"All power to the soviets and not to parties."

In 1921, the Civil War was just about over, but conditions in Petrograd were steadily worsening. Workers' strikes in February were met with martial law and mass arrests. In spite of this, workers continued to demand new elections to the soviets; once the foundation for socialist democracy, they had degenerated to little more than instruments of Bolshevik rule.

Situtated in the Gulf of Finland was Kronstadt, a naval fortress dating back to the days of the Czar. The sailors of Kronstadt had been the shock troops of the Revolution, and the island had been Trotsky's favorite stomping ground. In March, the crew of the battleships Petropavlovsk and Sevastapol sent "fact-finding delegations" to the mainland, which reported on the situation. In response, the "Petropavlovsk Resolution" was drafted, calling for freedom of speech, freedom of press, free trade union activity, abolition of Bolshevik government departments, release of political prisoners, and the right of peasants to control the land they worked. In essence, the original aims of the Russian Revolution to which the Bolsheviks claimed to adhere. The Resolution was adopted unanimously by 16,000.

The Bolshevik government feared that this revolt would spread to other parts of Russia, and physically sealed off Kronstadt (it was accessible by land during the winter.) FUD was spread; in the official propaganda, the Kronstadt sailors were labelled counter-revolutionary White peasants led by a Czarist. The government feared that, come Spring, more vessels would move into the Gulf of Finland in support, and so acted quickly.

Trotsky organized the attack. Mainland coastal fortresses began a ten-day bombardment, and on the night of March 7th, several thousand Red Army troops were ordered to attack from the north and south in a blinding snowstorm. Machine guns were placed in the rear so that they would not turn back. The attack failed. On March 12th, another attack was attempted, and the rebels used artillery to break up the ice and thus impede travel.

On March 16th, ~50,000 Bolshevik troops attacked from three directions, crossing ice that had already begun to thaw. Nevertheless, the attack was successful, and Kronstadt was under government control by March 17th. Thousands of captured sailors were sent to the first camps of the Gulag. Kronstadt marked the last major revolt against Bolshevik tyranny.
I can see this getting horribly downvoted, but I think some defence of the events of Kronstadt is necessary even if only for argument's sake. The following is taken from "Hue and Cry Over Kronstadt" by Leon Trotsky, 15th January , 1938.

"A "People's Front" of Denouncers


The campaign around Kronstadt is being carried on with undiminished vigor in certain circles. One would think that the Kronstadt revolt occurred not seventeen years ago, but only yesterday. Participating in the campaign with equal zeal and under one and the same slogan are Anarchists, Russian Mensheviks, left Social Democrats of the London Bureau, (Incidentally, the SRs were the only party present in the revolt with any sort of public support, the Mensheviks and Anarchists having been largely forgotten.), individual blunderers, Miliukov's paper, and, on occasion, the big capitalist press. A "People's Front" of its own kind!

Only yesterday I happened across the following lines in a Mexican weekly which is both reactionary Catholic and "democratic": "Trotsky ordered the shooting of 1,500 ? Kronstadt sailors, these purest of the pure. His policy when in power differed in no way from the present policy of Stalin." As is known, the left Anarchists draw the same conclusion. When for the first time in the press I briefly answered the questions of Wendelin Thomas, member of the New York Commission of Inquiry, the Russian Mensheviks' paper immediately came to the defense of the Kronstadt sailors and…of Wendelin Thomas. Miliukov's paper came forward in the same spirit. The Anarchists attacked me with still greater vigor. All these authorities claim that my answer was completely worthless. This unanimity is all the more remarkable since the Anarchists defend, in the symbol of Kronstadt, genuine anti-state communism; the Mensheviks, at the time of the Kronstadt uprising, stood openly for the restoration of capitalism; and Miliukov stands for capitalism even now.

How can the Kronstadt uprising cause such heartburn to Anarchists, Mensheviks, and "liberal" counter-revolutionists, all at the same time? The answer is simple: all these groupings are interested in compromising the only genuinely revolutionary current, which has never repudiated its banner, has not compromised with its enemies, and alone represents the future. It is because of this that among the belated denouncers of my Kronstadt "crime" there are so many former revolutionists or semi-revolutionists, people who have lost their program and their principles and who find it necessary to divert attention from the degradation of the Second International or the perfidy of the Spanish Anarchists. As yet, the Stalinists cannot openly join this campaign around Kronstadt but even they, of course, rub their hands with pleasure; for the blows are directed against "Trotskyism", against revolutionary Marxism, against the Fourth International!

