Why Did the Bolsheviks Succeed in 1917?

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Why did the Provisional Government fail, and the Bolsheviks succeed, in 1917? During 1917 the political system of Russia, and the political opinions of its public, began to change. The First World War was deeply taking its toll, with the casualties running into millions, and food shortages were reaching crisis levels across Russia. Presided over by the Provisional Government, who had little support and even less real power, the people of Russia became restless. In October, the animosity between Government and populace came to a head, and a revolution put Lenin’s socialist Bolshevik party in power. This essay will show that, while the Bolshevik party was dedicated and driven in the values they believed in, it was only the seizing of opportunity, and a lot of luck, that they succeeded in taking power. After the abdication of the Tsar, it was decided that the Russian people should democratically elect a new Constituent Assembly. Until an election could be organised, the Provisional Government, made up partly of ex-Duma members, was placed in control of Russia. Large delays, however, resulted in the Provisional Government remaining in power for far longer than was originally planned, and by October their failings as a government had resulted in leaving them little real power, and almost no public support. The largest factor in this public unrest was the Provisional Government’s insistence that Russia should continue fighting in the First World War. Millions of Russians had been killed, a large percentage of them ‘peasants in uniform’ – farmers who were untrained and unprepared for what awaited them. With so many farmers fighting or already dead, coupled with severe inflation due to lack of government control of the economy, huge food shortages swept across Russia. As well as the lack of public support, the Provisional Government was also almost powerless in political and military terms. The Soviets, elected by workers and peasants and therefore generally against the Government, had almost complete control of the army and many transport links, making military control by the Government practically impossible.

It can be argued that many of the problems that Russia faced over this period were not those of the Provisional Government. The end of autocratic rule brought new hope to millions of Russians, but it also left behind it the problems that had led to its demise in the first place. These factors, particularly the food shortages and the war, were not the fault of the Provisional Government, and therefore they were not entirely accountable for their outcomes. The Government was not, after all, expected to be permanent, and therefore in many ways it did not have the capabilities to carry out large-scale reform.

However, at the same time the Provisional Government made no real attempt to solve these problems, and created many of their own.

The Kerensky offensive and the Kornilov affair were two of the Provisional Governments worst mistakes. After the Kerensky offensive it became clear that not only was the Government ignoring Russia’s pleas for peace, but that they were making military decisions rashly and incompetently, at the expense of Russian men. Support for the Bolshevik’s dedication to peace grew. Similarly, when Kornilov sent troops as a sign of strength to Petrograd, intending to crush both the Soviets and Bolsheviks, the incident raised huge sympathy for the Bolsheviks, and increased mistrust for the Government.

In an attempt to pacify some of its adversaries, the Provisional Government also made a series of blunders that drastically backfired. The first was the decision to release a large number of political prisoners and to invite Trotsky back from exile, with the view that this would calm those who rallied for free speech and political opinion. However, this (predictably) was not the case. The return of so many Marxist and socialist minds was a sign to many that the time had come to take action, and...
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