Kronstadt rebellion

Kronstadt rebellion
Part of Russian Civil War
Kronstadt attack.JPG
Red Army troops attack Kronstadt.
Date March, 1921
Location Kronstadt, Kotlin Island, Russia
Result Rebellion defeated
Bolshevik victory
Soviet Baltic Fleet sailors
Red Army soldiers
White Movement ("Court for the Defence of Kronstadt")
Armed citizens of Kronstadt
 Russian SFSR
Stepan Petrichenko
Alexander Kozlovsky
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky
c. first 11,000, second assault: 17,961 c. first assault: 10,073, second assault: 25,000 to 30,000
Casualties and losses
c. 1,000 killed in battle and 1,200 to 2,168 executed second assault 527–1,412, a much higher number if we include the first assault.

The Kronstadt rebellion was an unsuccessful uprising of Soviet sailors, soldiers and civilians led by Stepan Petrichenko against the government of the early Russian SFSR in March 1921 during a period of left-wing uprisings against the Bolsheviks.

The rebellion originated in Kronstadt, a naval fortress on Kotlin Island in the Gulf of Finland that served as the base of the Russian Baltic Fleet and as a guardpost for the approaches to Saint Petersburg, former Petrograd, 55 kilometres away.


[edit] Economic background

At the end of the Civil War, Bolshevik Russia was exhausted and ruined. The droughts of 1920 and 1921 and the frightful famine during the latter year added the final chapter to the disaster. In the years following the October Revolution, epidemics, starvation, fighting, executions, and the general economic and social breakdown, worsened by the Allied military intervention and the civil war had taken many lives. Another million people had left Russia – with General Wrangel, through the Far East, or in numerous other ways – either to escape the ravages of the war or because they had supported one of the defeated sides. A large proportion of the migrs were educated and skilled.

[edit] Petropavlovsk resolution

On February 26, delegates from the Kronstadt sailors visited Petrograd to investigate the situation. On February 28, in response to the delegates' report of heavy-handed Bolshevik repression of strikes in Petrograd (claims which might have been inaccurate or exaggerated[1]), the crews of the battleships Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol held an emergency meeting which approved a resolution raising fifteen demands:[2]

  1. Immediate new elections to the Soviets. The present Soviets no longer express the wishes of the workers and peasants. The new elections should be held by secret ballot, and should be preceded by free electoral propaganda.
  2. Freedom of speech and of the press for workers and peasants, for the Anarchists, and for the Left Socialist parties.
  3. The right of assembly, and freedom for trade union and peasant organisations.
  4. The organisation, at the latest on 10 March 1921, of a Conference of non-Party workers, soldiers and sailors of Petrograd, Kronstadt and the Petrograd District.
  5. The liberation of all political prisoners of the Socialist parties, and of all imprisoned workers and peasants, soldiers and sailors belonging to working class and peasant organisations.
  6. The election of a commission to look into the dossiers of all those detained in prisons and concentration camps.
  7. The abolition of all political sections in the armed forces. No political party should have privileges for the propagation of its ideas, or receive State subsidies to this end. In the place of the political sections various cultural groups should be set up, deriving resources from the State.
  8. The immediate abolition of the militia detachments set up between towns and countryside.
  9. The equalisation of rations for all workers, except those engaged in dangerous or unhealthy jobs.
  10. The abolition of Party combat detachments in all military groups. The abolition of Party guards in factories and enterprises. If guards are required, they should be nominated, taking into account the views of the workers.
  11. The granting to the peasants of freedom of action on their own soil, and of the right to own cattle, provided they look after them themselves and do not employ hired labour.
  12. We request that all military units and officer trainee groups associate themselves with this resolution.
  13. We demand that the Press give proper publicity to this resolution.
  14. We demand the institution of mobile workers' control groups.
  15. We demand that handicraft production be authorised provided it does not utilise wage labour.

