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1921 - Petrograd and Kronstadt

In the latter part of February 1921 serious unrest, which grew into spontaneous strikes, developed among the workers of Petrograd. Beginning on February 22, meetings took place in industrial plants all over the city. On February 24 strikes broke out at the Trubochnyi, Laferm, Patronnyi, and Baltiiskii plants. The Trubochnyi plant took the lead in the political movement against Soviet power.

Though nonparty and nonpolitical, the sentiment behind the movement the first large popular movement since 1918, at least in the former capital was obviously anti-Communist. The unrest soon spread to the fortress of Kronstadt, with its thousands of troops; the role played by the Kronstadt sailors in the revolution Trotsky had called them the "pride and glory of the Revolution" was fresh in the memory of the people and their loyalty was beyond doubt. Now, 3 years later, however, they turned against the Communist regime.

The Kronstadt uprising, which started in late February 1921 and lasted until March 17, was a distinctly leftist but at the same time anti-Communist movement. At a meeting attended by 16,000 persons on March 1, a resolution was adopted which announced the demands of the insurrectionists :

"1. Seeing that the present Soviets do not express the wishes of the workers and peasants, to organize immediately re-elections to the Soviets with secret vote, and with care to organize free electoral propaganda for all workers and peasants.

2. To grant liberty of speech and of press to the workers and peasants, to the anarchists and the left socialist parties.

3. To secure freedom of assembly, freedom of labor unions and of peasant organizations.


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.


8. To abolish immediately all "zagraditelnye otryady" [special armed detachments assigned to check the bundles and luggage of the passengers on trains].


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. ...

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


15. To permit free artisan production which does not employ hired labor."

Only three persons voted against the resolution, and these three were arrested. The next day another mass meeting took place at which a Provisional Revolutionary Committee was elected, the leader of which was Petrichenko, a senior clerk from one of the ships. The committee established itself on the cruiser Petropavlovsk.

By March 3 the Revolutionary Committee began to publish a daily paper, Izvestia, which gave news of the rising : " The peaceful character of the Kronstadt movement is beyond doubt. Kronstadt has raised demands in the spirit of the Soviet constitution. In the fortress itself, and without a single shot, power has passed into the hands of the Provisional Revolutionary Committee by the unanimous decision of the sailors, Red army men, workers and Soviet employees."

The Revolutionary Committee refused to take the offensive against Soviet forces. All proposals of the military specialists to take the offensive, to open military operations, to use the opportunity created by the initial confusion of the bolsheviks, the Provisional Revolutionary Committee answered with flat rejection.

"The basis of our insurrection was that we did not want to shed blood. Why shed blood, if everybody understands anyway that our cause is just. Despite the Bolshevik/ deceits it will be realized now that Kronstadt is revolting for the people and against the Communists."

A number of hostages from among the families of the insurgent sailors were taken in Petrograd. The government announced that : "If even one hair falls from the head of the detained comrades [in Kronstadt] . . . the named hostages will pay for it with their heads. "

Government airplanes dropped leaflets on Kronstadt informing the rebelling sailors that hostages had been taken ; in its reply, the Kronstadt radio termed this act shameful and cowardly, and refused to retaliate.

There were mass defections from the Communist party. The consciences of the defectors made it impossible for them to "remain in the Party of the executioner Trotsky." Exaggerating the political unrest in Petrograd and underestimating the ruthlessness of the regime, the Kronstadt rebels hoped for an early victory. Under the heading "What Are We Fighting For," the Kronstadt Izvestia wrote on March 8 :

"With the October Revolution the working class had hoped to achieve its emancipation. But there resulted an even greater enslavement of human personality. The power of the police and the gendarme monarchy fell into the hands of usurpers the Communists who, instead of giving the people liberty, have instilled in them only the constant fear of the Tcheka, which by its horrors surpasses even the gendarme regime of Tsarism."

Meantime, having gathered military forces, the Soviet government was preparing a military offensive against Kronstadt. Trotsky, the leader of the operations, sent an ultimatum to Kronstadt on March 5 :

"The Workers' and Peasants' Government has decreed that Kronstadt and the rebellious ships must immediately submit to the authority of the Soviet Republic. Therefore I command all who have raised their hand against the Socialist fatherland to lay down their arms at once. The obdurate are to be disarmed and turned over to the Soviet authorities. The arrested Commissars and other representatives of the Government are to be liberated at once. Only those surrendering unconditionally may count on the mercy of the Soviet Republic."

On March 7, the Soviet artillery went into action against Kronstadt. The first attack was followed by an attempt to take the fortress by storm, but this attack was unsuccessful. Hundreds of Red Army men perished on the ice surrounding the island fortress. Next day the Kronstadt Izvestia said :

"Many of you perished that night on the icy vastness of the Gulf of Finland. And when day broke and the storm quieted down, only pitiful remnants of you, worn and hungry, hardly able to move, came to us clad in your white shrouds (Note: "White shrouds" refer to white garments which are used for camouflage purposes in military operations in a northern country. ). Early in the morning there were already about a thousand of you and later in the day a countless number. Dearly you have paid with your blood for this adventure, and after your failure Trotsky rushed back to Petrograd to drive new martyrs to slaughter for cheaply he gets our workers' and peasants' blood ! "

During the next 8 days the Soviet offensive continued relentlessly. Almost nightly the Bolsheviki continued their attacks. All through March 10 Communist artillery fired incessantly from the southern and northern coasts. On the night of the 12-13 the Communists attacked from the south, again resorting to the white shrouds and sacrificing many hundreds of the kursanti [military students]. On March 16 the Bolsheviki made a concentrated attack from three sides at once from north, south and east. On the morning of March 17a number of forts had been taken. Through the weakest spot of Kronstadt the Petrograd Gates the Bolsheviki broke into the city, and then there began most brutal slaughter.

The Kronstadt uprising was suppressed. The Soviet press stopped reporting the tragic events as the Cheka went into action. For several weeks the Petrograd jails were filled with hundreds of Kronstadt prisoners. Every night small groups of them were taken out by order of the Tcheka and disappeared to be seen among the living no more. Among the last to be shot was Perepelkin, member of the Frovisional Revolutionary Committee of Kronstadt.

The prisons and concentration camps in the frozen district of Archangel and the dungeons of far Turkestan were slowly doing to death the Kronstadt men who rose against Bolshevik bureaucracy and proclaimed in March, 1921, the slogan of the Revolution of October, 1917: "All Power to the Soviets!"

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Page last modified: 30-01-2016 19:10:17 ZULU