Remember Kronstadt - Wildcat

Remember Kronstadt
Remember Kronstadt

Wildcat (UK) give a brief history of the Kronstadt fortress, from 1905 to 1921 on the 70th anniversary of the uprising (1991).

Submitted by libcom on January 3, 2006

The 70th anniversary of the suppression of the Kronstadt uprising coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union, giving us two convenient excuses to reexamine the Russian revolution. This brief history of the naval fortress-town in the Gulf of Finland gives us a particular viewpoint on the revolution itself: the viewpoint of some of its most combative participants.

Following the destruction of the fleet by the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905, Kronstadt joined the general uprising which swept the demoralised country. The first Kronstadt uprising in October 1905 was basically a large armed riot, accompanied by liberal political demands. The Tsarist autocracy managed to regain control after two days. Although the majority of Kronstadt's 13,000 sailors and soldiers participated in the uprising, only 208 were brought to trial. None were sentenced to death and only one to hard labour for life. This exceptionally lenient treatment was the result of the explicit solidarity offered by the workers of St. Petersburg who struck against the courts martial.

Kronstadt's second uprising took place in July 1906. The Socialist Revolutionaries and a few members of the Bolshevik Party convinced the rest of the Kronstadters that their parties would be able to organise a nationwide naval mutiny and then a revolution. It was totally unsuccessful, and brutally suppressed.

Directly after the debacle of the 1906 mutiny, the Minister of War received a letter from 71 sailors and 136 soldiers of Kronstadt who assembled in a forest and vowed to avenge their executed comrades. "...for every comrade soldier killed, we will hang three officers edgewise, and shoot another five" (I. Getzler, [24], p8).

Kronstadt's revolutionary tradition had begun.

Politically, Kronstadt was originally peasant-oriented. Land and Liberty were the main slogans. Following her humiliation by the Japanese, Russia resolved to build a modern fleet. From 1906, the Russian navy became increasingly composed of industrial workers who were capable of using and maintaining modern battleships, which had the effect of fusing the elemental aspirations of the peasantry with the class-conscious industrial proletariat.

The revolutionary spirit revived after the fall of Warsaw to the Germans on 4 August 1915, exactly one year into the First World War. Politically, patriotism was still on the ascendant, and the Kronstadt sailors mixed anti-German sentiments with their demands for better food and more humane treatment; many of their officers had German names. Nevertheless, the Kronstadters were miles ahead of the rest of the working class of Europe, who were busy killing each other. The demonstrations in Kronstadt in the summer of 1915 turned to mutiny in October. This was another failure.

As is usually the case when the barriers of discipline within the armed forces break down, the revolution in Kronstadt in February 1917 was rapid and violent. Sailors abstained from singing hymns with their officers, and refused en masse to reply when spoken to. Soldiers ordered to shoot the mutineers joined them instead, and Kronstadt joined the revolutionary soldiers and workers who were already in the process of destroying the Tsarist regime in Petrograd (the city's name had been Russified). They encountered little real resistance. The police ran, and most of the officers quickly saved their skins by surrendering. The revolutionaries shot Admiral Viren, another fifty officers, and around thirty police and police spies ([24], p24).

The working class now held power in Kronstadt. Whereas, throughout most of the country, the workers and soldiers tolerated an uneasy truce with the bourgeoisie, Kronstadt refused to recognise orders from the new Provisional Government. This defiance was to be its major strength for the next four years. A battleship would only sail from Kronstadt if the Soviet agreed to it.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Provisional Government of constitutional democrats, Mensheviks and Right SRs was able (just) to continue the war until October, the naval fort which guarded the approach to its capital was in a state of permanent mutiny through February, right through to October, and as we shall see, even after the Bolshevik revolution. Kronstadt effectively seceded from Russia. The soldiers and sailors refused to accept the authority of the Provisional Government, and it could do nothing about it. This was the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Although the primarily peasant Socialist Revolutionary Party was until May the majority party in the Kronstadt Soviet, the Kronstadt SRs were mainly of the party's left wing. These had the same war policy as the Bolsheviks: armistice on all fronts, publication of the secret treaties, and no annexations.

