Assess the view that the failures of the provisional government were the main factors in enabling Lenin and the Bolsheviks to seize power
By Daniel Harrington Candidate no: 5093
15c. Assess the view that the failures of the provisional government were the main factors in enabling Lenin and the Bolsheviks to seize power.
The Seize of power by the Bolsheviks means different things to different people, historian T. H. Von Laue argued that the Bolsheviks staged a limited coup in October 1917 in his book Why Lenin? Why Stalin? Published in 1971, Von Laue states that ‘the communists were pioneers in the arts of activating and manipulating the fears and hopes of the common man’ to this point most of Lenin’s work had been done within the safety of Finland away from the Russian Government and the Tsar.
Von Laue goes on to state that ‘they (the Bolsheviks) raised extravagant illusions and held out a promise, certified by the laws of war’ and Von Laue goes onto describe the Bolshevik takeover as a minor event that was only important in retrospect. Von Laue brings up a great point that the Bolsheviks had a lot of support in the Russian heart land , but they lacked support in the big cities like Petrograd, where there rivals the Mensheviks and the popular SR’s (Socialist Revolutionaries) were more established. Von Laue end with a question how with all the circumstances (the Bolsheviks lack of support in the cities and in areas of ethnic minorities of non-Slavic people) did a small minority make itself master of Russia?
Von Laue himself in other works believed that Nazism and Communism was a bid by nations to catch up with the rapid industrial growth in Western Europe at the time, within this interpretation Von Laue has answered his own question by stating that the communist manipulated the hopes and fears of the common man.
Another historian speaking on this matter Edward Acton in his book, Russia, published in 1986, Acton state’s that ‘Lenin’s rationale might be beyond most workers and soldiers but his programme was not’ Acton writes that Lenin’s hard hitting propaganda made it clear to all what his aims where and what the workers could expect from Lenin and his party.
The Bolshevik’s also had a surge in new membership according to Acton these were the industrial proletariat, the Bolshevik’s then found themselves having a lot of power within the factories but the Bolsheviks continued to struggle in the Petrograd Soviet but this was all going to change.
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Acton States that the party secretaries estimated that the party membership grew from 23,000 in February to 200,000 by October. The rate of growth Acton states was most impressive in the Petrograd area where the party benefited from the feverish atmosphere of the Capital. According to Acton the inroads were being made by the Bolsheviks in the cities and industry across the country, whilst their rival parties the SR’s and the Mensheviks where losing influence in the army and navy, which allowed the Bolsheviks more influence and led to militia factions of Bolshevik support.
Whilst the Bolsheviks support grew according to Acton, the SR’s support base was sticking by them. The SR’s were well organised at a local level amongst the peasants, this meant they were very active and successful in local direct action, which gained them a considerable local following. The Bolshevik’s were targeting the industrial workers and soldiers. Furthermore the Bolsheviks where now gaining more popularity from the Soviets. What is important to mention is that Lenin once had as his slogan all power to the Soviet, but when Lenin could not get a majority in the Soviet, Lenin stopped mentioning the Soviet in his plans. Later when Lenin could get a majority, then that slogan would return to the forefront of Bolshevik propaganda.
The Bolshevik Party and programme offered a solution, to the workers in their struggle against employers and government according to Acton and gave them an alternative reason for their inability to feed themselves ‘It was against this background of rapid uneven radicalisation of the masses that the struggle for political power unfolded. As early as June, Lenin felt sufficiently confident to tell the first All-Russian Congress of Soviets that his party was willing to take state power alone.
Acton points to, increasing support for Lenin’s programme as being key to the Bolshevik seize of power, whilst going against what Von Laue stated so it’s either Acton who was right the Bolsheviks were a popular and big movement or Von Laue who claimed that the Bolsheviks where opportunists but small and insignificant, and only in retrospect did they have an impact.
Though both Acton & Von Laue agree on one thing, that the Bolshevik Manifesto directly recognised the struggle of the people and offered solutions the people wanted to hear. Like end starvation, reform the factories. The reality was that the cold and anarchy played an important part in the Bolsheviks taking power despite how big or small the party was.
The next interpretation for Orlando Figes in the book “A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1893-1924”, published in 1996. Figes brings emphasis to the Kornilov crisis and the role that the Bolsheviks played within the crisis. Figes states that the Bolsheviks would not have gained power without the Kornilov crisis. The fact that many political prisoners were released after this crisis helped the Bolsheviks, because of their key role in resolving the situation.
