Mike Haynes


Was there a parliamentary alternative in Russia in 1917?

(Part 1)


Was the Russian Revolution a mistake? Eighty years on the answer would appear to be yes, not simply for the right but for the victims of the Soviet regime and for its erstwhile supporters in the West. The historian Eric Hobsbawm describes October as a “freak result of war”. For another penitential ex-Communist it was “a mistake of truly historic proportions”. But this view depends on two other arguments. The first is that there was a basic continuity between 1917 and what came later. Far from betraying the revolution, as Trotsky claimed, Stalin and his successors in some sense fulfilled it. When the regimes that were created in Eastern Europe by the Red Army after 1945 collapsed and when the Soviet Union itself collapsed in 1991, they therefore carried away with them the whole of the past back to 1917. The second argument is that there was another choice in 1917 – that the Bolsheviks and their supporters were wrong to take power as they did and they therefore have primary responsibility for what came after.

Since the first argument is extensively treated elsewhere, our concern here will be with the second one – the rewriting of 1917 itself. Our argument is that the Russian Revolution was an attempt to escape from the bloodiest war that capitalism had yet produced, a war which was creating internal crises everywhere, and which in Russia demanded radical solutions. This war, a product of capitalism at its most barbaric, created a polarisation in Russian society. Workers could either go forward or risk being crushed by chaos and counter-revolution in a way that was subsequently to happen many times in the 20th century. In striking out to overthrow capitalism in Russia the Bolsheviks refused to become “heroic failures”. Their hope of success, however, depended not only on themselves but on whether the revolution could spread, enabling the Russian Revolution to break out of its isolation. In the event, despite coming close, the hope of a wider revolution was defeated and the revolutionaries in Russia were left isolated. For this isolation the socialist leadership in the West must take primary responsibility for had they taken their opportunities then the result might have been different.

But rather than rehearse familiar arguments to support this analysis, our aim here will be to consider the revolution from another angle and ask why it was that a credible bourgeois democratic alternative could not emerge? Instead of looking at the revolution from the bottom up, from the perspective of the workers, peasants, soldiers and sailors who formed the mass movement, we can explore it from the top down and ask what imperatives led the different sections of the ruling class to act the way they did and what the choices were from their perspective? [1] Only at the end will we return to the agenda of the revolution from below to ask a different question. Why, with clear evidence of support for a soviet-based socialist coalition government without the bourgeoisie, the two other leading socialist parties, the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks (and the Menshevik Internationalists), not only refused to support the Bolsheviks but effectively abandoned many of their own supporters in favour of a fruitless attempt to hold out a hand to Russia’s ruling class over a now unbridgeable gap. While this decision has won them renewed plaudits from those hostile to the Bolsheviks in 1917 we shall argue that it contributed to the very situation they wished to avoid, namely a weakening of the broad front of the popular movement. Contrary to the many historians who see the Bolsheviks as the only dynamic force after October 1917, the policies that emerged in the first months of the revolution must in part be understood in the context of the action and inaction of this part of the left.



Pre-revolutionary Russia

Within the space of a single article it is impossible to review the complex debate on Russian development before 1914 as well as do justice to 1917 itself. We will therefore content ourselves with making three points about how Russian development should be analysed. Firstly, development in Russia was not an autonomous process. It occurred in the context of the deepening and widening of the capitalist system which increasingly tied Russia to the world economy through economic, social, political and military links.

Secondly, this process of capitalist integration created in Russia, as it created elsewhere, structures of uneven and combined development. Development was uneven in that different areas of the country, sectors of the economy and sections of society developed at different speeds. Some, at times, showed little sign of change or even moved absolutely backwards. But this does not mean that we can simple counterpose the new to the old, the modern to the traditional, the changing to the unchanging. Development was combined in that these forms fed off one another and helped in some ways to mutually reinforce the unevenness of change. A simple but telling example is the link between agriculture and industry. The backward nature of Russian agriculture meant that there was limited demand for agricultural equipment. This held back the development of the Russian agricultural machinery industry in the face of limited demand and foreign competition. Native businessmen in this industry therefore campaigned for protective tariffs and pursued monopolistic practices which kept prices up and so helped to perpetuate the backwardness of the countryside. It was this type of interaction, occurring not only in the economy but across society, that Trotsky was trying to address with his famous concept of “uneven and combined development”.

Thirdly, when the revolution came it did so in the midst of a world war that was itself a product of the competitive tensions within the wider capitalist system of which Russia was a leading great power. Unless the war is seen as a product of miscalculation or some autonomous political process then both it and Russia’s part in it must be seen as expressions of the wider contradictory dynamics of capitalism at the start of the 20th century.

Though in one sense these three points might appear straightforward they nevertheless go against the grain of much recent writing on the origins of the revolution in Russia. This has tended to look at Russia’s links to the wider world as an afterthought, is obsessed by the contrasts between the apparent domination of tradition and the few “islands” of modernity, and introduces the war as an external factor or one which emerges detached from any basis in capitalism in general and Russian capitalism in particular. [2]

By themselves, of course, our three arguments present no more than points of departure for a more detailed analysis of Tsarist Russia that we cannot follow through here. In Russia before 1986 it was common to paint a one-sided and gloomy picture of Tsarist development. Now many have gone to the opposite extreme and see it as a golden age. [3] Since we are primarily interested in the way that the contradictions established before 1914 had an impact in 1917 we will simply draw attention to three more empirical observations about the pattern of development.

Firstly, Tsarist Russia was developing and changing­there was considerable absolute progress without which it is impossible to understand how the revolution became possible. Secondly, this growth was not sufficient to close the relative gap that existed between the Russian economy and those of more advanced capitalism. Despite periods of good growth, the long run growth rate of the Russian economy was not high enough to allow it to close the gap. Whereas in 1870 Russian per capita income was roughly 34 percent of the UK level, by 1910 it was 32 percent – a performance markedly inferior to much of the rest of eastern Europe. [4] Thirdly, although the result of the 1905 Revolution was some political and agrarian reform which it has been argued began to move Russia towards a more liberal democratic path, this argument failed to convince people before 1914. “No one at the time seriously believed that the autocracy was liberalising,” says a recent historian. [5] Nor has it convinced those who have looked in detail at the patterns of constitutional change, and change in agriculture and the wider economy.

It does not follow from this, however, that we should then agree with those accounts which place so much stress on the extent to which the class structure reflected the continuing weight of tradition that they reject the idea that Tsarist Russia was capitalist. Instead such historians call it feudal or semi-feudal or, like Richard Pipes, define it as a “patrimonial society” or put it in some other special category – anything which weakens the claim that revolution in 1917 was directed against capitalism. [6]

Such arguments start from two correct observations. The first was well put by the economist and historian Peter Struve, then a Marxist, in the 1890s, that “the further to the east one goes in Europe, the weaker in politics, the more cowardly, and the baser becomes the bourgeoisie”. [7] Relative economic backwardness meant that a socially weak bourgeoisie had to contest for power with a strong “old order”. The second was that as Russian society advanced much of it did indeed display an outer shell of tradition. In particular society was formally divided into social estates (soslovie) such as those of “noble”, “merchant”, “peasant” which looked back to society as it existed in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The only national census held in Tsarist Russia used this formal classification, measuring only in a distorted way the real class divisions that were emerging in Russian society at the of the century. [8] Similarly the state administration was divided into uniformed grades, each divided by status, decorations and titles to such an extent that the civil servant obsessed with his position became a stock figure in Russian literature. But we must beware two mistaken developments from these two points.

