Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 8 No. 2

III: Mutinies in Eastern Europe

In order to give some sense of the widespread mutinies and revolts in Europe in the years leading up to the Russian Revolution and the First World War and at the close of the war, we are printing five articles. The first, The Origin of the Potemkin Mutiny, is by Christian Rakovsky, and we are grateful to Ian Birchall for his translation from the French version in Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no. 17, March 1984, pp. 37–47. This article, an edited extract from Odinadtsat’ dnei na Potëmkin, St Petersburg 1907, considers the events aboard the battleship Potemkin in Odessa in 1905.

Classic studies of the mutiny on the armoured cruiser Potemkin include Richard Hough, Potemkin Mutiny, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis 1996 (originally published in 1961); Fritz Slang, Panzerkreuzer Potemkin: Der Matrosenaufstand vor Odessa 1905; nach authentischen Dokumenten, Malik-Bücherei, Königstein 1981.

Many people rely for their knowledge of events on the Potemkin upon the 1925 film Battleship Potemkin, directed by Sergei Eisenstein. The Soviet leadership commissioned the film to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Potemkin uprising. Lenin had hailed this uprising as evidence that troops could be won over to join the workers in overthrowing the old order. The film was made with the cooperation of the Russian Navy, and so – in line with Eisenstein’s idea that professional actors are not necessary in an age of democratic workers’ control – real Russian sailors are shown operating the ship’s controls. Eisenstein experimented with montage (length of cuts, types of cuts, the points at which cuts are made) in order to convey efficiently in filmic terms the ways in which social conditions interact with class-consciousness to produce revolutionary action. The film’s pacy rhythmic editing, the details of the storytelling and the symbolism were designed as incitements to revolt. In Eisenstein’s film, the crew members of the battleship, cruising the Black Sea after returning from the war with Japan, are disaffected because their officers are inhuman, and their food rations are maggoty and disgusting. Revolting food incites revolt. Officers throw a tarpaulin over the ‘agitators’ and order them to be shot, but a firebrand named Vakulinchuk cries out, ‘Brothers! Who are you shooting at?’ The firing squad lowers its guns. An officer attempts to enforce command, and mutiny breaks out. News of the uprising makes its way onshore, and the long-suffering people send supplies to the ship. Tsarist troops put down the populace on the Odessa Steps in a fictional scene that is one of the most famous in film history. The Tsarist government ordered the whole Black Sea Fleet to seek and destroy the Potemkin, but the crews refused to follow orders. The film was banned in many countries on its original release because of its theme of mutiny.

Materials relating to Sergei Eisenstein’s films include Jacques Aumont, Montage Eisenstein, Indiana University Press, Bloomington 1987; Yon Barna Eisenstein (with a foreword by Jay Leyda), Indiana University Press, Bloomington 1973; David Bordwell, The Cinema of Eisenstein, Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1993; S.M. Eisenstein, The Complete Films of Eisenstein, translated by John Hetherington, Dutton, New York 1974; S.M. Eisenstein, The Battleship Potemkin, translated from the Russian by Gillon R. Aitkin, Lorrimer Publishing, London 1968 (revised edition, Faber and Faber, 1988); S.M. Eisenstein, Film Essays (edited by Jay Leyda, foreword by Grigori Kozintsev), Praeger, New York 1970; S.M. Eisenstein, Film Form; Essays in Film Theory (edited and translated by Jay Leyda), Harcourt Brace, New York 1949; S.M. Eisenstein, The Film Sense (edited and translated by Jay Leyda), Harcourt Brace, New York 1947; S.M. Eisenstein, Immoral Memories: An Autobiography (translated by Herbert Marshall), Houghton Mifflin, Boston 1983; S.M. Eisenstein, Selected Works, Volume 1, Writings, 1922–34, edited and translated by Richard Taylor, BFI, London 1991; Jay Leyda and Zina Voynow, Eisenstein at Work (introduction by Ted Perry), Pantheon Books, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1982; D.J. Wenden, Battleship Potemkin: Film and Reality, in Feature Films as History (edited by K.R.M. Short), Croom Helm, London 1981; Marie Seton, Sergei M. Eisenstein: A Biography, Bodley Head, London 1952; Keith Withall, The Battleship Potemkin, York Film Notes, Longman, Harlow 2000.

The call to dissent from war that had been put out by Karl Radek, Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg and others was not heard on the front until the war was in its advanced stages. For example, in 1917, soldiers mutinied in France at Etaples, in protest at the harsh conditions in the camp. That same year, Russian soldiers stationed in France staged a mutiny on hearing word of revolutionary changes at home. In this case, mutiny was inspired by external events. We wish to thank Rémi Adam for allowing us to publish two articles that consider the situation of Russian soldiers stationed abroad in the First World War. The first investigates the mutiny by Russian soldiers stationed in France in 1917. It is a condensed rendition of some of the main issues of Rémi Adam’s book, Histoire des soldats russes en France 1915–1920: Les damnés de la guerre, L’Harmattan, Collection Chemins de la Memoire, 1996.