There was a non-Party group at Kronstadt, led by Anatolii Lamanov. According to Getzler [24], "it rejected party factionalism" and "stood for pure sovietism". In August 1917, it joined the Union of Socialist Revolutionaries-Maximalists. They sought an immediate agrarian and urban social revolution, calling for the "socialisation of power, of the land and of the factories" ([24] p135) to be organised by a federation of soviets based on direct elections and instant recall, as a first step towards socialism. They rejected parliamentarism in principle and were against political parties, though it is not clear in what way they did not constitute a party themselves. According to Getzler's account, they prefigured the council communist current. They urged workers to seize control of the factories, rather than merely exercising control over production while leaving ownership and management unchanged, as the Bolsheviks advocated.

The Anarchists were less influential. There were anarcho-syndicalists, allied to the Bolsheviks, and a more piratical group led by Bleikhman, who appeared at mass meetings bristling with guns and ammunition, advocating a bloody war of class vengeance.

The Kronstadt Soviet was less party-dominated than other Soviets, in particular the Petrograd Soviet, the most powerful institution in the country from March to October. The debates at Kronstadt were real debates, in which the deputies, even to some extent Bolshevik ones, decided the issues on their merits, rather than on the basis of the party line. This contrasts with Petrograd, where the real business of the Soviet had been worked out by the party whips, so that "the resolutions moved by the speaker were almost automatically adopted" (Liubovitch, cited in [24] p54).

Since no political fraction is always right, it is sensible to allow members to decide issues on the basis of the arguments, not on the basis of which party the speaker belongs to. There is however a tendency to take this argument too far. If parties have no monopoly of truth, neither do soviets. The soviet form of organisation is not intrinsically more likely to produce a communist programme than a political or any other kind of organisation. Kronstadt's 1921 slogan "All Power to the Soviets and not the Parties" is no formula for success: it ignores completely the question of reactionary soviets.

The Mensheviks at Kronstadt were also on the extreme left, joining the Menshevik Internationalists, who rejected the main Menshevik Party's participation in the government and support for the war.

It is worth mentioning at this point that this factional fluidity was not restricted to Kronstadt, nor to 1917. Different parts of parties frequently defied the official line on this or that issue, and the Bolsheviks were no exception. When Lenin returned to Russia in April 1917, he had to admonish Bolsheviks for defencism (support for Russia in the war against Germany). As [17] makes clear, no single party or faction represented the clear programme of revolution.

The Bolshevik party certainly played no role in the February revolution at Kronstadt, since it didn't exist. Its organisation had been completely smashed by the Okhrana secret police in September 1916. Bolshevik sympathisers participated as individuals or in league with the SRs, but had no organisational connection with each other. So in the first Kronstadt Soviet elections, the Bolsheviks gained only 11 deputies. In May, they became the largest party in the Soviet, with 96 delegates.

This is remarkable considering how badly the Bolsheviks had cocked up their first intervention at Kronstadt as an organised party after March, which Getzler describes as "aggressive and shrill", and was accompanied by the publication of self-serving lies in Pravda about how the Bolsheviks had pulled the revolution in Kronstadt together ([24] p42).

The Bolsheviks gained the upper hand by saying what the sailors and soldiers wanted to hear, and by being better organised than the other parties. For example, they said that the bourgeois-democratic revolution had just begun, and the socialist revolution was not on the agenda, whereas Lenin's April Theses [15] argued that the former was complete, and the latter about to commence.

Following the Provisional Government's declaration of unswerving allegiance to the Entente's war aims on 18 April, the Bolsheviks at Kronstadt turned sharply to the left, in line with Lenin's, and increasingly the Party's, views. They were thus able to put themselves at the head of the militant mobs when these put pressure on the Soviet for a more radical break with the government. They became, along with the left wing of the anarchists, the most consistent opponents of the Petrograd Soviet's coalition with the bourgeoisie.

This position - all power to the soviets and the overthrow of the government - enabled them to win the May Soviet elections. Kronstadt Bolsheviks were able to distinguish between soviets, and said that only the more radical soviets should take power, though in practice they supported the SR position of recognising the Petrograd Soviet, despite the latter's support for the government.

The Anarcho-Communists went one better: they refused to recognise the authority even of the Kronstadt Soviet. "We, as Anarcho-Communists, can support a power only to the extent that it executes our will" ([24] p76).