The first is judging the development of Russia or any other society against some ideal model of “bourgeois development” – an ideal which has never been able to occur anywhere. The bourgeoisie “betraying its historical mission” has become such a staple of liberal and left wing historical writing that this idea has become a real hindrance to understanding. It detracts from analysing what actually happened in favour of speculation about “what should have happened”. The second mistake is then to fail to take into account the variety of forms through which the rule of capital can be expressed. Whereas socialism must depend on the political and economic rule of a self conscious working class for it to have any meaning, the rule of capital is founded at the economic level. It operates more or less effectively through a wide variety of social and political structures. The task of historical analysis is therefore to tease out the ways and extent to which this is taking place. [9]

In fact our knowledge of the complex real history of the ruling class is remarkably sketchy. Too often even its broad contours remain vague. Just as there has been a tendency to reduce the working class to the factory workers and miners (the famous 3.5 million of 1917) ignoring those in transport and distribution, building, small scale production, domestic service, agricultural labour, and seasonal work, as well as the families they had, so too the discussion of the ruling class has tended to reduce it to the study of a few groups. Here we can only alert readers to the danger of this as space will force us too to focus on the broad components of class structure.

Much attention has been paid to the way in which the influence of the industrial bourgeoisie was fractured before 1914. [10] A part of Russian industry was owned by foreign capital. In St Petersburg modern banks and engineering firms dependent on state orders had to a degree come to terms with Tsarism. In Moscow and the Central Industrial Region a textile based bourgeoisie was freeing itself of the traditions of the past and speaking with more independence. So too were businessmen in the south who were based around the mining and iron and steel and in the south west around the sugar industry. But although there was some coming together based on the growing concentration of production and distribution, a question mark still hung over the vigour with which the bourgeoisie could influence the process of change. The liberal theorist and politician Miliukov famously said that it was the professional groups in the zemstvo and urban intelligentsia who “filled the anaemic body of Russian liberalism with red blood [and] gave it at the same time a more advanced and democratic character”. [11]

But a modern bourgeoisie was becoming more articulate and assertive, especially as the economy boomed in the last years before the war. In the Novoe utro, the journal of the “progressive business class”, one of their supporters could say just before the war:

Our New Year’s toast is raised in honour of the bourgeoisie, the Third Estate of contemporary Russia: to this force which is gaining strength and growing mightily, which thanks to the spiritual and material riches inhering in it, has left far behind the degenerating nobility and the bureaucracy which controls the country’s destiny. [12]

We can appreciate this thrust better now as one of the side effects of the collapse of the Soviet regime has been to encourage the publication of studies of Russia’s lost private capitalists and millionaires.

However, three other pressures were drawing the different elements of the ruling class closer together even as they disputed for power. The first was the fear of revolt from below. The 1905 Revolution with its urban demonstrations, strikes, soviets, peasant led uprisings in the countryside, and mutinies in the navy quickly confirmed the worst fears not only of the established order but of many just below the top who would have liked to see power move towards them. They therefore began to see clear limits to how they should construct their struggle against Tsarism. As a result it was commonplace on parts of the left to argue that a future Russian revolution would not simply be a bourgeois revolution – even if few were prepared to go as far as Trotsky in his embryonic formulation of the theory of permanent revolution. Outside Russia too, observers like Karl Kautsky reinforced the view that there was a fatal divide between the popular movement and the forces wanting a more modern capitalist society. In his pamphlet The Driving Forces and Prospects of the Russian Revolution he argued that:

At the present time the proletariat is no longer a mere appendage and tool of the bourgeoisie, as was the case during bourgeois revolutions, but is an independent class, with independent revolutionary aims. But where the proletariat comes out in this manner, the bourgeoisie ceases to be a revolutionary class. The Russian bourgeoisie, in so far as it is liberal at all and pursues an independent class policy, undoubtedly hates absolutism, but it hates revolution still more ... And in so far as it wants political freedom it does so mainly because it regards it as the only means of putting an end to revolution. Thus, the bourgeoisie is not one of the driving forces of the present day revolutionary movement in Russia ... The proletariat and the peasantry alone have the firm community of interests during the whole period of the revolutionary struggle. And this is what must serve as the basis of the entire revolutionary tactics of Russian social democracy ... [13]

The second pressure pulling the ruling class together was a sense of its imperial mission within Russia. Great Russians made up only 43 percent of the empire’s population but their leaders ruled over an empire covering around one sixth of the world’s surface. This empire was the result of continual expansion over the centuries. However, in the 19th century pre-capitalist pressures to expand became overlaid by new economic interests and the development of a new sense of Russian “national identity” as part of the “nation making process” that was general in Europe at the time. No less in the constituent parts of the empire intellectuals began to develop programmes of “national independence” which challenged the right of this ruling class to control the destinies of the populations they ruled. This challenge to the destiny of the empire began to bring the old Russia and the new Russia together. In particular those concerned with the economic future of Russia looked to the agriculture of the Ukraine, its coal, iron and steel, the oil of Baku, the cotton of central Asia, while railway and financial interests tied the economy closer together. Liberals were therefore in a dilemma. They opposed the oppressive policies of Tsarism against the national minorities, even to the extent of supporting some autonomy and minority rights, but they cast their arguments within the framework of the continued existence of a greater Russia. [14] Struve, speaking now for conservative liberalism, offered a bridge between the two groups, condemning Ukrainian separatism in particular for the way in which it threatened “a gigantic and unprecedented schism of the Russian nation, which, such is my deepest conviction, will result in veritable disaster for the state and for the people”. [15]

The third pressure derived from imperialism in the wider sense of a shared interest in ensuring that Russia maintained its position as a great power. Bismarck had said of Russia, “Let her go eastward. There she is a civilising force.” His hope was that this would reduce tension in Europe and allow the unmolested expansion of German influence in central Europe. But whatever the attraction of exotic internal colonies, Russia’s rulers never had any doubt that Russia’s “really vital interests” were in the west, the arena of the main battles with Germany, and for influence in the Balkans and Straits:

By circumstance, if not by choice, Russia’s rank as a Europe Great Power had come in the half-century that had preceded the downfall of the monarchy to depend primarily on her position and strength in the Balkan peninsula. That fact and not Pan-Slavic ideology or the dream of Constantinople dictated the Russian response in the supreme crisis of July 1914. [16]

We can no more cut imperialism out of Russian policy making than we could for any other great power in this period; it was, as its best historian puts it, “an integral part of the political system in imperial Russia”. [17] It was Struve who again set out the modern logic of Russian imperialism in this wider sense. To sustain itself as a world power Russia’s rulers needed external power but this required a powerful and modern internal state. [18] While this led him to argue for reform it also led him to challenge liberalism for being too hostile to the interests of “Great Russia”: “Russian liberalism will always doom itself to impotence until such time as it acknowledges itself to be Russian and national.” In the end Struve felt that this union was never achieved but we can argue that the war and February Revolution went a long way towards realising just this link.

