The Unknown Revolution, Book Three : Part 01, Chapter 03

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(1882 - 1945) ~ Bolshevik-Aligned Leader of the Russian Nabat Anarchists : March of 1920 saw him taken to Moscow, where he would remain prisoner until October, when he and many other anarchists were released by virtue of a treaty between the Soviet Union and Makhno's army. Voline then returned to Kharkov, resuming his old activities... (From : Rudolph Rocker Bio.)
• "Socialism, so mighty in Germany, Austria and Italy, has proved powerless. 'Communism', itself very strong, especially in Germany, has proved powerless. The trade unions have proved powerless. How are we to account for this?" (From : "The Unknown Revolution," by Voline.)
• "As we know, there it was an authoritarian state communism (Bolshevism) that scored a stunning and rather easy victory in the events of 1917. Now, these days, nearly seventeen years on from that victory, not only is communism proving powerless to resist fascism abroad, but, where the regime within the USSR itself is concerned, the latter is more and more often being described more and more deliberately as 'red fascism'." (From : "The Unknown Revolution," by Voline.)
• "Yet there is consolation to be had. The masses learn through all too palpable first hand experience. And the experience is there." (From : "The Unknown Revolution," by Voline.)


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Part 01, Chapter 03

Chapter 3. Kronstadt as the Vanguard of the Revolution

From February, 1917, for the whole duration of the Revolution, and nearly everywhere, the men of Kronstadt were in the thick of the struggle. They did not confine themselves to their local activity, energetic though it was. Full of revolutionary enthusiasm and combative ardor, well-endowed with strength and audacity, conscious of their role, they unfalteringly gave the revolution all that it asked of them — their fire and their faith, their awareness and their vigor. They became devoted militants, ready to sacrifice their lives, they became agitators and popular propagandists, distributors of revolutionary literature throughout the country, technicians of every kind, and, above all, incomparable fighters.

In February, 1917, Kronstadt immediately rallied to the Revolution. Rising up and taking possession of their city, the sailors felt obliged to perform a painful but, in their opinion, necessary action. On the night of February 27th and 28th, they seized and executed on the spot some two hundred notoriously reactionary senior officers. The rancor and hatred that had accumulated over long years was thus assuaged, for among the victims were those who, during the attempted revolt of 1910, had ordered several hundred sailors to be shot, as well as causing the famous drowning at Fort Totleben of several boatloads of captured seamen.

The execution of these two hundred officers was the only bloody episode, for the sailors protected to the utmost of their ability, not only those officers whom they esteemed and liked, but also those who had simply refrained from ferocity during the repression. Through the whole period [of the uprising], groups of seamen sought everywhere for their own officers, who had been lost in the tumult, and when they found that they had been arrested by some other crew, obtained their release and placed them in safety on their ships or in the barracks.

The sailors soon organized the first Soviet of Kronstadt. While it was initially very moderate (most of its members were Right Social-Revolutionaries or Mensheviks), this Soviet was propelled by the pressure of the revolutionary masses into sharp conflict with the Provisional Government. The immediate causes of these conflicts were insignificant, but their underlying import was serious and well understood by the masses. The government could tolerate neither the independent spirit nor the fervent activity of the men of Kronstadt. It sought at all costs to destroy the former and paralyze the latter; in short, to subdue the malcontents and entirely subjugate the city.

The first conflicts were settled amicably. After many meetings and deliberations, the people of Kronstadt considered it prudent to yield for the time being. At the same time, discontented with the weak attitude of the Soviet, they proceeded to elect new delegates.

Fresh conflicts with the Provisional Government soon broke out. Repeatedly, at the end of its patience, Kronstadt was on the point of an uprising, and only the feeling that the country would not yet understand this premature act made the sailors reconsider.

It was at this time that the first calumnies against Kronstadt were fabricated and circulated by the bourgeois press in Russia and abroad. “Kronstadt has seceded from Russia and has proclaimed itself an autonomous republic.” “Kronstadt is coining its own money.” “Kronstadt is on the point of concluding a separate peace with the Germans.” These were some of the absurdities that were put about. Their purpose was to discredit Kronstadt in the eyes of the country, so as subsequently to be able to wipe it out without difficulty.

The first Provisional Government had no time to carry out this project. It fell, amid general hostility. Kronstadt, on the other hand, gained favor in the eyes of the masses.

