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Spartacist English edition No. 59

Spring 2006

Russian Archives Refute Anarchist Lies, Again

Kronstadt 1921: Bolshevism vs. Counterrevolution

In March 1921, the garrison of the Baltic island fortress of Kronstadt, gateway to revolutionary Petrograd, revolted against the Bolshevik government. The mutineers held Kronstadt for two weeks, until the Soviet regime finally retook it by a direct assault across the ice, at a cost of many lives on both sides. The rebels claimed to be fighting to restore a purified Soviet power freed from the monopoly of the Communists. The Bolsheviks charged that the revolt was a counterrevolutionary mutiny: whatever the sailors’ intentions, it could only aid the forces of capitalist restoration—ranging from avowed democrats to outright monarchists—united behind the White standard of clerical/tsarist reaction. Though militarily repulsed by the Soviet Red Army after nearly three years of civil war, the White Guards and their imperialist patrons remained intent on reversing the Bolshevik-led October Revolution of 1917 and crushing the young Soviet workers state.

Nearly 73 years later, on 10 January 1994, self-selected White Guard heir Boris Yeltsin, president of a now-capitalist Russia, placed his double-headed-eagle seal of approval on the Kronstadt revolt (see “Kronstadt and Counterrevolution: Then and Now,” Workers Vanguard No. 595, 4 March 1994). The fact that Yeltsin, who had led the 1991-92 overturn of the Bolshevik Revolution, “rehabilitated” the Kronstadt mutineers simply confirmed once again whose class interests were served by the 1921 uprising. The Kronstadt mutiny is the center of a great myth, assiduously propagated by anarchists but seized upon by a whole array of anti-revolutionary forces ranging from social democrats to tsarist restorationists. The principal aim of the “hue and cry over Kronstadt” has always been to discredit the Marxists’ struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie, and in particular to smear Trotskyism, the contemporary embodiment of authentic Leninism.

According to anarchist myth, Kronstadt was the “third toilers’ revolution”—a continuation of the February and October revolutions of 1917—its suppression proof positive of the anti-working-class character of the Bolshevik government of Lenin and Trotsky, and of Marxism in general. To wield Kronstadt as an ideological club against Leninism, the anarchists have to insist, against all known facts, that the mutineers of 1921 were the same sailors who had played a vanguard role in 1917 and that they were not linked to the White reactionaries. Yeltsin unwittingly helped drive a nail in the coffin of the Kronstadt myth when, in blessing the mutineers, he also opened the archives for study of the mutiny. This led to the 1999 publication of a huge collection of Russian historical materials by ROSSPEN, the main publishing house associated with the Federal Archival Agency of Russia. The documents in Kronshtadtskaia tragediia 1921 goda, dokumenty v dvukh knigakh (The 1921 Kronstadt Tragedy, Documents in Two Volumes) (Moscow: Russian Political Encyclopedia, 1999) confirm beyond doubt the counterrevolutionary nature of the Kronstadt rising.

Lenin and Trotsky Told the Truth

Right from the start, the anarchists made common cause with open counterrevolutionaries over Kronstadt. Prominent American anarchist Alexander Berkman’s 1922 pamphlet, The Kronstadt Rebellion, was based largely on a spurious 1921 account entitled The Truth About Kronstadt published by the Social Revolutionaries (SR), bitter opponents of the October Revolution. In 1938, the Kronstadt lie machine was rolled out again—in the form of Ida Mett’s The Kronstadt Commune—this time in an effort to deflect Trotsky’s devastating critique of the role of the CNT anarchist union leaders (in league with the Stalinists) in derailing the Spanish workers revolution. (For more on the Spanish Revolution, see Felix Morrow, Revolution and Counterrevolution in Spain [New York: Pioneer Publishers, 1938].) Shortly before his death in 1945, Voline (V. M. Eichenbaum), a leading Russian anarchist in 1917-21, added his authority to the anti-Bolshevik frame-up with an indictment that relied on the mutineers’ own lying proclamations (Voline, The Unknown Revolution [Kronstadt 1921 Ukraine 1918-21] [New York: Libertarian Book Club, 1955]). Today, a resurgent anarchist trend again seizes on alleged atrocities by Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks in Kronstadt to inflame anti-communist prejudices among young activists in the post-Soviet era.

Right from the start, Lenin, Trotsky and other Bolshevik spokesmen pointed out that the uprising had been embraced with alacrity and even publicly forecast by the counterrevolution in exile; that former tsarist officers in the Kronstadt garrison like General A. N. Kozlovsky figured prominently in the mutiny; that the Kronstadt sailors of 1921 were no longer the “pride and glory” of the workers revolution, as Trotsky had called them in 1917, but a relatively privileged and demoralized layer tied to the peasant villages. In 1938, as he exposed the perfidy of the anarchist misleaders in Spain, Trotsky also shot down the recycled Kronstadt slanders, writing “Hue and Cry Over Kronstadt” and “More on the Suppression of Kronstadt.” He wrote scathingly:

“The Spanish government of the ‘People’s Front’ stifles the socialist revolution and shoots revolutionists. The Anarchists participate in this government, or, when they are driven out, continue to support the executioners. And their foreign allies and lawyers occupy themselves meanwhile with a defense...of the Kronstadt mutiny against the harsh Bolsheviks. What a travesty!”

—“Hue and Cry Over Kronstadt,” 15 January 1938

Trotsky also urged his supporters to undertake a more detailed work. The result was “The Truth About Kronstadt” by John G. Wright of the American Socialist Workers Party (SWP), first published in the SWP’s New International (February 1938) and then in a longer version in an educational bulletin in 1939. Marshaling the historical evidence then available, including the testimony of “the very people who engineered and led and attempted to extend the mutiny,” Wright methodically demonstrated how the Whites supported the uprising and how the sailors were politically driven by their petty-bourgeois class interests and manipulated by the forces of open counterrevolution. (The longer version of Wright’s article can be found in the collection Kronstadt by V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky [New York: Pathfinder, 1979].)

Every serious piece of historical research since has vindicated the Bolsheviks. Notably, this includes pro-anarchist historian Paul Avrich’s Kronstadt 1921 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970). In our review, we recommended the book as the work of a conscientious researcher, who was compelled to conclude that he could “sympathize with the rebels and still concede that the Bolsheviks were justified in subduing them” (“Anarcho-Libertarian Myths Exposed: Kronstadt and Counterrevolution,” WV Nos. 195 and 203, 3 March and 28 April 1978).

Avrich’s research showed that the principal leader of the revolt, a seaman named Stepan Petrichenko, had earlier attempted to join the Whites, then helped turn a mass protest meeting into a decisive break with the Bolshevik government. After the uprising, Petrichenko fled to Finland, which was under the iron rule of former tsarist general and White Guard butcher Baron Mannerheim. Petrichenko openly joined forces with the émigré White Guards concentrated there and endorsed plans for a “temporary military dictatorship” to replace Bolshevik rule. Avrich also discovered a White Guard “Memorandum on the Question of Organizing an Uprising in Kronstadt” that detailed the military and political situation inside the fortress and spoke of having recruited a group of Kronstadt sailors who were preparing to take an active role in a forthcoming uprising there. Nonetheless, Avrich asserted that there was no evidence of links between the Whites and the sailors before the revolt and echoed the common refrain that had the revolt been planned, it would have been launched a few weeks later, after the ice melted and made a Bolshevik ground assault impossible.

