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An Analysis Of The Power Structure In Russia Between February 1917 And October 1917 Essay, Research Paper

The February revolution in Russia in 1917 was a spontaneous event caused by rioting, which at the start, was for economic reasons, but soon developed and took on a political nature. The revolution was not planned by either the bourgeois politicians of the Duma or by the socialist parties in Russia at that time. Once the Tsar and the old autocratic system of government had been replaced there were two separate power bases set up in Russia. These were the Provisional Government, which was made up of the Duma politicians, and the Soviets of soldiers and workers deputies, set up by the people of Russia and headed by the socialist parties. It was because of this fact that the term “dual power” is used to describe this period of Russian history. It can be argued that dual power is an apt description of this period because of the nature of the February revolution there was no clear leader of Russia. The elites, such as the Duma politicians and the Generals wanted a bourgeois lead government and the people wanted their own style of government based on the Soviets. So therefore in to the vacuum of power two types of government emerged, neither of which had the appeal or resources to assume total control. This does not mean, however, that dual power was a workable option and that it could have lasted indefinitely because of the fact that the October revolution took place and the Bolshevik party under Lenin gained control of Russia. The main reason for the system of dual power coming into effect was the nature of the series of riots culminating in the February revolution. The riots were not part of any plan by a revolutionary party and events gathered a momentum of their own, with factory workers going out on strike to support the protesters. When the soldiers came out in support of the insurgent masses the Tsarist regime could do little to stop the revolution. The Duma politicians used these events to take set up a government to fill the vacuum left by the Tsar once he had abdicated. However, the people of Petrograd had taken it upon themselves to set up Soviets, or workers committees in factories, garrisons and on naval vessels. This is where the basis of dual power came from. The Provisional government had inherent structural weaknesses. The most fundamental, it can be argued, is that of legitimacy. The Provisional government had simply assumed power when the Russian monarchy fell, and was not voted upon by the people of Russia. The setting up of the Soviets showed that the insurgent masses had alternative ideas about the way that Russia should be governed. This would mean that the people of Russia, conceivably would pay attention to and carry out the decrees of a government which they felt to be legitimate. It was, after all, the acts of the insurgent masses which brought about the revolution in the first place. The attitude of the soldiers to the Provisional government was of vital importance to the concept of dual power. The soldiers, because they failed to put down the insurgent masses, in a sense, turned the insurgency into a full scale revolution. The soldiers also set up their own Soviets in garrisons, as did the sailors on the ships. So with the soldiers backing the Soviets there was no way the Provisional government could enforce its decrees to any great extent because of the limited powers of co-ercion which it could lay claim to. The secret police systems of the Tsarist regime were gone and the rank and file of the army were supporting the Soviets, so there was little that the Provisional government could do. On the other hand the Provisional government had the support of the military high command. This fact would help to reduce the fact of a counter revolution, and would also help the fledgling regime to gain international recognition. Dual power, as a concept was, from the start compromised by the entry of Kerensky, a Truvodnik leader in to the Provisional government. He was a member of, and more importantly vice-president of, the Petrograd Soviet. This meant that there was a link between the two governmental systems from the outset of their existence. This fact would make it hard for the Soviets to criticise the Provisional government if there was, in fact, a socialist within it. This link between the Soviets and the Provisional government was strengthened after the April crises following Milyukov’s note on 18th April. Milykov’s note was a document which proclaimed Russia’s commitment to the Allied war effort and the continuation of war against Germany to the extent of gaining territory, this lead to an outcry from a war weary Russian public and Milyukov’s resignation. The Kadet party, to which Milyukov belonged, did not back him or this policy and swung around to the Soviet policy of “peace without annexations or contributions”. After the April crisis there was an influx of socialists into the Provisional government in the form of two Socialist Revolutionary ministers, two Menshevik ministers and two independent socialist ministers, the government was still headed by Prince L’vov. This was a significant event when the concept of dual power is being considered because it brought the socialist leaders of the Soviets even further to the Provisional government because they were participating in it. By definition therefore any criticism levelled at the Provisional government by the Soviet, was criticism against fellow socialists. Marc Ferro backs this up when talking about the April crisis, “Thereafter, soviet and Provisional government were not separate, but associated bodies;” It can be argued that this was the end of dual power almost at its outset because the two entities had combined. Although they were said to represent different interests and social groups, the fact that they had formed a coalition government meant that there was a middle ground in which the representatives of the bourgeoisie and the workers and soldiers could work together. In June 1917 there was a boost for the idea of dual power by the All Russian Congress of Soviets which gave a vote of confidence in the Provisional government. However it went further than that, to the extent of rejecting a Bolshevik resolution which demanded the giving of all state power to the Soviets. The fact that the Soviets gave as vote of confidence to the Provisional government is really of no surprise when one considers that were ministers such as Kerensky in the government who were socialist by background. It could be argued that the Soviets would want to be seen as supporting their politicians within the government. When the Bolshevik resolution was rejected, it shows the marginalisation of the Bolsheviks views within the Soviets. Some factions within the Soviets, especially some parts of the Menshevik party believed the February revolution was the start of the bourgeois revolution, and that this needed to take its course before there could be a proletarian revolution. This was against what the Bolsheviks who were saying that the proletariat should take power, with the slogan “All power to the Soviets” and who believed in immediate peace not the defensive war of the Mensheviks and SRs.The Bolsheviks, under Lenin, did not believe that dual power was a workable option like the other socialist parties did with their ‘bourgeois revolution’ theory. Lenin, quoted by E.H. Carr said, “There cannot be two powers in the State”. This shows that the Bolsheviks did not subscribe to the notion that dual power was a workable option. It also helps