Wildcat UK #15 Autumn 1991

15th issue of Wildcat.

Submitted by Fozzie on December 23, 2018

Ozimandias - Review: Against His-story! Against Leviathan! by Fredy Perlman - Wildcat (UK)


Review: Against His-story! Against Leviathan! by Fredy Perlman, Black & Red, Detroit 1983.

Against His-story! is an attempt to take opposition to Progress to its logical conclusion. So is this belated review.

Perlman summarises the whole history of Civilisation from the viewpoint of its victims: we, the "zeks", free people who were enslaved then taught to identify with the enslaving monster: Leviathan.

Submitted by Red Marriott on April 24, 2009


Civilisation, the antithesis of community, is only 5,000 years old. Communities existed in the New World for thousands of years without either "giving rise to" or becoming part of, the Civilisations of the Aztecs and Incas, which shrank. Civilisations did not arise inevitably because of the development of the productive forces. People have always tried to fight Civilization. So why did it arise, how did it spread and dominate the world, and why didn't communities stop it?

The minority which created Civilisation did so initially, not in a place where the productive forces were rich, but where they were poor, and where Nature was harsh: Mesopotamia. The Sumerians had to build waterworks, so expertise and eventually kings developed. When the waterworks of Lagash overflowed into those of Ur, the king of Ur, or Lugal, persuaded his people to attack Lagash, and basically ended up enslaving its inhabitants and forcing them to rebuild both sets of waterworks, by now a full-time activity.

Communities try to resist Civilisation in various ways. But to form permanent military alliances, which is what is needed to seriously threaten the monster, is to turn these communities into a new Civilisation. Walled cities need a permanent wall-building proletariat. What was a free activity becomes compulsory. What Civilisation touches turns to stone. People internalise compulsion. They become "armored", to use Perlman's term, creating morality and guilt.

Other communities ran away. The modern Leviathan is just now wiping out the very last of them in New Guinea and the Amazon. People have always tried to escape. Leviathans perpetually decompose. Hence the ruins in deserts and jungles. One of the most spectacular examples of decomposition Perlman describes is the decay of French colonialism, stretched out across the fur trails of North America, losing hunters and traders to the existing communities, until the British wiped them out. The first proletarian uprising in American history was the one led by Francisco Roldan against Columbus in 1498. Roldan and a mob of ex-convicts from Spain overthrew the government in Santo Domingo, and ran off into the hills to join the natives, fighting against Civilisation, which they knew from personal experience was far worse than the alternative. There were also tendencies toward primitive communism among English Americans: hence the New England witch trials.

Perlman's critique of religion is more penetrating than Marx's. Moses' God was simply Leviathan made abstract. His program was a "declaration of war against all Life": "Replenish the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth".

There were numerous genuine primitivist crisis cults in the decomposing Roman Leviathan. Christianity was Civilisation's way of recuperating and suppressing them. Christianity is not, as Marxists have argued, the essential capitalist religion. Perlman explains how Islam was the midwife of mercantile capitalism. Arab merchants taught Europeans commerce, maths, etc., and they have never been given credit for this. Capitalism grew, not out of the burghs of mediaeval Europe but out of the trading networks imported by Islam's imitators. There is no God but Value, and Mohammed is his Profit.

The antithesis of Civilisation, communism, has always been possible. There is a constant tendency toward communist revolution: 4th century Persia, 16th century Germany. The aim of the revolution is to destroy the productive forces, not to develop them. Decadence is not a stage in the development of Civilisation, but a permanent tendency to decompose, the result of the invariant struggle of slaves against private property and the state. Progress is the result of a disruption of cyclical time. Our struggle reasserts invariant, cyclical time against progressive, linear time. Civilisation is not inevitable, but it is a permanent danger, and primitive communities' myths warn them against it.

Myths such as Dream Time, Eden and the Golden Age when "They dwelt in ease and peace upon their lands with many good things, rich in flocks and loved by the blessed gods" (Hesiod) are humanity's memories of pre-Civilisation. Leviathan's myths are lies. Here is an example:

"Changes in the economy freed part of the population from the need to engage in subsistence farming, more men now became available to pursue other tasks (i.e. crafts, defence, religious life, administration and technology)" (Penguin Atlas of World History, Vol. 1).

Became available to whom? The Penguin Atlas continues:

"The centralisation of the state and the hierarchical ordering of society into sharply differentiated classes (rulers, priests, warriors, officials, craftsmen, traders, peasants, slaves) enabled the Egyptians to solve the problems which confronted every riverine civilisation".

This is literally nonsense. The division into classes makes the phrase "the Egyptians" meaningless. "The Egyptians" did not differentiate themselves into slaves and torturers in order to solve their common problems. The slaves were enslaved. From this point on, to talk of humanity solving its problems, is to peddle the discourse of the State.

The evidence discovered since Engels' The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884) derived from the racist anthropologist Morgan, shows that primitive peoples did not generally live in scarcity, nor were they cannibals. It was not the increase in the wealth of society which allowed Civilisation to emerge. It emerged in an area of scarcity, whereas Native Americans often lived in abundance, and, according to Perlman, consciously rejected the Civilisations on offer. This is hardly surprising. Civilisation has made more and more people more and more miserable for five thousand years.

Perlman's uncritical description of Native American communities should not be swallowed whole. According to one of his main inspirations, FW Turner, scarcity, competition, warfare, intolerance and torture did exist among pre-Columbian Indians (see The Portable North American Indian Reader). Perlman manages to paint a glaringly black-and-white picture of community and Civilisation. European Civilisation introduced the horse into Native America. On the other hand, it exterminated the beneficiaries of this development. Some white supremacists used Morgan's stages theory as an excuse. Nathan Meeker founded a cooperative concentration camp for the Ute Indians in Colorado, which he believed would raise them from savagery through the pastoral stage to barbarism, then to "the enlightened, scientific, and religious stage" (Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, p372). Sounds familiar? The ideologists of the frontier didn't need historical materialism. Christianity served their genocidal purposes adequately. The ignorant savages, unwilling to be elevated into barbarians, killed Meeker in 1879.

