Voline, The Unknown Revolution, 1917-1921 (1947)
Struggle for the Real Social Revolution
Last Act: The End of Independence
It remains for us to discuss the last act of the tragedy -- the attack on Kronstadt, the heroic defence of the city, and its eventual fall.
In Izvestia No. 5, for the 7th March, we find details of negotiations that had been set on foot concerning the sending of a delegation from Petrograd to Kronstadt to obtain information:
"The Provisional Revolutionary Committee," reports Izvestia, "has received from Petrograd the following radiogram: 'Inform Petrograd by radio if we can send to Kronstadt from Petrograd some delegates of the Soviet, chosen from the non-party members, and also some party members, to find out what is happening.'
"The Provisional Revolutionary Committee replied immediately by radio: 'Radiogram to the Petrograd Soviet: Having received the radio message of the Petrograd Soviet, asking "if we can send from Petrograd to Kronstadt some delegates chosen from the non-party members and also some party members, to find out what is happening," we inform you that we have no confidence in the independence of your non-party members, and propose that you elect, in the presence of a delegation of ours, non-party delegates from the factories, the Red army units and the sailors. You can add 15% of Communists. It is desirable to have a reply indicating the date for sending the representatives from Kronstadt to Petrograd and the delegates from Petrograd to Kronstadt by March 6th at 18.00 hours. In case it is impossible to reply by this time, we request that you indicate your date and the reasons for the delay. Means of return should be assured to the Kronstadt delegates.
The Provisional Revolutionary Committee."
In spite of these negotiations, persistent rumours were spreading in Petrograd that the government was preparing for military operations against Kronstadt. But the population did not believe it. It seemed too criminal, too incredible.
The Petrograd workers knew nothing of what was happening
in Kronstadt. The only information was that given by the Communist press, and its bulletins always spoke of the "Tsarist general Kozlovsky who has organised the counter-revolutionary rebellion at Kronstadt". The population waited anxiously for the session called by the Petrograd Soviet which would decide what attitude to adopt. The Soviet met on March 4th. Only the members who were summoned could attend this meeting, and they were mainly Communists.
Here are the terms in which the Anarchist Alexander Berkman, who was allowed to attend this meeting, described it in his excellent study of the Kronstadt revolt, a study which was based on the same authentic sources as we have used in our own account.1
"As President of the Petrograd Soviet, Zinoviev declared the session open and delivered a long speech on the situation at Kronstadt. I admit that I went to this meeting disposed rather in favour of Zinoviev's point of view; the assembly was called together by reason of 'indications' of an attempted counter-revolution at Kronstadt. But Zinoviev's speech sufficed to convince me that the Communist accusations against the sailors were pure invention, without the slightest shadow of truth. I had heard Zinoviev speak on various occasions; once his premises were accepted, he had the gift of being convincing. But at this meeting his attitude, his arguments, his tone, his manner -- all reflected the falseness of his assertions, his insincerity. The protest of his conscience was obvious to me.
"The only 'piece of evidence' against Kronstadt was the famous resolution of March 1st. Its demands were just and even moderate. The fatal step was decided on the basis of this document, and of the vehement, almost hysterical, denunciation of the sailors by Kalinin. The resolution against Kronstadt, prepared in advance and presented by Yevdokimoff -- Zinoviev's right-hand man -- was accepted. The delegates were over-excited by an excess of intolerance and a kind of bloodthirsty ferocity. The adoption of the bellicose resolution took place in a great tumult and in the midst of protests by several delegates from the Petrograd factories and by representatives of the sailors. The resolution declared
Kronstadt guilty of counter-revolutionary sedition; it demanded its immediate surrender. This amounted to a declaration of war.
"Many of the Communists themselves refused to believe that the said resolution would be carried out. It seemed monstrous to attack by armed force 'the pride and glory of the Russian Revolution', to use the description that Trotsky had once bestowed on the Kronstadt sailors. Among their intimate friends, many of the sensible Communists talked of leaving the party if such a bloody act were performed."
