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eKronstadt

...... ·sing of 1921


Left Bank Books Pamphlet No. I .50 , ~nne r [lorndycraft
(\ "
Shortly after the Russian Civil War, or as the
Bolshevik view would have it, as a final chapter
of the Civil War, there occurred an uprising at the
91 pl~£ s-c-
Kronstadt Naval Base. The sailors whom Trotsky
SE-",--c-clE '-U.a.sh 98101
had dubbed "the pride and glory of the Revolution"
rose in revolt against the very state they had
helped into power. For sixteen days their I!rev-
olutionary commune" functioned independently of,
and was bitterly attacked by, the "Workers' and
Peasants I Government." It finally subdued them
with thousands of casualties on both sides. But it
was a Pyrrhic victory for the Communists. In a
moment of sad honesty, Lenin called Kronstadt "the
flash which lit up reality better than anything
else."

I. The Crisis of War Communism

A fair account of the Kronstadt Rebellion must


Pri m ing at Black Fyt" Press
understand the economic crisis in the Soviet
Union following several years of war--both inter-
national and civil. David Shub writes:

In 1919 and 1920, famine, disease, cold,


and infant mortality had claimed some nine
million lives--apart from the military cas-
ual ti es of the ci vi 1 war. In the Urals and
the Don region, the population had been re-
duced by a third. The living standard of
the Russian worker had sunk to less than a
third of the pre-war level, industrial out-
put to less than a sixth of 1913 production.
The prices of manufactured goods skyrocketed,
while paper currency dropped in value until
in January 1921 a gold ruble was worth
26,529 paper .rubles. Near ly half the i n-
dustrial work force deserted the towns for
the villages. I

The continuing crisis provoked peasant risings


lShub, David. Lenin. p. 405.
all over Russia. (The Cheka reported 118 inci- ential system which favored heavy industry and
dents in February 1921 alone.) The cornerstone especially armament workers over less valued cate-
of Lenin's policy of War Communism was the for- gories. Some were allotted only 200 grams of
cible seizure of grains from the peasants by armed black bread a day. Paul Avrich describes the sit-
detachments from the cities. "We actually took uation:
from the peasant," admitted Lenin, "all his sur- Driven by cold and hunger, men abandoned
pluses and sometimes not only the surpluses but thei"r machines for days on end to gather wood
part of the grain the peasant needed for food. We and forage for food in the surrounding country-
took this in order to meet the re~uirements of the side. Traveling on foot or in overcrowded
army and to sustain the workers." Grain as well railway cars, they brought their personal
as livestock was often confiscated without payment possessions and materials which they had
of any kind, and there were frequent complaints filched from the factories to exchange for
that even the seed needed for the next sowing had whatever food they could get. The government
been seized. In the face of all this, the peas- did all it could to stop this illegal. trade.
antry resorted to both passive and active resist- Armed roadblock detachments were deployed
ance. In 1920 it was estimated that over a third to guard the approaches to the cities and to
of the harvest had been hidden from the govern- confiscate the precious sacks of food which
ments troops. The amount of sown acreage dropped the" speculators" were carrying' back to their
to three-fifths of the figure for 1913, as the families. The brutali ty of the roadblock
peasants rebelled against growing crops only to detachments was a byword throughout the
have them seized. country, and complaints about their arbitrary
methods flooded the cOnmllssariats in Moscow. 3
As the civil war subsided and it became appar-
ent that a White restoration was no longer a Emma Goldman, the American anarchist who was in
threat, peasant resistance became violent. The Russia at the time, commented bitterly:
demobilization of half the Red Army--two and a In most cases the confiscated stuff was
half million men--swelled the peasant ranks with divided by the defenders of the Communist
experienced fighters who constantly clashed with State among themselves. The victims were
the requisitioning detachments. They demanded an fortunate indeed i f they escaped further
end to the forced seizures of grain, and called for trouble. After they were robbed of their
a fixed tax and the right to dispose of surpluses precious pack, they were often thrown into
as they saw fit. But the regime's ideological dis- gaol for "speculation."
taste for such "petit-bourgeois aspirations", com-
bined with fears of a resumption of foreign inter- The number of real speculators appre-
vention, led to a stubborn continuance of War Com- hended was insignificant in comparison with
munist policies. the mass of unfortunate humanity that filled
the prisons of Russia for trying to keep from
For urban workers the situation was even more starving to death. 4
desperate. Shortage of machinery, raw materials
and especially fuel meant that many large factories
In addition to the economic grievances of the
could operate only part-time. Retreating White workers there was growing opposition to the War
armies had destroyed many railway lines, interrupt-
Communist labor policies imposed by Leon Trotsky,
ing the delivery of food to the cities. What food
there was was distributed according to a prefer- 30p . cit., p. 26.
