Most people on the left will have heard of Kronstadt – the naval fortress guarding the approach to St. Petersberg. They’ll either know it for one of two reasons, as being a stronghold of the Bolsheviks in the run-up to the 1917 October revolution or for the 1921 uprising. Today, I’m referring to the former, and the running of the fortress by the Soviet during May which Trotsky discusses in his History of the Russian Revolution in the chapter Shifts in the Masses.
So what happened? On May 13 the Soviet resolved that it was the sole power in the fortress and deported the government commissar. According to Trotsky, “Model order was maintained. Card playing in the city was forbidden. All brothels were closed, and their inmates deported. Under threat of “confiscation of property and banishment to the front,” the soviet forbade drunkenness in the streets. The threat was more than once carried into action.”(pg.441)
Of course, the capitalist press at the time tried to slander the soviet, according to them the Kronstadters were “…plundering state property, the women are nationalised(!), robberies and drunken orgies are in progress.”(pg.443) The big contrast here is apparantent, as if the farcical nature of what is being suggested by these newspapers.
The main problem for the dual-power government at the time (the Provisional government and the Soviet ‘executive’) was that eighty officers had been arrested. The government suggested that they were being kept in appalling conditions. Trotsky quotes their appeal as follows “The officers, gendarmes and police arrested by us in the days of the revolution have themselves declared to representatives of the government that they have nothing to complain of in the treatment they have received from the prison management. It is true that the prison buildings of Kronstadt are horrible, but those are the same prisons which were built by czarism for us. We haven’t any others. And if we keep the enemies of the people in those prisons it is not out of vengeance, but from considerations of revolutionary self-preservation.”(pg.442)
In summary, the officers were arrested for purposes of incapacitation are kept in whatever facilities were available. But given that these arrested officers had put down an uprising in 1906 with mass shootings and drownings.
As ever, I much prefer the justice of the oppressed to that of the oppressors.