An Anarchist FAQ (AFAQ) is now at version 15.4. This release is a revision of the appendix on a critical event during the Russian Revolution, the Kronstadt revolt of March 1921, its importance, what it tells us about Bolshevism as well as refuting the various Leninist attempts to justify its repression.
This revision is released on the 99th anniversary of the crushing of the revolt by the Bolshevik government in anticipation that the remaining Leninist sects will be preparing their 100th anniversary articles justifying that act. As these will, undoubtedly, be repeating claims debunked many times before, it is sensible to revise the appendix now.
The appendix was originally going to be part of section H but its length soon showed that this was impractical (never mind the other material which ended up as appendices!). Given that the appendix is now even longer, it is best to summarise here the main conclusions of each section:
What was the Kronstadt Rebellion?
This summarises the events of the revolt itself – its birth when the sailors acted in solidarity with striking workers in Petrograd, the passing of its famous 15 point resolution, the Bolshevik response to its call for soviet democracy and its final crushing by the party dictatorship.
1 Why is the Kronstadt rebellion important?
This summarises why the revolt is so important and why anarchists like Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman and Voline wrote accounts of it. As a popular revolt raising the demands of 1917, it placed the Bolskevik regime in a clear light and showed its counter-revolutionary role and nature.
2 What was the context of the Kronstadt revolt?
This sub-section summarises the various anti-revolutionary activities of the Bolshevik regime in terms of undermining democracy in the workplace, the armed forces and the soviets from 1917 onwards. It also summarises the repression of the strikes in early 1921 which caused the Kronstadt sailors to raise their demands.
3 What was the Kronstadt Programme?
The sailors’ 15 point resolution if provided along with extracts from the newspaper published during the rebellion. It was a programme which most socialists today – including Leninists – would agree to (or at least pay lip-service to) and was the minimum needed to save the revolution from its further degeneration under the bureaucratic state-capitalist party dictatorship of the Bolsheviks (it goes almost without saying that Leninist accounts rarely quote the resolution, for obvious reasons). It shows the political ideas driving the revolt and although few of the rebels were anarchists, it expressed ideas all anarchists would support – such as genuine soviet democracy, freedom of speech, assembly and association, ending the counter-productive anti-peasant policies of the regime, etc.
4 Did the Kronstadt rebellion reflect "the exasperation of the peasantry"?
While this is a common Trotskyist assertion used to justify the crushing of the rebellion, in reality it was inspired by the general strike in Petrograd and raised many of the demands already raised by the strikers. Of the 15 demands, only one reflected peasant demands – namely, letting the peasants control the land they used by their own labour alone and its product (which, moreover, repeated the Bolshevik land decree of October 1917). In addition, we discuss two workers’ revolts shortly after Kronstadt which raised almost identical demands as those of the sailors. This shows that the rebellion reflected proletarian demands as well as peasant ones.
5 What lies did the Bolsheviks spread about Kronstadt?
This summarises the claims by the Bolsheviks made at the time as regards the revolt, namely that it was organised by foreign spies and lead by a White General. It shows that these claims were known by the Bolsheviks to be lies at the time – as shown by such claims rarely being uttered now when Leninists discuss the revolt.
6 Was the Kronstadt revolt a White plot?
This discusses the (lack of) evidence that there was a White plot in Kronstadt. While historian Paul Avrich did discover a Memorandum written by the counter-revolutionary National Centre, we show that he rejected the notion that this suggests any role in the revolution by White plotters.
7 What was the real relationship of Kronstadt to the Whites?
Here we indicate that the Kronstadt sailors were well aware that their revolt for soviet democracy was welcomed by counter-revolutionary elements and that they argued that they were not on the same side. The notion that the revolt should be condemned because elements of the right expressed warm words for it must be rejected in favour of a class criterion – as is the case, for example, with regards to the 1956 revolt against Stalinism in Hungary.
8 Did the rebellion involve new sailors?
A standard claim by Trotskyists is that the rebels of 1921 were new peasant recruits and the heroic revolutionary sailors of 1917 were long gone. Academic research is presented that shows this is not the case – for the sailors of the two battleships which lead the revolt whose registration dates are known, 93% had been there since 1917. Overall, the evidence suggests that the rebels were long-serving service men and any new recruits were few.
9 Was Kronstadt different politically in 1921?
This indicates the political ideas which prevailed in Kronstadt in 1917 and their obvious links to those raised in 1921. It shows that Kronstadt was never a Bolshevik stronghold but that it was the Left-SRs and SR-Maximalists who were most influential – along with a significant if small anarchist influence. This political continuity between 1917 and 1921 reflects the continuity in personnel indicated in the previous sub-section.
10 Why did the Petrograd workers not support Kronstadt?
Here we discuss Trotskyist claims that the lack of support in Petrograd shows the peasant nature of the revolt. This ignores the extensive state repression by the Bolsheviks in Petrograd (including declaring martial law) which ensured that any public support for the revolt was met by the Cheka and troops.