4Quoted in Emanuel Pollack's The Kronstadt
?Quoted in Paul Avrich's Kronstadt 1921. p. 9. Rebellion. p. 2-3.
2 3
the Commissar of War. He sought to apply the mil- action to this development:
itary discipline which had whipped the Red Army
into fighting shape to the crumbling industrial "Strikes under the dictatorship of the
proletariat!" the official exclaimed. " There
economy. The militarization of labor was charac-
terized by forced conscription of demobilized Red is no such thing."
Army troops into "labor armies," disciplining of Against whom, indeed should the workers
the civilian workers for pilfering and absenteeism, strike in Soviet Russia, he had argued.
the installation of armed guards in the workplace, Against themselves? They were the masters of
nationalization of the larger factories, and the the country, politically as well as industri-
gradual abandonment of workers' control in favor ally. To be sure, there were some among the
of management by "bourgeois specialists." This class toilers who were not yet fully class
last was the ultimate outrage to many workers. conscious and aware of their own true inter-
Avrich explains: ests. These were sometimes disgruntled, but
they were elements incited by the shkurniki
A new bureaucracy had begun to flourish. (self-seekers) and enemies of the Revolution.
It was a mixed lot, veteran administrative Skinners, parasites, they were who were pur-
personnel rubbing shoulders with untrained posely misleading the ignorant people ... of
neophytes; yet however disparate their values course the Soviet authorities had to protect
and outlook, they shared vested interests of the country against their kind. Most of them
their own that set them apart from the were in prison. 6
workers at the bench.
For the rank-and-file workmen, the restor-
On an economic level the "self-seekers" of
ation of the class enemy to a dominant place
Petrograd wanted food, above all. There were con-
in the factory meant a betrayal of the ideals
stant demands, in support of the peasants, for an
of the revolution. As they saw it, their end to grain requisitioning. For themselves they
dream of a proletarian democracy, momentarily
wanted the removal of roadblocks, the abolition
realized in 1917, had been snatched away and of privileged rations and the right to barter.per-
replaced by the coercive and bureaucratic sonal possessions for food. One leaflet det~11ed
methods of capitalism .... Small wonder that, cases of workers frozen or starved to death 1n
during the winter of 1920-l92l ... murmurings their homes. "In Vassili-Ostrov," said Victor
of discontent could no longer be silenced, Serge, "in a street white with snow: I saw a <;rowd
not even by threats of expUlsion with the gather, mostly women. I watched it.p~sh its way
loss of rations. At workshop meetings, where
slowly forward to mingle with the m111tary school
speakers angrily denounced the militarization cadets sent there to open up the approaches to the
and bureaucratization of industry, critical
factories. Patiently, sadly, the crowd told the
references to the comforts and privileges of soldiers how hungry the people were, called them
Bolshevik officials drew indignant shouts of
brothers, asked them for help. The cadets pulled
agreement from the listeners. The Communists, bread out of their knapsacks and divided it up.
it was said, always got the best jobs, and
Meanwhile the Mensheviks and the Left Social-
,
Revolutionaries were blamed for t h e str1'k e. ,,7
seemed to suffer le~s from hunger and cold
than everyone else.
But as the struggle wore !.m, and the Communists
The Kronstadt rebellion of 1921 was immediately responded with martial law, curfews, cha:-ges of
preceded by mass strikes in neighboring Petrograd. "counter-revolution," deprivation of rat1ons, and,
Emma Goldman recounts a Bolshevik official's re-
6Quoted in Po11ack, op. cit., pp. 10-11.
Sop. cit., p. 28-29. 7serge, Victor, Kronstadt 1921. P. 2.