Perlman dismisses the progressist ideas of Marx's Preface to A Critique of Political Economy as "moronic". Capitalism doesn't "develop the productive forces", it creates capitalist "productive forces" and "relations of production". "The so-called material conditions are Leviathan's garments, not the ground it stands on." Perlman is right to point out that the productive forces do not exist apart from their social form, and that the latter give rise to the former, not vice-versa. But his dismissal of Marx is a trifle brusque. He makes no attempt to give a balanced assessment of Marx and Engels' contribution.

Engels' position was ambiguous. Although he saw the state as a weapon of one class against another, he also believed it "arose from the need to hold class antagonisms in check". The concept of the "needs of society" implies some neutral force apart from the two antagonistic classes:

"At a certain stage of economic development, which necessarily involved the split of society into classes, the state became a necessity because of this split. We are now rapidly reaching a stage in the development of production at which the existence of these classes has not only ceased to be a necessity but becomes a positive hindrance to production. They will fall just as inevitably as they arose at an earlier stage."

Perlman confidently invites his readers to reexamine the theory of stages to see whether he has caricatured it. He hasn't. The argument that Civilization is an inevitable stage in the development of the productive forces is just as dangerous as the old chestnut about it being "human nature". To deny alternatives to Civilization's program of war against nature and peoples is to be an accomplice to their physical destruction. To those who say Marx developed a less progressist position (for example Teodor Shanin in Late Marx and the Russian Road), I would reply that it's a shame he didn't do it earlier. Nevertheless, it is simplistic to identify the whole of Marx's work with some of his, and especially Engels', mistakes. Perlman gives the impression that nothing good has happened since the state first arose in Sumer, and that non-civilised people were just as Hesiod described them. If the only alternative to life under Civilization is the "Stone Age", a life of hunting, screwing, being at one with Nature, etc., there is no question which is preferable.

Women in particular were better off before Civilisation, which has systematically stripped them of the power they used to have. But some technologies which have been developed during the last 5,000 years could be inherited by communism. No doubt the idea of a centralised world administration will be rejected. There will be a large degree of self-sufficiency. Without the waste of capitalism, the world could easily support its current population. The Stone Age couldn't. The population figure will depend entirely on how many children women choose to have and how much effort people are prepared to put into raising them (see How Deep is Deep Ecology? by George Bradford).

Perlman's arrogance is infectious. He dispatches Marxism in a couple of pages, the concept of "bourgeois revolutions" in one sentence. His method of dealing with anyone he doesn't like involves its own totalitarian circular logic. His critics are dismissed as "armored". People who want some positive evidence before accepting his conclusions are guard dogs of the Leviathanic order. Perlman's anti-history is so all-explanatory, covering the whole of history in 300 pages, there must be a danger of Against His-story! eventually becoming a new bible for a political dogma, the fate which befell Situationist theory.

An eclectic approach is needed to avoid this dead end. In learning from the culture of primitive peoples, we are not obliged to abandon everything which has been developed since the waterworks of Mesopotamia.

RB, 8 September 1991.




15 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by 888 on April 25, 2009

Ah, so Wildcat (UK) were already primitivist nutters in 1991? I thought their brains atrophied later than that.


15 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by nastyned on April 25, 2009

Wildcat were still interesting then, but this was the start of their decline.


6 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Spikymike on February 7, 2018

Fredy Perlman produced some interesting stuff in his time but it's perhaps worth mentioning that the Wildcat(UK) group went through two phases that were quite distinct in some ways - this being a product of the second phase. The demise of the original group is referenced here:
https://libcom.org/library/communist-bulletin-issue-13-spring-1988 (see p.33 of pdf)

Ten days that shook Iraq - inside information from an uprising, by Wildcat (UK)

An account of the uprisings in Southern Iraq and Kurdistan in 1990-91 which involved large numbers of mutinous troops who had deserted during the Kuwait Gulf War. The uprisings were crushed by Saddam, with the complicity of US and Allied forces.

Submitted by libcom on December 1, 2005

Read a short history of the Gulf War on libcom.org/history

The following text was published as a four page leaflet in 1991 and was one of the first sources of information in English about the uprisings in Southern Iraq and Kurdistan. It was later published in the magazine 'Wildcat'.

The Gulf war was not ended by the military victory of America and the Allies. It was ended by the mass desertion of thousands of Iraqi soldiers. So overwhelming was the refusal to fight for the Iraqi state on the part of its conscripted army that, contrary to all predictions, not one Allied soldier was killed by hostile fire in the final ground offensive to recapture Kuwait. Indeed the sheer scale of this mutiny is perhaps unprecedented in modern military history.

But these mutinous troops did not simply flee back to Iraq. On their return many of them turned their guns against the Iraqi state, sparking a simultaneous uprising in both Southern Iraq and in Kurdistan to the North. Only the central region of Iraq surrounding Baghdad remained firmly in the state's hands in the weeks following the end of the war.

From the very start the Western media has grossly misrepresented these uprisings. The uprising in the South, centred on Basra, was portrayed as a Shia Muslim revolt. Whereas the insurrection in the North was reported as an exclusively Kurdish Nationalist uprising which demanded little more than an autonomous Kurdish region within Iraq.

The truth is that the uprisings in both the North and South of Iraq were proletarian insurrections.

Basra is one of the most secular areas in the Middle East. Almost no one goes to the mosques in Basra. The radical traditions in this area are not those of Islamic fundamentalism but rather those of Arab Nationalism and Stalinism. The Iraqi Communist Party is the only bourgeois party with any significant influence in this region. The cities of Basra, Nasriah and Hilah have long been known as the region of the Communist Party and have a long history of open rebellion against both religion and the state. The "Iraqi" working class has always been one of the most troublesome in a volatile region.

In the North, there is little sympathy for the Nationalist parties - the KDP and the PUK - and their peshmergas (guerrilla movements) due to the repeated failure of their compromises with the Iraqi state. This is particularly true in the Sulaimania area. The inhabitants of the area have been especially hostile to the Nationalists since the Halabja massacre. Following the chemical attack by the Iraqi air force against deserters and civilians in the city of Halabja in 1988, the peshmergas initially prevented people from fleeing and then went on to pillage and rape those who survived the massacre. As a result, many villagers have long since refused to feed or shelter nationalist peshmergas. As in the South, the Communist Party and its peshmergas are more popular.