Why in particular has this variegated fraternity seized precisely upon Kronstadt? During the years of the revolution we clashed not a few times with the Cossacks (See "Bloody Sunday"), the peasants, even with certain layers of workers (certain groups of workers from the Urals organized a volunteer regiment in the army of Kolchak!). The antagonism between the workers as consumers and the peasants as producers and sellers of bread lay, in the main, at the root of these conflicts. Under the pressure of need and deprivation, the workers themselves were episodically divided into hostile camps, depending upon stronger or weaker ties with the village. The Red Army also found itself under the influence of the countryside. During the years of the civil war it was necessary more than once to disarm discontented regiments. The introduction of the "New Economic Policy" (NEP) attenuated the friction but far from eliminated it. On the contrary, it paved the way for the rebirth of kulaks (wealthy peasants) and led, at the beginning of this decade, to the renewal of civil war in the village. The Kronstadt uprising was only an episode in the history of the relations between the proletarian city and the petty-bourgeois age. It is possible to understand this episode only in connection with the general course of the development of the class struggle during the revolution.

Kronstadt differed from a long series of other petty-bourgeois movements and uprisings only by its greater external effect. The problem here involved a maritime fortress under Petrograd itself. During the uprising proclamations were issued and radio broadcasts were made. The Social Revolutionaries and the Anarchists, hurrying from Petrograd, adorned the uprising with "noble" phrases and gestures. All this left traces in print. With the aid of these "documentary" materials (i.e., false labels), it is not hard to construct a legend about Kronstadt, all the more exalted since in 1917 the name Kronstadt was surrounded by a revolutionary halo. Not idly does the Mexican magazine quoted above ironically call the Kronstadt sailors the "purest of the pure".

The play upon the revolutionary authority of Kronstadt is one of the distinguishing features of this truly charlatan campaign. Anarchists, Mensheviks, liberals, reactionaries try to present the matter as if at the beginning of 1921 the Bolsheviks turned their weapons on those very Kronstadt sailors who guaranteed the victory of the October insurrection. Here is the point of departure for all the subsequent falsehoods. Whoever wishes to unravel these lies should first of all read the article by Comrade J. G. Wright in the New International (February 1938). My problem is another one: I wish to describe the character of the Kronstadt uprising from a more general point of view."

Here, Trotsky goes on to describe the social strata present in the Kronstadt naval base, before, during and after the revolution. To be frank it's arcane and rather dull. I'll skip on.

The Social Roots of the Uprising


The problem of a serious student consists in defining, on the basis of the objective circumstances, the social and political character of the Kronstadt mutiny and its place in the development of the revolution. Without this, "criticism" is reduced to sentimental lamentation of the pacifist kind in the spirit of Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, and their latest imitators. These gentlefolk do not have the slightest understanding of the criteria and methods of scientific research. They quote the proclamations of the insurgents like pious preachers quoting Holy Scriptures. They complain, moreover, that I do not take into consideration the "documents," i.e., the gospel of Makhno and the other apostles. To take documents "into consideration" does not mean to take them at their face value. Marx has said that it is impossible to judge either parties or peoples by what they say about themselves. (My emphasis, and not directly relevant, but I feel it is well applied to every subsequent state describing itself as "socialist.") The characteristics of a party are determined considerably more by its social composition, its past, its relation to different classes and strata, than by its oral and written declarations, especially during a critical moment of civil war. If, for example, we began to take as pure gold the innumerable proclamations of Negrin, Companys, Garcia Oliver, and company, we would have to recognize these gentlemen as fervent friends of socialism. But in reality they are its perfidious enemies.

In 1917-18 the revolutionary workers led the peasant masses, not only of the fleet but of the entire country. The peasants seized and divided the land most often under the leadership of the soldiers and sailors arriving in their home districts. Requisitions of bread had only (just) begun and were mainly from the landlords and kulaks at that. The peasants reconciled themselves to requisitions as a temporary evil. But the civil war dragged on for three years. The city gave practically nothing to the village and took almost everything from it, chiefly for the needs of war. The peasants approved of the "Bolsheviks" but became increasingly hostile to the "Communists." If in the preceding period the workers had led the peasants forward, the peasants now dragged the workers back. Only because of this change in mood could the Whites partially attract the peasants, and even the half-peasants-half-workers, of the Urals to their side. This mood, i.e., hostility to the city, nourished the movement of Makhno, who seized and looted trains marked for the factories, the plants, and the Red Army, tore up railroad tracks, shot Communists, etc. Of course, Makhno called this the Anarchist struggle with the "state." In reality, this was a struggle of the infuriated petty property owner against the proletariat. A similar movement arose in a number of other districts, especially in Tambovsky, under the banner of "Social Revolutionaries." Finally, in different parts of the country so-called "Green" peasant detachments were active. They did not want to recognize either the Reds or the Whites and shunned the city parties. The "Greens" sometimes met the Whites and received severe blows from them, but they did not, of course, get any mercy from the Reds. Just as the petty bourgeoisie is ground economically between the millstones of big capital and the proletariat, so the peasant partisan detachments were pulverized between the Red Army and the White.