S
finally, hundreds of arrests by the Cheka, the de-
mands of the workers took on political tones. The
GULF
following message appeared on buildings on February OF
27: FINLAND
A complete change is necessary in the pol-
Ft Totleben <?
icies of the government. First of all, the
workers and peasants need freedom. They don't
want to live by the decrees of the Bolsheviki:
they want to control their own destinies.
Kronstadt
Comrades, preserve revolutionary order!
Determinedly and in an organized manner
demand:
Liberation of all arrested socialists and
non-partisan working men;
Peterhof
Abolition of martial law: freedom of speech,
o 10
press and assembly for all those who labor; I I
Free election of shop and factory commit- miles

tees, of labor unions and soviet represent- Kronstadt and Vicinity


atives;
Call meetings, pass resolutions, send your
delegates to the authorities and work for the
realizations of your demands!8 rebels of 1921 lacked the revolutionary credentials
of the sailors who had stormed the Winter Palace.
It was a call thoroughly in the spirit of October Trotsky cha;'acterized the former as "complete~y
and it aroused the full sympathy of the Kronstadt
demoralized elements, men who wore elegant whlte
sailors. trousers and did their hair like pimps.,,9
Actually Kronstadt had an uninterrupted history of
11. Who the Rebels Were revolutionary activity. There were major outbursts
in 1905 and 1906, and they celebrated the February
Kronstadt is a fortified city on Kotlin Island Revolution of 1917 by executing their officers.
in the Gulf of Finland. Thirty kilometers west In May they established an independent commune in
of the Petrograd, it defends the former capital
defiance of the Provisional Government; in July
and is also the main base of the Baltic Fleet. they took part in the abortive rising against
Numerous forts dot the water to the north and south
Kerensky; in October they helped to bring down his
of the island, and there are major additional fort- government; in January 1918 they dispersed the
ifications on the mainland at Krasnaya Gorka and Constituent Assembly. Avrich provides a picture
Lissy Noss. of Kronstadt's internal life:
The citizens of Kronstadt, including the Baltic
sailors, the soldiers of the garrison, and civilian Together the Soviet and the forum in Anchor
workers, merchants and officials, numbered 50,000 Square satisfied the political needs of
in 1921. A brief look at the history of this pop- Kronstadt's inhabitants. There seems to have
ulace is in order, for a common Bolshevik charge been no widespread desire for a national par-
against them is that from 1917 to 1921 a rapid liament or for any other central ruling body.
turnover in their ranks occurred, and that the
8Quoted by Alexander Berkmen: "Th~ Kronstadt 9Leon Trotsky, from "Hue and Cry over Kronstadt,"
Rebellion," 1922, in Anarchy Magazine. quoted by Anton Ciliga, Anarchy Magazine.
7
6
For the most part, the social and economic of direct democracy. Thousands of casualties,
life of the city was administered by the combined with a centrally imposed reorganization
citizens themselves, through the medium of of the Red Fleet might provide the Communists a
local committees of every sort--house commit- more passive Kronstadt.
tees, ship committees, food committees, As for Trotsky's charge that the Kronstadt
factory and shop committees--which throve in rebels of early 1921 were morally degenexate "self-
the prevailing libertarian atmosphere. A seekers," the regime itself put the lie to that.
popular militia was organized to defend the As late as November 1920, on the third anniversary
island from any outside encroachments upon its of the October Revolution, the Kronstadters were
sovereignty. Kronstadt's residents displayed again held up as an example of revolutionary
a real talent for spontaneous self-organization. reliability. "It is true," says Nicolas WaIter,
Apart from their various committees, men and "that by 1921 the social composition of the fleet
women working in the same shop or living in had changed; instead of being mainly workers from
the same neighborhood formed tiny agricultural the Petrograd area, the sailors were now mainly ,
communes, each with about fifty members, which peasants from southern Russia. But far from this
undertook to cultivate whatever arable land making them any less revolutionary, their personal
could be found on the empty stretches of the links with such areas as the Ukraine if anything
island. During the Civil War, says Yarchuk, raised their revolutionary consciousness ... ,,11
these collective vegetable gardens helped But the Communist bureaucracy, burdened with its
save the city from starvation. conviction that it alone embodied the Revolution,
Cherishing their local autonomy, the could only respond to the groundswell of peasant,
Kronstadt population warmly endorsed the worker and military unrest in 1921 with cries of
appeal for "All power to the soviets" put "counter-revolution!"
forward in 1917 by Lenin and his party. They Ill.
interpreted the slogan in a literal sense,
to mean that each locality would run its own When news of the strike in "Red Peter" reached
affairs, with little or no interference from the Kronstadt sailors, they immediately dispatched
any central authority. This. says Yarchuk, a delegation to Petrograd to investigate. The
they understood to be the true essence of delegates reported back on February 28 to a
"socialism."lO sailors' meeting on the battleship Petropavlovsk.
