Kronstadt: last upsurge of the Soviets
"... this luxury was really absolutely impermissible. By permitting (sic!) such a discussion (on the trade unions) we undoubtedly made a mistake and failed to see that in this discussion a question came to the forefront which, because of the objective conditions, should not have been in the forefront . . ."
Lenin. Report to 10th Party Congress, March 8, 1921. Selected Works, Vol. IX, p. 90.
"What the rebels of Kronstadt demanded was only what Trotsky had promised their elder brothers and what he and the Party had been unable to give. Once again a bitter and hostile echo of his own voice came back to him from the lips of other people, and once again he had to suppressed it."
Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, p. 512-3
Taking everything into account, what was the Kronstadt uprising? Was it a counter-revolutionary insurrection? Was it a revolt without conscious counter-revolutionary objectives, but which was bound to open the doors to the counter-revolution? Or was it simply an attempt by the working masses to materialise some of the promise of October? Was the revolt inevitable? And was the bloody end to which it came also inevitable? We will conclude by trying to answer these questions.
The accusations made against Kronstadt by the Bolsheviks in 1921 are exactly the same as those mentioned later by the Stalinist historian Poukhov, in his book published in 1931. Trotsky repeated them. The trotskyists still repeat them today.
Trotsky's attitude on this question was however always somewhat embarrassed and awkward. He would issue his accusations by the dropper instead of proclaiming them once and for all. In 1937, when he discussed Kronstadt for the first time in writing (in his books on the Russian Revolution he hardly ever dealt with the subject) he starts by saying that "The country was hungry, and the Kronstadt sailors were demanding privileges. The mutiny was motivated by their wish for privileged rations." (11) Such a demand was never put forward by the men of Kronstadt. In his later writings Trotsky, having doubtless taken care to read more on the matter, was to abandon this particular accusation. What remains, however, is that he started his public accusations with a lie.
In an article in the Belgian paper Lutte Ouvriere (February 26, 1938) Trotsky wrote:
"From a class point of view, which--no offence to the eclectics--remains the fundamental criterion both in politics and in history, it is extremely important to compare the conduct of Kronstadt with that of Petrograd during these critical days. In Petrograd too the whole leading stratum of the working class had been skimmed off. Famine and cold reigned in the abandoned capital, even more cruelly than in Moscow... The paper of the Kronstadt rebels spoke of barricades in Petrograd, of thousands of people killed.(2) The Press of the whole world was announcing the same thing. In fact the exact opposite took place. The Kronstadt uprising did not attract the workers of Petrograd. It repelled them. The demarcation took place along class lines. The workers immediately felt that the Kronstadt rebels were on the other side of the barricade and they gave their support to the Government."
Here again Trotsky is saying things which are quite untrue. Earlier on we showed how the wave of strikes had started in Petrograd and how Kronstadt had followed suit. It was against the strikers of Petrograd that the Government had to organise a special General Staff: the Committee of Defence. The repression was first directed against the Petrograd workers and against their demonstrations, by the despatch of armed detachments of Koursantys. (3)
But the workers of Petrograd had no weapons. They could not defend themselves as could the Kronstadt sailors. The military repression directed against Kronstadt certainly intimidated the Petrograd workers. The demarcation did not take place "along class lines" but according to the respective strengths of the organs of repression. The fact that the workers of Petrograd did not follow those of Kronstadt does not prove that they did not sympathise with them. Nor, at a later date, when the Russian proletariat failed to follow the various "oppositions" did this prove that they were in agreement with Stalin! In such instances it was a question of the respective strengths of the forces confronting one another.
In the same article Trotsky repeats his points concerning the exhaustion of Kronstadt, from the revolutionary point of view. He claims that, whereas the Kronstadt sailors of 1917 and 1918 were ideologically at a much higher level than the Red Army, the contrary was the case by 1921. This argument is refuted by official Red Army documents. These admit that the frame of mind of Kronstadt had infected large layers of the army.
