The crushing of the Kronstadt Revolt

The Red Army attacks Kronstadt
The Red Army attacks Kronstadt

‘We will shoot you all like partridges.’

– Leon Trotsky, organiser and leader of the Red Army, 1921, to the soldiers of the naval base at Kronstadt, near Petrograd. Having described them as the ‘cream of the revolution’ four years previously for siding with the revolution, he now claimed that Kronstadt was under the thrall of ‘White Guard reactionaries’ (ie. remnants of the overthrown Tsarist regime). The Kronstadt sailors, far from wanting the restoration of the old regime, sought free elections to the local workers’ councils, as per Lenin’s 1917 pronouncement (‘all power to the soviets’ – ‘soviet’ is Russian for ‘council’). The growing tyranny of the Bolshevik dictatorship was encroaching on the autonomy of the self-managed councils, and so the struggle of the Kronstadt sailors was symbolic insofar as it represented the struggle of the authentic revolution from below against the increasingly bureaucratic and authoritarian ‘worker’s dictatorship.’ Trotsky waved the ‘White Guard’ bogeyman in front of his troops, invoked the myth that questioning of his power was tantamount to support for the enemy and sent them to fight; the revolt was crushed and the Bolshevik state continued its downward slide into totalitarianism.

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