The fiftieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution will be assessed, analysed, celebrated or bemoaned in a variety of ways.
To the peddlers of religious mysticism and to the advocates of 'freedom of enterprise', Svetlana Stalin's sensational (and well timed) defection will 'prove' the resilience of their respective doctrines, now shown as capable of sprouting on what at first sight would appear rather barren soil.
To incorrigible liberals, the recent, cautious re-introduction of the profit motive into certain sectors of the Russian economy will 'prove' that laissez-faire economics is synonymous with human nature and that a rationally planned economy was always a pious pipe-dream.
To those 'lefts' (like the late Isaac Deutscher) who saw in Russia's industrialisation an automatic guarantee of more liberal attitudes in days to come, the imprisonment of Daniel and Sinyavsky for thought-crime (and the current persecution of those who stood up for them) will have come as a resounding slap in the face.
To the 'marxist-leninists' of China (and Albania), Russia's rapprochement with the USA, her passivity in the recent Middle East crisis, her signing of the Test Ban Treaty and her reactionary influence on revolutionary developments in the colonial countries will all bear testimony to her headlong slither into the swamp of revisionism, following the Great Stalin's death. (Stalin, it will be remembered, was the architect of such revolutionary, non-revisionist measures as the elimination of the old Bolsheviks, the Moscow Trials, the Popular Front, the Nazi-Soviet Pact, the Teheran and Yalta Agreements and the dynamic struggles of the French, and Italian Communist Parties in the immediate post-war years, struggles which led to their direct seizure of power in their respective countries.)
To the Yugoslavs, reintegrated at last after their adolescent wandering from the fold, the re-emergence of 'sanity' in Moscow will be seen as corroboration of their worst suspicions. The 1948 'troubles' were clearly all due to the machinations of the wicked Beria. Mihajlo Mihajlov now succeeds Djilas behind the bars of a peoples' prison . . . just to remind political heretics that in Yugoslavia too, 'proletarian democracy' is confined to those who refrain from asking awkward questions.
To the Trotskyists of all ilk - at least to those still capable of thinking for themselves - the mere fact of the 50th anniversary celebrations should be food for thought. What do words mean? How 'transitional' can a transitional society be? Aren't four decades of 'bonapartism' in danger of making the word a trifle meaningless? Like the unflinching Christians carrying their cross, will unflinching Trotskyists go on carrying their question mark (concerning the future evolution of Russian society) for the rest of their earthly existence? For how much longer will they go on gargling with the old slogans of 'capitalist restoration or advance towards socialism' proposed by their mentor in his Revolution Betrayed. . . thirty years ago! Surely only the blind can now fail to see that Russia is a class society of a new type, and has been for several decades.
Those who have shed these mystifications - or who have never been blinded by them - will see things differently. They will sense that there can be no vestige of socialism in a society whose rulers can physically annihilate the Hungarian Workers' Councils, denounce equalitarianism and workers' management of production as 'petty-bourgeois' or 'anarcho-syndicalist' deviations, and accept the cold-blooded murder of a whole generation of revolutionaries as mere 'violations of socialist legality, to be rectified oh so gingerly and tactfully - by the technique of 'selective posthumous rehabilitation'. It will be obvious to them that something went seriously wrong with the Russian Revolution. What was it? And when did the 'degeneration' start?
Here again the answers differ. For some the 'excesses' or 'mistakes' are attributable to a spiteful paranoia slowly sneaking up on the senescent Stalin. This interpretation, however, (apart from tacitly accepting the very 'cult of the individual' which its advocates would claim to decry) fails to account for the repressions of revolutionaries and the conciliations with imperialism perpetrated at a much earlier period. For others the 'degeneration' set In with the final defeat of the Left Opposition as an organized force (1927), or with Lenin's death (1924), or with the abolition of factions at the 10th Party Congress (1921). For the Bordigists the proclamation of the New Economic Policy (1921) irrevocably stamped Russia as "State capitalist'. Others, rightly rejecting this preoccupation with the minutiae of revolutionary chronometry, stress more general factors, albeit in our opinion some of the less important ones.
Our purpose in publishing this text about the Kronstadt events of 1921 is not to draw up an alternative timetable. Nor are we looking for political ancestors. The construction of an orthodox apostolic succession is the least of our preoccupations. (In a constantly changing world it would only testify to our theoretical sterility). Our object is simply to document some of the real - but less well known - struggles that took place against the growing bureaucracy during the early post-revolutionary years, at a time when most of the later critics of the bureaucracy were part and parcel of the apparatus itself.
The fiftieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution presents us with the absurd sight of a Russian ruling class (which every day resembles more its Western counterpart) solemnly celebrating the revolution which overthrew bourgeois power and allowed the masses, for a brief moment, to envisage a totally new kind of social order.
What made this tragic paradox possible? What shattered this vision? How did the Revolution degenerate?
Many explanations are offered. The history of how the Russian working class was dispossessed is not, however, a matter for an esoteric discussion among political cliques, who compensate for their own irrelevance by mental journeys into the enchanted world of the revolutionary past, An understanding of what took place is essential for every serious socialist. It is not mere archivism.
No viable ruling class rules by force alone. To rule it must suceeed in getting its own vision of reality accepted by society at large. The concepts by which it attempts to legitimise its rule must be projected into the past. Socialists have correctly recognized that the history taught in bourgeois schools reveals a particular, distorted, vision of the world. It is a measure of the weakness of the revolutionary movement that socialist history remains for the most part unwritten.
What passes as socialist history is often only a mirror image of bourgeois historiography, a percolation into the ranks of the working class movement of typically bourgeois methods of thinking. In the world of this type of 'historian' leaders of genius replace the kings and queens of the bourgeois world. Famous congresses, splits or controversies, the rise and fall of political parties or of unions, the emergence or degeneration of this or that leadership replace the internecine battles of the rulers of the past. The masses never appear independently on the historical stage, making their own history. At best they only 'supply the steam', enabling others to drive the locomotive, as Stalin so delicately put it.
'Most of the time, "official" historians don't have eyes to see or ears to hear the acts and words which express the workers' spontaneous activity. They lack the categories of thought - one might even say the brain cells - necessary to understand or even to perceive this activity as it really is. To them an activity that has no leader or programme, no institutions and no statutes, can only be described as "troubles" or "disorders". The spontaneous activity of the masses belongs by definition to what history suppresses. (1)
This tendency to identify working class history with the history of its organizations, institutions and leaders is not only inadequate - it reflects a typically bourgeois vision of mankind, divided in almost pre-ordained manner between the few who will manage and decide, and the many, the malleable mass, incapable of acting consciously on its own behalf and forever destined to remain the object (and never the subject) or history. Most histories of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution rarely amount to more than this.
The Stalinist bureaucracy was unique in that it presented a view of history based on outright lies rather than on the more usual mixture of subtle distortion and self-mystification. But Krushchev's revelations and subsequent developments in Russia have caused official Russian versions of events (in all their variants) to he questioned even by members of the Communist Party. Even the graduates of what Trotsky called 'the Stalin school of falsification' are now beginning to reject the lies of the Stalinist era. Our task is to take the process of demystification a little further.
Of all the interpretations of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution that of Isaac Deutscher is the most widely accepted on the left. It echoes most of the assumptions of the Trotskyists. Although an improvement on the Stalinist versions, it is hardly sufficient. The degeneration is seen as due to strictly conjunctural factors (the isolation of the re. volution in a backward country, the devastation caused by the Civil War, the overwhelming weight of the peasantry, etc.). These factors are undoubtedly very important. But the growth of the bureaucracy is more than just an accident of history. It is a worldwide phenomenon, intimately linked to a certain stage in the development of working class consciousness. It is the terrible price paid by the working class for its delay in recognizing that the true and final emancipation of the working class can only he achieved by the working class itself, and cannot be entrusted to others, allegedly acting on its behalf. If "socialism is Man's total and positive self-consciousness" (Marx, 1844), the experience (and rejection) of the bureaucracy is a step on that road.
The Trotskyists deny that early oppositions to the developing bureaucracy had any revolutionary content. On the contrary, they denounce the Workers Opposition and the Kronstadt rebels as basically counter-revolutionary. Real opposition, for them, starts with the proclamation - within the Party - of the Left Opposition of 1923. But anyone in the least familiar with the period will know that by 1923 the working class had already sustained a decisive defeat. It had lost power in production to a group of managers appointed from above. It had also lost power in the soviets, which were now only the ghosts of their former selves, only a rubber stamp for the emerging bureaucracy. The Left Opposition fought within the confines of the Party, which was itself already highly bureaucratised. No substantial number of workers rallied to its cause. Their will to struggle had been sapped by the long struggles of the preceding years.