to explain the appeal of the Bolsheviks to the people of Russia during the disruptions which became known as the July days. There is another reason why the month of June is important when considering dual power. The June offensive brought further problems for dual power in Russia. The offensive, which was the idea of Kerensky, as minister for war, under the prompting of the Allied forces. The Gailician offensive was a fiasco with casualties estimated at 200 000, this brought about a loss of morale in the army and an increase in desertions. It can be argued that the military disaster of the June offensive undermined and discredited the Provisional government, not just because of the fact that there had been great Russian casualties in the offensive, but because of the fact that the people were war weary and wanted an end to the war not an extension and prolongation of it. It seems odd that Kerensky should push for an offensive when the controversy surrounding Milyukov’s note is considered. The failure of the June offensive caused more problems for the government than just the dissatisfaction of the people. At the start of July the shaky foundations of dual power were rocked even further by the withdrawal of the Kadets (Liberals) from the Provisional government and the resignation of Prince L’vov as leader of the government. This show of weakness within the government gave the spur to the so-called “July days” of early July 1917. The July days were a turning point in the period of dual power because the disturbances signified a popular dislike of the system and showed that there was the popular desire for insurrection among the masses. There appeared to be a strong Bolshevik flavour to the disturbances, the crowds adopting the slogan “All power to the Soviets” and heading to the Bolshevik Headquarters at the Kseshinkaya Palace. However when the Bolsheviks failed to take up the gauntlet of further revolution the crowds soon dispersed. The reason why this is significant is that it showed that the people were turning their backs on dual power, going against the Soviets , who were meant to be representing them and attempting to take power, for the Soviets themselves. The Soviets were issuing orders to the soldiers who were demonstrating which forbade them to even take part in the demonstrations. This, it can be said, shows the disaffection between the people who wanted action and the Soviets who were prepared to wait for the bourgeois revolution to carry out its course. For example the telegram of July 3rd, “The executive Committee confirms its previous instructions that demonstrations by the armed forces are not permitted. This order must be strictly obeyed.”. This change in the nature of dual power is described by Marc Ferro as, “the chief conflict did not reflect the duality of power; it was rather between the dual system and the forces on its periphery”.` `This is a very important point because it illustrates the fact that dual power had become, during the July days, a battle between the masses, pushing for a total adoption of the Soviet system, and the two governmental systems trying to restore order. We can almost say that the masses were working against the Soviets at this point, even though they were pushing for a socialist system. This goes along way to explain the rise of support for the Bolsheviks in the period after the July days, because the Bolsheviks seemed the only party pushing for a way out of the system of dual power. The Kornilov revolt of August 1917, was an attack on dual power from the right. The coup was lead by the General Lavr Kornilov, in an attempt to create a basis for a strong government, under Kerensky and to put an end to the unrest that there was in Russia during this period. The coup failed because of the fact that the Army could not be depended on to carry out orders properly because of order no.1 and the fact that the workers in key areas such as the railways stopped or diverted trains which had troops on thus not allowing the troops to get to Petrograd. The significance of the failure of the revolt was that it enabled the left, and especially the Bolsheviks to consolidate support amongst the working class. Now that the threat of counter-revolution was real and tangible it can be seen as giving great weight to the argument of armed insurrection to get to Soviet state that the masses and the Bolshevik party wanted. This insurrection came to fruition in October and meant that the dual power system was finished when the Bolshevik party took over. The term “dual power”, it can be argued, was accurate only until the time that the socialist parties joined the coalition government. After that time the two entities of the Provisional government and the Soviets of soldiers and workers deputies were too closely linked. This is perhaps illustrated by the fact that during the July days there was real pressure for change on the part of the urban masses and the Soviets, far from gripping the chance to take power actually put pressure on the people to stop demonstrating. This, therefore could almost be seen as a single powerbase in Russia. Ferro sums this up well as quoted above, the attitude of the people, going out on to the streets shows a dissatisfaction with the Soviets which derives, it could be argued from their position regarding the Provisional government. `The term dual power suggests two separate bodies working together, for a common aim, this therefore cannot be an accurate description of dual power in Russia. Even though during the July days there was no push by the Soviets to get power they believed that the February revolution was the start of the bourgeois revolution in Russia and, according to Marxist doctrine the Socialist revolution would follow later. Therefore by supporting the Provisional government for ideological reasons the socialists would seem to be supporting dual power but in reality they would only be supporting it until its downfall in the Marxist view of historical progression. The fact that neither group pushed total power in the first place is perhaps the most important reason to consider when looking at dual power. Hasegawa feels that the Provisional government over-estimated the control that the Executive Committee of the Soviets held over the mass of the people. This, combined with the idea that the Soviet should not take total power due to Marxist doctrine shows that neither felt that they could take total power on their own and entered into this system of dual power. It is therefore no surprise that socialist entered the coalition government from the Soviets. The July days and the Kornilov revolt were signals, it can be argued, of popular and elite opposition to the political system. A dual system such as this could only survive with widespread support from the population of a country. It is of no surprise that the Bolsheviks seized upon the popular discontent with the system and took over in October. Dual power, it can be said, is not an accurate description of the state of Russian politics between February and October 1917. It is not accurate because the two halves of the dual system were moving ever closer, first with the appointment of Kerensky and the other socialist ministers and then with the actions of the Soviets, supporting the Provisional government during the July days. It was the distance between the system of dual power and the people that it was meant represent which showed the true duality of the system, not the traditional view of dual power split between the bourgeois Provisional government and the socialist Soviets.


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