The Betrayal in Kronstadt

The sudden and brutal way in which the Bolsheviks responded to the demands and rebellion of the garrison of Kronstadt must have come as some shock. The red sailors of the naval fortress saw themselves as being loyal to the promises of the revolution, and as fulfilling these promises in a fashion which should have resonated in Revolutionary Russia. Still the Bolshevik forces charged across the ice taking massive casualties in their determination to crush them the night of March 18, 1921.kronstadt_attack

They were however, unaware of the realities faced by the Bolsheviks when they came into possession of a vast empire, with the realities of defending both the revolution, but also the physical territory of their possessions form foreign enemies. The transition in the official documents of the Bolsheviks, particularly those dealing with the creation of a Red Army to replace the Red Guard are evidence of this recognizing of strategic realities. With the initial abolition of rank in 1917, and a revolutionary induction oath in 1917, it is clear that the intents of the Bolsheviks were in keeping with revolutionary promises. However as time progresses they realize that their initial plans will not, and did not, produce the desired results. Steps were taken as early as 1918 to make the Red Army more effective. The inclusion of many former imperial officers into the Red Army as supervisors and consultants (even as commanders) demonstrates the compromising of the Bolsheviks on their premise of an Army of Peasants and Workers.

If this is evident in the military and the national defense, it was even more so on a day to day basis. Namely the managing of the economic assets of Russia to ensure that bread and other food was readily available. The sailors on Kronstadt had certainly personally witnessed the transition to authoritarian Bolshevism within their ranks, now with the bitter Russian winter upon them the shortage of bread and supplies hardened their resolve. Coupled with a Bolshevik crackdown on freedom of expression and assembly and the ignoring of their Soviet’s demands by the Bolsheviks, revolt was inevitable. And almost certainly felt like they were justified in doing so. Crying “All power to the Soviets, and not the parties!” they set themselves against the Bolsheviks.

The Bolsheviks had no real option, they couldn’t comply fully with these demands and still remain in power, swift and brutal suppression was their choice. The ordering of the press blackout shows how they were well aware of their transition from the Revolutionary Russian sloganeering to authoritarianism but sought to maintain their image as being faithful to the revolution. 


“Kronstadt Uprising.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. January 04, 2016. Accessed February 10, 2017.

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  1. Great pictures and you wrote a great post. The abolition of rank has always fascinated me. Even if they were trying to keep up with their Revolutionary ideals it still makes no sense in a military setting. I also liked how you pointed out the reality that Russia is a massive country with various people who may not have been receptive to Bolshevik ideology. That certainly gave them trouble during and after the Civil War. Great job!


  2. Your first sentence really pulls the ready in. And there’s a lot in this post that invites further inquiry. Kronstadt is such a painful moment for the Bolsheviks. Thanks for this thoughtful discussion.


  3. I found it very interesting to read about this particular flashpoint in the early years of Bolshevik rule. The sailors at Kronstadt were no doubt feeling the pain and felt the need to act in their own self interest. Had it not been for their location, I think things might have gone differently for them. Because Kronstadt was such a vital protective outpost for the city of St. Petersburg and Russia at large, I imagine they simply couldnt afford to let the uprising continue and leave the country vulnerable to attack. Additionally, the island was near one of the biggest cities in Russia and it makes sense that the Bolsheviks would try to stem the flow of information so that such a large population begins to doubt their ability to rule effectively. Simply put, wrong place, wrong time.


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