What do communists think of Trotsky today?

100 years ago in RussiaThe Kronstadt sailors' revolt

"The workers and peasants do not want to live according to Bolshevik orders, they want to decide their own fate. Comrades, maintain the revolutionary order. Demand closed and persistent: the release of all arrested socialist and non-party workers, the repeal of martial law, speech and press and freedom of assembly for all working people! "

This appeal was circulated on February 27, 1921 in Petrograd, as St. Petersburg was then called. The unrest that broke out in the Russian metropolis spread the next day to Kronstadt, the sea fortress at the gates of Petrograd. There the sailors of the warship Petropavlovsk passed a resolution in which they called for new elections for all soviets and thus ultimately called for the overthrow of the Bolshevik government.

Hunger and poverty trigger minor strikes

The protests were triggered by the dire economic and social situation in Russia. The Frankfurt journalist Gert Koenen, author of numerous works on the history of communism:

"In 1921 the civil war died down after enormous casualties that were greater than those of the world war. The whole country was actually deserted, impoverished. The factories in Petersburg, for example, had almost stopped working. So more than half of the population was out of town Fled the city and tried somehow to get by in the country. "

The Franco-Russian writer Victor Serge, one of the few self-critical party comrades of the Bolsheviks, experienced the uprising in Petrograd. At first he believed the communist propaganda, according to which counter-revolutionaries, the so-called "whites", had seized power in Kronstadt through conspiracy and betrayal.

(akg-images) The Russian revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
As a Marxist, revolutionary and founder of the Soviet Union, Lenin had a decisive influence on political events in the 20th century. The son of a school inspector and a landowner's daughter justified the terror after the October Revolution as a necessary price for the victory of the proletariat.

“We learned that there were a lot of small strikes going on in the suburbs. When I went out at dawn, I saw an old maid who was stealthily making off with packages. 'Where are you going so early in the morning, mother?' after disaster in the city. They will slaughter all of us poor, they will plunder everything once again. That is why I am taking my things away. 'Posters on the walls in the still deserted streets called the proletariat to arms. "

"The February Revolution of 1917 broke out because of an acute shortage of bread in Petrograd, which drove people onto the streets. And that's the same here."

The Eastern European historian Jörg Baberowski from Berlin's Humboldt University sees parallels between the end of tsarist rule in February 1917 and the events in early 1921.

"The origins of the Kronstadt rebellion were the bottlenecks after the civil war and war communism, the bottlenecks in the food supply in Leningrad, which was then still Petrograd. And that spilled over to the Kronstadt garrison. And why did it spill over? Because the Bolsheviks just like the Kronstadt sailors and workers remembered February 1917 very well. "

Promises to the farmers were broken

The situation was also dangerous for the Bolsheviks because there were many party comrades among the rebelling sailors - such as Hermann Kaniev, an officer in the Red Army:

"I have come to understand that the Communist Party's policies have led the country into a hopeless impasse from which there is no way out. The party has become bureaucratic, it has learned nothing and does not want to learn anything. It refuses to to hear the voice of 115 million peasants. I refuse to continue to consider myself a member of the Communist Party. "

"You have to imagine the thousands of sailors and soldiers sitting tightly packed on an island and dissatisfied because not much has changed for them as a result of the revolution. You have got rid of the old officers who killed them all in February 1917, but the Bolsheviks did not bring them any joy either. And now they are discovering that the workers in the big cities, that they are rebelling, that there is unrest. And they immediately understand that they can get rid of the Bolsheviks. "

Insurgents demand codetermination and freedom of the press

On March 1st, over 10,000 insurgents gather in the open air in Kronstadt for a mass rally. They elect a Provisional Revolutionary Committee and take up the demands of their comrades from the Petropavlovsk warship:

"Immediate re-election of the Soviets, freedom of speech and press, release of all political prisoners, freedom of assembly, elimination of all political departments in the army, equal rations for all workers, free right of the peasants to dispose of their land."

