90 years after Kronstadt: a tragedy that's still being debated in the revolutionary movement

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90 years after Kronstadt: a tragedy that's still being debated in the revolutionary movement
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: 90 years after Kronstadt: a tragedy that's still being debated in the revolutionary movement. The discussion was initiated by petey.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

a recording?

a very clear and useful statement.

the author of the article mentions "a radio broadcast aimed at the “workers of the entire world” recorded on March 6, 1921": is there a transcript or even a recording of this availalble?

Caroline (not verified)

And for those in search of the bourgeois view, here's the BBC on the revolution, the civil war and Kronstadt

Yes, there is a transcript of

Yes, there is a transcript of the broadcast. It is quoted in Alexander Berkman's "The Bolshevik Myth":

    March 6.---Today Kronstadt sent out by radio, A statement of its position. It reads:

      Our cause is just, we stand for the power of Soviets, not parties. We stand for freely elected representatives of the laboring masses. The substitute Soviets manipulated by the Communist Party have always been deaf to our needs and demands; the only reply we have ever received was shooting. . . . Comrades! They deliberately pervert the truth and resort to most despicable defamation. . . . In Kronstadt the whole power is exclusively in the hands of the revolutionary sailors, soldiers and workers --- not with counter-revolutionists led by some Kozlovsky, as the lying Moscow radio tries to make you believe. . . . Do not delay, Comrades! join us, get in touch with us: demand admission to Kronstadt for your delegates. Only they will tell you the whole truth and will expose the fiendish calumny about Finnish bread and Entente offers.

      Long live the revolutionary proletariat and the peasantry!

      Long live the power of freely elected Soviets.


The link above is the Kronstadt chapter of Berkman's book named above. It contains a day by day account of the events in Kronstadt as they happened; his impressions, as well as the radio broadcasts, official statements and events of the CP higher echelon (Zinoviev, Trotsky, Kamanev, etc) as well as rank-and-file CP workers in Petrograd. Very informative and compelling information.

The vital lesson to be

The vital lesson to be learned from Kronstadt emerges from the statement above where it says: "we stand for the power of soviets, not parties". Because this contains the acknowledgment that the party should not have substituted itself for the class, and should certainly never have seized power either in the name of the class, or at all! In other words it raises the thorny question of how a proletarian dictatorship relates to what is left, after the revolution, of the bourgeois state. Do we know the answer? I think not. There is talk of "the semi state": what is it? There is talk of "the transitional state": so how does that work? It seems we have names for something as yet unknown. Lenin took over the power of the bourgeois state, knowing he shouldn't but hoping the German revolution would help him out. In a way we've paid for this ever since. It has allowed the bourgeoisie to indicate Russia as an example of what communism is, and bewildered millions of proletarians over the globe as to what they should be aiming for. And we still don't have much of an idea as to what kind of a state will be left after the revolution, do we? Will it be an "international semi state in a transitory condition", whatever kind of cock-up that might be, or something else? Answers or suggestions please. We don't want the tragedy of Kronstadt to go on in perpetuity. We have to learn.




On The Dictatorship of the Proletariat (1920) Kamenev wrote:

The proletariat not only seizes power; in grasping it, the proletariat gives to it such a character, such a degree of concentration, energy, determination, absoluteness, infinitude, as according to the words of the program, ‘will allow it to crush all resistance on the part of the exploiters.’ That is the fundamental feature of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The dictatorship of the proletariat is therefore an organization of the State and a form of administration of State affairs which, in the transitional stage from capitalism to Communism, will allow the proletariat, as the ruling class, to crush all resistance on the part of the exploiters to the work of Socialist reconstruction.

.. It can be successfully achieved only by a general organization of all the workers; in the shape of their Soviets, in which are represented all the forms of the labor movement, and which are under the guidance of a political party, concentrating in itself the whole experience of the previous struggle of the working class. In the epoch of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Communist Party is still more necessary for the working class than in any other. It constitutes an essential condition for victory.


