Kronstadt and Petrograd in 1917: the memoirs of Fyodor Raskolnikov

1. On a Party mission to Kronstadt

During one of my frequent visits to the Petersburg Committee I met K.S. Yeremeyev. From him and from Comrade V. M. Molotov I learnt that the following day was to see the publication of the first issue of the post-revolutionary Pravda.

Owing to the insufficient supply of writers in the first period (because the Party’s principal forces had not yet managed to return from exile and emigration) we felt a particular shortage of printed propaganda for our ideas and slogans. The cloudy and vague Liberal-and-SR romanticism of the early days of the February Revolution had to be countered by the clear-cut socialist programme and the uniquely revolutionary tactics of the Bolsheviks. The Bolshevik workers’ newspaper was to serve as the best instrument of this mass-scale propaganda and agitation.

Later in the evening at the conclusion of a meeting of the Petersburg Committee, K.S. Yeremeyev and V.M. Molotov went off to produce the first issue of Pravda. Konstantin Stepanovich [Yeremeyev] boasted that he had already, by armed force, seized for the purposes of our paper the spacious premises of Selsky Vestnik (The Rural Herald).

Two days later, after writing an article on the subject of the bourgeois and democratic republic, I took it along to the editorial department of Pravda. Konstantin Stepanovich certainly had something to boast about. It was clear that Selsky Vestnik (subsidised by the Government) had succeeded in setting itself up rather well under the old regime. It had occupied a huge stone building on the bank of the Moika, splendidly equipped for newspaper work. Within this same building was a large printing press, with rotary machines. From somewhere in the depths one could hear the characteristic heavy sound of these rotaries at work.

In the yard, which gave on to the adjoining lane, bales of agricultural literature lay about. Straight from the embankment I mounted the main staircase to the first floor, where the editorial department of our proletarian newspaper was now established. The narrow corridor was tightly blocked by bulky packages of issues of Selsky Vestnik.

I approached the first door on the right and heard the familiar voice of Konstantin Stepanovich say: “Come in.” In the room, besides him, was M.S. Olminsky, who had recently arrived from Moscow. I handed them my manuscript. Comrade Yeremeyev said that he had just received an article from Maxim Gorky, [1] but that it was absolutely impossible to publish this, because it was permeated from beginning to end with deeply pessimistic sentiments concerning the devastation and killing that had occurred. I expressed frank astonishment that such a major artist as Gorky had proved unable to find the necessary words, and had seen in the revolution nothing but the Russian people’s lack of culture and the destructive element.

This depressed mood of the democratic intelligentsia, stunned by the colossal sweep of the mass revolution, subsequently found sharp reflection in the newspaper Novaya Zhizn. In Gorky’s article the future ideology of ‘Novaya-Zhiznism’ was already latent in embryo. Naturally, the article was not published.

One day, when I met Comrades Yeremeyev and Molotov in the editors’ room they greeted me with the question: “Wouldn’t you like to go and work at Kronstadt?” Comrade Molotov explained: “Some comrades from Kronstadt were here recently and asked us to give them at least one writer to edit their local Party organ, Golos Pravdy (‘The Voice of Truth’). And they mentioned you specifically.” I replied that I fully agreed to the proposal. “But if you are to go you must go at once,” added Comrade Yeremeyev. “They made a point of that because they are in a very difficult situation. Our Party’s influence at Kronstadt is growing, but there is nobody to consolidate it because our paper can’t be what it ought to be owing to the lack of writers.”

On March 17 I was already on my way by the Baltic railway line to Oranienbaum. [2] The train was crowded with officers who had fled from Kronstadt during the stormy days of the revolution and were now gradually rejoining their units. Their conversation revolved around the recent killings at Kronstadt. According to them what had happened was that the wrath of the mob had fallen upon totally innocent persons. The chief blame for these spontaneous settlements of account with the officers was laid, of course, upon the sailors. Together with intransigent bitterness the officers showed personal fear of the fate awaiting them. “No, I don’t want to die,” said one young Lieutenant, giving expression to the thought of all: “It would be interesting to see the new Russia.”