Indeed when European war came in 1914 Russia played a key role in the crisis, not only in a diplomatic sense but in the way that its conflict with Germany created part of the underlying tension from which the war emerged. In this case, as Norman Stone puts it, “it was, indeed, the economic ‘take-off’ that men had been predicting for Russia, that ... in a sense, caused the First World War since German apprehension of it ... led Germany’s leaders into provoking a preventative war”.[19]



Caught between war and revolution

Everywhere throughout Europe war brought unity between the ruling class and much of the rest of society. In Russia the central committee of the Cadet party announced: “Whatever was our relationship to the internal policy of the government, our over-riding duty is to support the one and indivisible fatherland and to preserve its position as one of the great powers, which is now being challenged by the enemy we have. We set aside internal disputes, we will not give them even the slightest cause to hope that our differences will divide us”. [20]

Recent historical research has painted a more positive picture of the performance of the Tsarist armies but this is relative. [21] Everything that can be said about the horrors and strain of war on the Western Front can be said about the Eastern Front and worse. The physical conditions were often more difficult, the trenches shallower on the Russian side, their troops were more badly equipped (lacking not only munitions but even tin hats), the medical backup inadequate, the food supplies worse, and so on. Hindenburg, the German general, recorded how “sometimes in our battles with the Russians we had to remove the mounds of enemy corpses from before our trenches in order to get a clear field of fire against fresh assaulting waves.” On one estimate in the first ten months of the war alone the Russian armies lost 300,000 men a month, dead, wounded or taken prisoner. [22] On average until the ceasefire in late 1917 Russia’s average monthly losses were around 40,000 dead, 120,000 wounded and 60,000 missing or taken prisoner.

The government proved quite unable to create the structure that could sustain this war effort. Into the gap came voluntary organisations headed by liberals but including leading industrial capitalists. The Union of Zemstvos headed by Prince G.E. L’vov played a crucial social role including caring for many of the wounded. Industrial production and war supplies were assisted by the creation of voluntary War Industry Committees. The central organisation was headed by the industrialist A.I. Guchkov; the Moscow organisation by Pavel Riabushinskii, that in Kiev by the sugar industrialist Mikhail Tereshchenko. Then on 25 August 1915 the Cadets and the Octobrists in the Duma joined with other groups to form the Progressive Bloc to bring pressure on the government to improve the war effort through co-operation with it.

The response of the Tsar and the government was to hold these organisations at arms length. As late as the winter of 1916-1917 the Tsar banned a Moscow conference of the zemstva, the role of the War Industries Committees was progressively restricted and on 17 December the Duma was suspended. Even the Tsar’s brother could lament as 1916 developed that at the top “there is no real power, not a shadow of any kind of programme, or desire to understand Russia’s actual situation and position in the present troubled days”. [23]

This threw the opposition into a quandary. It is important to understand that although there was a growing belief that the government had to be changed, this was quite different to a commitment to democratisation. In March 1916 Miliukov told the Duma, “I know that a revolution in Russia will definitely lead us to defeat. If I were told that organising Russia for victory meant organising for revolution I would say, ‘better leave her as she is, unorganised, for the duration of the war’.” But as problems rose it became more difficult to hold this position and Miliukov was forced to make more outspoken attacks. What the leading Cadets wanted was what the newspaper Rech called in November 1916 a “dictatorship enjoying the confidence of the public”. [24]

But if the Tsarist government did not respond to the overtures of the opposition how could it be made to change its views? Guchkov expressed the difficulty well: “We are almost powerless to struggle with this evil. Our means of struggle is double edged and by encouraging the mood of the popular masses we might put a spark to the fire, the scale of which we can neither foresee or isolate”. [25] Even at the very top Rodzianko, the president of the State Duma, continued to restrain action until the very end. As one recent historian has put it, “Their aim was not to conduct a thorough social revolution in Russia but to prevent one from developing. They wanted to restructure the political and economic system to provide more opportunities for enterprise, capital and the market.” In the end they waited so long that the matter was taken out of their hands. “The guilt, if we can speak of the historical guilt of Russian society,” wrote Guchkov, “consists of this, that Russian society in the form of its leading circles has not been sufficiently aware of the need for this overturn and has not taken it into its own hands, but has allowed blind, elemental forces, moving without a definite plan, to complete this painful operation”. [26] But removing the monarchy proved more than a tidy piece of surgery; it redefined the whole political landscape in Russia.



The trauma of the February Revolution

On 23 February 1917 textile workers in Petrograd inaugurated a wave of strikes and demonstrations which grew daily with control slipping from the authorities. On 27 February the first troops in the city began to go over to the demonstrators and this continued on next day until, on 1 March, the majority of the garrison was in revolt. As news arrived at the military headquarters the now isolated Tsar decided to abdicate. But how would a new government emerge and with what mandate?

On 27 February Rodzianko still refused to allow the Duma to officially reconvene but he was prepared to allow an unofficial meeting which, since it was boycotted by the right, effectively became a meeting of the Progressive Bloc. This elected a Provisional Committee under Rodzianko who was quickly displaced by the Cadet leader Miliukov. At the same time the embryo of the Petrograd Soviet was created. For our purposes the detail of the internal conflicts in the Provisional Committee, between it and the Tsar and between it and the soviet, can be left to the side. Suffice it to say that key figures in the Provisional Committee were anxious to create some form of constitutional monarchy but were prevented from achieving this by more radical members of the Committee and the pressure of the soviet. [27] The soviet leadership saw the revolution as a bourgeois revolution and therefore had no desire to rule but they were determined to be rid of the Romanovs and to ensure that the Provisional Committee upheld a more democratic view of the revolution. The result was not only the abdication of the Tsar and his family but the creation of a Provisional government under Prince L’vov, the zemstvo leader, on 1 March with its composition being agreed with the soviet the next day.

The interesting question for us is the nature of the political structure that came out of this February Revolution and to understand this we need to appreciate the extent to which the revolution pulled the political spectrum to the left leaving the idea of “bourgeois democracy” hanging in the air – precisely the scenario that the liberals had feared before 1917. Just how great this movement was can be seen in the symbols of 1917. The red flag flew everywhere, including over the Tauride Palace where both the Provisional government and the Petrograd Soviet met and over the Winter Palace when Kerensky took up residence there. The holidays institutionalised by the Provisional government were often socialist holidays – most notably May Day. The renaming of things began after February as a symbol of the new era. To be associated with the old order was to be disparaged and threatened and this applied as much to the idea of what was “bourgeois” as what was “aristocratic” or “Tsarist”. On 22 March Russkoe slovo lamented: “Bourgeois. It seems that this word, with its abusive meaning, occupies a position between ‘scoundrel’ and ‘swine’, and its wide usage is explained, apparently, by its polemical convenience.”