On March 1, a general meeting of the garrison was held, attended also by Mikhail Kalinin and Commissar of the Soviet Baltic Fleet Nikolai Kuzmin who made speeches for the Government. The general meeting passed a resolution including the 15 demands given above. On March 2 a conference of sailor, soldier and worker organization delegates, after hearing speeches by Kuzmin and Vasiliev, President of the Kronstadt Executive Committee, arrested these two and amid incorrect rumors of immediate attack approved formation of a Provisional Revolutionary Committee.[3] The Government responded with an ultimatum the same day. This asserted that the revolt had "undoubtedly been prepared by French counterintelligence" and that the Petropavlovsk resolution was a "SR-Black Hundred" resolution. SR stood for Social Revolutionaries, a democratic socialist party that had been dominant in the soviets before the return of Lenin, whose right-wing had refused to support the Bolsheviks. The Black Hundreds were a reactionary proto-fascist force dating back to before the revolution which attacked Jews, labour militants and radicals, among others.

[edit] Suppression of the revolt

1888 German map showing Kronstadt Bay and later Petrograd.

The Bolshevik government began its attack on Kronstadt on March 7.[4] Some 60,000 troops under command of Mikhail Tukhachevsky took part in the attack.[5] The Petrograd workers were under martial law and could offer little support to Kronstadt.[6] There was a hurry to gain control of the fortress before the melting of the bay as it would have made it impregnable for the land army. Many Red Army units were forced onto the ice at gunpoint and some actually joined the rebellion.[4] On March 17, the Bolshevik forces finally entered the city of Kronstadt after having suffered over 10,000 fatalities.[5] On March 19, the Bolshevik forces took full control of the city of Kronstadt after having suffered fatalities ranging from 527 to 1,412 or higher if the toll from the first assault is included. The day after the surrender of Kronstadt, the Bolsheviks celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Paris Commune.

Although there are no reliable figures for the rebels' battle losses, historians estimate that 1,200 to 2,168 were executed in the days following the revolt, and a like number were jailed, many in the Solovki prison camp.[5] Official Soviet figures claim approximately 1,000 rebels were killed, 2,000 wounded, between 2,300 to 6,528 captured, and 6,000 to 8,000 defected to Finland, while the Red Army lost 527 killed and 3285 wounded.[7] Later on, 1,050 to 1,272 prisoners were freed. 750 to 1,486 sentenced to a five year forced labor. More fortunate rebels managed to escape to Finland, whose large number caused the first major refugee problem for the newly-independent state.[8] Later, the refugees in Finland were pardoned through an amnesty. Among them was Petrichenko himself, who lived in Finland and worked as a spy for the Soviet GPU.[8] He was arrested by the Finnish authorities in 1941 and was expelled to the Soviet Union in 1944. Some months after his return, he was arrested on espionage charges and sentenced to ten years in prison. He died in Vladimir prison in 1947.[9]

Although Red Army units suppressed the uprising, the general dissatisfaction with the state of affairs could not have been more forcefully expressed. Lenin himself stated that Kronstadt "lit up reality like a lightning flash". Against this background of discontent, Lenin concluded that world revolution was not imminent and proceeded in the spring of 1921 to replace the War Communism with his New Economic Policy.

[edit] International reaction to the rebellion

The anarchist Emma Goldman, who was in Petrograd at the time of the rebellion, mentions in her account that "[t]he news in the Paris Press about the Kronstadt uprising two weeks before it happened had been stressed in the campaign against the sailors as proof positive that they had been tools of the Imperialist gang and that rebellion had actually been hatched in Paris."[10] Lenin's suspicion of an international conspiracy linked up with the Kronstadt events has been also supported by the discovery[when?][by whom?] of a handwritten memorandum preserved in the Russian Archive of Columbia University, dated 1921 and marked 'Top Secret'. The document is titled Memorandum on the Question of Organizing an Uprising in Kronstadt and includes remarkably detailed information about the resources, personnel, arms and plans of the Kronstadt rebellion. It also details plans regarding White army and French government support for the "Kronstadt sailors' March rebellion".[citation needed]

The memorandum was part of a collection of documents written by National Centre, which originated first in 1918 as a self-claimed 'underground organisation formed in Russia for the struggle against the Bolsheviks'[citation needed]. After suffering military defeat and the arrest of many of its central members, the group reconstituted itself in exile by late 1920. General Wrangel, with his trained army of tens of thousands ready and waiting, was their principal military base of support[citation needed]. This memorandum was written between January and early February 1921 by an agent of the National Centre in Finland.[11][unreliable source?]