Another book that deals with this event is Jamie H. Cockfield, With Snow on Their Boots: The Tragic Odyssey of the Russian Expeditionary Force in France During World War I, St Martin’s Press/Palgrave, 1999. This is a fairly unsympathetic account that tends to empathise with the generals. It patronisingly describes the mutineering Russian soldiers as ‘drunk with freedom’, and compares them to schoolchildren. Cockfield’s book has been reviewed widely, including by Bruce Lincoln, The Journal of Modern History, Volume 71, no. 4, December 1999; John Bushnell, IRURE, Volume 58, no. 1, 1999, pp. 155–6; Roger R. Reese, Russian Review, Volume 58, no. 4, Winter 1999; William Allison, Slavic and East European Journal, Volume 44, no. 3, 2000, p. 496.

Of related interest is Leonard V. Smith Re-Mobilising the Citizen-Soldier Through the French Army Mutinies of 1917, in J. Horne (ed.), State, Society and Mobilisation in Europe during the First World War, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1997; Leonard V. Smith, War and Politics: The French Army Mutinies of 1917, War in History, no. 2, 1995, pp. 180–201; César Corte, Armée, révolution, jeunesse, La Vérité, no. 565, January 1975, pp. 30–49 (this is a general survey of the theme of mutiny through French history); Pierre Roy, Nous crions grâce, Editions ouvrières, 1989, 154 letters from French soldiers and their wives to Pierre Brizon in the autumn of 1916; Pierre Roy, Des soldats contre la guerre: Nous crions grâce, Cahiers du mouvement ouvrier, no. 5, March 1999, pp. 57–76; Crosse en l’air: le mouvement ouvrier et l’armée, série classique rouge, Paris 1970, Chapter 4, La révolte du 17é, pp. 27–42, by J.M., Corporal of the Third Company’; Alistair Horne, The French Army and Politics, 1870–1970, Macmillan, 1984, has a section on how Pétain suppressed the French army mutiny in 1917; Henryi Castex, L’Affaire du Chemin des Dames, éditions Mago, reviewed by Gérard Lorigny, L‘Affaire du Chemin des Dames: Les comités sécrets (1917), Informations ouvrières, 11–17 November 1988; François Hélou, S’ils s’obstinent, ces cannibales …, two parts, Informations ouvrières, 10–23 September 1997, the French army mutinies in 1917; L’Ennemi est dans notre pays (l’antimilitarisme révolutionaire après 1918), Cahiers Rouge, ‘série classique’, Paris n.d.; Eugene Varlin, Military Methods in the Colonies, on the French colonial levies, Fourth International, Volume 2, no. 2 (whole no. 9), February 1941, pp. 51–5; John Bushnell, Mutiny Amid Repression: Russian Soldiers in the Revolution of 1905–1906, Indiana University Press, Bloomington 1985.

The second article by Rémi Adam gathers together correspondence from soldiers after the Russian Revolution, and reveals how, in conditions of war and repression, the soldiers managed to generate a revolutionary consciousness in response to political events of which they got word. A rapidly developing political consciousness can be gauged by reading the soldiers’ letters home. The soldiers’ opinions, voiced privately to friends and family, are evidence of the strength of the tide of revolt and dissent that swelled after the revolution in Russia. We are grateful to Barbara Rossi for translating both articles.

The next article in this section, La Revolte de Radomir by Tico Jossifort, concentrates on a Bulgarian mutiny in 1918. It is translated by Ted Crawford from the Cahiers du Movement Ouvrier, no. 12, December 2000–January 2001, and originally appeared in Boian Kostelov, From the Front to Vladaia, published by the Agrarian Union, Sofia 1983. We wish to thank Jean Jacques Marie, who brought it to our attention. The Radomir Republic, proclaimed by the soldiers, lasted for four days and was crushed fiercely. Another pertinent article by Tico Jossifort is Le premier group trotskyste bulgare, Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no. 71, September 2000, pp. 43–60.

The final piece in this section is part of a study of the Black Sea Revolt of 1919, written in collaboration with three participants, Marcel Monribot, Charles Tillon and Virgile Vuillemin. It originally appeared as Les mutineries de la Mer Noire 1919–1969. We are grateful to Ian Birchall for its translation. Other writings on the Black Sea Revolt include André Marty, The Epic of the Black Sea, London, n.d.; Pour Lire la Revolte de la Mer Noire: André Marty, révolutionaire, supplement to Rouge, Paris 1970. For more general analysis of the mutinies that occurred in Europe during the First World War, see Richard Price, The Hidden History of the First World War, Marxist Review, Volume 1, no. 7, October 1986, pp. 44–8.

