Kronstadt Rebellion

What did the Bolsheviks do right after they came to power after the October Revolution? They lost their way and betrayed the Revolution of course! If this was your answer you might just be a sailor stationed in the Kronstadt harbour, either on the Petropavlovsk or the Sevastopol. Either way, you wouldn't be wrong. Well, let us tell you what transpired on the island of Kronstadt from 1 to 18 March 1921.

Kronstadt Rebellion Kronstadt Rebellion

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Table of contents

    Kronstadt Rebellion Summary

    Following the February Revolution in 1917, the sailors stationed at Kronstadt began opposing the Russian provisional government and instead supported the Bolsheviks. However, the political paths of the sailors and the Bolsheviks soon deviated from one another.

    The Bolsheviks had organised the October Revolution and with it consolidated their hold over Soviet Russia. The Kronstadt sailors were one of the instruments with which both the February and October revolutions had been won, but they had not received any glory for it. Instead, they looked upon a new Russia run by the Bolsheviks, a party that, according to the sailors of Kronstadt, violated the spirit of the Russian revolution.

    The Kronstadt Mutiny, The Kronstadt Mutineers, Wikimedia Commons. StudySmarterFig. 1: The Kronstadt Mutineers

    This sentiment of betrayal grew into unrest, which very soon grew into a mutiny. The mutiny began on the vessels docked in Kronstadt, Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol. The mutineers, led by Stepan Petrichenko, first took naval officers as hostages, only releasing those that agreed with the mutineer's disappointment with the Bolsheviks. However, some officers were executed by the mutineers.

    What made the Kronstadt Mutineers dangerous?

    The mutineers had one advantage, technology. During the early 20th century, many countries began attempting to perfect their navies. The navy was the most technologically advanced and well-armed sector of the Russian military.

    To quell the rebellion, the Bolsheviks offered to hear the mutineers' demands and sent Mikhail Kalinin to the Kronstadt Soviet. Over 15,000 people attended the meeting between Kalinin and the sailors. On 1 March, Kalinin was heckled off from the island of Kronstadt, an event and date that officially began the Kronstadt Mutiny. Instead of waiting for the Bolsheviks, Stepan Petrichenko was elected as a Revolutionary Committee, a new de facto governing body of the Kronstadt Soviet.

    De facto

    Holding a certain position but though not legally binding.

    Kalinin reported back to Lenin who blamed the sailors for being puppets of the White Army (who as of March 1921, were still active). The stage was set, the Kronstadt mutineers needed to be subdued. Lenin ordered Leon Trotsky to take control of the island of Kronstadt.

    What was the White Army?

    The White Army, as opposed to the Red Army, was an anti-Communist, anti-Bolshevik grouping of armed forces that fought and lost to the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War (1917 - 1922).

    Leon Trotsky assembled an armed force of Bolshevik loyalists and headed to fight the mutineers at Kronstadt. Vicious fighting took place in Kronstadt on 7 March. The bloody conflict, however, ended after 11 days, on 18 March. Though the mutineers had managed to assemble over 16,000 men, they were still outnumbered by Trotsky's troops which numbered over 40,000.

    The more you know...

    Though outnumbered, the Kronstadt sailors were actual trained soldiers. Don't forget this. Yes, many of Trotsky's troops were former soldiers as well, but they were not as well trained as the sailors of the Russian navy. When it came to direct comparison, the sailors were at least almost literate, compared to the Bolshevik troops, for whom, education was, to put it lightly, not the priority.

    The Kronstadt Mutiny, The battlefield of Kronstadt, Wikimedia Commons. StudySmarterFig. 2: The battlefield of Kronstadt

    The Kronstadt Mutiny, Leon Trotsky, Wikimedia Commons. StudySmarterFig. 3: Leon Trotsky

    Trotsky successfully defeated the mutineers and returned Kronstadt to Bolshevik rule. Thousands of the mutineers fled Soviet Russia, such as the leader of the mutiny Stepan Petrichenko who fled to Finland. Up to 2 thousand mutineers were tried for treason and executed, while the rest were sent to prison camps.

    Kronstadt Rebellion Flag

    The Kronstadt mutineer's flag was based on the traditional 18th-century Jolly Roger pirate flag, but with a more modern twist to it. The mutineer's flag sported the pirate skull, signifying their defiance of the new Bolshevik system as well as the words "Death to the Bourgeoise" written across the flag, signifying their defiance of the old bourgeoise system as well.

    The more you know...

    Flags and banners of similar imagery to that of the Kronstadt mutineers were also used by other factions prevalent in early 20th-century Russia, such as the Anarchists, a group some of the mutineers belonged to or were sympathetic to.

    What is the Jolly Roger?

    The 'Jolly Roger' has been the name given to many flags that included skulls or skeletons and were popularly associated with pirates.

    The Kronstadt Mutiny, The Kronstadt Mutiny flag, Wikimedia Commons. StudySmarterFig. 4: The Kronstadt Mutiny flag

    The Kronstadt Mutiny, The Mutineers sporting their flag, Wikimedia Commons. StudySmarterFig. 5: The Mutineers sporting their flag

    Kronstadt Rebellion Leader

    The Kronstadt Rebellion was led by Stepan Petrichenko. He was generally well-liked and respected amongst the mutineers, so he stepped up to lead the mutiny. However, after the rebellion was quelled, Petrichenko was forced to flee to Finland, where he continued sharing and expressing his anti-Bolshevik views and sentiments.