The uprising in the North was not nationalist. In the early stages Ba'athist officials and secret police were executed, police files were destroyed and the prisons stormed. People were openly hostile to the bourgeois policies of the Kurdish Nationalists. In Sulaimania the Nationalist peshmergas were excluded from the city and the exiled leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Jalal Talabani, was prevented from returning to his home town. When the Kurdish Democratic Party leader, Massoud Barzani, went to Chamcharnal, near to Sulaimania, he was attacked and two of his bodyguards were killed. When the Nationalists broadcast the slogan: "Now's the time to kill the Ba'athists!" the people of Sulaimania replied with the slogan: "Now's the time for the Nationalists to loot Porsches!", meaning that the Nationalists were only interested in looting.

A revolutionary group, "Communist Perspective", played a major role in the insurrection. In their publication, "Proletariat", they advocated the setting up of workers' councils. This provoked fear and anger among the Nationalists, as well as the Communist Party and its splinter groups.

Faced with these proletarian uprisings the various bourgeois interests in the region had to suspend hostilities and unite to suppress them. It is well known that the West, led by the USA, have long backed Saddam Hussein's brutal regime. They supported him in the war against Iran.

In supporting Saddam the Western ruling class also recognised that the Ba'athist Party, as a mass based fascist party, was the only force in Iraq capable and ruthless enough to repress the oil producing proletariat.

However, Saddam's ultimate strategy for maintaining social peace in Iraq was for a permanent war drive and militarisation of society. But such a strategy could only lead to further economic ruin and the intensification of class antagonisms. In the Spring of 1990 this contradiction was becoming blatant. The Iraqi economy was shattered after eight years of war with Iran. Oil production, the main source of hard currency, was restricted while oil prices were relatively low. The only options for redeeming wartime promises of prosperity in peace were a rise in the price of oil or more war. The former choice was blocked by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Saddam's bold leap to resolve this impasse was to annex Kuwait and its rich oil fields.

This gave America the opportunity to reassert its political hegemony, not only in the Middle East, but also in the world as a whole. With the hope of exorcising the specter of Vietnam, the Bush regime prepared for all-out war. The Bush administration hoped for a quick and decisive victory that would evict Iraq from Kuwait but at the same time leave the Iraqi regime intact. However, to mobilise the home front for war, Bush had to equate Saddam with Hitler and so became increasingly committed publicly to toppling the Iraqi leader.

With this commitment the American government now sought to impose such a military defeat on the Ba'athist Party would be obliged to replace Saddam with someone else. Indeed the Bush regime openly invited the ruling circles in Iraq to replace Saddam Hussein with the approach of the ground war in March. However, the mass desertion of Iraqi conscripts and the subsequent uprisings in Iraq robbed the American government of such a convenient victory. Instead they faced the prospect of the uprising turning into a full scale proletarian revolution, with all the dire consequences this would have for the accumulation of capital in the Middle East.

The last thing the American government wanted was to be drawn into a prolonged military occupation of Iraq in order to suppress the uprisings. It was far more efficient to back the existing state. But there was no time to insist on the removal of Saddam Hussein. They could ill afford the disruption this would cause. Hence, almost overnight, Bush's hostility to the butcher of Baghdad evaporated. The two rival butchers went into partnership.

Their first task was to crush the uprising in the South which was being swelled by the huge columns of deserters streaming north from Kuwait. Even though these fleeing Iraqi conscripts posed no military threat to Allied troops, or to the objective of "liberating" Kuwait, the war was prolonged long enough for them to be carpet bombed on the road to Basra by the RAF and the USAF. This cold blooded massacre served no other purpose than to preserve the Iraqi state from mutinous armed deserters.

Following this massacre the Allied ground forces, having swept through southern Iraq to encircle Kuwait, stopped short of Basra and gave free rein to the Republican Guards - the elite troops loyal to the Iraqi regime - to crush the insurgents. All proposals to inflict a decisive defeat on the Republican Guards or to proceed towards Baghdad to topple Saddam were quickly forgotten. In the ceasefire negotiations the Allied forces insisted on the grounding of all fixed wing aircraft but the use of helicopters vital for counter-insurgency was permitted for "administrative purposes". This "concession" proved important once the uprising in the South was put down and the Iraqi state's attention turned to the advancing insurrection in the North.

Whereas the uprising in the Basra region was crushed almost as it began, the Northern uprising had more time to develop. It began in Raniah and spread to Sulaimania and Kut and at its height threatened to spread beyond Kurdistan to the capital. The original aim of the uprising was expressed in the slogan: "We will celebrate our New Year with the Arabs in Baghdad!" The defeat of this rebellion owed as much to the Kurdish Nationalists as to the Western powers and the Iraqi state.

Like all nationalist movements the Kurdish Nationalists defend the interests of the propertied classes against the working class. Most Kurdish Nationalist leaders come from very rich families. For example, Talabani comes from a dynasty originally set up by the British and his parents own luxury hotels in England. The KDP was set up by rich exiles driven out of Kurdistan by the mass working class uprisings of 1958 when hundreds of landowners and capitalist were strung up. As a result of these disturbing events a meeting of exiled bourgeois in Razaeia, Iran, organised nationalist death squads to kill class struggle militants in Iraqi Kurdistan. Later they carried out racist murders of Arabs. During the Iraq-Iran war very few deserters joined the nationalists and the PUK received an amnesty from the Iraqi state in return for repressing deserters.

These Kurdish Nationalists, like the international bourgeoisie, recognised the importance of a strong Iraqi state in order to maintain capital accumulation against a militant working class. So much so, in fact, that they merely demanded that Iraqi Kurdistan be granted the status of an autonomous region within a united Iraq.

