Alexander Berkman

The Kronstadt Rebellion

Chapter III:

Bolsheviks campaign against Kronstadt

Petrograd was in a state of high nervous tension. New strikes had broken out and there were persistent rumors of labor disorders in Moscow, of peasant uprisings in the East and in Siberia. For lack of a reliable public press the people gave credence to the most exaggerated and even to obviously false reports. All eyes were on Kronstadt in expectation of momentous developments.

The Bolsheviki lost no time in organizing their attack against Kronstadt. Already on March 2 the Government issued a prikaz (order) signed by Lenin and Trotsky, which denounced the Kronstadt movement as in mutiny against the Communist authorities. In that document the sailors were charged with being "the tools of former Tsarist generals who together with Socialist-Revolutionary traitors staged a counter-revolutionary conspiracy against the proletarian Republic". The Kronstadt movement for free Soviets was characterized by Lenin and Trotsky as "the work of Entente interventionists and French spies". "On February 28", the prikaz read, "there were passed by the men of the Petropavlovsk resolutions breathing the spirit of the Black Hundreds. Then there appeared on the scene the group of the former general, Kozlovsky. He and three of his officers, whose names we have not yet ascertained, have openly assumed the rôle of rebellion. Thus the meaning of recent events has become evident. Behind the Socialist-Revolutionists again stands a Tsarist general. In view of all this the Council of Labor and Defense orders: (1) To declare the former general Kozlovsky and his aides outlawed; (2) To put the City of Petrograd and the Petrograd Province under martial law; (3) To place supreme power over the whole Petrograd District into the hands of the Petrograd Committee of Defense."

There was indeed a former general, Kozlovsky, in Kronstadt. It was Trotsky who had placed him there as an Artillery specialist. He played no rôle whatever in the Kronstadt events, but the Bolsheviki clearly exploited his name to denounce the sailors as enemies of the Soviet Republic and their movement as counterrevolutionary. The official Bolshevik press now began its campaign of calumny and defamation of Kronstadt as a hotbed of "White conspiracy headed by General Kozlovsky", and Communist agitators were sent among the workers in the mills and factories of Petrograd and Moscow to call upon the proletariat "to rally to the support and defense of the Workers and Peasants Government against the counter-revolutionary uprising in Kronstadt".

Far from having anything to do with generals and counterrevolutionists, the Kronstadt sailors refused to accept aid even from the Socialist-Revolutionist Party. Its leader, Victor Tchernov, then in Reval, attempted to influence the sailors in favor of his Party and its demands, but received no encouragement from the Provisional Revolutionary Committee. Tchernov sent to Kronstadt the following radio message:[1]

The Chairman of the Constituent Assembly, Victor Tchernov, sends his fraternal greetings to the heroic comrades-sailors, the Red Army men and workers, who for the third time since 1905 are throwing off the yoke of tyranny. He offers to aid with men and to provision Kronstadt through the Russian coöperatives abroad. Inform what and how much is needed. Am prepared to come in person and give my energies and authority to the service of the people's revolution. I have faith in the final victory of the laboring masses... Hail to the first to raise the banner of the People's Liberation! Down with despotism from the left and right!

At the same time the Socialist-Revolutionist Party sent the following message to Kronstadt:

The Socialist-Revolutionist delegation abroad... now that cup of the People's wrath is overflowing, offers to help with all means in its power in the struggle for liberty and popular government. Inform in what ways help is desired. Long live the people's revolution! Long live free Soviets and the Constituent Assembly!

The Kronstadt Rrevolutionary Committee declined the Socialist-Revolutionist offers. It sent the following reply to Victor Tchernov:

The Provisional Revolutionary Committee of Kronstadt expresses to all our brothers abroad its deep gratitude for their sympathy. The Provisional Revolutionary Committee is thankful for the offer of Comrade Tchernov, but refrains for the present: that is, till further developments become clarified. Meantime everything will be taken into consideration

PETRICHENKO, Chairman of Provisional Revolutionary Committee

Moscow, however, continued its campaign of misrepresentation. On March 3 the Bolshevik radio station sent out the following message to the world (certain parts undecipherable owing to interference from another station):

... That the armed uprising of the former general Kozlovsky has been organized by the spies of the Entente, like many similar previous plots, is evident from the bourgeois French newspaper Matin, which two weeks prior to the Kozlovsky rebellion published the following telegram from Helsingfors: "As a result of the recent Kronstadt uprising the Bolshevik military authorities have taken steps to isolate Kronstadt and to prevent the sailors and soldiers of Kronstadt from entering Petrograd." ... it is clear that the Kronstadt uprising was made in Paris and organized by the French secret service... The Socialist-Revolutionists, also controlled and directed from Paris, have been preparing rebellions against the Soviet Government, and no sooner were their preparations made than there appeared the real master, the Tsarist general.

The character of the numerous other messages sent by Moscow can be judged by the following radio:

    Petrograd is orderly and quiet, and even a few factories where accusations against the Soviet Government were recently voiced now understand that it is the work of provocators. They realise where the agents of the Entente and of counter-revolution are leading them to.

    ... Just at this moment, when in America a new Republican régime is assuming the reins of government and showing inclination to take up business relations with Soviet Russia, the spreading of lying rumors and the organization of disturbances in Kronstadt have the sole purpose of influencing the new American President and changing his policy toward Russia. At the same time the London Conference is holding its sessions, and the spreading of similar rumors must influence also the Turkish delegation and make it more submissive to the demands of the Entente. The rebellion of the Petropavlovsk crew is undoubtedly part of a great conspiracy to create trouble within Soviet Russia and to injure our international position... This plan is being carried out within Russia by a Tsarist general and former officers, and their activities are supported by the Mensheviki and Socialist-Revolutionists.

The Petrograd committee of defense, directed by Zinoviev, its chairman, assumed full control of the city and Province of Petrograd. The whole Northern District was put under martial law and all meetings prohibited. Extraordinary precautions were taken to protect the Government institutions and machine guns were placed in the Astoria, the hotel occupied by Zinoviev and other high Bolshevik functionaries. The proclamations posted on the street bulletin boards ordered the immediate return of all strikers to the factories, prohibited suspension of work, and warned the people against congregating on the streets. "In such cases", the order read, "the soldiery will resort to arms. In case of resistance, shooting on the spot".

The committee of defense took up the systematic "cleaning of the city". Numerous workers, soldiers and sailors suspected of sympathizing with Kronstadt, were placed under arrest. All Petrograd sailors and several Army regiments thought to be "politically untrustworthy" were ordered to distant points, while the families of Kronstadt sailors living in Petrograd were taken into custody as hostages. The Committee of Defense notified Kronstadt of its action by proclamation scattered over the city from an aeroplane on March 4, which stated: "The Committee of Defense declares that the arrested are held as hostages for the Commissar of the Baltic Fleet, N. N. Kuzmin, the Chairman of the Kronstadt Soviet, T. Vassiliev, and other Communists. If the least harm be suffered by our detained comrades, the hostages will pay with their lives".

"We do not want bloodshed. Not a single Communists has been shot by us", was Kronstadt's reply.


[1] Published in Revolutsionnaya Rossiya (Socialist-Revolutionist journal) No. 8, May, 1921. See also Moscow Izvestia (Communist) NO. 154, July 13, 1922.