This article is about the historical event known as the Kronstadt rebellion. For information about the similarly named punk band see Kronstadt Uprising (band)
The Kronstadt rebellion was an unsuccessful uprising of Soviet sailors, soldiers and civilians led by Stepan Petrichenko against the government of the early Russian SFSR in March 1921 during the Third Russian Revolution.
The rebellion originated in Kronstadt, a naval fortress on Kotlin Island in the Gulf of Finland that served as the base of the Russian Baltic Fleet and as a guardpost for the approaches to Saint Petersburg, former Petrograd, 35 miles away.
At the end of the Civil War, Bolshevik Russia was exhausted and ruined. The droughts of 1920 and 1921 and the frightful famine during the latter year added the final chapter to the disaster. In the years following the October Revolution, epidemics, starvation, fighting, executions, and the general economic and social breakdown, worsened by the Allied military intervention and the Civil war had taken many lives. Another million people had left Russia — with General Wrangel, through the Far East, or in numerous other ways — either to escape the ravages of the war or because they had supported one of the defeated sides. A large proportion of the émigrés were educated and skilled.
The economic policy war communism assisted the Soviet government in achieving victories in the Russian Civil War, but it damaged the nation's economy. With private industry and trade proscribed and the newly-constructed state unable to adequately perform these functions, much of the Russian economy ground to a standstill. It is estimated that the total output of mines and factories fell in 1921 to 20 percent of the pre-World War I level, with many crucial items experiencing an even more drastic decline. Production of cotton, for example, fell to 5 percent, and iron to 2 percent, of the prewar level. The peasants responded to requisitioning by refusing to till their land. By 1921 cultivated land had shrunk to some 62 percent of the prewar area, and the harvest yield was only 37 percent of normal. The number of horses declined from 35 million in 1916 to 24 million in 1920, and cattle fell from 58 to 37 million during the same span. The exchange rate of the US dollar, which had been two rubles in 1914, rose to 1,200 in 1920.
- Immediate new elections to the Soviets. The present Soviets no longer express the wishes of the workers and peasants. The new elections should be held by secret ballot, and should be preceded by free electoral propaganda.
- Freedom of speech and of the press for workers and peasants, for the Anarchists, and for the Left Socialist parties.
- The right of assembly, and freedom for trade union and peasant organisations.
- The organisation, at the latest on 10 March 1921, of a Conference of non-Party workers, soldiers and sailors of Petrograd, Kronstadt and the Petrograd District.
- The liberation of all political prisoners of the Socialist parties, and of all imprisoned workers and peasants, soldiers and sailors belonging to working class and peasant organisations.
- The election of a commission to look into the dossiers of all those detained in prisons and concentration camps.
- The abolition of all political sections in the armed forces. No political party should have privileges for the propagation of its ideas, or receive State subsidies to this end. In the place of the political sections various cultural groups should be set up, deriving resources from the State.
- The immediate abolition of the militia detachments set up between towns and countryside.
- The equalisation of rations for all workers, except those engaged in dangerous or unhealthy jobs.
- The abolition of Party combat detachments in all military groups. The abolition of Party guards in factories and enterprises. If guards are required, they should be nominated, taking into account the views of the workers.
- The granting to the peasants of freedom of action on their own soil, and of the right to own cattle, provided they look after them themselves and do not employ hired labour.
- We request that all military units and officer trainee groups associate themselves with this resolution.
- We demand that the Press give proper publicity to this resolution.
- We demand the institution of mobile workers' control groups.
- We demand that handicraft production be authorised provided it does not utilise wage labour.
Of the fifteen demands, two were directly related to what Marxists term the petty-bourgeoisie, the reasonably wealthy peasantry and artisans. These demanded "full freedom of action" for all peasants and artisans who did not hire labour. Like the Petrograd workers, the Kronstadt sailors demanded the equalization of wages and the end of roadblock detachments which restricted both travel and the ability of workers to bring food into the city.
