Alexander Berkman

The Kronstadt Rebellion

Chapter II:

The Kronstadt Movement

The Kronstadt sailors were much disturbed by what happened in Petrograd. They did not look with friendly eyes upon the Government's drastic treatment of the strikers. They knew what the revolutionary proletariat of the capital had had to bear since the first phase of the revolution, how heroically they had fought against Yudenitch, and how patiently they were suffering privation and misery. But Kronstadt was far from favoring the Constituent Assembly or the demand for free trade which made itself heard in Petrograd. The sailors were thoroughly revolutionary in spirit and action. They were the staunchest supporters of the Soviet system, but they were opposed to the dictatorship of any political party.

The sympathetic movement with the Petrograd strikers first began among the sailors of the warships Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol -- the ships that in 1917 had been the main support of the Bolsheviki. The movement spread to the whole fleet of Kronstadt, then to the Red Army regiment stationed there. On February 28th the men of Petropavlovsk passed a irresolution which was also concurred in by the sailors of Sevastopol. The resolution demanded, among other things, free reëlection to the Kronstadt Soviet, as the tenure of office of the latter was about to expire. At the same time a committee of sailors was sent to Petrograd to learn the situation there.

On March 1 a public meeting was held on the Yakorny Square in Kronstadt, which was officially called by the crews of the First and Second Squadrons of the Baltic fleet. 16,000 sailors, Red Army men, and workers attended the gathering. It was presided over by the chairman of the Executive Committee of the Kronstadt Soviet, the Communist Vassiliev. The President of the Russian Socialist Federated Republic, Kalinin, and the Commissar of the Baltic Fleet, Kuzmin, were present and addressed the audience. It may be mentioned, as indicative of the friendly attitude of the sailors to the Bolshevik Government, that Kalinin was met on his arrival in Kronstadt with military honors, music, and banners.

At this meeting the Sailors' Committee that had been sent to Petrograd on February 28 made its report. It corroborated the worst fears of Kronstadt. The audience was outspoken in its indignation at the methods used by the Communists to crush the modest demands of the Petrograd workers. The resolution which had been passed by Petropavlovsk on February 28th was then submitted to the meeting. President Kalinin and Commissar Kuzmin bitterly attacked the resolution and denounced the Petrograd strikers as well as the Kronstadt sailors. But the arguments failed to impress the audience, and the Petropavlovsk resolution was passed unanimously. The historic document read:


Having heard the report of the representatives sent by the General Meeting of the Ship Crews to Petrograd to investigate the situation there, Resolved:

   (1) In view of the fact that the present Soviets do not express the will of the workers and peasants, immediately to hold new elections by secret ballot, the pre-election campaign to have full freedom of agitation among the workers and peasants;

    (2) To establish freedom of speech and press for workers and peasants, for Anarchists and left Socialist parties;

    (3) To secure freedom of assembly for labor unions and peasant organizations;

  (4) To call a non-partisan Conference of the workers, Red Army soldiers and sailors of Petrograd, Kronstadt, and of Petrograd Province, no later than March 10th, 1921;

  (5) To liberate all political prisoners of socialist parties, as well as all workers, peasants, soldiers, and sailors imprisoned in connection with the labor and peasant movements;

    (6) To elect a commission to review the cases of those held in prisons and concentration camps;

    (7) To abolish all politotdeli (political bureaus) because no party should be given special privileges in the propagation of its ideas or receive the financial support of the government for such purposes. Instead there should be established educational and cultural commissions, locally elected and financed by the government;

    (8) To abolish immediately all zagryaditelniye otryadi;[1]

    (9) To equalize the rations of all who work, with the exception of those employed in trades is detrimental to health;

    (10) To abolish the Communist fighting detachments in all branches of the Army, as well as the Communist guards kept on duty in mills and factories. Should such guards or military detachments be found necessary, they are to be appointed in the army from the ranks, and in the factories according to the judgment of the workers;

   (11) To give the peasants full freedom of action in regard to their land, and also the right to keep cattle, on condition that the peasants manage with their own means; that is, without employing hired labor;

    (12) To request all branches of the army, as well as our comrades the military kursanti, to concur in our resolutions;

    (13) To demand that the press give the fullest publicity to resolutions;

    (14) To appoint a Travelling Commission of Control;

    (15) To permit free kustarnoye (individuals small scale) production by one's own efforts.

Resolution passed unanimously by a brigade in meeting, two persons refraining from voting.

PETRICHENKO, Chairman Brigade Meeting


Resolution passed by an overwhelming majority of the Kronstadt garrison.


Together with comrade Kalinin Vassiliev votes against the resolution.

This resolution, strenuously opposed -- as already mentioned -- by Kalinin and Kuzmin, was passed over their protest. After the meeting Kalinin was permitted to return to Petrograd unmolested.

