The Provisional Government

The second stage of revolution followed Tsar Nicolas II's decision to enter World War I (1914–1917), which led to five million casualties, disease, starvation, and disaster for Russia and its Tsarist regime. In February 1917, Tsar Nicolas II was forced to abdicate due to these leadership failures. In 1918, Tsar Nicholas II and his entire family were executed. However, the Duma that replaced him had no experience running a government. Petrograd was torn by strikes by industrial workers, such as a strike at the Putilov Mill, women's demonstrations, food shortages, and general middle-class discontent. Local soviets, or workers councils, organized in the cities while groups of peasants claimed the land in the countryside in response to this decentralization.

Read this text. Why do you think the structure of the provisional government was considered "moderate"? Compare it to the Manifesto of 1905. Why was it ultimately ineffective?

The Provisional Government

The Russian Empire collapsed with the abdication of Emperor Nicholas II during the February Revolution. The old regime was replaced by a politically moderate provisional government that struggled for power with the socialist-led worker councils (soviets).

Key Points

  • The February Revolution of 1917 was focused around Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg), then capital of Russia.

  • The army leadership felt they did not have the means to suppress the revolution, resulting in Tsar Nicholas's abdication and soon after, the end of the Tsarist regime altogether.

  • To fill the vacuum of authority, the Duma (legislature) declared a provisional government headed by Prince Lvov, collectively known as the Russian Republic.

  • Meanwhile, the socialists in Petrograd organized elections among workers and soldiers to form a soviet (council) of workers' and soldiers' deputies as an organ of popular power that could pressure the "bourgeois" provisional government.

  • The Soviets initially permitted the provisional government to rule, but insisted on a prerogative to influence decisions and control various militias.

  • A period of dual power ensued during which the provisional government held state power while the national network of soviets, led by socialists, had the allegiance of the lower classes and the political left.

  • During this chaotic period there were frequent mutinies, protests, and strikes, such as the July Days.

  • The period of competition for authority ended in late October 1917 when Bolsheviks routed the ministers of the Provisional Government in the events known as the October Revolution and placed power in the hands of the soviets, which had given their support to the Bolsheviks.

Key Terms

July Days

Events in 1917 that took place in Petrograd, Russia, between July 3 and 7 when soldiers and industrial workers engaged in spontaneous armed demonstrations against the Russian Provisional Government. The Bolsheviks initially attempted to prevent the demonstrations and then decided to support them.


Political organizations and governmental bodies, essentially workers' councils, primarily associated with the Russian Revolutions and the history of the Soviet Union, that gave the name to the latter state.

February Revolution

The first of two Russian revolutions in 1917. It involved mass demonstrations and armed clashes with police and gendarmes, the last loyal forces of the Russian monarchy. On March 12, mutinous Russian Army forces sided with the revolutionaries. Three days later, the result was the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, the end of the Romanov dynasty, and the end of the Russian Empire.

Russian Provisional Government

A provisional government of the Russian Republic established immediately following the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II of the Russian Empire on 2 March.

Source: Boundless,
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