We have therefore a paradox. The Provisional government, trying to stabilise a bourgeois democratic system, had problems in even giving this project its name. One contemporary summed it up as “the fashion for socialism”, “the general aspirations of a huge number of Russians to declare themselves, no matter what, to be socialists, to the amazement of foreigners.” The socialist newspaper Vpered in its first issue noted ironically that “the yellow street press calls itself non-party socialist. The financial newspapers repaint themselves with the protective colour of ‘realistic socialism’, while the banks try to protect themselves by raising the red banner of revolution over their buildings.”

Alongside the more obvious revolutionary elements, the factory and soldiers committees, the soviets etc, this seismic shift in the political spectrum destabilised political parties and institutions that would normally be the basis of the consolidation of a new order. Even the church was affected. While sections of the hierarchy looked on in horror some turned towards moderate Christian socialism. Still others went further. Vvendenskii, one of the most radical of the clergy, saw no contradiction between Bolshevism and Christianity: “The struggle on behalf of the poor is the basic principle of socialism, and it is our own Christian struggle.” With these views he was elected to the Petrograd Soviet to represent the “democratic clergy”. The Orthodox Church even created a special “Committee on Bolshevism in the Church” as it tried to puzzle out how to deal with the phenomenon. [28]

This created an embarrassing political problem for both the Provisional government and for those who later claimed that the October events represented the imposition of an illegitimate government over a legitimate one. What was the basis of legitimacy of the Provisional government? At one level this produced an apparently bizarre discussion of constitutional theory. More widely, it reflected the ambiguous political legitimacy that the Provisional government had both in respect of the mass of the population and the existing institutions of the state. [29] There was general agreement that a proper constitutional basis of power had to derive from a Constituent Assembly which would create the new constitutional and state structure of a democratic Russia. But until the Constituent Assembly met and deliberated, on what basis could the Provisional government claim to legitimately rule?

There were three possible answers. The most dangerous was that given by Miliukov in a moment of frustration when he stood outside the Tauride Palace on 2 March and someone shouted from the crowd, “Who elected you?”, his reply was “We were chosen by the Russian Revolution”. [30] But if the Provisional government was chosen by the “revolution” then what was to stop the “revolution” getting rid of the Provisional government? Such an idea implicitly thrust the government into the hands of the street, legitimising the role of the soviets and endorsing those leaders who were only too ready to stress the degree to which the Provisional government needed them. Steklov, then editor of the newspaper of the Petrograd Soviet and a member of the Contact Commission set up to liaise between the soviet and the Provisional government, delighted in taunting ministers: “You must remember that we have only to wish it, and at once you will no longer exist, since you have no independent importance and authority”. [31]

The second solution was to argue that the authority of the Provisional government derived from the old Tsarist Duma. There were, however, two obvious difficulties with this – the first was that the Duma was elected on a narrow basis, entirely unrepresentative of the country. [32] The second was that the Tsar had prorogued the Duma on 27 February in the midst of the crisis. Technically therefore the Duma was not in session to make any decisions at all. The problem was more than a technical one. In the French Revolution the Third Estate resisted the king and declared itself in permanent session gaining the initial stature to turn the Estates General into a National Assembly in the summer of 1789. In Russia the Duma and its leaders meekly obeyed the Tsar’s ruling, committing “suicide”, as Miliukov put it, “without protest”. [33]

This left the third possibility, that the Provisional government might claim legitimacy from the Tsar. Yet constitutionally and politically this was no less satisfactory although in a technical sense this is exactly what happened. The best legal minds of the Cadet Party struggled to make sense of this and to give it an appearance of authority. The difficulty was that in abdicating the Tsar should have allowed the throne to pass to his son under a regent. But, fearing for his son’s health and future, he abdicated for him too – something which constitutionally he had no power to do. [34] The throne then “passed” to the Tsar’s brother, the Grand Duke Mikhail, who in turn “abdicated”. Mikhail did not want to be thought of as having accepted the title of Emperor even for a moment. But the Cadet constitutionalists prevailed on him to “formally” pass on his “authority” to the Provisional government to give it some sense of legitimacy. Even Kerensky went along with this pretence of a transfer of power, pretentiously telling the Grand Duke that “we will carry the precious vessel of your authority to the Constituent Assembly without spilling a single drop”. [35] The constitutional importance of this was, as Nol’de and Nabokov (the two key authors of the constitutional fiction) put it, that the “act of 3 March was in essence the only constitution during the period of existence of the Provisional government”. [36]

Yet it remained impossible to bind the February Revolution in these constitutional limits. [37] What was necessary was for the Provisional government to maintain a popular base. One way of doing this was to include representatives from below – this was the attraction of the appointment of Kerensky. Shingarov, defending Kerensky’s appointment to the first Provisional government, argued, “we must detach from the revolution one of its leaders ... Of them Kerensky is the only one ... Much better to have him with you than against you”. [38] Another was to keep confidence by reform. Russia quickly became, as Lenin happily recognised, the freest country in the world. The Provisional government was a reforming government supporting a Constituent Assembly based on universal suffrage; universal suffrage in local elections implemented in 1917; the abolition of racial and religious discrimination; freedom for religion; freedom of speech and assembly; the right to strike; soldiers to be citizens in uniform. But there were limits to how far it could go. Russia remained a class society in which the political possibilities were structured by the conflicting interests of those at the top and those at the bottom of society. The programme of the Provisional government therefore “was a charter of democratic freedoms, not a programme for the transformation of society”. [39] It was the failure to hold the line at such a charter that would lead to Russia being split apart. To see how this happened we need to explore why it was so difficult for liberal democracy to find a mass base in 1917.



The missing base of bourgeois democracy

To understand the difficulties of creating a stable party political system that might be the agency of capitalist rule it is necessary to explore the pattern of party support in 1917 in some detail. One aspect of this was the initial fragmentation of the party structure. This is not unusual in new democracies but it nevertheless complicated the task of creating a stable political base with more than 100 parties contesting for power. [40] But within this mass of organisations there were half a dozen which were significant on a national scale. Three were on the centre right, the Trade Industrialists, the Union of House Owners, and the Cadets. In 1917, however, it was the Cadets who were the main capitalist party. Cadet ideologists had tried to maintain that it was a liberal supra-class party which could speak “for Russia”.

Now, in the post-February period, the more conservative Nationalist and Octobrist parties were marginalised by the swing to the left and the Cadets became the home for the centre right. Symptomatic was the decision of the conservative Prince Trubetskoi to join the party after a decade of attacking it for failing to protect the interest of property. Leading figures worked closely with key industrialists like Alexander Konovalov and Mikhail Tereshchenko, with the All Russian Union of Trade and Industry, and with Pavel Riabushinski and Sergei Tretiakov even though some key figures in business continued to dislike the way in which the party looked more positively on state industry and agrarian reform than they did. But the party was increasingly able to draw pro-landlord and pro-business support around it because it was seen as the only viable party for the articulation of the interests of property within the democratic party spectrum.

