SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 208 May 2017

In defence of Red Kronstadt

On 17 May the soviet in and around the Kronstadt naval base declared itself the governing power in the area. This move was to stop attempts by the Provisional Government to impose pro-capitalist policies on it. Strategically important for its proximity to Petrograd and as a base of support for the Bolsheviks, the soviet’s move led to a smear campaign by the capitalist press and establishment politicians.1 This short report by LEON TROTSKY was first published in Izvestia (No.76, 27 May 1917), and is followed by a further document on the issue, an appeal from the Kronstadt soviet, also drafted by Trotsky. Both are translated by Pete Dickenson into English for the first time.

If we accept the point of view of Tsereteli we get a huge contradiction between the statements of the Kronstadt Soviet and those attributed to it.2 The Provisional Government, the majority of the executive committee [of the Petrograd Soviet] and the bourgeois press that supports the executive committee majority have claimed that Kronstadt has broken away from Russia, but the Kronstadters have said this is not the case.

After the visit of citizens Tsereteli and Skobelev, the press interpreted the outcome of their visit as a victory for the Provisional Government and the surrender of its position by Kronstadt.3 The Kronstadters didn’t give in at all, there was no victory for the Provisional Government, but there was an agreement reached that the paper Golos Pravdi interpreted as a victory of the Kronstadt Soviet over the undemocratic principles of the Provisional Government. There is no doubt that the agreement has not been broken.

The resolution of the executive committee bureau cannot be accepted because it is full of threats directed at the Kronstadters. The old regime interpreted any movement as the product of the activity of agitators, but we say that the movement arises from life itself and that the movement in Kronstadt came about because many Black Hundred representatives remained in seats of power.4 This explained the lack of confidence in the government.

Our socialist ministers are not fighting the Black Hundred danger but declare war on the Kronstadt sailors and soldiers. If reaction prevails then the Black Hundred commissars will prepare the rope, and the Kronstadt sailors will perish with us. They talk about dual power but we have dual powerlessness since the Provisional Government is not a strong power, and you do not want to take it.

Trotsky proposes two resolutions: (i) To consider the Kronstadt incident closed as a result of the agreement; and (ii) To require the executive committee to take all measures with revolutionary urgency for the complete democratisation of power locally.

  1. This note was added to the 1924 edition of Trotsky’s collected works: "This issue was raised at a meeting of the Petrograd Soviet regarding the conflict that arose between the Kronstadt Soviet and the representative of the Provisional Government in Kronstadt. The root of this conflict was that at the head of the Kronstadt Soviet was our party. It was completely natural that cohabitation of the bourgeois plenipotentiaries and the revolutionary local power could not but lead to conflict. The reluctance of Kronstadt to obey a series of decrees of the government commissars gave the social-conciliationist press cause to howl about the alleged ‘breaking away’ of Kronstadt from Russia. With the aim of influencing Kronstadt, a meeting of the Petrograd Soviet was organised. This was preceded by the visit of Tsereteli and Skobelev to Kronstadt in the name of the Provisional Government".

  2. Irakli Tsereteli was president of the Petrograd Soviet, minister in the Provisional Government and leader of the Mensheviks.

  3. Matvey Skobelev was a leading Menshevik and minister in the Provisional Government.

  4. The Black Hundreds were anti-Semitic murder gangs sponsored by Tsar Nicholas II.

Appeal from the Kronstadt soviet

This statement was written by Leon Trotsky on 27 May 1917, on behalf of the executive committee of the Kronstadt soviet of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies. It was first published in Pravda (No.69) on 31 May under the heading, ‘From the Kronstadt sailors, soldiers and workers to the revolutionary people of Petrograd and all Russia’.

The name of Kronstadt, listed in the glorious pages of the history of the Russian revolution, is now being vilified and defamed in all the bourgeois papers. The malicious pens of the counter-revolutionary slanderers write as if we Kronstadters are calling for mob law, arbitrary rule and anarchy, as if we are torturing the aggressors and the servants of tsarism who have been arrested. Finally, as if we are refusing to recognise the authority of the Provisional Government, break away from Russia, and form an independent Kronstadt republic. What senseless lies, what pathetic and shameful slander!

We didn’t bring anarchy into Kronstadt, but honest and firm revolutionary order. Our soviet of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies assumed authority for all local Kronstadt matters.

