Alexander Herbert: Recovering the anarchism of the 1921 Kronstadt Rebellion

The anarchist roots of the Kronstadt Rebellion have long been denied, but the plurality of anti-Bolshevik resistance in Soviet Russia harbors important lessons for movements today.

Roar Magazine, March 1, 2021

On March 18, 1921, as the young Soviet Government sponsored public celebrations in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Paris Commune, its Red Army moved to suppress a similar revolutionary commune in Kronstadt on Kotlin Island across Petrograd in the Baltic Sea. The sailors in the city were renowned revolutionaries: they helped the Bolsheviks come to power in 1917, and now they were leading their own “third revolution” against the Communist Party who, they argued, imposed repressive, monopolistic policies. The ensuing uprising and its consequences have since become a point of contention between Marxists and anarchists, leaving gaps and unanswered questions in the historiography along the way.

Reacting to strikes in Petrograd regarding food and fuel shortages, Kronstadt sailors sent delegates to the former capital on February 26. Returning to the base without having received an audience and with news of heavy Bolshevik repression, the crews of the Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol drafted a 15-point list of demands for the Bolshevik government, the so-called Peropavlovsk Resolution, calling for free elections, freedom of speech and the abolition of all political sections within the armed forces. When local pro-Bolshevik officers demanded the agitators back down, the workers, sailors and soldiers had them detained under the authority of their new “Provisional Revolutionary Committee.”

The Bolsheviks responded with an ultimatum soon after, threatening the sailors and publicly denouncing the movement as a product of French intelligence efforts. Refusing to give in, the Kronstadt garrison began organizing its defenses on March 7, as Red Army commander Mikhail Tukhachevski led his troops across the frozen bay. On March 18, the 50th anniversary of the Paris Commune, the Red Army entered the city and seized control of Kronstadt.

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