In the uprising they did their best to defend the Iraqi state. They actively intervened to prevent the destruction of police files and state property, including military bases. The Nationalists stopped Arab deserters from joining the "Kurdish" uprising, disarmed them, and sent them back to Baghdad to be arrested. They did all they could to prevent the uprising from spreading beyond the "borders" of Kurdistan which was its only hope of success. When the Iraqi state began to turn its attention to the uprising in Kurdistan the Kurdish Nationalists' radio broadcasts did not encourage or co-ordinate resistance but instead exaggerated the threat posed by the demoralised Iraqi troops still loyal to the government and advised people to flee to the mountains. Which they eventually did. None of this is any surprise if we examine their history.

Although, as we have seen, there was much hostility towards the Kurdish Nationalists, they were able to gain control and bring to a halt the insurrection in Kurdistan because of their organisation and greater material resources. Having been long backed by the West - the KDP by the USA and the PUK by Britain - it was the Kurdish Nationalist parties that were able to control the supply of food and information. This was vital, since after years of deprivation, exacerbated by the war, the search for food was an overriding concern. Many individuals were mainly content with looting food, rather than with maintaining revolutionary organisation and the development of the insurrection. This weakness allowed the Nationalist organisations to step in with their ample supplies of food and well established radio stations.

The War in the Gulf was brought to an end by the refusal of the Iraqi working class to fight and by the subsequent uprisings in Iraq. But such proletarian actions were crushed by the combined efforts of the various international and national bourgeois forces. Once again, nationalism has served as the stumbling block for proletarian insurrection. While it is important to stress that Middle East politics is not dominated by Islamic fundamentalism and Arab Nationalism, as it is usually portrayed in the bourgeois press, but rests on class conflict, it must be said that the immediate prospects for the development of working class struggle in Iraq are now bleak.

The war not only resulted in the defeat of the Iraqi working class but also revealed the state of defeat of the working class in the USA, and, to a lesser degree, Europe. The western anti-war movement never developed into a mass working class opposition to the war. It remained dominated by a pacifist orientation that "opposed" the war in terms of an alternative national interest: "Peace is Patriotic". While it expressed abhorrence of the Allies' holocaust it opposed doing anything to stop it that might bring it into confrontation with the state. Instead it concentrated on futile symbolic protest that simply fostered the sense of helplessness in the face of the state's war machine.

Following the defeat of the insurrection, the Western media's misrepresentation continued. The proletariat was represented as helpless victims, ripe for patronising by the charities, grateful for the spectacles of pop stars flogging the Live Aid horse once more. For those that remembered the uprising a "Let It Be... Kurdistan" t-shirt was the obvious answer. Whilst the uprising was defeated we cannot allow its aims and the manner of its defeat to be distorted without challenge" hence this text.

The failure of the working class to recognise its own class interests as distinct from the "national interest" and sabotage the war effort can only serve to deepen the divisions amongst our international class along national lines. Our rulers will now be that much more confident of conducting murderous wars unopposed elsewhere in the world, a confidence they have lacked since the working class ended the Vietnam war by mutinies, desertion, strikes and riots.

Opposition to the war in Iraq
There has been a long tradition of class struggle in Iraq, particularly since the revolution in 1958. With Saddam's strategy of a permanent war drive to maintain social peace this struggle has often taken the form of mass desertion from the army. During the Iraq-Iran war tens of thousands of soldiers deserted the army. This swelled the mass working class opposition to the war. With the unreliability of the army it became increasingly difficult for the Iraqi state to put down such working class rebellions. It was for this reason that Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the town of Halabja in 1988.

Following the invasion of Kuwait there were many demonstrations against its continued occupation. Even the ruling Ba'athist Party was obliged to organise such demonstrations under the slogan: "No to Kuwait: We only want Saddam and Iraq!" in order to head off anti-war feeling. With the dramatic rise in the price of necessities - food prices alone rising to twenty times their pre-invasion levels - there was little enthusiasm for war. The common attitude throughout Iraq was one of defeatism.

Despite a 200% pay rise desertion from the army became common. In the city of Sulaimania alone there were an estimated 30,000 deserters. In Kut there were 20,000. So overwhelming was the desertion that it became relatively easy for soldiers to bribe their way out of the army by giving money to their officers. But these working class conscripts did not merely desert, they organised. In Kut thousands marched on the local police station and forced the police to concede an end to the harassment of deserters.

Two days after the beginning of the war anti-war riots broke out in Raniah and later in Sulaimania.

This leaflet was produced by revolutionaries from Iraq and Britain. For more copies or correspondence we can be contacted by writing as follows: BM CAT, London WC1N 3XX, UK.



The Hunt for Red October: Ten Days That Didn't Overthrow Capitalism - Wildcat

oops, wrong pic.
oops, wrong pic.

Wildcat (UK) attempt to debunk theories both for and against the October Revolution in Russia against the events of 1917-1921, including the council communist, Trotskyist and 'left communist' positions on the revolution.

Submitted by libcom on January 3, 2006

The Hunt for Red October - Ten Days That Didn't Overthrow Capitalism
By Wildcat (UK)

The article which follows this introduction views the Russian revolution of October 1917 from the viewpoint of the inhabitants of Kronstadt, a strategic island in the Gulf of Finland, which was universally regarded as the most radical part of Russia, until it was militarily suppressed by the Bolshevik government in March 1921. It measures theories of what happened in 1917 against the events of February to October, to see what relevance, if any, these events and theories have for the communist project today...

"No-one can belittle the huge importance of the October revolution and its influence on the course of world history and the progress of mankind", announced the chairman of the Soviet parliament in November 1990. Nevertheless, we're going to try.

The article which follows this introduction views the Russian revolution of October 1917 from the viewpoint of the inhabitants of Kronstadt, a strategic island in the Gulf of Finland, which was universally regarded as the most radical part of Russia, until it was militarily suppressed by the Bolshevik government in March 1921.

This introduction measures theories of what happened in 1917 against the events of February to October, to see what relevance, if any, these events and theories have for the communist project today.

The view that the Soviet system, resulting from the tactical genius of Lenin and the discipline of his party, is a great gain for humanity to be defended by the working class, has been somewhat eroded by that system's collapse. So too has the orthodox Trotskyist variant of this position.