The Kronstadt sailors are thus questioning the Bolsheviks' claim to power and the privileges of the Bolsheviks: the party of Lenin and Trotsky just one of several socialist groups? An advance that the communists cannot tolerate. They set Red Army troops and their propaganda apparatus in motion to suppress the spontaneous uprising.

Lenin and Trotsky spread hoaxes

On March 2, Lenin and Trotsky sign an order from the Bolshevik government:

"This mutiny is a work of French counter-espionage, in the spirit of the fighting organizations of the political right in Tsarist Russia. The former General Kozlovskij and his officers openly identified themselves as mutineers. The Soviet for Labor and Defense therefore declares the former general and his Comrades-in-arms for outlaws. "

The Petrograd Pravda, party organ of the Bolsheviks, spreads the false report that a Bolshevik fleet commissar was captured in Kronstadt and brutally mistreated, and that he barely escaped immediate execution. Victor Serge is outraged.

"And that was our press, the press of our revolution, the first socialist, that is, incorruptible and unselfish press in the world. Now it lied systematically. Since the rebellious Kronstadt had not shed a drop of blood, since it only arrested a few communist functionaries and treated them gently the fairy tale of unsuccessful executions was invented. "

Insurgents lack intellectual leaders

The insurgents' dilemma: they have no propaganda machine with which to enlighten the masses. And they have no intellectual leaders. Their demands are limited to simple slogans: "Away with Bolshevik autocracy!"; "New election of the Soviets!"

"The goals of most workers and peasants were actually very limited. They weren't interested in getting the state into their hands, in building a new social order, but rather their idea was always aimed at pushing the state away, not close to it to let in, and the needs were limited to the local area. "

War Commissioner Leon Trotsky threatens sailors

A 30-strong delegation from Kronstadt sets out for Petrograd to spread the sailors' demands, but is arrested. The emissaries never return. Then the Bolsheviks drop a leaflet over the fortress:

"You will surrender within 24 hours. If you do that, we will forgive you, but if you resist we will shoot you down like partridges."

Leon Trotsky, the war commissioner of the Bolsheviks, is credited with saying that the Kronstadters will be shot down like hares or partridges.

"Trotsky was certainly a vicious desk clerk, one of the worst who was completely indifferent to the fate of people and the lives of people. Lenin certainly belongs in this category too. The fact that Trotsky does not speak at all in his memoirs of the Kronstadt episode speaks volumes . "

On March 7th Trotsky gave the order to shoot Kronstadt ready for storming. The next day, loyal Red Army soldiers advance across the ice in heavy snowstorms. The rebels, 10,000 in number, keep firing from their heavy artillery, the ice breaks, hundreds of soldiers drown, the attack is canceled.

Bolshevik soldiers who were killed in the Kronstadt sailors' uprising 2.-18. March 1921 were used for the crackdown (RIA Novosti)
The Kronstadt sailors justify themselves in an appeal: "We did not want to shed our brother's blood and did not fire a single shot until we were forced to do so. We had to shoot our own brothers who had been gobbled up by the communists at the people's expense. At the same time, their leaders, Trotsky, Zinoviev and others, were sitting in warm, lighted rooms, in soft armchairs, in the tsar's palaces, wondering how they would shed the blood of the insurgent Kronstadt faster and better could."

Surrender of the Kronstadt sailors

On March 16, the Bolsheviks deployed guns and bombs, and one day later 50,000 Red Army soldiers marched across the ice towards the fortress, with political commissars armed in their backs who prevented them from retreating. After hours of fighting, the Kronstadt sailors surrender to the overpowering enemy.

"Numerous sailors were shot dead immediately on the island, there was a great massacre, and the leaders were taken to camps."

"The rebels let themselves be shot and shouted: 'Long live the world revolution!" "Wrote Victor Serge in his memoirs - not without pathos.

"Hundreds of prisoners were brought to Petrograd and handed over to the secret police, the Cheka, who, months later, shot them stupidly and criminally in small batches. These defeated people belonged body and soul to the revolution."

