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(en) Kronstadt 1917-1921 - The Fate of a Soviet Democracy by Israel Getzler

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 27 Jul 2004 20:01:00 +0200 (CEST)

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Originally published in 1983, this excellent study of revolutionary
Kronstadt has been reprinted. While most accounts of Kronstadt
tend to concentrate on the 1921 revolt against the Bolshevik
dictatorship, Getzler's book spans the whole period of "red"
Kronstadt. Starting in February 1917, he discusses the ups and
downs of the revolution. By focusing attention on Kronstadt
between March 1917 and July 1918, when actual soviet power
and democracy flourished there, he presents important context
with which to evaluate the Kronstadter's "Third Revolution" of
March 1921.

Getzler's analysis of the continuity in terms of politics,
institutions and personnel between the 1917 revolution and the
1921 revolt effectively demolishes the Bolshevik myths about
Kronstadt. It confirms the anarchist accounts of the uprising,
showing that the 1921 revolt was not a counter-revolutionary
revolt by newly arrived peasant conscripts (the standard Leninist
view). Rather, it was in solidarity with the general strike in
Petrograd and quickly became an attempt to restore the soviet
democracy which had been practiced in the city in 1917. He
proves conclusively (using "hard statistical data") that the sailors
of 1921 had been there since 1917 (if not before). In fact, less
that 7% of the sailors on the two battleships (the Petropavlovsk
and the Sevastopol) who initiated the revolt had arrived there in
or after 1918.

Getzler stresses that it was "certainly the case" that the "activists
of the 1921 uprising had been participants of the 1917
revolutions" for the "1,900 veteran sailors . . . who spearheaded
it. It was certainly true of a majority of the Revolutionary
Committee and of the intellectuals . . . Likewise, at least
three-quarters of the 10,000 to 12,000 sailors -- the mainstay of
the uprising -- were old hands who had served in the navy
through war and revolution." For example, the Maximalist
Anatolii Lamanov, chairman of the Kronstadt Soviet in 1917,
was also the chief editor of its newspaper (Izvestiia) during the
1921 revolt. He was executed as a "counter-revolutionary" by the
real counter-revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks.

Equally importantly, Getzler shows that rather than being a
bastion of Bolshevism in 1917 and early 18, Kronstadt regularly
returned a soviet with a populist majority: a "radical populist
coalition of Maximalists and Left SRs held sway, albeit
precariously, within Kronstadt and its Soviet." The Bolsheviks,
while often the largest single party, did not dominate Kronstadt.
During the October revolution, for example, the soviet majority
was made up of Left SRs and Maximalists. It was only in the
January elections in 1918 that the Bolsheviks improved their
position, gaining their highest ever vote during the era of
multi-party soviets. This accounted for only 46% of seats in the
soviet. The SRs got 21%, the SR-Maximalists 19%, non-party
delegates 7%, anarchists 5% and the Mensheviks 2%. The soviet
elected a Left SR as its chairman. By the April 1918 elections, as
in most of Russia, the Bolsheviks found their support had
decreased. The Bolshevik share of the vote dropped to 29% as
compared to 22% for the SR-Maximalists, 21% for the Left SRs,
8% for the Menshevik Internationalists, 5% for the anarchists
and 13% for non-party delegates.

Indeed, Bolshevik influence at Kronstadt was so weak that on
April 18th, the Kronstadt soviet denounced the Bolshevik attack
against the anarchists in Moscow six days previously by a vote of
81 to 57. As the author notes, the "Bolshevisation" of Kronstadt
"and the destruction of its multi-party democracy was not due to
internal developments and local Bolshevik strength, but decreed
from outside and imposed by force." Politically Kronstadt in
1917, as in 1921, can best be summed up by the
SR-Maximalists, a split from the Left SRs who were close to
anarchism. The aim was "sovietism," best expressed by the
slogan raised in the 1921 uprising: "All power to the soviets and
not to parties."

Getzler's book is essential reading for all those interested in the
Russian Revolution and Kronstadt. He invokes a feel of the
events of the time, presenting an engaging picture of the new,
vibrant, social and political system constructed by the
Kronstadters after the February revolution and the hope it
provoked. As Yarchuk, an influential anarchist activist in
Kronstadt, put it in 1917, "all one has to do is take what is here in
Kronstadt on a small scale in our Soviet . . . and built it on a large
scale, and it will work there too." This was not to be. The hope of
a genuine soviet system was strangled by the Bolsheviks in 1918
before being briefly resurrected, by many of the same people, in
the 1921 revolt. This book is a fitting testimony to that system
and the hopes it inspired.

Link: http://anarchism.ws/writers/anarcho.html
Related at Infoshop: http://www.anarchistfaq.org

Cambridge University Press
ISBN: 0-521-89442-5

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