Incidentally, about those killings. The bourgeois newspapers, in frenzied exasperation, ascribed the shootings of officers at Kronstadt to our Party and in particular laid responsibility for them upon me. But I arrived at Kronstadt after the phase of spontaneous settlements of account was over. As for our Party, as soon as it had gained control of the Kronstadt masses, it launched a vigorous struggle against lynch-law. The shootings of officers which took place in the first days of March bore an absolutely spontaneous character and our Party had nothing whatsoever to do with them.

But when later on, having arrived at Kronstadt, I tried to ascertain the origin and nature of these so-called ‘excesses’ which had aroused universal indignation among the bourgeoisie but left the working class wholly indifferent, I came to the definite conclusion that these shootings had not in the least assumed the form of a ‘pogrom’, an extermination of all officers without exception, which was how the bourgeoisie sought to depict the affair. The sailors, soldiers and workers of Kronstadt, having broken through to freedom, took their revenge for age-old humiliation and insult. But to a surprising extent this movement, which was led by nobody, aimed its blows with remarkable precision. From the elemental rage of the crowd only those officers suffered who had distinguished themselves by most cruel and unjust treatment of the sailor and soldier masses under their command.

The first day of the revolution saw the killing of Admiral Wiren, who had won for himself throughout the fleet the reputation of a brute. His entire system was based on harsh repression and insult to the human dignity of the soldier and the sailor. It was not surprising that the universal hatred he had sown should have burst forth at the first possible moment.

No less well-known throughout Kronstadt, and even far beyond it, as a harsh and inhuman officer, was the commander of the 1st Baltic Fleet Depot, Colonel Stronsky. It was against Wiren and Stronsky first and foremost that the anger of the revolutionary crowd was directed. Their fate was shared by the myrmidons of these satraps of the old regime who, adapting themselves to the course followed by the state, had implemented a policy of stick and knout. Officers who had shown themselves just and humane were not merely spared but, as a sign of special trust, were even elected to the highest positions of command. Thus, Senior Lieutenant P.N. Lamanov was from the first days of the revolution placed at the head of all the naval forces in Kronstadt. To the best of my knowledge there were no guiltless victims in Kronstadt. What happened there was not at all an indiscriminate massacre of officers, but only reprisals against particular individuals who had besmirched themselves under the old regime.

In any case, during the subsequent development of the revolution there were no spontaneous shootings. When charges, old or new, were brought against any concealed counter-revolutionaries, they were put under arrest and handed over to Kronstadt’s investigating commission, which was headed at that time by our Party Comrade I.D. Sladkov.

In the first days, however, the February Revolution did develop in violent forms in Kronstadt.

By their cowardly indecision, their vacillation between the old and the new, the supreme administrative authorities, the commander-in-chief of the port, Admiral Wiren, and the commandant of the fortress, Admiral Kurosh, merely rendered the situation more acute, pouring oil on the flames.

It was known to them already on the morning of February 28 that a revolution had taken place in Petrograd, but they did not believe in its success, did not recognise that it was irreversible: secretly hoping for a counter-revolutionary coup, they preferred to remain silent, outwardly preserving their loyalty to the old regime. In the afternoon of February 28 they summoned representatives of the officers of the fleet and the garrison to a conference. The question before the conference was: could the soldiers and sailors be relied on if they were required to go and put down revolutionary Petrograd? Most of the officers said frankly that they could not be relied on, since, given the feeling prevalent among the masses, the sailors and soldiers would at once unite with the revolutionary forces. But even after the general situation had thus been clarified neither Kurosh nor Wiren took any measures at all to make public announcement of the events which had taken place in Petrograd the day before. Instead, fresh measures of constraint were applied. The sailors with families, who were usually allowed to spend the night at home, were on this day given leave only until 10pm.