Trotsky denounces those who attack him over Kronstadt over the belatedness of their strictures. "The campaign around Kronstadt" he says "is conducted, in certain places, with unrelenting energy. One might imagine that events took place yesterday and not seventeen years ago" But seventeen years is a very short period, on any historical scale. We don't accept that to speak of Kronstadt is to "evoke the days of the Egyptian Pharaohs". Moreover it appears logical to us to seek some of the roots of the great Russian catastrophe in this striking and symptomatic episode. After all it took place at a time when the repression of the Russian workers was not being perpetrated by some Stalin or other but by the flower of Bolshevism, by Lenin and Trotsky themselves. Seriously to discuss the Kronstadt revolt is therefore not, as Trotsky claims, "to be interested in discrediting the only genuinely revolutionary tendency, the only tendency never to have reneged its flag, never to have compromised with the enemy, the only tendency to represent the future".
During the subsequent seventeen years Trotsky shed none of his hostility towards the rebels. Lacking arguments he resorts to gossip. He tells us that "at Kronstadt, where the garrison was doing nothing and only living on its past, demoralisation had reached important proportions. When the situation became particularly difficult in famished Petrograd, the Political Bureau discussed several times whether to raise an internal loan in Kronstadt, where there still remained old stores of all sorts. But the Petrograd delegates would answer: 'They will give us nothing of their own free will. They speculate on cloth, coal, bread, for in Kronstadt all the old scum has raised its head again!".
This argument concerning "old stores of all sorts" is in bad faith. One need only recall the ultimatum to the Kronstadters issued by the Petrograd Defence Committee on March 5th (referred to elsewhere): "You will be obliged to surrender. Kronstadt has neither bread nor fuel". What had happened in the meantime to the said old stories
Further information on this topic comes from the Kronstadt Ivestia. It describes the distribution to children of one pound of dried potatoes on presentation of ration vouchers 5 and 6. On March 8th, four litres of oats were distributed to last four days--and on March 9th a quarter of a pound of black biscuit made of flour and dried potato powder. On March 10th the Regional Committee of Metalworkers decided to place at the disposal of the community the horse meat to which its members were entitled. During the insurrection there was also distributed a tin of condensed milk per person, on one occasion some meat preserves, and finally (to children only), half a pound of butter.
That no doubt is what Trotsky refers to as "old stores of all sorts"! According to him these might have been borrowed to alleviate the great Russian famine. We should add that before the insurrection these "stores" were in the hands of communist functionaries and that it was upon these people alone that consent to the proposed "loan" depended. The rank and file sailor, who took part in the insurrection, had no means open to him whereby he could have opposed the loan, even if he had wanted to. So much for the question of "stores"--which in passing shows the worth of some of the accusations used against Kronstadt.
To resort to such arguments in the course of a serious discussion (and consciously to substitute for such a discussion a polemic about the Spanish Revolution) shows up a serious flaw: the absence of valid arguments on the matter among the Bolsheviks (for Trotsky isn't the central figure in the repression of Kronstadt. Lenin and the Politbureau directed the whole operation. The Workers' Opposition must also shoulder its share of responsibility. According to the personal testimony of foreign Communists residing in Russia at the time, the Workers' Opposition didn't agree with the measures being taken against the rebels. But neither did it dare open its mouth for the defence of Kronstadt. At the 10th Party Congress no one protested at the butchery of the rebels. The worker Lutovinov, a well known member of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets and one of the leaders of the Workers Opposition, was sent to Berlin in March 1921 on a diplomatic mission (in reality this was a form of political exile). He declared that: 'The news published abroad concerning the Kronstadt events was greatly exaggerated. The Soviet Government is strong enough to finish off the rebels. The slowness of the operation is to be explained by the fact that we wish to spare the population of Kronstadt". ('L'Humanite'. March 18, 1921) (4)
Trotsky uses yet another argument against the rebels: he accuses them of seeking to take advantage of their revolutionary past. This is a most dangerous argument for anyone in opposition. Stalin was to use it against Trotsky and the old Bolshevik. It was only later that Stalin accused them of having been, from the very beginning of the Revolution, the agents of the international bourgeoisie. During the first years of the struggle he conceded that Trotsky had rendered great services to the Revolution but he would add that Trotsky had subsequently passed into the ranks of the counter-revolution. One had to judge a man on what he did now. The example of Mussolini was constantly mentioned.