The second Kronstadt Soviet was much farther to the left [than its predecessor]. It contained many Bolsheviks, several Maximalists and several Anarchists.[1] However, the activity of the Soviet, and the inevitable struggles within it between the diverse factions, counted for little in comparison with the enormous activity that went on among the workers themselves, on the ships, in the barracks, in the workshops. At the meetings which followed each other in rapid succession at Anchor Square, all the problems of the revolution were discussed and examined from every point of view; the population lived through intense and passionate days. In this way Kronstadt educated itself and prepared for the exceptionally active part which it was soon to play in the struggles ahead, in every stage of the revolution and in every part of Russia.

At first the sailors were favorable to Kerensky, but soon they realized his true role, and two weeks after the famous unsuccessful offensive of June 18th, Kronstadt took a definite stand against him and his government. [Its antagonism was increased when] Kerensky, having learned of the hostile feeling in Kronstadt, tried to arrest a number of sailors when they went to Petrograd and also attempted other repressive measures.

The disturbances in Petrograd, where a revolutionary machine-gun regiment opposed being sent to the front with arms in hand, and was fired on by troops loyal to the government, fanned the flames. It was then that, on July 4th, twelve thousand sailors, soldiers and working men and women of Kronstadt landed in Petrograd, carrying red and black flags and placards bearing such slogans as “All Power to the local Soviets.” The demonstrators marched towards the Tauride Palace, where the various factions, including the Bolsheviks, were deliberating on the political situation. They wished to broaden their demonstration and draw in the masses and garrison of the capital, so that the struggle might be pressed as far as the fall of the government and its replacement by that of the Soviets. Their example was not followed, and, after losing several men during skirmishes in the streets with troops that supported the government, they had to recognize their failure and return to Kronstadt without having accomplished anything. The new revolution was not yet due.

The government, for its part, did not feel strong enough to deal severely with the demonstrators, and. after protracted negotiations during which both sides prepared for a merciless struggle (Kronstadt actually formed battalions for the purpose of attacking Petrograd), they finally reached an agreement and everything became peaceful again.

Certain features of this unsuccessful “sedition” are worth emphasizing. The Bolsheviks played a preponderant role, and it was mainly their slogans that the demonstrators adopted. Within Kronstadt. their representatives were the principal organizers of the action. The sailors asked them: “What if the Party disowns the action?” They replied: “We will force it to support us.” But since the Central Committee had not made any decision (or had decided to abstain) and since certain well-known Bolsheviks were negotiating with other political factions, [the Bolshevik leaders] participating only “unofficially”, Lenin confined himself to delivering a speech of encouragement from a balcony and then disappeared. Trotsky and the other leaders refrained from any participation and kept out of sight. The movement was not theirs, they did not control it, and therefore it had no interest for them. They awaited their own hour.

A number of Bolsheviks, who had decorated an armored car with a huge red flag bearing the initials of their Central Committee, wanted to place it at the head of the demonstration. But the sailors declared that they were acting, not under the auspices of the Bolshevik Party, but under those of their Soviet, and [sent the armored car to] the rear.

The Anarchists, already influential in Kronstadt, took an active part in the action that day, and lost several men. But basically, it was a movement of the masses, of thousands of rebels.

After the July days, the bourgeois press again took up the calumnies against Kronstadt, insinuating that the rebellion was organized “with German money” (they even specified that each sailor was paid 25 gold rubles a day!) and speaking of treason. The Socialist press joined the chorus, and suggested that the movement was the work of “suspicious elements”. This campaign allowed Kerensky to threaten Kronstadt with severe repressions. But, as we have seen, he did not dare to act

The men of Kronstadt did not let themselves be intimidated in the least. They were becoming increasingly conscious of being on the right road, and also increasingly sure that the day was approaching when the masses would understand that the faith, the force and the aims that had inspired the activity of Kronstadt were also their own.

It was at this point that Kronstadt broke into an extraordinary and almost feverish activity. Its people began by sending a succession of agitators and popular propagandists into all parts of the country. Their slogan and rallying cry was “All power to the local Soviets.” In the provinces these emissaries were arrested by the dozen, but Kronstadt replied by sending out more and more of them.

Soon, their efforts were repaid. The sailors of the Black Sea Fleet, who hitherto had supported Kerensky, finally began to doubt the “information from reliable sources” that was denouncing the “counter-revolutionary” role of Kronstadt. To set their minds at ease, they sent a delegation to Kronstadt. Solemnly received by the Soviet, this delegation conferred intimately with the residents of the city, learned their attitude, and uncovered the lies of the press and the authorities. From that moment, a close contact was established between the two fleets.

