The sailors at the Kronstadt naval base had long been a source of radical dissent. On 27th June, 1905, sailors on the Potemkin battleship, protested against the serving of rotten meat infested with maggots. The captain ordered that the ringleaders to be shot. The firing-squad refused to carry out the order and joined with the rest of the crew in throwing the officers overboard. The mutineers killed seven of the Potemkin's eighteen officers, including Captain Evgeny Golikov. They organized a ship's committee of 25 sailors, led by Afanasi Matushenko, to run the battleship. This was the beginning of the 1905 Russian Revolution. (1)
Mutinies had taken place during the 1905 Revolution and played an important role in persuading Nicholas II to issue his October Manifesto. The Kronstadt sailors were also active in the formation of one of the most important Soviets in the summer of 1917. Morgan Philips Price, a journalist working for of the Manchester Guardian, went to interview the President of the Kronstadt Workers', Soldiers' and Sailors Soviet. "The soldiers and sailors were treated on this island like dogs. They were worked from early morning till late at night. They were not allowed any recreations for fear that they would associate for political purposes. Nowhere could you study the slavery system of capitalist imperialism better than here. For the smallest misdemeanor a man was put in chains, and if he was found with a Socialist pamphlet in his possession he was shot." (2)
On 24th October, 1917, Lenin wrote a letter to the members of the Central Committee: "The situation is utterly critical. It is clearer than clear that now, already, putting off the insurrection is equivalent to its death. With all my strength I wish to convince my comrades that now everything is hanging by a hair, that on the agenda now are questions that are decided not by conferences, not by congresses (not even congresses of soviets), but exclusively by populations, by the mass, by the struggle of armed masses… No matter what may happen, this very evening, this very night, the government must be arrested, the junior officers guarding them must be disarmed, and so on… History will not forgive revolutionaries for delay, when they can win today (and probably will win today), but risk losing a great deal tomorrow, risk losing everything." (3)
Leon Trotsky supported Lenin's view and urged the overthrow of the Provisional Government. On the evening of 24th October, orders were given for the Bolsheviks to occupy the railway stations, the telephone exchange and the State Bank. The Smolny Institute became the headquarters of the revolution and was transformed into a fortress. Trotsky reported that the "chief of the machine-gun company came to tell me that his men were all on the side of the Bolsheviks". (4)
The following day the Red Guards surrounded the Winter Palace. Inside was most of the country's Cabinet, although Alexander Kerensky had managed to escape from the city. The palace was defended by Cossacks, some junior army officers and the Woman's Battalion. At 9 p.m. The Aurora and the Peter and Paul Fortress began to open fire on the palace. Little damage was done but the action persuaded most of those defending the building to surrender. The Red Guards, led by Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, now entered the Winter Palace. (5)
Leon Trotsky later admitted the Kronstadt sailors played an important role in the Russian Revolution. However, by 1921 the Kronstadt sailors had become disillusioned with the Bolshevik government. They were angry about the lack of democracy, the Red Terror and the policy of War Communism. The Soviet historian, David Shub, has argued: "On 1 March 1921, the sailors of Kronstadt revolted against Lenin. Mass meetings of 15,000 men from various ships and garrisons passed resolutions demanding immediate new elections to the Soviet by secret ballot; freedom of speech and the press for all left-wing Socialist parties; freedom of assembly for trade unions and peasant organizations; abolition of Communist political agencies in the Army and Navy; immediate withdrawal of all grain requisitioning squads, and re-establishment of a free market for the peasants." (6)
On 28th February, 1921, the crew of the battleship, Petropavlovsk, passed a resolution calling for a return of full political freedoms. It was reported by Radio Moscow: that the sailors were supporters of the White Army: "Just like other White Guard insurrections, the mutiny of General Kozlovsky and the crew of the battleship Petropavlovsk has been organised by Entente spies. The French counter espionage is mixed up in the whole affair. History is repeating itself. The Socialist Revolutionaries, who have their headquarters in Paris, are preparing the ground for an insurrection against the Soviet power." (7)
I response to this broadcast the Kronstadt sailors issued the following statement: "Comrade workers, red soldiers and sailors. We stand for the power of the Soviets and not that of the parties. We are for free representation of all who toil. Comrades, you are being misled. At Kronstadt all power is in the hands of the revolutionary sailors, of red soldiers and of workers. It is not in the hands of White Guards, allegedly headed by a General Kozlovsky, as Moscow Radio tells you." (8)
Eugene Lyons, the author of Workers’ Paradise Lost: Fifty Years of Soviet Communism: A Balance Sheet (1967), pointed out that this protest was highly significant because of Kronstadt's revolutionary past: "The hundreds of large and small uprisings throughout the country are too numerous to list, let alone describe here. The most dramatic of them, in Kronstadt, epitomizes most of them. What gave it a dimension of supreme drama was the fact that the sailors of Kronstadt, an island naval fortress near Petrograd, on the Gulf of Finland, had been one of the main supports of the putsch. Now Kronstadt became the symbol of the bankruptcy of the Revolution. The sailors on the battleships and in the naval garrisons were in the final analysis peasants and workers in uniform." (9)
Lenin denounced the Kronstadt Uprising as a plot instigated by the White Army and their European supporters. However, in private he realised that he was under attack from the left. He was particularly concerned by the "scene of the rising was Kronstadt, the Bolshevik stronghold of 1917". Isaac Deutscher claims that Lenin commented: "This was the flash which lit up reality better than anything else." (10)
On 6th March, 1921, Leon Trotsky issued a statement: "I order all those who have raised a hand against the Socialist Fatherland, immediately to lay down their weapons. Those who resist will be disarmed and put at the disposal of the Soviet Command. The arrested commissars and other representatives of the Government must be freed immediately. Only those who surrender unconditionally will be able to count on the clemency of the Soviet Republic." (11)
Trotsky then ordered the Red Army to attack the Kronstadt sailors. According to one official report, some members of the Red Army refused to attack the naval base. "At the beginning of the operation the second battalion had refused to march. With much difficulty and thanks to the presence of communists, it was persuaded to venture on the ice. As soon as it reached the first south battery, a company of the 2nd battalion surrendered. The officers had to return alone." (12)
Felix Dzerzhinsky, the head of Cheka, was also involved in putting down the uprising, as the loyalty of the Red Army soldiers were in doubt. Victor Serge pointed out: "Lacking any qualified officers, the Kronstadt sailors did not know how to employ their artillery; there was, it is true, a former officer named Kozlovsky among them, but he did little and exercised no authority. Some of the rebels managed to reach Finland. Others put up a furious resistance, fort to fort and street to street.... Hundreds of prisoners were taken away to Petrograd and handed to the Cheka; months later they were still being shot in small batches, a senseless and criminal agony. Those defeated sailors belonged body and soul to the Revolution; they had voiced the suffering and the will of the Russian people. This protracted massacre was either supervised or permitted by Dzerzhinsky." (13)
Some observers claimed that many of the victims would die shouting, "Long live the Communist International!" and "Long live the Constituent Assembly!" It was not until the 17th March that government forces were able to take control of Kronstadt. Alexander Berkman, wrote: "Kronstadt has fallen today. Thousands of sailors and workers lie dead in its streets. Summary execution of prisoners and hostages continues." (14)
An estimated 8,000 people (sailors and civilians) left Kronstadt and went to live in Finland. Official figures suggest that 527 people were killed and 4,127 were wounded. "These figures do not include the drowned, or the numerous wounded left to die on the ice. Nor do they include the victims of the Revolutionary Tribunals." Historians who have studied the uprising believe that the total number of casualties was much higher than this. It is claimed that over 500 sailors at Kronstadt were executed for their part in the rebellion. (15)
Nikolai Sukhanov reminded Leon Trotsky that three years previously he had told the people of Petrograd: "We shall conduct the work of the Petrograd Soviet in a spirit of lawfulness and of full freedom for all parties. The hand of the Presidium will never lend itself to the suppression of the minority." Trotsky lapsed into silence for a while, then said wistfully: "Those were good days." Walter Krivitsky, who was a Cheka agent during this period claimed that when Trotsky put down the Kronstadt Uprising the Bolshevik government lost contact with the revolution and from then on it would be a path of state terror and dictatorial rule. (16)
Alexander Berkman decided to leave the Soviet Union after the Kronstadt Rising: "Grey are the passing days. One by one the embers of hope have died out. Terror and despotism have crushed the life born in October. The slogans of the Revolution are forsworn, its ideals stifled in the blood of the people. The breath of yesterday is dooming millions to death; the shadow of today hangs like a black pall over the country. Dictatorship is trampling the masses under foot. The Revolution is dead; its spirit cries in the wilderness.... I have decided to leave Russia." (17)
Leon Trotsky later blamed Nestor Makhno and the anarchists for the uprising. "Makhno... was a mixture of fanatic and adventurer. He became the concentration of the very tendencies which brought about the Kronstadt Uprising. Makhno created a cavalry of peasants who supplied their own horses. They were not downtrodden village poor whom the October Revolution first awakened, but the strong and well-fed peasants who were afraid of losing what they had. The anarchist ideas of Makhno (the ignoring of the State, non-recognition of the central power) corresponded to the spirit of the kulak cavalry as nothing else could. I should add that the hatred of the city and the city worker on the part of the followers of Makhno was complemented by the militant anti-Semitism." (18)
Trotsky also accused Felix Dzerzhinsky of being responsible for the massacre: "The truth of the matter is that I personally did not participate in the least in the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion, nor in the repressions following the suppression. In my eyes this very fact is of no political significance. I was a member of the government, I considered the quelling of the rebellion necessary and therefore bear responsibility for the suppression. Concerning the repressions, as far as I remember, Dzerzhinsky had personal charge of them and Dzerhinsky could not tolerate anyone's interference with his functions (and properly so). Whether there were any needless victims I do not know. On this score I trust Dzerzhinsky more than his belated critics." (19)
In a large house in the main street I found the headquarters of the Kronstadt Soviet. With some little misgiving I passed by the sentries and asked to see the President. I was taken into a room, where I saw a young man with a red badge on his coat looking through some papers, who appeared to be a student. He had long hair and dreamy eyes, with a far-off look of an idealist. This was the elected President of the Kronstadt Workers', Soldiers' and Sailors Soviet.
"Be seated," he said. "I suppose you have come down here from Petrograd to see if all the stories about our terror are true. You will probably have observed that there is nothing extraordinary going on here; we are simply putting this place into order after the tyranny and chaos of the late Tsarist regime. The workmen, soldiers and sailors here find that they can do this job better by themselves than by leaving it to people who call themselves democrats, but are really friends of the old regime. That is why we have declared the Kronstadt Soviet the supreme authority in the island."
"The soldiers and sailors were treated on this island like dogs. For the smallest misdemeanor a man was put in chains, and if he was found with a Socialist pamphlet in his possession he was shot."
I was taken to a prison on the south side of the island, where were kept the former military police, gendarmes, police spies and provocateurs of fallen Tsarism. The quarters were very bad, and many of the cells had no windows at all.
I met a Major-General, formerly in command of the fortress artillery of Kronstadt. He stood in his shirt-sleeves - no medalled tunic decorated his breast any more. His red-striped trousers of Prussian blue bore signs of three months' wear in confinement. Sheepishly he looked at me, as if uncertain whether it was dignified for him to tell his troubles to a stray foreigner.
"I wish they would bring some indictment against us," he said at length, "for to sit here for three months and not to know what our fate is to be is rather hard." "And I sat here, not three months, but three years," broke in the sailor guard who was taking us round, "and I didn't know what was going to happen to me, although my only offence was that I had been distributing a pamphlet on the life of Karl Marx."
I pointed out to the sailor that the prison accommodation was unfit for a human being. He answered, "Well, I sat here all that time because of these gentlemen, and I think that if they had known they were going to sit here they would have made better prisons!"
(1) Immediate new elections to the Soviets. The present Soviets no longer express the wishes of the workers and the peasants. The new elections should be by secret ballot, and should be preceded by free electoral propaganda.
(2) Freedom of speech and of the press for workers and peasants, for the Anarchists, and the Left Socialist parties.
(3) The right of assembly, and freedom for trade union and peasant organizations.
(4) The organization, at the latest on 10th March 1921, of a Conference of non-Party workers, soldiers and sailors of Petrograd, Kronstadt and the Petrograd District.
(5) The liberation of all political prisoners of the Socialist parties, and for all imprisoned workers and peasants, soldiers and sailors belonging to workers and peasant organizations.
(6) The election of a commission to look into the dossiers of all those detained in prisons and concentration camps.
(7) The abolition of all political sections in the armed forces. No political party should have privileges for the propagation of its ideas, or receive State subsidies to this end. In the place of the political sections, various cultural groups should be set up, deriving resources from the State.
(8) The immediate abolition of the militia detachments set up between towns and countryside.
(9) The equalization of rations for all workers, except those engaged in dangerous or unhealthy jobs.
(10) The abolition of Party combat detachments in all military groups. The abolition of Party guards in factories and enterprises. If guards are required, they should be nominated, taking into account the views of the workers.
(11) The granting of the peasants of freedom of action on their own soil, and of the right to own cattle, provided they look after them themselves and do not employ hired labour.
(12) We request that all military units and officer trainee groups associate themselves with this resolution.
Just like other White Guard insurrections, the mutiny of General Kozlovsky and the crew of the battleship Petropavlovsk has been organised by Entente spies. The Socialist Revolutionaries, who have their headquarters in Paris, are preparing the ground for an insurrection against the Soviet power.
Comrade workers, red soldiers and sailors. It is not in the hands of White Guards, allegedly headed by a General Kozlovsky, as Moscow Radio tells you.
I order all those who have raised a hand against the Socialist Fatherland, immediately to lay down their weapons. Only those who surrender unconditionally will be able to count on the clemency of the Soviet Republic.
At the beginning of the operation the second battalion had refused to march. The officers had to return alone.
Two or three days more and the Baltic Sea would have been ice-free and the war vessels of the foreign imperialists could have entered the ports of Kronstadt and Petrograd. Had we then been compelled to surrender Petrograd, it would have opened the road to Moscow, for there are virtually no defensive points between Petrograd and Moscow.
7th March, 1921: Distant rumbling reaches my ears as I cross the Nevsky. It sounds again, stronger and nearer, as if rolling toward me. All at once I realize the artillery is being fired. It is 6 p.m. Kronstadt has been attacked! My heart is numb with despair; something has died within me.
17th March, 1921: Kronstadt has fallen today. Summary execution of prisoners and hostages continues.
30th September, 1921: One by one the embers of hope have died out. Dictatorship is trampling the masses under the foot. The revolution is dead; its spirit cries in the wilderness. The Bolshevik myth must be destroyed. I have decided to leave Russia.
The final assault was unleashed by Tukhacevsky on 17 March, and culminated in a daring victory over the impediment of the ice. Lacking any qualified officers, the Kronstadt sailors did not know how to employ their artillery; there was, it is true, a former officer named Kozlovsky among them, but he did little and exercised no authority. Others put up a furious resistance, fort to fort and street to street; they stood and were shot crying, "Long live the world revolution! Hundreds of prisoners were taken away to Petrograd and handed to the Cheka; months later they were still being shot in small batches, a senseless and criminal agony. This protracted massacre was either supervised or permitted by Dzerzhinsky.
Your evaluation of the Kronstadt Uprising of 1921 is basically incorrect. The best, most sacrificing sailors were completely withdrawn from Kronstadt and played an important role at the fronts and in the local Soviets throughout the country. What remained was the grey mass with big pretensions, but without political education and unprepared for revolutionary sacrifice. The country was starving. The Kronstadters demanded privileges. The uprising was dictated by a desire to get privileged food rations.
No less erroneous is your estimate of Makhno. In himself he was a mixture of fanatic and adventurer. They were not downtrodden village poor whom the October Revolution first awakened, but the strong and well-fed peasants who were afraid of losing what they had.
The anarchist ideas of Makhno (the ignoring of the State, non-recognition of the central power) corresponded to the spirit of the kulak cavalry as nothing else could. I should add that the hatred of the city and the city worker on the part of the followers of Makhno was complemented by the militant anti-Semitism.
The truth of the matter is that I personally did not participate in the least in the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion, nor in the repressions following the suppression. I was a member of the government, I considered the quelling of the rebellion necessary and therefore bear responsibility for the suppression.
Concerning the repressions, as far as I remember, Dzerzhinsky had personal charge of them and Dzerhinsky could not tolerate anyone's interference with his functions (and properly so). On this score I trust Dzerzhinsky more than his belated critics. Victor Serge's conclusions on this score - from third hand - have no value in my eyes. But I am ready to recognize that civil war is no school of humanism. Idealists and pacifists always accused the revolution of "excesses". But the main point is that "excesses" flow from the very nature of the revolution which in itself is but an "excess" of history.
Kronstadt was the proudest bastion of the Bolshevik Revolution. The sailors of the island fortress off Petrograd had marched against Kerensky in July 1917 and had stormed the Winter Palace in November to install Lenin in power. Later, when Red Petrograd was threatened by General Yudenich, the Kronstadt sailors had rallied to the defence of the Soviet regime.
On 1 March 1921, the sailors of Kronstadt revolted against Lenin. Mass meetings of 15,000 men from various ships and garrisons passed resolutions demanding immediate new elections to the Soviet by secret ballot; freedom of speech and the press for all left-wing Socialist parties; freedom of assembly for trade unions and peasant organizations; abolition of Communist political agencies in the Army and Navy; immediate withdrawal of all grain requisitioning squads, and re-establishment of a free market for the peasants.