However, there are many things that Trotsky is unable to explain. He cannot explain how Kronstadt and the whole Red Fleet came to renounce their ideological support for the Government. He cannot explain the frame of mind of the communist elements in the Fleet during the discussions on the Trade Union question. He cannot explain their attitude during the 8th All-Russian Soviet Congress elections or during the Second Communist Conference of the Baltic Fleet, which took place on the eve of the insurrection. These are, however, key points around which the discussion should centre. When Trotsky asserts that all those supporting the government were genuinely proletarian and progressive, whereas all others represented the peasant counterrevolution, we have a right to ask of him that he present us with a serious factual analysis in support of his contention. The unfurling of subsequent events showed that the Revolution was being shunted onto a disastrously wrong track. This was first to compromise then to destroy all its social, political, and moral conquests. Did the Kronstadt revolt really represent an attempt to guide the Revolution along new lines? That is the crucial question one has to ask. Other problems should be seen as of secondary importance and flowing from this serious concern.
It is certainly not the smashing of the Kronstadt revolt that put a brake to the course of the Revolution. On the contrary, in our opinion, it was the political methods used against Kronstadt and widely practised throughout Russia which contributed to the setting up, on the ruins of the Social Revolution, of an oligarchic regime which had nothing in common with the original ideas of the Revolution. (5)
The Bolshevik interpretations
In 1921 the Bolshevik Government claimed that Kronstadt had rebelled according to a preconceived plan. This particular interpretation was based on a note published in certain French newspapers (Le Matin, L'Echo de Paris) on February 15th. This note announced the uprising and led to the claim that the uprising was led by the Entente.
This was the argument which enabled Lenin to claim, at the 10th Party Congress:
"The transfer of political power from the hands of the Bolsheviks to a vague conglomeration or alliance of heterogeneous elements who seem to be only a little to the Right of the Bolsheviks, and perhaps even to the 'Left' of the Bolsheviks--so indefinite is the sum of political groupings which tried to seize power in Kronstadt. Undoubtedly, at the same time, White generals--you all know it--played a great part in this. This is fully proved. The Paris newspapers reported a mutiny in Kronstadt two weeks before the events in Kronstadt took place.(6)
The publication of false news about Russia was nothing exceptional. Such news was published before, during, and after the Kronstadt events. It is undeniable that the bourgeoisie throughout the world was hostile to the Russian Revolution and would exaggerate any bad news emanating from that country. The Second Communist Conference of the Baltic Fleet had just voted a resounding resolution, critical of the political leadership of the Fleet. This fact could easily have been exaggerated by the bourgeois press, once again confusing the wishes with reality. To base an accusation on a 'proof' of this kind is inadmissible and immoral.
In 1938 Trotsky himself was to drop this accusation. But in the article we have already mentioned he refers his readers to a study of the Kronstadt rebellion undertaken by an American trotskyst John G Wright. In an article published in the New International (in February 1938) Mr Wright takes up once again the claim that the revolt must have been planned before-hand. In view of the fact the press had announced it on February 15th. He says: "the connection between Kronstadt and the counterrevolution can be established not only out of the mouths of the enemies of Bolshevism but also on the basis of irrefutable facts". What irrefutable facts? Again .. quotations from the bourgeois press (Le Matin, Vossische Zeitung, The Times) giving false news before and during the insurrection.
It is interesting that these arguments were not much used at the time, durinq the battle itself, but only years later. If, at the time the Bolshevik Government had proofs of these alleged contacts between Kronstadt and the counter-revolutionaries why did it not try the rebels publicly? Why did it not show the working masses of Russia the 'real' reasons for the uprising? If this wasn't done it was because no such proofs existed.
