An Anarchist FAQ - Was Kronstadt different politically?
As we proved in the last section, the Kronstadt garrison had not fundamentally changed by 1921. On the two battleships which were the catalyst for the rebellion, over 90% of the sailors for whom years of enlistment are know had been there since 1917. However, given that most Leninists mean "support the party" by the term "class politics," it is useful to compare the political perspectives of Kronstadt in 1917 to that expressed in the 1921 revolt. As will soon become clear, the political ideas expressed in 1921 were essentially similar to those in 1917. This similarly also proves the continuity between the Red sailors of 1917 and the rebels of 1921.
Firstly, we must point out that Kronstadt in 1917 was never dominated by the Bolsheviks. At Kronstadt, the Bolsheviks were always a minority and a "radical populist coalition of Maximalists and Left SRs held sway, albeit precariously, within Kronstadt and its Soviet" ("externally Kronstadt was a loyal stronghold of the Bolshevik regime"). [I. Getzler, Kronstadt 1917-1921, p. 179] In 1917 Trotsky even stated that the Kronstadters "are anarchists." [quoted by Getzler, Op. Cit., p. 98] Kronstadt was in favour of soviet power and, unsurprisingly, supported those parties which claimed to support that goal.
Politically, the climate in Kronstadt was "very close to the politics of the Socialist Revolutionary Maximalists, a left-wing split-off from the SR Party, politically located somewhere between the Left SRs and the Anarchists." [Farber, Before Stalinism, p. 194] In Kronstadt this group was led by Anatolii Lamanov and according to Getzler, "it rejected party factionalism" and "stood for pure sovietism". They sought an immediate agrarian and urban social revolution, calling for the "socialisation of power, of the land and of the factories" to be organised by a federation of soviets based on direct elections and instant recall, as a first step towards socialism. [Getzler, Op. Cit., p. 135] The similarities with anarchism are clear.
During the October revolution, the Bolsheviks did not prevail in the Kronstadt soviet. Instead, the majority was made up of SR Maximalists and Left SRs. Kronstadt's delegates to the third Congress of Soviets were an Left-SR (157 votes), a SR-Maximalist (147 votes) and a Bolshevik (109 votes). It was only in the January elections in 1918 that the Bolsheviks improved their position, gaining 139 deputies compared to their previous 96. In spite of gaining their highest ever vote during the era of multi-party soviets the Bolsheviks only gained 46 percent of seats in the soviet. Also elected at this time were 64 SRs (21 percent), 56 Maximalists (19 percent), 21 non-party delegates (7 percent), 15 Anarchists (5 percent) and 6 Mensheviks (2 percent). The soviet elected a Left SR as its chairman and in March it elected its three delegates to the Fourth Congress of Soviets, with the Bolshevik delegate receiving the lowest vote (behind a Maximalist and an anarchist with 124, 95 and 79 votes respectively). [I. Getzler, Op. Cit., pp. 182-4]
By the April 1918 elections, as in most of Russia, the Bolsheviks found their support had decreased. Only 53 Bolsheviks were elected (29 per cent) as compared to 41 SR Maximalists (22 percent), 39 Left SRs (21 percent), 14 Menshevik Internationalists (8 percent), 10 Anarchists (5 percent) and 24 non-party delegates (13 percent). Indeed, Bolshevik influence at Kronstadt was so weak that on April 18th, the Kronstadt soviet denounced the Bolsheviks attack against the anarchists in Moscow, April 12th by a vote of 81 to 57. The "Bolshevisation" of Kronstadt "and the destruction of its multi-party democracy was not due to internal developments and local Bolshevik strength, but decreed from outside and imposed by force." [Getzler, Op. Cit., p. 186]
Thus the dominant political perspective in 1917 was one of "sovietism" -- namely, all power to the soviets and not to parties. This was the main demand of the 1921 uprising. Politically, Kronstadt had not changed.