During the night of February 28 the sound of firing was heard in Kronstadt, from the direction of Oranienbaum. And then Izvestiya [3] arrived from Petrograd and from it the sailors and solders learnt with intense interest the whole course of the revolutionary events.

The night passed in a state of disturbance. In many units nobody slept and the whole night was spent in lively political discussion. Everyone was excited. The movement started to develop when it was well on into the night. One after another, units, led by their bands, began to come out on to the streets, collecting up the rest of the soldiers and sailors as they went. Among the first to rise was the 1st Baltic Fleet Depot. A great impression was made when the 2nd Fortress Artillery Regiment joined in. The entire regiment, including all its officers, came out on to the street. The regimental commander carried a flag and the band played the Marseillaise.

As dawn came, a crowd of sailors approached the house of the commander-in-chief and called for him to come out into the street. Admiral Wiren got dressed and when he had reached the street gave the command: “Attention!” This command, so inappropriate to the occasion, was met with a storm of laughter. The Admiral then immediately lowered his tone and, appealing to the crowd, invited them to follow him to Anchor Square where, he promised, he would make known everything that had happened in Petrograd. In reply cries of “Too late, too late,” rang out. A sailor ran up to the Admiral and tore off his epaulettes. On the way to the Square Wiren began to confess his crimes against the sailors and to beg them to spare his life. When they got to Anchor Square the sailors shot him. [4]

Admiral Butakov died more bravely than Wiren. This Admiral, a man of very small stature, simply refused to repudiate the old regime and did not humble himself, clinging to his life, as Wiren had done.

According to official statements the number of naval and military officers who were killed was 36. Many more ‘dragons’ (as the sailors called the Tsarist officers) were arrested and sent to the preliminary-investigation prison. In this category were those officers who had been known for their excessive severity, or who had been detected in unscrupulous handling of government funds. [5]

Some of these officers could not control themselves and made their situation worse. When one officer was arrested and was being taken to the preliminary-investigation prison, he started to rage at his captors: “Just you wait, you scoundrels – the machinegun regiment is coming over from Oranienbaum, and they’ll skin you alive.”

These threats infuriated the sailors escorting him and he was killed on the spot. It was still too uncertain what the morrow would bring...

The policemen and secret police agents occupied the Golubev house and held out there with machineguns. A six-inch gun had to be brought up and fired, carrying away the roof and smashing the upper part of the building. After that, the policemen and secret police agents surrendered. Six of them were killed and the other eight arrested. The revolutionaries lost seven men altogether.

Processions marched through the streets all day on March 1 while defenders of the old regime were being arrested. On March 2 and 3 the movement began to assume more organised forms. A Kronstadt Bolshevik committee was soon set up and began to play a very important role in the movement. Everywhere, in the squares and in the Naval Drill Hall, our Party set about holding meetings at which responsible Party workers explained the political questions of the day, our attitudes to the war, to the Provisional Government and to the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.

On March 15 the Bolshevik daily newspaper Golos Pravdy began to appear.

When I reached Oranienbaum I joined with an engineer who happened to be going the same way to hire a sleigh-cab in which to cross the ice to Kronstadt.

To the questions of my talkative travelling companion about why I was making the journey I replied that I was going to the Naval Economic Society to order an officer’s uniform. As I had not yet been promoted to Sub-Lieutenant and was still wearing cadet’s uniform, my story seemed quite plausible.

Soon after crossing the ‘Marquis’s Puddle’, [6] we emerge from the ice into a deserted street on the outskirts of Kronstadt I had never been to Kronstadt before and tried by looking around me to find some sign of our Party committee. After a few turns from one street into another we soon found ourselves in square where I saw a red flag flying over a small house which bore a prominent signboard on which was written in big letters ‘Kronstadt Committee of the RSDLP’.

By a coincidence it so happened that the Naval Economic Society was also nearby. Either way, therefore, this was my destination. After saying goodbye to my fellow-traveller I made my way to the building of the Party Committee. This single storey house, situated near the Sub-Depot, had previously been the home of the town commandant.

