workers and soldiers led to mass anti-government demonstrations, which, in turn, created several crises for the Provisional Government.

The April crisis led to the creation of the first coalition government on May 5 (18). On May 2-3 (15-16), as a result of mass pressure, Miliukov and Guchkov withdrew from the Provisional Government and, as the result of an agreement between the Provisional Government and the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, six socialist ministers entered the government. The coalition government was composed of G. E. L’vov as minister-president and minister of the interior and the following ministers: war and navy, Kerensky; justice, P. N. Pereverzev (Trudovik); foreign af-fairs, Tereshchenko; transportation, Nekrasov; trade and industry, Konovalov; education, Manuilov; finance, Shingarev; agriculture, V. M. Chernov (Socialist Revolutionary); posts and telegraph, I. G. Tsereteli (Menshevik); labor, M. I. Skobelev (Menshevik); food supply, A. V. Peshekhonov (’’popular socialist”); welfare, Prince D. I. Shakhovskoi (Cadet); chief procurator of the Holy Synod, V. N. L’vov; and state controller, Godnev. Although the establishment of the coalition government did not alter its bourgeois nature, it did signify a change of form in the political rule of the bourgeoisie. The big bourgeoisie was forced to share power with the upper strata of the petite bourgeoisie and to resort to disguising its dictatorship by coalition with the “moderate” socialists. The Socialist Revolutionary and Menshevik par-ties were transformed into ruling parties, directly responsible for all the policies of the Provisional Government.

On May 6 (19) the first coalition government issued a declaration in which it promised “to fight resolutely and inflexibly against the economic disorganization of the country,” to proceed with “preparatory measures” toward agrarian reform, to strengthen the principles of democratization in the army, and to organize and develop its military power. The declaration spoke of the Provisional Government’s efforts to achieve the earliest general peace. But in fact, on June 18 (July 1), it launched an offensive on the Southwestern Front with an army unprepared for active operations and unwilling to fight. The Provisional Government did nothing to combat economic disorganization and starvation, limiting economic measures to the regulation of certain leading branches of industry by the reactionary bureaucracy.

The growth of popular dissatisfaction with the policies of the coalition government became apparent at the time of the June demonstration of 1917. The deterioration of foreign and domestic political conditions as a result of the failure of the June offensive at the front brought about a new political crisis in the country.

The July crisis resulted in the liquidation of dual power and the establishment of a dictatorship by the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie. On July 2 (15) a group of Cadet ministers—Shingarev, Manuilov, and Shakhovskoi—submitted their resignations. Following the Cadets, the head of the Provisional Government, Prince L’vov, resigned on July 7 (20). Kerensky, retaining his post as minister of war and navy, was appointed minister-president. The SR- and Menshevik-dominated Central Executive Committee of the Soviets pronounced the Kerensky government a “government to save the revolution” and recognized its unlimited authority. The Soviets, transformed into an appendage of the Provisional Government, ceased to be organs of power. Under these conditions, the possibility of the peaceful transfer of power into the hands of the Soviets disappeared. The Bolshevik Party adopted a new course toward the overthrow of the bourgeois dictatorship, personified by the Provisional Government, by means of an armed uprising.

The Provisional Government launched an attack against the revolution. Petrograd was placed under martial law. Repression and the arrest of Bolsheviks were begun. On July 7 (20) the government issued a decree calling for the arrest and trial of V. I. Lenin. On July 7 (20) the Provisional Government adopted a resolution disbanding military units of the Petrograd garrison, which had participated in the July demonstration. On July 12 (25) the death penalty was restored at the front and “military-revolutionary” courts (on the order of tsarist field courts-martial) were established. The Provisional Government tried to confuse the masses by fresh promises of reform in its declaration of July 8 (21), 1917, but this declaration, too, remained unfulfilled.

A second coalition government was formed on July 24 (Aug. 6). It was composed of Kerensky as minister-president and minister of war and navy and Nekrasov (Radical Democratic Party) as deputy president and minister of finance and the following ministers: interior, N. D. Avksent’ev (SR); foreign affairs, Tereshchenko; justice, A. S. Zarudnyi (“popular socialist”); education, S. F. Ol’denburg (Cadet); trade and industry, S. N. Prokopovich (nonfaction Social Democrat); agriculture, Chernov; posts and telegraph, A. M. Nikitin (Menshevik); labor, Skobelev; food supply, Peshekhonov; welfare, I. N. Efremov (Radical Democratic Party); transportation, P. P. lurenev (Cadet); chief procurator of the Holy Synod, A. V. Kartashev (Cadet); and state controller, F. F. Kokoshkin (Cadet).