In addition to the soviet, there was the "general meetings in Anchor square, which were held nearly every day." [Avrich, Op. Cit., p. 57] The Kronstadt Soviet was itself constantly pressurised by mass meetings, generally held in Anchor Square. For example, on 25 May 1917, a large crowd, inspired by Bolshevik and anarchist speakers, marched to the Naval Assembly and forced the leaders of the Soviet to rescind their agreement with the more moderate Petrograd Soviet. In February 1921, the Kronstadt rebels met in Anchor square to pass the Petropavlovsk resolution -- just as happened before in 1917. And as in 1917, they elected a "conference of delegates" to manage the affairs of the Kronstadt. In other words, the sailors re-introduced exactly the same political forms they practised in 1917.
These facts suggest that any claims that the majority of sailors, soldiers and workers in Kronstadt had changed ideas politically are unfounded. This, ironically enough, is confirmed by Trotsky.
Trotsky's memory (which, after all, seems to be the basis of most of his and his followers arguments) does play tricks on him. He states that there "were no Mensheviks at all in Kronstadt." As for the anarchists, "most" of them "represented the city petty bourgeoisie and stood at a lower level than the SRs." The Left SRs "based themselves on the peasant part of the fleet and of the shore garrison." All in all, "in the days of the October insurrection the Bolsheviks constituted less than one-half of the Kronstadt soviet. The majority consisted of SRs and anarchists." [Lenin and Trotsky, Kronstadt, p. 86]
So we have Trotsky arguing that the majority of the "pride and glory" of the revolution in 1917 voted for groups of a "lower level" than the Bolsheviks (and for a party, the Mensheviks, Trotsky said did not exist there!).
Looking at the politics of these groups, we discover some strange inconsistencies which undermine the validity of Trotsky's claims.
For example, in the beginning of 1918, "the working population of Kronstadt, after debating the subject at many meetings, decided to proceed to socialise dwelling places. . . A final monster meeting definitely instructed several members of the Soviet -- Left Social-Revolutionaries and Anarcho-Syndicalists -- to raise the question at the next [soviet] plenary session." While the Bolshevik delegates tried to postpone the decision (arguing in the soviet that the decision was too important and should be decided by the central government) the "Left Social-Revolutionaries, Maximalists and Anarcho-Syndicalists asked for an immediate discussion and carried the vote." [Voline, The Unknown Revolution, pp. 460-1]
This fits in exactly with the communist-anarchist programme of socialisation but it is hardly an expression of representatives of "the city petty bourgeoisie."
Let us quote a "representative" of the "city petty bourgeoisie":
"I am an anarchist because contemporary society is divided into two opposing classes: the impoverished and dispossessed workers and peasants . . . and the rich men, kings and presidents . . . "I am an anarchist because I scorn and detest all authority, since all authority is founded on injustice, exploitation and compulsion over the human personality. Authority dehumanises the individual and makes him a slave. "I am an opponent of private property when it is held by individual capitalist parasites, for private property is theft. . . "I am an anarchist because I believe only in the creative powers and independence of a united proletariat and not of the leaders of political parties of various kinds. "I am an anarchist because I believe that the present struggle between the classes will end only when the toiling masses, organised as a class, gain their true interests and conquer, by means of a violent social revolution, all the riches of the earth . . . having abolished all institutions of government and authority, the oppressed class must proclaim a society of free producers . . . The popular masses themselves will conduct their affairs on equal and communal lines in free communities." [N. Petrov, cited by Paul Avrich, Anarchists in the Russian Revolution, pp. 35-6]