The documents assembled in Kronstadt Tragedy definitively put these objections to rest. The collection contains 829 original documents (with an additional 276, in whole or excerpted, in the footnotes), most never before published. These include firsthand accounts by participants in the uprising, among them mutinous sailors and visiting White Guard emissaries, and secret White reports; memoirs and articles by some of the 8,000 mutineers who fled to Finland after the Bolsheviks retook Kronstadt; and records of interrogation of arrested mutineers by the Soviet Cheka, the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission to Combat Counterrevolution and Sabotage. Contemporary Soviet accounts include Baltic Fleet commissar Nikolai Kuzmin’s 25 March 1921 report to the Petrograd Soviet and the first official report on the Cheka investigation, by Special Commissioner Yakov S. Agranov, submitted on 5 April 1921. It is particularly valuable now to be able to see how extensively the accounts of the mutineers who escaped coincide as to the facts with those who confessed while in Soviet hands.

An extensive introduction by Russian historian Yuri Shchetinov, who has done earlier research on Kronstadt, is quite useful, pointing to disputed questions and summarizing relevant archival findings. The documents were culled from a range of Soviet, White Guard, imperialist, Menshevik, Social Revolutionary and anarchist sources and compiled by researchers from nine Russian archives, including the Russian State Military Archive, the Russian State Archive for Socio-Political History and the Central Archive of the Federal Security Services (FSB), the political police. The chief researcher for the collection, I. I. Kudryavtsev, helped prepare materials from the FSB archive and was responsible for the footnotes, indices and bibliography. The name index entry for Trotsky claims he was a “member of French Masonic Lodge, expelled apparently in 1916.” This ludicrous libel, reflective of a counterrevolutionary hatred of the Bolshevik leader, flies in the face of Trotsky’s struggle to root out the pernicious influence of Freemasonry in the young French Communist Party, a historic problem in the French workers movement.

A new book by French historian Jean-Jacques Marie, of Pierre Lambert’s Parti des Travailleurs (PT), seizes on this libel to impugn the collection as a whole, asserting that the “compilation is endowed with an abundant body of footnotes, which bears the imprint of the political police, the FSB (the former KGB), and is marked by an obsession, rampant among the Russian nationalists, with a supposed Masonic plot” (Jean-Jacques Marie, Cronstadt [Paris: Fayard, 2005]). Yet Marie relies on this compilation for the bulk of his own citations! While the FSB is steeped in Great Russian chauvinism, the libel of Trotsky in Kronstadt Tragedy is singular and is not representative of the collection’s editorial work. Marie’s inordinate concern over a non-existent Masonic obsession in Kronstadt Tragedy says more about the Lambertist PT, whose connections with Freemasonry have long been an open secret on the French left. Among these are the close ties between Lambert, long an official in the Force Ouvrière (FO) trade-union federation, and former FO leader Marc Blondel, an open Mason.

For their part, various anarchist Web sites and ’zines, confronted with the mass of new evidence in Kronstadt Tragedy, have turned to a secondhand commentary by Hebrew University academic Israel Getzler (“The Communist Leaders’ Role in the Kronstadt Tragedy of 1921 in the Light of Recently Published Archival Documents,” Revolutionary Russia, June 2002). Getzler elevates the Agranov report to “pride of place,” though it was rushed out only days after the mutiny and without access to any of the ringleaders nor to many of the documents in the present compilation. Getzler then extracts from this initial report one isolated passage in order to claim that Agranov found “that the sailors’ protest was ‘entirely spontaneous’” and that his “findings flatly contradict the official line.” This is sophistry, not scholarship! The Bolsheviks’ “official line” was not that Kronstadt was a White Guard/imperialist conspiracy from start to finish and top to bottom, but rather that it served the interests of and was fully embraced by the counterrevolution. Even the brief passage Getzler cites from Agranov corroborates this, asserting that “the uprising took on a systematic character and was led by the experienced hand of the old generals” (Agranov, Report to Cheka Presidium, 5 April 1921; reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy [our translation]).

In fact, as we shall see, the many documents in Kronstadt Tragedy studiously ignored by Getzler do indeed show that, far from being “entirely spontaneous,” there was a counterrevolutionary conspiracy at the heart of the Kronstadt “toilers’ revolution.” They flesh out, in unambiguous detail, the scale and scope of organized White Guard activity in and around Kronstadt, meshing with the anonymous memorandum uncovered by Avrich. Indeed, one of the newly published documents is by the prominent White agent believed by Avrich to have authored that memorandum, counterrevolutionary National Center operative G.F. Tseidler, who boasts how right-wing émigrés from Finland (cloaked as a Red Cross delegation) were welcomed to Kronstadt by Petrichenko and other mutiny leaders. Another report, by a leading White agent resident in Finland, General G.E. Elvengren, not only credits a White Guard organization in Kronstadt with fomenting the uprising but explains why it was launched earlier than planned. Of particular interest in demonstrating a hidden hand behind the uprising are the numerous firsthand accounts that testify to the systematic deception employed by Petrichenko and his allies in order to bring a section of the garrison out with them.

In preparing this article, we also studied a number of other Russian-language materials, including both primary and secondary sources. Among these is a series of articles on the Kronstadt mutiny published throughout 1930-31 in the Leningrad historical journal Krasnaia Letopis’, including an analysis by Soviet historian A.S. Pukhov of how the social composition of the Kronstadt garrison changed between 1917 and 1921. We also consulted with Yuri Shchetinov, who wrote the introduction to Kronstadt Tragedy, and obtained from him excerpts of his earlier book, Kronshtadt, mart 1921 g. (Kronstadt, March 1921), whose publication was halted in 1992 after Yeltsin took the reins of power. All translations from Kronstadt Tragedy and other Russian-language sources are ours.

The Class Character of the Kronstadt Mutiny

In “The Truth About Kronstadt,” Trotskyist John G. Wright punctured the anarchist fairy tale that the Kronstadt rebels were just a mass of undifferentiated toilers fighting selflessly for the ideal of “free soviets.” This notion obscures the distinct—and, at times, opposed—class forces operating. Rejecting a materialist class understanding, anarchists divide the world into powerful and powerless, rich and poor, lumping the peasant small-property holder and the urban factory worker together into a classless “people.” But the peasant is not inherently collectivist and anti-capitalist; rather he is essentially a primitive small businessman who wants low prices on the things he buys and high prices on the things he sells. As Wright observed:

“The supposition that soldiers and sailors could venture upon an insurrection under an abstract political slogan of ‘free soviets’ is absurd in itself.... These people could have been moved to an insurrection only by profound economic needs and interests. These were the needs and interests of the fathers and brothers of these sailors and soldiers, that is, of peasants as traders in food products and raw materials. In other words the mutiny was the expression of the petty bourgeoisie’s reaction against the difficulties and privations imposed by the proletarian revolution.”

— Wright, “The Truth About Kronstadt”

The workers revolution in Russia took place in a backward, overwhelmingly peasant country, creating, in Trotsky’s words, a dictatorship of the proletariat resting on the poor peasantry. The long-term existence of Soviet Russia could only be assured through the spread of socialist revolution to the advanced industrial powers of West Europe and the rest of the world. In the meantime, the support or neutrality of the peasant masses was key to safeguarding the revolution. This meant winning over the poorer peasants with consumer goods, tractors and other manufactured products, ultimately laying the basis for a rural proletariat based on large-scale, collectivized farming.