The Kronstadt revolt came as the climax of a series of rebellions, disturbances and protests embracing large areas of Russia. As a result of "War Communism", Russia in March 1921 was on the verge of economic collapse and new civil war in which foreign intervention played no part. The White Armies had been decisively defeated in the autumn of 1919, and were no longer a factor after the capture and execution of Kolchak and the departure of Denikin early in 1920.
The hundreds of large and small uprisings throughout the country are too numerous to list, let alone describe here. In the sycophantic writings about the glorious "new Russia," Kronstadt, if mentioned at all, is covered up with a few official lies.
The sailors on the battleships and in the naval garrisons were in the final analysis peasants and workers in uniform. Soon enough they shared the disillusionment of the country at large. It was in the local Soviet and in the Kronstadt Communist Party that the spirit of insurgence first found expression, then spread to the naval and civilian population. Kremlin history, then and since, has attempted to dismiss the rebellion as the work of monarchists and emigre capitalists. But it was in the first place an insurrection within the Bolshevik elite itself. Many of the victims would die shouting, "Long live the Communist International!" and "Long live the Constituent Assembly!"
The tragedy began with a mass meeting of fifteen hundred sailors and workers on March 1, 1921. Though Lenin had sent several of his best people - among them - Mikhail Kalinin, well-liked because of his peasant origin and personality - to take part in the proceedings, they could not stave off a resolution condemning the regime. "The present Soviets do not express the will of the workers and peasants," it charged, and went on to ask for "new elections by secret ballot, the pre-election campaign to have full freedom of agitation." The sailors demanded freedom of speech, press, and assembly, liberation of political prisoners, restoration of the peasants' right to the products of their labor - in short, fulfillment of the Bolshevik promises.
Four days later the Kronstadt sailors formed a small committee composed chiefly of communists, which assumed control of the town, the fortress, the ships. A brutally-worded ultimatum by Trotsky as War Commissar, approved by Lenin, called for "unconditional surrender" or the "mutineers" would be shot "like partridges." When the committee refused to yield, Trotsky assigned Mikhail Tukhachevsky, the same General Tukhachevsky who was destined to be killed by Stalin, to take Kronstadt by force. Hundreds of Petrograd workers crossed the ice -the gulf is still frozen at that time of the year - to join the menaced Kronstadters.
Tukhachevsky marched on the naval town with sixty thousand picked troops. Tough Cheka forces were deployed in the rear, ready to shoot army men who might flinch from attacking the heroes of the Revolution. One regiment, in fact, did mutiny, and was whipped back into line. The siege began with an aerial bombardment at 6:45 p.m. on March 6, followed by an artillery barrage. The sailors answered with fire from the fort and from their ships. Then the Red Army advanced across the ice. At several points the ice gave way and hundreds were drowned. In the final days the town was conquered street by street.
Tukhachevsky later declared that in all his years of war and civil war, he bad not witnessed carnage such as he overseered at Kronstadt. "It was not a battle," he said, "it was an inferno. ... The sailors fought like wild beasts. I cannot understand where they found the might for such rage. Each house had to be taken by storm."
On March 17, Tukhachevsky could report to the War Commissar that the job was finished. Kronstadt was a place of death. Eighteen thousand of the rebels, it was estimated, had been killed; thousands of government troops died. Hundreds were arrested and shot in the ensuing "pacification."
The massacre of the sailors signalized the rupture of the last natural bond between the regime and the sons of the people. What remained was a thing alien and hated and cancerous. The totalitarian state had triumphed. Russia was a nation occupied by an internal enemy.
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(1) Neal Bascomb, Red Mutiny: Eleven Fateful Days on the Battleship Potemkin (2007) pages 211-212
(2) Morgan Philips Price, Manchester Guardian (17th July, 1917)
(3) Lenin, letter to the members of the Central Committee (24th October, 1917)
(4) Leon Trotsky, My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography (1971) page 333
(5) Harrison E. Salisbury, Black Night, White Snow: Russia's Revolutions 1905-1917 (1977) page 512
(6) David Shub, Lenin (1948) page 405
(7) Moscow Radio broadcast (3rd March, 1921)
(8) Resolution of political demands passed by the crew of the Petropavlovsk on 8th February, 1921.
(9) Eugene Lyons, Workers’ Paradise Lost: Fifty Years of Soviet Communism: A Balance Sheet (1967) page 53
(10) Isaac Deutscher, Stalin: A Political Biography (1949) page 224
(11) Leon Trotsky, statement (6th March, 1921)
(12) Report on the 561 Infantry Regiment that was used against the Kronstadt sailors (March, 1921)
(13) Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary (1951) page 153
(14) Alexander Berkman, diary entry (21st March, 1921)
(15) Ida Mett, The Kronstadt Uprising (1971) page 57
(16) Gary Kern, A Death in Washington: Walter G. Krivitsky and the Stalin Terror (2004) page 193
(17) Alexander Berkman, The Bolshevik Myth (1925)
(18) Leon Trotsky, Amoralism and Kronstadt (March, 1937)
(19) Leon Trotsky, The Kronstadt Rebellion (July, 1938)
Was the Kronstadt Rebellion Justified? - History bibliographies - in Harvard style
Your Bibliography: 1921. Bolshevik Crush Moscow Uprising. 1st ed. [ebook] New York: The New York Times, p.3. Available at: <http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9B05EED8133CE533A25752C1A9659C946095D6CF&oref=slogin> [Accessed 22 June 2015].
Government Crisis-War Communism and the Kronstadt Uprising
2015 - Cambridge University
In-text: (Government Crisis-War Communism and the Kronstadt Uprising, 2015)
Your Bibliography: 2015. Government Crisis-War Communism and the Kronstadt Uprising. 1st ed. [ebook] Cambridge University, p.18. Available at: <https://libcom.org/history/1921-the-kronstadt-rebellion> [Accessed 3 June 2015].
Clare, J. D.
In-text: (Clare, 2015)
Your Bibliography: Clare, J., 2015. Kronstadt Mutiny. [online] Johndclare.net. Available at: <http://www.johndclare.net/Russ8_Kronstadt.htm> [Accessed 28 May 2015].
Bolshevik | Russian political faction
In-text: (Bolshevik | Russian political faction, 2014)
Your Bibliography: Encyclopedia Britannica. 2014. Bolshevik | Russian political faction. [online] Available at: <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/72272/Bolshevik> [Accessed 27 May 2015].
The suppression of Kronstadt: Bolsheviks had no choice
In-text: (Hampton, 2011)
Your Bibliography: Hampton, P., 2011. The suppression of Kronstadt: Bolsheviks had no choice. [online] Workers' Liberty. Available at: <http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2011/12/14/suppression-kronstadt-bolsheviks-had-no-choice> [Accessed 3 June 2015].
Kronstadt and the defeat of the Russian Revolution
In-text: (Harman, 1971)
Your Bibliography: Harman, C., 1971. Kronstadt and the defeat of the Russian Revolution. 1st ed. [ebook] p.3. Available at: <: http://isreview.org/sites/default/files/pdf/03-kronstadt.pdf> [Accessed 4 June 2015].
Kronstadt 1921: Bolshevism vs. Counterrevolution
In-text: (Kronstadt 1921: Bolshevism vs. Counterrevolution, 2006)
The Petropavlovsk Resolution, February 28, 1921
Izvestiia of the Kronstadt Provisional Revolutionary Committee, Issues 1-14, March 3-16, 1921
The Mutiny of ex-General Kozlovsky and the Vessel Petropavlovsk, Government communiqué of March 2, 1921
A Last Warning: To the Garrison and Inhabitants of Kronstadt and the Mutinous Forts, Government communiqué of March 5, 1921
Interview on the Kronstadt Revolt, V. I. Lenin, March 13, 1921
X Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), Resolution On Party Unity, March 16, 1921
On the Events at Kronstadt, Leon Trotsky, March 16, 1921
Kronstadt and the Stock-Exchange, Leon Trotsky, March 23, 1921
Speech Delivered at the All-Russia Congress of Transport Workers, V. I. Lenin, March 27, 1921
The Kronstadt Uprising, 1921, Karl Radek, April 1, 1921
Speech at the Parade in Honour of the Heroes of Kronstadt, Leon Trotsky, April 3, 1921
To the Petrograd City Conference of Non-Party Workers, V. I. Lenin, April 14, 1921
The Tax in Kind, V. I. Lenin, April 21, 1921
ECCI manifesto on the Kronstadt rising (extracts), Executive Committee of the Communist International, June, 1921 ("The Communist International: Documents", Vol. 1, pp. 212-215)
Kronstadt (from My Disillusionment in Russia) Emma Goldman, 1923
On Kronstadt (from The Bolshevik Myth), Alexander Berkman, 1925
The Rebellion of Kronstadt (from The Workshop of the Revolution, Ch. 21), Isaac Steinberg, 1953
The Kronstadt Uprising (from Moscow in Lenin's Days: 1920-21, Ch. 2), Alfred Rosmer, 1953
1921 and All That, Brian Pearce, October 1960
The Lessons of Kronstadt, International Communist Current, 1975
Kronstadt takes up arms (from Trotsky, Vol. 2, Ch. 11), Tony Cliff, 1990
On February 26, delegates from the Kronstadt sailors visited Petrograd to investigate the situation. On February 28, in response to the delegates’ report of heavy-handed Bolshevik repression of strikes in Petrograd (claims which might have been inaccurate or exaggerated  ), the crews of the battleshipsPetropavlovsk and Sevastopol held an emergency meeting, which approved a resolution raising 15 demands: 
- Immediate new elections to the Soviets the present Soviets no longer express the wishes of the workers and peasants. The new elections should be held by secret ballot, and should be preceded by free electoral propaganda for all workers and peasants before the elections.
- Freedom of speech and of the press for workers and peasants, for the Anarchists, and for the Left Socialist parties.
- The right of assembly, and freedom for trade union and peasant associations.
- The organisation, at the latest on 10 March 1921, of a Conference of non-Party workers, soldiers and sailors of Petrograd, Kronstadt and the Petrograd District.
- The liberation of all political prisoners of the Socialist parties, and of all imprisoned workers and peasants, soldiers and sailors belonging to working class and peasant organisations.
- The election of a commission to look into the dossiers of all those detained in prisons and concentration camps.
- The abolition of all political sections in the armed forces no political party should have privileges for the propagation of its ideas, or receive State subsidies to this end. In place of the political section, various cultural groups should be set up, deriving resources from the State.
- The immediate abolition of the militia detachments set up between towns and countryside.
- The equalisation of rations for all workers, except those engaged in dangerous or unhealthy jobs.
- The abolition of Party combat detachments in all military groups the abolition of Party guards in factories and enterprises. If guards are required, they should be nominated, taking into account the views of the workers.
- The granting to the peasants of freedom of action on their own soil, and of the right to own cattle, provided they look after them themselves and do not employ hired labour.
- We request that all military units and officer trainee groups associate themselves with this resolution.
- We demand that the Press give proper publicity to this resolution.
- We demand the institution of mobile workers’ control groups.
- We demand that handicraft production be authorised, provided it does not utilise wage labour.
On March 1, a general meeting of the garrison was held, attended also by Mikhail Kalinin and Commissar of the Soviet Baltic Fleet Nikolai Kuzmin, who made speeches for the Government. The general meeting passed a resolution including the fifteen demands given above. On March 2 a conference of sailor, soldier and worker organization delegates, after hearing speeches by Kuzmin and Vasiliev, President of the Kronstadt Executive Committee, arrested these two, and amid incorrect rumors of immediate attack approved formation of a Provisional Revolutionary Committee. 
The Government responded with an ultimatum the same day. This alleged that the revolt had “undoubtedly been prepared by French counterintelligence” and that the Petropavlovsk resolution was an “SR-Black Hundred” resolution. SR stood for Social Revolutionaries, a democratic socialist party that had been dominant in the soviets before the return of Vladimir Lenin, and whose right wing had refused to support the Bolsheviks. The Black Hundreds were a reactionary ultranationalist movement in Russia in the early 20th century, that were supporters of the House of Romanov and opposed any retreat from theautocracy of the reigning monarch.
Soldiers of the Red Army Attack the Island Fortress of Kronstadt. March 1921. Photographer Unknown.
The sailors of Kronstadt were the elite troops of the Russian Army. They idealized new socialist ideas and were the key supporters of Bolsheviks in the October Revolution. The sailors of Kronstadt were the deciding factor in the success of the October Revolution.
By 1921, hunger, war communism and harsh weather had shaken Russia for many years. The sailors of Kronstadt grew disappointed in Bolshevik leadership. They still stood loyal to the soviet cause, but distrusted Lenin and his comrades.
In early 1921, strikes and riots broke out on two major battleships, Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol. The leader Stepan Petrichenko presented their “15 demands” to the local Kronstadt Soviet. The sailors demanded end to Bolshevik rule and end to war communism.
In March 1921, Mikhail Kalinin was sent to pacify the 16,000 sailors in a meeting. He was shouted out and a full rebellion broke out.
Trotsky answered by isolating and bombarding the island. Commander Tukhachevsky carried out three fierce assaults. The casualties were very high and the troops extending to 45,000 in the end. By 18 March, the island was finally invaded and the rebellion put down. Many of the disappointed sailors managed to escape to Finland.
The Kronstadt Rebellion had a deep impact on the Bolsheviks’ further decisions. They put an end to war communism and replaced grain confiscations with tax. This paved way to Lenin’s New Economic Policy.
Truth About the Kronstadt Mutiny
In March 1921 there was a mutiny against the Soviet government among soldiers in the fortress town of Kronstadt. The mutiny went on for two weeks, until it was suppressed by the Bolshevik government. The Kronstadt mutiny is one of those topics which is always debated: was it a heroic uprising against the ‘tyrannical bolsheviks’? Or was it an attempt at counter-revolution? Before I started researching this topic I thought that the Kronstadt mutiny was just a silly anarchist action – but its actually much worse then that.
THE LASTING MYTH OF KRONSTADT
The Kronstadt mutiny has remained a topic of discussion to this day. That is because it is always used as an example of supposed ‘communist tyranny’ by anarchists and revisionists, but also by capitalists and imperialists. They all claim that since the communists had to suppress a mutiny, therefore it proves they were anti-worker, oppressive and that they had turned against the revolution. Of course, this is simplistic and childish thinking and pure demagogy. Of course, there were other revolts and plots against the bolsheviks too, but the Kronstadt mutiny works much better for anarchist and capitalist propaganda purposes because at least on the surface it was done by soldiers of mostly peasant origin (and not by the rich) and because at least on the surface it had a left-wing agenda – however, the surface appearance doesn’t necessarily reflect the whole truth.
The first capitalist president of Russia Boris Yeltsin (the most hated Russian leader in known history) praised the Kronstadt mutiny and opened the archives on Kronstadt for researchers, so that they could prove how heroic the mutiny was and how evil the bolsheviks were. Unfortunately it backfired, since the primary source evidence doesn’t support his conclusion at all. The opened archives contain more then 1000 documents which include firsthand accounts by mutineers, secret White Guard reports, articles, memoirs etc. collected from a range of Soviet, White Guard, Menshevik, anarchist and western capitalist sources.
When the mutiny broke out it was immediately praised and supported in the capitalist media – actually, it was already praised and supported in the capitalist media two weeks before it had even broken out. This already shows that the mutiny was organized, or at least sponsored and supported by capitalists and western imperialist countries.
LEADER OF THE MUTINY PETRICHENKO
The leader of the mutiny was a political adventurer named Stepan Petrichenko. He had been in the Red Army, but considered himself an anarcho-syndicalist. He was also a Ukrainian nationalist. Petrichenko apparently remained an anarcho-syndicalist at least on the surface for most of his life, but one year before the Kronstadt mutiny he had tried to join the White Army. Anarchist historian Avrich writes:
“Petrichenko returned to his native village in April 1920 and apparently remained until September or October… The authorities, he later told an American journalist, had arrested him more than once on suspicion of counterrevolutionary activity. He had even tried to join the Whites…” (Avrich, Kronstadt, p. 95)
Avrich also discovered a secret White Guard Memorandum On Organizing An Uprising In Kronstadt.
Already pretty quickly after the events in Kronstadt we had absolutely solid proof the leaders and organizers of the mutiny were White Guardists or were working with White Guardists. And now with the archival materials, we have absolutely mountains of further evidence. If anyone says otherwise, they are wilfully ignorant or lying.
HOW THE MUTINY WAS ORGANIZED
In 1921 the country was in ruins after years of WWI and civil war. Fuel and food were always extremely scarce. As long as the civil war lasted, the population tolerated all these hardships. They understood it was inevitable in the war. However, in 1921 the war was coming to an end. Massive amounts of soldiers were sent home from the Red Army or at least taken away from battle. This created disturbances as people were no longer focused on fighting the White Army, and there were lots of badly adjusted jobless soldiers wandering around. Peasants also began opposing the war-time policy of grain requisition at fixed prices. Most soldiers themselves were peasants. This all combined together, to create some spontaneous disturbances. The policy of the government, was to evaluate the situation, change from war policies to peace time policies, and organize the reconstruction of the country and revitalization of the economy. However, that was an extremely difficult task which couldn’t be completed in one day.
There was unrest in Petrograd after several factories were temporarily closed due to fuel shortages. Some menshevik counter-revolutionaries were arrested without bloodshed. False rumors of workers being shot and factories even being bombarded, were spread in the fortress town of Kronstadt. Reactionaries took full advantage of these rumors and spread them.
