The Kronstadt Commune
Publisher: Black Rose Press, Montreal, Canada
Year Published: 1971 First Published: 1938
Resource Type: Book
Cx Number: CX7487
A history of the Kronstadt Uprising 1921 which highlights one of the most important yet neglected events of the Russian Revolution. The suppression of the most revolutionary section of the Navy by the Bolsheviks was the final blow to any hope of a genuine revolution based on democratic workers' control. Mett dispels many of the contemporary mistruths put forward by Bolshevik propagandists and includes a number of original sources from the commune.
Table of Contents:
Preface to Solidarity Edition
Introduction to the French Edition
I. The Kronstadt Events
1. Background to the Kronstadt insurrection
2. Petrograd on the Eve of Kronstadt
Analysis of the Kronstadt Programme
3. Mass meetings and Bolshevik slanders
The Provisional Committee
4. Effects on the Party Rank and File
5. Threats, Bribes and Skirmishes
Threats and Bribes
Support in Petrograd
6. Demoralisation in the Red Army
7. The Final Assault
The Balance Sheet
8. What they said at the time
The right S.R.S.
The left S.R.S.
9. Kronstadt: last upsurge of the Soviets
The Bolshevik interpretations
Rosa Luxembourg's view's
A third Soviet Revolution
The Kronstadt insurrection broke out three months after the conclusion of the civil war on the European front.
As the Civil War drew to a victorious end the working masses of Russia were in a state of chronic famine. They were also increasingly dominated by a ruthless regime, ruled by a single party. The generation which had made October still remembered the promise of the social revolution and the hopes they had of building a new kind of society.
This generation had comprised a very remarkable section of the working class. It had reluctantly abandoned its demands for equality and for real freedom, believing them to be, if not incompatible with war, at least difficult to achieve under wartime conditions. But once victory was assured, the workers in the towns, the sailors, the Red Army men, and the peasants, all those who had shed their blood during the Civil War, could see no further justification for their hardships and for blind submission to a ferocious discipline. Even if these might have had some reason in wartime, such reasons no longer applied.
While many had been fighting at the front, othersthose enjoying dominant positions in the State apparatushad been consolidating their power and detaching themselves more and more from the workers. The bureaucracy was already assuming alarming proportions. The State machine was in the hands of a single Party, itself more and more permeated by careerist elements. A non Party worker was worth less, on the scale of everyday life, than an ex bourgeois or nobleman, who had belatedly rallied to the Party. Free criticism no longer existed. Any Party member could denounce as 'counter revolutionary' any worker simply defending his class rights and his dignity as a worker.
Industrial and agricultural production were declining rapidly. There were virtually no raw materials for the factories. Machinery was worn and neglected. The main concern of the proletariat was the bitter fight against famine. Thefts from the factories had become a sort of compensation for miserably paid labour. Such thefts continued despite the repeated searches carried out by the Cheka at the factory gates.
Workers who still had connections with the countryside would go there to barter old clothes, matches or salt in exchange for food. The trains were crammed with such people (the Mechotchniki). Despite a thousand difficulties, they would try to bring food to the famished cities. Working class anger would break out repeatedly, as barrages of militia confiscated the paltry loads of flour or potatoes workers would be carrying on their backs to prevent their children from starving.
The peasants were submitted to compulsory requisitions. They were sowing less, despite the danger of famine that now resulted from bad crops. Bad crops had been common. Under ordinary conditions such crops had not automatically had these disastrous effects. The cultivated areas were larger and the peasants would usually set something aside for more difficult times.
The situation preceding the Kronstadt uprising can be summed up as a fantastic discrepancy between promise and achievement. There were harsh economic difficulties. But as important was the fact that the generation in question had not forgotten the meaning of the rights it had struggled for during the Revolution. This was to provide the real psychological background to the uprising.
The Red Navy had problems of its own. Since the Brest Litovsk peace, the Government had undertaken a complete reorganisation of the armed forces. on the basis of a rigid discipline, a discipline quite incompatible with the erstwhile principle of election of officers by the men. A whole hierarchical structure had been introduced. This had gradually stifled the democratic tendencies which had prevailed at the onset of the Revolution. For purely technical reasons such a reorganisation had not been possible in the Navy, where revolutionary traditions had strong roots. Most of the naval officers had gone over to the Whites, and the sailors still retained many of the democratic rights they had won in 1917. It had not been possible completely to dismantle their organisations.
This state of affairs was in striking contrast with what pertained in the rest of the armed forces. It could not last. Differences between the rank and file sailors and the higher command of the armed forces steadily increased. With the end of the Civil War in European Russia these differences became explosive.
Discontent was rampant not only among the non Party sailors. It also affected Communist sailors. Attempts to "discipline" the Fleet by introducing "Army customs" met with stiff resistance from 1920 on. Zef, a leading Party member and a member of the Revolutionary War Committee for the Baltic Fleet, was officially denounced by the Communist sailors for his "dictatorial attitudes." The enormous gap developing between the rank and file and the leadership was shown up during the elections to the Eighth Congress of Soviets, held in December 1920. At the naval base of Petrograd large numbers of sailors had noisily left the electoral meeting, openly protesting against the dispatch there as official delegates of people from Politotdiel and from Comflot (i.e., from the very organisations monopolising political control of the Navy).