History Revolutions – The Kronstadt Naval Uprising Word Count: 1997 On March 1, 1921, the sailors of the Kronstadt naval fortress rose up in an armed rebellion against Russia’s totalitarian leadership, claiming that Bolshevik control of Russia had failed to achieve its promise of working class liberation, delivering only a ‘new serfdom’ and ‘even greater enslavement of human beings’. The Kronstadt sailors, who had previously been regarded by Trotsky himself as the ‘pride and glory’ of the revolution, now held themselves in direct dissection with the state’s communist rule. The rebels quickly adopted a self-drafted fifteen-point plan of political and social reforms that they vowed to fight by, aspiring to achieve a third and new ‘toilers revolution’. At the time of the revolt, members of the Russian populace who sympathized with the Kronstadt sailors viewed them as revolutionaries ‘fighting to restore the true soviet idea’. However, the Bolshevik government took the belief that the uprising was the result of a premeditated conspiracy on behalf of counter-revolutionary ‘white guard agents,’ and undertook extreme measures to propagate this view amongst the public. This was an issue that would later become a point of much contention between historians holding different theories over the causes of the event.
This study shall seek to justify the view that the Kronstadt uprising was one of spontaneous revolt, brought on by discontent with the conditions experienced under the Bolshevik regime, and not the result of a pre contrived outside ‘White’ influence. During the years preceding the Kronstadt rebellion, Russia was locked within a brutal period of civil war between the Bolshevik’s ‘red’ army and the opposing scattered ‘white’ imperialist forces fighting for reinstatement of the old Tsarist rule. The war’s great expense as a consequence of its need for resources was dealing a crushing blow to the already crippled Russian economy, and its constant skirmishes caused the disruption of transport around the nation. This, amongst other factors, prevented foodstuffs grown in rural areas from reaching the cities, causing widespread famine and mass exoduses from these areas. Petrograd, where the Kronstadt naval base was situated, suffered greatly during this period. Its remoteness from producing areas contributed to a dire food shortage and the departure over half its population, its numbers dropping from 2.
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5 million to just 750 000 between the years of 1917-20 due to workers emigrating to the countryside in search of food. One Soviet source likens the conditions of this time to ‘fertile soil… for the intrigues of the counter-revolution’. This desertion from the cities in turn effected a huge drop in factory production and industry, which both the Bolshevik government and the war effort relied upon heavily.
In order to combat the hunger situation and its secondary effects, the government embarked upon a hurriedly improvised policy that Lenin coined ‘war communism.’ War communism involved the forced requisition of all surplus crops from peasant farms by ‘red-guard’ armed units, in order to provision the army and remedy the famine situation rife within the cities. However, ‘war communism’ was met with discontent from the peasant class, which disliked the compulsory acquisition of their produce by the red-guards, who frequently took more than just their surplus yield. Peasant dissatisfaction reached its peak following November 1920 when crop confiscation continued, despite the victorious conclusion of the civil war. Peasants declared their discontent by hiding surplus grain from the requisition units, and cultivating only enough crops for their own purposes. As a result, the ongoing effectiveness of ‘war communism’ became questionable, as it actually brought with it lower production outputs. The amount of sown acreage in 1920 was only three-fifths that of the 1913 figure and ‘war communism’ contributed to an ongoing disfavor with the government from rural areas, while still failing to remedy the food problem within the cities.
... was not a great struggle between the Bolsheviks and Provisional Government. The only Provisional Government soldiers present that night were a womens ... battalion because the Russian soldiers were fighting in the war. This ... fact that he still failed to defeat the Bolsheviks and win the war. I dont think source C is reliable due ...
By the winter of 1921, the food crisis had caused conditions within Petrograd to deteriorate even further. Discontent amongst the population with the Bolshevik government became increasingly evident, manifesting itself in a series of sporadic strikes from February 9 th onwards. Those involved protested initially just for an increase in rations, but according to Pipes, their demands soon widened in scope to include political reforms as well, such as fair elections and freedom of speech under the pressure of Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary influence. Confronted with such civil unrest, Lenin sent emissaries to speak before hostile protesters in order to justify the Bolshevik policies. At one meeting, Lenin himself addressed the crowd, asking the assemblage whether they would prefer a return of the whites.