“Mingled with the initial reports was an assortment of bogus rumors which quickly roused the passions of the sailors. It was said, for example, that government troops had fired on the Vasili Island demonstrators and that strike leaders were being shot in the cellars of the Cheka.” (Avrich, p. 71)
“the Petrograd strikes were on the wane… But the rumors of shootings and full-scale rioting had already aroused the sailors, and on March 2, at a time when the disturbances had all but ceased, they were drafting the erroneous announcement (for publication the following day ) that the city was in the throes of a “general insurrection.”” (Avrich, p. 83)
This was the necessary ideological preparation for the mutiny.
A mass meeting was held in Kronstadt on March 1 where anti-Communist statements and lies were spread. The meeting was orchestrated in such a way that Communists were not allowed to speak. The topic was raised that new elections to the Soviet should be carried out.
A delegate meeting of soldiers was held the next day on March 2. In this meeting it was proposed that all Communists be arrested. The delegates were amazed. However, the organizers of the mutiny made the completely baseless and hysterical claim that armed Communist detachments were about to surround the meeting and arrest everyone, therefore it was supposedly justified and necessary to begin rounding up and arresting Communists. This type of fear propaganda was cleverly used by the mutineers. Delegates had no time to think, they had no access to information, and Communists had no chance to speak. Thus the reactionaries could basically push through their anti-Communist policy.
“the Bolshevik commissar barely had time to object to the irregular proceedings before being cut off by the “military specialist” in charge of artillery, a former tsarist general named Kozlovsky… “Your time is past,” Kozlovsky declared.” (Avrich, p. 81)
The adventurer, anarcho-syndicalist and would-be White Guardist Petrichenko declared that a so-called ‘Provisional Revolutionary Committee’ or PRC had been elected. This PRC would now take over.
“[T]he chair of the meeting, Petrichenko, quieting down the meeting, announced that ‘The Revolutionary Committee… declares: “All Communists present are to be seized and not to be released until the situation is clarified” (Introduction to Kronstadt Tragedy)
“suddenly… a voice from the floor… shouted that 15 truckloads of Communists armed with rifles and machine guns were on their way to break up the meeting. The news had the effect of a bombshell, throwing the delegates into alarm and confusion… it was the bogus report that Communists were preparing to attack the meeting that actually precipitated the formation of the Provisional Revolutionary Committee… Petrichenko himself took up the rumor and announced that a detachment of 2,000 Communists were indeed on their way to disperse the meeting. Once again pandemonium broke loose, and the delegates left the hall in great excitement.” (Avrich, p. 84)
Using skillful propaganda and deception Petrichenko claimed that the ‘Provisional Revolutionary Committee’ was elected by soldier delegates. However, this was simply a lie. No elections had been carried out. But the masses did not know that – after all, maybe their delegates in their meeting had elected such a committee? Who could say? This is a good example of how such a reactionary coup can happen.
The Provisional Revolutionary Committee or PRC was never elected, its members had already been chosen before hand. In fact the committee was already sending orders and messages, one day before it had supposedly been elected. The committee stated:
“[T]he Communist Party is removed from power. The Provisional Revolutionary Committee is in charge. We ask that non-[Communist] party comrades take control into their hands” (“To All Posts of Kronstadt,”, reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy.)
Avrich also mentions how the PRC was never elected, though he claims it was merely “for lack of time to hold proper elections” (Avrich, p. 84)
This “Provisional Revolutionary Committee” actually consisted of opportunists, capitalists and counter-revolutionaries. Two members of this committee were Mensheviks who had opposed the October Revolution. Mensheviks and their foreign supporters believed Russia needed capitalism and wasn’t ready for a workers’ revolution. Ivan Oreshin, another member in the committee was part of the capitalist Kadet party, one of the leading parties under the Tsar. The head of the Committee was the would-be White Guardist Petrichenko. The chief editor of the Kronstadt mutiny’s newspaper, Sergei Putilin was also a supporter of the capitalist Kadets. Thus both the political leadership of the Kronstadt mutiny, and the mutiny’s propaganda outlets were under the control of counter-revolutionaries.
A genuine revolution is not led by anti-revolutionary Mensheviks or by capitalists. Already from its very inception, the Kronstadt mutiny was basically counter-revolutionary. However, that was just the beginning.
Other members of the PRC were a black-market speculator Vershinin, former police detective Pavlov, two ex-capitalists or property holders Baikov and Tukin “who had once owned no less than six houses and three shops in Petrograd. Another committee member, Kilgast, had reportedly been convicted of embezzling government funds in the Kronstadt transportation department but had been released in a general amnesty on the third anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.” (Avrich, pp. 93-94)
“Perepelkin may have been the only reputed anarchist among the rebel leaders, but… he was in a good position to propagate his libertarian views… [however] the sailors, for their part, never called for the complete elimination of the state, a central plank in any anarchist platform.” (Avrich, p. 170)
It was important for the leaders of the Kronstadt mutiny to appear like they were some kind of revolutionaries. They needed gauge the mood of the soldiers, and try to fool them. Leader of the Kronstadt mutiny, would be-White Guardist Petrichenko made the proposal to allow full freedom for “all socialist parties” in the public meeting of March 1. Immediately he was attacked by angry shouts by soldiers: “That’s freedom for the right SRs and Mensheviks! No! No way! …We know all about their Constituent Assemblies! We don’t need that!” (Kuzmin Report, Stenographic Report of Petrograd Soviet, 25 March 1921, quoted in Kronstadt Tragedy)
Petrichenko needed to be careful to not alienate his crowd. The Kadet Ivan Oreshin who was part of the PRC wrote: “The Kronstadt uprising broke out under the pretext of replacing the old Soviet… with a new one… The question of… extending the vote also to the bourgeoisie, was carefully avoided by the orators… They did not want to evoke opposition among the insurgents… They did not speak of the Constituent Assembly, but the assumption was that it could be arrived at gradually…” (Oreshin in Volia Rossii (April-May 1921), quoted in Shchetinov Kronstadt Tragedy)
The mutiny leaders understood that the soldiers didn’t actually support their goals, so they needed to keep their true goals secret. They could be achieved “gradually” by sneaky secret maneuvering.
During all these operations the reactionary organizers of the mutiny still carefully tried to use a cover of revolutionary and pro-worker language. They called each other ‘comrades’ and ‘the revolutionary committee’. However, they were adamant that Communists must be crushed. The vaguely anarchistic ideology, most likely influenced by Petrichenko, suited their purposes. All kinds of demagogical slogans were made about “freedom against bolshevik tyranny”, “soviets without communism” etc.
However, even if we didn’t know that Petrichenko had wanted to be a White Guardist it was still completely obvious that the Kronstadt mutineers were not following anarchist theory in any typical sense. They were not establishing a stateless society but an anti-Communist military dictatorship. 300 Communists were rounded up and thrown into prisons, but hundreds of Communists also managed to run away.
“The repression carried out by the PRC against those Communists who remained faithful to the communist revolution fully refutes the supposedly peaceful intentions of the rebels. Virtually all the minutes of the PRC sessions indicate that the struggle against the Communists still at large and against those still in prison, remained an unrelenting focus of their attention. At the last phase they even resorted to threats of field courts martial in spite of their declared repeal of the death penalty.” (Agranov, April 1921, quoted in Kronstadt Tragedy)
An anarchist thug named Shustov, was the commandant of the prison. Imagine being an anarchist and advocating the abolition of all prisons, but at the same time you’re literally a prison warden, and you keep arresting hundreds of Communists! Shustov was chosen as the executioner who would shoot the leading local Communists. There was a plan to carry out a mass execution:
“Early on the morning of March 18, Shustov set up a machine gun outside the cell, which contained 23 prisoners. He was prevented from slaughtering the Communists only by the advance of the Red Army across the ice.” (Kronstadt 1921: Bolshevism vs. Counterrevolution)
THE KRONSTADT DEMANDS
Lenin pointed out that the Kronstadt demands were quite vague and unclear. This was inevitable because they were not realistic policy proposals but a combination utopianism, spontaneity and demagogic propaganda intended to gather enough support until the White Guard could take power and crush the Communists and all other opposition.
The essential demands were: (Source: March 1 Resolution, quoted in Kronstadt Tragedy)
1. New elections to the Soviets. In Kronstadt Communists were arrested and thus would not be allowed to run in elections. Instead the Soviets would be filled with mensheviks, white guards, anarchists and opponents of the October Revolution such as the SR kerensky types. Of course the reactionaries also hoped this could spread elsewhere and help destabilize the Soviet government. Needless to say this was not an anarchistic “stateless” order.
2. Full freedom of action for anti-Communist parties including the left-SR terrorists who tried to assassinate Lenin in 1918. The terrorist’s bullet hit Lenin in the neck but he survived. These anti-Communist forces would receive full freedom of action, but of course in Kronstadt the Communists would be repressed and prevented from all activitism. Again, the reactionaries hoped this would spread to other areas too.
3. There should be no government regulation of trade-unions. Of course, in practice this simply meant that unions should denounce the Soviet government, sever their ties with the Soviet government and not follow instructions from it. If this demand was implemented it would lead to chaos because the unions were the government’s main instrument of economic management and workplace democracy. The demand for unions which did not collaborate with the workers’ government was also an essentially anti-socialist demand. Unions working with a proletarian state are an important part of planned economy and socialist construction.
4. Anti-Communist rebels like menshevik saboteurs, SR terrorists and those organizing revolts should be freed from jail.
5. The mutineers demanded bigger rations. Of course everybody wanted higher wages and bigger rations, but this was just a cheap attempt to garner popularity. Also, the bolshevik government was being basically forced to pay somewhat higher salaries and better rations for skilled experts, bourgeois officials and workers in strategic branches. They did not want to do this, but they had to. Those experts and officials could not be replaced right away, and if they didn’t collaborate the government would have huge problems. Therefore the bolsheviks simply had to accommodate those people until Red Experts could be trained to replace them. It may seem unfair, but failing to recognize this necessity is just another example of utopian stupidity.
6. The abolition of “war communism” or grain requisition. Again, this demand could gain some popularity. The peasants never particularly liked the system of war communism, though it was necessary for the war effort. The mutineers more broadly demanded that peasants should be able to use their land and property exactly how they see fit. They did not want collective agriculture or socialist planned economy, but instead who ever was lucky enough to have land should use it to the best of their ability and compete on the market. Landless would remain landless, and big peasants would get bigger.
7. The mutineers demanded the purging of Communists from the military and factory management, and abolition of Communist political departments from the army. The army at this point still had very large numbers of professional officers and soldiers from the times of the Tsar and Kerensky. These officers were needed and used by the Communists because of their skills and professional military training. However, because those officers and soldiers were not communists or workers, and were generally untrustworthy the Bolsheviks invented ‘political comissars’ to supervise the officers.
“former imperial officers were… [used] as “military specialists” ( voenspetsy ) under the watchful supervision of political commissars. In this way, badly needed command experience and technical knowledge were provided until a new corps of Red Commanders could be trained.” (Avrich, p. 66)
The Kronstadt mutineers demanded that this system be abolished. Such a demand might appeal to some anarchists, but one can only imagine what the result would be. The non-Communist officers inside the Red Army would no longer follow socialist instructions and the Red Army would stop being a proletarian army at all. In fact, this quickly happened and the old Tsarist officers Kozlovsky, Vilken and others were soon walking around like they were masters of the situation. In fact, they were masters during the mutiny.
According to the SRs the White Guard general Kozlovsky was ‘elected’ to the defence council of the Kronstadt mutiny, but it seems unlikely he could get elected. Its more likely he was simply chosen by the counter-revolutionaries into that post. The Menshevik newspaper Sotsialisticheski Vestnik published in Germany wrote that Kozlovsky and the other Whites tried to convince the Mensheviks and SRs to begin a general military assault against the Soviet government, but they were unable to convince them. The Mensheviks wrote: “The political leaders of the insurrection would not agree to take the offensive and the opportunity was let slip.“
WHITE GUARDS AND CAPITALISTS IN KRONSTADT
White emigres immediately began making plans to join the Kronstadt mutineers. A former associate of White General Dennikin, N. N. Chebyshev wrote about those times: “White officers roused themselves and started seeking ways to get to the fight in Kronstadt… The spark flew among the emigres. Everybody’s spirit was lifted by it” (quoted in Shchetinov, Introduction to Kronstadt Tragedy)
Imperialist France and Britain encouraged capitalist states on the Russian border to assist the Kronstadt mutiny. British foreign minister Lord Curzon sent a secret message to Finland On March 11 stating: “His Majesty’s Government are not prepared themselves to intervene… Very confidential: There is no reason, however, why you should advise the Finnish Government to take a similar course or to prevent any private societies or individuals from helping [the mutiny]” (Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939).
Food and money came from rich capitalists and White emigres to support the Kronstadt mutineers. Tsarist Baron P. Y. Vilken, the former commander of the Sevastopol, used his spy contacts to deliver the money. His telegrams discuss sending the funds through Helsinki “which needs the money in the beginning of March” (Russkaia voennaia emigratsiaa 20-x—40-x godov).
“The Russian banks, with the former Tsarist minister of finance Kokovtsev at their head, began to collect money for Kronstadt. Goutchkov, the head of the Russian imperialist party, got in contact with the English and American governments to obtain food supplies.” (Radek, The Kronstadt Uprising, 1921)
“The Whiteguard emigres in Paris organized collection of money and provisions for the mutineers, and the American Red Cross sent food supplies to Kronstadt under its flag.“ (A History of the USSR, volume 3, p. 307)
“the Russian Union of Commerce and Industry in Paris declared its intention to send food and other supplies to Kronstadt… an initial sum of two million Finnish marks had already been pledged to aid Kronstadt in “the sacred cause of liberating Russia” (Avrich, p. 116)
“the Russian-Asiatic Bank contributed 225,000 francs. Additional funds were donated by other Russian banks, insurance companies, and financial concerns throughout Europe, and by the Russian Red Cross, which funneled all collections to Tseidler, its representative in Finland. By March 16 Kokovtsov was able to inform the Committee of Russian Banks in Paris that deposits for Kronstadt already exceeded 775,000 francs…” (Avrich, p. 117)
The leaders of the Kronstadt mutiny published an article on March 6 where they claimed to oppose the Whites. However, this was more deception as Petrichenko and many of his associates were White Guardists. Two days later on March 8 they welcomed a secret delegation of allies, which included a courier from the SR Administrative Center, an agent of Finnish State Security, two representatives of the monarchist Petrograd Combat Organization and four White Guard officers, including Baron Vilken.
The Whites were disguised as a “Red Cross” delegation sent from Finland. According to a detailed report by White Guardist Tseidler to his HQ, the delegation was immediately invited to ajoint session of the PRC and the general staff officers. A plan was reached to use the Red Cross as a cover to organizing sending food, supplies and funds to Kronstadt. (Source: Tseidler, Red Cross Activity in Organizing Provisions Aid to Kronstadt, 25 April 1921).
White emigre and former member of the Kronstadt leadership Kupolov wrote later that some of the Kronstadt leaders (probably mensheviks and anarchists) were not too happy about the monarchist and White Guard plots. However, Petrichenko was simply using them and planned to eventually get rid of them too. Kupolov writes:
“The PRC, seeing that Kronstadt was filling up with agents of a monarchist organization, issued a declaration that it would not enter into negotiations with, nor accept any aid from, any non-socialist parties… But… Petrichenko and the General Staff secretly worked in connection with the monarchists and prepared the ground for an overthrow of the committee…” (Kupolov, “Kronstadt and the Russian Counterrevolutionaries in Finland: From the Notes of a Former Member of the PRC”)
This is exactly why the Bolsheviks stated that while many of the Kronstadt mutineers were not White Guards or members of the capitalist class, their action still furthered the goals of the White Guard counter-revolution and of capitalist restoration. The White Guards were simply using these mensheviks and hapless opportunists.
The PCR claimed:
“In Kronstadt, total power is in the hands only of the revolutionary sailors… not of the White Guards headed by some General Kozlovsky, as the slanderous Moscow radio proclaims.” “We have only one general here… commissar of the Baltic Fleet Kuzmin. And he has been arrested.”” (Avrich, p. 99)
In exile Petrichenko stated:
“Cut off from the outside world, we could receive no aid from foreign sources even if we had wanted it. We served as agents of no external group: neither capitalists, Mensheviks, nor SR’s.” (Avrich, p. 113)
These days we know that he was lying.
Anarchist sailor Perepelkin, who was there in Kronstadt stated:
“And here I saw the former commander or the Sevastopol, Baron Vilken with whom I had earlier sailed. And it is he who is now acknowledged by the PRC to be the representative of the delegation that is offering us aid. I was outraged by this. I… said, so that’s the situation we’re in, that’s who we’re forced to talk to. Petrichenko and the others jumped on me… There was no other way out: they said. I stopped arguing and said I would accept the proposal. And on the second day we received 400 poods of food and cigarettes. Those who agreed to mutual friendship with the White Guard baron yesterday shouted that they were for Soviet power.” (Komarov Report, 25 March 1921)
“Any doubts about Vilken’s motives (his officer background was known to the rebel leaders) were brushed aside, and the Revolutionary Committee accepted his offer.” (Avrich, p. 122)
This has of course continued to this very day. The pseudo-Anarchists in Rojava made the same exact arguments. They said, they needed to collaborate with American imperialists because American imperialists were giving them funding, training, military support and weaponry. And were they really expected to win all on their own without such support? But such opportunistic logic merely reduces any movement into helpless puppets of capitalists and imperialists.