But the sailors began to exhibit at best mixed Their indignant listeners then passed the following
feelings toward the Bolshevik regime within months resolution, which was to become the rallying point
of Lenin's seizure of power. In April 1918 they of the rebellion:
passed a resolution calling for replacement of the
Bolsheviks by a genuinely revolutionary regime. In Having heard the report of the representa-
October they attempted a mutiny. As the Civil War tives sent by the general meeting of ships'
unfolded, however, once more Kronstadt sailors were crews to Petrograd to investigate the situa-
some of the best fighters against the Whites. They tion there, we resolve:
were sent to all the most precarious fronts, partly
due to their ability, and perhaps also, as Voline 1. In view of the fact that the present
maintains, because dead heroes--or at least widely soviets do not express the will of the workers
dispersed heroes--were of more value to the Bol- and peasants, immediately to hold new elec-
sheviks than were live and very volatile champions
lOOp. cit., p. 73-74. Voline is also an excel- llWalter, Nicolas. From his review of Avrich's
lent source on Kronstadt's internal affairs. Kronstadt 1921, in Anarchy Magazine.

8 9
tions by secret ballot, with freedom to carry is, without employing hired labor;
on agitation beforehand for all workers and 12. To request all branches of the army,
peasants; as well as our comrades in the military cadets,
2. To give freedom of speech and press to (kursanty) to endorse our resolution;
workers and peasants, to anarchists, and left 13. To demand that the press give all our
socialist parties; resolutions wide publicity;
3. To secure freedom of assembly for trade 14. To appoint an itinerant bureau of con-
unions and peasant organizations; trol;
4. To call a nonparty conference of the 15. To permit free handicrafts production
workers, Red Army soldiers and sailors of by one's own labor.
Petrograd, Kronstadt and the Petrograd Prov-
ince, no later than March la, 1921; PETRICHENKO, Chairman of the
Squadron Meeting
5. To liberate all political prisoners of
PEREPELKIN, Secret ary 12
socialist partieis, as well as all workers,
peasants, soldiers and sailors imprisoned in
The most immediately striking thing about this
connection with the labor and peasant move-
ments;
document is that only one demand--for the abolition
6. To elect a cOmnUssion to review the
of political departments in the fleet--relates
cases of those being held in prisons and
specifically to the sailors' situation. All the
other points were made on behalf of the rebelling
concentration camps;
workers and peasants. Furthermore, Trotsky's
7. To abolish all political departments
charge that the Kronstadters were demanding spec-
because no party should be given special priv-
ial food privileges is belied by the call for
ileges in the propagation of its ideas or
equalization of rations; Lenin's claim that they
receive the financial support of the state
had called for the return of the Constituent Assem-
for such purposes. Instead, there should be
bly is unsubstantiated by this, or any later,
established cultural and educational cOmnUs-
document. 13 The seamen had dispersed the Assembly
sions, locally elected and financed by the
in 1918 and they were no more favorable to it in
state;
8. To remove immediately all roadblock
1921; in their eyes, explains Avrich, a national
detachments;
parliament would inevitably be dominated by a new
9. To equalize the rations of all working privileged minority.
people, with the exception of those employed Various attempts have been made to "type" the
in trades detrimental to health; Kronstadt rebels on the basis of this resolution
la. To abolish the Communist fighting de- and subsequent publications. Isaac Deutscher
tachments in all branches of the army, as states flatly that they were led by anarchists, an
well as the Communist guards kept on duty in assumption he derives from Trotsky. Nicolas WaIter
factories and mills. Should such guards or di sputes this, since "They envisaged a strong ad-
detachments be found necessary, they are to ministration and wanted a 'soviet republic of
be appointed in the army from the ranks and toilers' based on councils of working class depu-
in the factories and mills at the discretion 12Avrich, op. cit., p. 73-74.
of the workers; 13 rn fact, the Kronstadt delegates had told the
11. To give the peasants full freedom of Petrograd strikers that the guns of Kronstadt
action in regard to the land, and also the would be "resolutely directed against the Con-
right to keep cattle, on condition that the sti tuent Assembly and against all retreat."
peasants manage within their own means, that (Quoted in Voline's Unknown Revolution, p. 469.
