|Part of the left-wing uprisings against the Bolsheviks and the Russian Civil War|
Red Army troops attack Kronstadt.
|Commanders and leaders|
|c. first 11,000, second assault: 17,961||c. first assault: 10,073, second assault: 25,000 to 30,000|
|Casualties and losses|
|c. 1,000 killed in battle and 1,200 to 2,168 executed||Second assault: 527-1,412; a much higher number if the first assault is included.|
The Kronstadt rebellion or Kronstadt mutiny (Russian: ? , tr. Kronshtadtskoye vosstaniye) was an insurrection of the Soviet sailors, soldiers and civilians of the port city of Kronstadt against the Bolshevik government of the Russian SFSR. It was the last major revolt against the Bolshevik regime on Russian territory during the Russian Civil War that ravaged the country. The revolt began on March 1, 1921, in the city's naval fortress, located on the island of Kotlin in the Gulf of Finland. Traditionally, Kronstadt served as the base of the Russian Baltic fleet and as defense for the approaches to Petrograd, located 55 kilometres (34 mi) from the island. For sixteen days, the rebels rose in opposition to the Soviet government they had helped to consolidate.
Led by Stepan Petrichenko, the rebels, including many communists disappointed in the direction of the Bolshevik government, demanded a series of reforms, such as the election of new soviets, the inclusion of socialist parties and anarchist groups in the new soviets, and the end of the Bolshevik monopoly on power, economic freedom for peasants and workers, dissolution of the bureaucratic organs of government created during the civil war, and the restoration of civil rights for the working class. Despite the influence of some opposition parties, the sailors did not support any in particular.
Convinced of the popularity of the reforms they were fighting for (which they partially tried to implement during the revolt), the Kronstadt seamen waited in vain for the support of the population in the rest of the country and rejected aid from emigrants. Although the council of officers advocated a more offensive strategy, the rebels maintained a passive attitude as they waited for the government to take the first step in negotiations. By contrast, the authorities took an uncompromising stance, presenting an ultimatum demanding unconditional surrender on March 5. Once the surrender period expired, the Bolsheviks sent a series of military raids against the island, managing to suppress the revolt on March 18, and killing several thousands.
The rebels were considered revolutionary martyrs by their supporters and classified as "agents of the Entente and counterrevolution" by the authorities. The Bolshevik response to the revolt caused great controversy and was responsible for the disillusionment of several supporters of the regime established by the Bolsheviks, such as Emma Goldman. But while the revolt was suppressed and the rebels' political demands were not met, it served to accelerate the implementation of the New Economic Policy (NEP), which replaced "war communism".
On October 12 the Soviet government signed an armistice with Poland. Three weeks later, the last important White General, Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel, abandoned the Crimea, and in November the government had managed to disperse Nestor Makhno's Black Army in southern Ukraine.Moscow had regained control of Central Asia, Siberia and Ukraine, in addition to the coal and oil regions of Donetsk and Baku, respectively. In February 1921, government forces reconquered the Caucasus region with the seizure of Georgia. Although some fighting continued in some regions (against Makhno in the Free Territory, Alexander Antonov in Tambov and peasants in Siberia), these posed no serious military threat to the Bolshevik monopoly on power.
The government of Lenin, having given up hope of a world communist revolution, sought to consolidate power locally and normalize its relations with the Western powers, which ended the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War. Throughout 1920, several treaties were signed with Finland and other Baltic countries; in 1921 there were agreements with Persia and Afghanistan. Despite military victory and improved foreign relations, Russia was facing a serious social and economic crisis. Foreign troops began to withdraw, yet Bolshevik leaders continued to keep tight control of the economy through the policy of war communism. Industrial output had fallen dramatically. It is estimated that the total output of mines and factories in 1921 was 20% of the pre-World War I level, with many crucial items suffering an even more drastic decline. Production of cotton, for example, had fallen to 5% and iron to 2% of the pre-war level. This crisis coincided with droughts in 1920 and 1921, leading to the Russian famine of 1921.
Discontent grew among the Russian populace, particularly the peasantry, who felt disadvantaged by government grain requisitioning (prodrazvyorstka, the forced seizure of large portions of the peasants' grain crop used to feed urban dwellers). They resisted by refusing to till their land. In February 1921, the Cheka reported 155 peasant uprisings across Russia. The workers in Petrograd were also involved in a series of strikes, caused by the reduction of bread rations by one third over a ten-day period.
The revolt at the Kronstadt naval base began as a protest over the plight of the country. By the end of the civil war, Russia was ruined. The conflict had left a large number of victims and the country was plagued by famine and disease. Agricultural and industrial production had been drastically reduced and the transport system was disorganized. The 1920 and 1921 droughts cemented a catastrophic scenario for the country.