Wrangel’s right hand man, White General General Von Lampe literally laughed at the anarchists, mensheviks and SRs. He wrote in his diary that their propaganda was “full of justifications to dispel the thought, God forbid, that the sailors were under the influence of [White Monarchist] officers… The SRs don’t understand that in such a struggle, what are needed are severe and determined measures.” (Quoted in Kronstadt Tragedy)
An editor for the mutineer newspaper Lamanov stated: “Up until the seizure of Kronstadt by Soviet troops I thought the movement had heen organized by the Left SRs. After I became convinced that the movement was not spontaneous, I no longer sympathized with it… Now I am firmly convinced, that, without a doubt, White Guards, both Russian and foreign, took part in the movement. The escape to Finland convinced me of this. Now I consider my participation in this movement to have heen an unforgivable stupid mistake.” (Minutes of Cheka Interrogation of Anatoly Lamanov)
On March 15 the Kronstadt mutineers secretly sent two of their leaders to Finland, to ask for support. At this time Finland was ruled by the ferocious White Guard government of Mannerheim and co. which was launching invasions into Soviet-Karelia and supporting the Russian White Generals. When the mutiny was being defeated, on March 17 Petrichenko and the leaders ordered the crews of ships Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol to blow up the ships and flee to Anti-Communist Finland. However, at this point the soldiers had already begun to think their leaders must be reactionaries and did not follow orders. They rose up, saved the ships and arrested all the officers and Provisional Committee members they could get their hands on.
After the Kronstadt mutiny had failed and its leaders had fled to Finland, they agreed to join the White Army of Wrangel:
“In May 1921 Petrichenko and several of his fellow refugees at the Fort Ino camp decided to volunteer their services to General Wrangel… in a new campaign to unseat the Bolsheviks and restore “the gains of the February 1917 Revolution.”” (Avrich, p. 127)
It is very significant that at this point they were no longer in Kronstadt, and thus didn’t need to pretend they supported the October Revolution. Hence they now began to only praise the February revolution of Kerensky!
The Petrichenko gang and the Whites forces of Wrangel agreed to “the retention of their slogan “all power to the soviets but not the parties.”… the slogan was to be retained only as a “convenient political maneuver” until the Communists had been overthrown. Once victory was in hand, the slogan would be shelved and a temporary military dictatorship installed…” (Avrich, pp. 127-128)
THE REACTIONARY PROPAGANDA CAMPAIGN
The Kronstadt mutineers and their capitalist allies carried out a massive propaganda campaign to support the mutiny. They published lies claiming that supposedly the Bolsheviks were carrying out atrocities and supposedly everybody was rising up against them. In fact, nothing of the kind happened.
The Kronstadt newspaper wrote on March 7: “Last Minute News From Petrograd” – ”Mass arrests and executions of workers and sailors continue.”
On March 8 a Finnish capitalist newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet published the following lies, provided to them by Mensheviks: “Petrograd workers are striking… crowds bearing red banners demand a change of government – the overthrow of the Communists.”
On March 11 the Kronstadt newspaper wrote: “The [bolshevik] Government In Panic.” “Our cry has been heard. Revolutionary sailors, Red Army men and workers in Petrograd are already coming to our assistance … The Bolshevik power feels the ground slipping from under its feet and has issued orders in Petrograd to open fire at any group of five or more people gathering in the streets …”
“Moscow Rising Reported. Petrograd Fighting.” (London Times, March 2, 1921)
“Petrograd et Moscou Seraient aux Maine des Insurgés qui ont Formé un Gouvernement Provisoire.” [“Petrograd and Moscow will be in the hands of the insurgents who have formed a provisional government”] (Matin, March 7)
“Les Marins Revoltés Débarquent à Petrograd.” [“Rebelling sailors land in Petrograd”] (Matin, March 8)
“Der Aufstand in Russland.” [“The uprising in Russia”] (Vossische Zeitung, March 10)
“In Petrograd the remnants of the SRs, Mensheviks and various anarchists banded together… [and] collaborated with the newly formed monarchist Petrograd Combat Organization (PCO), as the PCO itself asserted (PCO Report to Helsinki Department of National Center, no earlier than 28 March 1921 reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy). The [monarchist-capitalist] PCO even printed the Mensheviks’ leaflets! On March 14… [they] issued a leaflet in solidarity with Kronstadt that said not one word about socialism or soviets, but instead called for an uprising against “the bloody communist regime” in the name of “all power to the people” (“Appeal to All Citizens, Workers, Red Army Soldiers and Sailors,” 14 March 1921 reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy).” (Kronstadt 1921: Bolshevism vs. Counterrevolution)
“Savinkov, aide to Kerensky… in his Warsaw newspaper Svoboda, printed on Polish [capitalist] government money, boasts (24th February) “I fight against the Bolsheviks, I fight alongside those who have already struggled with Kolchak, Denikin, Wrangel and even Petlioura [Petrichenko], strange as that may seem.” (Radek, The Kronstadt Uprising, 1921)
Savinkov wrote that the sailors of Kronstadt had captured the battleship Aurora and fired its cannons on Petrograd. This never actually happened. He wrote: “when the cruiser Aurora fired on Petrograd it was an expression of repentance for the sin committed on the 25th of October 1917 with the bombardment of the Winter Palace, the seat of Kerensky’s ministry.”
“The Roul of Berlin, the organ of the right wing of the Cadet Party, wrote “The uprising of Kronstadt is scared, because it is an uprising against the idea of the October revolution”. The Society of Russian Industrialists and Financiers of Paris, when they heard the news from Kronstadt, decided to not worry about the extremist demands or the primitive cause of the mutiny [“les revendications extremistes cause primitive de la mutinerie”] because its essential point was that “the sailors were for the overthrow of the Communist government” [Dernières Nouvelles de Paris, 8th March].” (Radek, The Kronstadt Uprising, 1921)
The reactionary mutineers claimed that mass uprisings had broken out in Petrograd and Moscow to support the Kronstadt mutiny, but this was a total lie. Even Menshevik leader Dan admitted in his 1922 book that “the Kronstadt mutiny was not supported by the Petersburg workers in any way” (quoted in ‘The Mensheviks in the Kronstadt Mutiny,” Krasnaill Letopis’, 1931, No.2). This is easy to understand, because the mutiny was not based on genuine political organizing or a genuine program. It was a plot organized by White Guard reactionaries and political adventurers, by spreading false rumors, lies, and exploiting the temporary difficulties and confusion in Kronstadt at the time in order to carry out a military coup, repress the communists and prevent the workers and peasants from understand what was actually going on.
It was enterily unlikely that workers would support the mutiny in other towns where they could not be simply tricked by plotters, and where they had their working class and Communist organizations. The Kronstadt mutiny used anarchists, left-SR terrorists and Mensheviks as their henchmen but even they were to a large extent simply fooled into it, as White Guardists were secretly trying to orchestrate many aspects of the mutiny for their own purposes.
Its also worth pointing out that the best revolutionary elements in the left-SRs, left-Mensheviks and even anarchists had already seen the error in their ways and joined the Bolshevik Party either right before the October Revolution or soon after it. Only the worse elements like terrorists, utopians and right-wing Mensheviks now opposed the Bolsheviks. The anarcho-syndicalist “Worker Opposition” also supported the Bolsheviks in crushing the Kronstadt mutiny.
“SOVIETS WITHOUT COMMUNISM! DOWN WITH COMMUNISM!” – IDEOLOGY OF THE KRONSTADT MUTINY
Milliukov, one of the capitalist leaders of Russia who was ousted by the October Revolution, wrote in his newspaper which he published in Paris, that reactionaries need to support the Kronstadt mutiny. He therefore advocated the slogan “Down with the Bolsheviks’ Long live the Soviets!” (Poslednie Novosti. 11 March 1921). The first step was to get rid of the Bolshevik Communists, after that it would be easy to restore the power of the capitalists.
“The [capitalist]… Milyukov, supplied the Kronstadt counter-revolutionaries with the watchword “Soviets without Communists””(A History of the USSR, volume 3, p. 307)
Stalin said: “Soviets without Communists — such was then the watchword of the chief of the Russian counter-revolution, Milyukov…” (J. Stalin, Articles and Speeches, Moscow, 1934, , Russ, ed., p. 217)
“But the class enemy was not dozing. He tried to exploit the distressing economic situation and the discontent of the peasants for his own purposes. Kulak revolts, engineered by Whiteguards and SRs, broke out in Siberia, the Ukraine and the Tambov province… All kinds of counter-revolutionary elements — Mensheviks, SRs, Anarchists, Whiteguards, bourgeois nationalists—became active again. The enemy adopted new tactics of struggle against the Soviet power. He began to borrow a Soviet garb, and his slogan was no longer the old bankrupt “Down with the Soviets!” but a new slogan: “For the Soviets, but without Communists!”
A glaring instance of the new tactics of the class enemy was the counter-revolutionary mutiny in Kronstadt… Whiteguards, in complicity with SRs, Mensheviks and representatives of foreign states, assumed the lead of the mutiny. The mutineers at first used a “Soviet” signboard to camouflage their purpose of restoring the power and property of the capitalists and landlords. They raised the cry: “Soviets without Communists!” The counter-revolutionaries tried to exploit the discontent of the petty bourgeois masses in order to overthrow the power of the Soviets under a pseudo-Soviet slogan.
Two circumstances facilitated the outbreak of the Kronstadt mutiny: the deterioration in the composition of the ships’ crews, and the weakness of the Bolshevik organization in Kronstadt. Nearly all the old [revolutionary, communist Kronstadt] sailors… [had been sent away to the] front, heroically fighting in the ranks of the Red Army. The naval replenishments [sent to Kronstadt to replace them] consisted of new men, who had not been schooled in the revolution. These were a perfectly raw peasant mass who gave expression to the peasantry’s discontent with the [grain requisition system and war communism]. As for the Bolshevik organization in Kronstadt, it had been greatly weakened by a series of mobilizations for the front.”
(History of the CPSU(B) short course)
Anarchist historian Avrich writes that the bulk of Kronstadt sailors had fought in anti-Communist forces before: “…we have it from Petrichenko himself that “three-quarters” of the Kronstadt garrison were natives of the Ukraine, some of whom had served with the anti-Bolshevik forces in the south before entering the Soviet navy.” (Avrich, p. 93)
“Throughout the Civil War of 1918-1920, the sailors of Kronstadt… More than 40,000… replenished the ranks of the Red Army on every front.” (Avrich, p. 62)
“There can be little doubt that during the Civil War years a large turnover had indeed taken place within the Baltic Fleet… old-timers had been replaced by conscripts from the rural districts… By 1921… more than three-quarters of the sailors were of peasant origin, a substantially higher proportion than in 1917, when industrial workers from the Petrograd area made up a sizable part of the fleet.” (Avrich, p. 89)
The temporary weakness of the local Communist organization in Kronstadt, the mass influx of politically uneducated people from the countryside, who were even anti-communists, and the sending of politically educated, experienced proletarians away to the frontlines during the war – these factors allows the SR utopians, terrorists, anarchists, mensheviks and outright capitalists, monarchists and White Guards to gain a temporary foothold in Kronstadt.
One of the reasons for the relative weakness of the Kronstadt Bolshevik party organization, was that Trotskyists and Zinovievites were in a strong position there:
“The work of political education was at that time badly organized in the Baltic Fleet, and the Trotskyites… managed to get into leading positions…” (A History of the USSR, volume 3, p. 307)
A power struggle began between the opportunist factions of Trotsky and Zinoviev. At this time Lenin had been waging ideological struggle against Trotsky’s bureaucratic position on the questions of war-communism and role of the trade-unions. Zinoviev took advantage of this to strengthen his own opportunist faction. Trotskyists themselves admit this:
“Seizing on Trotsky’s wrong-headedness, Zinoviev mobilized his own base in the Petrograd-Kronstadt area against Trotsky… Zinoviev opened the floodgates of the Kronstadt party organization to backward recruits while encouraging a poisonous atmosphere in the inner-party dispute. The rot in the Kronstadt Communist Party organization was a critical factor in allowing the mutiny to proceed” (“Kronstadt 1921…”, Spartacist, Spring 2006 #59, )
There is no honor amount scoundrels! A few years after this the renegade cliques of Trotsky and Zinoviev would unite their forces against the Bolshevik party.
“The authority of the party was further undermined by a struggle for political control in the fleet, which pitted Trotsky, the War Commissar, against Zinoviev… As a result of this dispute, the commissars and other party administrators lost much of their hold over the rank and file.” (Avrich, p. 70)
Another piece of information, indicating that the Kronstadt mutineers did not represent the best revolutionary elements, but actually some of the most political backward elements, was their rampant anti-semitism. Anti-semitism of course was quite common in Russia at that time, but it was not tolerated among the Communists. It was more common among peasants then workers.
“feelings against the Jews ran high among the [Kronstadt] sailors, many of whom came from the Ukraine and the western borderlands, the classic regions of virulent anti-Semitism in Russia” (Avrich, p. 179)
One of the Kronstadt newspaper editors Lamanov, said that people constantly wrote anti-semitic articles about Jews having “murdered Russia” but he usually succeeded in preventing them from being published. (Source: Further Minutes of Questioning of Anatoly Lamanov, 25 March 1921)
“Vershinin… [member of the PRC] shouted an appeal for joint action against the Jewish and Communist oppressors…” (Avrich, p. 155)
“Jews were a customary scapegoat in times of hardship and distress… In a particularly vicious passage [one sailor] attacks the Bolshevik regime as the “first Jewish Republic”… he labels the Jews a new “privileged class,”… calling the government ultimatum to Kronstadt “the ultimatum of the Jew Trotsky.” These sentiments, he asserts were widely shared by his fellow sailors… Witness the appeal of Vershinin, a member of the Revolutionary Committee… on March 8… “Enough of your ‘hoorahs,’ and join with us to beat the Jews. It’s their cursed domination that we workers and peasants have had to endure.” (Avrich, pp. 179-180)
WHY DIDN’T THE BOLSHEVIKS NEGOTIATE A PEACEFUL SETTLEMENT?
Anarchists usually claim that the Bolsheviks saw the Kronstadt mutiny as some great threat to their power. That supposedly the “heroic struggle” of the mutineers could’ve inspired everyone to overthrow the Bolsheviks. However, this is completely false.
“This Kronstadt affair in itself is a very petty incident. It no more threatens to break up the Soviet state than the Irish disorders are threatening to break up the British Empire.” (Lenin, On the Kronstadt revolt)
The Menshevik leader Dan admitted in his 1922 book that “the Kronstadt mutiny was not supported by the Petersburg workers in any way” (quoted in ‘The Mensheviks in the Kronstadt Mutiny,” Krasnaill Letopis’, 1931, No.2)
The Bolshevik government suppressed the mutiny because the Whites still tried to use it as a springboard for restarting the civil war with foreign imperialist backing.
“What the authorities feared, in other words, was not so much the rebellion itself…” (Avrich, p. 134)
“Of greater concern to the Bolsheviks was the determination of the [white] emigres to gain access to Kronstadt and use it as a base for a landing on the mainland. This would have meant nothing less than a resumption of the Civil War…” (Avrich, p. 134)
The ice was quickly melting so time was of the essence. Kronstadt had an extremely strong fortress and heavy weaponry. It would be very difficult to attack, and if the ice melted the only way to get there would be on battleships. Kronstadt itself also had two battleships. Therefore if the Bolsheviks waited and didn’t attack and take the Fort right away, the resulting battle might be catastrophic in its casualties and material damages. The mutineers also felt that they had gone too far, and there was no turning back. They felt they couldn’t negotiate their way out of this and simply had to fight as long as possible.
Zinoviev carried out pointless negotiations with the mutineers, which achieved nothing and only allowed the counter-revolutionaries to fortify their defenses.
“Zinoviev negotiated with the traitors for seven whole days, thereby giving them time to fortify themselves.” (A History of the USSR, volume 3, p. 307)
It is often stated that Trotsky led the suppression of the Kronstadt mutiny, and that under Trotsky’s leadership the soldiers committed atrocities. However, both of these claims are false. The military defeat of the mutiny was entirely led by Voroshilov. Trotsky himself wrote later:
“The truth of the matter is that I personally did not participate in the least in the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion” (Trotsky, More on the Suppression of Kronstadt)
The soldiers, 300 of whom had been delegates to the 10th Bolshevik Part Congress, acted heroicially but Zinoviev who was in a power struggle with Trotsky at the time, spread all kinds of lies about the military operation, saying that it was organized by Trotsky and that all kinds of mistakes and wrong-doings supposedly occurred. But the bureaucratic mistakes of Trotsky, neglecting ideological education in the army and navy, and the further sabotage of Zinoviev contributed to the outbreak of the mutiny.
