Russia 1917 - on the failure of the Liberal Regime

Term Paper, 2004
14 Pages, Grade: B



1. Introduction

2. Starting situation

3. The armed forces and the war question

4. Economy, Provision and the countryside

5. The Bolsheviks as contenders

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

In February 1917 the monarchy of the Romanovs ended. It left a vacuum of power in avast country. The most urgent question for Russia was who would fill the existing gap and how the problems shall be solved, which the country faced. The new liberal regime ended after only eight month by the Bolshevik overthrow. The opinions concerning the inevitability of the events are divided. Some scholar might argue that: “No statesmen, no cabinet, even if possessed the quintessence of liberal wisdom and combined the talents of Gladstone, Cavour and Lloyd George could have achieved the goals the Provisional Government pursued.”[1]

On the other hand it seems wrong to accept that the development was predetermined. Actors and decisions affected the events crucially. The essay attempts to determine factors which contributed to the fall of the Februarian Regime. It tries to enlight the policy of the new regime in order to determine to which extent it could be made responsible for outcome. These policy as well as the emergence of the Bolsheviks as a power contender shall be examined. Therefore the focus will be put on the most crucial problems[2] the country faced and the approaches which are provided to solve them.

Dates are given using the older Russian way of counting.

2. Starting situation

The vacuum of power which was left by the downfall of the Tsarist Regime had to be filled. But beause of the backwardness of the Russian democratic landscape or rather development there was no simple solution for the question who was supposed to take over the power in the Russian Empire. Reluctantly parts of the Russian parlement, the Duma (which seemed to be most legitimate to lead the country and able to channel the revolutionary force), agreed to form a Provisional Committee to restore the public order – the Russian Liberals made this step rather to gain control over the situation and the rioting people than to exploit a chance to democraticize Russia and break with the past. They gave way to the pressure from the street – “the politicians acted throughout in response to events.”[3] The revolution didn´t unite the parlementarians and the demonstrating people on the street in the main cities, but it widened the gap. This gap became evident when in oppositite to the Provisional Committee the Soviet of the workers and soldiers was founded by various socialist intellectuals and leaders. This was the emergence of a socialist institution in which the revolting masses felt deputized. While the parlementarians represented the liberals and the bourgeousie, the Soviet claimed to represent revolutionary masses and therefore the real power in the Russian capital, St. Petersburg.

Manfred Hildermeier sums it up: „The two main forces of the coup, which couldn´t get over the distance between each other, had produced their own representing institutions with different concepts of a future constitution and society.”[4]

The product of the revolution was a system called „dual power” The Provisional Government had no electoral mandate, nor had the Soviet. But while the Liberal Regime could only rely on the consent of the Army High Command and public institutions[5], the Soviet had the support of the true forces of the revolution: the workers and soldiers of the capital. Since they were the initiators of the revolution the Soviet could be regarded as the real political power.[6] The Provisional Government soon was accepted by the foreign governments which wasn´t worth much, since the situation in the capital looked like Peter Kenez put it: “The soviet in Petrograd, unlike the provisional government, could call on workers and soldiers to demonstrate and to carry out revolutionary actions. The ministers well understood that they held their offices at the tolerance of the socialists in the soviet.” And further on: “Discord was bound to arise between those who had authority but no power, and those who could command the workers and soldiers but had no formal responsibility.”[7] The Soviet regarded itself as a kind of watchdog over the Provisional Government and would protect the interests of the workers and soldiers against the policy of the libertal parlementarians.[8] This situation infact obviously didn´t provide a good starting point for the nascent Russian democracy. The outcome was that in only eight month Russia had to face four cabinets/governments – a clearly instable leadership. In this circumstances the Regime was supposed to solve the most crucial problems of the country. “With this constant hindrance [the division of power] the government should organize the first general, free and equal elections to a constituent assembly in Russia, keep the economy going, supply the population and carry on with the war.“[9] It was obvious: The success the governement would have in solving the problems adequately would decide over its existence.

