Friday, November 23, 2007

Kronstadt foam

A letter to the Weekly Worker

Edward Eisenstein's letter on the 1921 Kronstadt rebellion is based on the amalgam technique of lumping different opponents of the Communist Party together as if they were the same, and furthermore resorts to using "authoritative quotes" as if these were themselves evidence. For example the claim that "Subjectively the [Kronstadters] were doubtlessly highly moral revolutionists. But objectively it was a filthy counterrevolution" is highly tendentious, but goes without explanation.

However, not only were the Kronstadters' aims fundamentally different from those of the Whites - who were hardly partisans of slogans for "free soviet elections" and "workers' control" in industry - but it is not true that they excluded Communists from their soviet.

The city's equivalent of a soviet was convened at the Kronstadt Engineers' College on 2nd March 1921. Three hundred and three ship, dock, army unit, workshop, trade union and soviet institution delegates participated, with Communists representing over one-third of those attending. The meeting elected a Provisional Revolutionary Committee in which anarcho-populist Maximalists (not Makhnovists) held great influence, and fresh soviet elections were planned. In the 4th March edition of its paper Izvestiia the PRC published the Appeal of the independent Provisional Bureau of the Kronstadt section of the Russian Communist Party, formed by long-standing local Communist leaders Ilyin, Pervushin and Kabanov;

"Do not believe the absurd rumours that Communist leaders are supposedly being shot or that Communists are preparing for armed action in Kronstadt. They are spread by a clearly provocative element, which wishes to provoke bloodshed. These are lies and absurdities, and it is on such as these that the agents of the Entente, working to achieve the overthrow of soviet power, wish to play.
"We openly declare that our party, with weapon in hand, has and will defend all the achievements of the working class against the open and secret White Guards who wish the destruction of the Soviet power of workers and peasants.
"The Provisional Bureau of the R.C.P recognizes new elections to the Soviet as necessary, and calls on all members of the R.C.P to take part in these new elections."

The Kronstadt sailors, workers and soldiers demanding free soviet elections - a slogan raised at the March 1919 Putilov works strike as well as in February 1921's Petrograd strikes - was no call for bourgeois counter-revolution. Indeed the Kronstadters had rebuffed the Right Socialist Revolutionaries, who wanted to replace soviet power with a Constituent Assembly, as can easily be divined by reading their fifteen demands (the Petropavlovsk resolution).

It in any case seems perverse to foam at the mouth attacking the Kronstadt workers' council for alleged exclusions, given that the Communist Party leadership had brutally suppressed numerous strikes such as that of workers at the Aleksandrovskii workshops in February-March 1919 and the Petrograd general strike of March 1919, co-opted the Factory Committees into official unions and replaced workers' control with one-man management, and clamped down on dissidents within the Communist Party itself at the March 1921 Tenth Congress. Along with the atrophy of soviets and the lack of independent unions, this meant a severe disenfranchisement of the working class.

What those who tell us that Kronstadt was a counter-revolution do not get is (a) that it was possible to criticise the Communist leaders at certain given junctures from a revolutionary point of view, not a reactionary one and (b) that working-class self-rule is the revolution itself (i.e. the reason why it has become the ruling class), and this cannot be put on ice or abandoned in the interest of some higher military-strategic goal. Even if well-meaning, sincerely revolutionary and beset by difficult circumstances, the Communist Party undermined workers' power by crushing those who wanted to democratise the soviet apparatus and restore working-class authority over such organs. Yet according to Edward, anarchists are "unable to settle things in a comradely fashion"!

The claim that the rule of the Kronstadt workers' council meant ceding ground to imperialism, but that invading the city and killing thousand upon thousand of people was to defend its workers' authority, is beyond my comprehension. Why would the Kronstadters who declared soviet power in May 1917 and March 1921 not resist a White invasion? Much as I am not an anarchist I think it perfectly possible to isolate different anarchist organisations in different episodes and judge when they are supporting workers' power and when they are not.

I suggest that Edward reads Israel Getzler's book Kronstadt 1917-1921: the fate of a soviet democracy and Ida Mett's pamphlet The Kronstadt Uprising of 1921

3 comments:

Renegade Eye said...

See this.

What is your opinion of Trotsky's role?

Phil BC said...

Just a quick note, if the term 'deformed workers' state' is to have any analytical purchase on reality, the early soviet republic certainly fitted the bill. In fact, it was born deformed owing to the material circumstances of its birth and how these acted as pressures that ensured a healthy workers' state, in the absence of the spread of revolution, was the least likely outcome.

This doesn't mean we should "abandon" the Russian revolution. But it does mean we should always have a critical relation to it and not gloss over those episodes where the actions of the Bolsheviks were found wanting.

David Broder said...

I agree, Phil, that the early Soviet Republic can be characterised as a 'deformed' workers' state in that circumstance imposed certain restrictions on its functioning as a soviet democracy.

Even though the working class was substantially disenfranchised by Bolshevik centralisation and the atrophy of soviets, it still held a certain residual power for a few years thanks to continuing revolutionary ideas and working class confidence, as expressed until spring 1921 by militant strikes.

As I'm sure you'll agree, this is not comparable to the alleged "deformed workers' states" set up by Stalin in the wake of World War II, where the working class was unable to assert any kind of influence as an independent force.