10 11
ties exercising state power.,,14 Certainly the learned that he had ordered the removal of all food
Mensheviks, the Right Social-Revolutionaries and and munitions from Kronstadt. 18
the middle-class liberal groups were not in favor: At this stage the sailors didn't see themselves
the call for freedom of speech and assembly was as being in open revolt. In fact, they sent a com-
only for "anarchists and left-socialist parties."lS mittee of thirty men to confer with the Petrograd
Avrich appears to be correct in saying that the Soviet with the hope of achieving an amicable end
rebellion was neither inspired nor engineered by to the strike. (Upon their arrival in Petrograd,
any single party or group. The Kronstadt' rebels they were promptly arrested by the Cheka.)
were pure soviet communists, whose aim was to re- But the government seems to have never seriously
turn to the brief triumph of the October Revolu- entertained the thought of negotiation with the
tion--"to the hours, as it were," says Nicolas sailors. There are a number of reasons for this.
Walter, "between the disappearance of·the Provi- First, the Communists half-believed in their own
sional Government andl~he appearance of the charge that the uprising was inspired and supported
People's Commissars." by White emigres, and was the stepping stone to a
On March 1st, the day after the passage of the new intervention. Had this been true, there was
Petropavlovsk resolution, a mass meeting was held probably no better stepping stone than the Kron-
in Anchor Square. 16,000 sailors, soldiers and stadt naval base, with its heavy armaments and
workers heard the report of the delegation to its proximity to Petrograd. There is plenty of
Petrograd, and then a motion to adopt the Petro- evidence of elation among the Russian emigres,
pavlovsk demands. Kalinin, the President of the but as we have seen, Kronstadt's program was
Soviet Republic, spoke against it; but despite his hardly designed for their sakes, and it seems more
friendly reception upon arriving in Kronstadt, he a case of wishful thinking. White organizations
failed to move, and in fact provoked the crowd in Europe began rounding up supplies for the
by his arrogance and hostility. They shouted: sailors as soon as the uprising began, but in
"Why are our fathers and brothers in the villages fact none were actually delivered, nor were they
shot? You are sated; you are warm; the commissars solicited.
live in the palaces."l7 The military commissar The Bolshevik press further claimed that the
Kuzmin followed, and denounced the resolution and military strategy of the rebels was dictated by
the sailors as counter-revolutionary, to be smashed a ~eneral Kozlovsky, a former Tsarist general ap-
by the iron hand of the proletariat. These two p~lnt~d t~ Kronstadt by Trotsky. Such a person
speakers cast the only negative votes in the entire dId lIve In Kronstadt, and he did provide technical
gathering. Kalinin was sent on his way back to advice. But most of his advice--and that of other
Hoscow. But Kuzmin was arrested when it was ~ilitary officials--was ignored. Only the Commun-
14 0p • cit., p. 25 Ist government utilized the skills of ex-Tsarist
officers, most notably Tukachevsky.19
15voline is rather embarrassed by this. He ex-
18 His arrest became a major issue in the battle
plains that this wording was chosen "to remove
of propaganda, with the Bolsheviks claiming he
in advance any possibility of misunderstanding
had been threatened with execution. Victor
the real nature of the movement." Within the
confines of Kronstadt itself, where "reaction- Serge recounts the incident as his first exper-
ience with lying as an established policy of
ary deceptions could have no success," all
the regime.
opinions could be freely expressed. Voline,
19 AvrIC
. h h '
as wrItten .
an entIre chapter on the
op. cit., p. 473.
