Victor Serge 1937

The Truth about Krondstadt

SourceVangard, Vol. 4, No. 1, November 1937, p. 6;
Transcribed: for by Zdravko Saveski;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2017.

IN answer to a German journalist who had questioned him on these subjects, Leon D. Trotsky, published in the Russian edition of the Bulletin of the Bolshevik-Leninist Opposition (July, 1937) a rather brief letter in which he discusses the insurrection of Kronstadt, and Makhno. Ida Mett has answered him in this journal by posing several new questions of considerable pertinence. Nobody but Trotsky is capable of writing the great history of the most difficult and memorable years of the revolution, a history which is necessary for anyone who wants to draw up the balance sheet of this great experience. There are many of us awaiting this and we hope it will be conceived in a critical, even self-critical, spirit… and that is why the few lines published by the Opposition Bulletin seem to me today to be insufficient and unjust in several respects. "There remained" (in Kronstadt), writes Trotsky, "the grey mass, with great pretentious, not disposed to make sacrifices for the Revolution. The country was starving, the sailors of Kronstadt demanded privileges… the movement therefore had a counter-revolutionary character. And since the sailors had seized the fortress, we were compelled to crush them by force…" I was in Petrograd at that time, working together with Zinoviev, I saw these events first-hand. I read very attentively, afterwards, all the issues of lzvestia (official organ. - Ed.) of the rebellious Kronstadt Soviet. It is true that the country was starving; it would even be true to say that the country was at the end of its resources, that it was literally dying of hunger everywhere. It is inexact to say that the Kronstadt sailors had demanded privileges; they demanded for the cities in general the suppression of the special police (zagraditelnye otriady) which surrounded the city to prevent the population from supplying itself with food from the country by its own means; later, when they saw themselves engaged in a mortal combat, they formulated a series of political demands which were extremely dangerous for that moment, but which were prompted by a sincere revolutionary spirit. Those were the demands of freely elected Soviets.

It would have been easy to avoid the events by listening to the grievances of Kronstadt and discussing them, even in giving some satisfaction to the sailors (we'll prove that later on). The Central Committee committed the enormous mistake of sending Kalinin, who had already behaved as a harsh and incapable bureaucrat. He was hooted down.

It would have been easy, even after the fighting had begun, to have avoided the worst: it would have been sufficient to accept the mediation offers of the Anarchists (Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, notably) who had strong ties with the rebels. Because of reasons of prestige, and because of an overweening authoritarian spirit, the Central Committee refused. The main responsibility for all this must be laid to Zinoviev, President of the Petrograd Soviet, who had just deceived the whole Party, all the proletariat of that section, and all the population by saying that the "The White Guard General Kozlovski had treasonably taken possession of the Kronstadt". It would have been easy, more humane, more politic and more in keeping with the spirit of socialism after the military victory over Kronstadt by Voroshilov, Dibenko, Tukachevsky, not to have had recourse to such massacre... The massacre which followed was abominable.

The economic demands of Kronstadt were so legitimate, so far from being counter-revolutionary, so easy to satisfy that, at the very time when they were shooting down the last mutineers, Lenin satisfied these demands in adopting the New Economic Policy. The N.E.P. was imposed by the events at Kronstadt, Tambov and other places. For we must say clearly: Lenin's foresight, and that of the Central Committee did not wish to see what the whole country felt: that war communism had reached an impasse where one could no longer live.

Editor’s note

The above article by Victor Serge is a segment of a larger article called "Words and Deeds" which appeared it the Sept. 25th Issue of the "La Révolution Prolétarienne".

(We have reprinted the section dealing with Kronstadt because we believe that it is powerful ammunition for proving our thesis... that Stalinism and Trotskyism are akin, at least in their disregard for the truth. – Edit.)