DEFEATING THE MUTINY
“The mutineers gained possession of a first-class fortress, the fleet, and a vast quantity of arms and ammunition… Against the Kronstadt mutineers the Party sent its finest sons—delegates to the Tenth Congress, headed by Comrade Voroshilov. The Red Army men advanced on Kronstadt across a thin sheet of ice it broke in places and many were drowned. The almost impregnable forts of Kronstadt had to be taken by storm…” (History of the CPSU(B) short course)
“Picked units of the Red Army were sent to crush the Kronstadt counter-revolution. The Tenth Congress of the Party, which was in session at that time, sent 300 of its delegates, headed by K. E. Voroshilov, to reinforce them. On March 16, the revolutionary soldiers… commenced an assault upon the main forts of Kronstadt, rushing forward in spite of continuous machine-gun fire and the bursting shells which broke the already fragile ice over which they were advancing. In the front ranks of the assault columns was Voroshilov, setting an example of Bolshevik courage and valour.” (A History of the USSR, volume 3, pp. 307-308)
APPENDIX. LENIN ON KRONSTADT:
“What does it mean? It was an attempt to seize political power from the Bolsheviks by a motley crowd or alliance of ill-assorted elements, apparently just to the right of the Bolsheviks, or perhaps even to their “left”—you can’t really tell, so amorphous is the combination of political groupings that has tried to take power in Kronstadt. You all know, undoubtedly, that at the same time whiteguard generals were very active over there. There is ample proof of this. A fortnight before the Kronstadt events., the Paris newspapers reported a mutiny at Kronstadt. It is quite clear that it is the work of SRs and whiteguard émigrés, and at the same time the movement was reduced to a petty-bourgeois counter-revolution and petty-bourgeois anarchism. That is something quite new. This circumstance, in the context of all the crises, must be given careful political consideration and must be very thoroughly analysed… There is evidence here of the activity of petty-bourgeois anarchist elements with their slogans of unrestricted trade and invariable hostility to the dictatorship of the proletariat… they wanted to correct the Bolsheviks in regard to restrictions in trade—and this looks like a small shift, which leaves the same slogans of “Soviet power” with ever so slight a change or correction. Yet, in actual fact the whiteguards only used the non-Party elements as a stepping stone to get in. This is politically inevitable. We saw the petty-bourgeois, anarchist elements in the Russian revolution, and we have been fighting them for decades. We have seen them in action since February 1917, during the great revolution, and their parties’ attempts to prove that their programme differed little from that of the Bolsheviks, but that only their methods in carrying it through were different. We know this not only from the experience of the October Revolution, but also of the outlying regions and various areas within the former Russian Empire where the Soviet power was temporarily replaced by other regimes. Let us recall the Democratic Committee in Samara. They all came in demanding equality, freedom, and a constituent assembly, and every time they proved to be nothing but a conduit for whiteguard rule. Because the Soviet power is being shaken by the economic situation, we must consider all this experience and draw the theoretical conclusions a Marxist cannot escape… We must take a hard look at this petty-bourgeois counter-revolution with its calls for freedom to trade. Unrestricted trade—even if it is not as bound up initially with the whiteguards as Kronstadt was—is still only the thin end of the wedge for the whiteguard element, a victory for capital and its complete restoration. We must, I repeat, have a keen sense of this political danger.”
(Lenin, Tenth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.))
“I emphasised the danger of Kronstadt because it lies precisely in the fact that the change demanded was apparently very slight: “The Bolsheviks must go . . . we will correct the regime a little.” That is what the Kronstadt rebels are demanding. But what actually happened was that Savinkov arrived in Revel, the Paris newspapers reported the events a fortnight before they actually occurred, and a whiteguard general appeared on the scene. That is what actually happened.” (Lenin, Tenth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.))
“The way the enemies of the proletariat take advantage of every deviation from a thoroughly consistent communist line was perhaps most strikingly shown in the case of the Kronstadt mutiny, when the bourgeois counter-revolutionaries and whiteguards in all countries of the world immediately expressed their readiness to accept the slogans of the Soviet system, if only they might thereby secure the overthrow of the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia, and when the SRs and the bourgeois counter-revolutionaries in general resorted in Kronstadt to slogans calling for an insurrection against the Soviet Government of Russia ostensibly in the interest of the Soviet power. These facts fully prove that the whiteguards strive, and are able, to disguise themselves as Communists, and even as the most Left-wing Communists, solely for the purpose of weakening and destroying the bulwark of the proletarian revolution in Russia.“ (Lenin, Tenth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.))
“The vacillation of the petty-bourgeois element was the most characteristic feature of the Kronstadt events. There was very little that was clear, definite and fully shaped. We heard nebulous slogans about “freedom”, “freedom of trade”, “emancipation”, “Soviets without the Bolsheviks”, or new elections to the Soviets, or relief from “Party dictatorship”, and so on and so forth. Both the Mensheviks and the SRs declared the Kronstadt movement to be “their own”. [Menshevik] Victor Chernov sent a messenger to Kronstadt. On the latter’s proposal, the Menshevik Valk, one of the Kronstadt leaders, voted for the Constituent Assembly. In a flash, with lightning speed, you might say, the whiteguards mobilised all their forces “for Kronstadt“. Their military experts in Kronstadt, a number of experts, and not Kozlovsky alone, drew up a plan for a landing at Oranienbaum, which scared the vacillating mass of Mensheviks, SRs and non-party elements. More than fifty Russian whiteguard newspapers published abroad conducted a rabid campaign “for Kronstadt”. The big banks, all the forces of finance capital, collected funds to assist Kronstadt. That shrewd leader of the bourgeoisie and the landowners, the Cadet Milyukov, patiently explained to the simpleton [Menshevik] Chernov… and to the Mensheviks Dan and Rozhkov, who are in jail in Petrograd for their connection with the Kronstadt events… that there is no need to hurry with the Constituent Assembly, and that Soviet power can and must be supported—only without the Bolsheviks.
Of course, it is easy to be cleverer than conceited simpletons like Chernov, the petty-bourgeois phrase-monger, or like Martov, the knight of philistine reformism doctored to pass for Marxism. Properly speaking, the point is not that Milyukov, as an individual, has more brains, but that, because of his class position, the party leader of the big bourgeoisie sees and understands the class essence and political interaction of things more clearly than the leaders of the petty bourgeoisie, the Chernovs and Martovs. For the bourgeoisie is really a class force which, under capitalism… and which also inevitably enjoys the support of the world bourgeoisie. But the petty bourgeoisie, i.e. … cannot… be anything else than the expression of class impotence hence the vacillation, phrase-mongering and helplessness…
[Menshevik leader] Martov showed himself to be nothing but a philistine Narcissus when he declared in his Berlin journal that Kronstadt not only adopted Menshevik slogans but also proved that there could be an anti-Bolshevik movement which did not entirely serve the interests of the whiteguards, the capitalists and the landowners. He says in effect: “Let us shut our eves to the fact that all the genuine whiteguards hailed the Kronstadt mutineers and collected funds in aid of Kronstadt through the banks!” Compared with the Chernovs and Martovs, Milyukov is right, for he is revealing the true tactics of the real whiteguard force, the force of the capitalists and landowners. He declares: “It does not matter whom we support, be they anarchists or any sort of Soviet government, as long as the Bolsheviks are overthrown, as long as there is a shift in power it does not matter whether to the right or to the left, to the Mensheviks or to the anarchists, as long as it is away from the Bolsheviks… ‘we’, the capitalists and landowners, will do the rest ‘ourselves’… History proves it. The facts bear it out. The Narcissuses will talk the Milyukovs and whiteguards will act.”
(Lenin, The Tax in Kind)
“You must have noticed that these extracts from the whiteguard newspapers published abroad appeared side by side with extracts from British and French newspapers. They are one chorus, one orchestra… They have admitted that if the slogan becomes “Soviet power without the Bolsheviks” they will all accept it. Milyukov explains this with particular clarity… He says he is prepared to accept the “Soviet power without the Bolsheviks” slogan. He cannot see from over there in Paris whether this is to be a slight shift to the right or to the left, towards the anarchists. From over there, he cannot see what is going on in Kronstadt, but asks the monarchists not to rush and spoil things by shouting about it. He declares that even if the shift is to be to the left, he is prepared to back the Soviet power against the Bolsheviks…”
(Lenin, The All-Russia Congress Of Transport Workers)
Paul Avrich, Kronstadt: The 1921 Uprizing of Sailors in the Context of the Political Development of the New Soviet State
[Avrich provides a lot of useful factual information, however he is pro-anarchist. He sees the Kronstadt mutiny as a tragedy which could never have succeeded but he sympathizes with it. Despite everything he tries to deny that the mutiny was orchestrated by the Whites. He admits that the Kronstadt mutineers collaborated with Whites, Monarchists, Capitalists, foreign powers, Mensheviks and SRs but basically claims “that doesn’t matter”. His book is from 1970 when the archives were still closed. For that reason he relies quite heavily on dishonest Menshevik and Anarchist sources which have nothing to support their claims, and often he takes Petrichenko’s words at face value. He also doesn’t understand Marxism and therefore distorts it. Perhaps it was impossible to publish in American academia unless one reached an anti-bolshevik conclusion? Still he deserves credit for his discoveries.]
White Guard Memorandum On Organizing An Uprising In Kronstadt, reprinted in Avrich
Primary source documents printed in “Kronshtadtskaia tragediia 1921 goda, dokumenty v dvukh knigakh” (“Kronstadt Tragedy”):
-Kuzmin Report, 25 March 1921
-Agranov Report, April 1921
-“To All Posts of Kronstadt,” Kronstadt Izvestia
-Ivan Oreshin, Volia Rossii (April-May 1921)
-Kronstadt March 1 Resolution
-Tseidler, Red Cross Activity in Organizing Provisions Aid to Kronstadt, 25 April 1921.
-Kupolov, “Kronstadt and the Russian Counterrevolutionaries in Finland: From the Notes of a Former Member of the PRC”
-Komarov Report, 25 March 1921
-Von Lampe’s Diary entry
-Minutes of Cheka Interrogation of Anatoly Lamanov
Kronstadt 1921: Bolshevism vs. Counterrevolution, Spartacist #6 Spring 2006
[Very good article, which brought many primary source documents to my attention. The article propagates erroneous Trotskyist views but luckily they have practically nothing to do with the topic of Kronstadt and can thus be ignored.]
Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939
Russkaia voennaia emigratsiaa 20-x—40-x godov
Radek, The Kronstadt Uprising, 1921
Stalin, Articles and Speeches, Moscow, 1934, Russ. ed., p. 217, quoted in History of the USSR vol. 3
Hufvudstadsbladet, March 8, quoted in “The Truth about Kronstadt” by Wright
Kronstadt Izvestia, March 7 & 11, quoted in Wright
Sotsialisticheski Vestnik April 5, 1921, quoted in Wright
“Petrograd et Moscou Seraient aux Maine des Insurgés qui ont Formé un Gouvernement Provisoire.”, Matin, March 7, quoted in Wright
“Der Aufstand in Russland.”, Vossische Zeitung, March 10, quoted in Wright
The Mensheviks in the Kronstadt Mutiny,” Krasnaill Letopis’, 1931, No.2
1921: The Kronstadt rebellion
The history of the rising of the naval town of Kronstadt in Russia by workers and sailors supporting the original aims of the 1917 Revolution against the new Bolshevik dictatorship. The rebellion was crushed by Red Army troops under Trotsky's command.
The Kronstadt rebellion took place in the first weeks of March, 1921. Kronstadt was (and is) a naval fortress on an island in the Gulf of Finland. Traditionally, it has served as the base of the Russian Baltic Fleet and to guard the approaches to the city of St. Petersburg (which during the first world war was re-named Petrograd, then later Leningrad, and is now St. Petersburg again) thirty-five miles away.
The Kronstadt sailors had been in the vanguard of the revolutionary events of 1905 and 1917. In 1917, Trotsky called them the "pride and glory of the Russian Revolution." The inhabitants of Kronstadt had been early supporters and practitioners of soviet power, forming a free commune in 1917 which was relatively independent of the authorities. In the words of Israel Getzler, an expert on Kronstadt:
"it was in its commune-like self-government that Red Kronstadt really came into its own, realising the radical, democratic and egalitarian aspirations of its garrison and working people, their insatiable appetite for social recognition, political activity and public debate, their pent up yearning for education, integration and community. Almost overnight, the ship's crews, the naval and military units and the workers created and practised a direct democracy of base assemblies and committees."
In the centre of the fortress an enormous public square served as a popular forum holding as many as 30,000 persons.
The Russian Civil War had ended in Western Russia in November 1920 with the defeat of General Wrangel in the Crimea. All across Russia popular protests were erupting in the countryside and in the towns and cities. Peasant uprisings were occurring against the Communist Party policy of grain requisitioning. In urban areas, a wave of spontaneous strikes occurred and in late February a near general strike broke out in Petrograd.
On February 26th 1921, in response to these events in Petrograd, the crews of the battleships Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol held an emergency meeting and agreed to send a delegation to the city to investigate and report back on the ongoing strike movement. On their turn two days later, the delegates informed their fellow sailors of the strikes (with which they had full sympathy with) and the government repression directed against them. Those present at this meeting on the Petropavlovsk then approved a resolution which raised 15 demands which included free elections to the soviets, freedom of speech, press, assembly and organisation to workers, peasants, anarchists and left-socialists. Like the Petrograd workers, the Kronstadt sailors also demanded the equalisation of wages and the end of roadblock detachments restricting travel and the ability of workers to bring food into the city.
A mass meeting of fifteen to sixteen thousand people was held in Anchor Square on March 1st and what has become known as the Petropavlovsk resolution was passed after the "fact-finding" delegation had made its report. Only two Bolshevik officials voted against the resolution. At this meeting it was decided to send another delegation to Petrograd to explain to the strikers and the city garrison of the demands of Kronstadt and to request that non-partisan delegates be sent by the Petrograd workers to Kronstadt to learn first-hand what was happening there. This delegation of thirty members was arrested by the Bolshevik government.
A mass meeting called a "Conference of Delegates" for March 2nd. This conference consisted of two delegates from the ship's crews, army units, the docks, workshops, trade unions and Soviet institutions. The meeting’s 303 delegates endorsed the Petropavlovsk resolution and elected a five-person "Provisional Revolutionary Committee" (later enlarged to 15 members two days later). This committee was charged with organising the defence of Kronstadt, a move decided upon because of the threats of the Bolshevik officials there and the groundless rumour that the Bolsheviks had dispatched forces to attack the meeting. Red Kronstadt had turned against the ‘Communist’ government and raised the slogan of the 1917 revolution "All Power to the Soviets", to which was added "and not to parties." They termed this revolt the "Third Revolution" and would complete the work of the first two Russian Revolutions in 1917 by instituting a true toilers republic based on freely elected, self-managed, soviets.
The Communist Government responded with an ultimatum on March 2nd. This asserted that the revolt had "undoubtedly been prepared by French counterintelligence". They argued that the revolt had been organised by ex-Tsarist officers led by ex-General Kozlovsky (who had, ironically, been placed in the fortress as a military specialist by Trotsky). This was the official line throughout the revolt.
During the revolt, Kronstadt started to re-organise itself from the bottom up. The trade union committees were re-elected and a council of trade unions formed. The Conference of Delegates met regularly to discuss issues relating to the interests of Kronstadt and the struggle against the Bolshevik government (specifically on March 2nd, 4th and 11th). Rank and file Communists left the party in droves, expressing support for the revolt and its aim of "all power to the soviets and not to parties." About 300 Communists were arrested and treated humanely in prison (in comparison, at least 780 Communists left the party in protest of the actions it was taking against Kronstadt and its general role in the revolution). Significantly, up to one-third of the delegates elected to Kronstadt's rebel conference of March 2nd were Communists.
The Kronstadt revolt was a non-violent one, but from the start the attitude of the authorities was not one of negotiation but of delivering an ultimatum: either come to your senses or suffer the consequences. Indeed, the Bolsheviks issued the threat that they would shoot the rebels "like partridges" and took the families of the sailors hostage in Petrograd. Towards the end of the revolt Trotsky sanctioned the use of chemical warfare against the rebels and if they had not been crushed, a gas attack would have been carried out.
There were possible means for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. On March 5th, two days before the bombardment of Kronstadt had begun, anarchists led by Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman offered themselves as intermediates to facilitate negotiations between the rebels and the government. This was ignored by the Bolsheviks. Years later, the Bolshevik Victor Serge (and eye-witness to the events) acknowledged that "[e]ven when the fighting had started, it would have been easy to avoid the worst: it was only necessary to accept the mediation offered by the anarchists (notably Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman) who had contact with the insurgents. For reasons of prestige and through an excess of authoritarianism, the Central Committee refused this course."
The refusal to pursue these possible means of resolving the crisis peacefully is explained by the fact that the decision to attack Kronstadt had already been made. Basing himself on documents from the Soviet Archives, historian Israel Getzler states that by "5 March, if not earlier, the Soviet leaders had decided to crush Kronstadt. Thus, in a cable to . . . [a] member of the Council of Labour and Defence, on that day, Trotsky insisted that 'only the seizure of Kronstadt will put an end to the political crisis in Petrograd.'"
As Alexander Berkman noted, the Communist government would "make no concessions to the proletariat, while at the same time they were offering to compromise with the capitalists of Europe and America." While happy to negotiate and compromise with foreign governments, they treated the workers and peasants of Kronstadt (and the rest of Russia) as the class enemy!
The revolt was isolated and received no external support. The Petrograd workers were under martial law and could take little or no action to support Kronstadt (assuming they refused to believe the Bolshevik lies about the uprising). The Communist government started to attack Kronstadt on March 7th. The first assault was a failure. "After the Gulf had swallowed its first victims," Paul Avrich records, "some of the Red soldiers… began to defect to the insurgents. Others refused to advance, in spite of threats from the machine gunners at the rear who had orders to shoot any wavers. The commissar of the northern group reported that his troops wanted to send a delegation to Kronstadt to find out the insurgents' demands." After 10 days of constant attacks the Kronstadt revolt was crushed by the Red Army. On March 17th, the final assault occurred. Again, the Bolsheviks had to force their troops to fight. On the night of 16-17 March, for example, the Bolsheviks "arrested over 100 so-called instigators, 74 of whom he had publicly shot." Once the Bolshevik forces finally entered the city of Kronstadt "the attacking troops took revenge for their fallen comrades in an orgy of bloodletting." The next day, as an irony of history, the Bolsheviks celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Paris Commune.
The repression did not end there. According to Serge, the "defeated sailors belonged body and soul to the Revolution they had voiced the suffering and the will of the Russian people" yet "[h]undreds of prisoners were taken away to Petrograd months later they were still being shot in small batches, a senseless and criminal agony".