The Kronstadters as a whole embarrassed the Petrograd Soviet by recognising only its authority "in matters of state", implicitly urging it to stop propping up the Provisional Government. This provoked a crisis. The Kronstadt Bolsheviks supported the unilateral declaration of independence from the government, though Lenin rebuked them for failing to consult the Central Committee first: for such breaches of discipline, he warned, "we shall shoot!".

The war continued. But it became increasingly difficult for the Provisional Government to mobilise men for the front. At the beginning of July, according to Trotsky ([14], 2, p6), "the offensive... was dying in convulsions". The June offensive had failed. Anti-war agitation of all sorts continued at the front and in the rear, despite desperate attempts to suppress it.

It was their anti-war policy - a just peace, with no annexations - that gave the Bolsheviks their complete victory in the Kronstadt Soviet on 23 June when it debated the Kerensky offensive. The Left SRs and Menshevik-Internationalists, as well as the Maximalists and Anarchists, agreed with the Bolsheviks' anti-war message, but it was the Bolsheviks who were the best organised propagandists in its favour.

The central importance of organisation - but not of centralised party discipline - is demonstrated by Getzler's account of how Raskolnikov and the other Kronstadt Bolsheviks ensured not only Kronstadt's participation in the July Days, but their leadership of it. The impressively-named Petrograd Machine-Gunners had come to Kronstadt to ask for support for a massive armed demonstration on 4 July. The Bolsheviks and their anarchist allies were quite clear that this was to be a campaign for the overthrow of the government.

Using techniques which are familiar to anyone who encounters their epigones in the class struggle today, the Bolsheviks packed a non-quorate meeting of the Soviet Executive Committee with "some 30 unverified representatives of armed units" ([24], p113), and then used their domination of this meeting to organise the arming and transportation of Kronstadters to Petrograd. But the rascally Raskolnikov and his comrades did something today's Leninists would never have the audacity to do. Telephoning the Bolshevik Central Committee, he told them he was unable to hold back the masses, whereas he hadn't even tried, but rather had done everything in his power to ensure Kronstadt's participation in the July days under Bolshevik leadership. This had the effect of galvanizing the Central Committee into action (see "The Hunt for Red October"). When the 10-12,000 armed men of Kronstadt arrived in Petrograd, the Bolsheviks led them straight to HQ at Smolny. First, Bolshevik speakers tried to persuade them to go home ([14], 2, p21). When this didn't work, the Bolsheviks bored them with speeches and lined them up behind the banner of the Central Committee.

Those who propose democratic solutions to the manoeuvres of today's leftist parties should think again. What was right and wrong about Raskolnikov moving the goalposts on 3 and 4 July coincides in no way to what was democratic or undemocratic about it. For a minority to outmanoeuvre its more conservative opponents by bending the rules in order to achieve a step forward in the class struggle is a fine thing.

It is the content of an organisation's activity that counts, not its form. For example, packing meetings is not in itself reactionary, but claiming that participants are valid because they have been elected is. It depends on what they are doing - are they sidestepping an obstacle in the class struggle or creating one? Raskolnikov's creative approach to party discipline - acting first, then informing the leadership - is a useful counter-example to advocates of military hierarchy as the model for organisation.

The same applies to the larger example of the October uprising. The fact that the Military Revolutionary Committee did not wait for the Congress of Soviets to endorse the attack on the provisional government before acting is not a sin. Our critique is of the Bolshevik Party's capitalist programme.

The July Days ended in failure. The Kronstadters were not all veterans, and when someone fired at the demo, panic broke out. Their lack of confidence is shown by this episode and by their behaviour outside the Tauride Palace, the seat of the Petrograd Soviet Executive Committee, where Trotsky and the Bolsheviks managed to rescue the SR minister Chernov from lynching by the Kronstadters. In a speech which sounds ironic in the light of his more critical evaluation four years later, Trotsky addressed the sailors as the "pride and glory of the Russian revolution", and went on to persuade them to free "comrade Chernov".