2. Kronstadt – as a revolutionary centre

Kronstadt occupies a special place in the history of the October Revolution. All through 1917 Kronstadt played an outstanding political role, sometimes focusing upon itself the attention of all Russia and evoking around its name the lying, fantastic concoctions and frenzied, hate-laden curses of the bourgeoisie. In their eyes Kronstadt was a symbol of savage horror, the devil incarnate, a terrifying spectre of anarchy, a nightmare rebirth of the Paris Commune on Russian soil. And this panic fear of the bourgeoisie at the mere thought of Kronstadt was no accidental misunderstanding, caused by the lying inventions of the capitalist press. It was a completely natural fear for their interests, a fear dictated by the class instinct of the bourgeoisie.

Quite different, absolutely contrary, were the feelings that Kronstadt inspired in those days among the revolutionary workers, soldiers and peasants. Kronstadt in 1917 was the impregnable citadel of the revolution, the safe stronghold against any sort of counter-revolution. Kronstadt was acknowledged by all as the vanguard of the revolution.

But what were the causes that thrust Kronstadt so far ahead, what factors made it the vanguard of the revolutionary front? Underlying the exceptional revolutionary role played by Kronstadt were some specific social and economic conditions.

Kronstadt was, first and foremost, a military fortress guard in the approaches to Petrograd from the sea, and at the same time the principal rear-base of the Baltic Fleet. The civilian population of Kronstadt, a comparatively small number of persons, had always consisted mainly of workers in the Government factories, the docks and the numerous workshops belonging to the Navy Department. In harmony with the overall Kronstadt scene, a severe, draconian regime prevailed in all these enterprises. Everywhere a military administration was in charge an industry was for practical purposes militarised. The labour movement was so crushed under Tsardom that in Kronstadt there were not even any trade unions. In the process of revolution, however, class consciousness developed in spite of everything; it grew stronger, became hardened, and willy-nilly, brought the workers into the embrace of the Bolshevik Party. As a result, the working class constituted, together with the sailors, a most substantial bulwark of our Kronstadt Party organisation and constantly played an advanced, leading role. The very small and politically insignificant Kronstadt bourgeoisie consisted of house-owners, innkeepers and middle-income merchants. By virtue of the ‘Municipal Statute’ of 1890, which favoured them, this not particularly distinguished group controlled Kronstadt’s Town Council and held full power over the local economy. In their municipal policy they regularly promoted, of course, only such measures as suited their own interests, the predatory interests of the bourgeoisie. And the eye of the supreme authorities, watching keenly over the activity of the municipal government, did not encourage any manifestation of initiative or originality.

The Kronstadt bourgeoisie confined their ‘public’ activity to the town council and some meagre philanthropic and charity work, and never showed their heads politically. A section of this bourgeoisie, grouped around the sanctimonious hypocrite Ioann of Kronstadt, openly adhered to the Union of the Russian People. [7]

On the first day of the revolution the bourgeoisie of Kronstdat was dismissed from the revolutionary scene. Understanding nothing of what had happened, it fled from the arena of contending political forces. No other solution was available to it, anyway: it would inevitably have been swept from the battlefront of the revolution. A very narrow stratum of the petty bourgeoisie tried at first to establish its hegemony over the working class, but this miserable attempt ended in complete failure.

In the revolutionary movement at Kronstadt the hegemony of the proletariat immediately showed itself in clear-cut form.

The overwhelming majority of the population of Kronstadt consisted of sailors and soldiers, the former considerably outnumbering the latter. This numerical preponderance of the sailors, which determined the tone of political life, set an indelible imprint on the entire course of the revolution at Kronstadt.