The Soviet forces suffered over 10,000 casualties storming Kronstadt. There are no reliable figures for the rebels loses or how many were later shot by the Cheka or sent to prison camps. The figures that exist are fragmentary. Immediately after the defeat of the revolt, 4,836 Kronstadt sailors were arrested and deported to the Crimea and the Caucasus. When Lenin heard of this on the 19th of April, he expressed great misgivings about it and they were finally sent to forced labour camps in the Archangelsk, Vologda and Murmansk regions. Eight thousand sailors, soldiers and civilians escaped over the ice to Finland. The crews of the Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol fought to the bitter end, as did the cadets of the mechanics school, the torpedo detachment and the communications unit. A statistical communiqué stated that 6,528 rebels had been arrested, of whom 2,168 had been shot (33%), 1,955 had been sentenced to forced labour (of whom 1,486 received a five year sentence), and 1,272 were released. A statistical review of the revolt made in 1935-6 listed the number arrested as 10,026 and stated that it had "not been possible to establish accurately the number of the repressed." The families of the rebels were deported, with Siberia considered as "undoubtedly the only suitable region" for them.
After the revolt had been put down, the Bolshevik government reorganised the fortress. While it had attacked the revolt in the name of defending "Soviet Power" Kronstadt's newly appointed military commander "abolish[ed] the [Kronstadt] soviet altogether" and ran the fortress "with the assistance of a revolutionary troika" (i.e. an appointed three man committee). Kronstadt's newspaper was renamed. The victors quickly started to eliminate all traces of the revolt. Anchor Square became "Revolutionary Square" and the rebel battleships Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol were renamed the Marat and the Paris Commune, respectively.
Kronstadt was a popular uprising from below by the same sailors, soldiers and workers that made the 1917 October revolution. The Bolshevik repression of the revolt can be justified in terms of defending the state power of the Bolsheviks but it cannot be defended in terms of socialist theory. Indeed, it indicates that Bolshevism is a flawed political theory, which cannot create a socialist society, but only a state capitalist regime based on party dictatorship. This is what Kronstadt shows above all else: given a choice between workers' power and party power, Bolshevism will destroy the former to ensure the latter.
Leon Trotsky and the Kronstadt Rebellion
In 1921, during the Russian Civil War, Leon Trotsky was head of the Red Army when it crushed a sailors rebellion in Kronstadt.
It was three years ago, Nikolai Sukhanov (a member of the Petrograd Soviet) reminded Leon Trotsky that he, Trotsky, had previously announced to the people of Petrograd that “we shall conduct the work of the Petrograd Soviet in a spirit of lawfulness and of full freedom for all parties. The hand of the Presidium will never lend itself to the suppression of the minority.”
He was speaking in 1921, the year that the Bolsheviks crushed an uprising at the Soviet naval base of Krondstrat. Upon hearing that, after a moment of silence, Trotsky responded, “those were good days.”
The Kronstadt naval base situated on Kotlin Island in the Gulf of Finland was a base for the Russian Baltic Fleet which defended the approaches to Petrograd (the city we now know as St. Petersburg).
The sailors of the Krondstrat naval base had first dissented against the then ruling Tzarist regime during the failed 1905 revolution and later went on to participate in a mutiny against that regime during the 1917 Bolshevik revolutions of February and October. A number of them were part of the Bolshevik movement which took the cruiser Aurora and steamed up the River Nevas in Petrograd where they proceeded to lay siege to the Winter Palace.
Trotsky had been a leading dissident figure against the Tzar Nicolas II in Russia and a long time proponent of revolution there. With Lenin he succeeded in that goal, wiping out the ruling Romanov family and bringing into being the Soviet Union. Trotsky at the time referred to these sailors as the “pride and glory of the Russian Revolution.”
However by 1921 Russia was fighting a civil war between the Bolshevik Red Army and the White Army opposition. Disillusioned with the Bolshevik government, the Krondstrat port would see another rebellion, this time against its former allies. The crew of the battleship Petropavlovsk passed a resolution on February 8 1921 demanding election, freedom of speech, rights of assembly and free trade, release of political prisoners, abolishment of political sections within the armed forces, granting of peasant freedom and other rights which were being denied to them by the Bolsheviks.
The sailors at Kronstadt were putting in place their own commune where they put into practice the Libertarian and democratic societal ideas that they and their comrades who had previously fought under Lenin aspired to win in 1917. They formed a council of trade unions and their Conference of Delegates held regular meetings. Their stated goal was to give “all power to the Soviets and not to parties.”
The resolution and the revolt by the sailors at Kronstadt was denounced by Lenin who denounced it as a plot devised by his White Army opponents — acting in cahoots with their European allies. By March 6 Trotsky stated he was going to order the Red Army to attack these revolting sailors. By March 17th the Red Army under his command took control of Krondstadt. Most of the sailors and civilians in the area fled to neighbouring Finland. It is estimated that some 500 were killed in the suppression of this insurrection against Bolshevik rule.
Trotsky later claimed on July 14th of the same year that if he hadnt put down the revolt when he did “two or three days more and the Baltic Sea would have been ice-free and the war vessels of the foreign imperialists could have entered the ports of Kronstadt and Petrograd. Had we then been compelled to surrender Petrograd, it would have opened the road to Moscow, for there are virtually no defensive points between Petrograd and Moscow.”
Trotsky had previously told the revolting sailors at Kronstradt to surrender or be “shot like partridges.” When they refused, the Red Army attacked. Those attacking troops were mostly young, and as they moved in to attack they were flanked from behind by Cheka agents armed with machine guns that were ready to kill any one of those soldiers that didnt carry out orders.
Trotsky infamously explained why such measures were necessary. Writing in his autobiography some years after this incident he stated that “an army cannot be built without reprisals. Masses of men cannot be led to death unless the army command has the death-penalty in its arsenal. So long as those malicious tailless apes that are so proud of their technical achievements – the animals that we call men – will build armies and wage wars, the command will always be obliged to place the soldier between the possible death in the front and the inevitable one in the rear.”
Kronstadt signaled for many a turning point in history when the Bolshevik revolutionaries who came to power preaching empowerment and egalitarianism were utilizing state terror to ensure they stayed in power. Kronstadt is therefore seen by many former Communists as the moment when the Communist movement became just another oppressive dictatorial force in Russia. It is symbolic of that turning point as Trotsky, the well-known pamphleteer and preacher of libertarian values and egalitarianism, was the commander of the oppressive force that crushed those heartfelt Communists at Kronstadt. The very ones whose aid to their former comrades in capturing Petrograd during the October Revolution was decisive.
When Trotsky was sent into exile by Stalin and began to critique him, one of his opponents, anarchist Emma Goldman argued that his criticism of Stalin was at its base hypocritical given Trotskys role in crushing the uprising at Kronstadt.
In response to some some of his critics who equated Bolshevism and Stalinism Trotsky himself penned an article entitled Amoralism and Kronstadt in which he claimed that “the best, most sacrificing sailors were completely withdrawn from Kronstadt and played an important role at the fronts and in the local Soviets throughout the country. What remained was the grey mass with big pretensions, but without political education and unprepared for revolutionary sacrifice. The country was starving. The Kronstadters demanded privileges. The uprising was dictated by a desire to get privileged food rations.”
It was on the 22nd of January of that year of the uprising that the Bolsheviks cut the bread ration by a third. Rations consisted of only 1000 calories a day. Many of the Kronstadt sailors originated from peasant families so they despised the privileges the leaders of the Bolshevik Party received.
This incident also prompted Lenin to bring an end to his policy of War Communism and bring forth his New Economic Policy, as he realized that the martial law the Bolsheviks were enforcing would inevitably lead to a revolution against them.
New Great War Episode: The Kronstadt Rebellion
It’s February 1921, and at the important Russian naval base of Kronstadt, thousands of sailors have risen in a revolt against the Bolshevik regime, which plans on striking back and taking the fortress by storm – it’s the Kronstadt Rebellion. https://youtu.be/oZVvs1NWk7o
By the end of 1920, Bolshevik leaders could feel relieved after years of civil war: the counter-revolutionary Whites had been defeated, the peace treaty with Poland was on its way, and there were some improvements in relations with the Allied powers. But that didn’t mean that the Russian Civil War was over: disease and famine swept the land, the countryside was in revolt, and Red Navy sailors were very unhappy with the Bolsheviks. In this episode, we’ll take a look at the events surrounding the famous Kronstadt rebellion, which broke out exactly 100 years ago.
Russia in early 1921 was in a state of absolute devastation. The transport system was in ruins, industrial production was a fraction of pre-1917 levels, and agriculture was in crisis. Bolshevik economic policies had mostly made things worse by imposing the War Communism policy of grain seizures, abolishing private trade, and nationalizing industry, even small businesses. They also began early attempts at agricultural collectivization with Planting Committees. Now there is a debate amongst historians as to whether War Communism was a series of improvisations during a time of crisis, or a deliberate policy designed to create a Communist society by forcibly re-organizing the economy.
Whether improvised or by design, for many peasants, this was not the system they had hoped for when they mostly chose to support the Bolsheviks over the Whites during the Civil War. They had wanted control of the land, but that wasn’t quite what they had gotten, as a peasant delegate complained ironically to the 9th Communist Party Congress:
“Everything is just fine—the land is ours but the grain is yours, the water ours but the fish yours, the forests ours but the wood yours.” (Avrich, 164).
Instead, the normal sale and transport of food between the countryside and the cities broke down, and the Bolsheviks cracked down on the black market that sprang up to replace it.
The result, combined with the effects of more than six years of war, was widespread starvation. Anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were in Petrograd in 1920 after being deported from the US. Goldman described the crises:
“With the prohibition of trading came the […] detachment of [the Cheka secret police] at every station to confiscate everything brought by private persons to the city. The wretched people, after untold difficulties of obtaining a pass for travel, after days and weeks of exposure at the stations, or on the [train] roofs and platforms, would bring a pood of flour or potatoes, only to have it snatched from them.” (Smele, 201)
From 1917 to 1920, Petrograd’s population fell by more than two thirds, and Moscow’s by almost half (Avrich 24). Desperate citizens hoped that once the war with the Whites was over things would improve, but the winter of 1920-1921 was the harshest yet. Food rations were reduced, and then delayed for weeks, while groups favoured by the Bolsheviks, like party members, got more than their share. The collapse of transportation also meant that there was nothing to burn for to heat homes or run the factories, and some had to shut for lack of coal. These conditions were perfect for diseases like typhus and cholera, which added to the mounting death toll.
So Russians were starving, freezing, and dying even after the Bolsheviks had taken control. It wasn’t long before even those who had supported the Bolsheviks began to turn against them.
One of the Bolsheviks’ most unpopular moves was taking power away from the popular councils , or soviets, and concentrating it exclusively in the party. They also suppressed other leftist groups like the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, as well as trade unions. Workers had been the Bolsheviks’ main bastion of support since 1917, but now they connected the hunger and cold they experienced to Bolshevik policies, so they took political action. In February 1921, strikes broke out in Petrograd and Moscow. The striking workers not only demanded better living conditions, but also political changes like free trade, the release of political prisoners, and the end of War Communism. Some demonstrators even called for free elections of the soviets, or the return of the pre- October Revolution parliament.
In Moscow, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin addressed a crowd of metal workers, and asked them rhetorically if they’d rather have the Whites running the country. One of workers answered him: “I don’t care who comes along – Whites, Blacks, or the Devil himself – just as long as you clear out!” (Avrich, 36)
The situation was getting serious, as the Petrograd Cheka reported: “Many provocative rumours are circulating, to the effect that Soviet rule will fall this spring.” (Наумов, Косаковский, 26)
The Bolshevik authorities sent in Red Army troops and the Cheka arrested thousands, especially from other leftist groups like the Mensheviks. But they also tried to calm the workers by giving them emergency rations, and allowing private trade. These measures put a stop to the strikes in Petrograd and Moscow, but were too late to stop the storm that was brewing at the important Red Navy base at Kronstadt, not far from Petrograd.
Kronstadt was a fortified city and naval base on a small island in the Gulf of Finland, designed to protect the former capital. In 1921, more than half its population of 50,000 were sailors or soldiers, and since 1917 they had ben influential supporters of the Bolshevik revolution (Наумов, Косаковский, 8). They’d fought on the Red side against the Whites and had a reputation as, in the words of Leon Trotsky “the glory and pride of the revolution.” (Smele 200) But now, the men were angry, as sailor Stepan Petrichenko
“For years, the happenings at home while we were at the front or at sea were concealed by the Bolshevik censorship. When we returned home our parents asked us why we fought for the oppressors. That [got] us thinking." (Avrich, 67)
Between August 1920 and March 1921, the local branch of the Communist Party lost half its organizers, and in January 1921 alone about 5000 sailors quit the party. (Avrich, 69)
On February 26, a delegation of sailors from Kronstadt visited Petrograd to learn more about the ongoing strikes. Two days later, they’d returned to base and reported their findings. The result was the Petropavlovsk Resolution, named after one of the warships anchored in Kronstadt. The sailors called for: new elections for the soviets freedom of speech for all anarchists and socialists the liberation of anarchist and socialist political prisoners freedom of assembly, including for unions the abolition of War Communism and equal rations for all workers. (Smele 203) A few days later, the sailors summed up their position in a document entitled What We Are Fighting For:
“In carrying out the October Revolution, the working class was hoping to throw off the yoke of oppression. Yet that revolution resulted in even greater enslavement […]. The power of the police–gendarme monarchism fell into the hands of the conquering Communists, who instead of freedom gave the working people the constant fear of ending up in a Cheka dungeon, the horrors of which have [far] surpassed those of a tsarist gendarme prison.” (Smele, 203)
The sailors’ demands show that they were against the Bolshevik dictatorship but not against Bolshevik rule in principle – they were still socialist and pro-Soviet. But their declaration that the current situation did not express the will of the people was a direct challenge to Bolshevik power in that it called on them to honor their own constitution.
So the sailors of Kronstadt, once the scions of revolution, had now fired a shot across the bows of the Bolshevik authorities – and they weren’t about to stop at resolutions.
On March 1, 1921, the sailors of the Baltic Fleet assembled for a general meeting. They approved the Petropavlovsk resolution, and shouted down government representatives, including Premier Mikhail KalInin and Baltic Fleet Commissar Nikolai KuzmIn. The sailors also detained Kuzmin, and elected a Provisional Revolutionary Committee the next day. The Committee was led by Stepan Petrichenko, who summed up the movement’s objective:
“Our revolt was an elemental movement to get rid of Bolshevik oppression once that is done, the will of the people will manifest itself.” (Avrich, 95)
On March 2, the Committee occupied all strategic points in Kronstadt, including the Cheka headquarters. All warships and coastal batteries in the town recognized the Committee’s authority – even a general, Aleksandr Koslovskii. The rebellion had begun.
The Bolshevik government in Moscow responded with a series of ultimatums demanding the release of party members and an end to the revolt. They also tried to discredit the revolt by calling it a mutiny, so they wouldn’t have to admit that workers and sailors had turned against them. The Bolsheviks also publicly accused the rebels of collaborating with agents of the Whites and the French, which wasn’t true. The sailors fired back in a declaration to the people:
“Our enemies are trying to deceive you. They say that the Kronstadt rebellion was organized by Mensheviks, S[ocial] R[evolutionaries], Entente spies, and tsarist generals. They say we’re led from Paris. Nonsense! If our rebellion were made in Paris, then the moon was made in Berlin.” (Avrich, 98)
The revolt had the Bolsheviks worried. They were already dealing with peasant revolts in the provinces, but if they lost the workers and military rank and file, they might lose their grip on power. In fact, some historians have seen the rebellion as the starting point of a third phase of the revolution pitting peasants and workers against the Bolshevik dictatorship. The Bolsheviks declared martial law, detained the Kronstadt delegation that had come to Petrograd, and took rebel family members in other parts of the country hostage. They also began planning an attack on Kronstadt. Communist party members, volunteers, officer cadets, and Cheka troops were all mobilized and prepared to crush the rebellion alongside the Red 7th Army.
The Kronstadt sailors were divided about what to do. General Koslovskii and other military specialists wanted to send a force to land near Petrograd to seize more weapons, and link up with sympathetic army units to march on Petrograd. They also urged the Committee to prepare for defence, by freeing the two battleships in the harbour from the ice so they could have clear fields of fire, which would also stop the Red Army from marching across the ice to attack the town. But the Committee refused.
According to some historians, at this early stage they still saw themselves more as a political and social reform pressure group than a military rebellion. (Avrich 111) Instead, they hoped the Bolsheviks would not attack before the ice melted, and for the workers of Petrograd to rise up. Commissar for War Trotsky though, was not willing to wait. He issued an ultimatum demanding the surrender of the rebels, and warning them he was ready to suppress them by force. The committee was not impressed:
“The […] [Workers’] Revolution has risen and will sweep from the face of Soviet Russia the vile slanderers and tyrants with all their corruption—and your clemency, Mr. Trotsky, will not be needed.” (Avrich, 145)
So the sailors of Kronstadt had declared open revolt against the Bolsheviks in Moscow, but were hesitant about armed conflict. On March 7, the crisis turned bloody as the Bolsheviks struck first.
Under the command of the battle-tested General Mikhail Tukhachevskii, the Reds had assembled a force of about 10,000 men, 85 guns, and 96 machine guns The 25,000 Kronstadt sailors had 280 guns, 33 machine guns, and could also use some of the guns on the two battleships frozen in the harbour ice (Smele 205). Tukhachevskii was worried that the ice would soon melt, which would leave Kronstadt an island fortress, so he wanted to act quickly, despite the problems he was facing. For one, his troops were suffering from low morale. They were tired after years of fighting the Whites, and since most of them were peasants, some sympathized with the rebels. Another problem was the tactical situation. To attack Kronstadt’s fortifications, the Red troops would have to first cross the open ice of the Gulf of Finland, which exposed them to the defenders’ fire with no cover whatsoever.