Others dispute these allegations, including noted anarchist historian Paul Avrich. This includes evidence[specify] that the memorandum was unsigned.

However, reading the document quickly shows that Kronstadt was not a product of a White conspiracy but rather that the White "National Centre" aimed to try and use a spontaneous "uprising" it thought was likely to "erupt there in the coming spring" for its own ends. The report notes that "among the sailors, numerous and unmistakable signs of mass dissatisfaction with the existing order can be noticed." Indeed, the "Memorandum" states that "one must not forget that even if the French Command and the Russian anti-Bolshevik organisations do not take part in the preparation and direction of the uprising, a revolt in Kronstadt will take place all the same during the coming spring, but after a brief period of success it will be doomed to failure." [quoted by Avrich, Kronstadt 1921, p. 235 and p. 240]

Avrich rejects the idea that the "Memorandum" explains the revolt:

Nothing has come to light to show that the Secret Memorandum was ever put into practice or that any links had existed between the emigres and the sailors before the revolt. On the contrary, the rising bore the earmarks of spontaneity... there was little in the behaviour of the rebels to suggest any careful advance preparation. Had there been a prearranged plan, surely the sailors would have waited a few weeks longer for the ice to melt... The rebels, moreover, allowed Kalinin (a leading Communist) to return to Petrograd, though he would have made a valuable hostage. Further, no attempt was made to take the offensive... Significant too, is the large number of Communists who took part in the movement.(...)
The Sailors needed no outside encouragement to raise the banner of insurrection... Kronstadt was clearly ripe for a rebellion. What set it off were not the machinations of emigre conspirators and foreign intelligence agents but the wave of peasant risings throughout the country and the labour disturbances in neighboring Petrograd. And as the revolt unfolded, it followed the pattern of earlier outbursts against the central government from 1905 through the Civil War." [Op. Cit., pp. 111–2]
Moreover, whether the Memorandum played a part in the revolt can be seen from the reactions of the White "National Centre" to the uprising. Firstly, they failed to deliver aid to the rebels nor get French aid to them. Secondly, Professor Grimm, the chief agent of the National Centre in Helsingfors and General Wrangel's official representative in Finland, stated to a colleague after the revolt had been crushed that if a new outbreak should occur then their group must not be caught unawares again. Avrich also notes that the revolt "caught the emigres off balance" and that "[n]othing . . . had been done to implement the Secret Memorandum, and the warnings of the author were fully borne out." [Paul Avrich, Op. Cit., p. 212 and p. 123][12]

US Senator Joseph I. France was the first US politician to visit Russia after the Revolution and an advocate of cordial relations with the Soviet Union, and he had spent time in Russia negotiating with Lenin and other Russian officials to secure the release of Marguerite Harrison, a US spy. He attracted controversy by accusing Colonel Edward W. Ryan of the American Red Cross of fomenting the Kronstadt rebellion.[13]

[edit] Composition of the garrison

Emma Goldman criticized Leon Trotsky for his role in the suppression of the rebellion, arguing that it made his later criticism of Stalinism hypocritical.[10] Trotsky responded that Goldman's criticisms were mainly perfunctory, and that it ignored the differing social composition between the pro-Bolshevik Kronstadt Uprising of 1917 and the mainly "petty bourgeois" Kronstadt Uprising of 1921.[14]

Defenders of the Bolshevik policy, such as Abbie Bakan, have claimed that the Kronstadt rebels were not the same sailors as those who had been revolutionary heroes in 1917.[11] In response, Israel Getzler presents detailed evidence that the vast majority of the sailors had been in the Navy since 1917:[15]