Analyses which endorse October, but say that at some point between then and now, Russia became capitalist, have more life in them. Immediately after the second world war, various tendencies, for example Tony Cliff's, tried to make sense of the Red Army's rule in Eastern Europe. They worked out that wage labour prevailed in these countries, and concluded that they were dominated by a form of capitalism, which they called "state capitalism". The problem was when the gains of October had been lost.

This is not an academic question. Though we try to avoid the habit of seeing today in terms of 1917, there are some lessons to be drawn from then which still apply. We are still engaged in battles against the manoeuvres of Leninists in the class struggle in the 1990's. For this reason alone, this obituary is worthwhile. On the other hand, the funeral is long overdue. The conclusions of the following contributions are necessarily general, and many of them are non-specific to the Russian revolution.

The most dangerous of all errors made by non-Leninist tendencies analysing the Russian revolution is the critique of Leninism as undemocratic. Councilists and other democrats turn the ideology of Leninism on its head. Instead of a benevolent genius leading a clear minority through numerous dire straits to ultimate victory, councilists saw an evil genius, with an undemocratic minority party, which seized power without the approval of the majority of the working class, and thus was bound to do no good. The conclusion they draw is that only when the majority of the working class (usually in one country) have voted for the revolution is it safe for it to take place. This idea has been defended by councilists since the early twenties, and still finds an echo in the revolutionary movement of today. Democracy can only hinder the revolutionary minority. Depending on majority approval, whether in one workplace, one city, or one country, will always prevent this minority doing what needs to be done. As we argue throughout these text, what went wrong in Russia was not the result of a minority substituting itself for the working class.

The council communist movement arose in the 1920's in response to the Bolshevik counter-revolution and the manoeuvres of the German Communist Party (KPD). The Communist Workers Party (KAPD) had emerged from a split in the KPD, on the basis of opposition to parliament and trade unionism. The council communists, most of whom came from the KAPD and its Dutch equivalent, went further than the KAPD in their critique of the Bolsheviks. Whereas the KAPD argued that the Soviet state, the official communist parties around the world, grouped together in the Communist International, became counter-revolutionary in 1921-22, the council communists discovered that they had never been revolutionary at all.

They defended a simplified Marxist "stages" theory of history, taking at face value the claim that there had been a series of "bourgeois revolutions" which overthrew the old feudal social relations and substituted capitalist ones. These revolutions included the English in the 1640s, the French in 1789, and the German in 1848. The capitalist outcome of these revolutions was inevitable, notwithstanding the involvement of the proletariat. The clearest defence of this position can be found in From the Bourgeois to the Proletarian Revolution by Otto Ruhle [1]. For our critique of the concept of bourgeois revolutions, see the article in Wildcat 13 [2].

The councilists argued that Russia could not give birth to a proletarian revolution because it was too backward. This argument is the same as that put forward by most of the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks prior to 1917. Capitalism in Russia, precisely because it had taken root late, was more advanced than that of England. Petrograd had the biggest factory in the world. The fact that the territories of the Russian Empire were full of peasants could not make a workers' and soldiers' uprising in Petrograd capitalist "in essence".

Even if Russian capitalism had been backward, this is beside the point. Petrograd was a link in a chain of industrial cities which stretched around the world, and its workers knew it. That is why they responded to Lenin's calls for an internationalist revolution.

Councilists were if anything more dogmatic and didactic in their interpretation of Marxism than their Leninist opponents:

"According to the phaseological pattern of development as formulated and advocated by Marx, after feudal tsarism in Russia there had to come the capitalist bourgeois state, whose creator and representative is the bourgeois class." ([1], p13).

But the tsars of Russia were capitalist from Peter the Great (1689-1725) onwards. Their religious beliefs did not make them feudal. The tsars, with the aid of foreign capital, had developed Russian capitalism, in particular in the shipping and related industries, creating a modern industrial base in Petrograd and Moscow. "Unlike in Western Europe, the State did not merely supervise the new industries; it directly managed the bulk of heavy industry, and part of light industry, thereby employing the majority of all industrial workers as forced labour" ([3], p3). "State capitalism" was not introduced by the Bolsheviks.

We therefore reject the councilist analysis of the origins, course and outcome of the Russian revolution. However, they do have the merit of being the first to point out the evidence for the capitalist nature of the Bolshevik regime and the social relations it supervised. In 1920, Otto Ruhle refused to take his place in the Communist International in Moscow, as the KAPD had instructed. His journey through Russia had completely disillusioned him with the idea that socialism was being built there. Ruhle attacks the Bolsheviks' national liberation policy, their giving the right of self-determination to the nations (in other words, to the bourgeoisie) of Finland, Poland, etc. as "the outcome of bourgeois political orientation" ([1], p14). He ridicules their giving land to the peasantry, though what the Bolsheviks should have done instead, he does not say. He attacks the treaty of Brest-Litovsk which brought peace between the Soviet state and German imperialism, giving the latter one last chance to step up the fight against both the Entente powers and its own working class. Ruhle points out that "nationalisation is not socialisation" and describes the Russian economy as "large-scale tightly centrally-run state capitalism... Only it is still capitalism". He equates the massacre of the Kronstadt uprising of 1921 with the suppression of the Paris Commune and the German revolution.

The "left communist" current, in common with Cliff and other ex-Trotskyists, supports the Bolsheviks in the October revolution, but argues that the revolution degenerated because of Russia's isolation. This point of view deserves to be seriously considered, before being dismissed out of hand. The problem of when Russia was no longer a workers' state has caused tremendous problems to these groups, and most of them have given up trying to answer the question.

But they are generally in agreement on the primary cause of the degeneration: isolation. It is true that, if it were not supported by a revolution in the rest of the world, the Russian revolution would inevitably have led to capitalism. However, this is not why it did so. The Bolshevik regime did not try to create communism, find itself isolated, and end up implementing capitalist policies in spite of its best intentions. On the contrary, it enthusiastically administered and expanded capitalism - the exploitation of labour by means of the wages system - from its very first day in office.

