The Russian Revolution is often portrayed through the prism of Marxist ideology and class warfare. The reality might be much simpler. Kerensky’s revolutionaries were able to storm the Winter Palace in February 1917 because the army did not stop them. And the army did not bother to stop them because the czar did not pay them enough. The czar could not pay them enough because he foolishly cut the income from one of his major sources of revenue, the vodka tax, at the same time that he fought World War I.
Czar Nicholas confused what might seem like good public policy with bad political decision making. He had the silly idea that a sober army would prove more effective than an army that was falling-over drunk. Nicholas, it seems, thought that a ban on vodka would improve the performance of Russia’s troops in World War I. He missed the obvious downsides, however. Vodka was vastly popular with the general populace and, most assuredly, with the troops. So popular and widely consumed was vodka that its sale provided about a third of the government’s revenue. With vodka banned, his revenue diminished sharply. His expenses, in contrast, kept on rising due to the costs of the war.
Soon Nicholas was no longer able to buy loyalty. As a result, his army refused to stop strikers and protesters. Alexander Kerensky formed Russia’s short-lived democratic government after toppling the czar’s regime. But he couldn’t hang on to power for long. His mistake was operating a democratic government, which necessitated a large coalition, and implementing an unpopular policy—continuing the czar’s war—thereby alienating his coalition right from the start. Lenin and the Bolsheviks made no such mistakes.