We are also told that if the New Economic policy had been introduced in time the insurrection would have been avoided. But as we have just shown the uprising did not take place according to a preconceived plan. No one knew that it was necessarily going to take place. We have no theory as to the exact timing and development of popular movements and it is quite possible that under economic and political conditions different from those prevailing in the spring of 1921 the insurrection might never have taken place. On the other hand the uprising might have occurred in a different form, or in a different place, for instance in Nijni Novgorod where an important strike movement took place, coinciding with the great strike wave in Petrograd. The particular conditions relating to the Fleet and to Kronstadt's revolutionary past certainly had an effect, but one can't be certain just exactly how significant this effect was. Much the same applies to the statement that "if the N.E.P. had been introduced a few months earlier there would have been no Kronstadt revolt".
The N.E P. was admittedly proclaimed at the same time as the rebels were being massacred. But it doesn't follow in any way that the N.E.P. corresponded to the demands put forward by the sailors. In the Kronstadt Isvestia of March 14th we find a characteristic passage on this subject. The rebels proclaimed that "Kronstadt is not asking for freedom of trade but for genuine power to the Soviets". The Petrograd strikers were also demanding the reopening of the markets and the abolition of the road blocks set up by the militia. But they too were stating that freedom of trade by itself would not solve their problems.
Insofar as the N.E.P. replaced the forced requisition of foodstuffs by the tax in kind and insofar as it re-established internal trade it certainly satisfied some of the demands of the men of Kronstadt and of the striking Petrograd workers. With the N.E.P. rationing and arbitrary seizures ceased. Petty owners were able to sell their goods on the open markets, lessening the effects on the great famine. The N.E.P. appeared to be first and foremost a safety measure.
But the N.E.P. unleashed the capitalist elements in the country just at a time when the one party dictatorship was leaving the proletariat and working peasants without means of defence against these capitalist forces. "The class exerting the dictatorship is in fact deprived of the most elementary political rights" proclaimed the Worker's Truth, an oppositional communist group in 1922. The Worker's Group. another oppositlonal tendency, characterised the situation as follows: "The working class is totally deprived of rights, the trade unions being a blind instrument in the hands of the functionaries".
This was certainly not what the Kronstadt rebels were asking for! On the contrary. They were proposing measures which would have restored to the working class and working peasantry their true place in the new regime. The Bolsheviks only implemented the least important demands of the Kronstadt programme (those coming in eleventh place in the resolution of the rebels !). They totally ignored the basic demand, the demand for workers' democracy!
This demand, put forward in the Petropavlovsky resolution was neither utopian nor dangerous. We here take issue with Victor Serge. In Revolution Proletarienne (of September 10th, 1937) Serge stated that "while the sailors were engaged in mortal combat, they put forward a demand which, at that particular moment, was extremely dangerous--although quite genuine and sincerely revolutionary: the demand for freely elected soviets... they wished to unleash a cleansing tornado but in practice they could only have opened the doors to the peasant counterrevolution, of which the Whites and foreign intervention would have taken advantage... Insurgent Kronstadt was not counterrevolutionary, but its victory would inevitably have led to the counterrevolution." Contrary to Serge's assertion we believe that the political demands of the sailors were full of a deep political wisdom. They were not derived from any abstract theory but from a profound awareness of the conditions of Russian life. They were in no way counterrevolutionary.
Rosa Luxembourg's view's
It is worth recalling what Rosa Luxemburg, a political personality respected throughout the world as a great socialist militant, had written about the lack of democracy in the leadership of the Russian Revolution, as early as 1918.
"It is an incontestable fact", she wrote, "that the rule of the broad, popular masses is inconceivable without unlimited freedom of the press, without absolute freedom of meeting and of association... the gigantic tasks which the Bolsheviks have tackled with courage and resolution require the most intensive political education of the masses and accumulation of experience which is impossible without political freedom. Freedom restricted to those who support the Government or to Party members only, however numerous they may be, is not real freedom. Freedom is always freedom for the one who thinks differently. This is not because of fanaticism for abstract justice but because everything that is instructive, healthy and cleansing in political liberty hinges on this and because political liberty loses its value when freedom becomes a privilege."