"And the facts speak for themselves: after the October revolution Lenin did not want the expropriation of the capitalists, but only 'workers control'; control by the workers' shopfloor organizations over the capitalists, who were to continue to retain management of the enterprises. A fierce class struggle ensued, invalidating Lenin's thesis on the collaboration of the classes under his power: the capitalists replied with sabotage and the workers' collectives took over all the factories one after the other... And it was only when the expropriation of the capitalists had been effected de facto by the worker masses that the Soviet government recognized it de jure by publishing the decree on the nationalization of industry. Then, in 1918, Lenin answered the socialist aspirations of the workers by opposing to them the system of State capitalism ('on the model of wartime Germany'), with the greatest participation of former capitalists in the new Soviet economy." (A. Ciliga, The Russian Enigma [12], pp 283-284).

The Bolsheviks were already imprisoning their revolutionary opponents before the outbreak of the civil war in 1918. They had already tried to strike deals to keep the capitalist managers in charge of the factories. As Mandel shows in The Petrograd Workers and the Soviet Seizure of Power [5], the factory committees frequently came into conflict with the Bolsheviks, who wanted to dissolve them into the trade unions. He also quotes the leather manufacturers' organisation in Petrograd to the effect that the Bolshevik trade unionists were preferable, as people with whom jointly to manage production, to the "anarcho-communist" factory committees. Clearly, to some extent, the factory committees attempted to continue the revolution after October in the teeth of Bolshevik opposition. We do not however idolise the factory committees, as does Brinton in The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control [6]. Though containing useful information, it should be read in conjunction with Factory Committees and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat [7], in which Goodey shows how simplistic it is to see the committees as the goodies and the Bolsheviks as the baddies.

Relations of production inside Russia never ceased to be capitalist. Hardly any attempt was made to abolish wage labour and the law of value, and none by the Party. The Bolsheviks did carry out nationalisations, under pressure from the factory committees, but these had nothing to do with communism.

In "Left-Wing" Communism [9] written two and a half years after the October uprising, Lenin argued that in Russia the trade unions were "and will long remain" a necessary means for "gradually transferring the management of the whole economy of the country to the hands of the working class (and not of the separate trades), and later to the hands of all the toilers". Lenin didn't claim that at that time the working class even managed the economy. They had not even instituted workers management, let alone socialism. He argued that state capitalism was a step on the road to socialism, and urged Russian socialists to "study the state capitalism of the Germans, to adopt it with all possible strength, not to spare dictatorial methods in order to hasten its adoption" (On "Left" Infantilism and the Petty-Bourgeois Spirit, cited in E.H. Carr, [10], p99).

Lenin and the Bolsheviks conceived of a long period of transition, during which workers would gradually exert more and more control over production and society as a whole, eventually, after many years, converting it into socialism (see [6], pp 12-13, citing Lenin, [8], p245). This would be assisted by "general state book-keeping, general state accounting of the production and distribution of goods", and would be "something in the nature, so to speak, of the skeleton of a socialist society". . In the meantime, the state would be in control of capitalist relations of production. Any Marxist should be able to work out that a state which is in control of capitalism - wage labour - is a capitalist state. In order to run the economy, it has to impose work discipline, and all the accompanying forms of repression which capitalism is heir to. The idea of a "workers' state" which will gradually transform wage labour into the free association of producers is an un-Marxist utopia. The involvement of the working class in the administration of capitalism, through Soviets, etc., just leads it into managing its own exploitation.

Supporters of the notion of a "workers' state" will admit that, initially, such a state is in charge of a capitalist economy. What will prevent it becoming a capitalist state is the intentions of the people running it. They - organised in the Party - want to create communism. But it is again basic materialism to point out that states develop independently of the intentions of their functionaries. A state in charge of capitalism cannot transform it into communism by willpower. There has to be another way.

The concept of a "degenerated" workers' state is absurd. States are administrative bodies based on armed forces. They defend particular social relations. A state cannot degenerate. It cannot gradually change from defending the proletariat to defending the bourgeoisie. This would involve a period of transition in which it abolished wage labour with less and less enthusiasm, followed by a phase in which it defended it with greater and greater vigour, divided by an interregnum in which it couldn't quite make up its mind!

To summarily demonstrate the nature of the Bolshevik regime, we will briefly look at three areas of society in which the new regime strengthened capitalism with a resolve which must have been the envy of the liberals they had just overthrown.

The Extraordinary Commission to Fight Counter-Revolution, or Cheka, was founded on December 8 1917 "to watch the press, saboteurs, strikers, and the Socialist-Revolutionaries of the Right" (Daniels, [18] p90, citing the Cheka's founding decree, our emphasis). Strikers were now labelled agents of the counter-revolution, and subject to rapidly increasing repression, starting with "confiscation, confinement, deprivation of (food) cards", and ending with summary execution.

In March 1918, Trotsky abolished the elective principle in the army, replacing elected officers with former tsarist officers who, "in the area of command, operations and fighting" (in other words, everything), were given "full responsibility" and "the necessary rights" ([18], p93). One year after the revolution which destroyed the tsar's army and navy, Trotsky restored them.

Finally, in the economy, Lenin said in April 1918: "We must raise the question of piecework and apply and test it in practice; we must raise the question of applying much of what is scientific and progressive in the Taylor system, we must make wages correspond to the total amount of goods turned out..." ([18], p96).

And he didn't just raise these questions, he answered them.

When a particular state imprisons strikers, decimates soldiers, militarises labour, cooperates with factory owners and negotiates territory with imperialist powers, its nature is clear. Such a state defends the capitalist class and the capitalist mode of production against the proletariat and the communist movement. Such was the nature of the Soviet state created by the October revolution.

Between February and October 1917, the working class had a significant amount of power in Russia. Following the Petrograd mutiny of 27 February, when troops refused to shoot demonstrators and striking workers and joined them, the whole edifice of tsarist autocracy collapsed. Kerensky commented that throughout the whole of the Russian lands, there was "literally not one policeman". They crowded into the jails to avoid lynching, taking the place of thousands of hardened revolutionaries of all factions who wasted no time in getting stuck in. From February to October, a situation of "dual power" existed, with a weak bourgeois government and numerous organs of working class power. Even at the lowest points during these eight months, when the bourgeoisie was on the offensive, workers defied the bosses, and soldiers and sailors chose which orders to obey. The Soviets of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies, led by the Petrograd Soviet, had more power than the Provisional Government, though they persistently refused to use it to destroy the latter, in fact they propped it up by sending ministers and giving it "socialist" credibility.