The arrival of winter and the maintenance  of "war communism" and various deprivations by Bolshevik authorities led to increased tensions in the countryside (as in the Tambov Uprising) and in the cities, especially Moscow and Petrograd--where strikes and demonstrations took place --in early 1921. Due to the maintenance and reinforcement of "war communism", living conditions worsened even more after the fighting ended.
The trigger for the protests was a government announcement, given on January 22, 1921, which reduced bread rations by one third for the inhabitants of all cities. Heavy snow and fuel shortages, which prevented the transport of stored food in Siberia and the Caucasus to supply the cities, forced the authorities to take such action, but even this justification was not able to prevent popular discontent. In mid-February, workers began to rally in Moscow; such demonstrations were preceded by workers' meetings in factories and workshops. The workers demanded the end of "war communism" and a return to the freedom of labor. Government envoys could not alleviate the situation. Soon revolts arose that could only be suppressed by armed troops.
When the situation seemed to calm down in Moscow, protests broke out in Petrograd, where about 60% of large factories had to close in February due to lack of fuel  and food supplies had virtually disappeared. As in Moscow, demonstrations and demands were preceded by meetings in factories and workshops. Faced with a shortage of food rations given by the government and despite a ban on trade, workers organized expeditions to fetch supplies in rural areas near cities; the authorities tried to eliminate such activities, which increased popular discontent. On 23 February, a meeting at the small Trubochny factory approved a move in favor of increasing rations and the immediate distribution of winter clothes and shoes that were reportedly only being delivered to Bolsheviks. The following day, the workers called a protest. Although they could not convince the Finnish regiment soldiers to join the demonstration, they had the support of other workers and some students who marched for Vasilievsky Island. The local Bolshevik-controlled Soviet sent cadets to disperse the protesters.Grigori Zinoviev established a "Defense Committee" with special powers to end the protests; similar structures were created in the various districts of the city in the form of troika s . The provincial Bolsheviks mobilized to deal with the crisis.
On February 25, there were new demonstrations, once again initiated by Trubochny workers, and this time spread throughout the city, in part because of rumors about the occurrence of repression of victims in the previous demonstration. In the face of growing protests, on 26 February, the local Bolshevik-controlled Soviet closed factories with the largest concentration of rebels, which only caused the movement to intensify. Soon the economic demands also became political in nature, which was of most concern to the Bolsheviks. To definitively end the protests, the authorities flooded the city with Red Army troops, tried to close even more factories with high concentrations of rebels and proclaimed martial law. There was a hurry to gain control of the fortress before the thawing of the frozen bay, as it would have made it impregnable for the land army. The Bolsheviks started a detention campaign, executed by Cheka, which resulted in thousands of people being arrested. About 500 workers and union leaders were arrested, as well as thousands of students and intellectuals, and key leaders of the Mensheviks. A few anarchists and revolutionary socialists were also arrested. Authorities urged workers to return to work, to prevent spillage of blood, and granted certain concessions --permission to go to the countryside to bring food to cities, relaxation of controls against speculation, permission to buy coal to alleviate fuel shortages, announcement of an end to grain confiscations--and increased rations of workers and soldiers, even at the expense of depleting scarce food reserves. Such measures convinced the workers of Petrograd to return to work between March 2 and 3.
Bolshevik authoritarianism and the absence of freedoms or reforms reinforced the opposition and increased discontent among their own followers: in their eagerness and in their effort to secure Soviet power, the Bolsheviks predictably caused the growth of their own opposition. The centralism and bureaucracy of "war communism" added to the difficulties that had to be faced. With the end of the civil war, opposition groups emerged within the Bolshevik party itself. One of the more left wing opposition groups with a project very close to syndicalism aimed at the party leadership. Another wing within the party advocated the decentralization of power, which should be immediately handed over to the soviets.
Since 1917, anarchist ideas had a strong influence on Kronstadt. The inhabitants of the island were in favor of the autonomy of the local soviets and considered the interference of central government undesirable and unnecessary. Displaying a radical support for the Soviets, Kronstadt had taken part in important events of the revolutionary period--such as the July Days,October Revolution, the assassination of the ministers of the Provisional Government  and the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly--and the civil war; more than forty thousand sailors from the Baltic fleet participated in the fighting against the White Army between 1918 and 1920. Despite participating in major conflicts alongside the Bolsheviks and being among the most active troops in government service, sailors from the outset were wary of the possibility of centralization of power and the formation of a dictatorship.
The composition of the naval base, however, had changed during the civil war. Many of its former sailors had been sent to various other parts of the country during the conflict and had been replaced by Ukrainian peasants less favorable to the Bolshevik government, but most of the sailors present in Kronstadt during the revolt--about three quarters--were veterans of 1917. At the beginning of 1921, the island had a population of about fifty thousand civilians and twenty-six thousand sailors and soldiers and had been the main base of the Baltic fleet since the evacuation of Tallinn and Helsinki after the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Until the revolt, the naval base still considered itself in favor of the Bolsheviks, and several party affiliates.
