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The Summer Collapse

On 5 May the Soviet leaders formed a coalition with the liberals to bolster the authority of the Provisional Government. The socialists took only six of the 16 cabinet posts in deference to the theory that they should not be in the government at all. The leading Soviet figure was the Georgian Menshevik Irakli Tsereteli. He had shaped the policy of Revolutionary Defencism - to go on with the war for defensive purposes - on which the coalition would be based between May and October.

Allied pressure had been mounting on the Russians to launch an offensive in the summer of 1917. The fighting capacity of the Russian army was in serious doubt. But the coalition leaders convinced themselves that the soldiers would fight to defend the Revolution and that this might restore national unity. Defeat by Germany would mean the restoration of the Romanov ('German') dynasty.

Much of this patriotic hope was focused on Kerensky, a popular hero of the February Revolution and the 'first people's minister of war', who toured the Fronts to raise the troops' morale during May. Dressed in semi-military uniform, he wore his right arm in a sling, although there was no record that it had been wounded, to add theatrical effect to his speeches calling on the troops to fight in the name of Freedom.

On 16 June the attack began. The Women's Battalion of Death led the way as an example to the men. The main attack was aimed towards Lvov. For two days the advance continued. Then, on the third, it came to a halt, the Germans counter-attacked, and the Russians fled in panic.

The collapse of the offensive dealt a fatal blow to the authority of the Provisional Government. The coalition fell apart and there was a 3-week interregnum while the Socialists and liberals (Kadets) tried to patch together another government, during which there was a vacuum of power. This was the context of the July uprising.

Watch this film footage of Kerensky. What conclusions can you draw from it about support for him and the offensive?

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