As war ground on, mutinies began to afflict the European forces on a wide scale. The German mutinies at the end of the First World War were a crucial part of this history of mutiny at the close of the First World War. When the German High Seas Fleet was ordered to sail to the North Sea for a major battle against the British, sailors in Kiel refused and took up arms. Their mutiny from 29 October to 3 November 1918 opened the way for revolution across Germany, with only the submarine crews remaining loyal to the Kaiser. There were major revolts in Hamburg, Bremen and Lübeck (4–5 November). These spread south to Munich (7–8 November), as a consequence of which Bavaria was declared to be a democratic and socialist republic. The Kaiser was forced to abdicate. War ended on 11 November 1918, and a period of sharp class struggle began in Germany. The mutinies in the German fleet have been written about extensively.

Scholarly accounts include Ulrich Kluge, Soldatenräte und Revolution: Studien zur Militärpolitik in Deutschland 1918–19, Vandenhoeck Ruprecht, Göttingen 1975; Daniel Horn, The German Naval Mutinies of World War I, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick 1969; A. Wilman, The End of the Imperial Army, Princeton University Press, Princeton 1979; Len Smith, Between Mutiny and Disobedience, Princeton University Press, Princeton 1994. For an exciting participant account of an important German naval mutiny, see Icarus (Ernst Schneider), The Wilhelmshaven Revolt, Freedom Press, 1944 (and subsequent editions). A participant account is also contained in Daniel Horn (ed.), War, Mutiny and Revolution in the German Navy, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick 1967. This includes the World War I Diary of Richard Stumpf who served on the battleship Helgoland. There is a brief note on the book in International Socialism Journal, no 78, p. 141 n21. See also Richard Stumpf, The Private War of Seaman Stumpf: The Unique Diaries of a Young German in the Great War, edited by Daniel Horn, Leslie Frewin, London 1969.

A German SDS pamphlet from 1968, Die November Revolution 1918 in Kiel, 50 Jahre Konterrevolution sind genug, is an interesting little document put out by the revolutionary students. There is a useful chronicle of events at the beginning. Inside is a collection of short reprints and extracts including the rejection of war credits by Liebknecht, December 1914; an illegal flyer of the Spartakus Group from December 1916; a collection of comments from 1917 on the sailors’ movement; Von Popp, The Sailors’ Revolt of 1917, the January strike in Kiel; Von Popp and Artelt, The Sailors’ Uprising of 1918; the price of food in October 1918; the Kiel students’ resolution for national defence; sailors’ demands; the establishment of the sailors’ council and its resolutions; debates about arming and disarmament of sailors; and the collaboration of SPD leaders with the officers.

Mutinies occurred elsewhere in Europe. To gain some sense of the situation in Austria towards the end of the war, the following extract is taken from Fritz Keller’s pamphlet Die Arbeiter- und Soldatenräte in Österreich 1918–1923; Versuch einer Analyse, Sozialistische LinksPartei, Vienna, 1971/2001, pp. 20–1. Keller is discussing a wave of strikes amongst the Austrian working class in early 1918. These strikes demanded both peace and food.

The unrest amongst the Austrian workers spread to the Imperial and Royal Army. Slovenian troops mutinied in the Steiermark, Hungarian ones in Budapest and Croatian troops in the various garrison towns of Hungary, and in February 1918 the sailors mutinied in the South Dalmatian harbour of Cattaro (Kotor). The sailors’ council of the 40 mutineering war ships – a precursor of the later soldiers’ councils – demanded peace negotiations on the basis of the 14-point programme of the American President Wilson. The revolts were all beaten down … But the dissolution of the army, the eventual military defeat, and with that the disintegration of the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy, could no longer be prevented. The troops streamed back from the front, and, in order at least to attempt to organise the return, they elected soldiers’ councils. On 30 October 1918, a provisional Soldiers’ Council for the garrison of Vienna was formed, which was legitimised by the elections of 3 November. The president of the Committee of the Solders’ Parliament was Dr Frey, who was also the Chief of the Volkssturm battalions 41 (‘Red Guard’) in the Viennese Stiftskaserne.

These solders’ councils, the workers’ councils and the peasants’ and farmers’ councils in the rural areas, took over the tasks of the collapsing state administration, in particular the provision of foodstuffs.