Could the working class have seized power in July? Trotsky, in [14] 2, looks at the situation on the Russo-German Front, quoting a representative letter from a soldier. The soldier threatens to bayonet the Provisional Government, but says "we don't understand very well about parties". According to Trotsky, the army "mutinied constantly, but was far from ready to raise an insurrection in order to give power to the Bolshevik Party" (p 70). He then admits that in many other areas of the country, the Soviets were ready to take power. He adds that, immediately after the suppression of the July demonstrations, news came through from the front that the June offensive had collapsed. This would certainly have aided an insurrection had one been tried. Finally, the Bolsheviks' opposition to the demonstrations significantly reduced the chance of an uprising. Trotsky candidly explains how the Bolsheviks acted as a "firehose" during the hot summer of 1917 (see "The Hunt for Red October").

He argues that the Bolsheviks urged restraint in July in case they would be blamed for causing the collapse of the war offensive. But, he admits, they were blamed in any case. The offensive had already collapsed, this was already known in the capital, and would have been more widely known had the Bolsheviks publicised it. The working class had every interest in undermining the war effort, and openly boasting of the demoralising effect of its unpatriotic action. The ease with which the working class deflected Kornilov's attempted coup shows how much power it still had directly after the July counter-revolution.

Trotsky was only interested in whether the workers could have put the Bolsheviks in power in July. In spite of weaknesses on the proletarian side, the government was weaker. The class could have smashed the Provisional Government. One of the things which stopped them is the Bolsheviks.

In spite of major downturns, the proletariat had power between February and October, but consistently failed to use it to destroy the power of capital. Even after October, the soviets were the power in the land, together with the factory committees and to some extent peasant committees. Inasmuch as they gave this power to the reactionary leadership of the Bolsheviks, they undermined their own. The Brest-Litovsk treaty with Germany in 1918 was certainly an error by the working class - the soviets were persuaded to accept Lenin's argument for peace with imperialism. Although the soviets weren't ideal means for representing the will of the class, there is no reason to believe better forms would have had a markedly different content.

The July Days finished in fiasco, but not in rout. The government were only able to institute the mildest counter-revolution at Kronstadt: two of the Bolshevik leaders were arrested, red flags were taken down, and the imprisoned tsarist officers (held by Kronstadt since February) were handed over. When General Brusilov, the commander-in-chief, suggested the disarmament of Kronstadt, and its bombardment in the event of resistance, Kerensky desisted, realising he just didn't have the men. Kronstadt was still in a state of permanent mutiny, during the darkest hour of the post-July reaction. The first commandant of the fort appointed by the provisional government turned out to be mentally unbalanced, and was simply laughed at until he was recalled. The government then appointed a more sympathetic commandant, a left SR who immediately accepted the Soviet. On 17 July Kronstadt gave its traditional welcome to the Assistant Minister for the navy, Lieutenant Lebedev, who narrowly escaped a beating.

The Bolsheviks suffered a temporary setback in popularity at Kronstadt following July. Lenin had abandoned "All Power to the Soviets" because of the Menshevik predominance in the Petrograd Soviet. This slogan was taken up by the Union of SR-Maximalists. However, he reintroduced it when his party gained a majority in the Soviets.

Kronstadt played a key role in the October 25 uprising, storming the Winter Palace, arresting the provisional government and defending Petrograd against the attempted comeback by Kerensky. Approximately 4,000 Kronstadters constituted nearly 40% of the naval force which in turn made up the bulk of the Petrograd Soviet's team on the day. The Bolsheviks rewarded their loyalty in March 1921.

The back-stabbing started immediately after October. The Kronstadt Bolsheviks helped the central government undermine workers' power on the island. They opposed the election of a commissar to "liaise" with Petrograd, supporting the Soviet constitution of June 1918 which subordinated local Soviets to the "corresponding higher organs of Soviet power", in other words to the capitalist state. The Bolsheviks had an easier time suppressing the other parties in Russia than at Kronstadt. Kronstadt had an "Investigation Commission" which originally looked into the cases of the tsarist officers. By 1918, its main role was to combat drunkenness. The Bolsheviks wanted to give it much more policing power on the pretext that it needed to "totally root out all gambling" (crack hadn't been invented). The Maximalists opposed the policy, as in March the entire Investigation Commission had been arrested by the Soviet Executive for taking bribes. Corruption was one of the main targets of Kronstadt's "third revolution" in March 1921.

Kronstadt was a little town as well as a naval fortress, with various factories and workshops. Like most of the military substructure of Russia, this industry was state-owned, and was therefore easy to transfer to local soviet then to Soviet state control.