On the following day, March 5th, Trotsky published his ultimatum to Kronstadt. It was transmitted to the population of Kronstadt by radio, and appeared in the same issue of Izvestia, on March 7th, as the two radiograms regarding the sending of delegations. Naturally, all negotiations on the latter subject were immediately broken off.
Here is the text of Trotsky's ultimatum:
"The Workers' and Peasants' Government has decreed that Kronstadt and the rebelling ships shall submit immediately to the authority of the Soviet Republic. I order, in consequence, that all who have raised their hands against the Socialist Fatherland lay down their arms without delay. Recalcitrants should be disarmed and brought to the Soviet authorities. The Commissars and the other representatives of the government who have been arrested must be set free on the spot. Only those who surrender unconditionally can expect mercy from the Soviet Republic.
"I simultaneously give the order to prepare for the suppression of the rebellion and the subjugation of the sailors by armed force. All responsibility for injuries that the peaceful population may suffer rests entirely on the heads of the White-guard mutineers. This warning is final. Signed: Trotsky, President of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic. Kameneff, Commander-in-Chief."
This ultimatum was followed by an order from Trotsky containing the historic threat: "I will shoot you like partridges."
Several Anarchists who were still at liberty in Petrograd made a last effort to persuade the Bolsheviks to renounce the attack on Kronstadt. They considered it their duty to the Revolution to make this final effort to prevent the imminent massacre of the revolutionary elite of Russia, the sailors and workers of Kronstadt.
On March 5th, they sent a protest2 to the Defence Committee, emphasising the peaceful intentions and just demands of Kronstadt, recalling to the Communists the heroic revolutionary role of the sailors, and proposing a method for resolving the conflict in a way worthy of comrades and revolutionaries. Here is the document in question:
"To the Petrograd Labour and Defence Committee, to President Zinovieff:
"To keep silent now is impossible and even criminal. The events which have just occurred oblige us as Anarchists to speak frankly and to set forth precisely our attitude towards the present situation.
"The spirit of discontent and unrest among the workers and sailors is the result of facts which require the most serious attention. Cold and hunger have given rise to discontent, the absence of the least possibility of discussion and criticism has forced the workers and sailors to declare their grievances formally. -
"The White-guardist bands would like to and could exploit this discontent for their own interests. Hiding behind the sailors, they call for the Constituent Assembly, free trading and other similar advantages. We Anarchists have long exposed the fundamental error in these demands, and we declare before everyone that we will fight, arms in hand, against any counter-revolutionary attempt, together with all the friends of the Social Revolution, and at the side of the Bolsheviks.
"We are of the opinion that the conflict between the Soviet government and the workers and sailors should be liquidated, not by arms, but by meants of a revolutionary, fraternal agreement in a spirit of comradeship. For the Soviet government to have recourse to bloodshed in the present situation will neither
intimidate nor pacify the workers; on the contrary, it will only serve to increase the crisis and reinforce the work of the Allies and the counter-revolutionaries.
"What is more important, the use of force by the Workers' and Peasants' Government against workers and peasants will provoke a disastrous repercussion on the international revolutionary movement. It will result in incalculable injury to the Social Revolution. Comrade Bolsheviks, reflect before it is too late! You are about to take a decisive step.
"We submit to you the following proposal: to elect a commission of five members including Anarchists. This commissioa will go to Kronstadt to resolve the conflict by peaceful means. In the present situation, it is the most radical solution. It will have international revolutionary importance.
"Signed: Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, Perkus, Petrovsky.
Petrograd, March 5, 1921."
