Kerensky: the Provisional Government’s early days (1917)

This account of the early days of the newly formed Provisional Government in March 1917 is taken from the memoirs of Alexander Kerensky. Here he describes the chaotic situation that followed the collapse of tsarism and the enormous challenges faced by the newly formed government:

“Prince Lvov read to us at our first meeting a report on the situation in the provinces. From all towns and cities, provincial and county seats came telegrams… They all told the same story: the old administration from the governor to the last town policeman and village bailiff had disappeared without a trace and everywhere were being formed instead all sorts of self-appointed organisations – Soviets, committees of public safety, etc…

The villages, liberated from all administrative vigilance, had begun to govern themselves. There was an immediate mad rush by the peasantry for the land.

In the cities, various self-appointed organisations, whipped up by the raging revolutionary tempest, were devoting themselves to such creative revolutionary activities as raids, searches, confiscations and the liberation not only of political prisoners but also criminals…

[The Provisional Government] inherited nothing from the autocracy but a terrible war, and acute food shortage, a paralysed transportation system, an empty Treasury, and a population in a state of furious discontent and anarchic disintegration…

Apart from passing legislation, the [Provisional] Government also had to conduct the war and cope with innumerable day-to-day administrative questions. Moreover, there was an endless procession of visitors and delegations, representatives of the new local administrative bodies, and of the national minorities, constantly crowding the halls of the Palace and the offices of the individual ministers. It was an unbelievably hectic time of endless cabinet meetings by day and by night and all kinds of conferences and addresses to mass meetings.”