However Kronstadt went further than implementing state capitalism and calling it socialism. The Kronstadters, unlike the Bolshevik government, had some idea of socialising the economy as opposed to nationalising it, for example, in 1918 they socialised housing, and distributed it on the basis of need.

The Bolsheviks and Mensheviks formed a united front against the abolition of private property in housing, and its replacement with management committees elected by tenants. The Bolsheviks, acting on instructions from SovNarKom, used various delaying tactics to try to avoid discussing the issue and implementing socialisation at Kronstadt, arguing that they should wait for Lenin to issue a decree on the subject. They were outvoted by the Left SRs, Maximalists and anarchists. A few Bolsheviks who voted for socialisation were expelled from the party.

Housing was reorganised so everyone had roughly the same amount of space, in place of the tremendous inequality which had prevailed before 1918. The Bolsheviks defended privilege against the first tentative steps towards communism, in Kronstadt as everywhere else.

Unfortunately, our main source on this question, Voline, a leading authority on anarchism, is concerned solely with the democratic forms which socialisation took. House Committees sent delegates to Street Committees, then came the District Committees, the Borough Committees, and finally the City Committee ([11] p457). The militia was also democratically elected. These democratic, libertarian policemen "functioned admirably", of course, along with all the other public services. But one day, along came the wicked Bolsheviks, who subverted the autonomous administration and replaced it by "a mechanical statist organisation controlled by officials" ([11] p458). This misses the central point, that the Bolshevik appointed police served the interests of capitalism, by defending the state, which was opposing the tentative communist movement.

The Kronstadt Soviet was itself constantly pressurised by mass meetings, generally held in Anchor Square. For example, on 25 May 1917, a large crowd, inspired by Bolshevik and anarchist speakers, marched to the Naval Assembly and forced the leaders of the Soviet to rescind their agreement with the more moderate Petrograd Soviet. The more reactionary elements were often manhandled by mobs. Kronstadt's hagiographers tend to downplay the less democratic aspects of the fortress's daily life. If we knew more, we would redress the balance.

On 18 April 1918, the Kronstadt Soviet denounced the Moscow Soviet's round-up of anarchists. The Bolsheviks had a struggle to exert control. This appeared to be over when the 5th Congress of Soviets purged the Left SR's in July following the assassination of the German ambassador and their attempt to organise peasant uprisings. Kronstadt's Left SR's were expelled from the Soviet, giving the Bolsheviks a solid majority. The Menshevik Party, its hands stained with workers' rather than diplomats' blood, was allowed to organise until the end of 1920.

As the civil war progressed, the rule of the Communist Party at Kronstadt became more and more repressive, bureaucratic, paranoid and arbitrary. The more strident its propaganda, though, the more evident its fragility. The country was in chaos, and the Communists blamed each other as well as everyone else. Undoubtedly, the white and foreign armies helped finish off the revolution, strengthening the Bolshevik dictatorship. However, the communist tradition at Kronstadt had been suppressed by the Bolsheviks, its rank-and-file committees replaced by party ones, and its debates by histrionic propaganda issued from the Soviet government, before it was put in the front line of the civil war by Yudenich's White North-Western Army in May 1919.

The third revolution of 1921 was not primarily a response to conditions at Kronstadt. It was not chiefly motivated by Communist Party dictatorship at the fortress, despite the opulent lifestyle openly enjoyed by the apparatchiks at Kronstadt and in Petrograd, compared with the relative austerity imposed on the sailors and soldiers. Kronstadt was, from the start of the civil war, a holiday camp compared to the rest of Russia, in which millions died of starvation. In the countryside, the only way out for many people was to become corrupt Communist Party officials. Kronstadters on leave couldn't avoid noticing the contrast between the ideals of socialism and the reality. Soldier Egorov described how the Communists "lorded it over us in a manner never before permitted to any except the village policemen of tsarist days" and "took the bread not from those they should have taken it from, but only from those who were not their friends", and "went on the train and, sheltering behind the word 'requisition', robbed everyone of whatever took their fancy, but spared the speculators - this fact was obvious".

"An analysis of 211 complaints that had arrived in the Complaints Bureau of the Politotdel [Political Committee] of the Baltic Fleet by the end of 1920, many lodged by the crews of the "Petropavlovsk", the "Sevastopol" and the minelayer "Narova", has shown that the abuses of provincial authorities, the injustice of forced grain collections and illegal requisitioning provided the major focus of discontent." ([24], p209).