Very "petty bourgeois"! Of course Trotsky could argue that this represented the minority of "real revolutionaries," the "elements most closely linked to the Bolsheviks" among the anarchists, but such an analysis cannot be taken seriously considering the influence of the anarchists in Kronstadt. [Lenin and Trotsky, Op. Cit., p. 86] For example, a member of the Petrograd Committee and the Helsingfors party organisation in 1917 recalled that the Anarchist-Communists had great influence in Kronstadt. Moreover, according to historian Alexander Rabinowitch, they had an "undeniable capacity to influence the course of events" and he speaks of "the influential Anarcho-Syndicalist Communists [of Kronstadt] under Iarchuk." Indeed, anarchists "played a significant role in starting the July uprising" in 1917. [Prelude to Revolution, p. 62, p. 63, p. 187 and p. 138] This confirms Paul Avrich's comments that the "influence of the anarchists . . . had always been strong within the fleet" and "the spirit of anarchism" had been "powerful in Kronstadt in 1917" (and "had by no means dissipated" in 1921). [Arvich, Op. Cit., p. 168 and p. 169]
A similar analysis of the Maximalists would produce the same results for Trotsky's claims. Paul Avrich provides a useful summary of their politics. He notes the Maximalists occupied "a place in the revolutionary spectrum between the Left SR's and the anarchists while sharing elements of both." They "preached a doctrine of total revolution" and called for a "'toilers' soviet republic' founded on freely elected soviets, with a minimum of central state authority. Politically, this was identical with the objective of the Kronstadters [in 1921], and 'Power to the soviets but not the parties' had originally been a Maximalist rallying-cry." [Op. Cit., p. 171]
Economically, the parallels "are no less striking." They denounced grain requisitioning and demanded that "all the land be turned over to the peasants." For industry they rejected the Bolshevik theory and practice of "workers' control" over bourgeois administrators in favour of the "social organisation of production and its systematic direction by representatives of the toiling people." Opposed to nationalisation and centralised state management in favour of socialisation and workers' self-management of production. Little wonder he states that the "political group closest to the rebels in temperament and outlook were the SR Maximalists." [Paul Avrich, Op. Cit., pp. 171-2]
Indeed, "[o]n nearly every important point the Kronstadt program, as set forth in the rebel Izvestiia, coincided with that of the Maximalists." [Avrich, Op. Cit., p. 171] This can be quickly seen from reading both the Petropavlovsk resolution and the Kronstadt newspaper Izvestiia (see No Gods, No Masters, vol. 2, pp. 183-204). The political continuity is striking between 1917 and 1921.
As can be seen, the Maximalists were in advance of the Bolsheviks too. They argued for soviet power, not party power, as well as workers' self-management to replace the state capitalism of the Bolsheviks.
Clearly, the political outlook of the Kronstadt rebels had not changed dramatically. Heavily influenced by anarchist and semi-anarchists in 1917, in 1921 the same political ideas came to the fore again once the sailors, soldiers and civilians had freed themselves from Bolshevik dictatorship and created the "conference of delegates."
According to the logic of Trotsky's argument, the Kronstadt sailors were revolutionary simply because of the actions of the Bolshevik minority, as a "revolution is 'made' directly by a minority. The success of a revolution is possible, however, only where this minority finds more or less support . . . on the part of the majority. The shift in different stages of the revolution . . . is directly determined by changing political relations between the minority and the majority, between the vanguard and the class." It is this reason that necessitates "the dictatorship of the proletariat" as the level of the masses cannot be "equal" and of "extremely high development." Trotsky argued that the "political composition of the Kronstadt Soviet reflected the composition of the garrison and the crews." [Lenin and Trotsky, Op. Cit., p. 85, p. 92 and p. 86]
In other words, with the vanguard (the minority of Bolsheviks) gone, the majority of the Kronstadters fell back to their less developed ways. So, if the political composition of the revolt reflected the composition of the crews, then Trotsky's argument suggests that this composition was remarkably unchanged! It also suggests that this "composition" had changed in the early months of 1918 as the Bolsheviks saw their vote nearly half between late January and April 1918!
