“Everywhere that the Communist dictatorship has been established, a new slavery has been created. The peasant has been transformed into a serf, the worker has become a mere employee in the state factories.
“Those who protests are thrown in to the jails of the Checka [secret police]. And those who still dare to rebel are simply shot. The whole of Russia has been turned into a concentration camp”. (IZVESTIIA, newspaper of the Krondstadt workers).
The events of March 1921 in the naval base of Kronstadt, near Petrograd, marked the end of the Russian revolution. Recognising that the Bolshevik party had hijacked the revolution and created a dictatorship ruled by one party and its leader Lenin, the Krondstadt sailors set up a free soviet (workers council) and called upon the people to create a “third revolution” (after the revolutions of 1905 and October 1917).
For the Kronstadt sailors, the new society should be one of free associations of workers without the slightest interference from political parties or any other external authority.
Control of the land and the means of production and distribution of resources would be in the hands of the workers themselves.
The Kronstadt sailors, many of them anarchists and rank-and-file communists, were not the first to denounce betrayal of the revolution.
In 1918, the First All-Russian Conference of Anarcho-Syndicalists at Moscow accused the Bolshevik government with its suppression of workers’ control of destroying industrial democracy and creating the monster of state capitalism.
By 1920, Lenin was already declaring in public the “necessity of recognising the dictatorial authority of single individuals for the purpose of carrying out the Soviet idea”. Indeed, a very convenient necessity for himself in the first place. A series of strikes had already broken out in February 1921 in Petrograd, spreading to other major industrial cities.
These strikes were crushed by Lenin with arrests of anarchists and socialists, lock-outs and armed suppression of workers demonstrations.
On the first of March, some 15,000 workers, sailors and soldiers stationed at Krondstadt held a mass meeting where a resolution demanding freedom and workers’ control was approved. Shortly after the meeting, the Bolshevik authorities tried to remove food and ammunition supplies from the base, but the sailors prevented this by shutting down the city and arresting the commisars in charge. Lenin´s reply was to send Leon Trotsky to crush the uprising.
On the 7th of March, Trotsky, as commander of the Red Army, ordered the artillery to open fire on Kronstadt. Days before, the sailors had had their families arrested as hostages.
On the 16th of March, Trotsky ordered an assault of 50,000 troops against a garrison of about 15,000. Despite their fierce resistance, the sailors of Kronstadt fell to the Bolsheviks on the 18th of March.
Some 8,000 sailors managed to escape across the ice into Finland, some 2,500 were captured and many ended up tortured and sent to concentration camps in remotes parts of Russia, or simply executed without a public trial ever taking place. The exact numbers are still unknown.
The last free soviet and with it the last chance for the Russian working class to carry out a libertarian revolution was brutally crushed.
The Kronstadt rebellion has indeed parallels with the crushing of the Paris Commune, the Makhnovists, Asturias 1934, or the May Days in revolutionary Barcelona.
Power passed from the hands of the workers into the hands of the government and the revolution was ended.
Perhaps the lessons from Kronstadt are best captured by a leaflet distributed by Petrograd anarchists during the rebellion: “Your first task is to destroy government.Your second task is not to create any other”.
It is a lesson that comes from the realisation that there are many ways to be on the side of the powerful, but only one way of being radical.
WE WILL NEVER FORGET THEM!
Further reading on the Kronstadt Revolution:
Kronstadt 1921 by Paul Avrich
The Kronstadt Uprising – Ida Mett. Introduction by Murray Bookchin