Within the party the balance of power began to tip away from the left which had been more sympathetic to reform and building links with popular democracy towards a centre right position. “The party”, says Rosenberg, “was ... increasingly regarded by left and right alike as the political core of bourgeois Russia”. The dominance of the centre right was reflected in its capacity to defeat the left by a two to one majority on key issues and then in the effective marginalisation of the more radical Nekrasov and the left. As Kerensky put it, the Cadets now “organised all the political and social forces of the country representing the interests of the propertied classes, the high command, the remnants of the old bureaucracy, and even fragments of the aristocracy”. [41]

The debate on what the vote for the Constituent Assembly represented for the left depends crucially on whether the Socialist Revolutionary (SR) vote is seen as support for the right and centre SR position of opposition to revolution or for left SR support for revolution and we will take this up later. Here we are interested in another aspect of the results. Table 1 shows that in the elections for the Constituent Assembly in November 1917 the Cadets and others managed to get only 6-7 percent of the vote with a mere 17 representatives out of 700. This in no sense represented a decline in the party’s influence – in some respects it was as strong, or stronger at this point than it had been earlier precisely because it was now seen as the alternative on the centre right. It had a membership of some 100,000 and the best financial base of the major parties. Moreover it was undoubtedly the best organised national party in conventional terms. During 1917 it had local organisations throughout Russia that could stand its slate in 80 percent of Russian towns. [42] Why then was the Cadet Party and the centre right more generally so weak in terms of the votes it could attract?

Table 1: Major parties in the elections to the
Constituent Assembly [43]

Percent vote

No. of seats

All-Russian Socialist parties

Socialist Revolutionaries



Left Socialist Revolutionaries








Other socialist



All-Russian Non-Socialist parties









Christian (various)


Major Ukrainian Parties and Joint lists

Uk Socialist Revolutionaries



Uk Socialist bloc





Other nationalist








The underlying reason was that Russian business and landed circles had not been able to establish a mass base as they had in the west where they could draw on a growing middle class, a property owning peasantry and a body of working class conservatives to bolster their otherwise small numbers. In the countryside the numbers of landowners, even with their families and hangers on, was small and even if we accept the dubious estimates that there were some 2 million rich peasants and assume that they would be attracted to the centre right that still leaves a very small base. The situation was better in the towns but even here there were problems both in respect of the size of the potential social base and the lack of a tradition of mobilisation of it or indeed a capacity to mobilise it in the direction of the centre right. [44] This problem was then compounded by the radicalising effect of the revolution which pulled the political spectrum even further to the left – for example, in Petrograd even in the Vasilevsky Island district where most of the university was located and where the Cadets hoped to do especially well they managed to mobilise only 18 percent of the vote in the spring local elections.

Indeed the analysis of the general urban electoral performance of Cadets, Trade Industrialists and House Owners shows that everywhere they made up only a minority force. [45] As Rosenberg, the leading historian of the party, puts it, “Russia’s first elections of the revolutionary period showed the Cadets with a staggering loss of city influence and prestige in the two strongest areas of past support.” In Petrograd, whereas they had got 61 percent of the votes for the first Duma after the 1905 revolution, in the May 1917 municipal elections they now got 22 percent. In the Moscow municipal elections they managed only 17 percent compared to 63 percent a decade earlier. “Socialists overwhelmed Cadets even in parts of the city that were heavily bourgeois.” When later local provincial results came through they were just as bad. In Kursk and Samara where they had won every seat in the first Duma they had only 17 and 9 percent of the votes respectively. [46] The pattern of local urban voting reveals what Rosenberg calls “a remarkable fact ... the small success of right wing groups in almost all large towns ... in larger centres dumas fell almost entirely under socialist control.” In fact, as Rosenberg shows, non-socialist party voting was inversely related to the size of town with the Cadets doing rather better in medium sized towns and the Trade Industrialists and House Owners doing better in the backwater towns of provincial Russia which were often no more than administrative and market centres. [47]

At no point in 1917, therefore, could unambiguously pro-capitalist parties have come anywhere near achieving a respectable minority vote in any electoral test. Their dilemma was echoed by Russkaya vedomosti in July: “The Cadet organisation has little influence in the present revolutionary moment of our history.” Yet the Cadets were the driving force of the Provisional government. Thus we can say that the very possibility of the leading bourgeois democratic party surviving depended on its ability to limit democracy for fear that it would be swept away. As Rosenberg put it, “With their own limited national constituency, the Cadets themselves could never claim to rule on the basis of representative principles”. [48]



The Constituent Assembly

On 3 March the Provisional government announced the “immediate preparation ... on the basis of universal, equal, direct and secret ballot” for a Constituent Assembly “which will determine the form of government and the constitution of the country”. [49] But the lack of real commitment to the Constituent Assembly, especially on the right is often vastly underestimated. Even Kerensky from the outset accepted much of the argument for the delay in the Constituent Assembly. [50] But the most powerful resistance came from the Cadets. Despite the Provisional government’s proclamation, the very next day Miliukov told the French ambassador that he was trying to avoid the setting of any precise date for elections. Indeed a significant part of the Cadet leadership hoped that elections might be delayed until the end of the war. Behind the arguments of the Cadets was a twofold fear. The first was party political. Until the summer of 1917 the Cadets were transfixed not by the fear of a pro-Bolshevik vote but a massive pro-Socialist Revolutionary vote in the rural areas so that, as Kochan puts it, “it was a matter of political self-preservation for the Cadets to delay the elections.” From the summer the threat became that of the even more radical Bolsheviks. [51]

This led on to the second fear that with minimal influence the Constituent Assembly would legitimate a radical social revolution in both town and country. Thus to maintain both the role of the party and to stabilise Russia it was necessary to delay the Constituent Assembly as long as possible. Maklakov, one of the founders of the Cadets, told the Duma in May that “Russia had received in the revolution more freedom than she could manage”, while the Cadet paper Svobodnyi narod argued that “the larger part of the dark masses of people simply are not able to understand the present meaning of freedom.” To paraphrase Nabokov, instead of the Constituent Assembly being the basis for the creation of order, the creation of order had to be the basis of the Constituent Assembly. [52]

It is not surprising therefore that it took three weeks to announce the commission to decide the election procedures, that it then took two months for it to complete its nomination process only for it then to become bogged down in wrangling over whether the voting age should be 18, 20 or 21; whether deserters could vote; whether members of the Romanov family could vote, and so on. When the Provisional government announced on 14 June that elections would be held on 17 September it did so only as an explicit attempt to draw the teeth of the near half a million strong pro-Bolshevik demonstration in Petrograd on 18 June. Moreover it only did this despite the opposition of the electoral commission under its Cadet leader Kokoshkin. Miliukov and the Cadet leadership inside and outside of the election committee then tried to delay things further. Significantly Kokoshkin was replaced by Nabokov, another Cadet, who would ideally have liked the elections postponed until the end of the war and who had initially threatened, in the face of the September date, that the Cadets might boycott the Constituent Assembly. Success in further delaying the elections came after the July Days when part of the price that Miliukov was able to extract for Cadet participation in the second coalition was the postponement of the elections until 12 November, announced on 9 August (in the midst of the build up toward the failed Kornilov coup). Whether elections would have been held then and with what effect had the revolution not have taken place remains an open question.