Similarly, we find John Rees, in contradiction to his main argument, mentioning that the "ideology of the Kronstadt garrison was one factor" in the revolt because "in its heroic days the garrison had an ultra-left air." [Rees, Op. Cit., p. 62] If, as he maintains, the sailors were new, how could they had time to be influenced by this ideology, the ideology of sailors he claims were not there? And if the new recruits he claims were there had been influenced by the sailors of 1917 then it is hard to maintain that the revolt was alien to the spirit of 1917.
This can also be seen from Rees' comment that while we did not know the composition of the sailors, we did "know about the composition of some of the other units based at Kronstadt, like the 2,5000 Ukrainians of the 160th Rifle Regiment, recruited from areas particularly friendly to the Makhno guerrillas and with less than 2 percent of Bolsheviks in its ranks." [Op. Cit., p. 61] In other words, we know the origin of one other unit at Kronstadt, not the class "composition" of "some of the other units" there. However, Rees does not see how this fact undermines his argument. Firstly, Rees does not think it important to note that Communists numbered less than 2 per cent of metal-workers in Petrograd and only 4 per cent of 2,200 employed in metal works in Moscow. [D. Fedotoff-White, The Growth of the Red Army, p. 132] As such the low figure for Communists in the 160th Rifle Regiment does not tell us much about its class composition. Secondly, as Fedotoff-White (the source of Rees' information) notes, while "the soldiers were also disaffected and had no love of the Communists and the commissars," they were "unable to formulate their grievances clearly and delineate the issues at stake . . . They did not have it in them to formulate a plan of action. All that was done at Kronstadt was the work of the bluejackets [the sailors], who were the backbone of the movement." [Op. Cit., p. 154]
If, as Rees argues, that "new recruits" explain the uprising, then how can we explain the differences between the army and navy? We cannot. The difference can be explained only in terms of what Rees is at pains to deny, namely the existence and influence of sailors who had been there since 1917. As Fedotoff-White speculates, "the younger element among the seamen" would "easily [fall] under the spell of the . . . older men they served with on board ships" and of the "large number of old-ex-sea men, employed in the industrial enterprises of Kronstadt." He notes that "a good many" of the rebels "had had ample experience in organisational and political work since 1917. A number had long-standing associations with Anarchists and the Socialist Revolutionaries of the Left." Thus the "survival of the libertarian pattern of 1917 . . . made it possible for the bluejackets not only to formulate, but carry out a plan of action, no doubt under a certain amount of influence of the Anarchists, and those who had left the party in such great numbers during the September 1920 re-registration." [Op. Cit., p. 155] The political continuity of the Kronstadt rebellion is clear from the way the revolt developed and who took a leading role in it.
All of which raises an interesting question. If revolutions are made by a minority who gain the support of the majority, what happens when the majority reject the vanguard? As we indicate in sections 13 and 15, Trotsky was not shy in providing the answer -- party dictatorship. In this he just followed the logic of Lenin's arguments. In 1905, Lenin argued (and using Engels as an authority) "the principle, 'only from below' is an anarchist principle." For Lenin, Marxists must be in favour of "From above as well as from below" and "renunciation of pressure also from above is anarchism." According to Lenin, "[p]ressure from below is pressure by the citizens on the revolutionary government. Pressure from above is pressure by the revolutionary government on the citizens." [Marx, Engels and Lenin, Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 192, p. 196 and pp. 189-90]
As Kronstadt shows, "pressure from above" has a slight advantage over "pressure from below" as it has the full power of the state apparatus to use against the citizens. In other words, the seeds for Bolshevik dictatorship and the repression of Kronstadt lie in Trotsky's argument and arguments like it (see section 15 for further details).
Simply put, the evidence shows that the political ideas dominant in Kronstadt, like the bulk of the personnel themselves, had not changed (indeed, it is these politics which visibly show the statistical evidence we present in the last section). The revolt of 1921 reflected the politics and aspirations of those active in 1917. It were these politics which had made Kronstadt the "pride and glory" of the revolution in 1917 and, four years later, made it so dangerous to the Bolsheviks.