Finally on October 25, the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Bolshevik-dominated Petrograd Soviet smashed the Provisional Government and announced that the Soviets were now the power in the land. The Congress of Soviets elected a government, the Council of People's Commissars, or SovNarKom, to which the Soviets now gave increasing amounts of their own power. From the viewpoint of the working class, it is difficult to find any major gains resulting from October. There is one major exception: peace.

It is understandable that the Soviets, after much debate, accepted Lenin's arguments for signing a peace treaty with Germany. Most of the Soviets initially bitterly opposed the idea, arguing that a revolutionary war, even a guerilla war which would not actually beat Germany, would hasten the advent of the world revolution. But the argument that Russia was exhausted won the day. The Brest-Litovsk treaty was disastrous for the working class. It freed German militarism from fighting a war on two fronts, giving it the Ukraine, and boosted its morale (its power over its own workers), which enabled it to launch the March-July 1918 offensives on the Western front, prolonging the war.

It is impossible for us to say exactly what effect a refusal by the working class to accept Brest-Litovsk would have had. Certainly the Germans would have advanced towards Petrograd, but a communist guerilla war would have tied up vast numbers of troops, bringing forward the collapse of the Central Powers and the wave of Revolutions which eventually brought them down in November 1918. There was certainly a readiness for a fight, as shown by the debates in the Soviets, and by subsequent events in the Ukraine, where a large anarchist army fought the counter-revolution with considerable success, until it was suppressed by the Red Army (see Voline, The Unknown Revolution, [11]).

The Russian revolution was not defeated primarily because Russia was isolated by the civil war and the defeat of the German revolution - it had already been seriously undermined from within before isolation had a chance to take hold. Of course, the invasion of White Russian and imperialist armies in the summer of 1918 took its toll of surviving revolutionary gains, not least because it enabled the Bolshevik government to impose capitalist discipline and the militarisation of labour. But the Soviet government was already defending capital against communism before the outbreak of the civil war. So "isolation" is a feeble excuse. The suppression of Kronstadt in 1921, the most spectacular act of the Bolshevik counter-revolution, was the culmination of four years of constant attacks on the working class revolution of February 1917. Lenin succeeded where Kerensky had failed.

Nor were the Bolsheviks forced to conduct the civil war in the way they did by circumstances beyond their control. Insurgents in the Ukraine were capable of holding Soviet congresses to organise the struggle against the White armies. The Red Army under Trotsky ruthlessly liquidated such attempts to conduct a communist civil war against counter-revolution. Voline cites Trotsky's order no. 1824 of June 4, 1919, which calls participation in a Soviet Congress of insurgents in various regions of the Ukraine, "an act of high treason", and forbids it: "In no case shall it take place" ([11], pp596-597). Whilst the "anarchist bandits" were fighting Denikin's offensive, the Red Army attacked them from the rear.

One of the causes of the 1921 uprising was the capitalist organisation of the Red Army. This was not a consequence of the civil war, preceding it by four months. The arbitrary brutality of bourgeois military discipline is neither necessary nor possible in a class struggle army. We only have to look at Makhno's partisans to see this (see Arshinov, [13]). Another was corruption. The armed guards who checked people bringing in food from the countryside took bribes to allow black marketeers through, and took what they wanted for resale or for themselves.

It is quite clear from Trotsky's account [14] that the Bolshevik Party consistently tried to hold back the class struggle up to October 1917 until they were in a position to dominate the government which resulted from the insurrection. Had Kornilov taken Petrograd in August 1917, he would have murdered the left-wing leaders, yet when sailors from the Aurora visited Trotsky in prison, he urged restraint! ([14], 2, p233).

Some of the writings and speeches of Bolshevik leaders at this time are impressive. Lenin's April Theses [15] served to radicalise the Bolshevik apparatus in 1917. The depth of this radicalisation can be gauged by the introduction of one-man management a year later. The State and Revolution [16], Lenin's most revolutionary work, was not published until 1918, when the counter-revolution was well under way, thus made no positive contribution. The Bolsheviks talked of a "commune-state", of "the arming of the whole people", of the "abolition of the police, the army and the bureaucracy", and proceeded to create a capitalist police state which disarmed the working class and gave birth to the biggest bureaucracy the world has ever seen. The more radical elements of Bolshevik propaganda had the effect of disguising a social democratic party as a communist one.

The Bolsheviks were, of all the Russian underground groups, the most opposed to the formation of Soviets in 1905. In February 1917,

"Inside Russia, the most active group in St. Petersburg, the Bolsheviks, refused requests for arms from the strikers and tried to dissuade them from further demonstrations, convinced that the tide was on the ebb and that consolidation was needed." ([17], p39).

In August, "The Bolshevik leaders themselves often joked about the similarity of their warnings to the political leit-motif of the German social democracy, which has invariably restrained the masses from every serious struggle by referring to the danger of provocateurs and necessity of accumulating strength." ([14], 2, p311).

A generally held view of revolution is that timing is of the essence. The prospective revolutionary class or party must choose its moment well. Too early an insurrectionary attempt will provoke repression; too late, and the revolutionaries will have missed their chance.

A proletarian revolution is only possible when the ruling class is in severe crisis, which is likely to last for months. Such was the case in Russia in 1917. In such situations, it is unlikely that the proletariat will lose much by going on the offensive. Even in the normal day-to-day life of capitalist society, it is unusual, though not unheard-of, for a genuine revolutionary group (as opposed to a leftist one) to urge restraint.

Military analogies are over-used in the class war, and often misleading. The class war is fundamentally different from a war between states. The workers are not an army until they start fighting. But in straightforward physical confrontations between classes, an understanding of timing, the balance of forces, and so on, is important. We cannot condemn the Bolsheviks simply because they held back the armed struggle. However, revolutionaries would not spend most of their time trying to hold back the class where the government is weak and the working class has real autonomous power in sections of society, including the armed forces. They would not try to prevent strikes as the Bolsheviks in the Vyborg district did ([14], 2, p10).