The Baltic fleet had been shrinking since the summer of 1917, when it had eight warships, nine cruisers, more than fifty destroyers, about forty submarines, and hundreds of auxiliary vessels; in 1920, only two warships, sixteen destroyers, six submarines, and a minesweeper fleet remained from the original fleet. Now unable to heat their ships, the fuel shortage  aggravated the sailors  and there were fears that even more ships would be lost due to certain flaws that made them especially vulnerable in winter. Island supply was also poor, partly due to the highly centralized control system; many units had not yet received their new uniforms in 1919. Rations decreased in quantity and quality, and towards the end of 1920 an outbreak of scurvy in the fleet occurred. But protests demanding improvements in soldiers' food rations were ignored and agitators were arrested.
The organization of the fleet had changed dramatically since 1917: the central committee, the Tsentrobalt, which had taken control after the October Revolution, was progressively moving towards a centralized organization, a process that accelerated in January 1919, with Trotsky's visit to Kronstadt following a disastrous naval attack on Tallinn. The fleet was now controlled by a government-appointed Revolutionary Military Committee and the naval committees were abolished. Attempts to form a new body of Bolshevik naval officers to replace the few tsarists still running the fleet failed. The appointment of Fyodor Raskolnikov as commander in chief in June 1920, aimed at increasing the fleet's ability to act and ending tensions, resulted in failure and the sailors met it with hostility. Attempts at reform and increasing discipline, which led to a change in fleet personnel, produced great dissatisfaction among local party members. Attempts to centralize control displeased most local communists. Raskolnikov also clashed with Zinoviev, as both wished to control political activity in the fleet. Zinoviev attempted to present himself as a defender of the old Soviet democracy and accused Trotsky and his commissioners of being responsible for introducing authoritarianism into the organization of the fleet. Raskolnikov tried to get rid of the strong opposition by expelling  a quarter of the fleet's members at the end of October 1920, but failed.
By January Raskolnikov had lost real control  of fleet management because of his disputes with Zinoviev and held his position only formally. The sailors revolted in Kronstadt, officially deposing Raskolnikov from office. On February 15, 1921, an opposition group  within the Bolshevik party itself that disagreed with the measures taken in the fleet managed to pass a critical resolution at a party conference that brought together Bolshevik delegates from the Baltic fleet. This resolution harshly criticized the fleet's administrative policy, accusing it of removing power from the masses and most active officials, and becoming a purely bureaucratic body; furthermore, it demanded the democratization of party structures and warned that if there were no changes there could be a rebellion.
On the other hand, the morale of the troops was low: inactivity, shortage of supplies and ammunition, the impossibility of leaving the service and the administrative crisis contributed to discourage the sailors. The temporary increase in sailors' licenses following the end of fighting with anti-Soviet forces has also undermined the mood of the fleet: protests in cities and the crisis in the countryside over government seizures and a ban on trade personally affected the sailors who temporarily returned to their homes; the sailors had discovered the country's grave situation after months or years of fighting for the government, which triggered a strong sense of disillusionment. The number of desertions increased abruptly during the winter of 1920-1921.
News of the protests in Petrograd, coupled with disquieting rumors  of a harsh crackdown on these demonstrations by the authorities, increased tensions among fleet members. On 26 February, in response to the events in Petrograd, the crews of the ships Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol held an emergency meeting and sent a delegation to the city to investigate and inform Kronstadt about the protests. Upon returning two days later, the delegation informed the crews about the strikes and protests in Petrograd and the government repression. The sailors decided to support the protesters of the capital by  passing a resolution with fifteen demands that would be sent to the government.
- Immediate new elections to the Soviets; the present Soviets no longer express the wishes of the workers and peasants. The new elections should be held by secret ballot, and should be preceded by free electoral propaganda for all workers and peasants before the elections.
- Freedom of speech and of the press for workers and peasants, for the Anarchists, and for the Left Socialist parties.
- The right of assembly, and freedom for trade union and peasant associations.
- The organisation, at the latest on 10 March 1921, of a Conference of non-Party workers, soldiers and sailors of Petrograd, Kronstadt and the Petrograd District.
- The liberation of all political prisoners of the Socialist parties, and of all imprisoned workers and peasants, soldiers and sailors belonging to working class and peasant organisations.
- The election of a commission to look into the dossiers of all those detained in prisons and concentration camps.
- The abolition of all political departments in the armed forces; no political party should have privileges for the propagation of its ideas, or receive State subsidies to this end. In place of the political section, various cultural groups should be set up, deriving resources from the State.