And on The Paths of the Russian Revolution (1922) Radek wrote:

If in the short run the decomposition of capitalism were to give way to decisive tendencies towards the re-establishment of capitalist domination, then the bourgeois pressure upon proletarian power in Russia would undoubtedly be strengthened from day to day, and the Soviet government would have the choice of two possibilities: either to go down fighting, or to transform itself into an instrument of bourgeois development. ... Until the victory of the proletarian revolution in the industrialised countries, the duty of the Soviet republic is to maintain the power of the working class over this enormous country, so that it will not become a reservoir of human and material forces for the counter-revolution. If the Soviet republic only fulfils this negative task, it will have rendered an immense service to the world revolution. It will not allow world capitalism to suppress the growing revolutionary movements of the European proletariat with the bayonets of Russian peasants.




Thank you d-man for your

Thank you d-man for your carefully selected texts. Now I want to quibble about words. Kamenev uses the expression "seizes power". These words are ones I now associate completely with the bourgeoisie. They are the ones who are always "seizing" stuff: we don't seize. Then there's "power". The bourgeoisie are always exercising theirs because they are exploiters. Why would we want to seize their power? We are not them! Yes, we will have to fight, defeat and get rid of them. But the society we want to bring about doesn't involve "power" rather the emergence of a society within which human potential can flourish. So the way in which we set about trying to achieve this matters. Apart from that I don't disagree with what Kamenev says. Radek is a different kettle of fish. He's concocting a defense of the fatal mistake the Bolsheviks made in seizing bourgeois power. By 1922, having used their state power to slaughter the Kronstadt soviet, the revolution defeated elsewhere, the Bolsheviks should have acknowledged how negative they'd been (they couldn't of course, being the government, and in power) and stopped pretending that what they'd done was in any way a contribution to world revolution. We still suffer from the consequences of their ghastly error today. So, all power to the freely elected soviets, but let's be careful about what we mean by ""power".


When Radek, similar to Trotsky, warns that without revolution in the West, the Soviet government could change into an instrument of bourgeois development, that doesn't sound like concocting a defense of the Soviet republic, but rather exposing it's inherent limitations. Stalin in response accused the opposition of social-democratic deviation:

<a href="http://marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1924/12.htm">Stalin</a> wrote:
But what if the world revolution is fated to arrive with some delay? Is there any ray of hope for our revolution? Trotsky offers no ray of hope; for "the contradictions in the position of a workers' government . . . could be solved only . . . in the arena of the world proletarian revolution." According to this plan, there is but one prospect left for our revolution: to vegetate in its own contradictions and rot away while waiting for the world revolution.

Which is what happened, but that in itself doesn't prove that Radek was right and Stalin wrong.

The passage from Radek in 1922 shows he is extremely negative about the Octobre revolution; the only thing it could do (i.e., hasn't even done yet) is prevent (not even that, but diminish) the forces of repression against a future revolution in the West. From Stalin's nationalist point of view this negativity was defeatism.

that's great devoration,

that's great devoration, thanks


 The NY times archives from around 1921 maybe gives a better idea of the bourgeoisie's view. To my ignorant self, it contains unknown information, but mostly, a very sobering picture. Just a few articles that stood out:

Kronstadt rebels demand Zinovieff's head (March 6)

How Petrograd Began (March 14)

Hatred of discipline made Kronstadt rise (March 26)


Kronstadt may be very

Kronstadt may be very interesting, but really we can't go on talking about it forever. And it seems to me that we have learned it's lessons. Capitalism is falling apart all round us, so why aren't we talking about why the working class isn't aware of the communist alternative, but instead is still fighting the cuts or being dragooned behind the latest fashionable call for more democracy. At this time, all overEurope, maybe all over the world, people are suffering from capitalism's failures and are protesting angrily about it. They lack a leadership that points out that an alternative does exist. Thatcommunism isn't dead. That leadership should be coming from left communism. But left communism is so small in numbers - and fragmented too - that it is unable to make the impact it should be making now, when it's understandings about class struggle are needed most. Unless left communism is able to develop it's forces to sufficient extent that it can have an actual, significant, and effective influence on struggles, and bring the working class to see what has to be done, then it may as well pack up and go home. Because it is failing it's purpose.