In his account of the sending of the letter, Berkman records that: "Zinoviev was informed that the document was going to be submitted to the Defence Committee. He sent a personal representative to fetch it. I do not know if this appeal was discussed by the Committee. What is certain is that they did nothing about it-"
On March 6th, Trotsky completed the preparations for the attack. The most loyal divisions were brought from all the fronts, the regiments of kursanti, the detachments of the Cheka, and the military units composed of Communists were concentrated in the forts of Sestroretsk, Lissy Noss and Krasnaia Gorka. as well as in nearby fortified positions. The best military technicians were sent to the theatre of operations to work out the plans for the blockade and attack on Kronstadt. Tuchachevsky was designated commander-in-chief of the troops.
On March 7th, at 6.45 p.m. the batteries of Sestroretsk, Lissy Noss and Krasnaia Gorka began to bombard Kronstadt. An avalanche of shells, bombs and also arrogant proclamations, dropped from aeroplanes, fell on the city. Repeatedly "the flock of crows" installed at Krasnaia Gorka -- Trotsky, Tuchachevsky, Dybenko and others -- gave orders to take the beseiged fortress by a crushing assault. These attempts were in vain. The most furious attacks were repulsed by the valiant defenders. The bombardment did not create the slightest panic in the city. On
the contrary, it increased the anger of the population and strengthened its will to resist to the end.
On March 8th, the sixth number of Izvestia reported the new situation for the first time. It carried the headline: Trotsky's First Shot is a Communist Distress Signal, and beneath this published its first communique, which ran as follows:
At 6:45 p.m. the Communist batteries at Sestroretsk and at Lissy Noss first opened fire on the Kronstadt forts. The forts replied to the challenge and soon reduced the batteries to silence. Then Krasnaia Gorka opened fire. It received a worthy response from the battleship Sebasto-pol. Intermittent gunfire continues. On our side two Red soldiers have been wounded and sent to the hospital. No material damage.
Kronstadt, March 7th, 1921
This communique was followed by the note which we reproduce below:
The first shot
They have begun to bombard Kronstadt. We are ready! Let us try the strength of our forces.
They are in haste to act. They understand that, in spite of all the lies of the Communists, the Russian workers are beginning to recognize the greatness of the work of liberation begun by revolutionary Kronstadt after three years of slavery.
The hangmen are uneasy. Soviet Russia, victim of their terrible madness, is escaping from their prison. And, at the same stroke, they are forced to renounce their domination over the working people.
The Communist government is sending up a distress signal. The eight days of the existence of free Kronstadt proves their impotence. A little longer, and the worthy response of our glorious ships and forts will sink the ship of the Soviet pirates, forced to accept battle with revolutionary Kronstadt which carries the banner of "Power to the Soviets and not to the Parties."
This was followed by an appeal:
Let the World Know!
The Provisional Revolutionary Committee has sent out the following radiogram today:
"To all-to all-to all --
"The first cannon shot hasjust been fired. 'Field Marshal' Trotsky, stained with the blood of the workers, was the first to fire on revolutionary Kronstadt, which has risen against the Communist autocracy to
re-establish the true power of the Soviets.
"Without spilling a single drop of blood, we-Red soldiers, sailors and workers of Kronstadt -- freed ourselves from the Communist yoke. We spared the lives of those of their party who were among us. They now want to impose their power on us again, by the threat of cannons.
"Not desiring any bloodshed, we requested that non-party delegates from the Petrograd proletariat be sent here so that they can assure themselves that Kronstadt fights for Soviet power. But the Communists conceal our request from the Petrograd workers and open fire -- the habitual response of the pretended workers' and peasants' government to the requests of the labouring masses.
"If the workers of the whole world only knew that we, defenders of the power of the Soviets, were guarding the conquests of the social revolution! We will conquer or die amid the ruins of Kronstadt, fighting for the just cause of the working masses.
"The workers of the whole world will be our judges. The blood of the innocent will fall upon the heads of the Communists, crazy fools who are drunk with power;
"Long live the power of the Soviets.