One shouted reply stated ‘Let come who may- whites, blacks, or devils themselves- just you clear out!’ In order to put an end to such defiance within Petrograd and other cities, the Bolshevik government banned all street gatherings and turned to the army in order to quell any demonstrations. News of the worker dispute and famine within Petrograd soon filtered through to the Kronstadt naval base and its complement of 10 000 sailors. According to the historian Avrich, those stationed at Kronstadt had a reputation for being ‘untamed spirits, who instinctively resisted external discipline and lusted for freedom and adventure.’ While initially clear supporters of the Bolsheviks, the strikes and discontent prevalent within the country somewhat ‘heightened their social and political awareness’ and they began to express grievances with the Bolshevik regime. On the 28 th of February, a delegation that was sent to Petrograd reported back to the fortress, declaring that the Bolshevik leadership had imposed conditions of oppression comparable to that of Tsarist times. Acting upon this information, the Kronstadt sailors adopted a fifteen-point charter detailing demands for an end to ‘War Communism’, re-election of the soviets, free speech, equalized rations and a number of other resolutions. With this, on March 2 nd, they fortified themselves within Kronstadt, and steeled themselves for the oncoming Bolshevik assault.
... were the whites, Tsarist supporters, Liberals and the provisional government. People supported Lenin. The workers liked the Bolsheviks because the Bolsheviks were mainly ... the war was over and his own supporters e.g. Kronstadt began to turn against him for his strict rules, he ... war communism, which was the economic policy, which existed in Soviet Russia during the civil war (1918-1921). The main ...
The Kronstadt naval base remained under rebel control for sixteen days, until red army units attacking by crossing the ice, managed to crush the rebellion on March 18 th. At the time of the Kronstadt uprising, government support amongst the Russian populace had fallen to its lowest point since 1917. Due to this, the Bolsheviks feared that the revolutionary ideals expressed at Kronstadt could rapidly spread to the mainland, and de-stabilize their hold on power. Therefore, the Bolshevik government immediately took urgent steps to dissolve public support for the uprising by claiming that it was the result of a carefully planned and counter-revolutionary ‘White’ ’emir’e conspiracy.
Soviet sources such as Pankratova, Lenin and Trotsky echo this viewpoint in their assessments of the events regarding Kronstadt, yet a number of other sources such as Avrich, Mett, Pipes and Figes generally disagree, regarding instead the uprising as a spontaneous act on behalf of the Kronstadt sailors. Lenin in his analysis of the mutiny, blames the revolt wholly upon the incitement of ‘White Generals’, pronouncing their involvement as ‘fully proven’. He also claims that White ’emir ” es in Paris hatched the entire plot, where one newspaper L’Echo de Paris had reported the mutiny two weeks before it had taken place. Avrich, however, states that the piece ran in the paper was largely a vague and exaggerated news report, born out of rumor and holding little correlation with the actual event. Yet despite this, the notion of an ’emir’e conspiracy is supported by the Soviet historian Prof. Pankratova, who claims that the ‘mutineers were directed by White guard military experts’.
However, the accounts of both Lenin and Pankratova can be viewed as somewhat questionable. Lenin, given his position as leader of Bolsheviks, had a political interest in propagating a ‘White’ conspiracy theory due to its propaganda value for discrediting the rebels and depriving them of support. Prof. Pankratova’s historical impartiality is also debatable, as he was a member of the C. P. S.
... after the October Revolution and later founded the Soviet Union. The Bolsheviks were led by Vladimir Lenin, the primary theorist ... earlier, the revolution has all the preconditions for a popular uprising. It began with strikes in Petrograd (St. Petersburg). ... , Canadian, French, American, German, Greek, and Czechoslovak. They Whites were accused in representing the interests of foreign powers. The ...
U (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) and therefore neo-Bolshevik in his political loyalties. His account mentions that the Kronstadt mutineers were ‘headed’ by the White guard sympathizer General Koslovsky. However, according to Mett, Koslovsky ‘seemed devoid of any capacity as a leader’ and while he was present at the fortress during the uprising, it was only in a purely technical and non-commanding role. It seems that Bolshevik propaganda portrayed him as a ‘White conspirator’ due to the fact that he was an ex-Tsarist general, even though he was also one of the first defectors to the Bolshevik cause during the revolution.