- The immediate abolition of the militia detachments set up between towns and countryside.
- The equalisation of rations for all workers, except those engaged in dangerous or unhealthy jobs.
- The abolition of Party combat detachments in all military groups; the abolition of Party guards in factories and enterprises. If guards are required, they should be nominated, taking into account the views of the workers.
- The granting to the peasants of freedom of action on their own soil, and of the right to own cattle, provided they look after them themselves and do not employ hired labour.
- We request that all military units and officer trainee groups associate themselves with this resolution.
- We demand that the Press give proper publicity to this resolution.
- We demand the institution of mobile workers' control groups.
- We demand that handicraft production be authorised, provided it does not utilise wage labour.
Among the main demands demanded by the rebels were the holding of new free elections - as the constitution stipulated - for the Soviets, the right to freedom of expression and total freedom of action and trade. According to the proponents of the resolution, the elections would result in the defeat of the Bolsheviks and the "triumph of the October Revolution". The bolsheviks, who had once planned a much more ambitious economic program and went beyond the demands of sailors, could not tolerate the affront that these political demands represented to their power, for they questioned the legitimacy of the Bolsheviks as representatives of the working classes. The old demands that Lenin had defended in 1917 were now considered counterrevolutionary and dangerous to the Soviet government controlled by the Bolsheviks.
The following day, March 1, about fifteen thousand people  attended a large assembly convened by the local Soviet in Ancla square. The authorities tried to appease the spirit of the crowd by sending Mikhail Kalinin, chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee (VTsIK) as a speaker, while Zinoviev did not dare to go to the island. But the attitude of the present crowd, which demanded free elections for the soviets, freedom of speech and the press for leftist anarchists and socialists, and all workers and peasants, freedom of assembly, suppression of political sections in the army, was soon apparent. Equal rations save for those who did the heavier work - rather than the Bolsheviks who enjoyed the best rations - economic freedom and freedom of organization for the workers and peasants, and political amnesty. Those present thus overwhelmingly endorsed the resolution previously adopted by the Kronstadt seamen. Most of the communists present in the crowd also supported the resolution. The protests of the Bolshevik leaders were rejected, but Kalinin was able to return safely to Petrograd.
Although the rebels did not expect a military confrontation with the government, tensions in Kronstadt grew after the arrest and disappearance of a delegation sent by the naval base to Petrograd to investigate the situation of strikes and protests in the city. Meanwhile, some of the base's communists began to arm themselves, while others abandoned it.
On March 2, the delegates of warships, military units, and unions met to prepare for reelection of the local Soviet. About three hundred delegates joined in to renew the Soviet as decided at the previous day's assembly. The leading bolshevik representatives tried to dissuade the delegates through threats, but were unsuccessful. Three of them, the president of the local Soviet and the commissars of the Kuzmin fleet and the Kronstadt platoon, were arrested by the rebels. The break with the government came about because of a rumor that spread through the assembly: the government was planning to crack down on the assembly and government troops would be approaching the naval base. Immediately a Provisional Revolutionary Committee (PRC) was elected, formed by the five members of the collegiate presidency of the assembly, to manage the island until the election of a new local soviet. Two days later, the committee's enlargement to fifteen members was approved. The assembly of delegates became the island's parliament, and met twice on March 4 and 11.
Part of the Kronstadt Bolsheviks hastily left the island; a group of them, led by the fortress commissioner, tried to crush the revolt, but, lacking support, eventually ran away. During the early hours of March 2, the town, fleet boats and island fortifications were already in the hands of the PRC, which met with no resistance. The rebels arrested three hundred and twenty-six Bolsheviks, about one fifth of the local communists, the rest of whom were left free. In contrast, the Bolshevik authorities executed forty-five sailors in Oranienbaum and took relatives of the rebels hostage. None of the rebel-held Bolsheviks suffered abuse, torture or executions. The prisoners received the same rations as the rest of the islanders and lost only their boots and shelters, which were handed over to the soldiers on duty at the fortifications.
The government accused opponents of being French-led counterrevolutionaries and claimed that the Kronstadt rebels were commanded by General Kozlovski, the former Tsarist officer then responsible for base artillery  - although it was in the hands of the Revolutionary Committee. As of March 2, the entire province of Petrograd was subject to martial law and the Defense Committee chaired by Zinoviev had obtained special powers to suppress the protests. There was a hurry to gain control of the fortress before the thawing of the frozen bay, as it would have made it impregnable for the land army. Trotsky presented alleged French press articles announcing the revolt two weeks before its outbreak, as proof that the rebellion was a plan devised by the emigre and the forces of the Entente. Lenin adopted the same strategy to accuse the rebels a few days later at the 10th Party Congress.
