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Russian Revolution: 'was the Krondstat Naval Uprising a Spontaneous Ac

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History Revolutions - The Kronstadt Naval Uprising

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On March 1, 1921, the sailors of the Kronstadt naval fortress rose up in an armed rebellion against Russia's totalitarian leadership, claiming that Bolshevik control of Russia had failed to achieve its promise of working class liberation, delivering only a 'new serfdom' and 'even greater enslavement of human beings'.

The Kronstadt sailors, who had previously been regarded by Trotsky himself as the 'pride and glory' of the revolution, now held themselves in direct dissention with the state's communist rule. The rebels quickly adopted a self-drafted fifteen-point plan of political and social reforms that they vowed to fight by, aspiring to achieve a third and new 'toilers revolution'.

At the time of the revolt, members of the Russian populace who sympathized with the Kronstadt sailors viewed them as revolutionaries 'fighting to restore the true soviet idea'. However, the Bolshevik government took the belief that the uprising was the result of a premeditated conspiracy on behalf of counter-revolutionary 'whiteguard agents,' and undertook extreme measures to propagate this view amongst the public.

This was an issue that would later become a point of much contention between historians holding different theories over the causes of the event. This study shall seek to justify the view that the Kronstadt uprising was one of spontaneous revolt, brought on by discontent with the conditions experienced under the Bolshevik regime, and not the result of a precontrived outside 'White' influence.

During the years preceding the Kronstadt rebellion, Russia was locked within a brutal period of civil war between the Bolshevik's 'red' army and the opposing scattered 'white' imperialist forces fighting for reinstatement of the old Tsarist rule.

The war's great expense as a consequence of its need for resources was dealing a crushing blow to the already crippled Russian economy, and its constant skirmishes caused the disruption of transport around the nation. This, amongst other factors, prevented foodstuffs grown in rural areas from reaching the cities, causing widespread famine and mass exoduses from these areas. Petrograd, where the Kronstadt naval base was situated, suffered greatly during this period. Its remoteness from producing areas contributed to a dire food shortage and the departure over half its population, its numbers dropping from 2.5 million to just 750 000 between the years of 1917-20 due to workers emigrating to the countryside in search of food. One Soviet source likens the conditions of this time to 'fertile soilÐ'...for the intrigues of the counter-revolution'.

This desertion from the cities in turn effected a huge drop in factory production and industry, which both the Bolshevik government and the war effort relied upon heavily.

In order to combat the hunger situation and its secondary effects, the government embarked upon a hurriedly improvised policy that Lenin coined 'war communism.' War communism involved the forced requisition of all surplus crops from peasant farms by 'red-guard' armed units, in order to provision the army and remedy the famine situation rife within the cities.

However, 'war communism' was met with discontent from the peasant class, which disliked the compulsory acquisition of their produce by the red-guards, who frequently took more than just their surplus yield. Peasant dissatisfaction reached its peak following November 1920 when crop confiscation continued, despite the victorious conclusion of the civil war. Peasants declared their discontent by hiding surplus grain from the requisition units, and cultivating only enough crops for their own purposes. As a result, the ongoing effectiveness of 'war communism' became questionable, as it actually brought with it lower production outputs. The amount of sown acreage in 1920 was only three-fifths that of the 1913 figure and 'war communism' contributed to an ongoing disfavor with the government from rural areas, while still failing to remedy the food problem within the cities.

By the winter of 1921, the food crisis had caused conditions within Petrograd to deteriorate even further. Discontent amongst the population with the Bolshevik government became increasingly evident, manifesting itself in a series of sporadic strikes from February 9th onwards. Those involved protested initially just for an increase in rations, but according to Pipes, their demands soon widened in scope to include political reforms as well, such as fair elections and freedom of speech under the pressure of Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary influence.

Confronted with such civil unrest, Lenin sent emissaries to speak before hostile protesters in order to justify the Bolshevik policies. At one meeting, Lenin himself addressed the crowd, asking the assemblage whether they would prefer a return of the whites. One shouted reply stated "Let come who may- whites, blacks, or devils themselves- just you clear out!" In order to put an end to such defiance within Petrograd and other cities, the Bolshevik government banned all street gatherings and turned to the army in order to quell any demonstrations.

News of the worker dispute and famine within Petrograd soon filtered through to the Kronstadt naval base and its complement of 10 000 sailors. According to the historian Avrich, those stationed at Kronstadt had a reputation for being 'untamed spirits, who instinctively resisted external discipline and lusted for freedom and adventure.' While initially clear supporters of the Bolsheviks, the strikes and discontent prevalent within the country somewhat 'heightened their social and political awareness' and they began to express grievances with the Bolshevik regime.

On the 28th of February, a delegation that was sent to Petrograd reported back to the fortress, declaring that the Bolshevik leadership had imposed conditions of oppression comparable to that of Tsarist times. Acting upon this information, the Kronstadt sailors adopted a fifteen-point charter detailing demands for an end to 'War Communism', re-election of the soviets, free speech, equalized rations and a number of other resolutions. With this, on March 2nd, they fortified themselves within Kronstadt, and steeled themselves for the oncoming Bolshevik assault.

The Kronstadt naval base remained under rebel control for sixteen days, until red army units attacking



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