Another article on

Another article on Petrichenko (March 30).

And it seems to me that we have learned it's lessons

Well in a previous post you brought up many questions about the dictatorship of the proletariat and its relation to state, etc. and you write there's the danger of misinterpreting the meaning of the word "power", so these issues are still open for debate, only I don't have the hope that Krondstadt can settle them in one way or another.

For instance the NY times reported demonstrators' calls for a constituant assembly. Another issue is violence: in the Cartrdige Works factory some communists were killed by the strikers, and there was a demand for Zinoviev's execution. Then the more specific issue to Kronstadt sailors' orientation; on demobilisition they were confronted with the situation of the peasantry at home, so that changed their minds. When they were in Kronstadt, they were living in officers' private villas, idling in their clubs avoiding drills, etc, i.e. they were priviliged. In the 1919 Yudenich offensive the sailors were useless. Trotsky caused the friction when right after this he began with the reorganisation of the Kronstadt navy. The NY times continues that the sailors wanted to be masters of their island (I think some sailors occupied a Swedish island in the Batlic briefly).


thanks also, d-man, the times

thanks also, d-man, the times articles in particular are of great interest

d-man quoted: "Well in a

d-man quoted: "Well in a previous post you brought up many questions about the dictatorship of the proletariat and its relation to state, etc. and you write there's the danger of misinterpreting the meaning of the word "power", so these issues are still open for debate, only I don't have the hope that Krondstadt can settle them in one way or another."

Do you mean what you say, that Kronstadt can't settle some of these issues? If so I quite agree. Which is why I don't see the point of going on and on about it. You have great knowledge of the history of the workers' movement, and this is admirable. We need to learn from past mistakes. But consider the present situation. After what seems like 40 years of stalemate - during which time there have been great, but largely isolated workers' struggles, and during which time the bourgeoisie has managed to hide the crisis - now the horrific sickness of capitalism is plain for all to see, and people are fighting about it all over the world. I say 'people' rather than ' workers', because the working class seems unsure about what it has to do. For various reasons the class seems to have forgotten what communism is. Somebody has to clarify this, and reconnect the class to it's history, and how that relates to present struggles. Left communism should be, must be, an important factor here. There is much to do. We need more militants. We need to think practically about how to form the party of the future. Maybe this is being thought about somewhere. But I would like to see more evidence of that on this website, for instance. And in addition to analysis of what the bourgeoisie is up to, more information and analysis of what the proletariat is up to, and how it is being helped to grow in maturity. Don't you agree, d-man? Kronstadt is all very well (or all very alarming! ) but the future is in our hands now. And it is on that we must focus.

Quote:Do you mean what you

Do you mean what you say, that Kronstadt can't settle some of these issues? If so I quite agree. Which is why I don't see the point of going on and on about it.

Kronstadt is very important for a number of reasons. It is an event that manifested in the real world, in the experience of the proletariat during a working-class revolution, the philosophical arguments against what we know today as Marxism-Leninism; it is also proof of the proletariats social creativity in the fight against counter-revolution, mystification, and other factors that weigh against the socialist transformation of the world. If you hadn't noticed, Marxism-Leninism is still a powerful group of ideologies, and in the boiling pot militancy of a pre-revolutionary working-class it is likely to become re-entrenched in the consciousness of the proletariat as a so-called 'revolutionary theory'. All of the failures, opportunism and deviations of Leninism were struggled against in Kronstadt- Party dictatorship, statification of social, political and economic organs, democracy on paper but heiarchy in practice and the crushing of social, political and economic freedoms to further the revolution, etc. The lessons of Kronstadt are some of the most important in the history of the working-class' collective experience and historical knowledge, and should be integrated into the practice and thought of present and future pro-revolutionary groups and militants along with other important events in the history of the proletariat.


Except Miasnikov (and Stalin, if I take Mikail Filnartci's word), all the left communists including the decists volunteered to suppress the Kronstadt rebellion. Later on Miasnikov in 1928 was organizing together with the decists (who if I remember called themselves Marxists-Leninists), so for the left communists in Russia at the time the Kronstadt repression wasn't a central issue.