But in the winter of 1920-21, Soviet Russia lay in ruins after seven years of imperialist war and civil war. The armies of 14 capitalist states had invaded revolutionary Russia. These provided assistance to capitalist-restorationist armies led by former tsarist military commanders Denikin, Kolchak, Wrangel, Yudenich and others, who ravaged the country and systematically massacred Jews and Communists, as well as militant workers and recalcitrant peasants. Industry and transport were paralyzed and major cities depopulated, as the starving foraged for food. In the countryside, famine and pestilence on a scale not seen in centuries had driven the villages to the point of cannibalism. All this was exacerbated by an imperialist economic blockade. The policies the Bolsheviks improvised to cope with these calamities were dubbed “War Communism.” At their core was seizure of grain from the peasantry in order to feed the cities and provision the Red Army. Throughout the Civil War, the mass of the peasantry accepted this as a lesser evil than the return of the White gentry.

By the fall of 1920, the main White and imperialist forces had finally been routed. But White troops still occupied the shores of the Black Sea near Georgia; the Japanese army remained in Russia’s Far East until the end of 1922, and Wrangel still commanded up to 80,000 men under arms in Turkey. Then peasant resentment exploded. Shchetinov notes, “Towards the end of 1920 and the beginning of 1921, armed uprisings flared up in the Tambov and Voronezh gubernias, in the Central Volga region, in the Don Basin, the Kuban, and in Western Siberia. Anti-Bolshevik rebels numbered at that time over 200,000” (Shchetinov, Introduction to Kronstadt Tragedy). These included some among the more than two million soldiers who had been demobilized from the Red Army with the end of the Civil War. In the Ukraine a substantial peasant partisan army, gathered around the anarchist adventurer Nestor Makhno, was now in revolt against Soviet power. As Trotsky observed:

“Only an entirely superficial person can see in Makhno’s bands or in the Kronstadt revolt a struggle between the abstract principles of Anarchism and ‘state socialism.’ Actually these movements were convulsions of the peasant petty bourgeoisie which desired, of course, to liberate itself from capital but which at the same time did not consent to subordinate itself to the dictatorship of the proletariat. The petty bourgeoisie does not know concretely what it wants, and by virtue of its position cannot know.”

— “Hue and Cry Over Kronstadt”

These peasant stirrings and revolts provided fertile soil for organized counterrevolutionary agitation and conspiracies.

These conditions directly influenced developments in Kronstadt. While the tsarist army had been overwhelmingly peasant in composition, the Baltic Fleet—with its reliance on engineering and technical skills—had a slim working-class majority in 1917. But as the most class-conscious fighters went off to the front lines of the Civil War or to take over administrative and command positions in the apparatus of the new workers state, they were replaced by more backward and more heavily peasant layers—including, by 1920-21, a sizable number of peasant recruits from the rebellious parts of the Ukraine.

Another factor affecting Kronstadt was the deep division within the Communist Party over where to go from “War Communism” and how to reinvigorate the smychka, the alliance of the peasantry with the workers state. In the months before the mutiny, a sharp dispute broke out pitting Trotsky against Lenin in the so-called “trade-union debate.” Seizing on Trotsky’s wrong-headedness, Zinoviev mobilized his own base in the Petrograd-Kronstadt area against Trotsky, whom he saw as a rival within the party leadership. Zinoviev opened the floodgates of the Kronstadt party organization to backward recruits while encouraging a poisonous atmosphere in the inner-party dispute. The rot in the Kronstadt Communist Party organization was a critical factor in allowing the mutiny to proceed, as Agranov noted in his Cheka report.

Kronstadt Erupts

The Kronstadt revolt began in the wake of workers’ protests that started in Petrograd on February 20 when a fuel crisis forced the closure of major factories. Through a combination of concessions to the workers and arrests of key Menshevik agitators, the government quickly quelled the protests without any bloodshed. But rumors of workers being shot and factories bombarded nonetheless made their way to Kronstadt on February 25.

Delegations of sailors from the warships Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol went to Petrograd and saw that these rumors were false. When they returned to Kronstadt on February 27, they did not, however, dispel the lies. Instead, fresh lies were heaped on—including that thousands of sailors in Petrograd had been arrested. Arms were distributed to the Kronstadt sailors. Shipboard meetings on February 28 were quickly followed by a March 1 mass meeting in Kronstadt’s Anchor Square, which adopted a program of demands, and a delegated meeting on March 2 to discuss new elections to the local soviet. Communist speakers at these meetings were cut off.

Baltic Fleet commissar Kuzmin and two other Communist leaders were arrested at the March 2 meeting—supposedly to ensure “true freedom” for the elections! When the delegates balked at a proposal to arrest all other Communists at the meeting, this was met with a dramatic—and utterly baseless—announcement that armed Communist detachments were about to surround the hall and arrest all the participants. What ensued is vividly described in a Communist eyewitness account quoted by Shchetinov:

“In the panicked commotion a vote on something was rushed through. A few minutes later the chair of the meeting, Petrichenko, quieting down the meeting, announced that ‘The Revolutionary Committee, formed of the presidium and elected by you, declares: “All Communists present are to be seized and not to be released until the situation is clarified”.’ In two, three minutes, all Communists present were seized by armed sailors.”

— quoted in Shchetinov,
Introduction to Kronstadt Tragedy

In fact, the “Provisional Revolutionary Committee” (PRC) had already “elected” itself and sent messages to the various Kronstadt posts the night before, declaring: “In view of the situation in Kronstadt at this time, the Communist Party is removed from power. The Provisional Revolutionary Committee is in charge. We ask that non-party comrades take control into their hands” (“To All Posts of Kronstadt,” 2 March 1921, 1:35 a.m.; reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy). Here was an early taste of “free soviets,” anarchist-style!

Once the mutiny was under way, over 300 Communists were imprisoned; hundreds more fled. Agranov pointed out:

“The repression carried out by the PRC against those Communists who remained faithful to the communist revolution fully refutes the supposedly peaceful intentions of the rebels. Virtually all the minutes of the PRC sessions indicate that the struggle against the Communists still at large, and against those still in prison, remained an unrelenting focus of their attention. At the last phase, they even resorted to threats of field courts martial, in spite of their declared repeal of the death penalty.”

— Agranov, Report to Cheka Presidium, 5 April 1921; reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy

It was the commandant of the prison, none other than an anarchist named Stanislav Shustov, who proposed shooting the leading Communists. In his report to the 25 March 1921 session of the Petrograd Soviet, fleet commissar Kuzmin described how the threat of mass executions was nearly carried out. Early on the morning of March 18, Shustov set up a machine gun outside the cell, which contained 23 prisoners. He was prevented from slaughtering the Communists only by the advance of the Red Army across the ice.

A Program of Counterrevolution

As Lenin noted, “There was very little that was clear, definite and fully shaped” about the Kronstadt demands (“The Tax in Kind,” 21 April 1921). They included new elections to the soviets; no restrictions on the anarchist and left socialist parties; no controls on trade-union or peasant organizations; freeing Menshevik and SR prisoners and those arrested in recent rural and urban unrest; equalization of rations; and pivotally, the demand to “grant the peasants full freedom of action on all land as they wish, and the right to own cattle, which they should tend to themselves, i.e., without the use of hired labour” (March 1 Resolution; reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy). Had this petty-bourgeois program of unrestricted trade and opposition to any economic planning actually been carried out, it would have rapidly generated a new capitalist class from among the most successful peasants, artisans and enterprise managers and opened the door to a return of the old capitalists and the imperialists.

