October 1917 saw the fall of the Provisional Government (PG) and the seizure of power by the Bolshevik headed Soviets. The role played in the October revolution by Lenin, through his leadership of the Bolsheviks, and Leon Trotsky in his organisation and direction of the Red Guard and Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC). However, these factors are dependent on the mistakes made by the PG prior to the revolution, and therefore, the PG was largely responsible for its downfall in 1917.
The PG was largely responsible for its downfall in 1917 for a number of reasons. Firstly, it could be argued that the PG was doomed to fall due to the nature of its existence. In the first PG led by Prince Lvov, it became apparent that it lacked legitimate authority because it was not an elected body. The PG was made up of former Duma members who had refused to disband at the Tsar’s demand. As such, they had no legitimate claim to the loyalty and obedience of the Russian people, which was a weakness that was contributory to its downfall in 1917. This was not the only weakness of the PG however, as their downfall was compounded by the failure of the summer offensive.
Another example of the PG being responsible for its downfall in 1917 was its failed summer offensive. In an effort to win support at home and abroad for the PG, the Russian army advanced on Lvov against Austro-Hungarian forces. In just three days, counter-attacks on the Russian army resulted in mass desertion, looting and isolated cases of mutiny. This highlighted the lack of faith that ordinary Russian soldiers had in the PG; their lack of organisation; and their ill-judged confidence that the offensive would be successful. The magnitude of the PG’s failure in this area was enough to spark the July Days, which could be considered a miniature revolution. Whilst the July Days were not a success for the Bolsheviks, it indicated the extent to which the summer offensive, and in turn, the PG had provoked the Russian people, and is further evidence to suggest that the PG was largely responsible for its downfall. However, the Kornilov Affair proved to be the most significant event, and the largest failure of the PG that resulted in its downfall.
The Kornilov Affair provides strong evidence for the PG being responsible for its downfall in 1917. The initial misunderstanding between General Kornilov and the Prime Minister of the PG, Alexander Kerensky suggested that there were severe communication problems within the Russian government, and that Kerensky exhibited paranoid behaviour. These factors weakened the PG and increased the likelihood of a second insurrection after the failed July Days. However, the more significant aspect of the Kornilov Affair is that Kerensky released the Bolsheviks from prison and armed them, alongside a number of industrial workers. The Bolsheviks were portrayed as the ‘defenders of Petrograd’, which increased their popularity and made the PG appear reliant on them, which weakened their appearance. Releasing the imprisoned Bolsheviks undid the damage dealt to them in the July Days and boosted their numbers, enabling the subsequent revolution. Arming the Bolsheviks and the industrial workers effectively created perfect conditions for a revolution, as they could take control of key buildings with force. The Bolsheviks were at an all-time low following the July Days, and the Kornilov Affair - which was instigated by the PG, rejuvenated their hopes of revolution and proved the decisive factor that enabled the Bolshevik seizure of power. This suggests that the PG was responsible for its downfall in 1917; however there were other factors that contributed to the fall of the PG, such as Lenin’s involvement in the October revolution.
Lenin’s involvement could be argued to be responsible for the fall of the PG through his leadership of the Bolsheviks. Upon his arrival in Russia in April 1917, Lenin sought to change the political landscape completely. He began this through his introduction of slogans, most significantly, “Bread, peace and land”. This was significant and gained popularity for the Bolsheviks because it highlighted the problems faced by the PG. There were food shortages across Russia (primarily caused by the war), the war itself was causing untold damage on the country and there was disparity in land ownership that the PG was reluctant to reform. This slogan united the people of Russia against the PG and provided a solution to the problem; support for the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks promised an end to the war and equitable land and wealth redistribution through Lenin’s ‘April Thesis’. Lenin was also integral to the fall of the PG because he manipulated Marxist theory to the benefit of the Bolsheviks. Marxist theory states that a revolution should occur with the proletariat rising up, but Lenin appealed to agricultural workers, as well as the proletariat to bolster Bolshevik support. Lenin was a figurehead for the Bolsheviks, and his determination to continually return to Russia and force an insurrection, especially when faced with elections for a constituent assembly, which pitted time against him. This arguably helped enable the October revolution and could suggest that Lenin’s role was responsible for the fall of the PG. However, Lenin’s role can be criticised. He also spearheaded the July Days which was a resounding failure and almost led to the extinction of the Bolsheviks in Russia. There were numerous suggestions that he was a German spy, because he arrived accompanied by German governmental officials, which led to him being distrusted. Furthermore, the success in October with the Bolsheviks was largely organised by Leon Trotsky, which suggests that Lenin may not have been responsible for the fall of the PG.
It could be argued that Trotsky’s role made him responsible for the fall of the PG through his organisation of the MRC and Red Guard. Trotsky was the chairman of the Petrograd Soviet, which allowed him to set up the MRC, which was the only formidable military force in Petrograd; moreover, the MRC was legitimated by the authority of the Soviet, so opposition to its movements would be limited. Additionally, Trotsky directed the Red Guard to key vantage points in Petrograd, which assisted the seizure of power in the October revolution. This may suggest that Trotsky was responsible for the fall of the PG, since he was largely responsible for the success of the October revolution. As with Lenin, his role’s significance can be criticised. The MCR were only founded to protect Petrograd from perceived threats, such as coups or Germans; it is likely that this was prompted by the July Days and the perceived threat of Kornilov. This lessens the strength of the argument that Trotsky was responsible for the fall of the PG, because his success derived from the failures of PG.
To conclude, the PG was largely responsible for its downfall in the October revolution in 1917. It was unelected and thus lacked authority since its conception; it made mistakes such as the summer offensive which reduced its popularity, and it created the circumstances for revolution in the Kornilov Affair, where Kerensky’s paranoia proved to be the turning point for Bolshevik fortunes. The PG allowed the Bolsheviks to be revived from near-death and seize power in initially unlikely circumstances. Lenin and Trotsky certainly contributed to the fall of the PG significantly, but their importance is overstated and dependent on the mistakes made by the PG. This is why the PG was responsible for its own downfall in 1917.