Coincidence with the 50th anniversary of the Paris Commune

2,500 rebels were shot, 8,000 managed to escape across the ice to Finland. The end of the uprising, March 18, is precisely the day on which the Petrograd newspapers commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Paris Commune with huge headlines; a symbolic coincidence of remarkable historical events, according to Gerd Koenen:

"Non-Bolshevik socialists have often compared that to the crackdown on the Paris Commune. And the sailors also referred to the Paris Commune. They saw it in a way that they represented this original idea of ​​the Commune and Councils. Then that was after the crackdown on the Strikes, after the peasant revolts were put down, was the last act in the civil war. After that, politically speaking, there was a cemetery quiet. "

(picture-alliance / dpa / UPI) Children of the Russian Revolution
While the First World War is raging, things are fermenting in Russia. Hunger and poverty lead to uprisings and the overthrow of the tsar in February 1917. Then in October the Bolsheviks came to power through a coup d'état - the Soviet Union was founded.

Lenin promises a new economic policy

During the Kronstadt uprising, the communists met in Moscow for their 10th party congress. There Lenin proclaimed the end of war communism and a new economic policy.

"Then, one could say, it was Lenin's cynical genius to take on part of the insurgents' demands at this party congress by suddenly propagating the New Economic Policy, meaning that the farmers were actually given a large part of their harvests, their incomes that they could market them themselves, that they could even operate as farmers. And that actually led to the fact that this country, as exhausted as it was, was slowly able to recover. "

At the same time, the Bolsheviks are trying to use armed force to extend their power to neighboring regions such as Ukraine and Georgia, but encounter massive resistance. In the summer of 1924, peasant uprisings and partisan fighting broke out in Georgia.

"There is an uprising that killed 50,000 people, which is almost never mentioned, the Georgian uprising of 1924. It is three years after Kronstadt. And the Bolsheviks are doing the same thing as in the case of Kronstadt A brutality that already stunned contemporaries prevailed. Only then did the state-building begin. After the civil war, the Bolsheviks began to found the Soviet Union. And it was only with the collectivization of agriculture under Stalin between 1929 and 1933 that one did Consequences drawn from Kronstadt, namely to eliminate the peasants once and for all as a political factor in the life of the Russian empire. "

Formation of factions in the Communist Party was prohibited

The Bolsheviks drew another consequence from the Kronstadt uprising: They forbade the formation of factions in the Communist Party, thereby preventing any open discussion. Alleged class enemies persecuted them with the means of the criminal justice system.

"Lenin himself had decreed, which is also part of the connection between the civil war and the end of Kronstadt, that the Bolsheviks must not give up terror, but that they must write terror into the criminal law. That was the famous paragraph 58. This one The notorious Paragraph 58 from Lenin's pen was actually the paragraph according to which mass terror was unleashed under Stalin in the 1930s. "

An excerpt from Vladimir Deschewov's opera "Ice and Steel". It tells the story of a young communist loyal to the regime who mingles with the Kronstadt sailors as a spy, is exposed and cruelly tortured. When she can no longer see a way out, she blows up herself and the enemy with a hand grenade. A piece of agitation that should legitimize the action of the Bolsheviks against the rebel sailors.

The world premiere took place in 1930 in Leningrad, formerly Petrograd, at the historical location, so to speak. "Eis und Stahl" is considered one of the first modern Soviet operas, but soon disappeared from the repertoire.

Defamed, rehabilitated and forgotten today

In Soviet historiography, the Kronstadt rebels were defamed as reactionaries for decades. It was not until the Perestroika years under Mikhail Gorbachev that historians drew a more nuanced picture of events.

And today? The historian Jörg Baberowski: "The revolution has become a negative myth in Russia. It used to be referred to, the positive myth is now the Great Patriotic War, while the revolution in the Putin years actually more as an event of the Destruction is perceived that one does not want to have. These revolutionaries have somehow been forgotten. "

The sailors of Kronstadt, who rebelled against the Bolsheviks 100 years ago in their soft armchairs in the tsar's palaces - a sign for today's Kremlin ruler Vladimir Putin?