The program was carefully crafted with the peasant prejudices of the sailors in mind. The mutineers demanded the abolition of the political departments and Communist fighting detachments in all military units, and of Communist patrols in the factories. The call for “all power to the soviets and not the parties” was simply petty-bourgeois demagogy designed to swindle the masses of sailors into supporting counterrevolution. In practice, it meant “Down with the Communists!” The more far-sighted adherents of counterrevolution understood that if the Communists were driven from power, whatever the slogans, it would be a short step to restoring capitalist rule. In the pages of his Paris-based newspaper, Constitutional Democrat (Kadet) leader Pavel Miliukov counseled his fellow reactionaries to accept the call, “Down with the Bolsheviks! Long live the Soviets!” As this would likely mean only a temporary passing of power to “the moderate Socialists,” argued the shrewd bourgeois Miliukov, “not only the Monarchists but other candidates for power living abroad have no rhyme or reason for being in a hurry” (Poslednie Novosti, 11 March 1921; quoted in Wright, “The Truth About Kronstadt”).

What could the demand for “free soviets” mean in the context of Soviet Russia in 1921? Many of the most advanced workers had fought in the Red Army and perished or been drafted into important administrative posts. With the factories decimated and deprived of their best elements, the soviets atrophied. The regime of workers democracy was preserved by the layer of cadre in the Communist Party.

The revolutionary-minded elements of all the socialist and anarchist tendencies had gone over to the Bolsheviks, either individually or in regroupments. In 1917, the anarchists had briefly enjoyed some influence among the more volatile elements of the Petrograd proletariat and garrison because of their militant posture against the capitalist Provisional Government. After the October Revolution, the best of the anarcho-syndicalists, like Bill Shatov, a Russian American who had been a prominent Wobbly in the U.S., sided with the Bolsheviks in defense of the workers revolution. Those who didn’t turned to criminality and terror against the workers state, from staging armed robberies to bombing Moscow Communist Party headquarters in 1919. The “socialist” parties that had joined the Provisional Government, the Mensheviks and Right SRs, were by 1921 empty shells and lackeys of counterrevolution. The Left SRs, after briefly serving in the Soviet government, joined in 1918 in underground terror against the workers state. The Mensheviks’ posture of abiding by Soviet legality was dropped at every chance of a capitalist overthrow of the Soviet republic.

In Petrograd the remnants of the SRs, Mensheviks and various anarchists banded together in an “Assembly of Plenipotentiaries of the Factories and Shops of Petrograd.” This shadowy, unelected bloc collaborated with the newly formed monarchist Petrograd Combat Organization (PCO), as the PCO itself asserted (PCO Report to Helsinki Department of National Center, no earlier than 28 March 1921; reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy). The PCO even printed the Mensheviks’ leaflets! On March 14, the Assembly issued a leaflet in solidarity with Kronstadt that said not one word about socialism or soviets, but instead called for an uprising against “the bloody communist regime” in the name of “all power to the people” (“Appeal to All Citizens, Workers, Red Army Soldiers and Sailors,” 14 March 1921; reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy).

Despite lies spun by the press of the mutineers claiming mass uprisings in Petrograd and Moscow, even Menshevik leader Fyodor Dan admitted in a 1922 book that “There were no plenipotentiaries” and that “the Kronstadt mutiny was not supported by the Petersburg workers in any way” (quoted in “The Mensheviks in the Kronstadt Mutiny,” Krasnaia Letopis’, 1931, No. 2). “The workers immediately felt that the Kronstadt mutineers stood on the opposite side of the barricades—and they supported the Soviet power,” explained Trotsky (“Hue and Cry Over Kronstadt,” 15 January 1938). It is noteworthy that even the wing of the Communist Party that most zealously sought to champion the immediate economic interests of the workers, the semi-syndicalist Workers Opposition, participated in the crushing of the Kronstadt uprising.

Duplicity and Deception

The Agranov report noted that “all participants of the mutiny carefully hid their party physiognomy under the flag of being non-party” (Agranov, Report to Cheka Presidium). The mutiny leaders skillfully felt their way. For example, PRC chief Petrichenko pulled back after his proposed call to enfranchise all socialist parties was met with an angry rebuff from sailors at a March 1 meeting preceding the Anchor Square rally. According to Kuzmin, the crowd shouted at Petrichenko: “That’s freedom for the right SRs and Mensheviks! No! No way!… We know all about their Constituent Assemblies! We don’t need that!” (Kuzmin Report, Stenographic Report of Petrograd Soviet, 25 March 1921; reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy). Petrichenko’s duplicity in calling for “free soviets” was already demonstrated in Avrich’s Kronstadt 1921. Other PRC members were also opponents of soviet power: two were Mensheviks; a third was a member of the bourgeois Kadets, while the chief editor of the rebels’ newspaper, Izvestia of the PRC, Sergei Putilin had been a long-time Kadet supporter. One of the Mensheviks, Vladislav Valk, openly advocated the Constituent Assembly, i.e., a bourgeois parliament. The Kadet on the PRC, Ivan Oreshin, captured the cynicism with which the leaders manipulated the sailors. Writing in an émigré newspaper shortly after the mutiny, he commented:

“The Kronstadt uprising broke out under the pretext of replacing the old Soviet, whose mandate had run out, with a new one based on secret balloting. The question of universal suffrage, extending the vote also to the bourgeoisie, was carefully avoided by the orators at the [March 1] demonstration. They did not want to evoke opposition among the insurgents themselves that the Bolsheviks could make use of.... They did not speak of the Constituent Assembly, but the assumption was that it could be arrived at gradually, via freely elected soviets.”

Oreshin, Volia Rossii (April-May 1921); quoted in Shchetinov, Introduction to Kronstadt Tragedy

The stench of White Guard reaction wafted ever more openly through Kronstadt as the mutiny progressed and the bid to draw in the Petrograd workers with talk of “free soviets” failed. Already on March 4, the commander of the Sevastopol issued a written order that spoke of “long-suffering, tortured and dismembered Russia” and duty “to the motherland and the Russian people” (quoted in Agranov, Report to Cheka Presidium, 5 April 1921; reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy). By March 15, such language appeared in an official PRC appeal. Addressed above all to the White émigré “Russian people who have been ripped away from a Russia that lies torn from limb to limb,” the appeal stated: “We fight now for the overthrow of the yoke of the party, for genuine soviet power, and then, let the free will of the people decide how it wants to govern itself” (“Appeal by Kronstadters,” 15 March 1921; reprinted in ibid.). The appeal tellingly concluded with talk not of “free soviets” but of the “holy cause of the Russian toilers” in “the building of a free Russia.” This was unambiguously a call for “democratic” counterrevolution. On March 21, three days after its dispersal, the PRC in exile issued an even more blatant appeal proclaiming: “Down With the Party Dictatorship, Long Live Free Russia, Long Live the Power Elected by the Whole of the Russian People!” (“To the Oppressed Peasants and Workers of Russia,” 21 March 1921; reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy).

Notably, the March 15 appeal was issued by Petrichenko in direct response to the general staff’s demands that the PRC secure outside aid. That same day, the PRC secretly dispatched two members to Finland to seek aid. When, on March 17, Petrichenko and the PRC tried to enforce the officers’ decision that the crews of the Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol abandon ship, blow up their artillery and flee to Finland, this was the last straw. The vast majority of the crews rose up, saved the vessels and arrested all the officers and PRC members they could get their hands on (cited in Agranov, Report to Cheka Presidium).