11 Were the Whites a threat during the Kronstadt revolt?
The usual Trotskyist claim is that Kronstadt had to be crushed due to the threat of White counter-revolution. Here we indicate that any threat at the time of the revolt was negligible – no imperialist powers sought to intervene, there were no White Armies ready to attack, etc. – as shown by the Bolsheviks having demobilised half the Red Army.
12 Was the country too exhausted to allow soviet democracy?
Here we discuss the claim that the Bolsheviks had to crush the Kronstadt revolt as the country was too exhausted by years of civil war and economic collapse to allow soviet democracy. This ignores that much of the exhaustion was a direct product of the Bolshevik regime’s policies and practices as well as the fact that workers across Russia were taking strike action against both. As such, there was a social basis for both soviet democracy and the reconstruction which was needed. In addition, the notion that any reconstruction could be done in a socialist manner without soviet democracy is an infantile delusion which ignores the power and corruption of the new ruling class, the bureaucracy.
13 Was there a real alternative to Kronstadt’s "Third Revolution"?
This discusses the Trotskyist claims – echoing Victor Serge – that Kronstadt had to be crushed to give the revolution the time needed to change. The notion that refusing the Kronstadt demands for soviet democracy in 1921 due to the threat of counter-revolution ignores the actual nature of the regime, the Trotskyist Opposition and Bolshevik ideology. Self-reform of the bureaucratic machine was never a valid option given the balance of numbers and forces involved (a few thousands oppositionists with pamphlets against millions of bureaucrats with secret police and troops). Expecting working class revolt to change the regime ignores the state machine forged in crushing such a movement in 1921. Also, the Trotskyists supported party dictatorship and one-man management, meaning they would not have changed the nature of the regime while any successful foreign Leninist revolution would have simply created a similar bureaucratic machine as in Russia. In short, there was no alternative to the Third Revolution and the potential danger of counter-revolution in 1921 ignores the actual bureaucratic counter-revolution which existed then and which got worse.
14 How do modern day Trotskyists misrepresent Kronstadt?
While various sub-sections before this one indicate the selective quoting, cherry-picking and bad faith of many Trotskyist accounts of the rebellion, this covers certain claims and accounts which could not be fitted in easily elsewhere. It also notes that sometimes the misrepresentations are due to ignorance rather than deliberate lying (that is to say, they simply repeat what Trotsky asserted). However, the unwillingness to check the claims being made is almost as damning as the deliberate cherry-picking.
15 What does Kronstadt tell us about Bolshevism?
This indicates why the repression of Kronstadt was no accident and had its roots in Bolshevik ideology and the kind of “socialism” (better termed state-capitalism) it tried to build. Its vanguardism and prejudices in favour of centralisation and nationalisation meant that rather than secure or develop the Russian revolution, it simply produced a counter-revolution draped in a Red Flag. As such, Kronstadt places the promises of the Bolshevik rhetoric of 1917 into stark contrast with the grim realty of the regime built.
Obviously, while much shorter than the appendix (and so much more like a “proper” FAQ), this fails to provide the evidence underlying these summaries. As such, it would not be convincing to those who may have read Leninist accounts of the revolt. This explains why this appendix (like other appendices and sections of the main FAQ) can be so long – we are often challenging long-held and oft-repeated assertions and myths and simply making short assertions would be unconvincing. So it is the need to provide the supporting evidence which makes AFAQ so long. We hope you will take the time to read the material provided as Kronstadt does get to the heart of why Bolshevism is “socialism from above” and so a handicap in the struggle for freedom and socialism.
Of course, new claims may even be added to the old ones by Leninists based on someone allegedly delving into the Soviet Archives and proclaiming, again, their belief in benevolent dictatorship – as long it is Trotsky who is repressing workers and peasants rather than Stalin. However, as we discuss in the appendix, given the track-record of being proved wrong before, the selective quoting and the cherry-picking which has marred previous articles on Kronstadt by Trotskyists, as well as lack of common sense, it is doubtful in the extreme that any “new” material or claims will be convincing to anyone bar the party faithful. So, for example, they may take seriously claims made by captured rebels under interrogation by the Cheka and forget that they would say what they think will save them from a firing squad. Likewise, they may even uncritically quote Stalinist accounts and conveniently forget the Stalinist School of Falsification – unsurprisingly, as both Trotskyist and Stalinists agree over the need to crush Kronstadt. We should not.