1 GOp. . complex question of White involvement. His
c~t., p. 25.
conclusions seem fair, and I have reproduced
17Shrib, op. cit., p. 407. their general tenor. '
12 13
A second reason for the Communists' reluctance Go~dman and A~exander Berkman. Victor Serge des-
to negotiate is suggested by R. V. Daniels: 20 crlbes a meetlng of these two with Zinoviev
That there was at least some legitimate basis Chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. He recei;ed
for the Kronstadt reform demands was admitted them cordially, for they enjoyed wide international
by Kalinin .... He described a resolution adopt- support. But he flatly turned down their negotia-
ed at Kronstadt on March 1, demanding various tion proposal. "As a sop," says Serge, "he offered
reforms ranging from free elections to the them ev~ry facilit~ for seeing Russia from a pri-
permission of free trade, as "with certain vate rallway car." 2 Most of the Russian members
corrections, more or less acceptable," and of the mediation group were arrested. 23
based on real organizational abuses within The military strategy of the Kronstadters was
the Communist Party. Undoubtedly the Kron- entirely defensive, a reflection of their illusion
stadt revolt could have been forestalled by that they had merely to wait and the rest of Russia
timely reforms, but such a course would have starting wit~ Petrograd, would rush to their sup- '
been too embarrassing and might well have por~. They 19nored the suggestions of military
been a serious blow to the authority of the offlcers to break up the ice around the island with
government ...• Given the state of discontent, cannon fire, which could have prevented an assault
an admission by the government that the Kron- by land. They furth~r rejected the idea of seizing
stadters had a case that could be discussed, the fortress of Oranlenbaum, from which they could
might have brought the Soviet regime crashing have launched a surprise offensive. Had they done
down everywhere. It was essential above all so, they would have saved the lives of the aerial
for the Communist Party to suppress the idea squ~d:on at Oranienbaum, which was caught in a plan
11

of Kronstadt as a movement which defended the to J?ln the rebels. Several Red Army regiments at
principles of the October Revolution against Oranlenbaum also refused to fight the sailors
the Communists--the idea of the "third Cheka units rushed to the scene and shot ever~
revolution. " fifth soldier.
Finally, Kronstadt posed a new and disconcerting On largely ideological grounds, the sailors de-
problem for the regime. Communist Party members in clin~d outside help in the form of supplies, thus
the Baltic Fleet had, in mid-February, condemned doomlng themselves to slow starvation. But they
the Political Section of the fleet; they had fur- most gravely miscalculated the situation in Petro-
thermore, according to the Commissar for Petrograd, grade The strikes in Red Peter were already de-
been. leaving the party in droves--SOOO sailors in clining as the Kronstadt uprising began. Through a
January alone. 21 During the uprising, so many combination of repression and concessions--most
Communists were writing to the rebel Kronstadt notably the removal of roadblock detachments--the
Isvestia to announce their resignations that the city was calmed. Hundreds of dissident workers
editors had to plead for shorter statements. The had been arrested and all soldiers suspected of
central government couldn't negotiate with these 22serge, Ope cit., p. 4.
rank-and-file defectors at a time when it was about 23 AvrlC
. h d escrlbes
. one brief moment in this story,
to ban dissent even at its highest levels.
There was one attempt to negotiate initiated by when the government offered to negotiate. Un-
an anarchist mediation group which included Emma fortunately, the sailors distrusted the pro-
posed negotiating team, and their request for
20 R. . 1 s, The Conscience of the Revolu-
V. Danle an amended proposal was never answered. This
tion, p. 144. all occurred the day after the wives and chil-
21This figure is from rda Mett's The Kronstadt dren of many sailors had been arrested as
hostages on the mainland, a move which guaran-
Uprising, p. 37.
teed intransigence on the part of the rebels.
14
IS
sympathy with Kronstadt were transferred further dered. No one trusts himself to speak.,,27
inland. Kronstadt was alone. Tukachevsky ordered a first attempt to take Kron-
Following acceptance of the Petropavlovsk reso- stadt by storm, on March 8. His troops advanced
lution in Anchor Square, a "Provisional Revolution-
across the open ice with no protection against the
ary Committee" had been elected to coordinate Kron- guns of the base. They were prodded from behind by
stadt's affairs pending the formation of a new machine gunners who were instructed to shoot waver-
Soviet. This group of fifteen--nine sailors, four ers. Hundreds were killed, many drowning in the
workmen, one school principal and a transport of- holes made in the ice by Kronstadt's cannons.