All the same, the Red Army attacked on the morning of March 7. After a short artillery duel made difficult by the fog and falling snow, the infantry began to move across the ice. The
defenders opened up from behind the fortifications, and the attackers hesitated. Shells opened up huge holes in the ice which swallowed up dozens of Red soldiers. Some units refused to continue the advance, and retreated in spite of the Cheka blocking detachments behind them. The first assault on the fortress had failed.
After this victory the Kronstadt Revolutionary Committee put out a call to the Russian population in the hopes of gaining support:
”The workers and peasants steadfastly march forward, leaving behind them both the Constituent Assembly, with its bourgeois regime, and the dictatorship of the Communist party, with its Cheka and its state capitalism, [and] whose hangman's noose encircles the necks of the laboring masses and threatens to strangle them to death. . . . Here in Kronstadt has been laid the first stone of the third revolution, striking the last fetters from the laboring masses and opening a broad new road for socialist creativity.” (Avrich, 166-167)
But the labouring masses of the country did not rise up with Kronstadt – in fact the strikes in Petrograd had stopped after food rations had been distributed. The Tenth Party Congress in Moscow also voted to end War Communism and replace the grain seizures with a tax in kind, the beginning of the more liberal New Economic Policy meant to calm the workers and peasants. The Bolsheviks were also preparing militarily -- more carefully this time -- for another assault on the island. Tukhachevskii now had between 20,000 and 35,000 troops, and more heavy weapons at the ready (Smele 205). Meanwhile, the rebels’ position was deteriorating. They were short on food, fuel, medicine, and ammunition. Their morale was shattered, since it had become clear that the workers in Petrograd and the rest of the country were not heeding their call to rise up. They had, in the words of one sailor, sold out “for a pound of meat.”
So Kronstadt had resisted one attack, but it was now facing the Red Army alone. And the Bolsheviks would not make the same mistake twice.
The second Red Army offensive against Kronstadt began on March 17. This time there were two attacking groups, the larger in the south and the smaller in the north. After an exchange of artillery fire through the night, the Northern assault group crossed the ice in the early morning darkness and fog. After fierce fighting, they managed to capture all the small forts but one, and reached the city walls.
At the same time, the southern group had launched an assault on the Petrograd Gate, the most vulnerable part of the fortress. They reached the walls, but were driven back by the concentrated fire of the defenders. The Bolshevik forces tried again, and managed to breach the wall north of the gate. They poured into the city, where house-to-house fighting raged.
Just before sundown, Red artillery was moved into the city and brought a devastating weight of fire onto the remaining defenders. Around the same time, the Northern Red force also broke into the town from the northeast. They seized the rebel headquarters, and linked up with the southern group in the city centre. By midnight, the fighting began to die down, and the last holdout forts surrendered the next day. The Kronstadt rebellion had been crushed.
The Battle of Kronstadt had been short but bloody. Historians suspect that Soviet figures of the time are too low, and recent evidence suggests that the Red Army lost up to 2000 dead, while the rebels lost at least the same number (Smele 207). About 8000 sailors were able to escape to Finland after the Committee asked for asylum. Of those who stayed behind, more than 2000 were sentenced to death, about 6500 were sent to Gulags, and 2500 were deported from the city (Наумов, Косаковский, 15).
The Kronstadt Rebellion has gone down as one of the most famous and dramatic episodes of the Russian Revolution and Civil War. Although the rebellion had failed, it did have political consequences. Many who had supported the Bolsheviks before, were now disillusioned, like Emma Goldman:
“Kronstadt broke the last thread that held me to the Bolsheviki. The wanton slaughter they had instigated spoke more eloquently against them than aught else. Whatever their pretenses in the past, the Bolsheviki now proved themselves the most pernicious enemies of the Revolution.” (Smele, 208)
To consolidate the Bolshevik hold on power even further, the Tenth Party Congress also banned any fractions or opposition within the Communist Party, which accelerated its centralization and unification.
Even though the Bolsheviks had defeated the rebellion, many took it as a warning sign and enacted important reforms. They loosened their economic policy by ending War Communism and adopted the New Economic Program ahead of schedule. The NEP introduced taxes on surplus, and allowed private trade and small private shops – which was just enough to keep most workers from revolting. Some historians have argued that the Kronstadt rebellion was the catalyst that pushed the Bolsheviks into economic reform – Lenin himself described Kronstadt as a quote “flash that lit up reality better than anything else.”
For many revolutionaries, like anarchist Alexander Berkman, the new reality was bleak indeed:
“Grey are the passing days. One by one the embers of hope have died out. Terror and despotism have crushed the life born in October. The slogans of the Revolution are forsworn, its ideas stifled in the blood of the people. The breath of yesterday is dooming millions to death the shadow of today hangs like a black pall over the country. Dictatorship is trampling the masses under foot. The Revolution is dead its spirit cries in the wilderness.” (Smele, 208)
But in the spring of 1921, far from Kronstadt, the peasants of Siberia would soon show the spirit of resistance to Bolshevik rule was still alive and well.
The Kronstadt Uprising of 1921
Shortly after the Russian Civil War, or as the Bolshevik view would have it, as a final chapter of the Civil War, there occurred an uprising at the Kronstadt Naval Base. The sailors whom Trotsky had dubbed “the pride and glory of the Revolution” rose in revolt against the very state they had helped into power. For sixteen days their “revolutionary commune” functioned independently of, and was bitterly attacked by, the “Workers’ and Peasants’ Government.” It finally subdued them with thousands of casualties on both sides. But it was a Pyrrhic victory for the Communists. In a moment of sad honesty, Lenin called Kronstadt “the flash which lit up reality better than anything else.”
I. The Crisis of War Communism
A fair account of the Kronstadt Rebellion must understand the economic crisis in the Soviet Union following several years of war — both international and civil. David Shub writes:
In 1919 and 1920, famine, disease, cold, and infant mortality had claimed some nine million lives — apart from the military casualties of the civil war. In the Urals and the Don region, the population had been reduced by a third. The living standard of the Russian worker had sunk to less than a third of the pre-war level, industrial output to less than a sixth of 1913 production. The prices of manufactured goods skyrocketed, while paper currency dropped in value until in January 1921 a gold ruble was worth 26,529 paper rubles. Nearly half the industrial work force deserted the towns for the villages.
The continuing crisis provoked peasant risings all over Russia. (The Cheka reported 118 incidents in February 1921 alone.) The cornerstone of Lenin’s policy of War Communism was the forcible seizure of grains from the peasants by armed detachments from the cities. “We actually took from the peasant,” admitted Lenin, “all his surpluses and sometimes not only the surpluses but part of the grain the peasant needed for food. We took this in order to meet the rejuirements of the army and to sustain the workers.” Grain as well as livestock was often confiscated without payment of any kind, and there were frequent complaints that even the seed needed for the next sowing had been seized. In the face of all this, the peasantry resorted to both passive and active resistance. In 1920 it was estimated that over a third of the harvest had been hidden from the governments troops. The amount of sown acreage dropped to three-fifths of the figure for 1913, as the peasants rebelled against growing crops only to have them seized.
As the civil war subsided and it became apparent that a White restoration was no longer a threat, peasant resistance became violent. The demobilization of half the Red Army — two and a half million men — swelled the peasant ranks with experienced fighters who constantly clashed with the requisitioning detachments. They demanded an end to the forced seizures of grain, and called for a fixed tax and the right to dispose of surpluses as they saw fit. But the regime’s ideological distaste for such “petit-bourgeois aspirations”, combined with fears of a resumption of foreign intervention, led to a stubborn continuance of War Communist policies.
For urban workers the situation was even more desperate. Shortage of machinery, raw materials and especially fuel meant that many large factories could operate only part-time. Retreating White armies had destroyed many railway lines, interrupting the delivery of food to the cities. What food there was was distributed according to a preferential system which favored heavy industry and especially armament workers over less valued categories. Some were allotted only 200 grams of black bread a day. Paul Avrich describes the situation:
Driven by cold and hunger, men abandoned their machines for days on end to gather wood and forage for food in the surrounding countryside. Traveling on foot or in overcrowded railway cars, they brought their personal possessions and materials which they had filched from the factories to exchange for whatever food they could get. The government did all it could to stop this illegal trade. Armed roadblock detachments were deployed to guard the approaches to the cities and to confiscate the precious sacks of food which the “speculators” were carrying ‘back to their families. The brutality of the roadblock detachments was a byword throughout the country, and complaints about their arbitrary methods flooded the commissariats in Moscow.
Emma Goldman, the American anarchist who was in Russia at the time, commented bitterly:
In most cases the confiscated stuff was divided by the defenders of the Communist State among themselves. The victims were fortunate indeed if they escaped further trouble. After they were robbed of their precious pack, they were often thrown into gaol for “speculation.”
The number of real speculators apprehended was insignificant in comparison with the mass of unfortunate humanity that filled the prisons of Russia for trying to keep from starvinq to death.
In addition to the economic grievances of the workers there was growing opposition to the War Communist labor policies imposed by Leon Trotsky, the Commissar of War. He sought to apply the military discipline which had whipped the Red Army into fighting shape to the crumbling industrial economy. The militarization of labor was characterized by forced conscription of demobilized Red Army troops into “labor armies,” disciplining of the civilian workers for pilfering and absenteeism, the installation of armed guards in the workplace, nationalization of the larger factories, and the gradual abandonment of workers’ control in favor of management by “bourgeois specialists.” This last was the ultimate outrage to many workers. Avrich explains:
A new bureaucracy had begun to flourish. It was a mixed lot, veteran administrative personnel rubbing shoulders with untrained neophytes yet however disparate their values and outlook, they shared vested interests of their own that set them apart from the workers at the bench.
For the rank-and-file workmen, the restoration of the class enemy to a dominant place in the factory meant a betrayal of the ideals of the revolution. As they saw it, their dream of a proletarian democracy, momentarily realized in 1917, had been snatched away and replaced by the coercive and bureaucratic methods of capitalism . Small wonder that, during the winter of I920-1921. murmurings of discontent could no longer be silenced, not even by threats of expulsion with the loss of rations. At workshop meetings, where speakers angrily denounced the militarization and bureaucratization of industry, critical references to the comforts and privileges of Bolshevik officials drew indignant shouts of agreement from the listeners. The Communists, it was said, always got the best jobs, and seemed to suffer less from hunger and cold than everyone else.
The Kronstadt rebellion of 1921 was immediately preceded by mass strikes in neighboring Petrograd. Emma Goldman recounts a Bolshevik official’s reaction to this development:
“Strikes under the dictatorship of the proletariat!” the official exclaimed. “There is no such thing.”</em>
<em>Against whom, indeed should the workers strike in Soviet Russia, he had argued. Against themselves? They were the masters of the country, politically as well as industrially. To be sure, there were some among the class toilers who were not yet fully class conscious and aware of their own true interests. These were sometimes disgruntled, but they were elements incited by the shkurniki (self-seekers) and enemies of the Revolution. Skinners, parasites, they were who were purposely misleading the ignorant people. of course the Soviet authorities had to protect the country against their kind. Most of them were in prison.
On an economic level the “self-seekers” of Petrograd wanted food, above all. There were constant demands, in support of the peasants, for an end to grain requisitioning. For themselves they wanted the removal of roadblocks, the abolition of privileged rations and the right to barter personal possessions for food. One leaflet detailed cases of workers frozen or starved to death in their homes. “In Vassili-Ostrov,” said Victor Serge, “in a street white with snow I saw a crowd gather, mostly women. I watched it push its way slowly forward to mingle with the military school cadets sent there to open up the approaches to the factories. Patiently, sadly, the crowd told the soldiers how hungry the people were, called them brothers, asked them for help. The cadets pulled bread out of their knapsacks and divided it up. Meanwhile, the Mensheviks and the Left SocialRevolutionaries were blamed for the strike.”
But as the struggle wore on, and the Communists responded with martial law, curfews, charges of “counter-revolution,” deprivation of rations, and, finally, hundreds of arrests by the Cheka, the demands of the workers took on political tones. The following message appeared on buildings on February 27:
A complete change is necessary in the policies of the government. First of all, the workers and peasants need freedom. They don’t want to live by the decrees of the Bolsheviki: they want to control their own destinies.
Comrades, preserve revolutionary order! Determinedly and in an organized manner demand:
Liberation of all arrested socialists and non-partisan working men
Abolition of martial law: freedom of speech, press and assembly for all those who labor
Free election of shop and factory committees, of labor unions and soviet representatives
Call meetings, pass resolutions, send your delegates to the authorities and work for the realizations of your demands!
It was a call thoroughly in the spirit of October and it aroused the full sympathy of the Kronstadt sailors.
II. Who the Rebels Were
Kronstadt is a fortified city on Kotlin Island in the Gulf of Finland. Thirty kilometers west of the Petrograd, it defends the former capital and is also the main base of the Baltic Fleet. Numerous forts dot the water to the north and south of the island, and there are major additional fortifications on the mainland at Krasnaya Gorka and Lissy Noss.
The citizens of Kronstadt, including the Baltic sailors, the soldiers of the garrison, and civilian workers, merchants and officials, numbered 50,000 in 1921. A brief look at the history of this populace is in order, for a common Bolshevik charge against them is that from 1917 to 1921 a rapid turnover in their ranks occurred, and that the rebels of 1921 lacked the revolutionary credentials of the sailors who had stormed the Winter Palace. Trotsky characterized the former as “completely demoralized elements, men who wore elegant white trousers and did their hair like pimps.” Actually Kronstadt had an uninterrupted history of revolutionary activity. There were major outbursts in 1905 and 1906, and they celebrated the February Revolution of 1917 by executing their officers. In May they established an independent commune in defiance of the Provisional Government in July they took part in the abortive rising against Kerensky in October they helped to bring down his government in January 1918 they dispersed the Constituent Assembly. Avrich provides a picture of Kronstadt’s internal life:
Together the Soviet and the forum in Anchor Square satisfied the political needs of Kronstadt’s inhabitants. There seems to have been no widespread desire for a national parliament or for any other central ruling body.
For the most part, the social and economic life of the city was administered by the citizens themselves, through the medium of local committees of every sort — house committees, ship committees, food committees, factory and shop committees — which throve in the prevailing libertarian atmosphere. A popular militia was organized to defend the island from any outside encroachments upon its sovereignty. Kronstadt’s residents displayed a real talent for spontaneous self-organization. Apart from their various committees, men and women working in the same shop or living in the same neighborhood formed tiny agricultural communes, each with about fifty members, which undertook to cultivate whatever arable land could be found on the empty stretches of the island. During the Civil War, says Yarchuk, these collective vegetable gardens helped save the city from starvation.
Cherishing their local autonomy, the Kronstadt population warmly endorsed the appeal for “All power to the soviets” put forward in 1917 by Lenin and his party. They interpreted the slogan in a literal sense, to mean that each locality would run its own affairs, with little or no interference from any central authority. This, says Yarchuk, they understood to be the true essence of “socialism.”
But the sailors began to exhibit at best mixed feelings toward the Bolshevik regime within months of Lenin’s seizure of power. In April 1918 they passed a resolution calling for replacement of the Bolsheviks by a genuinely revolutionary regime. In October they attempted a mutiny. As the Civil War unfolded, however, once more Kronstadt sailors were some of the best fighters against the Whites. They were sent to all the most precarious fronts, partly due to their ability, and perhaps also, as Voline maintains, because dead heroes — or at least widely dispersed heroes — were of more value to the Bolsheviks than were live and very volatile champions of direct democracy. Thousands of casualties, combined with a centrally imposed reorganization of the Red Fleet might provide the Communists a more passive Kronstadt.
As for Trotsky’s charge that the Kronstadt rebels of early 1921 were morally degenerate “selfseekers,” the regime itself put the lie to that. As late as November 1920, on the third anniversary of the October Revolution, the Kronstadters were again held up as an example of revolutionary reliability. “It is true,” says Nicolas Walter, “that by 1921 the social composition of the fleet had changed [see our introduction for more recent definitive clarification by Getzler on the actual continuity of social composition since 1917 at Kronstadt] instead of being mainly workers from the Petrograd area, the sailors were now mainly peasants from southern Russia. But far from this making them any less revolutionary, their personal links with such areas as the Ukraine if anything raised their revolutionary consciousness. ” But the Communist bureaucracy, burdened with its conviction that it alone embodied the Revolution, could only respond to the groundswell of peasant, worker and military unrest in 1921 with cries of “counter-revolution!”