Opposition to the anti-working class measures being taken by the Bolshevik leadership in the years immediately following the revolution took many forms and expressed itself through many different channels and at many different levels. It expressed itself within the Party itself, through a number of oppositional tendencies of which the Workers Opposition (Kollontai, Lutovinov, Shliapnikov) is the best known.(2) "Outside the Party the revolutionary opposition found heterogeneous expression, in the life of a number of small, often illegal groups (some anarchist, some anarcho-syndicalist, some still professing their basic faith in Marxism.) (3) It also found expression in spontaneous, often 'unorganised' class activity, such as the big Leningrad strikes of 1921 and the Kronstadt uprising. It found expression in the increasing resistance of the workers to Bolshevik industrial policy (and in particular to Trotsky's attempts to militarise the trade unions). It also found expression in proletarian opposition to Bolshevik attempts to evince all other tendencies from the soviets, thus effectively gagging all those seeking to re-orient socialist construction along entirely different lines.
At an early stage several tendencies had struggled against the bureaucratic degeneration of the Revolution. By posthumously excluding them from the ranks of the revolutionary opposition, Trotskyists, Leninists and others commit a double injustice. Firstly, they excommunicate all those who foresaw and struggled against the nascent bureaucracy. Secondly, they weaken their own ease, for if the demands for freely elected soviets, for freedom of expression (proletarian democracy) and for workers' management of production were wrong in 1921, why did they become partially correct in 1923? Why are they correct now? If in 1921 Lenin and Trotsky represented the 'real interests of the workers (against the actual workers), why couldn't Stalin? Why couldn't Kadar in Hungary in 1956? The Trotskyist school of hagiography has helped to obscure the real lessons of the struggle against the bureaucracy.
When one seriously studies the crucial years after 1917, when the fate of the Russian Revolution was still in the melting pot, one is driven again and again to the tragic events of the Kronstadt uprising of March 1921. These events epitomise, in a bloody and dramatic manner, the struggle between two concepts of the Revolution, two revolutionary methods, two types of revolutionary ethos. (Who decides what if; or is not in the long-term interests of the working class? What methods are permissible in settling differences between revolutionaries? And what methods are double-edged and only capable in the long run of harming the Revolution itself?
There is remarkably little of a detailed nature available in English about the Kronstadt events. The Stalinist histories, revised and re-edited according to the fluctuating fortunes of Party functionaries are not worth the paper they fire written on. They are an insult to the intelligence of their readers, deemed incapable of comparing the same facts described in earlier and later editions of the same book.
Trotsky's writings about Kronstadt are few and more concerned at retrospective justification and at scoring debating points against the Anarchists (4) than at seriously analysing this particular episode of the Russian Revolution. Trotsky and the Trotskyists are particularly keen to perpetuate the myth that they were the first and only coherent anti-bureaucratic tendency. All their writings seek to bide how far the bureaucratisation of both Party and soviets had already gone by 1921 - i.e. how far it had gone during the period when Lenin and Trotsky were in full and undisputed control. The task for serious revolutionaries today is to see the link between Trotsky's attitudes and pronouncements during and before the 'great trade union debate' of 1920-1921 and the healthy hostility to Trotskyism of the most advanced and revolutionary layers of the industrial working class. This hostility was to manifest itself - arms in hand - during the Kronstadt uprising. It was to manifest itself again two or three years later - this time by folded arms - when these advanced layers failed to rally to Trotsky's support, when he at last chose to challenge Stalin, within the limited confines of a Party machine, towards whose bureaucratisation he had signally contributed. (5)
Deutscher in The Prophet Armed vividly depicts the background of Russia during the years of Civil War, the suffering, the economic dislocation, the sheer physical exhaustion of the population. But the picture is one-sided, its purpose to stress that the 'iron will of the Bolsheviks' was the only element of order, stability and continuity in a society hovering on the brink of total collapse. He pays scant attention to the attempts made by groups of workers and revolutionaries - both within the Party and outside its ranks - to attempt social reconstruction on an entirely different basis, from below. (6) He does not discuss the sustained opposition and hostility of the Bolsheviks to workers' management of production (7) or in fact to any large-scale endeavour which escaped their domination or control. Of the Kronstadt events themselves, of the Bolshevik calumnies against Kronstadt and of the frenzied repression that followed the events of March 1921, Deutscher says next to nothing, except that the Bolshevik accusations against the Kronstadt rebels were 'groundless. Deutscher totally fails to see the direct relation between the methods used by Lenin and Trotsky in 1921 and those other methods, perfected by Stalin and later used against the old Bolsheviks themselves, during the notorious Moscow trials of 1936, 1937 and 1938.