Despite the intransigence of the government and the willingness of the authorities to crush the revolt by force, many communists advocated the reforms demanded by the sailors and preferred a negotiated resolution to end the conflict. In reality, the initial attitude of the Petrograd government was not as uncompromising as it seemed; Kalinin himself assumed that the demands were acceptable and should undergo only a few changes, while the local Petrograd Soviet tried to appeal to the sailors by saying that they had been misled by certain counterrevolutionary agents. Moscow's attitude, however, from the outset was far harsher than that of the Petrograd leaders.
Critics of the government, including some communists, accused it of betraying the ideals of the 1917 revolution and implementing a violent, corrupt and bureaucratic regime. In part, the various opposition groups within the party itself - the left communists, democratic centralists and the Workers Opposition - agreed with such criticisms, even though their leaders did not support the revolt; however, workers' opposition members and democratic centralists helped to suppress the revolt.
The authorities' accusations that the revolt was a counterrevolutionary plan were false. The rebels did not expect attacks from the authorities nor did they launch attacks against the continent - rejecting Kozlovski's advice  - nor did the island's communists denounce any kind of collusion by the rebels in the early moments of the revolt, and even attended the delegate assembly on March 2. Initially, the rebels sought to show a conciliatory stance with the government, believing that it could comply with Kronstadt's demands. Kalinin, who could have been a valuable hostage for the rebels, was able to return to Petrograd without complications after the March 1 assembly.
Neither the rebels nor the government expected the Kronstadt protests to trigger a rebellion. Many of the local members of the Bolshevik party did not see in the rebels and their demands the supposedly counterrevolutionary character denounced by the Moscow leaders. Local communists even published a manifesto in the island's new journal.
Part of the troops sent by the government to suppress the revolt moved to the side of the rebels, knowing that they had eliminated the "commissarocracy" on the island. The government had serious problems with the regular troops sent to suppress the uprising - having to resort to using cadets and agents of Cheka. The direction of the military plans was in the hands of the highest Bolshevik leaders, who had to return from the 10th Party Congress being held in Moscow to head operations.
The rebel's claim to initiate a "third revolution" that resumed the ideals of 1917 and ended the Bolshevik government's mischief posed a great threat to the Bolshevik government, which could undermine popular support for the party and split it into a large group. To avoid such a possibility, the government needed to make any revolt seem counterrevolutionary, which explains its uncompromising stance with Kronstadt and the campaign against the rebels. The Bolsheviks tried to present themselves as the only legitimate defenders of the interests of the working classes.
The various groups of emigres and opponents of the government were too divided to make a concerted effort to support the rebels. Kadetes , Mensheviks and revolutionary socialists maintained their differences and did not collaborate to support the rebellion.Victor Chernov and the revolutionary socialists attempted to launch a fundraising campaign to help the sailors, but the PRC refused aid, convinced that the revolt would spread throughout the country, with no need for foreign aid. The Mensheviks, for their part, were sympathetic to the rebel demands, but not to the revolt itself. The Russian Union of Industry and Commerce, based in Paris, secured the support of the French Foreign Ministry to supply the island and began raising money for the rebels. Wrangel - whom the French continued to supply  - promised Kozlovski the support of his Constantinople troops and began a campaign to gain the support of the powers, with little success No power agreed to provide military support to the rebels, and only France tried to facilitate the arrival of food on the island. The planned supply by the Finnish "kadetes" was not set up in a timely manner. Despite attempts by anti-Bolsheviks to call on the Russian Red Cross to assist Kronstadt, no help came to the island during the two weeks of rebellion.
Although there was a plan by the National Center to hold an uprising in Kronstadt in which the "kadetes" would take over the city to make it a new center of resistance against the Bolsheviks with the arrival of Wrangel troops on the island. , the revolt that took place had nothing to do with the plot. There were few contacts between the Kronstadt rebels and the emigrants during the revolt, although some rebels joined Wrangel's forces after the insurrection failed.
The rebels justified the uprising by stating that this was an attack on what they called the bolshevik "commissioner". According to them, the Bolsheviks had betrayed the principles of the October Revolution, making the Soviet government a bureaucratic autocracy  sustained by Cheka terror. According to the rebels, a "third revolution" should restore power to the freely elected Soviets, eliminate union bureaucracy, and begin the implantation of a new socialism that would serve as an example for the whole world. The citizens of Kronstadt, however, did not want the holding of a new constituent assembly neither the return of "bourgeois democracy", but the return of power to the free soviets. Fearful of justifying the Bolshevik's accusations, the leaders of the rebellion did not attack the revolutionary symbols and were very careful to not accept any help that might relate them in any way to the emigrants or counterrevolutionary forces. The rebels did not demand the demise of the Bolshevik party, but a reform to eliminate its strong authoritarian and bureaucratic tendency that had grown during the civil war, an opinion held by some opposing currents within the party itself. The rebels maintained that the party had departed from the people and sacrificed its democratic and egalitarian ideals to remain in power. The Kronstadt seamen remained true to the ideals of 1917, arguing that the Soviets should be free from the control of any party and that all leftist tendencies could participate without restriction, guaranteeing the civil rights of the workers. and to be elected directly by them, and not to be appointed by the government or any political party.
