Image entitled "The Kronstadt Card is Trumped!" (1921)

Image entitled “The Kronstadt Card is Trumped!” (1921)

          In chapter ten of Russia: A History, author Gregory L. Freeze states that “The Communist Party faced a pressing need in 1921 to transform itself from a revolutionary cadre into an effective ruling institution” (309). One event that helped to emphasize how desperately the Bolsheviks needed to transition to a position of effective ruling was the Kronstadt Uprising. Kronstadt, a naval base located near the head of the Gulf of Finland, served as a battlefield between Bolshevik forces and mutinous Red sailors. In a subject essay about the uprising, James von Geldern discusses the motivations behind the sailors’ mutiny. He writes, “That bitter winter saw Kronstadt, like most other cities in Russia, hungry and discontented. Anger at material deprivations was compounded by the authoritarian regime the Bolsheviks were building, which seemed to violate the spirit of the revolution that the sailors had helped win”. In the Freeze text, this type of discontentment is said to have influenced other sects of the population. He writes:

          “During the closing months of the civil war, the population increasingly demanded that the

           state produce tangible improvements to justify the sacrifices made in the name of

           revolution. As public tolerance of grain requisitioning and other emergency measures

           reached its limit, workers and peasants openly defied Soviet power…In March 1921—on

           the eve of the important Tenth Party Congress—the state had to use force to repress an

           anti-Bolshevik uprising at Kronstadt Naval Base, a bastion of revolutionary radicalism in

           1917.” (Freeze 308)

          On the site Seventeen Moments in Russian History, two very different documents can be found from the opposing sides involved in the Kronstadt uprising. The first of these documents, entitled the Resolution of the General Meeting of the Crews of the Ships of the Line, Kronstadtoutlines the demands of the revolting sailors.

The first point of the resolution reads as follows: “In view of the fact that the present soviets do not represent the will of the workers and peasants, [we demand] to re-elect the soviets immediately by secret voting, with free canvassing among all workers and peasants before the elections”. This shows the dissatisfaction with the manner in which the Bolsheviks were currently running the government and a desire for leaders that better represented the needs of the majority. Other points in the resolution called for more political and economic freedoms, all illustrating a demand for change and a need for the Bolsheviks to address these issues.

          The Bolsheviks put down the rebellion and initially established their rule against counter-revolutionaries through the use of force. In the second document regarding the Kronstadt uprising on the Seventeen Moments site, Bolshevik leaders issue a serious warning to everyone involved. Taken from an issue of the newspaper Pravda (meaning truth in Russian) in 1921, this document is called the Soviet Ultimatums. Zinoviev, leader of the Petrograd Defense Committee at the time, addresses his threat “to the deceived people of Kronstadt”. He warns, “You are completely surrounded. In a few more hours you will have to surrender. Kronstadt has neither bread nor fuel. If you persist you will be shot like partridges.” This quote shows that the Bolsheviks had no problem with using violence, or tactics of War Communism, to assert their dominance and protect their rule.

          The Kronstadt Uprising was a critical event in the Russian revolution because it highlighted the need for the Bolshevik party to respond to public discontent. Freeze writes, “…the Bolsheviks continued to increase repression and centralization despite popular discontent; only in the face of the Kronstadt revolt did the awareness of the need to retreat strike root” (309). The revolt and its aftermath illustrates how the Bolsheviks used violence, and later the provision of economic freedoms in the New Economic Policy, to transition into a position of power.