    The Kronstadr Mutiny, Stepan Petrichenko before the Kronstadt Mutiny, Wikimedia Commons. StudySmarterFig. 6: Stepan Petrichenko before the Kronstadt Mutiny

    Kronstadt Rebellion Demands

    The sailors of Kronstadt, headed by Stepan Petrichenko drafted a set of fifteen demands. However, the only demands that we need to concentrate on are only four:

    1. Firstly, the sailors demanded the freedom of speech, with which they would also be granted the freedom of assembly and the freedom of the press.
    2. Secondly, the sailors demanded equal rations for all peoples of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) be they soldiers or civilians.
    3. Thirdly, the sailors demanded the cessation of the war communism policy.
    4. Finally, the sailors demanded new elections and the end of the Bolshevik monopoly over political power in the RSFSR.

    What was War Communism?

    War Communism was a political and economic policy in the RSFSR during the Russian Civil War. With this policy, the state had the right to forcefully acquire grain and other food products from the peasants. This meant that the state favoured the soldiers over the peasantry. Though this policy was only in force from 1918 to 1921, the philosophy of War Communism and food acquisition by the state remained, leading to mass famines in the Soviet Union.

    Sailors gathered when the demands were being made. During this time, a slogan emerged: "All power to the soviets, not to parties".

    "All power to the Soviets!"

    Though the Kronstadt sailors bannered the slogan "All power to the soviets, not to parties, " it was not originally theirs. They had simply taken Lenin's original 1917 slogan "All power to the Soviets!" and added the "not to parties".

    Consequences and Significance of the Kronstadt Rebellion

    The Kronstadt Rebellion was significant in one significant way. The Bolsheviks, who were the sworn protectors of the revolution, had all of a sudden forgotten about the rest of Russia and had begun thinking only about their political footing. The sailors of Kronstadt felt like they were the representation of the very people the Bolsheviks had unknowingly turned their backs on. How were the sailors any different from the peasants? The only thing that set the two apart was the fact that the sailors were trained as soldiers. The sailors saw this and believed this type of treatment of the Russian population was unfair.

    The Kronstadt Mutiny, Kronstadt sailors arrive as refugees in Finland, Wikimedia Commons. StudySmarterFig. 8: Kronstadt sailors arrive as refugees in Finland

    Despite their best efforts, the mutineers were defeated. But they did succeed in demonstrating that the Bolsheviks had lost their way early on. The higher-ups ate bread as the working class lay dying in the streets from famine. Although noble, the demands made by the sailors would never be met. The Russian Revolution had already ended and the capitalist bourgeoise was defeated. There was no longer time for internal issues, no longer time for the Kronstadt Mutiny.

    The Kronstadt Mutiny - Key takeaways

    • The Kronstadt Mutiny began because the sailors no longer liked how the Bolshevik regime governed Soviet Russia.
    • The Mutiny was led by Stepan Petrichenko.
    • The Bolsheviks tried to quell the rebellion before it took a bloody turn by sending Mikhail Kalinin to talk and discuss terms with the sailors.
    • Kalinin was heckled off the island of Kronstadt, no more deals could be made.
    • Trotsky was sent to deal with this with weapons.
    • From 7 March to 18 March Kronstadt was a bloody battlefield.
    • The Mutineers were outnumbered and lost.

    References

    1. Ida Mett, The Kronstadt Uprising, 1921 (1971)
    2. Fig. 1: Marins de Kronstadt 1921 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Marins_de_Kronstadt_1921.png) by licenced as public domain
    3. Fig. 2: Kronstadt attack (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kronstadt_attack.JPG). Author unknown, licenced as public domain
    4. Fig. 3: Leon Trotsky (crop) (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leon_Trotsky_(crop).jpg) by Synergy, licenced as public domain
    5. Fig. 4: Petropavlovsk-Krondstadt flag (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Petropavlovsk-Krondstadt_flag.svg) by FugeeCamp, licenced as CC0 1.0
    6. Fig. 5: Anarkistimatruuseja (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anarkistimatruuseja.jpg). Author unknown, licenced as public domain
    7. Fig. 6: Petrichenko (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Petrichenko.jpg). Author unknown, licenced as public domain
    8. Fig. 8: Kronstadt rebellion refugees arrive in Koivisto, Finland (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kronstadt_rebellion_refugees_arrive_in_Koivisto,_Finland.tif) by Museot Finna, licenced as CC BY 4.0
    Frequently Asked Questions about Kronstadt Rebellion

    What caused the Kronstadt rebellion?

    The Kronstadt Mutiny was caused by the mutineers' distrust of the Bolshevik rule, which they had deemed to have deviated from the original revolutionary ideals they initially aspired to.

    Was the Kronstadt rebellion successful? 

    The Kronstadt Mutiny was not a successful rebellion. Despite holding their own against an incoming wave of the Red Army, the mutineers were eventually defeated.

    What happened to the Kronstadt sailors? 

    Many of the Kronstadt mutineers faced summary executions while the majority fled to Finland.

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