The Provisional Revolutionary Committee. "
We can add a moving detail: March 7th was Labor Day in Soviet Russia. Kronstadt, besieged and attacked, did not forget this. Under continual fire, the sailors broadcast their congratulations to the workers of the world. This message was reproduced in the same issue:
Kronstadt Is Liberated
To The Workers of the World
This day is a universal holiday: Labor Day. We of Kronstadt-in the noise of cannons and exploding shells shot by the Communists, the enemies of working people -- send our fraternal greetings to the workers of the world: Greetings from Red Kronstadt, revolutionary and free . . . We want you to achieve your emancipation soon, free from all forms of violence and oppression.
Long Live the Free Revolutionary Workers! Long Live the World Social Revolution!
The Provisional Revolutionary Committee.
The same issue contained the following statement:
Kronstadt is Calm
Yesterday, March 7th, the enemies of the workers, the Communists, opened fire on Kronstadt. The population received the bombardment valiantly. It was soon apparent that the working people of the city were in perfect agreement with their Provisional Revolutionary Committee.
Despite the opening of hostilities, the Committee considered it unnecessary to declare a state of siege. In fact, what had they to fear? Surely not their own Red soldiers, nor their sailors, nor their workers or intellectuals.
On the other hand, in Petrograd, by reason of the state of siege that has been proclaimed, no one is permitted to go out alone until 7 a.m. That is understandable. The rulers have to fear their own working people.
The first attacks on Kronstadt were conducted simultaneously from north and south by the elite of the Communist troops, dressed in white garments which camouflaged them among the snow that covered the ice-bound Gulf-of Finland. These first attempts to take the fortress by assault resulted in a terrible, insane loss of life. The sailors deeply deplored this, and in moving terms appealed to their duped brothers in arms who believed Kronstadt counter-revolutionary. Addressing itself to the Red soldiers who fought for the Communists, Izvestia said on March 10th (Issue No. 8):
We do not want to spill the blood of our brothers and we are holding our fire to the minimum they allow. We must defend the just cause of the workers and for this reason we feel ourselves forced to fire on our brothers, sent to certain death by the Communists who have created a life of privilege at the expense of the people.
Unfortunately for you, our brothers, a terrible blizzard was blowing when the attack was made, and everything was wrapped in the shadows of a dark night. In spite of this, the Communist hangmen ordered you on to the ice and threatened you from behind with the machine guns of the rearguard, manned by their Communist formations.
Many of you perished that night on the vast frozen expanse of the Gulf of Finland, and when the dawn came, after the storm had died down, only the miserable remnants of your detachments, exhausted, hungry, almost unable to walk, crept towards us in their white shrouds.
You were a thousand in the dawn, but in the course of the
day one could no longer count you. With your blood you have paid for this adventure. After your rout, Trotsky has gone to Petrograd to seek new victims for the slaughter: the blood of our peasants and workers is cheap to him."
Kronstadt lived in the firm belief that the Petrograd proletariat would come to its aid. But the workers of the capital were terrorised and Kronstadt was blockaded and isolated, so that no help was possible.
The Kronstadt garrison was composed of some 14,000 men, of whom about 10,000 were sailors. This garrison had to defend a vast front and many forts and batteries, scattered about the Gulf. The continual attacks of the endlessly reinforced Bolsheviks, the lack of food, the long, cold nights, all contributed to diminish the vitality of Kronstadt. Yet the sailors had heroic perseverance, hoping to the last moment that their noble example would be followed by the country. But the struggle was too unequal. The Bolshevik soldiers surrendered by thousands, others drowned by the hundred under the ice which had been weakened and filled with cracks and holes owing to the thaw, or had been broken by shellfire. But these losses did not diminish in the least the intensity of the attacks; fresh reinforcements were constantly arriving.
What could the city do, alone, against this rising tide? It exerted itself to hold on. It hoped stubbornly for an imminent general revolt of the workers and Red soldiers of Petrograd and Moscow, a revolt that would be the beginning of the third Revolution. And it fought heroically, night and day, on a front which steadily contracted. But neither revolt nor aid appeared. Each day Kronstadt's resistance grew weaker and the attackers gained advantage after advantage.
