First Published: The New International, Vol. IV No. 8, August 1938, pp. 249–250.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Creative Commons (Attribute & Share-alike) Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2006.
IN MY RECENT ARTICLE on Kronstadt I tried to pose the question on a political plane. But many are interested in the problem of personal “responsibility”. Souvarine, who from a sluggish Marxist became an exalted sycophant, asserts in his book on Stalin that in my autobiography I kept consciously silent on the Kronstadt rebellion; there are exploits – he says ironically – of which one does not boast. Ciliga in his book In the Country of the Big Lie recounts that in the suppression of Kronstadt “more than ten thousand seamen” were shot by me (I doubt whether the whole Baltic fleet at that time had that many). Other critics express themselves in this manner: yes, objectively the rebellion had a counter-revolutionary character but why did Trotsky use such merciless repressions in the pacification (and – ?) subsequently?
I have never touched on this question. Not because I had anything to conceal but, on the contrary, precisely because I had nothing to say. The truth of the matter is that I personally did not participate in the least in the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion, nor in the repressions following the suppression. In my eyes this very fact is of no political significance. I was a member of the government, I considered the quelling of the rebellion necessary and therefore bear responsibility for the suppression. Only within these limits have I replied to criticism up to now. But when moralists begin to annoy me personally, accusing me of exceeding cruelty not called forth by circumstance, I consider that I have a right to say: “Messrs, moralists, you are lying a bit.”
The rebellion broke out during my stay in the Urals. From the Urals I came directly to Moscow for the 10th Congress of the party. The decision to suppress the rebellion by military force, if the fortress could not be induced to surrender, first by peace negotiations, then through an ultimatum – this general decision was adopted with my direct participation. But after the decision was taken, I continued to remain in Moscow and took no part, direct or indirect, in the military operations. Concerning the subsequent repressions, they were completely the affair of the Cheka.
How did it happen that I did not go personally to Kronstadt? The reason was of a political nature. The rebellion broke out during the discussion on the so-called “trade union” question. The political work in Kronstadt was wholly in the hands of the Petrograd committee, at the head of which stood Zinoviev. The same Zinoviev was the chief, most untiring and passionate leader in the struggle against me in the discussion. Before my departure for the Urals I was in Petrograd and spoke at a meeting of seamen-communists. The general spirit of the meeting made an extremely unfavorable impression upon me. Dandified and well-fed sailors, communists in name only, produced the impression of parasites in comparison with the workers and Red Army men of that time. On the part of the Petrograd committee the campaign was carried on in an extremely demagogic manner. The commanding personnel of the fleet was isolated and terrified. Zinoviev’s resolution received, probably, 90% of the votes. I recall having said to Zinoviev on this occasion: “Everything is very good here, until it becomes very bad.” Subsequent to this Zinoviev was with me in the Urals where he received an urgent message that in Kronstadt things were getting “very bad”. The overwhelming majority of the sailor “communists” who supported Zinoviev’s resolution took part in the rebellion. I considered, and the Political Bureau made no objections, that negotiations with the sailors, and in case of necessity, their pacification, should be placed with those leaders who only yesterday enjoyed the political confidence of these sailors. Otherwise, the Kronstadters would consider the matter as though I had come to take “revenge” upon them for their voting against me during the party discussion.
Whether correct or not, in any case it was precisely these considerations which determined my attitude. I stepped aside completely and demonstratively from this affair. Concerning the repressions, as far as I remember, Dzerzhinsky had personal charge of them and Dzerzhinsky could not tolerate anyone’s interference with his functions (and properly so).
Whether there were any needless victims I do not know. On this score I trust Dzerzhinsky more than his belated critics. For lack of data I cannot undertake to decide now, a posteriori, who should have been punished and how. Victor Serge’s conclusions on this score – from third hand – have no value in my eyes. But I am ready to recognize that civil war is no school of humanism. Idealists and pacifists always accused the revolution of “excesses”. But the main point is that “excesses” flow from the very nature of revolution which in itself is but an “excess” of history. Whoever so desires may on this basis reject (in little articles) revolution in general. I do not reject it. In this sense I carry full and complete responsibility for the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion.
Last updated on: 12 September 2015