We are against mob rule, against all forms of unworthy revenge on the servants of tsarism in custody. But we are for fair, free and impartial revolutionary justice over the criminal enemies of the people. Those officers, gendarmes and police, arrested by us in the revolution, have stated to a representative of the government that they cannot complain about their treatment by the prison authorities.

It is true that the prison buildings at Kronstadt are terrible. But these are the same prisons that were built by tsarism for us. There aren’t any others. The enemies of the people are being kept in prison, not for revenge, but for reasons of revolutionary self-preservation. We came to an agreement with the representatives of the Provisional Government, ministers Tsereteli and Skobelev, about the speedy and impartial trial of the Kronstadt prisoners. And this agreement remains in full force.

They say that we don’t recognise the authority of the Provisional Government – a pathetic slander! Until this government recognises the will of the organised revolutionary people, we Kronstadters cannot recognise the authority of the Provisional Government in all matters, countrywide. This we firmly and clearly stated in our resolutions, in articles in our leading publications, and finally in the agreement with the representatives of the government. This agreement, in which we made important concessions to the principles of democratic, people’s self-government – on the election of a local agent of the civil power and control over military leaders – remains in full force now.

We have broken away from Russia! This is the lowest, basest slander. Wasn’t it in the name of Russia that we Kronstadters rose up against the old order? Wasn’t it in the name of the freedom and happiness of all the Russian people that the fighters in Kronstadt shed their blood, along with the militants of Petrograd and all Russia?

And now, when we have overthrown the power of the tsar and embarked on the road to overthrow all oppression and violence, the fraternal bond with all peoples, with all the working masses of Russia, is closer and dearer to the hearts of the Kronstadters than ever. We are in favour of the unity of revolutionary Russia, for the unity of the working people in the struggle with its oppressors. We believe, however, and this is a firm conviction of our revolutionary conscience, that the present Provisional Government – comprised in the majority of representatives of landowners, factory owners, and bankers – does not want to and cannot become true representatives of the democracy, authoritative leaders of the people’s revolution.

If anarchy really is being seen in the country, then the blame for this lies with the bourgeois politics of the Provisional Government, who on food supply, land, work, diplomatic and military questions, does not serve the true interests of the people but that of the possessing and exploiting classes. We think that the Petrograd and some other provincial soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies are mistaken in supporting this government.

We fight for our convictions with honest revolutionary words. The bourgeois cliques, feeling that the ground is more and more moving under their feet – anticipating that power must be moved from the hands of the landlords and capitalists, into the hands of the people – these cliques are conducting a disgraceful counter-revolutionary agitation in the country. They vilify, persecute and defame all the advanced forces of the revolution and, in particular, Red Kronstadt. We have revolutionary contempt for these cliques. To their poisonous words, we counterpose the truth.

But, at the same time, we express our deepest regret that the socialist ministers, and with them the majority of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, have fallen under the influence of this ongoing persecution of us. They have accused us, in their unfair and offensive resolution, of breaking away from the Russian revolution. No, comrades, the Kronstadters have not and will not change the banners which fly on their forts and on their courts. We have been accused of breaching the agreement that we signed with the representatives of the Provisional Government. Only the artificially created atmosphere of intensified persecution and malicious suspicion can explain such a monstrous misunderstanding.

We have explained in the press that the agreement that was reached by us on 24 May was not an abandonment of the principles of revolutionary self-government but, on the contrary, a decisive step on the way to its triumph. But this explanation of ours had nothing to do with abandoning our commitments. The instigators can only be accusing us of a betrayal to profitably smash the agreement that has already been reached with the central government, and to destroy Kronstadt as a revolutionary nest and facilitate the work of the counter-revolution.

Comrades and brothers, no one dares to throw at the Kronstadters insulting accusations of unworthy deeds. We have not violated the words in question once. We are revolutionaries, people of honour, and we are firmly convinced that our appeal will completely dispel the lies, slander and suspicion, and recreate an unshakeable bond of mutual revolutionary trust.

The Kronstadters remain at their posts, on the left flank of the great army of the Russian revolution. We hope, we believe, we are convinced that each new day will more and more open the eyes of the most blinkered and lagging layers of the Russian people – and the hour is close when, with the united forces of the working masses, all the power in the country will be transferred into the hands of the soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies.

To you, brothers in revolution in Petrograd and all Russia, we extend our hand, sailors, soldiers and workers of Kronstadt. Our bond is indissoluble. Our unity is indestructible. Our loyalty unshakeable. Down with the slanderers and splitters of the people. Long live the Russian revolution!

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