Furthermore, several units of troops at the front sent delegations to Kronstadt to discover the state of mind of the sailors, and to set things straight if necessary, so greatly had the reputation of Kronstadt been distorted by calumny. One of these delegations, composed of an imposing number of men, formed a regular military expedition. They arrived at Kronstadt in boats filled with weapons (even artillery and machine guns), ready for any eventuality. They were not taking any chances, for, if they were to believe the rumors and the newspapers, they might well expect to be fired upon by the defenders of the “independent republic of Kronstadt”. financed by Germany! They dropped anchor some distance from the shore, and first dispatched to the city a few small boats with “plenipotentiaries”. Upon landing, these advanced carefully towards the city, like regular reconnaissance patrols in enemy country.

All this ended, as usual, in a solemn reception by the Soviet, and in intimate, passionate, but friendly discussions. The sailors went to visit the boats of the “expedition”, which were brought into the port, and the guests visited the battleships. Tn the evening, the delegation returned convinced to the front, with cries of “All power to the local Soviets”.

Often these delegations would propose that the sailors should replace their exhausted units at the front. Then the men of Kronstadt firmly explained their own viewpoint. “As long as the land is not given to the peasants and the revolution is not completely victorious,” they said, “the workers have nothing to defend.”

A little before General Kornilov’s march on Petrograd, the reactionaries in their effort to master the political situation, reestablished discipline in some sections of the army, re-instituted the death penalty at the front, and tried to destroy the soldiers’ committees. Kronstadt accordingly renewed its preparations for an armed insurrection.

At about the same time, the Kerensky government under the pretext of reinforcing the Riga front, decided to remove the heavy artillery from Kronstadt and all the forts. The indignation of the sailors was unbounded. They knew perfectly well that this artillery could play no effective part at the front, and they also knew that the German Fleet was preparing to attack Kronstadt. They were getting ready to prevent this, which would have been impossible without artillery. Unable to believe that the members of the government could be so ignorant of the facts, they saw in Kerensky’s decision a desire to disarm Kronstadt on the eve of attack, a direct treason against the revolution. They were completely convinced that the Kerensky government had decided to stifle the revolution by any means possible, not excluding the surrender of Kronstadt and Petrograd to the Germans.

Kronstadt did not hesitate. On the ships, in the forts and workshops, secret meetings were held to elaborate a plan for resistance and revolt. At the same time, dozens of sailors went every day to Petrograd where they toured the factories, workshops and barracks, openly preaching insurrection.

In the face of this fierce opposition, the government reconsidered and yielded. A compromise was negotiated, and only a small detachment went to the front. On the whole, the sailors were pleased with this solution, since, thanks to the vigilance of the officers’ committees, the front was precisely the one place to which they had not succeeded in penetrating. An occasion now presented itself to carry there what was called “the Kronstadt contagion”.

After the Kornilov putsch of August, 1917, in the destruction of which the sailors from Kronstadt especially distinguished themselves, the final distrust of the masses towards them was broken. At the same time, the popularity of Kerensky was diminishing every day. It was beginning to be understood everywhere that Kronstadt had been right to defy the government, to unmask the machinations of the reactionaries and not allow itself to be deceived.

The moral victory of Kronstadt was complete, and from this time onwards many workers’ and peasants’ delegations arrived there, seeking enlightenment on the real situation and asking for advice and suggestions for the future. On leaving, these delegations requested the sailors to send propagandists and literature into their regions. Kronstadt could ask for nothing better, and soon it could be said without exaggeration that there was not a single province, a single district, in which emissaries from Kronstadt had not spent at least a few days, advising direct expropriation of the land, refusal to obey the government, reelection and consolidation of the Soviets, a determined struggle for peace and a continuation of the revolution.[2] Thus, by their ceaseless activity, the men of Kronstadt instilled a revolutionary spirit into the workers’ and. peasants’ organizations and into the army,[3] while at the same time they took up a vigorous stand against all unauthorized acts, against all deeds of hatred and individual despair.

Everywhere that the revolution was fighting the old society, the men of Krondstadt were in the ranks of the fighters.

Before finishing with the pre-Bolshevik period in Kronstadt, it remains for us to give an idea of the intense constructive work accomplished there in spite of the armed struggles and other urgent tasks. In this field the Kronstadt Soviet created two important organs, the Technical and Military Commission, and the Propaganda Commission.

The Technical and Military Commission comprised 14 members of the Soviet, together with several delegates from the Union of Maritime Transport Workers and from the ships, and forts. In addition, the office of Special Commissar was created at each of the principal forts. These Commissars were charged with maintaining permanent contact between the forts, the Soviet and the Commission, and also with supervising the material condition of the forts and their equipment.

The Commission looked after everything that concerned the defense of Kronstadt and its technical needs. It was responsible, among other things, for the general arming of the workers, for forming them into battalions and giving them military training. It kept daily records of all the fighting units and also supervised the condition of the merchant ships, both cargo and passenger. It directed ship-repair work and was also in charge of the scrap iron with which the vast artillery depot was filled.