The Kronstadt sailors were a politically advanced element. The point is that the very conditions of service in the Navy call for persons who possess special technical training, that is, they require skilled workers. Every sailor is, in the first place, specialist: a minelayer, an electrician, a gunner, an engineer and so on. Every special trade presupposes a certain body of knowledge and a certain technical training obtained through practice. Consequently, those accepted into the Navy were in the main workers who had passed through a trade school and had by practical experience mastered some special skill. The Navy was particularly keen to take in fitters, electrician engineers, mechanics, blacksmiths, and so on. [8]

The proletarian past of the immense majority of the ship crews, this link between the sailors and the factories, gave them a distinctive social profile, set upon them a clear-cut proletarian class imprint which favourably distinguished them from the soldiers, who were recruited mostly from the rural petty-bourgeoisie.

A well-defined class spirit, sometimes even a Bolshevik cast of mind, a certain intellectual development, and a stock professional knowledge – that was what the ordinary sailor usually brought with him when he entered the Navy. While in the overwhelming majority of cases it was easy to detect the proletarian under the sailor’s peajacket and duck-blouse, the sailors of Kronstadt were almost all urban workers from only yesterday.

This exceptional situation was due to the circumstances that since far-off, immemorable times Kronstadt had been the seed-plot, so to speak, of specialist naval knowledge for the entire Baltic Fleet.

While on the one hand Kronstadt fulfilled a cultural mission, as school of enlightenment, on the other hand it was also a prison. Even in its outward appearance the town gave a sombre, gloomy impression. It was a sort of uniform, deadly-monotonous barracks of a place. And, indeed, hardly anywhere else were people made to suffer so severely as at Kronstadt.

Here there was a disciplinary battalion, in which those sailors who had been assigned to the ‘penal category’ – that is, who had been de facto put outside the law’s protection – underwent exquisite torture, both physical and mental. Thus, for example, the Tsarist disciplinary regulations permitted the application to them of corporal punishment, whereas everywhere else in Russia this had been abolished. Kronstadt had no less than five prisons, not to mention the numerous cells in the barracks. But that was not all. Throughout Kronstadt, in ships and barracks alike, reigned a ruthlessly severe regime of stick and knout, the most unrestrained oppression by ferocious, so-called ‘service’ discipline.

When the authorities transferred sailors from a vessel and sent them to Kronstadt, they saw this posting as a very heavy administrative punishment. In their minds the island of Katlin was as hateful as the island of Sakhalin, that dismal forced dwelling-place of exiles and convicts. [9]

In order to maintain this regime of the rod in proper working order a reliable ruling apparatus was needed and, above all, a proper selection of the higher commanding personnel. Only such generals and admirals as had over a period of many decades made themselves known as experienced, cold-hearted and calculating practitioners of cruelty, only adherents of harsh repression and the merciless whip could expect to be given high appointments at Kronstadt. Only Wirens and Kuroshes who had shown a taste for human blood were assigned to top administrative jobs in the island fortress. Admiral Wiren, that typical Tsarist satrap, outstanding blockhead and unbridled tyrant, looked upon Kronstadt as his personal estate graciously granted to him for uncontrolled wholesale pillage and predatory exploitation.

This old, hardened bully, who had passed through the whole school of brutal militarism from one end to the other and had absorbed into his blood all the foul poison of command under Tsardom, diligently applied, with a zeal that markedly exceeded his intellect, a regime of slavishly blind, unquestioning obedience, maintaining this regime by means of unwieldy punitive apparatus of the most ruthless repression.

Being excessively zealous, he looked everywhere for derelictions of duty, carrying his stupidly exacting ways to the point of petty, irritating captiousness. Thus, for example, it was habit, when being driven through the town in a motor car, to take with him a sheet of paper and a pencil. If he spotted that some sailor who was standing around had failed to spring to attention when he saw him, or did so only with a slight delay, at once ordered his driver to stop the car, beckoned the sailor over, noted down his name and without curbing his tone proceeded to give him a very severe reprimand. But the matter did not end there. The sailor knew that his biggest punishment was yet to come. For failure to spring to attention Admiral Wiren often sentenced a man to thirty days’ detention. Even journey the made through the town resulted in a long list of sailors caught out in carelessness, who had to pay heavily for their accidental and absurdly trivial blunder.