In Victor Serge's Memoirs of a Revolutionary there is a chapter devoted to Kronstadt.(8) Serge's writings are particularly interesting in that he was in Leningrad in 1921 and supported what the Bolsheviks were doing, albeit reluctantly. He did not however resort to the slanders and misrepresentations of other leading Party members. His comments throw light on the almost schizophrenic frame of mind of the rank and file of the Party at that time. For different reasons neither the Trotskyists nor the Anarchists have forgiven Serge his attempts to reconcile what was best in their respective doctrines: the concern with reality and the concern with principle.
Easily available and worthwhile anarchist writings on the subject (in English) are virtually non-existent, despite the fact that many anarchists consider this area relevant to their ideas. Emma Goldman's Living my Life and Berkman's The Bolshevik Myth contain some vivid but highly subjective pages about the Kronstadt rebellion. The Kronstadt Revolt by Anton Ciliga is an excellent short account which squarely faces up to some of the fundamental issues. It has been unavailable for years. Voline's account, on the other hand, is too simplistic. Complex phenomena like the Kronstadt revolt cannot be meaningfully interpreted by loaded generalisations like 'as Marxists, authoritarians and statists, the Bolsheviks could not permit any freedom or independent action of the masses'. (Many have argued that there are strong Blanquist and even Bakuninist strands in Bolshevism, and that it is precisely these departures from Marxism that are at the root of Bolshevism's 'elitist' ideology and practice.) Voline even reproaches the Kronstadt rebels with 'speaking of power (the power of the soviets) instead of getting rid of the word and of the idea altogether ... The practical struggle however was not against 'words" or even 'ideas. It was a physical struggle against their concrete incarnation in history (in the form of bourgeois institutions). It is a symptom of anarchist muddle-headedness on this score that they can both reproach the Bolsheviks with dissolving the Constituent Assembly (9) . . . and the Kronstadt rebels for proclaiming that they stood for soviet power! The 'Soviet anarchists' clearly perceived what was at stake - even if many of their successors fail to. They fought to defend the deepest conquest of October - soviet power - against all its usurpers, including the Bolsheviks.
Our own contribution to the 50th anniversary celebrations will not consist in the usual panegyrics to the achievement of Russian rocketry. Nor will we chant paeans to Russian pig-iron statistics. Industrial expansion may he pre-requisite for a fuller, better life for all but is in no way synonymous with such a life, unless all social relations have been revolutionised. We are more concerned at the social costs of Russian achievements.
Some perceived what these costs would he at a very early stage. We are interested in bringing their prophetic warnings to a far wider audience. The final massacre at Kronstadt took place on March 18, 1921, exactly fifty years after the slaughter of the Communards by Thiers and Galliffet. The facts about the Commune are well known. But fifty years after the Russian Revolution we still have to seek basic information about Kronstadt. The facts are not easy to obtain. They lie buried under the mountains of calumny and distortion heaved on them by Stalinists and Trotskyists alike.
The publication of this pamphlet in English, at this particular time, is part of this endeavour. Ida Mett's book La Commune de Cronstadt was first published in Paris in 1938. It was republished in France ten years later but has been unobtainable for several years. In 1962 and 1963 certain parts of it were translated into English and appeared in Solidarity (vol. 11, Nos. 6 to 11). We now have pleasure in bringing to English-speaking readers a slightly abridged version of the book as a whole, which contains material hitherto unavailable.
Apart from various texts published in Kronstadt itself in March 1921, Ida Mett's book contains Petrichenko's open letter of 1926, addressed to the British Communist Party. Petrichenko was the President of the Kronstadt Provisional Revolutionary Committee. His letter refers to discussions in the Political Bureau of the CPGB on the subject of Kronstadt, discussions which seem to have accepted that there was no extraneous intervention during the uprising.