The imperatives of war

Every account of 1917 stresses the extent to which the continued strain of war contributed more than anything else to the disintegration of Russian society. Chernov, the SR leader, told the first All-Russian Congress of Soviets that “the war is a great pump which sucks out the strength of the country. Here is the danger, and one all the greater because no one knows if the revolution can live through it.” And looking back Kerensky would say that “it was precisely the war, and only the war ... with all its material and psychological consequences, that provoked the collapse of the democratic government”. [53] Why then did the Provisional government not simply cut its losses and leave the war or even try just to hold the front without engaging in serious military action? Was this the great missed opportunity of 1917? [54]

To argue in this way is to misunderstand completely what was at stake in the war effort and why the major part of the Russian ruling class remained committed to it until the bitter end. The Provisional government certainly would have been happy with a general peace but it did not falter in its commitment to the war. In this it had the whole-hearted support of the majority of those with power in Russian society. “A separate peace with Germany and Austria was rejected out of hand by every political group ... no matter how one sifts the evidence, a general peace appears to have been out of the question in 1917.” [55] As we have seen, participation in the war in 1914 was a direct expression of Russia’s imperial interests as a great power. This was then accentuated by the impact of the February Revolution which was “created by a high enthusiasm of patriotism which flatly refused any thought of the possibility of a separate peace”. [56]

Already early in 1917 the fear was that Russia’s problems were leading to it being marginalised in Allied discussions and therefore credibility needed to be restored by even greater efforts. If the point of the February Revolution was to create a more modern Russia then that had to be a “great power” Russia. There could be and was argument over what this might mean but there was a widespread acceptance that a Russia that withdrew from the war would inevitably have to take second place to whoever won it. The worse case would be a German victory since German capitalism was the immediate threat, but a victory for the Allies without Russia might create as many difficulties in the longer run since it too would imply Russia’s subordination. And lest it be thought that this fear was unfounded we should recall that in 1918 when Russia’s old rulers were in exile but still hoping they might be restored, Clemenceau brutally dismissed their claims for “Russian” influence in any post-war settlement: “Russia is a neutral country which has concluded a separate peace with our enemies. The friends of our enemies are our enemies”. [57]

Then there was the fact that the war was begun ostensibly in a “Slavonic cause”. Interest in this was heightened by the specific gains that might be made in the Balkans. In theory these were “guaranteed” by the infamous secret treaties signed to carve up the weaker parts of Europe when the Allies won. In particular Russia would gain Constantinople and the Straits, Galicia, Bukovina, Turkish Armenia and parts of Persia. Rodichev told the seventh Congress of the Cadets, “Citizens, they say that these are the strivings of Russian imperialism and seizure. No! This is not seizure. It is the foundation of Russian independence.” This line was echoed by Miliukov, “probably the strongest imperialist in the country”, suggested Arthur Ransome. According to Nabokov, Miliukov:

... was absolutely alien and hostile to the idea of peace without annexations and indemnities. He considered that it would be absurd and simply criminal of us to renounce the “greatest prize of the war” (as Grey, the British foreign secretary, called Constantinople and the Straits) ... But, most importantly, he believed that this prize had not actually slipped from our grasp.

These arguments were not aberrations, they reflected what Geyer calls “the astonishing fixation which both Russian policy makers and the public showed for this region”. [58]

Pressure too came from the army. Leading officers were especially committed to these imperial ideals: “We reject the very idea that a Free Russia should be denied the free access to the Mediterranean which will ensure the economic well-being of the population, and we consider that the sole guarantee of such freedom of access would be either general disarmament, or, in default of that, military control over the Straits by Russia”, said a motion passed at the Congress of Officers in April 1917. [59] But beyond this the generals expected to fight. The aim was to go on the offensive two to three months after February. And if this did not have strategic military justification (and there was widespread belief that it did) then it certainly had justification in terms of morale. Alekseev, commander in chief at the time of the June offensive believed that only an offensive would restore morale. Kerensky echoed this view:

To say to an army in the midst of war that under no circumstances would it be compelled to fight is tantamount to transforming the troops into a meaningless mob, useless, restless, irritable and therefore capable of all sorts of excesses. For this reason, and to preserve the interior of the country from the grave wave of anarchy threatening the front, it was incumbent upon us ... to make of it once more an army, ie to bring it back to the psychology of action, or of impending action. [60]

Thirdly there were the wider societal implications of any withdrawal from the war or effective suspension of it. There was concern in the army that peace might encourage further disintegration Even before he resigned as foreign minister, Miliukov told Nabokov, “Perhaps it is due to the war that everything here is somehow still holding together, and without the war everything would still collapse”. [61] Finally we should note that internally there was still optimism that the war was still winnable. This was especially the view at the centre of the Cadet Party. “Our party’s policy constantly strove to maintain this official optimism,” wrote Nabokov. [62] American entry in particular strengthened this hope.

Beyond these internal factors was the way that Russia was tied to the wider international war effort of the Allies. In allied capitals the February Revolution was welcomed precisely because it seemed to promise more commitment to the war effort. “It must be remembered” wrote The Times somewhat later, “that the Revolution – as a Russian movement – was intended to make the war efficient”. [63] The very fact that Russia might be the means of opening up the question of peace without complete victory provoked consternation. “It is difficult to imagine with what keen apprehension and often unconcealed irritation diplomatists in 1917 received our formula of a ‘democratic peace’,” wrote Kerensky. [64] “If only we can keep them in line until the autumn perhaps some day they will be grateful to us at home,” wrote the British ambassador of his role in keeping up pressure on the Provisional government. A British Labour and French Socialist delegation was even sent to keep up pressure. There has been much discussion of German subsidies to the Bolsheviks but there was another large, but less talked about, Allied flow of cash into the funds of defencist groups and parties. [65] Behind Allied demands that Russia should continue to play a leading role were both its role in the wider imperialist deals that were part of the war effort and the particular military logic of the time. The infamous June offensive, which crumbled after preliminary success and so helped the wider demoralisation of the army, had originally been planned in 1916 as part of a joint Western and Eastern Front attack on Germany. Indeed the Provisional government boasted to the Allies that it had prevented Russian exit from the war in spring 1917 and that “the greatest number of German divisions throughout the war was concentrated on the Russian front during the summer of 1917”. [66] Even as late as September 1917 Allied representatives and ambassadors continued to pressure the Provisional government, prepared to have in the background the threat that credits and loans might be affected if Russia withdrew.