Imperialists, Tsarist Officers and the PRC

If the Kronstadt mutiny was a “revolution,” it was a very strange one, indeed—supported by the imperialists, the Russian monarchists and capitalists and their Menshevik and SR lackeys! The revolt, observed Trotsky in a 23 March 1921 article, led to an immediate rise on the Paris and Brussels stock exchanges, particularly in Russian securities (“Kronstadt and the Stock Exchange,” Kronstadt by V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky). The defeated White émigré forces hurriedly patched together combat units. A former member of General Denikin’s entourage, N.N. Chebyshev, recalled in a 23 August 1924 article in the émigré press: “White officers roused themselves and started seeking ways to get to the fight in Kronstadt. Nobody was interested in who was there—SRs, Mensheviks or Bolsheviks who had become disenchanted with communism, but who still stood for the Soviets. The spark flew among the émigrés. Everybody’s spirit was lifted by it” (quoted in Shchetinov, Introduction to ibid.).

Émigré leaders, whose appeals to West European states had earlier fallen on deaf ears, were now embraced. While accepting that France might have given some aid, Avrich argued in Kronstadt 1921 that the Whites were basically spurned, checked by Western diplomatic obstacles. In fact, while France and Britain held back from open participation, they encouraged the small states bordering Russia to assist the mutiny. British foreign minister Lord Curzon wired his representative in Helsinki on March 11 stating: “His Majesty’s Government are not prepared themselves to intervene in any way to assist the revolutionaries. Very confidential: There is no reason, however, why you should advise the Finnish Government to take a similar course or to prevent any private societies or individuals from helping if they wish to do so” (Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939 [London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1961]). Suffice it to say that deliveries of food supplies to Kronstadt were allowed to proceed without serious interference, as was the concentration of White expeditionary forces in Finland.

In his 1921 Cheka report, Agranov documented the authoritative role played by General Kozlovsky and other bourgeois officers on the general staff. The anarchists have long argued that these officers simply functioned in an advisory capacity, and had been, in any case, appointed as military specialists by the Bolshevik government. Viewed by the mass of sailors with extreme suspicion, the officers certainly kept a low profile. But where they had earlier served under the strict supervision of Communist commissars, now the commissars were in jail, and the generals were on top. Kozlovsky sneered as he seized control from the commissar of the Kronstadt Fortress (V.P. Gromov) at a March 2 meeting, “Your time is past. Now I shall do what has to be done” (quoted in A.S. Pukhov, “Kronstadt Under the Power of the Enemies of the Revolution,” Krasnaia Letopis’, 1931, No. 1). A senior officer arrested in the wake of the mutiny further testified that in daily operational matters, “The Chairman of the PRC [Petrichenko] typically subordinated himself to the decision of the Chief of Defense [tsarist fort commander Solovianov] and did not raise objections to the latter’s operational activities” (Minutes of Cheka Interrogation of P.A. Zelenoi, 26 March 1921; reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy).

Officers like Kozlovsky provided an invaluable connection to the White émigré forces with whom they had served in the tsarist army. Among the latter was Baron P. V. Vilken, the former commander of the Sevastopol, who was tied to the London-based Naval Organization, a White Guard spy nest closely monitored by the Soviet Cheka Foreign Department. Russian intelligence services have now published the monitored Naval Organization correspondence and money transfers. The first of a series of telegrams described as “proposing necessary measures in support of the Kronstadt mutiny in Russia,” sent on 25 February 1921, instructed an agent to receive “400 Pounds Sterling and send it via two checks to Helsinki, which needs the money in the beginning of March” (Russkaia voennaia emigratsiia 20-x—40-x godov [The Russian Military Emigration 1920s-1940s], Volume One [Moscow: Geya, 1998]).

While “left” apologists for the mutiny have no choice but to acknowledge that the imperialists hailed the uprising, they claim that the mutineers themselves had nothing to do with the imperialists or the Whites. Anarchists love to cite the 6 March 1921 editorial in Izvestia of the PRC that struck a pose of vigilant opposition to the Whites: “Look sharp. Do not let wolves in sheep’s clothing approach the helmsman’s bridge” (quoted in Avrich, Kronstadt 1921). But we now know that two days after this editorial appeared, the PRC, behind the backs of the sailors, welcomed a whole pack of these wolves—including a courier from the SR Administrative Center; one Finnish Special Services agent; two representatives of the monarchist Petrograd Combat Organization; and four White Guard officers, including Vilken.

Vilken and another officer, General Yavit, were formally there as part of a three-man “Red Cross” delegation sent from Finland by National Center operative G.F. Tseidler. According to a detailed report by Tseidler to Russian Red Cross headquarters, a front for the Whites, the delegation was immediately invited to a joint session of the PRC and the general staff officers, where an agreement was reached for the provisioning of Kronstadt. When, Tseidler relates, one PRC member questioned “whether the PRC had the right to accept the proposed aid without first consulting the public that elected them,” as it could be seen as proof of “selling out to the bourgeoisie,” he was overruled with the line that “we cannot have continuous mass meetings” (Tseidler, Red Cross Activity in Organizing Provisions Aid to Kronstadt, 25 April 1921; reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy).

Further evidence of right-wing machinations behind the backs of the sailors comes from a 1922 article in an émigré newspaper in Finland by disillusioned PRC member Alexander Kupolov. This article caused a furor in White Guard Finland; Kupolov subsequently returned to Soviet Russia, where he was arrested and then released after agreeing to work for the Cheka. Kupolov writes:

“The PRC, seeing that Kronstadt was filling up with agents of a monarchist organization, issued a declaration that it would not enter into negotiations with, nor accept any aid from, any non-socialist parties.

“But if the PRC issued this declaration, Petrichenko and the General Staff secretly worked in connection with the monarchists and prepared the ground for an overthrow of the committee....”

— Kupolov, “Kronstadt and the Russian Counterrevolutionaries in Finland: From the Notes of a Former Member of the PRC,” Put’, 4 January 1922; reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy

According to Kupolov, Vilken also offered “an armed force of 800 men”—which the PRC, “taking into account the mood of the garrison, decided by a majority to decline.”

Another PRC member, an anarchist named Perepelkin, told his Cheka interrogator that he had been upset by Vilken’s prominence in the mutiny. According to Cheka Petrograd regional chairman N.P. Komarov, Perepelkin said:

“And here I saw the former commander of the Sevastopol, Baron Vilken, with whom I had earlier sailed. And it is he who is now acknowledged by the PRC to be the representative of the delegation that is offering us aid. I was outraged by this. I called together all the members of the PRC and said, so that’s the situation we’re in, that’s who we’re forced to talk to. Petrichenko and the others jumped on me, saying, ‘When we don’t have food or medicine—it’s all going to run out on March 21—are we really supposed to surrender to the conquerors? There was no other way out,’ they said. I stopped arguing and said I would accept the proposal. And on the second day we received 400 poods of food and cigarettes. Those who agreed to mutual friendship with the White Guard baron yesterday shouted that they were for Soviet power.”

— Komarov Report, Stenographic Report of Petrograd Soviet, 25 March 1921; reprinted in ibid.

Vilken urged the PRC to come out for the Constituent Assembly. Komarov reports asking Perepelkin: “And if on the day after, the baron had demanded of you not just the demand for a Constituent Assembly, but for a military dictatorship? Then how would you have dealt with the question?” Perepelkin replied, “I admit it, I can now frankly state that we would have adopted that as well—we had no other way out.” This was the “third revolution”!

