Ida Mett’s Analysis of the Kronstadt Program
The Kronstadt sailors and the Petrograd strikers knew quite well that Russia’s economic status was at the root of the political crisis. Their discontent was caused both by the famine and by the whole evolution of the political situation. The Russian workers were increasingly disillusioned in their greatest hope: the Soviets. Daily they saw the power of a single Party substituting itself for that of the Soviets. A Party, moreover, which was degenerating rapidly through the exercise of absolute power, and which was already riddled with careerists. It was against the monopoly exercised by this Party in all fields of life that the working class sought to react.
Point one of the Kronstadt resolution expressed an idea shared by the best elements of the Russian working class. Totally ‘bolshevised’ Soviets no longer reflected the wishes of the workers and peasants. Hence the demand for new elections, to be carried out according to the principle of full equality for all working class political tendencies.
Such a regeneration of the Soviets would imply the granting to all working class tendencies of the possibility for expressing themselves freely, without fear of calumny or extermination. Hence, quite naturally, there followed the idea of freedom of expression, of the Press, of Assembly and of organisation, contained in Point two.
We must stress that by 1921 the class struggle in the countryside had been fought to a virtual standstill. The vast majority of the kulaks had been dispossessed. It is quite wrong to claim that the granting of basic freedoms to the peasants — as demanded in Point three — would have meant restoring political rights to the kulaks. It was only a few years later that the peasants were exhorted to ”enrich themselves” — and this by Bukharin, then an official Party spokesman.
The Kronstadt revolution had the merit of stating things openly and clearly. But it was breaking no new ground. Its main ideas were being discussed everywhere. For having, in one way or another, put forward precisely such ideas, workers and peasants were already filling the prisons and the recently set up concentration camps. The men of Kronstadt did not desert their comrades. Point six of their resolution shows that they intended to look into the whole juridical apparatus. They already had serious doubts as to its objectivity as an organ of their rule. The Kronstadt sailors were thereby showing a spirit of solidarity in the best working class tradition. In July 1917, Kerensky had arrested a deputation of the Baltic Fleet that had come to Petrograd. Kronstadt had immediately sent a further deputation to insist on their release. In 1921, this tradition was being spontaneously renewed.
Points seven and ten of the resolution attacked the political monopoly being exercised by the ruling Party. The Party was using State funds in an exclusive and uncontrolled manner to extend its influence both in the Army and in the police.
Point nine of their resolution demanded equal rations for all workers This destroys Trotsky’s accusation of 1938 (1) according to which ”the men of Kronstadt wanted privileges, while the country was hungry”.
Point fourteen clearly raised the question of workers control. Both before and during the October Revolution this demand had provoked powerful echo among the working class. The Kronstadt sailors understood quite clearly that real control had escaped from the hands of the rank and file. They sought to bring it back. The Bolshevik meanwhile sought to vest all control in the hands of a special Commissariat, the Rabkrin — Workers and Peasants inspection.
Point eleven reflected the demands of the peasants to whom the Kronstadt sailors had remained linked — as had, as a matter of fact, the whole of the Russian proletariat. The basis of this link is to be found in the specific history of Russian industry. Because of feudal backwardness, Russian industry did not find its roots in petty handicraft. In their great majority, the Russian workers came directly from the peasantry. This must be stressed. The Baltic sailors of 1921 were, it is true, closely linked with the peasantry. But neither more so nor less than had been the sailors of 1917.
In their resolution, the Kronstadt sailors were taking up once again one of the big demands of October. They were supporting those peasant claims demanding the land and the right to own cattle for those peasants who did not exploit the labour of others. In 1921, moreover, there was another aspect to this particular demand. It was an attempt to solve the food question, which was becoming desperate. Under the system of forced requisition, the population of the towns was literally dying of hunger. Why, incidentally, should the satisfaction of these demands be deemed ‘tactically correct’ when advocated by Lenin, in March 1921, and ‘counter revolutionary’ when put forward by the peasants themselves a few weeks earlier?
What was so counter revolutionary about the Kronstadt programme? What could justify the crusade launched by the Party against Kronstadt? A workers’ and peasants’ regime that did not wish to base itself exclusively on lies and terror, had to take account of the peasantry. It need not thereby have lost its revolutionary character. The men of Kronstadt were not alone, moreover, in putting forward such demands in 1921, Makhno’s followers were still active in the Ukraine. This revolutionary peasant movement was evolving its own ideas and methods of struggle. The Ukrainian peasantry had played a predominant role in chasing out the feudal hordes. It had earned the right itself to determine the forms of its social life.
Despite Trotsky’s categorical and unsubstantiated assertions, the Makhno movement was in no sense whatsoever a Kulak movement. Koubanin, the official Bolshevik historian of the Makhno movement, shows statistically, in a book edited by the Party’s Historical institute, that the Makhno movement at first appeared and developed most rapidly, in precisely those areas where the peasants were poorest. The Makhno movement was crushed before it had a chance of showing in practice its full creative abilities. The fact that during the Civil War it had been capable of creating its own specific forms of struggle, leads one to guess that it could have been capable of a lot more.
As a matter of fact, in relation to agrarian policy, nothing was to prove more disastrous than the zigzags of the Bolsheviks. In 1931, ten years after Kronstadt, Stalin was to decree his famous ‘liquidation of the kulaks’. This resulted in an atrocious famine and in the loss of millions of human lives.
Let us finally consider Point fifteen of the Kronstadt resolution, demanding freedom for handicraft production. This was not a question of principle. For the workers of Kronstadt, handicraft production was to compensate for an industrial production that had fallen to naught. Through this demand they were seeking a way out of their intolerable economic plight.
Source: Ida Mett, La commune de Cronstadt. Crépuscule sanglant des soviets (Paris 1938, 1948) [“The Kronstadt Commune. Bloody Twilight of the Soviets”]. First English edition: Solidarity, London 1967.
English transcription: zabalaza.net, The Kronstadt Commune at M.I.A. (Some spelling corrections by the editor, April 2021).
1 The accusation was made in answer to a question put to Trotsky by Thomas Wendelin, a member of the New York Commission of Enquiry into the Moscow Trials.