ficial--were soon catapulted into the role of In the midst of this battle, the rebels found
military strategists. On March 4, at a heated time to send a message to the working women of the
session of the Petrograd Soviet, Zinoviev demanded world, on International Women's Day: "May you soon
the immediate surrender of Kronstadt on pain of accomplish your liberation from every form of
death. The rebels were passionately defended by violence and oppression. Long live the free revol-
a Petrograd worker-delegate: "It's the cruel in- utionary working women! Long live the Worldwide
difference of yourself and of your party," he Social Revolution!,,28
shouted at Zinoviev, "that drove us to' strike and Following his total failure on March 8, Tuka-
that roused the sympathy of our brother sailors ... chevsky took time to attain troops less likely to
They are guilty of no other crime, and you know it. display ambivalence at the crucial moment. From
Consciously you malign them and call for their the Asiatic parts of Russia, he brought in men
destruction.,,24 Amid cries of "traitor" and who had little in common with the Kronstadters.
"Menshevik bandit" he was drowned out and Zino- Three hundred delegates from the Tenth Party Con-
viev's motion was passed. gress (which was then in session) raced to the
On March 5, Trotsky issued an ultimatum in front. Some of these were Workers' Oppositionists,
which he promised to "shoot like partridges,,25 all anxious to display their loyalty to the Party.
those who refused to surrender immediately. Only Meanwhile the island entered a period of gradual
those who did could expect mercy. The Provisional starvation and demoralization. Their rebel Isvest-
Revolutionary Committee replied: "The ninth wave ia still urged Red Peter to rise in support, but
of the Toilers' Revolution has risen and will they were less and less optimistic.
sweep from the face of Soviet Russia the vile Finally on the night of March 16" the last
slanderers and tyrants with all their corruption-- assault began. Avrich estimates that 50,000 Com-
and your ~lemency, Mr. Trotsky, will not be munist troops were pitted against 15,000 well-
needed.,,2 entrenched defenders. By morning the battle
On March 7, an aerial bombardment was launched raged within the city itself. Women as well as
against the island, which continued over several men fought ferociously to save Kronstadt, and at
days. The sound of the guns reached Alexander four in the afternoon they almost succeeded in a
Berkman in Petrograd. "Days of anguish and cannon- counter-offensive. But their own exhaustion and
ading," he wrote in his diary. "My heart is numb a fresh supply of Communist troops decided the day.
with despair; something has died within me. The Had they held out much longer, a plan sanctioned
people on the street look bowed with grief. bewil- by Trotsky to launch a gas attack would have been
carried out.
24Avr ich, op. cit., p. 143. Kronstadt fell. In all, the Bolsheviks lost
2 5rhere is some suggestion that this phrase was about 10,000 men, the rebels about 1500; about
Zinoviev's. 8000 rebels fled across the ice to Finland; another
26 Avrich, ibid. The ninth is the culminating 27Avrich, ibid., p. 152.
wave of a storm at s ea. 28Quoted in Pollack, p. 40.
16 17
2500 were ca~§ured and either killed or sent to left-wing parties could agitate freely.
labor camps. "It was not a battle," said Tuka- Was Lenin compelled by historical inevitability.
chevsky later, "it was an inferno ... The sailors to abandon these hopes? Was he forced to substitute
fought like wild beasts. I cannot understand for the rule of the working class that of the
where they found the might for such rage.,,30 "technical intelligentia,,?32 In his history of
CONCLUSION the Peasant War in German, Engels raises a possi-
"They didn't want the White Guards, but they bility which must have haunted Lenin:
didn't want us, either," commented Lenin at the The worst thing that can befall a leader
of an extreme party is to be compelled to
Tenth Party Congress. Within days of the fall of
take over a government in an epoch when the
Kronstadt two things happened: his New Economic
movement is not yet ripe for the domination
Policy was adopted, granting all of the e~onomic
of the class he represents and for the reali-
demands of the sailors with one very important dis-
zation of the measures which that domination
tortion: it allowed the hiring of wage-labor.