Furthermore, Kronstadt had not been planned to sustain an attack from the rear, although, among other lies, the Communists had spread the slanderous rumour that the revolutionary sailors wanted to bombard Petrograd. In fact, the famous fortress had been built for the single purpose of defending the capital from an attack by sea. The builders had not specifically reinforced the rear part of Kronstadt, and it was precisely on this point that the Bolsheviks pressed their attacks nearly every night.
During the whole day of March 10th, the Communist artillery
incessantly shelled the whole island from south to north. On the night of the 12th and 13th, the Communists attacked from the south, again using white "shrouds" (on March 11th "a thick fog prevented firing" said a communique in Izvestia). In this attack, hundreds of kursanti were once more sacrificed.
In the following days, the fight became increasingly uneven. The defenders were exhausted by fatigue and privations. They were now fighting on the immediate outskirts of the city. The communiques on the fighting, published daily by the Revolutionary Committee, became more and more tragic. The number of victims increased rapidly.
Finally, on March 16th, feeling the climax approaching, the Bolsheviks made a thunderous, concentrated attack, preceded by furious artillery preparation. They had to make an end, cost what it may. Every hour of continued resistance, every shot fired by Kronstadt was a defiance of the Communists and could arouse millions of men against them at any moment. Already they felt increasingly isolated. Already Trotsky was forced to send into action detachments of Chinese and Bashkirs. It was necessary to wipe out Kronstadt without delay, or else Kronstadt would cause the Bolshevik power to fall apart.
From early morning, the heavy guns of Krasnaia Gorka rained ceaseless shells upon the city, causing fire and destruction. Aeroplanes dropped bombs, one of which destroyed the hospital despite its visible Red Cross signs. This furious bombardment was followed by a general assault from the south and east.
The plan of attack, as Dybenko, ex-Commissar of the Baltic Fleet and future dictator of Kronstadt, later recorded, was prepared in the minutest detail according to the directions of the commander-in-chief, Tuchachevsky, and the staff of the Army of the South. The attack on the forts began at daybreak. "The white shrouds and the valour of the kursanti," wrote Dybenko, "made it possible to advance in columns."
Nevertheless, the enemy was repelled at several points, after bitter machine-gun fighting. Amid the noise of the battle under the walls of the city, the sailors manoeuvred skillfully, rushing to the most threatened points, giving orders, shouting appeals. A genuine fanaticism of bravery took possession of the defenders.
No one thought of danger or death. "Comrades," came the cry, "arm the last workers' detachments quickly! Let everyone who is able to bear arms help." And the last detachments were formed, armed, and came in haste to take part in the battle.
The women of the people also gave proof of their courage and activity as, disdainful of danger, they advanced far outside the city to carry ammunition. They gathered in the wounded from all sides and bore them under intense fire to the hospital, where they organised first aid.
By the evening of March 16th, the battle still remained undecided, and the militiamen still rode through the streets on horseback and called upon the non-combatants to take refuge in safe places. But several forts had been taken, and during the night the Communists who were at liberty inside the city succeeded in indicating to the attackers that Kronstadt's weakest point was the Petrograd gate. By 7 a.m. on March 17th, the Bolsheviks forced it after a supreme assault, and advanced fighting into the centre of the city, the famous Anchor Square.
Still the sailors did not give in. They continued to fight "like lions", defending each district, each street, each house. It was only with heavy sacrifice that the Red soldiers were able to secure a firm foothold in several sections. The members of the Provisional Revolutionary Committee still went from one threatened area to another, manoeuvring the combatants, organising the defence. The print-shop still continued to compose No. 15 of Izvestia which never appeared.