The actions of the second coalition government revealed that the imperialist bourgeoisie in Russia was beginning to move toward an open military dictatorship. In addition, the Provisional Government, making extensive use of demagoguery, attempted to steer a course between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. On August 3 (16), the new supreme commander in chief, General L. G. Kornilov, demanded that the Provisional Government militarize factories, plants, and railroads and introduce the death penalty at the rear. The Provisional Government granted special authority to the minister of war and the minister of the interior for the struggle against the revolutionary movement. Great Britain, France, and the United States applied pressure on the Provisional Government, demanding the restoration of “order” in the rear and at the front.

In order to mobilize the forces of counterrevolution, the Provisional Government convoked a state conference in Moscow on August 12 (25). However, the reactionary bourgeoisie and the military high command were dissatisfied with the policies of the Provisional Government. Kornilov, who had become the leader of these forces, staged a revolt on August 25 (Sept. 7). The revolt was suppressed by the revolutionary masses under the leadership of the Bolsheviks. A new government crisis, the longest and most serious, ensued. Searching for a way out of this crisis, on September 1 (14) governing circles decided to transfer power temporarily to the Council of Five, or “Directory.” It was composed of Minister-President Kerensky, Minister of Foreign Affairs Tereshchenko, Minister of War A. I. Verkhovskii (appointed August 30 [September 12]), Minister of the Navy D. N. Verderevskii (appointed August 30 [September 12]), and Minister of Posts and Telegraph Nikitin. The prolonged government crisis was not resolved by the Democratic Conference, held September 14-22 (September 27-October 5), although the official purpose for its convocation was “to resolve the question of the organization of power.”

On September 25 (October 8) the third coalition government was formed. It was composed of Minister-President and Supreme Commander in Chief Kerensky, Deputy Minister-President and Minister of Trade and Industry Konovalov (Cadet) and the following ministers: foreign affairs, Tereshchenko; war, Verkhovskii (nonparty); navy, Verderevskii (nonparty); labor, K. A. Gvozdev (Menshevik); justice, P. N. Maliantovich (Menshevik); food supply, Prokopovich; finance, M. V. Bernatskii; education, S. S. Salazkin; wel-fare, N. M. Kishkin (Cadet); posts and telegraph, Nikitin; state controller, S. A. Smirnov (Cadet); confessions, Kartashev; transportation, A. V. Liverovskii; and chairman of the Economic Council, S. N. Tret’iakov. On October 3 (16), S. L. Maslov (SR) was appointed minister of agriculture.

The third coalition government was a coalition only in form. All of its activities were directed by a group of Cadet and industrialist ministers. In a declaration of September 26 (October 9), the Provisional Government proclaimed its intention of becoming a “firm authority” and a force capable of halting the “wave of anarchy.” As a result of an agreement between the SR-Menshevik leadership, the Cadets, and Kerensky, the Provisional Council of the Rus-sian Republic was convened on October 7 (20). Its purpose was to change the political direction of the country, to lead it from the path of socialist revolution onto the road toward bourgeois parliamentarianism. Punitive expeditions against rebelling peasants in the fall of 1917, the use of force in carrying out grain requisitions, the deployment of cossack troops in the Donets Basin to fight the workers’ movement, the formation of counterrevolutionary forces for the destruction of the Bolshevik Party and the Soviets were all characteristic policies of the third coalition government, essentially dedicated to the preparation of another Kornilov revolt.

During the fall of 1917 economic disorganization within the country intensified. The government continued to print unlimited amounts of paper currency. (In early March, 9.9 billion paper rubles were in circulation; by the beginning of September there were 15.4 billion rubles.) In October 1917 the state debt reached 50 billion rubles. The Provisional Government was in a chronic state of crisis. Disorder and chaos mounted within the ruling parties (Cadets, SR’s, Mensheviks). The revolutionary crisis in the country had come to a head. The Bolshevik Party, headed by V. I. Lenin, led the working masses in a socialist revolution. In the course of the October armed uprising, during the night of October 26 (November 8) at 2:10 AM the Provisional Government was arrested in the Winter Palace, with the exception of Kerensky, who had fled the capital on the morning of October 25 (November 7). The Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, which had convened on October 25 (November 7), proclaimed the transfer of all power to the Soviets and established the first Soviet government, headed by Lenin.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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