Only an entirely superficial person can see in Makhno's bands or in the Kronstadt revolt a struggle between the abstract principles of Anarchism and "state socialism." Actually, these movements were convulsions of the peasant petty bourgeoisie which desired, of course, to liberate itself from capital but which at the same time did not consent to subordinate itself to the proletariat. The petty bourgeoise does not know concretely what it wants, and by virtue of its position cannot know. That is why it so readily covered the confusion of its demands and hopes, now with the Anarchist banner, now with the populist, now simply with the "Green." Counterposing itself to the proletariat, it tried, flying all these banners, to turn the wheel of the revolution backwards.

The Counterrevolutionary Character of the Kronstadt Mutiny


There were, of course, no impassable bulkheads dividing the different social and political layers of Kronstadt. There were still at Kronstadt a certain number of qualified workers and technicians to take care of the machinery. But even they were identified by a method of negative selection as politically unreliable and of little use for the civil war. Some "leaders" of the uprising came from among these elements. However, this completely natural and inevitable circumstance, to which some accusers triumphantly point, does not change by one iota the anti-proletarian character of the revolt. Unless we are to deceive ourselves with pretentious slogans, false labels, etc., we shall see that the Kronstadt; uprising was nothing but an armed reaction of the petty bourgeoisie against the hardships of social revolution and the severity of the proletarian dictatorship. (This being a reference to the Bolshevik policy of "War Communism", which was abolished later in favour of the NEP, partly due to the Kronstadt revolt.)

That was exactly the significance of the Kronstadt slogan, "Soviets without Communists," which was immediately seized upon, not only by the SRs but by the bourgeois liberals as well. As a rather farsighted representative of capital, Professor Miliukov understood that to free the soviets from the leadership of the Bolsheviks would have meant within a short time to demolish the soviets themselves. The experience of the Russian soviets during the period of Menshevik and SR domination and, even more clearly, the experience of the German and Austrian soviets under the domination of the Social Democrats, proved this. Social Revolutionary-Anarchist soviets could serve only as a bridge from the proletarian dictatorship to capitalist restoration. They could play no other role, regardless, of the "ideas" of their participants. The Kronstadt uprising thus had a counterrevolutionary character.

From the class point of view, which - without offense to the honorable eclectics - remains the basic criterion not only for politics but for history, it is extremely important to contrast the behavior of Kronstadt to that of Petrograd in those critical days. The whole leading stratum of the workers had also been drawn out of Petrograd. Hunger and cold reigned in the deserted capital, perhaps even more fiercely than in Moscow. A heroic and tragic period! All were hungry and irritable. All were dissatisfied. In the factories there was dull discontent. Underground organizers sent by the SRs and the White officers tried to link the military uprising with the movement of the discontented workers.

The Kronstadt paper wrote about barricades in Petrograd, about thousands being killed. The press of the whole world proclaimed the same thing. Actually the precise opposite occurred. The Kronstadt uprising did not attract the Petrograd workers. It repelled them. The stratification proceeded along class lines. The workers immediately felt that the Kronstadt mutineers stood on the opposite side of the barricades-and they supported the Soviet power. The political isolation of Kronstadt; was the cause of its internal uncertainty and its military defeat.

The NEP and the Kronstadt Uprising


Victor Serge, who, it would seem, is trying to manufacture a sort of synthesis of anarchism, POUMism (If anyone can tell me what this is I'd be most grateful.), and Marxism, has intervened very unfortunately in the polemic about Kronstadt. In his opinion, the introduction of the NEP one year earlier could have averted the Kronstadt uprising. Let us admit that. But advice like this is very easy to give after the event. It is true, as Victor Serge remembers, that I had proposed the transition to the NEP as early as 1920. But I was not at all sure in advance of its success. It was no secret to me that the remedy could prove to be more dangerous than the malady itself. When I met, opposition from the leaders of the party, I did not appeal to the ranks, in order to avoid mobilizing the petty bourgeoisie against the workers. The experience of the ensuing twelve months was required to convince the party of the need for the new course. But the remarkable thing is that it was precisely the Anarchists all over the world who looked upon the NEP as ... a betrayal of communism. But now the advocates of the Anarchists denounce us for not having introduced the NEP a year earlier.

In 1921 Lenin more than once openly acknowledged that the party's obstinate defense of the methods of War Communism had become a great mistake. But does this change matters? Whatever the immediate or remote causes of the Kronstadt rebellion, it was in its very essence a mortal danger to the dictatorship of the proletariat. Simply because it had been guilty of a political error, should the proletarian revolution really have committed suicide to punish itself?