Vilken was to remain at Kronstadt, essentially part of the operational leadership along with Petrichenko and the general staff, until the end. He was even invited to address a special crew meeting on his former command, the Sevastopol, on March 11. Tseidler himself (along with General Wrangel’s political representative in Finland, Professor Grimm) was mandated to represent Kronstadt as the government of the liberated territory of Russia. One of the first acts of the “Independent Republic of Kronstadt” was a radiogram, whose interception was reported into a March 9 session of the Bolshevik Tenth Party Congress then meeting in Moscow, congratulating Warren G. Harding upon his inauguration as U.S. president (cited in Shchetinov, Introduction to Kronstadt Tragedy)!

Writing in 1938, Trotsky stated: “The logic of the struggle would have given predominance in the fortress to the extremists, that is, to the most counterrevolutionary elements. The need for supplies would have made the fortress directly dependent upon the foreign bourgeoisie and their agents, the White émigrés. All the necessary preparations towards this end were already being made” (Trotsky, “Hue and Cry Over Kronstadt”). The archives completely vindicate Trotsky.

The Anarchist School of Falsification

As we have noted, current anarchist apologists for Kronstadt make much of the work of Israeli academic Israel Getzler. The Infoshop Web site, for example, features an exhaustively anti-Leninist 100-plus-page tract on Kronstadt that claims, “Anarchist accounts have been validated by later research while Trotskyist assertions have been exploded time and time again” (“What Was the Kronstadt Rebellion?”,, undated). Let us see. Getzler pompously declaims that “the question of the spontaneity of the revolt, which has bedevilled the historiography of the Kronstadt movement for six decades, [is] now settled—at least to my satisfaction” (“The Communist Leaders’ Role in the Kronstadt Tragedy of 1921 in the Light of Recently Published Archival Documents,” Revolutionary Russia, June 2002). All this because Cheka commissioner Agranov wrote, on the basis of the very limited evidence available in the days immediately after the mutiny, that “this investigation failed to show that the outbreak of the mutiny was preceded by the activity of any counterrevolutionary organization at work among the fortress’s command or that it was the work of [imperialist] Entente spies” (Agranov, Report to Cheka Presidium, 5 April 1921; reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy).

To read Getzler’s article, you would not know that Kronstadt Tragedy also includes a crucial White Guard report that did not even exist at the time of the initial Cheka investigation. In it, General G.E. Elvengren, Wrangel’s military representative in Finland, categorically asserts that there was an organized White operation at Kronstadt and explains why the mutiny was launched before the ice had melted:

“The key is that the Kronstadt sailors (the local organization connected with the broader organization), upon learning of the beginning of the movement in Petrograd and of its scale, took it for a general rising. Not wanting to passively remain on the sidelines, they decided, despite the agreed upon timetable, to go to Petrograd on the icebreaker Ermak, and take their place alongside those who had already come out. In Petrograd they immediately got oriented and saw that things were not as they expected. They had to quickly return to Kronstadt. The movement in Petrograd had died down, all was quiet, but they—the sailors—who were now compromised before the Commissars, knew that they would be repressed, and decided to take the next step and use the isolation of Kronstadt to announce their break from soviet power and to independently drive ahead their rising that they were thus compelled to begin.”

— Elvengren, Report to Russian Evacuation Committee in Poland, no later than 18 April 1921; reprinted in ibid.

While ignoring the Elvengren document, Getzler quotes a few isolated snippets on spontaneity from the testimony of participants. These are, to say the least, highly selective. Getzler cites Anatoly Lamanov, an editor of Izvestia of the PRC. Lamanov was an important front for the mutiny because he had been chairman of the 1917 Kronstadt Soviet and thus embodied the supposed continuity with Red Kronstadt. After his arrest, Lamanov told the Cheka: “The Kronstadt mutiny came as a surprise to me. I viewed the mutiny as a spontaneous movement” (Minutes of Cheka Interrogation of Anatoly Lamanov, 19 March 1921; reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy). This statement Getzler cites. What Getzler does not quote is Lamanov’s admission, a few sentences from the above, that after a March 11 delegated meeting in which Vilken participated:

“I changed my mind about the movement, and from that point no longer considered it to be spontaneous. Up until the seizure of Kronstadt by Soviet troops I thought the movement had been organized by the Left SRs. After I became convinced that the movement was not spontaneous, I no longer sympathized with it. I continued to take part in the Izvestia only because of my fears that the movement would lurch to the right....

“Now I am firmly convinced, that, without a doubt, White Guards, both Russian and foreign, took part in the movement. The escape to Finland convinced me of this. Now I consider my participation in this movement to have been an unforgivable, stupid mistake.”

— Minutes of Cheka Interrogation of Anatoly Lamanov, 19 March 1921; reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy

Before “settling”—to his satisfaction—the question of the mutiny’s spontaneity, in 1983 Getzler similarly trumpeted “hard statistical data” disproving Bolshevik assertions that the social composition of the Kronstadt garrison had changed drastically between 1917 and 1921 (Getzler, Kronstadt 1917-1921: The Fate of a Soviet Democracy [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983]). The Infoshop article claims that Getzler’s “findings are conclusive.” How conclusive? In a footnote, Getzler cites the following source for his evidence:

“See Pukhov, ‘Kronshtadt i baltiiskii flot pered miatezhom’ [Kronstadt and the Baltic Fleet Before the Mutiny] for data referring to the year of birth (rather than that of enlistment) of sailors serving in the Baltic Fleet as of 1 January 1921, which suggest that at least some 80% were veterans of the 1917 revolution.”

— Getzler, Kronstadt 1917-1921

We examined Pukhov’s article. Pukhov did not infer from the sailors’ ages that they had been in Kronstadt in 1917—just the opposite. Pukhov concluded:

“Over the course of barely two years the Baltic Fleet was systematically re-staffed with wayward, dissembling, déclassé elements, which to a powerful degree determined the process of the degeneration of the personnel and the transformation of its social and political profile to the point that, by the beginning of 1921, it was unrecognizable.”

— A.S. Pukhov, “Kronstadt and the Baltic Fleet Before the 1921 Mutiny,” Krasnaia Letopis’, 1930, No. 6

Pukhov explained that the proletarian elements of the Baltic Fleet provided a steady “reserve of firm fighters who fought with exceptional courage at all the most difficult stages of the victorious revolution,” sent to “the most dangerous fronts of the Civil War and to the most demanding outposts” of the new state administration. But this reserve had limits, and those who came as replacements were drawn to Kronstadt precisely because it was not near the front lines and offered better food and clothing than did the Red Army. Beginning in 1918, reinforcements for the fleet were recruited on a volunteer basis, through a special Hiring Bureau and also through hiring campaigns organized directly by the ship committees:

“Free access of volunteers to the fleet and the partisan-clique mentality in which the Ship Committees assembled their crews, ultimately led to alien class elements seeping into the fleet.... Together with young workers and old sailors who were rooted in dedication to the fleet and eager to labor for the strengthening of a red, socialist fleet, there frequently also entered high-school and trade-school students, just plain mama’s boys from among the former nobility, the children of speculators, characters with a shady past, and so forth. It is typical of this period that S. Petrichenko, the future ‘leader’ of the Kronstadt mutiny, came to ‘serve’ as a clerk.”


