Today marks the 100th annviersary of the beginning of the Kronstadt uprising. Here, we reprint a statement, signed by 20 libertarian communist organisations, which looks at the events of March 1921 and their meaning for libertarians today.
100 Years Since the Kronstadt Uprising
To Remember Means to Fight!
International anarchist statement on the centenary of the 1921 Kronstadt Uprising
“Let the workers of the whole world know that we, the defenders of the power of the soviets, will watch over the gains of the social revolution. We will conquer or perish beneath the ruins of Kronstadt, fighting the righteous cause of the working masses. The toilers the world over will sit in judgement of us. The blood of innocents will be upon the heads of the Communists, savage madmen drunk on power. Long live the power of the soviets!”
– The Provisional Revolutionary Committee of Kronstadt
On 1 March, 1921, the Kronstadt Soviet rose in revolt against the regime of the Russian “Communist” Party. The Civil War was effectively over, with the last of the White armies in European Russia defeated in November, 1920. The remaining battles in Siberia and Central Asia were over the territorial extent of what would become the USSR the following year. Economic conditions, though, remained dire. In response, strikes broke out across Petrograd in February, 1921. The sailors of Kronstadt sent a delegation to investigate the strikes.
The city of Kronstadt is on the island of Kotlin, which dominates the approaches to Petrograd. It was the home of the largest Russian naval base and was a bastion of revolutionary politics since 1905. It played a distinguished role in the revolutions of 1905 and 1917. The Kronstadt Soviet was established in May, 1917, not long after the Petrograd one.
Throughout 1917, soviets had multiplied and strengthened across the Russian Empire. In October, they had overthrown the Provisional Government. The Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets took power in its own hands. The All-Russian Congress, however, agreed to a Bolshevik proposal to appoint a Council of People’s Commissars to act as an executive cabinet over the Soviet. The Bolsheviks lost no time in setting up a State apparatus with coercive powers. Crucially, they subordinated the local and regional soviets to the central one.
As early as April, 1918, the Bolsheviks began repression against the anarchists and started purges of the soviets. The October Revolution had established freedom of the press and the right of soldiers to elect their officers, but the Bolsheviks reversed these and many other vital social changes in the course of the Civil War.
The repression of all opposition, war communism and forced requisitions imposed by firing squads, together with the spread of poverty and hunger, alienated many of the sympathies that workers and peasants had placed in Bolshevism. Protests of workers and peasants against authoritarian Bolshevik measures were frequent through 1918 to 1921, including several waves of workers’ strikes.
The Petropavlovsk Resolution
The Petrograd strikes of February, 1921, prompted Kronstadt sailors to send a delegation to investigate and report. The sailors themselves had been unhappy with management of the Navy and had deposed their commander in January. The report of the delegation prompted the passage of the Petropavlovsk Resolution, made up of these 15 demands.
In view of the fact that the present Soviets do not express the will of the workers and peasants:
• To immediately hold new elections by secret ballot, the pre-election campaign to have full freedom of agitation among the workers and peasants;
• To establish freedom of speech and press for workers and peasants, for anarchists and left socialist parties;
• To secure freedom of assembly for labour unions and peasant organisations;
• To call a nonpartisan Conference of the workers, Red Army soldiers and sailors of Petrograd, Kronstadt, and of Petrograd Province, no later than 10 March, 1921;
• To liberate all political prisoners of socialist parties, as well as all workers, peasants, soldiers, and sailors imprisoned in connection with the labour and peasant movements;
• To elect a Commission to review the cases of those held in prisons and concentration camps;
• To abolish all politotdeli (political bureaus) because no party should be given special privileges in the propagation of its ideas or receive the financial support of the Government for such purposes. Instead there should be established educational and cultural commissions, locally elected and financed by the Government;
• To abolish immediately all zagryaditelniye otryadi (Bolshevik units armed to suppress traffic and confiscate foodstuffs);
• To equalise the rations of all who work, with the exception of those employed in trades detrimental to health;
• To abolish the Bolshevik fighting detachments in all branches of the Army, as well as the Bolshevik guards kept on duty in mills and factories. Should such guards or military detachments be found necessary, they are to be appointed in the Army from the ranks, and in the factories according to the judgment of the workers;
• To give the peasants full freedom of action in regard to their land, and also the right to keep cattle, on condition that the peasants manage with their own means; that is, without employing hired labour;
• To request all branches of the Army, as well as our comrades the military kursanti, to concur in our resolutions;
• To demand that the press give the fullest publicity to our resolutions;
• To appoint a Traveling Commission of Control;
• To permit free kustarnoye (individual small scale) production by one’s own efforts.
