Saturday, March 20, 2021

Kronshtadt 1921: Where Reds became Whites

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 18 – The centenary of the Kronshtadt revolt and its suppression by the Bolsheviks has attracted far more attention than what was likely a more important event at the same time, the peasant risings in Western Siberia that called into question Moscow’s control over much of the country (

            But because the Kronshtadt revolt took place close to what had been the capital and because it involved armed sailors rather than peasants, it naturally has always attracted more attention as the moment at which popular anger at the Bolshevik regime forced Lenin to back down from War Communism and introduce the New Economic Policy.

            A new analysis by Vladimir Malyshev, a prominent Russian filmmaker, extends that approach and underscores something that the current leaders of the Russian Federation certainly fear, the possibility that almost overnight their most committed followers can become their most virulent opponents.

            Malyshev entitles his essay “The Kronshtadt Rising; ‘They were Reds but They Became Whites’” (, an acknowledgement that the Baltic fleet sailors changed from being Bolshevik shock troops to supporters of the idea of “soviets without Bolsheviks.”

            Because of that history, he says, post-Soviet Russia has remained divided about their actions, a division highlighted by conflicts over establishing or not monuments to the rising with some backing the sailors because of their aspirations for democracy and others opposing them because of the threat they posed to the only regime Russia had at the time.

            Malyshev points out that those in Kronshtadt were not in fact the original Bolshevized sailors of a year or two earlier. Those had been dispatched to fight for the Soviets against the anti-Bolshevik Whites. Instead, most were either soldiers who had been prisoners of the White armies or peasants with very different ideas.

            But despite that, their rising shook the Soviet state to its foundations and served as a reminder that authority has to be won again and again. It isn’t something genetic. And Malyshev quotes former Russian cultural minister Vladimir Medinsky on exactly this point.

            “If we remember,” the current head of the Russian Military-History Society says, “that a revolution devours its own children, then the Kronshtadt sailors were the first children of the revolution who became its first victims.” That is something no one should forget or fail to extend to other situations as well.

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