Pankratova’s Kronstadt account was written during 1948, under Russia’s anti-Trotsky Stalinist regime. Within it, he partly lays the blame upon ‘Trotskyites’ for inciting the Kronstadt revolt. This is an obvious mis truth, as there existed no such ‘Trotskyite’ political faction within Russia during 1921, and even so, Trotsky was widely recognized as being in opposition to the rebels. This inaccuracy seems to highlight the politically driven nature of Pankratova’s account. In addition to the White-guards, Soviet sources also claim the involvement of other ‘counter-revolutionary elements’ in the incitement of the Kronstadt uprising. Pankratova claims that ‘posing as non-party people’s oci alist Revolutionaries (SR), Mensheviks and Anarchists infiltrated Kronstadt and introduced the slogan ‘For the Soviets, but without Communists!’ while playing a significant role in carrying out the revolt.
However, the Mensheviks would have been unlikely to have been involved in the Kronstadt rebellion as they eschewed armed struggle against state power, instead preferring to remain in legal opposition. Likewise, Anarchist and SR control did not seem to be present during the mutiny, as the fifteen-point plan of political demands drafted by the rebels reflects. Avrich and Mett both highlight the fact that it contained no reference to the elimination or reduction of the government that would suggest Anarchist influence, nor any demands for the re- introduction of the constituent assembly that was central to SR policy. It was also highly unlikely that the slogan they supposedly operated under was ever used in Kronstadt either.
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The list of rebel demands shows that the mutineers were not for Soviets without the Bolshevik input, they just wanted Bolshevik adherence to the democratic processes of the Soviets. As part of the Bolsheviks ongoing efforts to discredit the Kronstadt rebels, Trotsky was forced to somehow transform the Russian public’s perceptions of the Kronstadt sailors from Bolshevik ‘pride and glory’ to that of ‘witless tools of the counter-revolution’. Therefore, the Bolsheviks claimed that the rebellious sailor of 1921 was ‘of a different social and psychological makeup’ compared to his 1917 revolutionary counterpart. Rather, the image of the typical Kronstadt sailor was redefined to portray a backward ‘peasant lad in a sailor suit’. The Bolsheviks declared that many of the original sailors had died during the civil war, and peasants ‘who had not been steeled by the revolution’ filled their ranks However, according to Avrich, it was the predominately the older seamen that took part in the 1917 revolution who were the ones that spearheaded the Kronstadt rebellion.
Perhaps the most significant evidence supporting the notion that the Kronstadt uprising was of a spontaneous nature was the timing of the revolt itself. If the uprising were indeed planned, then it would have been much more successful to have been staged just a number of weeks later. This would have allowed time for the surrounding ice of the fortress to melt, isolating it from infantry attacks and freeing its battle-ships, making Kronstadt virtually impregnable. As it happened, the sea around Kronstadt was frozen and aided the red-army in its capture of the fortress. The nature of history is such that to a large extent it is shaped by those who write it. Its character becomes problematic when historians of differing ideological backgrounds draw distinctly unlike conclusions based upon common events.
Some, like Pankratova, appear to even deliberately rewrite history in the accordance with their political beliefs. As a result, collections of historical accounts are riddled with contradictions between one-another over circumstances, ideas and reasons. The Kronstadt uprising was such an event that polarized opinions. However, it seems that given the evidence studied, the Kronstadt uprising was in fact a spontaneous act on behalf of the sailors who were driven by their discontent into action against the Bolsheviks and not by an outside ‘white’ influence.
... and brilliant leadership that ensured Bolshevik victory in the Russian Civil War. Bibliography Adams, Arthur E. The Russian revolution and Bolshevik Victory Causes and Processes ... , Lexington, Mass Heath, 1972 Le Blanc, Paul., Russian Revolutions of 1917, http://encarta ...
CITATIONS: Avrich, Paul, Kronstadt 1921, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1970. 2 Figes, O, A people’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1921. 3 Lenin, Vladimir & Trotsky, Leon, Kronstadt, Monad Press, New York, 19794 Mett, Ida, The Kronstadt Uprising, Solidarity, London, N. D.
5 Pankratova, A. M, A History of the U. S. S. R. , Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1948.
6 Pipes, Richard, Russia under the Bolshevik Regime 1919-1924, Harv ill, London, 19947 Shapiro, L, Russian Studies.