Several leftist tendencies participated in the revolt. The Anarchist Rebels  demanded, in addition to individual freedoms, the self-determination of workers. The Bolsheviks fearfully saw the spontaneous movements of the masses, believing that the population could fall into the hands of reaction. For Lenin, Kronstadt's demands showed a "typically anarchist and petty-bourgeois character"; but, as the concerns of the peasantry and workers reflected, they posed a far greater threat to their government than the tsarist armies. The ideals of the rebels, according to the Bolshevik leaders, resembled the [[ Russian populism. The Bolsheviks had long criticized the populists, who in their opinion were reactionary and unrealistic for rejecting the idea of a centralized and industrialized state. Such an idea, as popular as it was, according to Lenin should lead to the disintegration of the country into thousands of separate communes, ending the centralized power of the Bolsheviks but, with the over time, it could result in the establishment of a new centralist and right-wing regime, which is why such an idea should be suppressed.
Influenced by various socialist and anarchist groups, but free from the control or initiatives of these groups, the rebels upheld several demands from all these groups in a vague and unclear program, which represented much more a popular protest against misery and oppression than it did a coherent government program. However, many note the closeness of rebel ideas to anarchism, with speeches emphasizing the collectivization of land, the importance of free will and popular participation, and the defense of a decentralized state. In that context, the closest political group to these positions, besides the anarchists, were the Maximalists, which supported a program very similar to the revolutionary slogans of 1917 - "all land for the peasants.", "all factories for the workers", "all bread and all products for the workers", "all power to the free soviets"- still very popular. Disappointed with the political parties, unions took part in the revolt by advocating that free unions should return economic power to workers. The sailors, like the revolutionary socialists, widely defended the interests of the peasantry and did not show much interest in matters of large industry, even though they rejected the idea of holding a new constituent assembly, one of the pillars of the socialist revolutionary program.
During the uprising, the rebels changed the rationing system; delivering equal amounts of rations to all citizens except children and the sick who received special rations. A curfew was imposed and the schools were closed. Some administrative reforms were implemented: departments and commissariats were abolished, replaced by union delegates' boards, and revolutionary troikas were formed to implement the PRC measures in all factories, institutions and military units.
On the afternoon of March 2, the delegates sent by Kronstadt crossed the frozen sea to Oranienbaum to disseminate the resolution adopted by the sailors in and around Petrograd. Already at Oranienbaum, they received unanimous support from the 1st Air and Naval Squadron. That night, the PRC sent a 250-man detachment to Oranienbaum, but the Kronstadt forces had to return without reaching their destination when they were driven back by machine gun fire; the three delegates that the Oranienbam air squadron had sent to Kronstadt were arrested by Cheka as they returned to the city. The commissioner of Oranienbaum, aware of the facts and fearing the upheaval of his other units, requested Zinoviev's urgent help arming the local party members and increasing their rations to try to secure their loyalty. During the early hours of the morning, an armored cadet and three light artillery batteries arrived in Petrograd, surrounding the barracks of the rebel unit and arresting the insurgents. After extensive interrogation, forty-five of them were shot.
Despite this setback, the rebels continued to hold a passive stance and rejected the advice of the "military experts" - a euphemism used to designate the tsarist officers employed by the Soviets under the surveillance of the commissars - to attack various points of the continent rather than staying on the island. The ice around the base was not broken, the warships were not released and the defenses of Petrograd's entrances were not strengthened. Kozlovski complained about the hostility of the sailors regarding the officers, judging the timing of the insurrection untimely. The rebels were convinced that the bolshevik authorities would yield and negotiate the stated demands.
In the few places on the continent where the rebels got some support, the Bolsheviks acted promptly to quell the revolts. In the capital, a delegation from the naval base was arrested trying to convince an icebreaker's crew to join the rebellion. Most island delegates sent to the continent were arrested. Unable to cause the revolt to spread across the country and rejecting the demands of the Soviet authorities to end the rebellion, the rebels adopted a defensive strategy aimed at starting administrative reforms on the island and prevent them from being detained until spring thaw, which would increase their natural defenses.