Under pressure from the soviet the Provisional government was forced to make gestures towards a general peace. But it did so with no belief in what it was doing, happy to hide behind the Allies who, as Wade says, destroyed any peace possibilities with little resistance from their own socialists. [67] There were those at the top who did speculate that Russia had to be pulled out of the war but what is interesting is how little hearing they got. [68] Even Kerensky, who could appear quite radical criticising the war as a struggle for world mastery, grew more committed rather than less over time. After the July crisis his biographer notes that “never again did he call for a peace without annexations or contributions”. [69] In September and October, when “the plight of the troops went from unbearable to the unimaginable”, General Verkhovsky, the minister of war called not for a separate peace but a stronger initiative for a general peace and he was simply sent on sick leave, so wild did those at top still consider this idea. [70]





1. Readers unfamiliar with the argument about the movement from below in both Russia and Europe can be recommended two excellent review articles, D. Howl, The Russian Revolution, International Socialism 62, Spring 1994; D. Gluckstein, Revolution and the Challenge of Labour, International Socialism 61, Winter 1993.

2. O. Figes, A People’s Tragedy. The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 (Cape, 1996) is the latest attempt to rewrite the history of the revolution. The ideas criticised here permeate this discussion so that capitalism and the ruling class almost disappear from his account as social forces.

3. Not all right wing accounts view Tsarist Russia optimistically. Martin Malia argues that “it would have required a near miracle for Russia to have evolved organically and peacefully into a constitutional democracy had she been spared the shock of the First World War.” But he then argues that the most likely scenario was a failed revolution producing a “national conservative regime” which would have created an authoritarian regime (like Franco’s Spain) preferable to the totalitarianism which he believes did result from 1917. M Malia, The Soviet Tragedy: A History of Socialism in Russia 1917-1991 (Free Press, 1994).

4. This relative weakness is confirmed by the work of Paul Gregory who has reconstructed Russian national income from the Tsarist data itself. Gregory has recently offered himself as a historian whose work lends encouragement to the view that market capitalism can transform the prospects of modern Russia. But his figures of long run growth per head show that Russia simply did not grow faster than advanced Western Europe and therefore could not have been on a convergence path. Nor does it help to extrapolate from Russia’s highest pre-1914 period of growth since on his own admission this was shorter than equivalent periods in other countries. P. Gregory, Russian National Income 1885-1913 (Cambridge University Press, 1982).

5. C. Read, From Tsar to Soviets. The Russian People and their Revolution, 1917-1921 (UCL Press, 1996), p.34. Although we will later suggest some problems with Read’s account it is much to be preferred to Figes’ account. Unfortunately it has not received the same attention as Figes’ repudiation of the revolution.

6. The idea of patrimonialism is summed up in a sentence of Tsar Nicholas II: “I conceive of Russia as a landed estate of which the proprietor is the Tsar, the administrator is the nobility and the workers are the peasantry.”

7. Quoted in R. Pipes, Struve: Liberal on the Right, 1905-1944 (Harvard University Press, 1980), p.175.

8. G. Freeze, The Soslovie Paradigm and Russian Social History, American Historical Review, vol.91 no.1, 1986; L. Haimson, The Problem of Social Identities in Early 20th Century Russia, Slavic Review, vol.47 (1988).

9. Thus the idea, argued in different ways by Perry Anderson, Tom Nairn and Arno Mayer (and going back to Joseph Schumpeter and beyond) that the aristocracy remained the dominant force in Europe in 1914 because it had contained and “feudalised” the bourgeoisie can be stood on its head. The aristocracy remained a powerful force precisely because key sections of it had adapted to capitalism, becoming subject to “embourgeoisement” where it mattered.

10. The best study is A.J. Reiber, Merchants and Entrepreneurs in Imperial Russia (Chapel Hill, 1982).

11. Quoted in M. Ferro, Nicholas II The Last of the Tsars (Viking 1991), p.200.

12. Quoted in R. Pipes, op. cit., p.177.

13. K. Kautsky, The Driving Forces and Prospects of the Russian Revolution. This pamphlet was widely translated in Russia after 1905.

14. See P. Miliukov, Political Memoirs 1905-1917 (University of Michigan Press, 1967), pp.287-288, 308-309.

15. Quoted in R. Pipes, op. cit., pp.73, 210-218.

16. R.H. Johnson, Tradition Versus Revolution. Russia and the Balkans in 1917 (Columbia University Press, 1977), p.172.

17. D. Geyer, Russian Imperialism. The Interaction of Domestic and Foreign Policy, 1860-1914 (Berg, 1987), p.255. Geyer points out that the failure to develop a specific theory of imperialism applied to Russia before 1917 leads to Russian expansion being seen as “a natural law of Russian history”. In its place he offers an approach largely in terms of the model of social imperialism developed by German historians like Wehler and Fischer: “internal tensions” were “deflected” outwards into imperial conquest and the fulfilment of “traditional desires” in conflicts with “ancient enemies” (p.345-346). This approach is illuminating, but as in German historiography, can be misleading if it becomes the whole story since it underplays economic interests and fails to locate the more “modern” capitalist drives behind expansion. See D. Blackbourn and G. Eley, The Peculiarities of German History: Bourgeois Society and Politics in Nineteenth Century Germany (Oxford University Press, 1984).

18. “Imperialism” is frequently confused with “colonialism”. The Marxist theory of imperialism was developed to explain the expansive clash of state power in the heartland of capitalism in 1914 not the scramble for Africa or anywhere else. For a brief review of Russia’s great power role see P. Struve, The Balkan War and Russia’s Task, The Russian Review, vol.2 no.2, May 1913, pp.11-13. See also R. Pipes, op. cit., pp.88-97, 180-186, 201-210, 216, 243.

19. N. Stone, The Eastern Front (Hodder & Stoughton, 1975), p.285.

20. Quoted in V.V. Shelokhaev (ed.), Politicheskaya istoriya Rossii v partiyakh i litsakh (Moscow, 1993), pp.101-102.

21. The best account remains N. Stone, op. cit.

22. Sir B. Pares, Russia (Penguin, 1941), pp.88-89.

23. Quoted V.S. Daikin, The Leadership Crisis in Russia on the Eve of the February Revolution, Voprosy istorii, no.3 1982, translated in Studies in Soviet History, vol.xxiii no.1, Summer 1984.

24. W. Rosenberg, Liberals in the Russian Revolution. The Constitutional Democratic Party, 1917-1921 (Princeton University Press, 1974), pp.43-45.

25. Quoted V.V. Shelokhaev, op. cit., p.295.

26. C. Read, op. cit., p.44; Guchkov quoted in Shelokhaev, op. cit., p.296.

27. Sometimes this was brought home personally to the politicians. As he was on the way to help resolve the crisis at the top the Cadet constitutionalist Nabokov recalled being stopped by a man in the street who told him, “Do not leave any Romanovs, we have no use for them.” V.D. Medlin and S.L. Parsons (eds.), V.D. Nabokov and the Russian Provisional Government, 1917 (Yale, 1974), pp.42-43.

28. B.I. Kolonitskii, Anti-bourgeois propaganda and anti-“Burzhui” consciousness in 1917”, The Russian Review, vol.53, April 1994, pp.183-196.

