How far was the Provisional Government’s continued involvement in the First World War responsible for its collapse in October/November 1917?
When Tsar Nicholas II abdicated in March 1917, it was entirely possible that the Provisional Government would survive. The Bolsheviks were only a tiny faction in Russian political life. Most of their leaders were in exile, and they had virtually no support among the Russian people. Moreover, according to orthodox Marxists (including many Bolsheviks), the conditions for a socialist revolution were not evident in Russia. For centuries the Russian government had been essentially a somewhat modernized version of a medieval warrior state. Despite important reforms and improvements during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the modernization of Russia remained incomplete when World War I began in 1914.
Its underdevelopment in comparison to the major powers of Europe hurt Russia in World War I; yet, by 1917, all the combatants were suffering from the strains of waging war. In the previous year, battles at Verdun (February-July 1916) and the Somme (July-November 1916) on the Western Front had each claimed around a million lives. In the spring and summer of 1917, the rank-and-file soldiers in the French army staged a series of mutinies, refusing to go on the offensive. Austria, with a new emperor after the death of Franz Josef in November 1916, was constrained politically and militarily to follow Germany even as its empire was falling into disarray. Germany was sliding into military dictatorship and chronic economic deprivation; in late 1916 its military leaders planned to draft much of the civilian population for war-related labor. Seen in this context, it is not so shocking that the war could cause the collapse of the tsarist government and its provisional successor.
During the first two years of the war, Russia had had some military successes, including notable victories over Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman...
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