The Propaganda Commission was considered extremely important. It carried on a great educational activity, not only in Kronstadt itself, but also in more or less distant localities, whose extent steadily broadened across the country. Every day requests for orators, agitators, lecturers and propagandists came from the various forts, some of them were thirty kilometers away by sea, or from one or another suburb of Petrograd.

The Commission ordered, assembled and distributed all kinds of literature, particularly political and social works (Socialist, Communist and Anarchist) and scientific popularizations, dealing especially with general and rural economics. Each sailor or soldier tried to gather together, with his own money, a little library which he first read carefully himself, and afterwards planned to take back to his “own country”, his native village.

The methods employed in the choice and sending out of propagandists are worthy of some attention. Any workshop, military unit or ship could send a popular propagandist to the provinces. Any man who wished to travel in this capacity had to declare his intention to the general assembly of his unit or ship. If there were no objection, the committee of the unit or ship gave him provisional permission. He was then endorsed by the Propaganda Committee and went on to the secretary of the Soviet. If, at the general meeting of the Soviet, his application were supported by those who knew him personally, and if no one opposed him for revolutionary or moral reasons, the Soviet gave him formal and final permission in its own name. Its permit served him as a safe-conduct where-ever he went. The money for these missions was supplied from the treasury of the Soviet, which was raised by voluntary levies from the workers’ wages.

Almost always, the propagandist took with him products which were made especially by the Kronstadt workers as gifts to the peasants. These workers, particularly those who still took care of peasants ‘back home”, set up a shop where in their spare time they produced articles of a kind that were necessary in the country — nails, horseshoes, sickles, plows, etc. They were helped in these tasks by soldier and sailor specialists. The enterprise took the name of The Kronstadt Workers’ Union. It requested all the inhabitants of the city to bring their unusable scrap, and also obtained it from the Technical Commission.

The emissaries from Kronstadt never forgot to supply themselves with these products to present to the peasants through the local Soviets. Letters of warm gratitude flooded in to the Kronstadt Soviet from peasants who promised, in exchange, to support that city in the struggle for bread and liberty.

Another [interesting constructive] enterprise was a kind of horticultural commune which was set up when the inhabitants of Kronstadt used the empty land between the shores and the city for collective vegetable gardens. Groups of city people, consisting of about 50 persons living in the same district or working in the same shop, undertook to work the land in common. Each of these communities received from the city a plot of land chosen by lot. The community members were helped by specialists, surveyors and agronomists.

All questions of interest to the members of these communities were discussed at meetings of delegates or in general assemblies. A provisioning committee took charge of distributing seeds. Tools were supplied by depots in the city and by the community members themselves. The fertilizer was also supplied by the city.

These kitchen gardens rendered an important service to the inhabitants of Kronstadt, especially during periods of famine, in 1918 and later. The communities [which were formed around them] also served to bring the inhabitants closer together. This free community movement showed great vitality; it still existed in 1921 and remained for a long time the only independent institution which the Bolsheviks could not destroy [in Kronstadt].

All matters concerning the public services in Kronstadt and the internal life of the city were administered by the citizens themselves, through the medium of house committees and militia, and little by little they advanced towards the socialization of dwellings and of all urban services.

Generally speaking, at Kronstadt and elsewhere in Russia before the enthronement of the Bolsheviks, the inhabitants of a house first organized a number of tenants’ meetings. These meetings named a tenants’ committee, which consisted of men who were energetic and capable of fulfilling some necessary function. The Committee supervised the upkeep of the house and the welfare of its inhabitants, it designated the day and night janitors, etc. Each House Committee delegated one of its members to the Street Committee, which was in charge of matters that concerned the whole street. Then came the District Committee, the Borough Committee and finally the City Committee, which was concerned with the interests of the whole city and, in a natural and logical manner, carried out whatever centralization of services was necessary.

The organization of the militia was similar to that of the Committees: each house had a group of militiamen, drawn from the tenants; there were also street militia, district militia, etc.

All of the public services functioned admirably, for the men in charge of them acted from personal inclination or individual aptitude, and therefore conscientiously and intelligently, fully aware of the importance of their activity.[4] Thus, in making their wav towards complete socialization of dwellings and all urban services, the workers of Kronstadt achieved at the same time a complex of peaceful and creative measures, which pointed towards a fundamental transformation of the very basis of social life.[5]

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November 30, 1920 :
Part 01, Chapter 03 -- Publication.

February 23, 2017 17:14:20 :
Part 01, Chapter 03 -- Added to

March 02, 2020 13:55:52 :
Part 01, Chapter 03 -- Last Updated on


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