Ida Mett (1938): The Petropavlovsk Resolution of February 28, 1921
Petrograd on the Eve of Kronstadt
Despite the fact that the population of Petrograd had diminished by two thirds, the winter of 1920–21 proved to be a particularly hard one.
Food in the city had been scarce since February 1917 and the situation had deteriorated from month to month. The town had always relied on food stuffs brought in from other parts of the country. During the Revolution the rural economy was in crisis in many of these regions. The countryside could only feed the capital to a very small extent. The catastrophic condition of the railways made things even worse. The ever increasing antagonisms between town and country created further difficulties everywhere.
To these partly unavoidable factors must be added the bureaucratic degeneration of the administration and the rapacity of the State organs for food supply. Their role in feeding the population was actually a negative one. If the population of Petrograd did not die of hunger during this period, it was above all thanks to its own adaptability and initiative. It got food wherever it could!
Barter was practised on a large scale. There was still some food to be had in the countryside, despite the smaller area under cultivation. The peasant would exchange this produce for the goods he lacked: boots, petrol, salt, matches. The population of the towns would try and get hold of these commodities in any way it could. They alone had real value. It would take them to the country side. In exchange people would carry back a few pounds of flour or potatoes. As we have mentioned before, the few trains, unheated, would be packed with men carrying bags on their shoulders. En route, the trains would often have to stop because they had run out of fuel. Passengers would get off and cut logs for the boilers.
Market places had officially been abolished. But in nearly all towns there were semi tolerated illegal markets, where barter was carried out. Such markets existed in Petrograd. Suddenly, in the Summer of 1920, Zinoviev issued a decree forbidding any kind of commercial transaction. The few small shops still open were closed and their doors sealed. However, the State apparatus was in no position to supply the towns. From this moment on, famine could no longer be attenuated by the initiative of the population. It became extreme. In January 1921, according to information published by Petrokommouns (the State Supplies of the town of Petrograd), workers in metal smelting factories were allocated rations of 800 grams of black bread a day; shock workers in other factories 600 grams; workers with A.V. cards: 400 grams; other workers: 200 grams. Black bread was the staple diet of the Russian people at this time.
But even these official rations were distributed irregularly and in even smaller amounts than those stipulated. Transport workers would receive, at irregular intervals, the equivalent of 700 to 1,000 calories a day. Lodgings were unheated. There was a great shortage of both clothing and footwear. According to official statistics, working class wages in 1920 in Petrograd were only 9 per cent of those in 1913.
The population was drifting away from the capital. All who had relatives in the country had rejoined them. The authentic proletariat remained till the end, having the most slender connections with the countryside.
This fact must be emphasised, in order to nail the official lies seeking to attribute the Petrograd strikes that were soon to break out to peasant elements, “insufficiently steeled in proletarian ideas”. The real situation was the very opposite. A few workers were seeking refuge in the countryside. The bulk remained. There was certainly no exodus of peasants into the starving towns! A few thousand ‘Troudarmeitzys’ (soldiers of the labour armies), then in Petrograd, did not modify the picture. It was the famous Petrograd proletariat, the proletariat which had played such a leading role in both previous revolutions, that was finally to resort to the classical weapon of the class struggle: the strike.
The first strike broke out at the Troubotchny factory, on 23rd February 1921. On the 24th the strikers organised a mass demonstration in the street. Zinoviev sent detachments of ‘Koursanty’ (student officers) against them. The strikers tried to contact the Finnish Barracks. Meanwhile, the strikes were spreading. The Baltisky factory stopped work. Then the Laferma factory and a number of others: the Skorokhod shoe factory, the Admiralteiski factory, the Bormann and Metalischeski plants, and finally, on 28th February, the great Putilov works itself.
The strikers were demanding measures to assist food supplies. Some factories were demanding the re-establishment of the local markets, freedom to travel within a radius of thirty miles of the city, and the withdrawal of the militia detachments holding the road around the town. But side by side with these economic demands. several factories were putting forward more political demands freedom of speech and of the Press, the freeing of working class political prisoners. In several big factories, Party spokesmen were refused a hearing.
Confronted with the misery of the Russian workers who were seeking an outlet to their intolerable conditions, the servile Party Committee and Zinoviev, (who according to numerous accounts was behaving in Petrograd like a real tyrant), could find no better methods of persuasion than brute force.
Poukhov (1), ‘official’ historian of the Kronstadt revolt, wrote that ”decisive class measures were needed to overcome the enemies of the revolution who were using a non class conscious section of the proletariat, in order to wrench power from the working class and its vanguard, the Communist Party”.
On 24th February, the Party leaders set up a special General Staff, called the Committee of Defence. It was composed of three people: Lachevitch, Anzelovitch and Avrov. They were to be supported by a number of technical assistants. In each district of the town, a similar Committee of Three (‘troika’) was to be set up, composed of the local Party organiser, the commander of the Party battalion of the local territorial brigade and of a Commissar from the Officers’ Training Corps. Similar Committees were organised in the outlying districts. These were composed of the local Party organiser, the President of the Executive of the local Soviet and the military Commissar for the District.
On 24th February the Committee of Defence proclaimed a state of siege in Petrograd. All circulation on the streets was forbidden after 11 PM, as were all meetings and gatherings, both out of doors and indoors, that had not been specifically permitted by the Defence Committee. ”All infringements would be dealt with according to military law.” The decree was signed by Avrov (later shot by the Stalinists), Commander of the Petrograd military region, by Lachevitch (who later committed suicide), a member of the War Council, and by Bouline (later shot by the Stalinists), Commander of the fortified Petrograd District.
A general mobilisation of party members was decreed. Special detachments were created, to be sent to “special destinations”. At the same time, the militia detachments guarding the roads in and out of the town were withdrawn. Then the strike leaders were arrested.
On 26th February the Kronstadt sailors, naturally interested in all that was going on in Petrograd, sent delegates to find out about the strikes. The delegation visited a number factories. It returned to Kronstadt on the 28th. That same day, the crew of the battleship ‘Petropavlovsk’, having discussed the situation, voted the following resolution: (2)
Having heard the reports of the representatives sent by the General Assembly of the Fleet to find out about the situation in Petrograd, the sailors demand:
Immediate new elections to the Soviets. The present Soviets no longer express the wishes of the workers and peasants. The new elections should be by secret ballot, and should be preceded by free electoral propaganda.
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 organisations.
The organisation, at the latest on 10th March 1921, of a Conference of non-Party workers, solders 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 the place of the political sections 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.”
1 Poukhov: The Kronstadt Rebellion of 1921. State Publishing House. “Young Guard” edition, 1931. In the series: “Stages of the Civil War”.
2 This resolution was subsequently endorsed by all the Kronstadt sailors in General Assembly, and by a number of groups of Red Army Guards. It was also endorsed by the whole working population of Kronstadt in General Assembly. It became the political programme of the insurrection. It therefore deserves a careful analysis.