Alexander Berkman

The Kronstadt Rebellion

Author's Afterword

Lessons and Significance of Kronstadt

The Kronstadt movement was spontaneous, unprepared, and peaceful. That it became an armed conflict, ending in a bloody tragedy, was entirely due to the Tartar despotism of the Communist dictatorship.

Though realizing the general character the Bolsheviki, Kronstadt still had faith in the possibility of an amicable solution. It believes the Communist Government amenable to reason; it credited it with some sense of justice and liberty.

The Kronstadt experience proves once more that government, the State -- whatever its name or form -- is ever the mortal enemy of liberty and self-determination. The state has no soul, no principles. It has but one aim -- to secure power and hold it, at any cost. That is the political lesson of Kronstadt.

There is another, a strategic, lesson taught by every rebellion.

The success of the uprising is conditioned in its resoluteness, energy, and aggressiveness. The rebels have on their side the sentiment of the masses. That sentiment quickens with the rising tide of rebellion. It must not be allowed to subside, to pale by a return to the drabness of every-day life.

On the other hand, every uprising has against it the powerful machinery of the State. The Government is able to concentrate in its hands the sources of supply and the means of communication. No time must be given the government to make use of its powers. Rebellion should be vigorous, striking unexpectedly and determinedly. It must not remain localized, for that means stagnation. It must broaden and develop. A rebellion that localizes itself, plays the waiting policy, or puts itself on the defensive, is inevitably doomed to defeat.

In this regard, especially, Kronstadt repeated the fatal strategic errors of the Paris Communards. The latter did not follow the advice of those who favored an immediate attack on Versailles while the Government of Thiers was disorganized. They did not carry the revolution into the country. Neither the Paris workers of 1871 nor the Kronstadt sailors aimed to abolish the Government. The Communards wanted merely certain Republican liberties, and when the Government attempted to disarm them, they drove the Ministers of Thiers from Paris, established their liberties and prepared to defend them -- nothing more. Thus also Kronstadt demanded only free elections to the Soviets. Having arrested a few Commissars, the soldiers prepared to defend themselves against attack. Kronstadt refused to act upon the advice of the military experts immediately to take Oranienbaum. The latter was of utmost military value, besides having 50,000 poods[1] of wheat belonging to Kronstadt. A landing in Oranienbaum was feasible, the Bolsheviki would have been taken by surprise and would have had no time to bring up reinforcements. But the sailors did not want to take the offensive, and thus the psychologic moment was lost. A few days afterward, when the declarations and acts of the Bolshevik Government convinced Kronstadt that they were involved in a struggle for life, it was too late to make good the error.[2]

The same happened to the Paris Commune. When the logic of the fight forced upon them demonstrated the necessity of abolishing the Thiers régime not only in their own city but in the whole country, it was too late. In the Paris Commune as in the Kronstadt uprising the tendency toward passive, defensive tactics proved fatal.

Kronstadt fell. The Kronstadt movement for free Soviets was stifled in blood, while at the same time the Bolshevik Government was making compromises with European capitalists, signing the Riga peace, according to which a population of 12 millions was turned over to the mercies of Poland, and helping Turkish imperialism to suppress the republics of the Caucasus.

But the "triumph" of the Bolsheviki over Kronstadt held within itself the defeat of Bolshevism. It exposes the true character of the Communist dictatorship. The Communisst proved themselves willing to sacrifice Communism, to make almost any compromise with international capitalism, yet refused the just demands of their own people -- demands that voiced the October slogans of the Bolsheviki themselves: Soviets elected by direct and secret ballot, according to the Constitution of the R.S.F.S.R.; and freedom of speech and press for the revolutionary parties.

The Tenth All-Russian Congress of the Communist Party was in session in Moscow at the time of the Kronstadt uprising. At that Congress the whole Bolshevik economic policy was changed as a result of the Kronstadt events and similarly threatening attitude of the people in various other parts of Russia and Siberia. The Bolsheviki prefered to reverse their basic policies, to abolish the razverstka (forcible requisition), introduce freedom of trade, give concessions to capitalists and give up communism itself -- the communism for which the October Revolution was fought, seas of blood shed, and Russia brought to ruin and despair -- but not to permit freely chosen Soviets.

Can anyone still question what the true purpose of the Bolsheviki was? Did they pursue Communist Ideals or Government Power?

Kronstadt is of great historic significance. It sounded the death knell Bolshevism with its Party dictatorship, mad centralization, Tcheka terrorism and bureaucratic castes. It struck into the very heart of Communist autocracy. At the same time it shocked the intelligent and honest minds of Europe and America into a critical examination of Bolshevik theories and practices. It exploded the Bolshevik myth of the Communist State being the "Workers' and Peasants' Government". It proved that the Communist Party dictatorship and the Russian Revolution are opposites, contradictory and mutually exclusive. It demonstrated that the Bolshevik regime is unmitigated tyranny and reaction, and that the Communist State is itself the most potent and dangerous counter-revolution.

Kronstadt fell. But it fell victorious in its idealism and moral purity, its generosity and higher humanity. Kronstadt was superb. It justly prided itself on not having shed the blood of its enemies, the Communists within its midst. It had no executions. The untutored, unpolished sailors, rough in manner and speech, were too noble to follow the Bolshevik example of vengeance: they would not shoot even the hated Commissars. Kronstadt personified the generous, all for-giving spirit of the Slavic soul and the century-old emancipation movement of Russia.

Kronstadt was the first popular and entirely independent attempt at liberation from the yoke of State Socialism -- an attempt made directly by the people, by the workers, soldiers and sailors themselves. It was the first step toward the third Revolution which is inevitable and which, let us hope, may bring to long-suffering Russia lasting freedom and peace.



[1] A pood equals 40 Russian or about 36 English pounds.

[2] The failure of Kronstadt to take Oranienbaum gave the Government an opportunity to strengthen the fortress with its trusted regiments, eliminate the "infected" parts of the garrison, and execute the leaders of the aerial squadron which was about to join the Kronstadt rebels. Later the Bolsheviki used the fortresses as a vantage point of attack against Kronstadt. Among those executed in Oranienbaum were: Kolossov, division chief of the Red Navy airmen and chairman of the Provisional Revolutionary Committee just organized in Oranienbaum; Balachanov, secretary of the Committee, and Committee members Romanov, Vladimirov, etc. A.B.