"We have never worshipped at the altar of formal democracy," she continued. "We have always distinguished between the social content end the political form of bourgeois democracy. The historical task facing the proletariat after its accession to power is to replace bourgeois democracy by proletarian democracy, not to abolish all democracy... The dictatorship (of the proletariat) consists in the way democracy is applied, not in its abolition. It must be the action of the class and not of a small minority, managing things in the name of the class.... If political life throughout the country is stifled it must fatally follow that life in the soviets themselves will be paralysed. Without general elections, without unlimited freedom of the press and of assembly, without free confrontation of opinions, life will dry up in all public institutions--or it will be only a sham life, where the bureaucracy is the only active element."
We have dwelt on these quotations to show that Rosa Luxembourg, in her statements about the need for democracy, went much further than the Kronstadt rebels. They restricted their comments about democracy to matters of interest to the proletariat and to the working peasantry. Moreover Rosa Luxemburg formulated her criticisms of the Russian Revolution in 1918, in a period of full civil war, whereas the Petropavlovsk resolution was voted at a time when the armed struggle had virtually come to an end.
Would anyone dare accuse Rosa, on the basis of her criticisms, of having been in collusion with the international bourgeoisie? Why then are the demands of the Kronstadt sailors denounced as 'dangerous' and as inevitably leading to the counterrevolution? Has not the subsequent evolution of events amply vindicated both the Kronstadt rebels and Rosa Luxemburg? Was Rosa Luxemburg not right when she asserted that the task of the working class was to exercise working class power and not the dictatorship of a party or of a clique? For Rosa Luxemburg working class power was defined as "the achievement in a contest of the widest discussion, of the most active and unlimited participation of the popular masses in an unrestricted democracy."
A third Soviet Revolution
When putting forward their democratic demands, the Kronstadt rebels had probably never heard of the writings of Rosa Luxemburg. What they had heard of, however, was the first Constitution of the Soviet Republic, voted on July 10, 1918, by the 5th All Russian Congress of Soviets. Article 13, 14, 15 and 16 of the Constitution assured all workers of certain democratic rights (freedom of worship, freedom of assembly, freedom of union, freedom of the press). These articles sought to prevent the allocation of special privileges to any specific group or Party (articles 22 and 23).
The same Constitution proclaimed that no worker could be deprived of the right to vote or of the right to stand as a candidate, provided he satisfied the conditions stipulated in articles 64 and 65, that is to say provided he did not exploit the labour of others or live off income other than that which he had earned.
The central demand of the Kronstadt insurrection--all power to the Soviets and not to the Party)--was in fact based on an article of the Constitution. This proclaimed that all central and local power would henceforth be precisely in the hands of the soviets!
From the very beginning this Constitution was violated by the Bolsheviks--or rather its provisions were never put into effect. It is worth recalling that Rosa Luxemburg's criticisms were formulated a few months after the vote of this new constitution charter. When in 1921 the sailors were to insist on a genuine application of the rights they had acquired in 1918 they were called 'counterrevolutionaries' and denounced as 'agents of the international bourgeoisie'. Sixteen years later Victor Serge was to say that the demands of the rebels would necessarily have led to the counterrevolution. This shows how deep-going were Bolshevik attitudes concerning the dangers of democracy.
The basic laws of the Soviet Republic constitute a juridical summary of the ideology of the October Revolution. By the end of the Civil War these ideas had been pushed so far back that a third revolution would have been necessary to reinstate them and have them applied in everyday life. This is what the Kronstadt rebels meant when they spoke of the Third Revolution. In the Kronstadt Isvestia of March 8 they wrote: "At Kronstadt the foundation stone has been laid of the Third Revolution. This wall break the final chains which still bind the working masses and wall open up new paths of socialist creation".
We do not know if it would have been possible to save the conquests of October by democratic methods. We do not know if the economic situation of the country and its markedly peasant character were really suitable for the first attempt at building socialism. These problems should be discussed. But the task of those seeking truth is to proclaim the facts without embellishments. It is not good enough to take a superciliously scientific air to explain away historical phenomena.