(...)[T]hat the veteran politicized Red sailor still predominated at Kronstadt at the end of 1920 is borne out by the hard statistical data available regarding the crews of the two major battleships, the Petropavlovsk and the Sevastopol, both renowned since 1917 for their revolutionary zeal and Bolshevik allegiance. Of 2,028 sailors whose years of enlistment are known, no less than 1,904 or 93.9% were recruited into the navy before and during the 1917 revolution, the largest group, 1,195, having joined in the years 1914-16. Only some 137 sailors or 6.8% were recruited in the years 1918-21, including three who were conscripted in 1921, and they were the only ones who had not been there during the 1917 revolution. As for the sailors of the Baltic Fleet in general (and that included the Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol), of those serving on 1 January 1921 at least 75.5% are likely to have been drafted into the fleet before 1918. Over 80% were drawn from Great Russian areas (mainly central Russia and the Volga area), some 10% from the Ukraine, and 9% from Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Poland.
Nor, as has so often been claimed, did new recruits, some 400 of whom Yasinsky had interviewed, arrive in numbers large enough to dilute or even 'demoralize' Kronstadt's Red sailors. As Evan Mawdsley has found, 'only 1,313 of a planned total of 10,384 recruits had arrived' by 1 December 1920 and even they seem to have been stationed in the barracks of the Second Baltic Crew in Petrograd.

Tony Cliff defends the Bolshevik policy, stating that "the number of industrial workers in Russia, always a minority, fell from 3 million in 1917 to 1,240,000, a decline of 58.7%, in 1921–22. So was there a decline in the agricultural proletariat, from 2,100,000 in 1917, to 34,000 only two years later (a decline of 98.5%). But the number of peasant households (not individuals which is many times greater) had risen with the parcelization of land from 16.5 million in early 1918 to over 25 million households by 1920, an increase of some 50%."[16]

According to this view, the majority of the sailors in the Baltic Fleet stationed at Kronstadt were recent recruits of peasant origin. Stepan Petrichenko was himself an Ukrainian peasant.[17] He later acknowledged that many of his fellow mutineers were peasants from the south who were in sympathy with the peasant opposition movement against the Bolsheviks. In the words of Petrichenko: "When we returned home our parents asked us why we fought for the oppressors. That set us thinking."[18]

[edit] Louis Fischer's concept of "Kronstadt"

The 1949 book The God That Failed contains Louis Fischer's definition of "Kronstadt" as the moment in which communists or fellow-travelers decide not just to leave the Communist Party but to oppose it as anti-communists. Editor Richard Crossman said in the book's introduction: "The Kronstadt rebels called for Soviet power free from Bolshevik dominance" (p. x). After describing the actual Kronstadt rebellion, Fischer spent many pages applying the concept it to some to subsequent former-communists–including himself: "What counts decisively is the 'Kronstadt.' Until its advent, one may waver emotionally or doubt intellectually or even reject the cause altogether in one's mind and yet refuse to attack it. I had no 'Kronstadt' for many years" (p. 204). Writers who subsequently picked up the term have included Whittaker Chambers, Clark Kerr, David Edgar, William F. Buckley, Jr., and Norman Podhoretz.

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Kronstadt, 1921, Paul Avrich ISBN 0-691-08721-0, Princeton University Press
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b Figes, 763.
  5. ^ a b c Figes, 767.
  6. ^ Orlando Figes, A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 (New York: Viking Press 1997), 760.
  7. ^ Pukhov, A. S. Kronshtadtskii miatezh v 1921 g. Leningrad, OGIZ-Molodaia Gvardiia.
  8. ^ a b Kronstadtin kapina 1921 ja sen perilliset Suomessa (Kronstadt Rebellion 1921 and Its Descendants in Finland) by Erkki Wessmann.
  9. ^ "Kapinallisen salaisuus" ("The Secret of a Rebel"), Suomen Kuvalehti (a Finnish magazine,, page 39, issue SK24 / 2007, 15.6.2007
  10. ^ a b "Trotsky Protests Too Much" by Emma Goldman
  11. ^ a b "Kronstadt - A Tragic Necessity" – by Abbie Bakan
  12. ^ What was the Kronstadt Rebellion?
  13. ^ WASHINGTON LAUGHS AT FRANCE CHARGES, New York Times, August 4, 1921
  14. ^ "Hue and Cry Over Kronstadt by Leon Trotsky.
  15. ^ Getzler (2002), pp. 207–208. Mawdsley and Saul present similar evidence.
  16. ^ Cliff, vol. 3, p. 143.
  17. ^ Lincoln, p. 498.
  18. ^ Lincoln, p. 495.

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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