3. The armed forces and the war question

If we follow Marc Ferro and assume that the army is the keystone of the social order and the upholder of the national interest, we can´t overestimate the significance controlling the armed forces. “In February, the great question had not been what the army was supposed to do, but wether the Revolution would regenerate it, or weaken its capacity for offence or defence. The answer a few weeks later, was unanimous: the country´s ability to fight was being underminded, and the Revolution was destroying the army.”[10] Why does he give this answer? Several aspects must be considered. In the revolutionary days of the february revolution the notorious Order No.1 was issued. This order deprived the state of the weapon monopoly, since it claimed (amongst other things) that the troops should recognize the authority of the Soviet (and only of the Soviet) on all policy questions involving the armed forces.[11] The outcome was: No resolutions could be made without the approval of the Soviet, the Provisional Government lost control over its armed forces before it even start gaining control. The order led to a situation “in which the enlisted men in the armed forces recognized only the authority of the Petrograd Soviet, while the officer corps recognized only the authority of the Provisional Government.”[12] Effectively the Liberal Regime was disarmed. Furthermore: The order tried to democratize the army – commitees arose, elections were held. Also the resolutions of the order deepened the distance between officers and mere soldiers. The consequence: “In February 1917, the officers lost control over their soldiers, and they could never reestablish their authority.”[13]

Problaby the most urgent problem the Provisional Government had to face was the question of the war. Ill prepared, Russia experienced loss after loss against the Cental Powers due World War I. The war created big pressure because it was responsible for the bad supplied cities and the even worse economic and financial situation of the country. After the overthrow of the Romanov monarchy most of the Russian people hoped for an improvement in their particular situation. The most determining factor was simply the war. It was supposed to be ended by the new rulers. Soldiers as well as the normal population expected that. “To the soldiers, the February Revolution was an implicit promise that the war would soon end, and they waited impatiently for the Provisional Government to achieve this […].”[14]


[1] Acton, Edward, Rethinking the Russian Revolution, New York 1990 (Routledge), p. 153

[2] The question about autonomy for national minorities shall be left out, since it doesn´t contribute much to answer the question

[3] Williams, Beryll, The Russian Revolution 1917-1921, Oxford 1987 (Blackwell), S. 9

[4] „Die beiden Hauptkräfte des Umsturzes, die ihre Distanz zueinander nicht überwinden konnten, hatten eigene Repräsentativinstitutionen mit unterschiedlichen Konzepten über die künftige Verfassung und Gesellschaft hervorgebracht.“[4] - Hildermeier, Manfred: Geschichte der Sowjetunion 1917 – 1991, München 1998, p. 68

[5] see Fitzpatrick, Sheila, The Russian revolution, Oxford 1984 (Oxford University Press), p. 39

[6] see Williams, Revolution, p. 9

[7] Kenez, Peter, A history of the Soviet Union from the beginning to the end, Cambridge 1999 (Cambridge University Press), p. 19

[8] see Fitzpatrick, Revolution, p. 41

[9] „Die Regierung sollte mit dieser ständigen Behinderung zugleich die ersten allgemeinen, freien und gleichen Wahlen in Russland für eine Verfassungsgebende Versammlung veranstalten, die Wirtschaft in Gang halten, die Bevölkerung versorgen und Krieg führen“, Rühl, Lothar: Aufstieg und Niedergang des russischen Reiches, Stuttgart 1992, S. 365

[10] Ferro, Marc, The Bolshevik Revolution, London 1980 (Routledge), p. 69

[11] see Fitzpatrick, Revolution, p. 41

[12] Fitzpatrick, Revolution, p. 41

[13] Kenez, A history, p. 19

[14] Fitzpatrick, Revolution, p. 46

Excerpt out of 14 pages


Russia 1917 - on the failure of the Liberal Regime
University of Auckland  (History)
Pol 334- Between Anarchy and Chaos: Insurgencies, Terrorism and Counter-hegemonic Movements
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ISBN (eBook)
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Russia, Liberal, Regime, Between, Anarchy, Chaos, Insurgencies, Terrorism, Counter-hegemonic, Movements
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Martin Röw (Author), 2004, Russia 1917 - on the failure of the Liberal Regime, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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