On 3 November 1918, the Communist Party of Austria was founded in Vienna on the initiative of Elfriede Friedländer (better known under her pen name of Ruth Fischer), and by March 1919 it already had gained about 10,000 members …

Also at the beginning of November 1918, the ‘Red Guard’ attempted to imprison Emperor Karl in the Schönbrunn. Dr Deutsch … the Under Secretary of State for Army Affairs, managed to persuade the battalion not to march to the Schönbrunn but rather to the Imperial and Royal Military Command, which was in tatters. Later Deutsch laughed off ‘the whole affair with the quip that the Red Guard brought a little bit of variety into the revolution’.

On 6 November 1918, Friedrich Adler was released from prison as an act of mercy on the part of the Emperor. When Karl Seitz, later to be the Mayor of Vienna, read out the first sentence of the provisional constitution, on 12 November 1918, on behalf of the Provisional National Assembly (‘Austria is a democratic republic’) members of the Red Guard lunged at the flagpole, ripped down the flag, separated the white stripes and raised the red stripes. The National Deputies and Members of the Council broke off the proclamation. Julius Deutsch attempted to mediate. The Red Guard opened fire on the parliament building, and the police intervened.

After a short exchange of fire – in which people were killed and wounded – the soldiers of the Red Guard withdrew. In the meanwhile, Erwin Kisch had occupied the offices of the Neue Freie Presse with another group of Red Guards, in order to bring out a revolutionary special edition of the newspaper. Once he heard of the failure of the action at the parliament, Kisch and his group retreated.

The Cattaro mutiny is described in David Woodward, Mutiny at Cattaro, 1918, History Today, Volume 26, no. 12, December 1976, pp. 804–10.

In considering mutiny in Europe following war and revolution, it would be an omission not to mention the Kronstadt Mutiny, which took place in the first weeks of March 1921. Much has been written about this mutiny and the rôle of Trotsky and the Bolsheviks in suppressing it. Anarchists and ultra-leftists have based their criticism of the Bolsheviks and Leninism on this event. Major accounts and critical appraisals include Alexander Berkman, The Kronstadt Rebellion (originally published in Der Syndikalist, Berlin 1922, and included in his Russian Tragedy, Cienfuegos Press, Sanday 1976; chapter 38 of Berkman’s The Bolshevik Myth is on events at Kronstadt; Ida Mett, The Kronstadt Commune (1921), Solidarity, London 1967, or The Kronstadt Uprising (can be found online at http://flag. blackened.net/revolt/russia/mett.html); Voline (V.M. Eichenbaum), The Unknown Revolution, ed. Rudolf Rocker, Free Life Editions, New York 1954, this has a chapter on Kronstadt (and quotes extensively from the Kronstadters’ newspaper Izvestia; a French translation of the Kronstadt Izvestia was issued by Éditions Ressouvenances in 1988); Daniel Guérin, No Gods, No Masters, Volume 2, AK Press, Edinburgh,1997, has a section on the rebellion and includes a long extract from Emma Goldman’s autobiography Living My Life on the events (in French as Ni Dieu ni maitre, anthologie historique du mouvement anarchiste, Editions de Delphes, Paris 1965); Anton Ciliga, Kronstadt Revolt, Freedom Press, 1938; Paul Avrich, Kronstadt, 1921, Princeton University Press, Princeton 1970; Israel Getzler, Kronstadt 1917–1921: The Fate of a Soviet Democracy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1983. See also Alisdair McIntyre, Tell Me Where You Stand on Kronstadt, a review of Avrich’s Kronstadt 1921, New York Review of Books, 12 August 1971, pp. 24–5; Emanuel Pollack, The Kronstadt Rebellion: The First Armed Revolt Against the Soviets, Philosophical Library, New York 1959; Chris Harman, Kronstadt and the Defeat of the Russian Revolution, International Socialist Review, 3/24; F.F. Raskolnikov, Kronstadt and Petrograd in 1917, translated and annotated by Brian Pearce, New Park Publications, London 1982; Brian Pearce, 1921 and All That, Labour Review, Volume 5, no. 3, October-November 1960, pp. 84–92; Abbie Bakan, A Tragic Necessity, Socialist Worker Review, no. 136, November 1990, pp. 18–21; Gabriel and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Obsolete Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative, Deutsch, London 1968 (also Penguin, Harmondsworth 1969). Trotsky’s own reflections on this event can be read in Leon Trotsky, Hue and Cry Over Kronstadt, 15 January 1938.

Christian Rakovsky, The Origins of the Potemkin Mutiny (1905)

Rémi Adam, 1917: The Revolt of the Russian Soldiers in France

Rémi Adam, The Bolshevik Revolution As Seen Through the Eyes
of the Soldiers of the Russian Expeditionary Corps in France

Tico Jossifort, The Revolt at Radomir

The Black Sea Revolt

Updated by ETOL: 17.10.2011