During the whole day of the 17th, they fought inside the city. The sailors knew that no quarter would be given them, and they preferred to die fighting rather than be basely assassinated in the cellars of the Cheka. It was a brutal slaughter, a butchery. Many Communists of the city, whose lives had been spared by the sailors, betrayed them, armed themselves, and attacked them from the rear. The Commissar of the Baltic Fleet, Kuzmin, and the President of the Kronstadt Soviet, Vassilieff, freed from prison by the Communists, took part in the liquidation of the revolt.
The desperate struggle of the sailors and soldiers of Kronstadt continued well into the night [of the 17th March]. The city which, during the fifteen days of the fight, had done no harm to the Communists within it, now became a vast theatre of shootings,
savage executions, regular assassinations in batches. Escaping from the butchery, certain detachments retreated towards Finland. In the early morning of March 18th, they (the Communists) were still fighting -- or rather chasing the rebels -- in certain sections of the city.
Two projects of the revolutionists remained uncompleted. In the first place, the sailors had decided to blow up at the last minute the two great battleships which were the first to raise the banner of the Third Revolution -- the Petropavlovsk and the Sebastopol. But when they tried to carry out this project, they found that the electric wires had been cut. Secondly, nearly the whole population of Kronstadt had decided to leave the city in order to let the Communists have it "dead and empty". The total absence of means of transport prevented the execution of this plan.
Appointed Commissar of Kronstadt, Dybenko was given full power to "clean up the rebel city". This meant an orgy of massacre. The victims of the Cheka were innumerable, and they were executed en masse during the days that followed the fall of the fortress.
During the ensuing weeks the gaols of Kronstadt were filled with hundreds of prisoners from Kronstadt. Each night, little groups of prisoners were taken out and shot by order of the Cheka. Thus died Perepelkin, a member of the Provisional Revolutionary Committee of Kronstadt. Another member of the Committee, Verchinin, was treacherously arrested by the Bolsheviks at the beginning of the revolt. Here are the words in which Izvestia described the episode in Number 7, of March 9th, under the title Abuse of the White Flag.
"Yesterday, March 8th, some Red soldiers came out of Oranienbaum and towards Kronstadt carrying a white flag. Two of our comrades went out unarmed on horseback to meet the bearers of the flag of truce. One of our men approached the enemy group; the other stopped some distance away. Hardly had our comrades spoken a few words to them when the Communists threw themselves upon him, dragged him from his horse, and carried him off. The second comrade was able to return to Kronstadt."
The emissary of Kronstadt who was carried off in this way was Verchinin. Naturally, nothing more was ever heard of him. The
fate of the other members of the Provisional Revolutionary Committee is unknown to us.
In the prisons, in the concentration camps, in the polar regions of Archangel, in the distant deserts of Turkestan, the men of Kronstadt who rebelled against the Bolshevik absolutism for really free Soviets endured, for long years, a miserable existence, and slowly died. There are probably no more of them still alive today.
Some time after the revolt, the Bolshevik government proclaimed a general amnesty for those rebels who, having escaped during the repression were abroad or in hiding in the country, if they spontaneously gave themselves up to the authorities. All those who were naive enough to believe in this "amnesty" were arrested on the spot and shared the fate of their comrades in arms. This ignoble ambush -- among so many others -- constitutes one of the most disgraceful pages in the true history of Bolshevism.
Lenin understood nothing -- or rather, did not want to understand anything -- about the Kronstadt movement. The essential thing for him and his party was to maintain themselves in power at all costs. The victory over the rebels reassured him momentarily. But he was afraid for the future. He admitted that the guns of Kronstadt obliged the party "to reflect and review its position."
Did he revise it in the direction clearly indicated by the workers' disturbances and by the rebellion? Not at all. The fundamental lesson that emerged from these events was the need for the Party to revise the principle of dictatorship, and the necessity for the working people and the country as a whole of free elections to the Soviets.