On March 4, at the assembly that approved the extension of the PRC and the delivery of weapons to citizens to maintain security in the city, so that soldiers and sailors could devote themselves to defending the island, as delegated that had managed to return from the mainland reported that the authorities had silenced the real character of the revolt and began to spread news of a supposed white uprising in the naval base.
At a tumultuous meeting of the Petrograd Soviet at which other organizations were invited, a resolution was passed demanding the end of the rebellion and the return of power to the local Kronstadt Soviet, despite resistance from the rebel representatives. Trotsky, who was quite skilled at negotiations, could not arrive in time to attend the meeting: he learned of the rebellion while in western Siberia, immediately left for Moscow to speak with Lenin and arrived in Petrograd on 5 March. Immediately, a rebel was presented with an ultimatum demanding unconditional and immediate surrender. The Petrograd authorities ordered the arrest of the rebels' relatives, a strategy formerly used by Trotsky during the civil war to try to secure the loyalty of the Tsarist officers employed by the Red Army, and which this time was not enforced by Trotsky, but by the Zinoviev Defense Committee. Petrograd demanded the release of Bolshevik officers detained in Kronstadt and threatened to attack their hostages, but the rebels responded by stating that the prisoners were not being ill-treated and did not release them.
At the request of some anarchists who wished to mediate between the parties and avoid armed conflict, the Petrograd Soviet proposed to send a bolshevik commission to Kronstadt to study the situation. Revolted by the authorities taking hostages, the rebels rejected the proposal. They demanded the sending of non-communist party delegates elected by workers, soldiers and sailors under the supervision of the rebels, as well as some Communists elected by the Petrograd Soviet; the counterproposal was rejected and ended a possible dialogue.
On March 7, the deadline for accepting Trotsky's 24-hour ultimatum, which had already been extended one day, expired. Between March 5 and 7, the government had prepared forces - cadets, Cheka units, and others considered the Red Army's most loyal - to attack the island. Some of the most important "military experts" and Communist commanders were called in to prepare an attack plan. On March 5, Mikhail Tukhachevsky, then a prominent young officer, took command of the 7th Army and the rest of the troops from the military district of Petrograd. The 7th Army, which had defended the former capital throughout the civil war and was mainly made up of peasants, was demotivated and demoralized, both by its desire to end the war on the part of its soldiers and their sympathy with the protests, workers and their reluctance to fight those they considered comrades in previous fighting. Tukhachevsky had to rely on the cadets, Cheka and Bolshevik units to head the attack on the rebel island.
At Kronstadt, the thirteen thousand-man garrison had been reinforced by the recruitment of two thousand civilians and the defense began to be reinforced. The island had a series of forts - nine to the north and six to the south - well armed and equipped with heavy range cannons. In total, twenty-five cannons and sixty-eight machine guns defended the island. The base's main warships, Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol, were heavily armed but had not yet been deployed, as on account of the ice they could not maneuver freely. Nevertheless, their artillery was superior to any other ship arranged by the Soviet authorities. The base also had eight more battleships, fifteen gunboats, and twenty tugs  that could be used in operations. The attack on the island was not easy to accomplish: the closest point to the continent, Oranienbaum, was eight kilometers south. An infantry attack assumed that the attackers crossed great distances over the frozen sea without any protection and under fire from artillery and machine guns defending the Kronstadt fortifications.
The Kronstadt rebels also had their difficulties: they did not have enough ammunition to fend off a prolonged siege, nor adequate winter clothing and shoes, and enough fuel. The island's food reserve was also scarce.
Military operations against the island began on the morning of March 7  with an artillery strike  from Sestroretsk and Lisy Nos on the north coast of the island; the bombing aimed to weaken the island's defenses to facilitate a further infantry attack. Following the artillery attack, the infantry attack began on March 8 amid a snowstorm; Tukhachevsky's units attacked the island to the north and south. The cadets were at the forefront, followed by select Red Army units and Cheka submachine gun units, to prevent possible defections. Some 60,000 troops took part in the attack.
The prepared rebels defended against the government forces; some Red Army soldiers drowned in the ice holes blown up by explosions, others switched sides and joined the rebels or refused to continue the battle. Few government soldiers reached the island and were soon rejected by the rebels. When the storm subsided, artillery attacks resumed and in the afternoon Soviet aircraft began bombarding the island, but did not cause considerable damage. The first attack failed. Despite triumphalist statements by the authorities, the rebels continued to resist. The forces sent to fight the rebels - about twenty thousand soldiers - had suffered hundreds of casualties and defections, both due to the soldiers' failure to confront the sailors and the insecurity of carrying out an unprotected attack.