The Bolsheviks' strategy of holding back the class war was not based on fear of provoking the government (what would the government have done when provoked that it couldn't have done in any case?), but on the argument that there was no coherent force to take power. They left the Provisional Government in power while they were unsure of their ability to provide an alternative administration. The government could not even control the naval fort which defended Petrograd. So when Lenin urged "caution, caution, caution", he was trying to hold back the class struggle until the Bolsheviks were in a position to use it for their own ends. To do this, he needed a more disciplined party, so he described Bolsheviks who had supported the slogan "Down with the Provisional Government" against the more moderate official Bolshevik slogan "Long Live the Soviet" as guilty of "a serious crime". "Long Live the Soviet" in July 1917 meant supporting the body which, as Lenin constantly pointed out, was the main prop of the capitalist government.

In Petrograd, even at the militant Putilov factory, the Bolsheviks tried to stop the July demo, but were swept aside by the workers. The party in the Vyborg district decided it had to go along to "maintain order" ([14], 2, p17). Although Lenin did everything he could to prevent the July 4th armed demonstration, he explained why he had to support it once it was inevitable: "For our party to have broken with the spontaneous movement of the Kronstadt masses would have struck an irreparable blow at its authority".

Describing the genesis of the July Days, Trotsky admits: "With an embarrassed shake of the head, the Vyborg Bolsheviks would complain to their friends: 'We have to play the part of the fire hose.'" ([14], 2, p10). He candidly describes now he persuaded the 176th regiment to defend the "socialist" ministers against the demonstrators. When the demonstrators demanded to see minister Tseretelli, leading Bolshevik Zinoviev came out and spoke: "I appealed to that audience to disperse peacefully at once, keeping perfect order, and under no circumstances permitting anyone to provoke them to any aggressive action." Trotsky adds: "This episode offers the best possible illustration of the keen discontent of the masses, their lack of any plan of attack, and the actual role of the Bolshevik party in the July events" ([14], 2, p45). It certainly does.

Our critique of October is not that it was an undemocratic coup d'etat. Firstly, because we do not believe that a majority of the working class has to endorse an assault on state power by a minority, and secondly, because the Bolsheviks did have the support of a large proportion of the most militant workers. We would not quibble over the description of the result of October as a "workers' state", since it was based on the Soviets. But this is no guarantee that it will defend the interests of the working class.

Neither do we argue that the party was internally undemocratic. The Kommunist faction (see [19]), composed of some of the leading Bolsheviks in Moscow, argued against the party's decisions, saying that they "Instead of raising the banner forward to communism, raise the banner back to capitalism." The left communists also opposed the Brest-Litovsk treaty. When the civil war started, the left described the situation inside Russia as "War Communism". Housing was redistributed (see [20]), rail and post were free, electricity and water free when available, rent was abolished, and so, it appeared, was money. But in practice, most of the food was obtained on the black market, otherwise even more people would have died of starvation ([20], p101). Cannibalism also helped supplement Russia's meagre diet. Money was abolished only in the sense that inflation devalued it to such an extent it was replaced with barter.

Kollontai's Workers' Opposition advocated workers' control of capitalism, via the trade unions. Nowhere in The Workers' Opposition [21] does Kollontai understand that Russia is capitalist. The Workers' Opposition were "the first" to volunteer for the supression of Kronstadt in 1921 at the 10th Party Congress. At this congress, the left communists lurched to the right, defending private trade. After this, factions were banned, sent to Siberia, or shot. There were nevertheless numerous oppositions formally inside the Party even after this point, some of them quite positive, for example Miasnikov's Workers' Group and Bogdanov's Workers' Truth Group:

"The soviet, party, and trade-union bureaucracies and organizers find themselves with material conditions which are sharply distinguished from the conditions of existence of the working class. Their very well-being and the stability of their general position depend on the degree to which the toiling masses are exploited and subordinated to them." (Appeal of the Workers' Truth Group, 1922, cited in [18], p147).

Other examples can be found in Daniels, [22], and Ciliga, [12]. The latter describes the debates among oppositionists in prison and in exile in the late twenties and early thirties, many of whom had managed to work out what had gone wrong. But by this time it was too late.


It is obvious that conditions today are far removed from 1917, so we would not mechanically transfer the lessons of the proletariat's mistakes in Russia to today. However, there are some general points which can be drawn from the Russian experience. Between February and October, the proletariat had considerable power in Russia, but then rapidly lost it, and a strong capitalist state was created. When class warfare reaches a certain level, a Soviet state may emerge. However it will only be a step on the road to communism if the revolutionary workers refuse to accept the Soviet state as their own, and oppose it as intransigently as they did its predecessor.

There is no substitute for the immediate task of socialising the entire economy, abolishing money, destroying all bureaucratic hangovers of capitalist rule, and rapidly internationalising the revolution. Any organisation which tries to hold back these measures should be swept aside.

There are no forms which guarantee the success of the revolution, neither is there much point in trying to avoid particular forms, nor making rules about which pre-ordained tasks each type of organisation must take on or refuse. With obvious qualifications, Herman Gorter's 1920 formulation against formalism still stands: "...during the revolution, every Trade Union, every workers' union even, is a political party - either pro or counter revolutionary" (Gorter, [23]).

No one organisation, whether formally political or ostensibly economic, will hold a monopoly of correct positions. The "revolutionary party" is the sum of all individuals and organisations, whether formal political organisations or not, which actually defend the needs of the social revolution at a given moment. It is impossible to centralise such a minority under one command. However, immense discipline and more importantly, solidarity, will be required for such a party to act in a unified way against the bourgeoisie and its well-organised political forces, let alone its military ones.

This minority can certainly take any action - for example, the overthrow of the state - which serves proletarian goals, without endorsement from the majority of the working class. It cannot however impose communism - this can only be the product of mass activity - therefore it does not seek to create a new state power - a "workers' state" - in place of the old administration. It remains continuously in opposition to any state which is set up, participating in organising the class war until its final victory in the destruction of all states, and the creation of world communism, a free association of producers, in which the freedom of each is the condition for the freedom of all.

[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.


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.