The Bolsheviks were perfectly aware that the least concession in this direction would be a decisive blow at their power. And for them it was necessary, above all, to conserve that power whole. As Marxists, authoritarians and statists, the Bolsheviks could not permit any freedom or independent action of the masses. They had no confidence in the free masses. They were convinced that the fall of their dictatorship would mean the destruction of all the work that had been done, and the endangering of the Revolution, which they confused with themselves. At the same time, they were convinced that in preserving their dictatorship -- the "levers of control" -- they could "retreat strategically", and even renounce
temporarily their whole economic policy, without fundamentally compromising the goals of the revolution. At worst, they told themselves, the achievement of these goals would be retarded. Their thoughts therefore concentrated solely on this question: "What must be done to preserve our dominion intact?"
To yield temporarily in the economic field, to grant concessions in all fields, except that of "power" -- that was their first solution. Their only "compromise" was to throw a bone to the population to appease their discontent; they had to give a little satisfaction, if only in appearance.
To determine the necessary concessions, to fix the limits of their "retneat", was their second preoccupation. They finally established the extent of these concessions, and then, by one of the most curious of historical ironies, Lenin and his party applied exactly the programme which they had falsely attributed to the men of Kronstadt and for which they claimed to have fought them and spilled so much blood.
Lenin proclaimed the famous "New Economic Policy" (the NEP). This granted the population a certain "economic freedom", i.e. a degree of freedom of private commerce and industrial activity. Thus the true meaning of the "freedom" demanded by the Kronstadt rebels was completely distorted. Instead of the free creative and constructive activity of the labouring masses, an activity which would have allowed the march towards their complete emancipation to continue and accelerate, which was what Kronstadt demanded, [the New Economic Policy] was "freedom" for certain individuals to trade and do business, to get rich. It was at this time that there appeared for a while the Soviet nouveaux riches, the "nepmen" (men of the NEP).
The Communists in Russia and abroad regarded and explained the NEP as a "strategic retreat", which permitted the dictatorship that was indispensable for the party a breathing space to fortify the positions that had been disturbed by the events of March, a kind of "economic respite" analogous to the "military respite" at the time of Brest-Litovsk.
In fact, the NEP was nothing but a halt, not in order to be able to advance better later on [in a revolutionary direction], but, on the contrary, to be better al to return to the point of departure, to
the same ferocious party dictatorship, the same unrestricted statism, the same domination and exploitation of the labouring masses by the new capitalist state. The Bolsheviks retreated so as to be better able to return to the road of totalitarian state capitalism, with a greater guarantee against an eventual repetition of Kronstadt.
During the period of retreat, this nascent capitalist state erected its "Maginot line" against this danger. It employed the several years of the NEP to increase its material and military forces, to create quietly its administrative, bureaucratic and police "apparatus," neo-bourgeois in character, to be able to feel strong enough to crush everyone in its "iron fist" and transform the whole country into a totalitarian barracks and prison.
If one wishes to speak of a strategic retreat in this sense, that is what took place. Soon after Lenin's death (in 1924) and the accession -- after some struggles within the party -- of Stalin, the New Economic Policy was suppressed, the "nepmen" were arrested, deported or shot, their goods were confiscated, and the State, completely armed and armoured, bureaucratised and capitalised, supported by its "apparatus" and by a strong socially privileged and well-fed class, resolutely established its complete omnipotence. But it is obvious that all these exigencies had nothing in common with the Social Revolution, or with the aspirations of the working masses, or with their real emancipation.
The Bolshevik government did not confine itself to an internal NEP. By a further historical irony, at the very moment when the Bolsheviks were falsely accusing the men of Kronstadt of being "lackeys of the Allies" and of "making deals with the capitalists", they themselves were carrying out precisely this task. Following Lenin's directives, they set out on the route of concessions to foreign capitalists and alliances with them. During the very days when they were shooting the Kronstadt sailors and when heaps of corpses still covered the ice of the Gulf of Finland, they agreed to several important contracts with industrialists of various countries, catering to the wishes of high finance, of the large-scale capitalism of the Allies, of Polish imperialism.