Conditions in the countryside fanned the Kronstadters' discontent, but it was contact with the Petrograd industrial proletariat which sparked off the uprising.

Faction fighting within the Communist Party led to the virtual collapse of its supposedly iron discipline at Kronstadt at the beginning of 1921. One third of party workers on the island left during 1920 ([24], p211). Unauthorised sailors' meetings began to take place in February 1921, at the same time as strikes against austerity in Petrograd. The government introduced martial law and made mass arrests. The Kronstadters, defying the commissars, sent a delegation. Most workers were too terrorised by the Cheka to speak. One did, and told the delegation of the starvation and repression which the workers had to endure, and of the demand for new soviets. This demand was backed by the Mensheviks. The party which had supported the war and the Provisional Government now called for new soviet elections to bring the state into the hands of the toilers, and the true realisation of "the workers' democracy" ([24], p213). Reactionary parties always support some of the workers' demands in any struggle against capitalism so as not to become totally discredited. The Kronstadters returned to the battleship Petropavlovsk and adopted 15 resolutions:

"1. That in view of the fact that the present Soviets do not express the will of the workers and peasants, new elections by secret ballot be held immediately, with free preliminary propaganda for all workers and peasants before the elections;

2. freedom of speech and press for workers and peasants, anarchists and left socialist parties;

3. freedom of assembly for trade unions and peasant associations;

4. that a non-party conference of workers, Red Army soldiers and sailors of Petrograd, Kronstadt and Petrograd Province be convened not later than 10 March 1921;

5. the liberation of all political prisoners of socialist parties, as well as all workers and peasants, Red Army soldiers and sailors imprisoned in connection with the working-class and peasant movements;

6. the election of a commission to review the cases of those who are held in jails and concentration camps;

7. the abolition of all political departments because no single party should have special privileges in the propaganda of its ideas and receive funds from the state for this purpose; instead of these departments, locally funded cultural-educational commissions should be established, to be financed by the state;

8. that all roadblock detachments [to prevent food smuggling] be removed immediately;

9. the equalisation of the rations of all toilers, with the exception of those working in trades injurious to health;

10. the abolition of the Communist fighting detachments in all military units, as well as various Communist guards kept on duty in factories and plants; should such guards or detachments be needed, they could be chosen from the companies in military units, and at the discretion of the workers in factories and plants;

11. that the peasants be given the right and freedom of action to do as they please with all the land and also the right to have cattle which they themselves must maintain and manage, that is without the use of hired labour;

12. we request all military units, as well as the comrades kursanty (military cadets) to endorse our resolution;

13. we demand that all resolutions be widely published in the press;

14. we demand the appointment of a travelling bureau for control;

15. we demand that free handicraft production by one's own labour be permitted." ([24], pp213-214).

Some of these demands, if granted, would have aided the proletariat. Those that wouldn't, would hardly have made the situation worse. A wider movement of the class at that time would not have overthrown capitalism, but it would have weakened it, and demoralised the shaky Leninist regime, making it harder for the Party to raise its blood-stained flag over the corpse of the revolution. There is always a class struggle, and it is always worth fighting. This refutes those who try to take a neutral position on the class war at Kronstadt, on the grounds that the uprising could not have succeeded. This includes most of the left communist groups, for example the Internationalist Communist Party [4].


The PCInt. realise there was something amiss in Russia. "In the factories the odious methods of Taylorism were returning in order to increase efficiency and production". This refers to the introduction of time-and-motion schemes. But these methods weren't introducing themselves, they were being imposed on the working class by the Bolshevik government. The chief advocate of Taylorism was the head of government, the PCInt's hero, Lenin. In a similar jeu de mots, they say "a hierarchical order was reinstalled" in the Baltic Fleet after 1917, "annulling the revolutionary spirit which the Bolsheviks had been responsible for introducing". As can be seen from our account, the Bolsheviks had had nothing to do with the revolutionary spirit of the fleet, other than the introduction of the hierarchical order which "annulled" it.