When news of the strike in “Red Peter” reached the Kronstadt sailors, they immediately dispatched a delegation to Petrograd to investigate. The delegates reported back on February 28 to a sailors’ meeting on the battleship Petropavlovsk. Their indignant listeners then passed the following resolution, which was to become the rallying point of the rebellion:
Having heard the report of the representatives sent by the general meeting of ships’ crews to Petrograd to investigate the situation there, we resolve:
1. In view of the fact that the present soviets do not express the will of the workers and peasants, immediately to hold new elections by secret ballot, with freedom to carry on agitation beforehand for all workers and peasants
2. To give freedom of speech and press to workers and peasants, to anarchists, and left socialist parties
3. To secure freedom of assembly for trade unions and peasant organizations
4. To call a nonparty conference of the workers, Red Army soldiers and sailors of Petrograd, Kronstadt and the Petrograd Province, no later than March 10, 1921
5. To liberate all political prisoners of socialist partieis, as well as all workers, peasants, soldiers and sailors imprisoned in connection with the labor and peasant movements
6. To elect a commission to review the cases of those being held in prisons and concentration camps
7. To abolish all political departments because no party should be given special privileges in the propagation of its ideas or receive the financial support of the state for such purposes. Instead, there should be established cultural and educational commissions, locally elected and financed by the state
8. To remove immediately all roadblock detachments
9. To equalize the rations of all working people, with the exception of those employed in trades detrimental to health
10. To abolish the Communist fighting detachments in all branches of the army, as well as the Communist guards kept on duty in factories and mills. Should such guards or detachments be found necessary, they are to be appointed in the army from the ranks and in the factories and mills at the discretion of the workers
11. To give the peasants full freedom of action in regard to the land, and also the right to keep cattle, on condition that the peasants manage within their own means, that is, without employing hired labor
12. To request all branches of the army, as well as our comrades in the military cadets, (kursanty) to endorse our resolution
13. To demand that the press give all our resolutions wide publicity
14. To appoint an itinerant bureau of control
15. To permit free handicrafts production by one’s own labor.
PETRICHENKO, Chairman of the Squadron Meeting
The most immediately striking thing about this document is that only one demand — for the abolition of political departments in the fleet — relates specifically to the sailors’ situation. All the other points were made on behalf of the rebelling workers and peasants. Furthermore, Trotsky’s charge that the Kronstadters were demanding special food privileges is belied by the call for equalization of rations Lenin’s claim that they had called for the return of the Constituent Assembly is unsubstantiated by this, or any later, document. The seamen had dispersed the Assembly in 1918 and they were no more favorable to it in 1921 in their eyes, explains Avrich, a national parliament would inevitably be dominated by a new privileged minority.
Various attempts have been made to “type” the Kronstadt rebels on the basis of this resolution and subsequent publications. Isaac Deutscher states flatly that they were led by anarchists, an assumption he derives from Trotsky. Nicolas Walter disputes this, since “They envisaged a strong administration and wanted a ‘soviet republic of toilers’ based on councils of working class deputies exercising state power.” Certainly the Mensheviks, the Right Social-Revolutionaries and the middle-class liberal groups were not in favor: the call for freedom of speech and assembly was only for “anarchists and left-socialist parties.” Avrich appears to be correct in saying that the rebellion was neither inspired nor engineered by any single party or group. The Kronstadt rebels were pure soviet communists, whose aim was to return to the brief triumph of the October Revolution — “to the hours, as it were,” says Nicolas Walter, “between the disappearance of-the Provisional Government and the appearance of the People’s Commissars.”
On March lst, the day after the passage of the Petropavlovsk resolution, a mass meeting was held in Anchor Square. 16,000 sailors, soldiers and workers heard the report of the delegation to Petrograd, and then a motion to adopt the Petropavlovsk demands. Kalinin, the President of the Soviet Republic, spoke against it but despite his friendly reception upon arriving in Kronstadt, he failed to move, and in fact provoked the crowd by his arrogance and hostility. They shouted: “Why are our fathers and brothers in the villages shot? You are sated you are warm the commissars live in the palaces.”  The military commissar Kuzmin followed, and denounced the resolution and the sailors as counter-revolutionary, to be smashed by the iron hand of the proletariat. These two speakers cast the only negative votes in the entire gathering. Kalinin was sent on his way back to Moscow. But Kuzmin was arrested when it was learned that he had ordered the removal of all food and munitions from Kronstadt.
At this stage the sailors didn’t see themselves as being in open revolt. In fact, they sent a committee of thirty men to confer with the Petrograd Soviet with the hope of achieving an amicable end to the strike. (Upon their arrival in Petrograd, they were promptly arrested by the Cheka.)
But the government seems to have never seriously entertained the thought of negotiation with the sailors. There are a number of reasons for this. First, the Communists half-believed in their own charge that the uprising was inspired and supported by White emigres, and was the stepping stone to a new intervention. Had this been true, there was probably no better stepping stone than the Kronstadt naval base, with its heavy armaments and its proximity to Petrograd. There is plenty of evidence of elation among the Russian emigres, but as we have seen, Kronstadt’s program was hardly designed for their sakes, and it seems more a case of wishful thinking. White organizations in Europe began rounding up supplies for the sailors as soon as the uprising began, but in fact none were actually delivered, nor were they solicited.
The Bolshevik press further claimed that the military strategy of the rebels was dictated by a General Kozlovsky, a former Tsarist general appointed to Kronstadt by Trotsky. Such a person did live in Kronstadt, and he did provide technical advice. But most of his advice — and that of other military officials — was ignored. Only the Communist government utilized the skills of ex-Tsarist officers, most notably Tukachevsky.
A second reason for the Communists’ reluctance to negotiate is suggested by R. V. Daniels:
That there was at least some legitimate basis for the Kronstadt reform demands was admitted by Kalinin. He described a resolution adopted at Kronstadt on March 1, demanding various reforms ranging from free elections to the permission of free trade, as “with certain corrections, more or less acceptable,” and based on real organizational abuses within the Communist Party. Undoubtedly the Kronstadt revolt could have been forestalled by timely reforms, but such a course would have been too embarrassing and might well have been a serious blow to the authority of the government. Given the state of discontent, an admission by the government that the Kronstadters had a case that could be discussed, might have brought the Soviet regime crashing down everywhere. It was essential above all for the Communist Party to suppress the idea of Kronstadt as a movement which defended the principles of the October Revolution against the Communists — the idea of the “third revolution.”
Finally, Kronstadt posed a new and disconcerting problem for the regime. Communist Party members in the Baltic Fleet had, in mid-February, condemned the Political Section of the fleet they had furthermore, according to the Commissar for Petrograd, been leaving the party in droves — 5000 sailors in January alone. During the uprising, so many Communists were writing to the rebel Kronstadt Isvestia to announce their resignations that the editors had to plead for shorter statements. The central government couldn’t negotiate with these rank-and-file defectors at a time when it was about to ban dissent even at its highest levels.
There was one attempt to negotiate initiated by an anarchist mediation group which included Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman. Victor Serge describes a meeting of these two with Zinoviev, Chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. He received them cordially, for they enjoyed wide international support. But he flatly turned down their negotiation proposal. “As a sop,” says Serge, “he offered them every facility for seeing Russia from a private railway car.” Most of the Russian members of the mediation group were arrested.
The military strategy of the Kronstadters was entirely defensive, a reflection of their illusion that they had merely to wait and the rest of Russia, starting with Petrograd, would rush to their support. They ignored the suggestions of military officers to break up the ice around the island with cannon fire, which could have prevented an assault by land. They further rejected the idea of seizing the fortress of Oranienbaum, from which they could have launched a surprise offensive. Had they done so, they would have saved the lives of the aerial squadron at Oranienbaum, which was caught in a plan to join the rebels. Several Red Army regiments at Oranienbaum also refused to fight the sailors. Cheka units rushed to the scene and shot every fifth soldier.
On largely ideological grounds, the sailors declined outside help in the form of supplies, thus dooming themselves to slow starvation. But they most gravely miscalculated the situation in Petrograd. The strikes in Red Peter were already declining as the Kronstadt uprising began. Through a combination of repression and concessions — most notably the removal of roadblock detachments — the city was calmed. Hundreds of dissident workers had been arrested and all soldiers suspected of sympathy with Kronstadt were transferred further inland. Kronstadt was alone.
Following acceptance of the Petropavlovsk resolution in Anchor Square, a “Provisional Revolutionary Committee” had been elected to coordinate Kronstadt’s affairs pending the formation of a new Soviet. This group of fifteen — nine sailors, four workmen, one school principal and a transport official — were soon catapulted into the role of military strategists. On March 4, at a heated session of the Petrograd Soviet, Zinoviev demanded the immediate surrender of Kronstadt on pain of death. The rebels were passionately defended by a Petrograd worker-delegate: “It’s the cruel indifference of yourself and of your party,” he shouted at Zinoviev, “that drove us to strike and that roused the sympathy of our brother sailors. They are guilty of no other crime, and you know it. Consciously you malign them and call for their destruction .” Amid cries of “traitor” and “Menshevik bandit” he was drowned out and Zinoviev’s motion was passed.
On March 5, Trotsky issued an ultimatum in which he promised to “shoot like partridges” all those who refused to surrender immediately. Only those who did could expect mercy. The Provisional Revolutionary Committee replied: “The ninth wave of the Toilers’ Revolution has risen and will sweep from the face of Soviet Russia the vile slanderers and tyrants with all their corruption-and your lemency, Mr. Trotsky, will not be needed.” 
On March 7, an aerial bombardment was launched against the island, which continued over several days. The sound of the guns reached Alexander Berkman in Petrograd. “Days of anguish and cannonading,” he wrote in his diary. “My heart is numb with despair something has died within me. The people on the street look bowed with grief, bewildered. No one trusts himself to speak.”
Tukachevsky ordered a first attempt to take Kronstadt by storm, on March 8. His troops advanced across the open ice with no protection against the guns of the base. They were prodded from behind by machine gunners who were instructed to shoot waverers. Hundreds were killed, many drowning in the holes made in the ice by Kronstadt’s cannons.
In the midst of this battle, the rebels found time to send a message to the working women of the world, on International Women’s Day: “May you soon accomplish your liberation from every form of violence and oppression. Long live the free revolutionary working women! Long live the Worldwide Social Revolution!”
Following his total failure on March 8, Tukachevsky took time to attain troops less likely to display ambivalence at the crucial moment. From the Asiatic parts of Russia, he brought in men who had little in common with the Kronstadters. Three hundred delegates from the Tenth Party Congress (which was then in session) raced to the front. Some of these were Workers’ Oppositionists, anxious to display their loyalty to the Party.
Meanwhile the island entered a period of gradual starvation and demoralization. Their rebel Isvestia still urged Red Peter to rise in support, but they were less and less optimistic.
Finally on the night of March 16, the last assault began. Avrich estimates that 50,000 Communist troops were pitted against 15,000 well-entrenched defenders. By morning the battle raged within the city itself. Women as well as men fought ferociously to save Kronstadt, and at four in the afternoon they almost succeeded in a counter-offensive. But their own exhaustion and a fresh supply of Communist troops decided the day. Had they held out much longer, a plan sanctioned by Trotsky to launch a gas attack would have been carried out.
Kronstadt fell. In all, the Bolsheviks lost about 10,000 men, the rebels about 1500 about 8000 rebels fled across the ice to Finland another 2500 were captured and either killed or sent to labor camps. “It was not a battle,” said Tukachevsky later, “it was an inferno. The sailors fought like wild beasts. I cannot understand where they found the might for such rage.”
“They didn’t want the White Guards, but they didn’t want us, either,” commented Lenin at the Tenth Party Congress. Within days of the fall of Kronstadt two things happened: his New Economic Policy was adopted, granting all of the economic demands of the sailors with one very important distortion: it allowed the hiring of wage-labor. Secondly, all opposition within the Party was banned. Bukharin put it well: “Opportunists have formed the opinion that at first we make economic concessions and then political. As a matter of fact,we make economic concessions in order not to be forced to political concessions.”
There are a number of differing conclusions which may be drawn from the story of Kronstadt. The rebels were certainly not the “revolution’s guiltless children,” as Avrich calls them. The maturity of political thought revealed in the Petropavlovsk resolution should restrain us from condescension. The real argument revolves around what could loosely be called the issue of historical necessity. An added complication is that in a real sense, there are two “Leninisms” — one motivating the Kronstadters, the other justifying their suppression.
“Socialism,” said Lenin in 1917, “is not created by orders from above. State-bureaucratic automatism is alien to its spirit socialism is alive, creative — the creation of the popular masses themselves.” Written immediately prior to October, State and Revolution called for freedom of the press, the abolition of “special bodies of armed men” in favor of a people’s militia, a state in which the workers would exercise power directly through their elected soviets, and in which all left-wing parties could agitate freely.
Was Lenin compelled by historical inevitability to abandon these hopes? Was he forced to substitute for the rule of the working class that of the “technical intelligentia”? In his history of the Peasant War in Germany, Engels raises a possibility which must have haunted Lenin:
The worst thing that can befall a leader of an extreme party is to be compelled to take over a government in an epoch when the movement is not yet ripe for the domination of the class he represents and for the realization of the measures which that domination would imply. He is compelled to represent not his party or his class, but the class for which conditions are ripe for domination. In the interests of the movement itself, he is compelled to defend the interests of an alien class, and to feed his own class with phrases and promises, with the assertion that the interests of that alien class are their own interests.
In the suppression of Kronstadt, “the other Leninism” comes into its own, in the form of a tautology: “The proletariat of itself was held to be incapable of rising above the level of mere trade-union consciousness.” Granting this, says Daniels, Lenin had an airtight case: “Any manifestation of independent revolutionary thought among the workers. naturally had to challenge the authority of the party which purported to do the proletariat’s thinking for it. Such a challenge of the party, given the definition of true proletarian thought as complete loyalty to the authority of the party, was ipso facto evidence of “petitbourgeois,” “trade-unionist” thinking or of the “declassing” of the workers in consequence of the economic breakdown. Thus by 1921, the organizational doctrine of Bolshevism had come full circle, to the primeval Leninism of 1902.”
Avrich suggests that the tragedy of Kronstadt is that one can sympathize with the rebels and yet justify the Communists’ suppression of them. I suggest that the real tragedy is that so many people have for so long done just that: from Kronstadt to Berlin, to Budapest and Prague, tyranny has been justified as somehow progressive. Even if one accepts the argument that their rise to power — in situations of scarcity and underdevelopment — is inevitable, there is no need to enshrine tyrants. The Russian Revolution suffered a mortal setback in 1921. What should concern us, says Nicolas Walter, is not the “possibility that the success of Kronstadt might have led to chaos, civil war or counter-revolution, but the certainty that the failure of Kronstadt led to dictatorship, purges and counter-revolution.”
Avrich, Paul. The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution. Cornell.U. Press, 1973.
Avrich, Paul. Kronstadt, 1921. Princeton U. Press, 1970.
Daniels, Robert V. The Conscience of the Revolution: Communist Opposition in Soviet Russia. Simon & Schuster, 1969.
Deutscher, Isaac. Trotsky. Vols. 1 — 3, Oxford U. Press, 1954, 1959 and 1963.
Goldman, Emma. Living My Life, Vol. 2. Knopf, 1931.
Goldman, Emma. My Disillusionment in Russia. Apollo Editions, 1970.
Goldman, Emma. Trotsky Protests Too Much. A pamphlet published by the Libertarian Education Project in England.
Mett, Ida. The Kronstadt Uprising. Black Rose Books, 1971.
Pollack, Emanuel. The Kronstadt Rebellion. Philosophical l.ibrary, 1951.
Serge, Victor. Kronstadt 1921. A pamphlet published by Solidarity, in England.
Shub, David. Lenin. Doubleday, 1948.
Voline. The Unknown Revolution. Solidarity/ Black and Red, 1974.
The Kronstadt Rebellion in the Soviet Union. A pamphlet published by the National Education Department of the Socialist Workers Party, 1973: articles by Trotsky, Wright, Serge, MacDonald, and the editors of New International.
Anarchy Magazine. March, 1971. The whole issue is devoted to Kronstadt and includes articles by Paul Avrich, Alexander Berkman, and Anton Ciliga.
 Quoted in paul Avrich’s Kronstadt 1921. p. 9.
 Quoted in Emanuel Pollack’s The Kronstadt Rebellion. p. 2–3.
 Quoted in Pollack, op. cit., pp. 10–11.
 Serge, Victor, Kronstadt 1921. p. 2.
 Quoted by Alexander Berkmen: “The Kronstadt Rebellion,” 1922, in Anarchy Magazine.
 Leon Trotsky, from “Hue and Cry over Kronstadt,” quoted by Anton Ciliga, Anarchy Magazine.
 0p. cit., p. 73–74. Voline is also an excellent source on Kronstadt’s internal affairs.
 Walter, Nicolas. From his review of Avrich’s Kronstadt 1921, in Anarchy Magazine.
 In fact, the Kronstadt delegates had told the Petrograd strikers that the guns of Kronstadt would be “resolutely directed against the Constituent Assembly and against all retreat.” (Quoted in Voline’s Unknown Revolution, p. 469.)
 Voline is rather embarrassed by this. He explains that this wording was chosen “to remove in advance any possibility of
misunderstanding the real nature of the movement.” Within the confines of Kronstadt itself, where “reactionary deceptions could have no success,” all opinions could be freely expressed. Voline, op. cit., p. 473.
 His arrest became a major issue in the battle of propaganda, with the Bolsheviks claiming he had been threatened with execution.
Victor Serge recounts the incident as his first experience with lying as an established policy of the regime.
 Avrich has written an entire chapter on the complex question of White involvement. His conclusions seem fair, and I have reproduced their general tenor.
 R. V. Daniels, The Conscience of the Revolution, p. 144.
 This figure is from Ida Mett’s The Kronstadt Uprising, p. 37.
 Avrich describes one brief moment in this story, when the government offered to negotiate. Unfortunately, the sailors distrusted the proposed negotiating team, and their request for an amended proposal was never answered. This all occurred the day after the wives and children of many sailors had been arrested as hostages on the mainland, a move which guaranteed intransigence on the part of the rebels.
 There is some suggestion that this phrase was Zinoviev’s.
 Avrich, ibid. The ninth is the culminating wave of a storm at sea.
dered. No one trusts himself to speak.”
 The phrase is R. V. Daniels’.
 Quoted in Daniels, op. cit., p. 136.
 Ibid., p. 147. The “primeval Leninism” of 1902 is that expressed in What Is to be Done.