would imply ... He is compelled to represent
Secondly, all opposition within the Party was
banned. Bukharin put it well: "Opportunists have not his party or his class, but the class for
formed the opinion that at first we make economic which conditions are ripe for domination. In
concessions and then political. As a matter of the interests of the movement itself, he is
fact, we make economic concessions in order not to compelled to defend the interests of an alien
be forced to political concessions.,,31 class, and to feed his own class with phrases
There are a number of differing conclusions and promises, with the assertion that the
which may be drawn from the story of Kronstadt. interests of that alien class are their own
The rebels were certainly not the "revolution's interests. 33
gui 1tless children," as Avrich calls them. The In the suppression of Kronstadt, "the other
maturity of political thought revealed in the Leninism" comes into its own, in the form of a
Petropavlovsk resolution should restr~in us from tautology: "The proletariat of itself was held to
condescension. The real argument revolves around be incapable of rising above the level of mere
what could loosely be called the issue of historical trade-union consciousness." Granting this, says
necessity. An added complication is that in a real Daniels, Lenin had an airtight case: "Any mani-
sense, there are two "Leninism<;"--one motivating festation of independent revolutionary thought
the Kronstadters, the other justifying their sup- among the workers ... naturally had to challenge the
pression. authority of the party which purported to do the
"Socialism," said Lenin in 1917, "is not created proletariat's thinking for it. Such a challenge
by orders from above. State-bureaucratic automat- of the party, given the definition of true prole-
ism is alien to its spirit; socialism is alive, tarian thought as complete loyalty to the authority
creative--the creation of the popular masses them- of the part y , was ipso fa<;to ev i dence of "petit-
selves." Written immediately prior to October, bourgeois," "trade-unionist" thinking or of the
State and Revolution called for freedom of the " declassing" of the workers in consequence of the
press, the abolition of "special bodies of armed economic breakdown . Thus by 1921, the organiza-
men" in favor of a people's militia, a state in t ional doctrine of Bolshevism had come full cir-
which the workers would exercise power directly cl e, to the pri meval Lenin i sm of 1902.,,34
through their elected soviets, and in which all 32 The phrase is R. V. Daniels'.
2 9These fiqures are Avrich's. 33 Quoted in Daniels, Ope cit., p. 136.
30Quoted in Pollack, p. 49. 34Ibid., p. 147. The "primeval Leninism" of 1902
31Quoted in Pollack, p. 62. is that expressed in What Is to Be Done.
18 19
Avrich suggests that the tragedy of Kronstadt
is that one can sympathize with the rebels and
yet justify the Communists' suppression of them. BIBLIOGRAPHY
I suggest that the real tragedy is that so many
people have for so long done just that: from 1. Avrich, Paul. The Anarchists in the Russian
Kronstadt to Berlin, to Budapest and Prague, Revolution. Cornell. U. Press, 1973.
tyranny has been justified as somehow progressive. 2. Avrich, Paul. Kronstadt, 1921. Princeton U.
Even if one accepts the argument that their rise Press, 1970.
to power--in situations of scarcity and under- 3. Daniels, Robert V. The Conscience of the
development--is inevitable, there is no need to Revolution: Communist Opposition in Soviet
enshrine tyrants. The Russian Revolution suffered Russia. Simon & Schuster, 1969.
a mortal setback in 1921. What should concern us,
says Nicolas WaIter, is not the "possibility that 4. Deutscher, Isaac. Trotsky. Vols. 1-3, Oxford
the success of Kronstadt might have led to chaos, U. Press, 1954, 1959 and 1963.
civil war or counter-revolution, but the certainty 5. Goldman, Emma. Living My Life, Vol. 2. Knopf,
that the failure of Kronstadt led to dictatorship, 1931.
purges and counter-revolution.,,35
6. Goldman, Emma. My Disillusionment in Russia.
Apollo Editions, 1970.
7. Goldman, Emma. Trotsky Protests Too Much. A
pamphlet published by the Libertarian Education
Project in England.
8. Mett, Ida. The Kronstadt uprising. Black Rose
Books, 1971.
9. Pollack, Emanuel. The Kronstadt Rebellion.
Phi losophical Library. 1951.
10. Serge, Victor. Kronstadt 1921. A pamphlet
published by Solidarity, in England.
11. Shub, David. Lenin. Doubleday, 1948.
12. Voline. The Unknown Revolution. Solidarity!
Black and Red, 1974.
13. The Kronstadt Rebellion in the Soviet Union.
A pamphlet published by the National Education
Department of the Socialist Workers Party,
1973: articles by Trotsky, Wright, Serge,
MacDonald, and the editors of New International.
14. Anarchy Magazine. March, 1971. The whole
issue is devoted to Kronstadt and includes
articles by Paul Avrich, Alexander Berkman,
35Walter, OPe cit., p. 27. and Anton Ciliga.