You would have to be very athletic to sit on the fence over such a clear-cut battle of class against class, and the PCInt. don't quite manage it. First they try to use the aftermath of the revolt to smear the rebels. The leaders, they say,

"though to the left of the communist party in words, took refuge in Finland once the revolt was suppressed, and fell into (or more accurately re-entered) the arms of the counter-revolution, with whom they shared ideas and positions."

But the Communist Party didn't merely share ideas and positions with the counter-revolution, it was its main instrument. The fact that the survivors fled to Finland is hardly surprising: there was nowhere else to go. In defence of their attempted neutrality, the PCInt. plead the complicated nature of the situation: the insurgents had various confused ideas. But what proletarian movement doesn't? The Kronstadt program contains various confusions, such as belief in democracy, but when thousands of workers take up arms against a corrupt police state which jails strikers, decimates soldiers and exiles revolutionaries, this is class war. At no point in their analysis of Kronstadt do these Marxist-Leninists use class as a category. Yet they accuse the anarchists of precisely this failing: "... social conflict, rather than being seen as a dispute between classes, is depicted as a dispute between two opposing tendencies; authority on the one hand and liberty on the other."

The Bolsheviks suppressed the anarchist groups in Moscow in April 1918, not because of their idealist conception of history, but because of their opposition to capitalism. The anarchists and the SR-Maximalists clearly saw the Kronstadt revolt as a struggle of the proletariat against capital.

At one point in its failed attempt to sit on the fence, the PCInt. tries to stand on both sides at once. It admits that the uprising was revolutionary, then says that the Bolsheviks considered the uprising to be "simply a conspiracy by Entente spies" (p33). Lenin knew that the Kronstadters were neither for the Bolsheviks nor the counter-revolution but they were "taken advantage of by skilful international centres of counter-revolution". Finally, it quotes Victor Serge: "Insurgent Kronstadt was not counter-revolutionary, but its victory would have led inexorably to the counter-revolution". To summarise, the Italians argue that the Kronstadt uprising was revolutionary, counter-revolutionary, and neither. We hope nobody thinks we have deliberately chosen this article in order to make our own analysis look clearer.

They can't hide in no-man's-land for ever.

"The Russian emigres, indirectly supported by the imperialist forces of the Entente, were plotting. Plotting and scheming too were the provocateurs inside the revolt. Given these last two points, the repression of the revolt - even if it opened up a chapter of deep agony in the workers' movement, had more than enough reasons to justify itself." ([4], p35).

We prefer the position of the Trotskyists, who are at least honest about the need to take sides.

Back to reality. Kalinin, chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of Soviets, addressed the mass meeting called by the Communist Party at Kronstadt on March 1st. Kalinin pleaded with the sailors, soldiers and civilians to give the people's government a chance to repair the economy, and not to listen to Mensheviks, white guardists, and other enemies of the revolution. Like Ceausescu in 1989, he was heckled off the rostrum. The uprising had begun.

It was too late for party hacks to flatter the "pride and glory of the Russian revolution". New Soviet elections were held, and not a single Communist won. The Petropavlovsk resolutions became Kronstadt's manifesto. The senior military commanders, some of them old tsarist officers who had been placed in charge of Kronstadt by the Communist Party, agreed to serve as specialists under the orders of the Provisional Revolutionary Committee and under the close control of elected rank-and-file committees. Whilst Lenin allowed himself the luxury of arguing that the Kronstadters wanted only to "correct Bolshevik policy", though this put them objectively on the side of the white guards, Trotsky, as head of the Red Army, simply said that the Kronstadters were controlled by white guard tsarist generals. This is a lie for two reasons. Firstly the ex-tsarist officers were not white guards, and secondly, they were controlled by the Kronstadters, not the other way round. Whereas Trotsky, when he put the ex-tsarist officers in charge in March 1918, had abolished sailors' and soldiers' control by decree.

The Communist response to the third revolution is well known. Red Kronstadt had become a white guard, Black Hundred, right-wing, Left-SR counter-revolution. Kronstadt was militarily isolated to prevent links with the mainland being maintained. The Communists' fear of the solidarity shown by the Petropavlovskii for Petrograd was also demonstrated by their sudden concessions to the latter, who received food and clothing. The Red Army prepared to shoot the Kronstadt revolutionaries down "like partridges", and at the 10th Party Congress, delegates, including Kollontai's Workers' Opposition and the left communists, clamoured and volunteered for its suppression.

