Provisional Council at the Petropavlovsk, Kronstadt, March 1921

Trotsky and the Kronstadt Uprising of 1921

A note on the foregoing chapter from Willy Huhn’s book on Trotsky

Willy Huhn explicitly renounces any pretense of giving an account of his own of the Kronstadt uprising and its defeat for the purpose of his work on Trotsky, and apparently relies on the testimony of Alexander Berkman in this respect. In his notes he refers to two of its editions in German language, the first published by the FAUD in 1922 (1) and the second published as an essay in 1951. The latter roughly coincided with the genesis of Huhn’s work, and was very recent at this time.

Unfortunately, Huhn did not take notice of the extensive study by Ida Mett that, albeit already written in 1938, was only published after the Second World War, in 1948 in French, (2) and that was likewise contemporary to Huhn’s work.

This default may explain some factual inaccuracies compared to Ida Mett’s account. For instance, the latter reveals, quotations at hand, that the threat issued against the Kronstadters (“If you insist, we will shoot you like partridges”), which Berkman’s account ascribes to Trotsky, was in reality professed by the ‘Petersburg Defense Committee under Zinoviev. (3)

A different question, and perhaps a weightier one than a false attribution of a threat that would take on a life of its own, is posed by the death toll on either side of the fratricidal massacre.

At first appearance, Huhn seems to adopt Berkman’s briefly given figure of “more than 14,000 corpses”, an unspecified minimum that thus could be a rough estimate of the total death toll on both sides. Huhn relates this as “about 14,000 corpses”, but concludes from it: “So the effort had been made to destroy pretty much that entire rebellious popular assembly of March 1, 1921”, implying that the figure would apply to the insurgents only. This conclusion however appears to be suspended in mid-air.

By contrast, Ida Mett’s work takes a more critical and investigative approach in this respect. In the preface to its first edition in French (1948), she stated: “The time seems ripe for us to seek a better understanding of Kronstadt, although no new facts have emerged since 1921. The archives of the Russian Government and of the Red Army remain closed to any kind of objective analysis. However statements in some official publications seem to reflect some of these events, albeit in a distorted light. But what was known at the time was already sufficient to allow one to grasp the political significance of this symptomatic and crucial episode of the Russian Revolution.”

In Chapter 7, The Final Assault, under the heading The Balance Sheet, she relates that “Figures issued by the Military Health Authorities of the Petrograd District – and relating to the period between 3rd and 21st March – spoke of 4,127 wounded and 527 killed. These figures do not include the drowned, or the numerous wounded left to die on the ice. (4) Nor do they include the victims of the Revolutionary Tribunals. We do not even have approximate figures as to the losses on the Kronstadt side. They were enormous, even without the reprisal massacres that later took place. Perhaps one day the archives of the Tcheka and of the Revolutionary Tribunals will reveal the full and terrible truth.”

In a next paragraph she affirms that “In the night of 17th – 18th March, part of the Provisional Revolutionary Committee left Kronstadt. Some 8,000 people (some sailors and the most active part of the civilian population), moved towards Finland and permanent exile.”

Huhn seems to have completely passed over this turn of events within the Kronstadt tragedy, which nevertheless numerically concerns an estimated half of the participants at the Kronstadt mass meeting of March 1.

Contrary to Ida Mett, and for the purpose of his exposition (“a few features that belong in our context”), Willy Huhn took no interest in specifying the number of casualties on either side of the Kronstadt massacre, but contented himself with twisting a general estimate from his source (Alexander Berkman) and an unwarranted conclusion.

Without any pretense of being conclusive, we end by indicating that the number of immediate casualties of the massacre on the side of the regime is related to have been considerable as well. According to some, it was even higher than that among the insurgents. (5)

Henry Cinnamon, April 20, 2021


1 A transcription of Berkman’s testimonial of March 1922 in German can be found here: Alexander Berkman – Kronstadt: Die Pariser Kommune Rußlands!

2 Ida Mett, La commune de Cronstadt. Crépuscule sanglant des soviets (Paris 1938, 1948) [“The Kronstadt Commune. Bloody Twilight of the Soviets”] First English edition by Solidarity, 1967.

3 In this committee’s “Call” of March 5, 2021, fully quoted in Ida Mett, op. cit., Ch. 5: Threats, Bribes and Skirmishes.

4 “So numerous were the latter that the Finnish Foreign Ministry started discussions with Bersine, the Russian ambassador, with a view to joint frontier guard patrols clearing the corpses from the ice. The Finns feared that hundreds of bodies would be washed on to the Finnish shores after the ice had melted.” (note by Ida Mett)

5 For instance, Paul Avrich in ‘Kronstadt 1921’ (1970) mentions the estimate by the then US-American consul in Vyborg (Finland), Harold Quarton, of “total Soviet casualties” at “about 10,000”, which he regards as “a reasonable calculation of all the dead, wounded and missing taken together” … on the side of the Bolshevik regime.