This event remained hidden from me during my membership of the British Communist Party and in the years I was politically active in the peace movement. Eurocommunists, Trotkysists and Stalinists all kept silent about this crucial event in Soviet history, or else it was dismissed as merely one battle in the Civil War which followed the Great October Socialist Revolution. To criticize the crushing of the Kronstadt rebellion would mean not just attacking Trotsky, but Lenin himself. It would mean, as others have said, that Lenin and Trotsky among other Bolsheviks, rather than Stalin, instituted the repressive regime which allowed a bureaucratic ruling clique to emerge and led to Stalin’s show trials, the purges and ultimately to the hard-line coup against Gorbachev and the final collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Stalin and Trotsky are considered by various Marxist-Leninist factions as legitimate targets for criticism, but Vladimir Illyich Lenin is not!
Clearly the reason this revolt is so little discussed and analyzed by Marxist-Leninists is that if accepted as a genuine rebellion by soldiers and sailors who helped the Bolsheviks to power in the Revolution it would make Lenin and Trotsky responsible for all that followed, including the reign of terror and the purges of Stalin and the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It was, in fact, not Stalin who crushed true Socialist democracy, but Lenin, Trotsky and their allies in the Bolshevik Party, so enabling a bureaucratic elite, a new ruling class, to take over the organs of State power, institute a regime of terror, and ultimately, to destroy the Soviet Union itself.
It can be seen from the aims of the rebellion as set out below that it was perfectly reasonable and did not open the way for the overthrow of Socialism. It has been associated with the anarchist movement, but that in my view is still a leftwing movement closely allied to the Communist ideal for a self-governing utopia.
Reading the demands below, it seems to me all they call for is democracy for the working class, peasantry and their allies under a Socialist Constitution; nowhere is there anything which would advocate the establishment of any pre-Socialist, Tsarist, feudalist or capitalist system. Rather they set out an agenda which would have allowed the young Soviet state to develop into a true Socialist democracy.
According to Wikipedia, these were the demands of the Kronstadt rebels:
On February 26, delegates from the Kronstadt sailors visited Petrograd to investigate the situation. On February 28, in response to the delegates’ report of heavy-handed Bolshevik repression of strikes in Petrograd (claims which might have been inaccurate or exaggerated), the crews of the battleships Petropavlosk and Sevastopol held an emergency meeting, which approved a resolution raising 15 demands:
- Immediate new elections to the Soviets; the present Soviets no longer express the wishes of the workers and peasants. The new elections should be held by secret ballot, and should be preceded by free electoral propaganda for all workers and peasants before the elections.
- Freedom of speech and of the press for workers and peasants, for the Anarchists,, and for the Left Socialist parties.
- The right of assembly, and freedom for trade union and peasant associations.
- The organisation, at the latest on 10 March 1921, of a Conference of non-Party workers, soldiers and sailors of Petrograd, Kronstadt and the Petrograd District.
- The liberation of all political prisoners of the Socialist parties, and of all imprisoned workers and peasants, soldiers and sailors belonging to working class and peasant organisations.
- The election of a commission to look into the dossiers of all those detained in prisons and concentration camps.
- The abolition of all political sections in the armed forces; no political party should have privileges for the propagation of its ideas, or receive State subsidies to this end. In place of the political section, various cultural groups should be set up, deriving resources from the State.
- The immediate abolition of the militia detachments set up between towns and countryside.
- The equalisation of rations for all workers, except those engaged in dangerous or unhealthy jobs.
- The abolition of Party combat detachments in all military groups; the abolition of Party guards in factories and enterprises. If guards are required, they should be nominated, taking into account the views of the workers.
- The granting to the peasants of freedom of action on their own soil, and of the right to own cattle, provided they look after them themselves and do not employ hired labour.
- We request that all military units and officer trainee groups associate themselves with this resolution.
- We demand that the Press give proper publicity to this resolution.
- We demand the institution of mobile workers’ control groups.
- We demand that handicraft production be authorised, provided it does not utilise wage labour.