Ida Mett writes from an anarchist viewpoint. Her writing 'however represents what is best in the revolutionary tradition of 'class struggle' anarchism. She thinks in terms of a collective, proletarian solution to the problems of capitalism. The rejection of the class struggle, the anti-intellectualism, the preoccupation with transcendental morality and with personal salvation that characterize so many of the anarchists of today should not for a minute detract 'Marxists' from paying serious attention to what she writes. We (do not necessarily endorse all her judgements and) have - in footnotes - corrected one or two minor factual inaccuracies in her text. Some of her generalisations, seem to us too sweeping and some of her analyses of the bureaucratic phenomenon too simple to be of real use. But as a chronicle of what took place before, during and after Kronstadt, her account remains unsurpassed.
Her text throws interesting light on the attitude to the Kronstadt uprising shown at the time by various Russian political tendencies (anarchists, Mensheviks, left and right S.R.s, bolsheviks, etc.). Some whose approach to politics is superficial in the extreme (and for whom a smear or a slogan "to a substitute for real understanding) will point accusingly to some of this testimony, to some of these resolutions and manifestos as evidence irrevocably damning the Kronstadt rebels. "Look', they will say., 'at what the Mensheviks and right S.R.s were saying. Look at how they were calling for a return to the Constituent Assembly, and at the same time proclaiming their solidarity with Kronstadt. Isn't this proof positive that Kronstadt was a counter-revolutionary upheaval? You yourselves admit that rogues like Victor Tchernov, President elect of the Constituent Assembly, offered to help the Kronstadters? What further evidence is needed?
We are not afraid of presenting all the facts to our readers. Let them judge for themselves. It is our firm conviction that most Trotskyists and Leninists are - and are kept - as ignorant of this period of Russian history as Stalinists are of the period of the Moscow Trials. At hest they vaguely sense the presence of skeletons in the cupboard. At worst they parrot what their leaders tell them, intellectually too lazy or politically too well conditioned to probe for themselves. Real revolutions are never 'pure'. They unleash the deepest passions of men. People actively participate or are dragged into the vortex of such movements for a variety of often contradictory reasons. Consciousness and false consciousness are inextricably mixed.
A river in full flood inevitably carries a certain amount of rubbish. A revolution in full flood carries a number of political corpses and may even give a semblance of life.
During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 many were the messages of verbal or moral support for the rebels, emanating from the West, piously preaching the virtues of bourgeois democracy or of free enterprise. The objectives of those who spoke in these terms were anything but the institution of a classless society. But their support for the rebels remained purely verbal, particularly when it became clear to them what the real objectives of the revolution were: a fundamental democratisation of Hungarian institutions without a reversion to private ownership of the means of production.
The backbone of the Hungarian revolution was the network of workers councils. Their main demands were for workers' management of production and for a government based on the councils. These facts justified the support of revolutionaries throughout the world. Despite the Mindszentys. Despite the Shallholders and Social-Democrats - or their shadows - now trying to jump onto the revolutionary bandwagon. The class criterion is the decisive one.
Similar considerations apply to the Kronstadt rebellion. Its core was the revolutionary sailors. Its main objectives were ones with which no real revolutionary could disagree. That others sought to take advantage of the situation is inevitable - and irrelevant. It is a question of who is calling the tune.
Attitudes to the Kronstadt events, expressed nearly 50 years after the event often provide deep insight into the political thinking of contemporary revolutionaries. They may in fact provide a deeper insight into their conscious or unconscious aims than many a learned discussion about economics, or philosophy or about other episodes of revolutionary history.
It is a question of one's basic attitude as to what socialism is all about. What are epitomised in the Kronstadt events are some of the most difficult problems of revolutionary strategy and revolutionary ethics - the problems of ends and means, of the relations between Party and masses, In fact of whether a Party is necessary at all. Can the working class by itself only develop a trade union consciousness? (10) Should it even be allowed, at all times, to go that far? (11)
Or can the working class develop a deeper consciousness and understanding of its interests than can any organization allegedly acting on its behalf? When Stalinists or Trotskyists speak of Kronstadt as 'an essential action against the class enemy' when more 'sophisticated' revolutionaries refer to as a strategic necessity', one is entitled to pause for a moment. One is entitled to ask how seriously they accept Marx's dictum that 'the emancipation of the working class is the task of tile working class itself. Do they take this seriously or do they pay mere lip service to the words? Do they identify socialism with the autonomy (organizational and ideological) of the working class? Or do they see themselves, with their wisdom as to the "historical interests' of others, and with their judgment as to what should be 'permitted', as the leadership around which the future elite will crystallise and develop? One is entitled not only to ask . . . but also to suggest the answer!