The savage tyranny of this extravagant oprichnik went so that, for example, to check fulfilment of the order forbidding sailors to wear their own clothes, he adopted the practice personally ascertaining whether a sailor’s clothes were mark on the inside with the Government stamp. This monstrous experiment in which the sailor was made to half-undress was carried out without the slightest inhibition, in the sight of all right there in the street. Even the officers, though in every respect placed in an incomparably more privileged position, oftentimes felt the weight of the Admiral’s wrath. The merest trifle, such as wearing non-uniform clothing, was enough to get oneself arrested.

Even the civil population did not escape this universal bullying militarisation. The boys of Kronstadt high school had to accord expressions of ‘service politeness’ to Wiren, that is, in plain words, to jump to attention when he appeared. Maintenance of his thoroughgoing penal-bureaucratic system, consistently applied from top to bottom, necessitated planned organisation. All the henchmen of the cruel Admiral, all the officers serving under his command, had to apply wherever they were this same ruthless policy of suppression and they mercilessly meted out ‘justice and punishment’ to their subordinates. Every ‘lower rank’ was seen by them as a soulless automaton, created merely in order to obey without question whenever given orders.

The task of controlling the lower ranks was facilitated by the fact that the naval officers constituted, owing to the conditions of their recruitment from the noble estate, an exclusive caste that served the ruling class not from fear but for conscience sake. Those rare individual officers who managed to retain a ‘live soul’ in this stifling cesspit, and looked on the sailors and soldiers as their equals, had to seek out ways of friendly intercourse with them, resorting to careful conspiratorial procedures as though they were daring to commit a serious crime.

Discipline is a stick with two ends. It recalls to us that ‘great chain’ which, in the poet’s words, ‘snapped in two and flew back, striking the lord with one end and the peasant with the other’. On the one hand, crude military discipline crushed subordinates unbearably: on the other, it corrupted the commanders themselves to an incredible degree. Beatings, insults, leading to acts of suicide, carping oppression – all this surprised nobody, aroused nobody’s indignation in old Kronstadt except among the oppressed themselves.

Behind Admiral Wiren, Admiral Butakov and Colonel Stronsky, those certificated despots, trailed, in a greedy pack, a whole string of minor ambitious careerists, prepared to do absolutely anything to promote their selfish interests, to rise in the service, and who in their zeal sometimes eclipsed the inventiveness of their masters.

This oppressive Tsarist regime inflamed with burning hatred the hearts of all who suffered under its weight. Rare was the sailor who lived without a dream of overthrowing the accursed, hateful regime. That was why nowhere were conquests of the revolution so highly valued, nowhere was the loss so greatly feared as in 1917 at Red Kronstadt.

What was it that made the Tsarist regime, which was in general not mercifully disposed, subject Kronstadt to even more convulsive pressure than was applied elsewhere, turning the place into a sort of vicious, sinister and terrifying torture chamber? That question is not hard to answer. One needs only to remember the period 1905-1906. Kronstadt raised the red standard high even in those days. The armed rebellion of October 26-27, 1905, wrote a golden page in the history of the Russian Revolutionary navy. Finally, the inexhaustible and irreconcilable revolutionary spirit of Kronstadt caused it to break in armed mutiny a second time, in the summer of 1906. On occasion too, however, the bold and glorious action of Kronstadters ended, alas, in failure. Kronstadt remained alone: it was not supported by Russia. [10]

The Tsar’s Government could never forgive the men of Kronstadt for these two stormy revolts. It could not reconcile itself to the thought that the garrison of a fortress adjacent to the capital was revolutionary. And so it viciously revenged itself on Kronstadt. It lived in panic fear of revolutionary outbreaks which might serve as a signal summoning all Russia to rise, and swore to force the Kronstadters to knuckle under, to stamp out every manifestation of revolutionary spirit among them and reduce them to meek submission.