This resolution can be summarised as containing two fundamental demands: the restoration of Soviet democracy and an economic compromise with the peasants.
Revolt and Suppression
On 1 March, a mass meeting convened by the Kronstadt Soviet endorsed the Petropavlovsk Resolution. It was the beginning of the Kronstadt Uprising. Over the next few days, the rebels tried negotiating with the Bolshevik Government. They allowed Kalinin to return to Petrograd. They disregarded the advice of the Czarist officers (who had been employed by the Navy as technical advisors) to take military measures, including attacks on the mainland. The Bolsheviks did not reciprocate and arrested delegations from Kronstadt that reached points on the mainland.
The Government attacked on 7 March, but was beaten off, having lost substantial forces to defections. A more serious attack on 10 March was also defeated, with many casualties on the Bolshevik side. The final attack, with much larger forces, occurred on 17-18 March and succeeded in capturing Kronstadt and suppressing the uprising.
Today, anarchists remember the centenary of the Kronstadt Uprising for two reasons. Firstly, it shows that it is not true that the only alternative to capitalism in Russia was the authoritarian and repressive regime of the so-called “Communist” Party. The Kronstadters had kept alive the original values of the Russian Revolution and were raising them again against the Party’s government by commissar. They failed because the people of Russia were exhausted, not because their ideas were rejected.
Secondly, we remember Kronstadt because the true history of the rebellion is far different from the lying versions propagated by various Leninist groups and shows how far the Bolsheviks had deviated from the principles upon which the October Revolution was founded. The Kronstadters wanted democratic soviets, not a Constituent Assembly which could only establish a capitalist government. They rejected aid from abroad, turning instead to the workers and peasants of Russia. And they exhibited consistently higher principles in the course of the conflict, attempting at all times and even during the final battle to fraternise with the government troops and win them over politically. Some Leninists, desperate to defend the credibility of the Bolsheviks’ denunciation of the Kronstadt Uprising as counter-revolutionary, cite statements by Bolsheviks from Kronstadt in the aftermath. We only consider it necessary to point out that these statements were signed by people held in prison and threatened with execution. False statements can usually be obtained for a good deal less.
The Bolsheviks (by then calling themselves the “Communist” Party) held their 10th Congress during the period of the Kronstadt Uprising. Critics of the rebellion often cite the articles of the Petropavlovsk Resolution as demanding an unacceptable compromise with the peasants, but seldom mention that the 10th Congress endorsed the New Economic Policy, which was a far more extensive compromise. In truth, the aspects of the Petropavlovsk Resolution which were unacceptable to the Bolsheviks were the ones setting out the demand for soviet democracy. It was the Bolsheviks, not the Kronstadters, who were setting themselves against the working class.
Today, anarchists work for new revolutions of the working and popular classes worldwide and fight for the fullest direct democracy within them. We are inspired by the rebels of Kronstadt and aim to ensure that, though it may have been delayed, they have not shed their blood in vain.
All power to the soviets and not to the Parties!
Long live the power of the freely elected soviets!
☆ Alternativa Libertaria/ Federazione dei Comunisti Anarchici (AL/FdCA) – Italy
☆ Anarchist Communist Group (ACG) – Britain
☆ Αναρχική Ομοσπονδία – Anarchist Federation – Greece
☆ Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement (AWSM) – Aotearoa/New Zealand
☆ Coordenação Anarquista Brasileira (CAB) – Brazil
☆ Devrimci Anarşist Faaliyet (DAF) – Turkey
☆ Die Plattform – Anarchakommunistische Organisation – Germany
☆ Embat – Organització Llibertària de Catalunya – Catalonia
☆ Federación Anarquista de Rosario (FAR) – Argentina
☆ Federación Anarquista de Santiago (FAS) – Chile
☆ Federación Anarquista Uruguaya (FAU) – Uruguay
☆ Grupo Libertario Vía Libre – Colombia
☆ Libertäre Aktion – Switzerland
☆ Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group (MACG) – Australia
☆ Organización Anarquista de Córdoba (OAC) – Argentina
☆ Organización Anarquista de Tucumán (OAT) – Argentina
☆ Organisation Socialiste Libertaire (OSL) – Switzerland
☆ Union Communiste Libertaire (UCL) – France
☆ Workers Solidarity Movement (WSM) – Ireland