At the same Brigade Meeting it was also decided to send a Committee to Petrograd to explain to the workers and the garrison there the demands of Kronstadt and to request that nonpartisan delegates be sent by the Petrograd proletariat to Kronstadt to learn the actual state of affairs and the demands of the sailors. This Committee, which consisted of thirty members, was arrested by the Bolsheviki in Petrograd. It was the first blow struck by the Communist government against Kronstadt. The fate of the Committee remained a mystery.

As the term of office of the members of the Kronstadt Soviet was about to expire, the Brigade Meeting also decided to call a Conference of delegates on March 2, to discuss the manner in which the new elections were to be held. The Conference was to consist of representatives of the ships, the garrison, the various Soviet institutions, the labor unions and factories, each organisation to be represented by two delegates.

The Conference of March 2 took place in the House of Education (the former Kronstadt school of Engineering) and was attended by over 300 delegates, among whom were also Communists. The meeting was opened by the sailor Petrichenko, and a Presidium (Executive Committee) of five members of was elected viva voce. The main question before the delegates was the approaching new elections to the Kronstadt Soviet to be based on more equitable principles than heretofore. The meeting was also to take action on the resolutions of March 1, and to consider ways and means of helping the country out of the desperate condition created by famine and fuel shortage.

The spirit of the Conference was thoroughly Sovietist: Kronstadt demanded Soviets free from interference by any political party; it wanted non-partisan Soviets that should truly reflect the needs and express the will of the workers and peasants. The attitude of the delegates was antagonistic to the arbitrary rule of bureaucratic commissars, but friendly to the Communist Party as such. They were staunch adherents of the Soviet system and they were earnestly seeking to find, by means friendly and peaceful, a solution of the pressing problems.

Kuzmin, Commissar of the Baltic Fleet, was the first to address the Conference. A man of more energy than judgment, he entirely failed to grasp the great significance of the moment. He was not equal to the situation: he did not know how to reach the hearts and minds of those simple men, the sailors and workers who had sacrificed so much for the Revolution and were now exhausted to the point of desperation. The delegates had gathered to take counsel with the representatives of the government. Instead Kuzmin's speech proved a firebrand thrown into gunpowder. He insensed the Conference by his arrogance and insolence. He denied the labor disorders in Petrograd, declaring that the city was quiet and the workers satisfied. He praised the work of the Commissars, questioned the revolutionary motives of Kronstadt, and warned against danger from Poland.

He stooped to unworthy insinuations and thundered threats. "If you want to open warfare", Kuzmin concluded, "you shall have it, for the Communists will not give up the reins of government. We will fight to the bitter end."

This tactless and provoking speech of the Commissar of the Baltic Fleet served to insult and outrage the delegates. The address of the Chairman of the Kronstadt Soviet, the Communist Vassiliev, who was the next speaker, made no impression on the audience: the man was colorless and indefinite. As the meeting progressed, the general attitude became more clearly anti-Bolshevik. Still the delegates were hoping to reach some friendly understanding with the representatives of the government. But presently it became apparent, states the official report,[2] that " we could not trust comrades Kuzmin and Vassiliev anymore, and that it was necessary to detain them temporarily, especially because the Communists were in possession of arms, and we had no access to the telephones. The soldiers stood in fear of the Commissars, as proved by the letter read at the meeting, and the Communists did not permit gatherings of the garrison to take place."

Kuzmin and Vassiliev were therefore removed from the meeting and placed under arrest. It is characteristic of the spirit of the Conference that the motion to detain the other Communists present was voted down by an overwhelming majority. The delegates held the Communists must be considered on equal footing with the representatives of other organizations and accorded the same rights and treatment. Kronstadt still was determined to find some bond of agreement with the Communist Party and the Bolshevik Government.

The resolutions of March 1 were read and enthusiastically passed. At that moment the Conference was thrown into great excitement by the declaration of a delegate that the Bolsheviki were about to attack the meeting and that fifteen carloads of soldiers and Communists, armed with rifles and machine guns, had been dispatched for that purpose. "This information", the Izvestia report continues, "produced passionate resentment among the delegates. Investigation soon proved the report groundless, but rumors persisted that a regiment of kursanti, headed by the notorious Tchekist Dukiss, was already marching in the direction of the Fort Krasnaia Gorka". In view of these new developments, and remembering the threats of Kuzmin and Kalinin, the Conference at once took up the question of organising the defense of Kronstadt against Bolshevik attack. Time pressing, it was decided to turn the Presidium of the Conference into a Provisional Revolutionary Committee, which was charged with the duty of preserving the order and safety of the city. That committee was also to make the necessary preparations for holding the new elections to the Kronstadt Soviet.


[1] Armed units organized by the Bolsheviki for the purpose of suppressing traffic and confiscating foodstuffs and other products. The irresponsibility and arbitrariness of their methods were proverbial throughout the country. The government abolished them in the Petrograd Province on the eve of its attack against Kronstadt -- a bribe to the Petrograd proletariat. A. B.

[2] Izvestia of the Provisional Revolutionary Committee of Kronstadt, No. 9, March 11, 1921.