29. “While the three of us – Nabokov, Miliukov and myself – were pondering how to enlist the promulgation of Grand Duke Mikhail’s abdication of the throne ... we were interrupted by telegrams about sailors executing admirals and officers in Sveaborg and Kronstadt.” wrote Baron Nol’de. It is fortunate that two of the major insider memoirs of the formation of the Provisional government are translated in the same volume, V.D. Medlin and S.L. Parsons (eds.), op. cit.. Nabokov was the legal expert of the Cadets. The volume includes two memoirs by him, The Provisional government and The Bolshevik coup d’État, and a third by B.E. Nol’de, who was effectively his assistant, V.D. Nabokov in 1917. They will be referred to separately below. The quotation from Nol’de is on p.16.

30. P. Miliukov, op. cit., p406. Miliukov’s memoirs contain his own thoughts on the problem of the legitimacy of the Provisional government.

31. When L’vov mentioned that he had a mass of telegrams of support for the Provisional government Steklov replied “We could show you right now far more, ten times as many, telegrams endorsed by hundreds and thousands of organised citizens, which demand that we take power into our own hands.” V.D. Nabokov, The Provisional government, op. cit., p.125.

32. The fourth Duma elected in 1912 included in its 436 members 150 anti-Semitic far right members, 130 Octobrists and their allies, 55 Cadets, a mere 20 representatives of the national minorities, and some 13 social democrats and 9 Trudoviks representing the mass of peasants and workers.

33. P. Miliukov, op. cit., p.391.

34. V.D. Nabokov, The Provisional government, op. cit., pp.49-53.

35. B.E. Nol’de, op. cit., p.20.

36. B.E. Nol’de, op. cit., p.20. See V.D. Nabokov’s almost identical formulation, “The Provisional government”, op. cit., p.53. To maintain this idea of a legitimate transfer of power Nabokov insisted from the start that the essence of February had not been a “revolution” but a “coup d’état” since a coup preserves the basis of state power while a revolution might be considered to challenge it.

37. Almost immediately L’vov as head of the Provisional government was forced beyond them when he was pressured into dismissing the heads of the provincial governments of Russia which seemed to confirm that in a constitutional sense February was a revolution and not a coup. Worse from the constitutional perspective on 7 March the Tsar who until then had been technically free was arrested and confined to his Tsarkoe Tselo palace outside Petrograd – a decision which Nabokov believed confirmed the image of a Tsar being “dethroned” rather than freely “abdicating”.

38. R. Abraham, Alexander Kerensky. The First Love of the Revolution (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1987), pp.123-124.

39. R. Abraham, op. cit., p.146.

40. V.V. Shelokhaev, op. cit., p.105, gives the figure of over 100; W. Rosenberg’s study of urban council elections in 1917 found 68 different organisations standing including 9 religious groups, 24 minor non-socialist groups and 20 nationalist parties; W. Rosenberg, The Russian Municipal Duma Elections of 1917: a Preliminary Computation of the Returns, Soviet Studies, vol.xxi (1969), pp.131-163.

41. W. Rosenberg, Liberals in the Russian Revolution, op. cit., pp.90, 190.

42. By comparison the Trade Industrialists ran slates in 35 percent of towns; the Union of House Owners in half of towns. On the left the Bolsheviks could only manage independent slates in 27 percent of towns though they stood in some others as part of a socialist bloc.

43. O. Radkey, The Elections to the Russian Constituent Assembly of 1917 (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1950), pp.16-21. This is the main source but some minor inaccuracies probably exist because a complete set of official results was never published.

44. The potential national problem of the Cadets was already apparent in 1906 in the first Duma elections when they got 39 percent of the urban vote but only 11 percent in landlord assemblies and 4 percent of the peasant vote. W. Rosenberg, Liberals in the Russian Revolution, op. cit., p.27.

45. Local elections took place quickly partly because the Provisional government needed a responsible administrative base and partly because it hoped that the framework of local politics could be conditioned by national control, and therefore if local circumstances put radicals in power they would be constrained by the wider national framework. Russia in 1917 therefore presented the paradox of a political society where at the national level the argument was that elections had to be postponed while at the local municipal level perfectly adequate, if not on occasion model, electoral procedures were in place which built on the Municipal Electoral Statue of 15 April 1917.

46. W. Rosenberg, Liberals in the Russian Revolution, op. cit., p.161, 164, 166, 188.

47. W. Rosenberg, The Russian Municipal Duma Elections of 1917, op. cit.

48. W. Rosenberg, Liberals in the Russian Revolution, op. cit., p.55, 188

49. R.P. Browder and A. Kerensky (eds.), The Russian Provisional government of 1917 (Standford University Press, 1961), p.135.

50. R Abraham, op. cit., pp.148-149.

51. L Kochan, Cadet Policy in 1917 and the Constituent Assembly, Slavonic & East European Review, vol.xiv (1967), pp.183-192.

52. W. Rosenberg, Liberals in the Russian Revolution, op. cit., p.90, 190.

53. M. Philips Price, In the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets, in M. Jones (ed.), Storming the Heavens: Voices of October (Zwan, 1987), p.28; A Kerensky, The Provisional government 1917, Slavonic Review 1930, p.2.

54. L. Erwin Heenan, Russian Democracy’s Fatal Blunder: The Summer Offensive of 1917 (Praeger, 1987), is the major attempt to argue this. Her account does contain some useful information but on the central issue she shows a remarkable naivety over the dynamics and constraints which determine the actions of a great power.

55. R.A. Wade, The Russian Search For Peace, February-October 1917 (Stanford, 1969), pp.143-147.

56. A. Kerensky, op. cit.

57. Quoted R. Abraham, op. cit., p.341. Russia’s declining influence during the war is well brought out by Heenan even though she does do not appear to understand the full implications of this argument. See L.E. Heenan, pp.3-9.

58. V.D. Nabokov, The Provisional government, op. cit., p106.

59. Quoted in G. Katkov, Russia 1917 The Kornilov Affair. Kerensky and the Break-Up of the Russian Army (Longman, 1980), p.14.

60. R. Abraham, op. cit., pp.192-193.

61. V.D. Nabokov, The Provisional government, op. cit., p.87.

62. V.D. Nabokov, The Provisional government, op. cit., p.86.

63. The Times, 5 January 1918.

64. A. Kerensky, op. cit., p.11.

65. Quoted H. Pichter, Witnesses of the Russian Revolution (Murray, 1994), pp.82-83.

66. A. Kerensky, op. cit., p.9.

67. R.A. Wade, op. cit., pp.145-146.

68. See R. Abraham, op. cit., p.278; R.A. Wade, op. cit., pp.146-147, on Tereshchenko’s negative role; Miliukov approvingly said of Tereshchenko that he “quietly pursued my very policy and successfully deceived the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies”, P. Miliukov, op. cit., p.424.

69. Kerensky did not accept the idea of annexations in the west but he had a strong sense of Russia having a role as a great power as well as its civilising mission in the east. See R. Abraham, op. cit., p.12, 99, 174, 237.

70. C. Read, op. cit., p138; R. Abraham, op. cit., pp.309-310.



Last updated on 17.4.2001