The politics of the SR-Maximalists rapidly became dominant at Kronstadt again: "All Power to Soviets and not to Parties" was the watchword broadcast by Radio Petropavlovsk. "To All.. To All.. To All.. Our cause is just: we stand for the power of Soviets and not parties". They stood for the legalisation only of "left-wing socialist parties". They rejected right-wing forces, and the support of Russian emigre newspapers which reinforced Communist lies by claiming that the ex-tsarist general Kozlovsky was in charge. When Chernov (the Right-SR leader roughed up in July 1917) promised military aid if the Kronstadters would support a Constituent Assembly with himself as chairman, it was rejected by a large majority.

Ironically, Kozlovsky's military advice might have saved many of the Kronstadters, but they refused to attack the supply depot at Oranienbaum, relying on a policy of "passive defence" and waiting for a Soviet revolution to occur on the mainland. But the working class as a whole was too demoralised to fight. Instead of a delegation of workers, Kronstadt woke up on 17 March to find a delegation from the 10th Party Congress, accompanied by 45-50,000 troops, advancing across the ice. Whereas in 1905 the Kronstadters were rescued by the Petrograd workers, by 1921 the counter-revolution had taken its toll, and the bloody suppression of the mutiny was totally successful. The last sparks of the Russian revolution were snuffed out. Capitalism had finally found the regime it needed. Only now has the Leninist counter-revolution served its purpose.

One-quarter of the delegates from the Party Congress (279), plus 2,758 additional party volunteers, stiffened the resolve of the Red Army battallions. They realised that ordinary Red Army soldiers were unreliable in a battle against Red Kronstadt; many had to be "driven at gunpoint onto the ice" ([24], p243). Communist Party members suffered up to 80% losses in dead and wounded; greater than the number of Kronstadters killed in the battle of March 17th-18th or subsequently executed. Now the system they died for has itself undergone a terminal experience.


[1] From the Bourgeois to the Proletarian Revolution, Otto Ruhle, Revolutionary Perspectives, 1974 (out of print).
[2] 1789 and All That, Wildcat no. 13, London, 1989.
[3] Notes on Class Struggle in the USSR, Red Menace, London, 1989.
[4] Kronstadt 1921: An Analysis of a Popular Uprising in Russia at the Time of Lenin, Revolutionary Perspectives no. 23, 1986.
[5] The Petrograd Workers and the Soviet Seizure of Power, D. Mandel, MacMillan 1984.
[6] The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control, M. Brinton, Solidarity, London, 1970.
[7] Factory Committees and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, C. Goodey, Critique no. 3, Glasgow, 1973.
[8] Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?, V.I. Lenin, Selected Works, 4, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1950.
[9] "Left-Wing" Communism, an Infantile Disorder, V.I. Lenin, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1950.
[10] The Bolshevik Revolution, 2, E.H. Carr, Penguin, London, 1966.
[11] The Unknown Revolution, Voline, Black Rose Books, Montreal, 1975.
[12] The Russian Enigma, A. Ciliga, Ink Links, London, 1979.
[13] History of the Makhnovist Movement 1918-1921, P. Arshinov, Black & Red, Detroit, 1974.
[14] The History of the Russian Revolution, L. Trotsky, Pathfinder, New York, 1980 [3 vols. in one].
[15] The April Theses, V.I. Lenin, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1951.
[16] The State and Revolution, V.I. Lenin, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1976.
[17] Clarity and Unity in the Russian Revolution, Communist Bulletin no. 10, Aberdeen, 1987.
[18] A Documentary History of Communism, 1, ed. R.V. Daniels, Tauris & Co., London, 1985.
[19] Theses of the Left Communists, N. Bukharin et. al., Critique, Glasgow, 1977.
[20] The Russian Revolution, 1, W.H. Chamberlain, Grosset and Dunlap, New York.
[21] The Workers' Opposition, A. Kollontai, Solidarity, London.
[22] The Conscience of the Revolution, R.V. Daniels, Harvard University Press, 1960.
[23] Open Letter to Comrade Lenin, H. Gorter, Wildcat, London, 1989.
[24] Kronstadt 1917-1921 - the Fate of a Soviet Democracy, I. Getzler, Cambridge University Press, 1983.