This fight against the revolutionary sailors of Kronstadt was carried on not only by means of the most ferocious repression, but also of the most cunning tricks of political detection. The zeal of certain dregs of the officers was such that they formally established on their ships branches of the secret police department, so as to be able to sniff out ‘sedition’ and send the most advanced and revolutionary of the sailors to penal servitude. But the harsher the oppression exerted by Wiren’s excesses, the more rapidly did open discontent increase and the sooner was the idea of armed resistance awakened. Now and then this anger seething underground burst forth into the open. Thus, in 1915 there was a sudden mutiny on the battleship Gangut, caused by discontent with the officers’ behaviour. Needless to say, the sad Iist of sailors executed by the Tsar was lengthened by several more names, and the gates of the hard-labour prisons closed on dozens of living men who had been thrown into them to suffer slow death. This mutiny was a spontaneous outbreak. But, besides such elemental manifestations, persevering and conscious organisational work was being carried on.

After 1905, illegal Party organisations enjoyed almost continuous existence in Kronstadt. Party activity started to find particularly lively expression from 1912 onwards, when the period of reaction began to come to an end, and the upsurge of the working-class movement which was now making itself felt stirred interest in politics and brought about a very big influx of members for the Bolshevik Party. Hardly had one organisation come to grief than another arose to take its place. The excellent training received in the illegal Party cells had created, by time the revolution came, an experienced cadre of Party workers.

In addition to the naval units, several artillery and infantry regiments were stationed at Kronstadt, and also specialist troops – sappers, telegraphists, railway units, and so on.

During the period of reaction a relationship of sullen hostility prevailed between the naval and military units. The Tsarist authorities made every effort to set the soldiers against sailors, sowing irreconcilable dissension between them. In the way they spoke they fostered by every means an attitude of mutual distrust between the two groups. Sometimes fist fights and even real battles occurred in the town, between the ‘men’ and the ‘army men’ as they were commonly called. When this happened Wiren and his like rubbed their hands. ‘Divide and rule’ – that age-old formula was the living principle their base, crafty policy.

The soldiers of the Kronstadt garrison were not very different from soldiers in other localities, but, because of unavoidable contact with the more cultured element of the naval crews, their political consciousness and cultural maturity was nevertheless at a higher level than that of their comrades who were stationed in other parts of Russia.

In 1905-1906, during the Kronstadt rebellions, the regiments acted in solidarity with the naval units. But in the iced-up period of reaction which then followed, the divide between sailors and soldiers reasserted itself, disrupting revolutionary effort, and it was not until the revolution of that this ice was finally broken.


1. For Gorky’s outlook at this time, see his Untimely Thoughts, English translation published in 1970.

2. Oranienbaum (now called Lomonosov) is on the mainland south of Kotlin Island, on which Kronstadt stands. In winter the usual approach to Kronstadt would be by train to Oranienbaum and then by sleigh over the ice, whereas in summer one could sail direct from Petrograd to Kronstadt.

3. Isvestiya was the organ of the Petrograd Soviet.

4. An account of Admiral Wiren’s death, by his widow, is included in H. Graf, The Russian Navy in War and Revolution, (1923), pp. 141-142. See also the account by the Anarchist Yarchuk, included in Kronstadt 1921, compiled by A. Skirda, Paris 1971.

5. About 200 officers were put behind bars.

6. The stretch of water between Kronstadt and the Russian mainland was called ‘the Marquis’s Puddle’ after the Marquis de Traversay, a French emigre who became Tsar Alexander I’s Minister of the Navy (1811-1828).

7. I.I. Sergeyev.

8. The Imperial Russian Navy was recruited by conscription.

9. Kotlin is the name of the island on which Kronstadt stands. Sakhalin, off the Pacific coast of Siberia, was used as a penal settlement, like France’s Cayenne and Britain’s Tasmania ('Van Diemen’s Land').

10. After the rioting at Kronstadt in 1905 nearly 3,000 mutineers were arrested, and many sent to prison or exile, but there were no death sentences. After the renewed trouble in 1906, however, 36 of the ringleaders were executed.