Or perhaps it would have been sufficient to inform the Kronstadt sailors of the NEP decrees to pacify them? Illusion! The insurgents did not have a conscious program and they could not have had one because of the very nature of the petty bourgeoisie. They themselves did not clearly understand that what their fathers and brothers needed first of all was free trade. They were discontented and confused but they saw no way out. The more conscious, (rightist) elements, acting behind the scenes, wanted the restoration of the bourgeois regime. But they did not say so out loud. The "left" wing wanted the liquidation of discipline, "free soviets," and better rations. The regime of the NEP could only gradually pacify the peasant, and, after him, the discontented sections of the army and the fleet. But for this time and experience were needed.

Most puerile of all is the argument that there was no uprising, that the sailors had made no threats, that they "only" seized the fortress and the battleships. It would seem that the Bolsheviks marched with bared chests across the ice against the fortress only because of their evil characters, their inclination to provoke conflicts artificially, their hatred of the Kronstadt sailors, or their hatred of the Anarchist doctrine (about which absolutely no one, we may say in passing, bothered in those days). Is this not childish prattle? Bound neither to time nor place, the dilettante critics try (seventeen (Or eighty) years later!) to suggest that everything would have ended in general satisfaction if only the revolution had left the insurgent sailors alone. Unfortunately, the world counterrevolution would in no case have left them alone. The logic of the struggle would have given predominance in the fortress to the extremists, that is, to the most counterrevolutionary elements. The need for supplies would have made the fortress directly dependent upon the foreign bourgeoisie and their agents, the White émigrés. All the necessary preparations toward this end were already being made. Under similar circumstances only people like the Spanish Anarchists or POUMists would have waited passively, hoping for a happy outcome. The Bolsheviks, fortunately, belonged to a different school. They considered it their duty to extinguish the fire as soon as it started, thereby reducing to a minimum the number of victims. (Hmmm, I think not.)

The "Kronstadters" without a Fortress


In essence, the venerable critics are opponents of the dictatorship of the proletariat and by that token are opponents of the revolution. In this lies the whole secret. It is true that some of them recognize the revolution in words. But this does not help matters. They wish for a revolution which will not lead to dictatorship or for a dictatorship which will get along without the use of force. (The use of "dictatorship" is unfortunate, having come to mean precisely the opposite of what he meant. Then again it could be entirely accurate depending on your point of view.) Of course, this would be a very "pleasant" dictatorship. It requires, however, a few trifles: an equal and, moreover, an extremely high, development of the toiling masses. But in such conditions the dictatorship would in general be unnecessary. Some Anarchists, who are really liberal pedagogues, hope that in a hundred or a thousand years the toilers will have attained so high a level of development that coercion will prove unnecessary. Naturally, if capitalism could lead to such a development, there would be no reason for overthrowing capitalism. There would be no need either for violent revolution or for the dictatorship which is an inevitable consequence of revolutionary victory. However, the decaying capitalism of our day leaves little room for humanitarian-pacifist illusions.

The working class, not to speak of the semi-proletarian masses, is not homogeneous, either socially or politically. The class struggle produces a vanguard that absorbs the best elements of the class. A revolution is possible when the vanguard is able to lead the majority of the proletariat. But this does, not at all mean that the internal contradictions among the toilers disappear. At the moment of the highest peak of the revolution they are of course attenuated, but only to appear later at a new stage in all their sharpness. Such is the course of the revolution as a whole. Such was the course of Kronstadt. When parlour pinks try to mark out a different route for the October Revolution, after the event, we can only respectfully ask them to show us exactly where and when their great principles were confirmed in practice, at least partially, at least in tendency? Where are the signs that lead us to expect the triumph of these principles in the future? We shall of course never get an answer.

A revolution has its own laws. Long ago we formulated those "lessons of October" which have not only a Russian but an international significance. No one else has even tried to suggest any other "lessons." The Spanish revolution is negative confirmation of the "lessons of October." And the severe critics are silent or equivocal. The Spanish government of the "People's Front" stifles the socialist revolutionand shoots revolutionists. The Anarchists participate in this government, or, when they are driven out, continue to support the executioners. And their foreign allies and lawyers occupy themselves meanwhile with a defense ... of the Kronstadt mutiny against the harsh Bolsheviks. A shameful travesty!

The present disputes around Kronstadt revolve around the same class axis as the Kronstadt uprising itself, in which the reactionary sections of the sailors tried to overthrow the proletarian dictatorship. Conscious of their impotence on the arena of present-day revolutionary politics, the petty-bourgeois blunderers and eclectics try to use the old Kronstadt episode for the struggle against the Fourth International, that is, against the party of the proletarian revolution. These latter-day "Kronstadters" will also be crushed-true, without the use of arms since, fortunately, they do not have a fortress.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.