When Trotsky sought to explain the development of the bureaucracy which had strangled all real life in the institutions of the Soviet State he found no difficulty in outlining his conception. In The Revolution Betrayed he states that one of the important causes was the fact that demobilised Red Army officers had come to occupy leading positions in the local soviets and had introduced military methods into them--at a time when the proletariat was exhausted following the prolonged revolutionary upheaval. This apperarently led to the birth of the bureaucracy. Trotsky omits to recall how he himself sought to introduce precisely these methods into the trade unions. Was it to save the proletariat further fatigue? And if the proletariat was that exhausted how come it was still capable of waging virtually total general strikes in the largest and most heavily industrialised cities? And if the Party was still really the driving force of the social revolution how come it did not help the proletariat in the struggle against the nascent, but already powerful, bureaucracy--instead of shooting the workers down, at a time when their energy had been sapped by three years of imperialist war followed by three years of civil war.
Why did the Communist Party identify itself with the authoritarian state? The answer is that the Party was no longer revolutionary. It was no longer proletarian. And this is precisely what the men of Kronstadt were blaming the Party for. Their merit is to have said all this in 1921--when it might still have been possible to change the situation--and not to have waited 15 years, by which time the defeat had become irrevocable.
Bureaucracy is almost an hereditary hallmark in Russia. It is as old as the Russian state itself. The Bolsheviks in power not only inherited the Tsarist bureaucracy itself, but its very spirit. Its very atmosphere. They should have realised that as the state enlarged its functions to encompass economic affairs, as it became the owner of all natural wealth and of industry, an immediate danger would arise of the rebirth and rapid development of the bureaucratic frame of mind.
A doctor treating a patient with a bad heredity takes this into account and advises certain precautions. What precautions did the Bolsheviks take to combat the bureaucratic tendencies which were obvious, in the very first years of the Revolution? What methods could they have used other than to allow a powerful democratic draught to blow through the whole atmosphere, and to encourage a rigorous and effective control to be exerted by the working masses?
True enough, some form of control was envisaged. The trouble was that the Commissariat of the Workers and Peasants inspection was to entrust this control to the very same type of bureaucrat whose power it was seeking to thwart. One need not seek far to find the causes of the bureaucratisation. Its roots lay deeply in the Bolshevik concept of the State commanded and controlled by a single Party, itself organised along absolutist and bureaucratic lines. These causes were of course aggravated by Russia's own bureaucratic traditions.
It is wrong to blame the peasantry for the defeat of the Revolution and for its degeneration into a bureaucratic regime. It would be too easy to explain all Russia's difficulties by the agrarian character of her economy. Some people seem to say at one and the same time that the Kronstadt revolt against the bureaucracy was a peasant revolt and that the bureaucracy itself was of peasant origin. With such a concept of the role of the peasantry one may ask how the Bolsheviks dared advocate the idea of the socialist revolution? How did they dare struggle for it in an agrarian country?
Some claim that the Bolsheviks allowed themselves such actions (as the suppression of Kronstadt) in the hope of a forthcoming world revolution, of which they considered themselves the vanguard. But would not a revolution in another country have been influenced by the spirit of the Russian Revolution? When one considers the enormous moral authority of the Russian Revolution throughout the world one may ask oneself whether the deviations of this Revolution would not eventually have left an imprint on other countries. Many historical facts allow such a judgement. One may recognise the impossibility of genuine socialist construction in a single country, yet have doubts as to whether the bureaucratic deformations of the Bolshevik regime would have been straightened out by the winds coming from revolutions in other countries.
The fascist experience in countries like Germany shows that an advanced stage of capitalist development is an insufficient guarantee against the grmwth of absolutist and autocratic tendencies. Although this is n/t the place to explain the phenomenon, we must note the powerful wave of authoritarianism comine from economically advanced countries and threatening to engulf old ideas and traditions. It is incontestable that Bolshevism is morally related to this absolutist frame of mind. It had in fact set a precedent for subsequent tendencies. No one can be sure that had another revolution occurred elsewhere following the one in Russia, Bolshevism would have democratised itself. It might again have revealed its absolutist features.