When the fleet shifted over to conscription, “The older sailors who were now re-conscripted [originally drafted under tsarism] came, in their overwhelming majority, from the villages, where they had already managed to get ‘peasantized’” (ibid.). Finally, as crew shortages climbed to 60 percent in late 1920, the Baltic Fleet began receiving “skilled” reinforcements from the Red Army:

“Consciously or not, the Red Army sent disreputable soldiers. Notable among them were former deserters, the undisciplined, and so forth. That is, the Red Army sent those who were useless to it and unwanted from among the reserve units. And the fleet was obliged to take in these ‘skilled’ reinforcements, because they had a crying need for them.”


Getzler also asserts, again to hosannas from Infoshop, that of the 2,028 Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol crew members whose years of enlistment are known, “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.” Getzler’s only proof for this is February 1921 crew lists cited in S. N. Semanov’s Likvidatsiia antisovetskogo Kronshtadtskogo myatezha 1921 goda (The Suppression of the 1921 Anti-Soviet Kronstadt Mutiny; originally published in Voprosy istorii, 1971, No. 3). We examined Semanov’s lists as well; they indicated when the sailors enlisted, but not where they had served in 1917. The evidence indicates that the 1921 crews were overwhelmingly not veterans of Kronstadt 1917. For example, in his unpublished Kronstadt, March 1921, Yuri Shchetinov shows that the crew of the Petropavlovsk was reduced from nearly 1,400 to just 200 by late 1918; the majority of the replacements were not veteran Kronstadters but conscripts—former crewmen of navy, merchant marine and river vessels—who had quit after the revolution rather than serve voluntarily in the newly constituted Red Navy: “Among those mobilized were not a few sailors who had served in the Black Sea and Northern Fleets, where, by comparison to the Baltic Fleet, the influence of SRs and anarchists was notably greater” (Shchetinov, Kronstadt, March 1921).

In the Introduction to Kronstadt Tragedy, Shchetinov states categorically: “In the year of 1920 alone, 10,000 sailors and Red Army soldiers, out of a force of 17,000, were replaced by draftees.” And no less an authority than Kadet PRC member Ivan Oreshin, in a 1924 article in an émigré journal, confirmed the “official Bolshevik line” (as Getzler would put it):

“The sailors were already not like those of 1917-1918. The revolutionary lustre had long been gone. They had become lazy and had lost that reckless enthusiasm with which they had dispersed the Constituent Assembly. Many had visited home to the village and had seen with their own eyes the ruinous conditions that the Bolsheviks had brought about. They turned against their own power.”

— “The Kronstadt Uprising and Its Meaning,”
6 June 1924; reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy

Finally, we have Paul Avrich making it clear that the mutineers of 1921 were not the red Kronstadters of 1917: “Although the rebels...denied any anti-Semitic prejudice, there is no question that feelings against the Jews ran high among the Baltic sailors, many of whom came from the Ukraine and the western borderlands, the classic regions of virulent anti-Semitism in Russia” (Avrich, Kronstadt 1921). Izvestia editor Lamanov admitted that anti-Semitic poison about the Jews having “murdered Russia” was so rife—and that “quite often authors would bring in writings of this sort”—that he made it his job “to block anti-Semitic propaganda” (Further Minutes of Questioning of Anatoly Lamanov, 25 March 1921; reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy). These sanitized Izvestia articles were then held up as “proof” of the mutineers’ revolutionary intentions by Voline and other anarchist apologists who, to use Trotsky’s words, “quote the proclamations of the insurgents like pious preachers quoting Holy Scriptures” (“Hue and Cry Over Kronstadt”).

Trotsky’s Role During the Kronstadt Crisis

Well before Kronstadt erupted, it was clear to the Bolshevik leaders that the regime of War Communism had run its course. After months of discussion, the New Economic Policy (NEP) was formally adopted at the Tenth Party Congress, which met as the mutiny raged. Already in February 1920, Trotsky had proposed replacing forcible grain requisitions with a tax that the government would collect in the form of agricultural products—a “tax in kind”—the core of the NEP. His proposal was then rejected, and Trotsky responded by seeking to implement and extend War Communism with heightened military-administrative zeal, advocating in a factional fashion that the Soviet trade unions merge with the state apparatus to run the economy. Behind this proposal lay the assumption that in a workers state, basic organizations of working-class defense like unions were at best superfluous, and at worst levers for the kind of retrograde economic and bureaucratic resistance he had contended with as commander of the Red Army during the Civil War.

Thus did Trotsky initiate the trade-union fight that rent the party on the eve of the Tenth Congress. Lenin took the fight against Trotsky and his allies into a broader party discussion. As we wrote:

“Lenin was correct to insist that in the concrete conditions then prevailing in Soviet Russia, the trade unions were necessary organs for the defense of the working class, not just in counterposition to the peasant majority with whom it was allied, but also against real bureaucratic abuse by the Soviet state itself....

“It appeared to Lenin that Trotsky, with his previous factional zeal and indifference to protecting the non-party masses against the nascent bureaucracy, was putting himself forward as the spokesman for the growing bureaucratic layer.”

— “Trotsky and the Russian Left Opposition,” Spartacist No. 56, Spring 2001

Trotsky lost a lot of authority, making himself vulnerable to internal opponents like Zinoviev (and Stalin).

In his July 1938 article on Kronstadt, Trotsky addressed the repeated smear that he personally waded in the blood of the mutineers. Trotsky recalled that he had come to Moscow for the congress and stayed there throughout the Kronstadt events. In fact, Trotsky did leave Moscow for Petrograd for four days beginning on March 5. That day he issued an ultimatum ordering the sailors to surrender unconditionally. He also organized a new command under Mikhail Tukhachevsky for the suppression of the revolt. After Tukhachevsky’s first assault on Kronstadt on March 7-8 failed, Trotsky rushed back to Moscow to rouse the congress delegates. That was the extent of his direct role in putting down the mutiny. Trotsky explained:

“The truth of the matter is that I personally did not participate in the least in the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion, nor in the repressions following the suppression. In my eyes this very fact is of no political significance. I was a member of the government, I considered the quelling of the rebellion necessary and therefore bear responsibility for the suppression....

“How did it happen that I did not go personally to Kronstadt? The reason was of a political nature. The rebellion broke out during the discussion on the so-called ‘trade union’ question. The political work in Kronstadt was wholly in the hands of the Petrograd committee, at the head of which stood Zinoviev. The same Zinoviev was the chief, most untiring, and most passionate leader in the struggle against me in the discussion.”

— Trotsky, “More on the Suppression of Kronstadt,” 6 July 1938

Zinoviev demagogically exploited Trotsky’s wrong position on the trade-union question to inflame sentiment against Trotsky and his allies—among them Baltic Fleet commander F.F. Raskolnikov. On 19 January 1921, Trotsky participated in a public debate on the trade-union dispute before 3,500 Baltic Fleet sailors. “The commanding personnel of the fleet was isolated and terrified,” Trotsky recalled (ibid.). The “dandified and well-fed sailors, Communists in name only” voted by some 90 percent for Zinoviev’s resolution. Trotsky continued:

“The overwhelming majority of the sailor ‘Communists’ who supported Zinoviev’s resolution took part in the rebellion. I considered, and the Political Bureau made no objections, that negotiations with the sailors and, in case of necessity, their pacification, should be placed with those leaders who only yesterday enjoyed the political confidence of these sailors. Otherwise, the Kronstadters would consider the matter as though I had come to take ‘revenge’ upon them for their voting against me during the party discussion.”


