The Practice of Anti-authoritarian Socialism. Kronstadt Republic (1918).

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Oct 2 2014 15:42
The Practice of Anti-authoritarian Socialism. Kronstadt Republic (1918).

How a society based on self-government labor groups would look like? Perhaps the answer to this question is the Kronstadt republic. Libertarian socialists and anarchists are well informed about the uprising in Kronstadt in 1921. But only few know about non-authoritarian (libertarian) experience of Kronstadt in 1918.

The Kronstadt fortress is the citadel of the Russian Revolution. It is here that the military (sailors) and workers repeatedly struggled against despotism: against the tsar, against the Kerensky's government, and, finally, against the new Bolshevik autocracy. In 1918, the vast majority of the council of Kronstadt belonged to anti-authoritarian (libertarian) socialist currents, Left SRs and SR Maximalists. They had 30% deputies everyone (60% alltogether) against 30% of the Bolsheviks. In addition, the social policies of the Left SRs and Maximalists were supported (in one way or another) by local anarchists. Radicals (with the strong support of the majority of workers and sailors of the city) started reforms. Delegate from Kronstdat Lefts SRs A. Brushvit on the 2nd Congress of his Party spoke about how these reforms were going (1).

All the factories moved into self-managing of workers colectives. This process is called "socialization of production", in contrast to the Bolshevik's nationalization. (Bolsheviks were opposed to socialization in Kronstadt.) In the same time the local Council was elected by the Navy and workrers of the city. This experience was used also in 1921, when the rebel Council reported about it's work to the meetings of voters of every districts and submitted most of decisions to their approval (2).

The Council in 1918 established the Commissions, which coordinated the activities of self-managed factories. The aim was to establish a systematic work of the urban economy. While market relations had not been completely liquidated (at once it was impossible to do, there were not enough people to solve all the questions). However, the Council strictly regulated food prices in local private shops and provided transportation of food to Kronstadt. Also the residential buildings were socialized. Each residential building selected a Committee. These committees were in charge of housing management. They
chose the General coordinating Committee and cooperated with self-governing groups of workers (mechanics, plumbers etc). 44 free schools were working.

Anarchist Vsevolod Volin wrote about the Union of workers of Kronstadt. It was a big cooperative, producing instruments needed in agriculture. In exchange, the peasants agreed to supply the city with food. Also, Kronstadt citizens created local agricultural cooperatives for the collective cultivation of land (3).

Brushvit believed that the experience of Kronstadt will become a model for the transformation of society for all revolutionary Russia. And his proposals are consistent with the overall ideas of the left Social Revolutionaries and SR Maximalists. What were they?

The first is the capture of power by the Soviets, genuine federalism (not its fake form in later USSR), decentralization of society, the power of local community of the workers. Power should not be usurped by the Central government. The second is the transformation of the country in the Association of such councils, the General government being the Congress of Soviets. The third is the agreement between the councils of cities, villages, regions about the exchange of manufactured products and food. To some extent this was already coming into practice. (As for the further development, Councils would be planning all the economy. In future, it was planned to achieve total abolition of commodity-money relations.)

Such proposals were supported by the anarchists too. The difference was in some important details. For example, the left Social Revolutionaries believed that in Federal self-governing Republic of Soviets the Majority decisions are obligatory for all. Anarchists believed that the decisions taken by the majority of workers' councils may have only a recommendatory nature for the minority.

In the meantime, food problem became most acute for Russia because of the economy disruptions caused by the First World War and the revolution. It is interesting that some of the Bolsheviks that relied on food organizations of Moscow councils and those of starving areas of the North, strongly advocated for direct exchange between the councils of city and village. Experienced professionals who worked in the Soviet food organizations in Moscow and Petrograd showed that this is the only way to solve the food problem. Opponents' references to the issues related to the Civil War were accepted completely untenable (4). With the help of direct barter in spring of 1918 hunger in Moscow was successfully fought (5).

Unfortunately, the country went the other way. Lenin and his supporters established a political dictatorship, a new autocracy ("comissar-cracy"). The the dictatorship of the bureaucratic institutions, state monopoly, was established in the economy also. Exchange of goods between workers' and village councils was banned. Bureaucracy organized a massive robbery of the village called "requisitioning". Seized from peasants, food should have been distributed among the inhabitants of the starved regions but the reality was very different. Because of the growing violence of the central government, bad functioning of the state apparatus, incompetence and corruption of the Bolshevik officials, as well as due to the growing resistance of the peasantry, the country has become a universe of violence and famine (6). Bolsheviks falsified council elections and arrested critics, particularly because many local councils resisted the "requisitioning" and new dictatorship. The Bolshevik N. Podvoisky admitted that requisitioning became a factor which contributed a lot to the beginning of the Civil War.

Agricultural production has dropped due to the policy of Lenin. It did not make sense for peasants to work more to produce a surplus of goods, because these surpluses could be requisitioned at any time by the state. And when drought came, people began to die. Lenin was directly responsible for the hecatombs of 1921-1922, when the famine killed between 5 and 10 million people, and nearly 40 million were starving. (Not only S. Pavlyuchenkov, but also a number of other historians such as B. Brazol, A. Kristkaln, indicate the food policy of the Bolsheviks, as the main or one of the main causes of the famine of 1921-1922.)

...The social revolution will reject all that is connected with Bolshevism. But it certainly will use the ideas of Kronstadt in 1918. Of course, this will take place in completely different conditions. Nevertheless, the Kronstadt experience is important and needs a detailed study.

The Maximalists is the radical wing of the Socialist Revolutionary. They had 30% deputies in Kronstadt and played an important role in the events. About them you can read this material:

The Socialist Revolutionaries Maximalists (SRs Maximalists)


1) Партия левых социалистов-революционеров. Документы и материалы. 1917 - 1925. В 3-х тт. / Т.1. Июль 1917 г. - май 1918 г. Москва. 2000 г. Стр. 260 - 263.

2) Кронштадт 1921. Документы. Москва 1997. Стр 298-299. Из показаний Валька. В.А. "Вообще я должен сказать, что Ревком в своем целом все время старался опираться на массы и как массы решат, так и будет... Мне известно, что на кораблях и водном транспорте... эти собрания [по вопросу о призыве ко всему миру оказать помощь гибнущему Кронштадту -прим.] были проведены и третий пункт принят."

3) Всеволод Волин - Неизвестная революция. Москва 2005. Стр 203-205.

4) С.А. Павлюченков. Крестьянский Брест. Москва 1996 г. Стр. 49-55

5) С.А. Павлюченков. Военный коммунизм: власть и массы. Москва 1997 г. Стр 61.

6) С.А. Павлюченков. Крестьянский Брест. Стр 209 -215