Friday, March 15, 2019

White flag over Kronstadt?

The link below goes to an interesting article in ”Spartacist” no 59, titled ”Kronstadt 1921: Bolshevism vs Counterrevolution”. As I noted in an earlier blog post, ”Spartacist” is the publication of a small leftist group in the United States, the Spartacist League. I usually trash this publication, so clearly the time has come to give the Red Dare Devil his due!

In 1921, the sailors at the Kronstadt naval base outside Petrograd (today St Petersburg) mutinied against the Russian Bolshevik or Communist government. The rebellion was soon suppressed by Red Army detachments. Some of the rebels, including the leader Petrichenko, managed to escape to Finland. The Bolsheviks claimed that the mutiny was either led by or inspired by White counter-revolutionaries. Today, both Stalinist and Trotskyist groups take this position. Anarchists, by contrast, claim the Kronstadt mutineers as some kind of honorary libertarian socialists and deny any collaboration between them and the mostly monarchist White Guards. They see the Kronstadt uprising as a legitimate popular rebellion against Bolshevik ”betrayal” of the Russian revolution.

I have commented on the Kronstadt uprising before, for instance in my review of Paul Avrich´s seminal ”Kronstadt 1921”. Avrich, who is an anarchist, created quite a stir among his libertarian-socialist comrades when he unearthed evidence for at least some White involvement in the uprising. The Spartacist League (which as good Communists oppose the uprising) has found much more. The article in ”Spartacist” references and quotes a Russian collection of documents on Kronstadt published in 1999 but never translated to English. The volume is called ”Kronstadt Tragedy” for short.

The article makes two interconnected claims. First, Petrichenko and a small clique around him frequently went behind the backs of both the Kronstadt soviet and the Provisional Revolutionary Committee (PRC), the nominal leadership of the free soviet and the mutiny. In public, Petrichenko called for free elections to the soviets, an ”anarchist” demand. In reality, his clique consisted of Mensheviks and Kadets who really supported the Constituent Assembly, a demand the Spartacist League regards as ”counter-revolutionary” (and so would the anarchists, for somewhat different reasons). Since Kadet leader Miliukov openly advocated the anarcho-populist ”free soviet” demand as a steppingstone to anti-Bolshevik regime change of a more bourgeois-monarchist nature, Petrichenko´s strategy could be seen as a direct emulation of Kadet strategy.

Second, Spartacist argues that the Petrichenko faction of the PRC had direct contacts with Russian White Guards in Finland, and that the British government secretly encouraged the Finnish White government to aid the Kronstadt mutineers. Under the guise of the Finnish Red Cross, a delegation of White Guards visited Kronstadt. One of them, a White officer named Vilken, stayed behind to coordinate with Petrichenko. Vilken also offered Petrichenko 800 armed fighters, but this was rejected, probably because the general mood of the mutinous sailors was ”left-wing”, making such a White intervention too blatant. Petrichenko had to tread carefully. Meanwhile, two prominent supporters of White General Wrangel in Finland, Tseidler and Grimm, were recognized as foreign representatives of the ”independent republic of Kronstadt”. Thus, the collaboration between Petrichenko and the Wrangelites didn´t begin after the suppression of the mutiny (as asserted by the anarchists), but already during the actual mutiny itself.

One of Avrich´s more sensational claims was that a secret White plan for a Kronstadt uprising had been hatched before the ”spontaneous” uprising actually took place. Avrich, however, didn´t believe that this proved the Whites were really behind it – the execution of the mutiny does look spontaneous and amateurish, something to be expected from anarcho-populist sailors but not from seasoned White officers. The Spartacist League believe they have solved this mystery. A report from a White leader in Finland reveals that some Kronstadt conspirators had compromised themselves by attempting to intervene in a Petrograd ”uprising” which turned out to be fake news. This forced the conspirators to stage the rebellion at Kronstadt sooner than they had originally intended to (before the ice connecting Kronstadt and Petrograd had melted). Of course, the subsequent military-tactical blunders of the PRC could still be explained by anarcho-populist incompetence (or the fear of the Petrichenko circle to be found out working with the Whites).

The anarchists will probably continue supporting Kronstadt 1921, perhaps by claiming that Petrichenko – hitherto treated as a hero of the resistance – was a White mole in a rebellion which was fundamentally libertarian and sound. Or they will simply not read ”Spartacist”! Of course, for the ”authoritarian” left, ”Kronstadt Tragedy” simply proves what they claimed to have known all the time: the Kronstadters really were counter-revolutionary, objectively or subjectively. Or, translated from Red lingo: ordinary people can ´t be trusted to defend the socialist revolution, so a single vanguard party is needed instead. 

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