In “The Truth About Kronstadt,” John G. Wright acknowledges that insofar as the Zinovievite fleet commissar Kuzmin and the other local Communist leaders were blind to the full extent of the danger brewing at Kronstadt, they “facilitated the counterrevolutionists’ work of utilizing the objective difficulties to attain their ends.” But Wright stresses that what was at play was the fundamental counterposition of two class camps: “All other questions can be only of a secondary importance. That the Bolsheviks may have committed errors of a general or concrete character cannot alter the fact that they defended the acquisitions of the proletarian revolution against the bourgeois (and petty-bourgeois) reaction” (“The Truth About Kronstadt”).

Revolution vs. Counterrevolution

The great crime of the Bolsheviks, from the viewpoint of their “democratic” critics, is that they won. For the first time in history, a propertyless, oppressed class took and held power, proving in practice that the proletariat can indeed rule. That is what the “hue and cry about Kronstadt” has always been about.

The Infoshop anarchists sneer at the “‘Leninist principle’ (‘inviolable for every Bolshevik’) that ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat is and can be realized only through the dictatorship of the party’” (“What Was the Kronstadt Rebellion?”). Instead they put forth the Kronstadt slogan, “All power to the Soviets and not to the parties.” This attempt to counterpose the interests of the class, organized in soviets, to that of its revolutionary vanguard, organized in a Leninist party, is typical of the crude anti-leadership prejudices of the anarchists. If there was ever an example that proved that workers rule depended on the firm leadership of the communist vanguard—“the dictatorship of the party,” if you will—it was Kronstadt in 1921. The simple fact is that every other tendency in the workers movement, whether Menshevik or anarchist, supported counterrevolution!

In a stable workers state Leninists favor full democratic rights for all political tendencies that do not seek the forcible overthrow of the proletarian dictatorship. That includes recognizing the possibility of the Communists losing a vote in soviet bodies. But the embattled Russian workers republic of 1918-22 was anything but stable, and had the Bolsheviks stepped down to be replaced by social-democratic, populist or anarchist elements, then very soon both the Leninists and their petty-bourgeois opponents would have found themselves facing the White firing squads.

The suppression of Kronstadt gained time for the beleaguered Soviet workers state to revitalize the economy and the working class—and thus recreate the conditions for a vibrant soviet democracy—and to fight for the proletarian revolution to conquer elsewhere. Had the revolutionary opportunity in industrialized Germany two years later resulted in a proletarian victory, this would have been of decisive significance for the future not only of Soviet Russia but of the world socialist revolution (see “Rearming Bolshevism: A Trotskyist Critique of Germany 1923 and the Comintern,” Spartacist No. 56, Spring 2001). Feeding off the defeat in Germany, a bureaucratic layer in the Soviet party and state apparatus usurped political power from the proletariat and its Bolshevik vanguard.

The international character of the proletarian revolution is alien to the petty-bourgeois provincialist mindset of anarchism. In his 1945 diatribe, the Russian anarchist Voline condemns the Bolshevik regime for dispatching the red Kronstadters of 1918 “wherever the internal situation became uncertain, threatening or dangerous” and for mobilizing them “to preach to the peasants the idea of solidarity and revolutionary duty, and, in particular, the necessity for feeding the cities” (The Unknown Revolution). This, cries Voline, constituted a “Machiavellian scheme” to “weaken, impoverish and exhaust” Kronstadt. Voline’s subordination of the interests of the all-Russia—much less, the world—revolution to the supposed integrity of Kronstadt underlines the idiot parochialism inherent in the anarchists’ conception of autonomous “federated communes.”

In our review of Avrich’s Kronstadt 1921, we asked: “What is the anarchist answer to the Allied blockade, flooded coal mines, torn-up railroads and blasted bridges, etc., with the consequence that there was nothing to trade the peasantry in exchange for its grain?” (WV No. 195, 3 March 1978). The imperialists and Whites sought to drive a wedge between the workers government and the vast peasant masses. The Bolsheviks, possessing limited means and no functional large-scale industry, had to make concessions to the peasantry and to small-scale commodity production and trade. But the NEP could only be a temporary retreat—it had its own dangers, as became clear when the emboldened kulaks, the wealthier peasants, rebelled a few years later.

As liberal idealists, the anarchists are masters at evading the concrete material conditions that the workers revolution had to deal with. The Infoshop authors acknowledge, at least on paper, the dire situation facing revolutionary Russia at the time. They glibly assert that the key to rebuilding the country was the participation of the working class and peasantry in “free class organizations like freely elected soviets and unions” (“What Was the Kronstadt Rebellion?”). We have seen already what the anarchists’ “free soviets” would have meant in practice—a return to White rule and a “temporary military dictatorship.”

In “The Tax in Kind,” Lenin exposed the blindness of the left Menshevik Julius Martov:

“Martov showed himself to be nothing but a philistine Narcissus when he declared in his Berlin journal that Kronstadt not only adopted Menshevik slogans but also proved that there could be an anti-Bolshevik movement which did not entirely serve the interests of the whiteguards, the capitalists and the landowners. He says in effect: ‘Let us shut our eyes to the fact that all the genuine whiteguards hailed the Kronstadt mutineers and collected funds in aid of Kronstadt through the banks!’ Compared with the Chernovs and Martovs, Milyukov is right, for he is revealing the true tactics of the real whiteguard force, the force of the capitalists and landowners. He declares: ‘It does not matter whom we support, be they anarchists or any sort of Soviet government, as long as the Bolsheviks are overthrown, as long as there is a shift in power.... As for the rest—‘we,’ the Milyukovs, ‘we,’ the capitalists and landowners, will do the rest ‘ourselves’; we shall slap down the anarchist pygmies, the Chernovs and the Martovs.”

— Lenin, “The Tax in Kind,” 21 April 1921

Lenin’s trenchant analysis is complemented by a grudging confirmation from the other side of the class line, Wrangel’s front man General A. A. Von Lampe. Not blinkered by Martov’s petty-bourgeois mystifications, this class-conscious bourgeois sarcastically noted in his diary how the SRs’ The Truth About Kronstadt, was “full of justifications to dispel the thought, God forbid, that the sailors were under the influence of former officers” (quoted in Shchetinov, Introduction to Kronstadt Tragedy). “The SRs don’t understand that in such a struggle, what are needed are severe and determined measures,” he said, concluding: “It seems that, like it or not, one has to come to Lenin’s conclusion that in Russia there can be only one of two powers: monarchist or Communist.”

What the bourgeoisie and their hacks, from the Mensheviks to Infoshop, cannot forgive is that Lenin and Trotsky did apply determined measures against the Kronstadt mutiny. The proletariat owes an eternal debt to the 1,385 Red Army soldiers and commanders who gave their lives, and the 2,577 who were wounded, to defend the young Soviet workers state. The fresh historical evidence collected in Kronstadt Tragedy offers a compelling indictment of the lackeys of counterrevolution who smeared those revolutionary martyrs.

English Spartacist No. 59

ESp 59

Spring 2006


Russian Archives Refute Anarchist Lies, Again

Kronstadt 1921: Bolshevism vs. Counterrevolution


Empire, Multitude and the "Death of Communism"

The Senile Dementia of Post-Marxism


The Russian Revolution and the Emancipation of Women

(Women and Revolution Pages)


Exchange with Revolutionary History


For A Leninist Party in Greece! For a Socialist Federation of the Balkans!

The Founding of the Trotskyist Group of Greece


Elizabeth King Robertson, 1951-2005