On March 1, a general meeting of the Garrison was held, attended also by Mikhail Kalinin and Commissar of the Soviet Baltic Fleet Nikolai Kuzmin who made speeches for the Government. The general meeting passed a resolution including the 15 demands given above. On March 2 a conference of sailor, soldier and worker organization delegates, after hearing speeches by Kuzmin and Vasiliev, President of the Kronstadt Executive Committee, arrested these two and amid incorrect rumors of immediate attack approved formation of a Provisional Revolutionary Committee. The Government responded with an ultimatum the same day. This asserted that the revolt had "undoubtedly been prepared by French counterintelligence" and that the Petropavlovsk resolution was a "SR-Black Hundred" resolution. SR stood for Social Revolutionaries, a democratic socialist party that had been dominant in the soviets before the return of Lenin, whose right-wing had refused to support the Bolsheviks. The Black Hundreds were a reactionary proto-fascist force dating back to before the revolution which attacked Jews, labour militants and radicals, among others.
The memorandum was part of a collection of documents written by National Centre, which originated first in 1918 as a self-claimed 'underground organisation formed in Russia for the struggle against the Bolsheviks'. After suffering military defeat and the arrest of many of its central members, the group reconstituted itself in exile by late 1920. General Wrangel with his trained army of tens of thousands ready and waiting, was their principal military base of support. This memorandum was written between January and early February 1921 by an agent of the National Centre in Finland.
Others however dispute these allegations included noted anarchist historian Paul Avrich. This includes evidence that the memorandum was unsigned.
Avrich rejects the idea that the "Memorandum" explains the revolt:
The Bolshevik government began its attack on Kronstadt on March 7. Some 60,000 troops under command of Mikhail Tukhachevsky took part in the attack. The Petrograd workers were under martial law and could offer little support to Kronstadt. There was a hurry to gain control of the fortress before the melting of the bay as it would have made it impregnable for the land army. Many Red Army units were forced onto the ice at gunpoint and some actually joined the rebellion. On March 17, the Bolshevik forces finally entered the city of Kronstadt after having suffered over 10,000 fatalities. On March 19, the Bolshevik forces took full control of the city of Kronstadt after having suffered fatalities ranging from 527 to 1,412 or higher if the toll from the first assault is included. The day after the surrender of Kronstadt, the Bolsheviks celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Paris Commune.
Although there are no reliable figures for the rebels' battle losses, historians estimate that 1,200 to 2,168 were executed in the days following the revolt, and a like number were jailed, many in the Solovki labor camp. Official Soviet figures claim approximately 1000 rebels were killed, 2000 wounded, between 2,300 to 6,528 captured, and 6 to 8000 defected to Finland, while the Red Army lost 527 killed and 3285 wounded. Later on, 1,050 to 1,272 prisoners were freed. 750 to 1,486 sentenced to a five year forced labor. More fortunate rebels managed to escape to Finland, whose large number caused the first major refugee problem for the newly-independent state of Finland. Later, the refugees in Finland were pardoned through an amnesty. Among them was Petrichenko himself, who lived in Finland until 1945. After World War II, he returned to Soviet Union after being enlisted in the GPU. Later in the same year, he died in a prison camp in Soviet Union over charges of espionage.
Although Red Army units suppressed the uprising, the general dissatisfaction with the state of affairs could not have been more forcefully expressed. Lenin himself stated that Kronstadt "lit up reality like a lightning flash". Against this background of discontent, Lenin concluded that world revolution was not imminent and proceeded in the spring of 1921 to replace the War Communism with his New Economic Policy.
Defenders of the Bolshevik policy, such as Abbie Bakan, have claimed that the Kronstadt rebels were not the same sailors as those who had been revolutionary heroes in 1917. In response, Israel Getzler presents detailed evidence that the vast majority of the sailors had been in the Navy since 1917:
Tony Cliff defends the Bolshevik policy, stating that "the number of industrial workers in Russia, always a minority, fell from 3 million in 1917 to 1,240,000, a decline of 58.7%, in 1921-22. So was there a decline in the agricultural proletariat, from 2,100,000 in 1917, to 34,000 only two years later (a decline of 98.5%). But the number of peasant households (not individuals which is many times greater) had risen with the parcelization of land from 16.5 million in early 1918 to over 25 million households by 1920, an increase of some 50%.
According to this view, the majority of the sailors in the Baltic Fleet stationed at Kronstadt were recent recruits of peasant origin. Stepan Petrichenko was himself an Ukrainian peasant. He later acknowledged that many of his fellow mutineers were peasants from the south who were in sympathy with the peasant opposition movement against the Bolsheviks. In the words of Petrichenko: "When we returned home our parents asked us why we fought for the oppressors. That set us thinking.