Kronstadt rebellion

From Anarchy In Action

Note: This page is duplicated in Anarchy in the Russian Revolution

In 1921, the sailors, soldiers and workers of Russia's Kronstadt naval fortress proclaimed a libertarian-leaning "third revolution", (following the February 1917 revolution that overthrew the Tsar and the October 1917 revolution installed the Soviet Union).

According to Leon Trotsky, the Kronstadt sailors had been "the pride and glory of the Russian Revolution" of 1917.[1] In May 1917, the Kronstadt soviet (workers' council) declared itself the only legitimate government of the fortress, and decisions were made at general assemblies, held almost daily.[2]

By the end of 1917, Kronstadt's residents had become disillusioned by the authoritarianism of the new Communist government. Defying the Communists' instructions, the people of Kronstadt socialized their dwellings. Each residential building established a House Committee, and these committees confederated into a District Committee. The District Committees confederated into a Borough Committee.[3] In February 1921, Kronstadt secretly sent delegates to Petrograd with the message that "if the workers rise up in a third, genuinely proletarian revolution for the real slogans of October, then Kronstadt will support them with all its strength, unanimously and with the will to conquer or die."[4]

On 24 Februrary 1921, Petrograd's workers went on strike. Four days later, as the military violently repressed the strike, sailors from one of Kronstadt's battleships, Petropavlovsk, passed a resolution supporting the Petrograd workers. On 1 March, some 16,000 of Kronstadt's sailors, soldiers and workers met and unanimously affirmed Petropavlovsk's resolution. The resolution demanded new elections for the soviets, freedom of speech, freedom for peasants, the release of political prisoners, and other reforms:

“Resolution of the General Meeting of the 1st and 2nd Squadrons of the Baltic Fleet, held on March 1st, 1921.

“After having heard the reports of the delegates sent to Petrograd by the general meeting of the crews to examine the situation, the assembly decided that, since it has been established that the present Soviets do not express the will of the workers and peasants, it is necessary:

1. to proceed immediately to the re-election of the Soviets by secret ballot, the electoral campaign among the workers and peasants to be carried on with full freedom of speech and action;

2. to establish freedom of speech and press for all workers and peasants, for the Anarchists and the Left Socialist parties;

3. to accord freedom of assembly to the workers’ and peasants’ organisations;

4. to convoke, outside of the political parties, a Conference of the workers, Red soldiers and sailors of Petrograd, Kronstadt and the Petrograd province for March 10th, 1921, at the latest;

5. to liberate all Socialist political prisoners and also all workers, peasants, Red soldiers and sailors, imprisoned as a result of the workers’ and peasants’ movements;

6. to elect a commission for the purpose of examining the cases of those who are in prisons or concentration camps;

7. to abolish the ‘political offices’, since no political party should have privileges for propagating its ideas or receive money from the State for this purpose, and to replace them with educational and cultural commissions elected in each locality and financed by the government;

8. to abolish immediately all barriers;

9. to make uniform the rations of all workers, except for those who are engaged in occupations dangerous to their health;

10. to abolish the Communist shock-troops in all units of the army and the Communist guards in the factories; in case of need, guard detachments could be supplied in the army by the companies and in the factories by the workers;

11. to give the peasants full freedom of action in regard to their land and also the right to possess cattle, on condition that they do their own work, that is to say, without hiring help;

12. to establish a travelling control commission;

13. to permit the free exercise of handicrafts, provided no hired help is used;

14. we ask all units of the army and the kursanti cadets to join our resolution;

15. we demand that all our resolutions be widely publicised in the press.

This resolution was adopted unanimously by the meeting of the crews of the Squadrons. Two persons abstained.

Signed: Petrichenko, president of the meeting: Perepelkin, secretary.”[5]

On 2 March, three hundred delegates met and established the Provisional Revolutionary Committee to prepare new elections for Kronstadt's soviet and to defend the area against inevitable repression from the State. The Communists responded by securing control of strategic points around Krokstadt, maintaining their repressive siege on Petrograd, making certain concessions to workers to calm them, organizing a special army corps to attack Kronstadt, and launching a campaign of slander against Kronstadt.[6]

The Communist Party leadership claimed Kronstadt's rebellion was led by the Tsarist ex-general Kozlovsky and other White Guards. Although Kozlovksy did not play any role in the rebellion, it was true that he served as a military specialist in Kronstadt; the reason is that Trotsky himself had installed Kozlovsky there! Moreover, Trotsky appointed the Tsarist ex-officer Tuchachevsky at the command of the forces preparing to repress the Kronstadt revolt. By contrast, Kronstadt's Provisional Revolutionary Committee did not include any White Guards.[7]

On 5 March, Trotsky sent Kronstadt an ultimatum, warning that Kronstadt must “submit immediately to the authority of the Soviet Republic...Only those who surrender unconditionally can expect mercy from the Soviet Republic.”[8] For ten days, from 7 March to 17 March, the Soviet military bombed and shelled Kronstadt.[9]

Emma Goldman and other Anarchists unsuccessfully tried to get the Communists to agree to a peace deal with Kronstadt. Goldman explains that "Kronstadt had never had any thought of 'mutiny' against the Soviet government. Right up to the last, it was determined to spill no blood. Continually it called for a compromise and amicable settlement. But, forced to defend itself against military provocation, it fought like a lion."[10] There are no reliable figures on how many rebels were killed during the repression of Kronstadt, but one 1935-6 statistical review estimates that the 10,026 people were arrested following the revolt.[11]

  1. Voline, The Unknown Revolution, 1917-1921. Book Three. The Struggle for the Real Social Revolution.
  2. Murray Bookchin, The Third Revolution, Volume 3 (New York: Continuum International Publishing Company, 2004), 319.
  3. Voline, The Unknown Revolution, Book Three.
  4. Voline, The Unknown Revolution, Book Three.
  5. Voline, The Unknown Revolution, Book Three.
  6. Voline, The Unknown Revolution, Book Three.
  7. Voline, The Unknown Revolution, Book Three.
  8. Voline, The Unknown Revolution, Volume Three.
  9. Voline, The Unknown Revolution, Book Three.
  10. Emma Goldman, "Memories of Kronstadt", in editor Daniel Guerin, No Gods No Masters: An Anthology of Anarchism (AK Press, 2005), 556.
  11. "What was the Kronstadt Rebellion?", An Anarchist FAQ,