Were there not real dangers in the democratic way? Was there no reason to fear reformist influences in the soviets, if democracy had been given free rein? We accept that this was a real danger. But it was no more of a danger than what inevitably followed the uncontrolled dictatorship of a single party, whose General Secretary was already Stalin.(7)
We are told that the country was at the end of its tether, that it had lost its ability to resist. True, the country was weary of war. But on the other hand it was full of constructive forces, ardently seeking to learn and to educate themselves. The end of the Civil War saw a surge of workers and peasants towards schools, workers' 5niversities and institutes of technical education. Wasn't this yearning the best testimony to t(e vitality and resistance of these classes? In a country with a very high level of illiteracy, such an education could greatly have helped the working masses in the genuine exercise of real power.
But by its very essence a dictatorship destroys the creative capacities of a people. Despite the undoubted attempts of the Government tn educate workers, education soon became the privilege of Party members loyal to the leading faction. From 1921 on, workers' faculties and higher educational establishments were purged of their more independent minded elements. This process gained tempo with the development of oppositional tendencies within the Party. The attempt at a genuine mass education was increasingly compromised. Lenin's wish that every cook should be able to govern the state became less and less likel9 to be implemented.
The revolutionary conquest could only be deepened through a genuine part)cipation of the masses. Any attempt to substitute an 'elite' for those masses could only be profoundly reactionary.
In 1921 the Russian Revolution stood at the cross roads. The democratic or the dictatorial way, that was the question. By lumping together bourgeois and proletarian democracy the Bolsheviks were in fact condemning both. They sought to build socialism from above, throughskill ful manoeuvres of the Revolutionary General Staff. While waiting for a world revolution that was not round the corner, they built a state capitalist society, where the working class no longer had the right to make the decisions most intimately concerning it.
Lenin was not alone in perceiving that the Kronstadt rebellion was a challenge to this plan. Both he and the Bolsheviks were fully aware that what was at stake was the monopoly of their Party. Kronstadt might have opened the way to a genuine proletarian democracy, incompatible with the Party's monopoly of power. That is why Lenin prdferred to destroy Kronstadt. He chose an ignoble but sure way: the calumny that Kronstadt was allied to the bourgeoisie and to the agrarian counterrevolution.
When Kouzmin, Commissar to the Baltic Fleet, had stated at the Kronstadt meeting of March 2nd that the Bolsheviks would not surrender power without a fight, he was saying the truth. Lenin must have laughed at this Commissar who obviously didn't understa.d the ABC of Bolshevik morality or tactics. Politically and morally one had to destroy the opponent--not argue with him using real arguments. And destroy its revolutionary opponents is exactly what the Bolshevik government did.
The Kronstadt rebels were a grey, amorphous mass. But such masses occasionally show an incredible level of political awareness. If there had been among them a number of men of 'higher' political understanding the insurrection might well never have taken place, for those men would have understood firstly that the demands of the rebels were in flagrant conflict with the policies of the Kremlin--and secondly that, at that particular moment in time, the government felt itself firmly enough in the saddle to shoot down, without pity or mercy, any tendency daring seriously to oppose its views or planr.
The men of Kronstadt were sincere but naive. Believing in the justness of their cause they did not foresee the tactics of their opponents. They waited for help from the rest of the country, whose demands they knew they were voicing. They lost sight of the fact that the rest of the country was already in the iron grip of a dictatorship which no longer allowed the people the free expression of its wishes and the free choice of its institutions.
The great ideological and political discussion between 'realists' and 'dreamers' between 'scientific socialists' and the 'revolutionary volnitza (8) was fought out, weapons in hand. It ended, in 1921, with the political and military defeat of the 'dreamers'. But Stalin was to prove to the whole world that this defeat was also the defeat of socialism, over a sixth of the earth's surface.
This article part of Ida Mett's 'The Kronstadt Co