Book Review from the March 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
‘The Kronstadt Uprising’. By Ida Mett. (Theory and Practice, www.theoryandpractice.org.uk)
In March 1921, after the civil war in Russia had ended with the victory of the Bolshevik government, strikes broke out in Petrograd and other cities demanding an improvement in living conditions, basically the ‘Bread’ part of the ‘Peace, Land and Bread’ slogan that the Bolsheviks had used to win enough popular support to seize power. In Kronstadt, an island fortress and naval base commanding access to Petrograd, the armed sailors went further. They deposed the Bolshevik officials, locked some of them up, and demanded free and secret elections to the soviets (councils), in effect a genuine ‘soviet government’ rather than the one-party rule of the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks responded by sending in the Red Army to suppress this challenge to their rule. At least 4000 insurgents were killed or executed.
Ida Mett’s classic pamphlet on what happened. Written in French in 1938, it set out to refute the Bolshevik view that it had been a counter-revolutionary plot hatched by the French secret service, led by Tsarist generals, etc. She succeeded well enough in making her case. As a native Russian-speaker (she was an anarchist exile from Russia living in France), she had access to the proclamations and declarations of the Kronstadt ‘provisional revolutionary committee’ and was able to show that they were demanding the ‘soviet’ rule that was supposed to have been established in November 1917 following the overthrow of Kerensky, but which had in fact resulted in the dictatorship of the Bolshevik party. One of the declarations she quoted denounced the ‘state capitalism’ of the Bolshevik party. All of their declarations are now available in English translation on the Marxist Internet Archive website.
Her article was published in 1948 (not in 1938 as stated in this and previous English editions) under the title ‘The Kronstadt Commune: the bloody twilight of the soviets’. Mett explained in a preface to a reprint of the French edition in 1970 that the syndicalist publication, Révolution prolétarienne, to which she had submitted it turned it down on the grounds that it was too hostile to Trotsky who was then being hounded by the Stalin regime that ended in his assassination in 1940. (It wasn’t as hostile as the Kronstadters’ declarations, though, which denounced him as ‘Field Marshal Lord Trotsky’).
Lenin and Trotsky do come out badly as what happened at Kronstadt showed that Bolshevik Russia was already in their day a brutal one-party dictatorship whose leaders would stop at nothing to hold on to power, i.e. well before Stalin was in control. To this day the very mention of ‘Kronstadt’ makes Trotskyists squirm.
This reprint includes the preface to the original edition published by the old Solidarity Group in 1967 and one by Murray Bookchin to a reprint in 1971. It is not the complete pamphlet as the opening chapter on the revolutionary role of Russian sailors in 1905-6 and in 1917 was not translated and has not yet been.