We must note that this appendix is based on the following essential libertarian works on Kronstadt are available on-line:
The following book chapters are also relevant:
We also draw upon the following standard academic books on the subject:
It should also be noted that the webpage The Truth about Kronstadt contains a translation of all the issues of the Izvestiia of the Provisional Revolutionary Committee while Daniel Guerin’s Anarchism: From Theory to Practice as a chapter on Kronstadt as does his anthology No Gods, No Masters (this includes extract’s from the Kronstadt rebels newspaper). We have also taken the opportunity to change the references for the quotes from Ida Mett’s The Kronstadt Uprising (originally published by Solidarity in 1967) to “The Kronstadt Commune” in Bloodstained: One Hundred Years of Leninist Counterrevolution (Edinburgh/Chico: AK Press, 2017) as this is recently published and so more accessible. Also, Bloodstained is a good anthology of texts on the Russian Revolution.
Finally, while important and the best known example of Bolshevik counter-revolutionary activity, the Kronstadt revolt was not the first example of “soviet power” destroying freely elected soviets. As we discuss in section H.6, this was the culmination of years of anti-socialist policies and actions by the Bolshevik regime driven primarily by ideology rather than, as Leninists claim, difficult objective circumstances (in fact, the policies usually made these worse). Kronstadt, though, represented the moment when the Bolsheviks could have turned in a different direction – they rejected it and so ensured the further degeneration of the revolution into Stalinism. That is why Kronstadt should be remembered and why this appendix exists.
We end with this article from Kronstadt’s Izvestiia No. 9 (11th March 1921). It gives a useful summary of events and is written by a candidate Communist Party member. This reflects the fact that the majority of local Communist Party members either supported the revolt or remained neutral – this suggests that some Leninists today, when faced with the facts, may question their beliefs and side with the working class rather than the new master class as in 1921.
(Voice of a Communist)
The spontaneous striving of the broad labouring masses to make a reality of the bright ideals of the October revolution and of Soviet power has called forth an amazing rise in the spirits of those involved in the current revolutionary movement. From those few reports which make it through to Kronstadt it is possible to think that several of the Petrograd Communist comrades, maybe because they don’t know the situation in Kronstadt, or maybe deliberately, are drawing the Kronstadt events in a completely different light.
To me personally, as a Communist, it is painful to hear my own party members repeat this slander, this fantasy, which the Petrograd papers write.
They are saying there that everything happening in Kronstadt is the work of White Guards and Entente spies with General Kozlovsky as head, and that Kronstadt has made an agreement with Finland and is ready to make war on Peter.
The movement which began in the Peter factories was unquestionably called out by lack of faith in the subverted Soviets, by the closing of factories and plants due to lack of heating material and the produce difficulties, and by the worker arrests connected with the movement. At that time, however, it was unnoticed in Kronstadt, which is better provided with heating material and produce, although there were rumours passed about what was happening in Petrograd.
These rumours took root on the Petropavlovsk. Her crew took up the demand to end arrests and release those already arrested, and added other demands.
Because of this, on March 1st, at the Garrison Meeting at Anchor Square, in the presence of Comrade Kalinin, President of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, Comrade Kuzmin, Commissar of Baltflot, and almost the entire populace and garrison of the fortress, a resolution which had been worked out earlier was proposed, and passed unanimously (with the exception of Comrades Kalinin, Kuzmin and Vasiliev) without any kind of change at all.
The most fundamental and important point of this resolution was the demand for new elections to the Soviets, so that representatives from all left political parties, and anarchists also, could take part in them. This would have been done so that the Soviets would represent the actual power of the labourers themselves.
As for the other points of the resolution, like removing the anti-profiteer detachments, liberating political prisoners and so on, some of these demands have already been fulfilled under pressure from the masses. For example, there is an order by the Petrosoviet on removing the anti-profiteer detachments from all of Petrograd Province.
Based on this resolution, which had been affirmed by the entire populace and garrison of the fortress, the sailors of the Petropavlovsk proposed to the Presidium of the Soviet that it should be newly elected in the next couple of days. The next day, March 2nd that is, in accordance with an announcement by the Presidium of the Soviet, two delegates were chosen from each union and raikom, who were supposed to elect from among themselves a commission to hold new elections to the Soviet.
But in view of the fact that fully believable suspicions appeared among the gathered delegates, about a supposed threat of oppression by the Communists, and also in view of the threatening speeches by several delegates on the Communists’ behalf, the Conference decided to elect a Provisional Revolutionary Committee, and to also appoint it to organize the elections to the Soviet and the protection of the town.
From all this, we see that there was no kind of White Guard organization in this case, and that there couldn’t be any, because everything that happened unfolded on grounds of the dissatisfaction of the broad masses with the existing Soviets, the majority of the representatives in which are Communists.
And once this is so, once we see that they no longer trust us, we have to say right away, not losing a day, "Citizens! Take state control in your own hands, but give us the right to take part in this work also, on the same basis as others." We have to do this in order to not earn still greater hatred from the people’s masses, whose representatives we called ourselves.
All the repressions, executions and destruction which are brought by the war which the Communists have set up lead only to anger.
I am certain that comrade Communists who entered the party not because of a desire for power, careerism or any other self interest will agree with me.
PALANOV, candidate member of the R.C.P.