chapter  14
15 Pages

/The Provisional Government and the Protectorates

The sudden collapse of the autocracy in February 1917 inaugurated for Russia a period of great expectations but limited accomplishments, in the field of imperial policy as elsewhere. As both moderates and radicals were dedicated to the achievement of equal rights for all citizens, on March 20 the Provisional Government swept away all of the old regime’s legal restrictions on members of minority nationalities. Beyond that basic point, however, there was little concern among the intelligentsia, to whom political power had passed so unexpectedly, over the problems posed by the multinational character of the Russian state. To liberals and socialists alike the national problem was a transitory one-a byproduct of autocracy, according to the Kadets, or of class oppression, according to the Social Democrats. The solution of the national problem would likewise be a by-product of either the liberals’ democratic society or the socialists’ classless society. Neither wing of the intelligentsia was prepared to preside over the dismemberment or serious weakening of the Russian state along ethnic lines. Socialists especially, although liberals as well, saw themselves as bearers of a universal mission: the fate of the new Russia and of all its peoples, including the inhabitants of Russia’s two Central Asian protectorates, properly belonged in the hands of the revolutionary government.1