They signed the Anglo-Russian commercial treaty, which opened the doors of the country to English capital. They signed the peace of Riga, by virtue of which twelve million individuals
were thrown into the hands of reactionary Poland. By means of alliances, they helped the Young Turkish imperialism to strangle the revolutionary movement in the Caucasus. And they prepared to enter into business relations with the bourgeoisie of all countries, seeking support from this quarter.
We have said elsewhere: "In strangling the Revolution, the (Communist) power was forced to secure for itself, more and more openly and firmly, the aid and support of reactionary and bourgeois elements . . . Feeling the ground slipping from under their feet and detaching them more and more from the masses, breaking their last contacts with the Revolution and giving free play to a whole privileged class of big and small dictators, sycophants, flatterers, opportunists and parasites, but impotent to create anything that was really revolutionary and positive since they had rejected and destroyed the new forces, the authorities found themselves obliged, in order to consolidate themselves, to turn to the old forces. It is their company which they seek more and more frequently and freely. It is from them that they solicit agreements, alliances and unions. It is to them that they yield positions, not having any other way of assuring their own existence. Having lost the friendship of the masses, they seek friendship elsewhere. They think they can sustain themselves with the help of these new friends, whom they hope to betray one day for their own advantage. Meanwhile, they become enmeshed, every day more deeply, in an anti-revolutionary and anti-social action."
Kronstadt fell and State Socialism triumphed. It is still triumphant today. But the implacable logic of events leads it infallibly to disaster. For its triumph bore within itself the seed of its final destruction. It exposed more and more the real character of the Communist dictatorship. More and more, the Communists, caught by the logic of events, showed that they were prepared to sacrifice the goal, to renounce all their principles, to deal with anyone, so as to preserve their domination and their privileges.
Kronstadt was the first entirely independent attempt of the people to liberate itself from all yokes and achieve the Social Revolution, an attempt made directly, resolutely, and boldly by the working masses themselves without political shepherds, without
leaders or tutors. It was the first step towards the third and social revolution.
Kronstadt fell. But it had accomplished a task and that was the important thing. In the complex and shadowy labyrinth which opens out to the masses in revolt, Kronstadt is a bright beacon that lights up the right road. It matters little that in the circumstances in which they found themselves the rebels still spoke of power (the power of the Soviets) instead of getting rid of the word and the idea altogether and speaking instead of co-ordination, organisation, administration. It was a last tribute paid to the past. Once full freedom of discussion, organisation and action have been completely won by the working masses themselves, once the true road of independent popular activity is found, the rest will come automatically and inevitably.
It matters little that the fog is still thick and hides the beacon and the way it lights. Once lit, that light will never go out. And the day is coming -- perhaps it is not far off -- when millions of human beings will see it shine.
1 Namely, the Izvestia of the Provisional Revolutionary Committee, Soviet documents and selected eyewitnesses. So far as I know, his study first appeared in English in the form of a leaflet. Later it was reproduced in the Anarchist review Timon during the civil war in Spain, and finally the French Anarchist paper, Le Libertaire published it in several consecutive numbers in January, 1939.
2 Lest the reader be surprised to see Anarchists still at liberty in Petrograd in 1921, we must remark that the signers of the paper in question were not considered dangerous by the Bolsheviks. A. Berkman and E. Goldman did not engage in militant activity in Russia; Perkus and Petrovsky were the kind of Anarchists called "Soviet" (pro-Bolshevik). Later, Berkman and Goldman were nevertheless expelled; the fate of Perkus and Petrovsky is unknown to us. In any case, the last vestiges of the Anarchist movement disappeared during 1921.
As for the document itself, the reader will notice that it was necessarily conceived in fairly conciliatory, vague and even ambiguous terms. The authors nourished a naive and vain hope of reasoning with the Bolsheviks and inducing them to act "in a spirit of comradeship". But the Bolsheviks were not comrades, and they felt that the least concession in their conflict with Kronstadt would let loose a general movement against their dictatorship. For them it was a matter of life and death.