Kornilov was appointed by Kerensky, the leader of the provisional government at the time. The Kornilov Crisis started with an appointed general of the Russian army(Kornilov) turning on the government; Kornilov was appointed by the provisional government and would go on to run parts of the army. Kornilov revolted against the government and got his troops to turn their guns at Petrograd and planned to storm the parliament in order to end the anarchy that was happening at the time. When the provisional government learned of these plans they faced a dire situation because who would protect the city of Petrograd from the army, past examples of unrest within the city had been crushed by the army, but now the provisional government would have to beg the Soviet for protection and with the Bolsheviks having links to the military they seemed the most able to combat Kornilov. The governments then supported the Red Guards, who were the militia connected to the Bolshevik party. They took key positions to defend the city and defeated Kornilov. Kerensky’s government then released key communist prisoners like Trotsky which allowed the Bolsheviks to plan with their leading figures and most importantly the Bolsheviks now had the firepower to take control of the city.
Figes states that ‘The red guards and the Kronstadt sailors, who were to be the foot-soldiers in October, also emerged strengthened from the struggle against Kornilov’ ‘The Whole thing was a dress rehearsal for the seizure of power’ Figes goes on to state that Kerensky’s victory over Kornilov was his own political defeat.
Figes uses the Kornilov crisis as the main reason for the Bolshevik’s taking power whilst in comparison with Acton it’s a contradiction because Lenin had taken the Soviet and had seen the Bolshevik party membership sky rocket, so it was inevitable that Lenin and the Bolshevik’s would take over. Von Laue has the middle ground when compared with these two because Von Laue points out that the Bolshevik’s could not simply send a telegram to disband this government like the previous one had done, Von Laue points out that the Bolshevik’s propaganda though manipulative was affective as Acton points out that the Bolshevik program had wide support because of propaganda.
The next interpretation is from Acton and Stableford from their book, the Soviet Union: A documentary History 1917-1940, published in 2005. Acton & Stableford state that ‘by directly threatening the revolution as it was popularly conceived, the affair gave renewed momentum for Socialists to take power’ they are referring to the Kornilov affair in which the Red Guards had secured Petrograd’s safety following this the coalition government collapsed for the second time.
Kerensky would go on to create a 5 man caretaker directory to ensure his power, according the Acton and Stableford “Kerensky abandoned the Provisional Government’s long standing insistence that only the constituent assembly could decide upon the country’s state form” A return to autocracy perhaps? Kerensky went on to make a blind gesture to the people by making Russia a full republic of which people took very little interest. Once again we go back to the main beneficiary of the Kornilov affair the Bolshevik’s Acton & Stableford go on “The party’s [Bolshevik’s] repeated warning that the coalition with the representatives of ‘the bourgeoisie’ opened the way to counter-revolution seemed vindicated” With the release of political prisoners from the July days scandal it seemed the Kornilov crisis could overshadow anything, except the war of course.
In this interpretation Acton & Stableford seemed to build on Figes work on the Kornilov affair but where these interpretations differ is that Figes points out that Kornliov was a rehearsal for the Red Guard to rise up and take power whilst Acton & Stableford point out that Kerensky had lost all credibility as a leader, the Bolsheviks had become the only true opposition in Russia to Kerensky.
Acton writing 19 years previously had claimed that Party membership had been a reason of the Bolshevik take over but Acton does not mention this in his work with Stableford.
One thing that Figes Acton & Stableford all have in common is that they don’t see the Bolshevik take over as a minor event and therefore they all disagree with Von Laue. Von Laue’s ending question “How did a small minority take over Russia?” Is answered, in that the Bolshevik leadership may have been a small number of people but they had millions of people supporting their cause. That is by no means a small minority. Von Laue does answer his own question though in his opening line “the communists were pioneers in the arts of activating and manipulating the fears and hopes of the common man”
In conclusion the Bolshevik’s took power because of a number of failures but also because of their own decisions to stay out of government unlike their rivals to Menshevik’s. The Provisional government failed because of Kornilov and Kerensky’s appointment of Kornilov into a high ranker military position, the fact that the Bolshevik’s saved the government and the people which made them Martyrs and heroes to the people and that by the end no matter what Kerensky or the government did people still suffered and the Bolshevik’s adapted to the changing situation in Russia.