Short presentation at the Kronstadt as Revolutionary Utopia, 1921-2021 and Beyond, Panel: “The After-Lives of Kronstadt”
Greetings & Hello
Thank you for having me
It’s an honor to share this electronic stage with the other co-presenters. It’s been an excellent informative conference.
In thinking about Kronstadt and all movements for social change, I believe the old libertarian socialist group, London Solidarity, put it best in their 1967 Preface to Ida Mett’s “The Kronstadt Commune”. They laid out that most histories written by radicals are those trying to score a point for their Party or leaders.
As they wrote:
“The masses never appear independently on the historical stage, making their own history. At best they only ‘supply the steam’, enabling others to drive the locomotive, as Stalin so delicately put it.”
For me and others, the main contribution of the Russian workers, citizens, peasants were being the guiding forces in both the struggle and in the constructive phase of the revolution. They alone are really the steam, the engine and the engineer rolled into one. And there is no doubt that revolutionary advances are never made without the daily toil of those directly engaged.
It is clear to me, a Revolution must be Constructive or it will doom itself to failure.
Of course, there are many aspects to revolution. In this short presentation I will touch upon two aspects of the Russian Revolution, because they still retain importance: Housing and the workplace.
1. The struggle for housing
In Petrograd, as elsewhere, the revolutionary struggle took on all forms of injustices and sought to immediately provide relief to the citizen-worker .
The well known Russian anarcho-syndicalist participant in the Russian Revolution, G.P Maximoff, wrote, that in the wake of October 1917,
“Under the influence of Anarcho-Syndicalist propaganda, there began in Petrograd a spontaneous process of socialisation of housing by the house committees. This extended to entire streets, bringing into existence street committees and block committees, when entire blocks were drawn in. It spread to other cities. In Kronstadt it started even earlier than Petrograd and reached even greater intensity. If in Petrograd and other cities, dwellings were socialised only on the triumph of the October revolution, in Kronstadt similar steps were taken earlier, under the influence of [Kronstadt anarcho-syndicalist Efim] Yartchuk, who was enjoying great popularity in that town, and in face of the active resistance of the Bolsheviks. Measures of this kind were carried out in an organised way by the revolutionary workers and sailors throughout the town. The Bolshevik fraction left a session of the Kronstadt Soviet in protest against the socialisation of dwellings.” [ “Syndicalists in the Russian Revolution” ]
According to Hubertus F. Jahn. the house committees “tasks were keeping order, defending the house, distributing ration cards, registering tenants, and caring for hygienic conditions in house and court-yard. “
“…… These cooperatives regulated the life of the whole building and tried to organize communal kitchens. In other dwellings, where bourgeois elements still happened to reside, the new house committees of the poor or recently moved-in soldiers or workers often held sway. Without consideration of age, sex, or former status, all inhabitants took turns keeping watch during the night, clearing away the snow, and so on.”
The saying that “the basement is now identical to the second floor” summarizes the new social situation in the houses.”
2. The struggle for workers self-management
A key aspect of the revolutionary struggle is the struggle for economic freedom and workers self -management.
From the outset the Anarcho-Syndicalists were clear about what it would take to establish libertarian socialism.
In 1917, according to the Petrograd Union of Anarcho-syndicalist Propaganda :
“The whole expanse of Russia is now covered by an intricate network of popular organizations: soviets of peasants’, workers’ and soldiers’ deputies, industrial unions, factory committees, unions of landless peasants, etc., etc. And with each day the conviction is growing among the toiling masses that only the people themselves, through their own non-party organizations, can accomplish the task of a fundamental social and economic reconstruction.” [June 1917 “Petrograd Union of Anarcho-Syndicalist Propaganda”]
As Maximoff also points out:
“The idea of “workers’ control”, carried out through the Factory Committees, an idea advocated by the Anarcho-Syndicalists from the very outset of the revolution, took root among the city workers, gaining such a strong hold on them as to force its acceptance, in a distorted form, of course, by the Socialist parties. The Social Democrats and the right Social-Revolutionists twisted this idea of workers’ control into that of State control over industry, with the participation of workers, leaving enterprises in the hands of the capitalists. As for the Bolsheviks, they were quite vague about the meaning of the term “workers’ control”, leaving it undefined, and making it a handy tool of demagogic propaganda.” [Syndicalists in the Russian Revolution]
The Bolsheviks concept of “workers control” was, at best, weak kneed and “merely legalized gains the workers committee movement in Russia had already achieved through class fights during 1917.”
[“Debate with the International Socialist Organization “ By Tom Wetzel, https://zcomm.org/zblogs/debate-with-the-international-socialist- organization-by-tom-wetzel/ ]
Anotherwords, The State and The Party, not the self-governing and independent non-state organizations of citizens, peasants and workers were to rule, to be in charge, to manage and control. The very antithesis of the slogan “All power to the soviets” and libertarian and grass roots oriented aims at the start of the revolution. The end of the revolutionary and constructive phase was at its end.
In drawing this to a close,
I thought Ida Mett, in her 1938 epic pamphlet “The Kronstadt Commune” put her finger on the pulse of the “socialist project”. The project of yesterday and today.
She observed that :
“The great ideological and political discussion between ‘realists’ and ‘dreamers’ between ‘scientific socialists’ and the ‘revolutionary volnitza ‘[or ‘open conference’.] was fought out, weapons in hand. It ended, in 1921, with the political and military defeat of the ‘dreamers’. But Stalin was to prove to the whole world that this defeat was also the defeat of socialism, .…”
The defeat of Kronstadt was the final defeat of what workers and citizen’s self-management might become.
Fifty years on I continue to be inspired by the libertarian tendencies of the Russian workers, the heroic Kronstadt sailors, the Paris Commune, the Spanish collectives and other struggles, for freedom from oppression, for a socialism that is self-managed and libertarian. The creation of a new society from below.
It is in their spirit that we carry on the struggle for freedom.
THANK YOU (End)