While the Bolsheviks were preparing larger and more efficient forces - which included cadet regiments, members of the Communist youth, Cheka forces, and especially loyal units on various fronts - a series of minor attacks against Kronstadt took place in the days following the first failed attack. Zinoviev made new concessions to the people of Petrograd to keep calm in the old capital; A report by Trotsky to the 10th Party Congress caused about two hundred congressional delegates to volunteer  to fight in Kronstadt on March 10. As a sign of party loyalty, intraparty opposition groups also featured volunteers. The main task of these volunteers was to increase troop morale following the failure of March 8.
On March 9, the rebels fought off another minor attack by government troops; on March 10, some planes bombed Kronstadt Fortress and at night, batteries located in the coastal region began firing at the island. On the morning of March 11, authorities attempted to carry out an attack southeast of the island, which failed and resulted in a large number of casualties among government forces. Fog prevented operations for the rest of the day. These setbacks did not discourage the Bolshevik officers, who continued to order attacks on the fortress while organizing forces for a larger onslaught. On March 12, there were further bombings to the coast, which caused little damage; a new onslaught against the island took place on March 13, which also failed. On the morning of March 14 another attack was carried out, failing again. This was the last attempt to assault the island using small military forces, however air and artillery attacks on coastal regions were maintained.
During the last military operations, the Bolsheviks had to suppress several revolts in Peterhof and Oranienbaum, but this did not prevent them from concentrating their forces for a final attack; the troops, many of them of peasant origin, also showed more excitement than in the early days of the attack, given the news - propagated by the party's 10th Congress delegates - of the end of peasantry grain confiscations and their replacement by a tax in kind. Improvements in the morale of government troops coincided with the rebellious discouragement of the rebels. They had failed to extend the revolt to Petrograd and the sailors felt betrayed by the city workers. Lack of support added to a series of hardships for the rebels as supplies of oil, ammunition, clothing and food were depleted. The stress caused by the rebels fighting and bombing and the absence of any external support were undermining the morale of the rebels. The gradual reduction in rations, the end of the flour reserves on March 15 and the possibility that famine could worsen among the island's population made the PRC accept the offer of Red Cross food and medication. .
On the same day as the arrival of the Red Cross representative in Kronstadt, Tukhachevsky was finalizing his preparations to attack the island with a large military contingent. Most of the forces were concentrated to the south of the island, while a smaller contingent were concentrated to the north. Of the fifty thousand soldiers who participated in the operation, thirty-five thousand attacked the island to the south; the most prominent Red Army officers, including some former Tsarist officers, participated in the operation. Much more prepared than in the March 8 assault, the soldiers showed much more courage to take over the rioted island.
Tukhachevsky's plan consisted of a three-column attack preceded by intense bombing. One group attacked from the north while two should attacked from the south and southeast. The artillery attack began in the early afternoon of March 16 and lasted the day. whole; one of the shots struck the ship Sevastopol and caused about fifty casualties. The next day another projectile hit the Petropavlovsk and caused even more casualties. Damage from the air bombings was sparse, but it served to demoralize the rebel forces. In the evening the bombing ceased and the rebels prepared for a new onslaught against Tukhachevsky's forces, which began in dawn March 17.
Protected by darkness and fog, soldiers from the northern concentrated forces began to advance against the numbered northern fortifications from Sestroretsk and Lisy Nos. At 5 am, the five battalions that had left Lisy Nos reached the rebels; despite camouflage  and caution in trying to go unnoticed, were eventually discovered. The rebels unsuccessfully tried to convince the government soldiers not to fight, and a violent fight  followed between the rebels and the cadets. After being initially ejected and suffering heavy casualties, the Red Army was able to seize the forts upon their return. With the arrival of the morning, the fog dissipated leaving the Soviet soldiers unprotected, forcing them to speed up the takeover of the other forts. The violent fighting caused a large number of casualties, and despite persistent resistance from the rebels, Tukhachevsky's units had taken most of the fortifications in the afternoon.
Although Lisy's forces reached Kronstadt, Sestroretsk's - formed by two companies - struggled to seize Totleben's fort on the north coast. The violent fighting caused many casualties and only at dawn on March 18 did the cadets finally conquer the fort.
Meanwhile, in the south, a large military force departed from Oranienbaum at dawn on March 17. Three columns advanced to the island's military port, while a fourth column headed toward the entrance of Petrograd. The former, hidden by the mist, managed to take up various positions of rebel artillery, but were soon defeated by other positions of rebel artillery and machine gun fire. The arrival of rebel reinforcements allowed the Red Army to be rejected. Brigade 79 lost half of its men during the failed attack. The fourth column, by contrast, had more successes: at dawn, the column managed to breach the Petrograd entrance and entered Kronstadt. The heavy losses suffered by units in this sector increased even more on the streets of Kronstadt, where resistance was fierce; however, one of the detachments managed to free the communists arrested by the rebels.
The battle continued throughout the day and civilians, including women, contributed to the defense of the island. In the middle of the afternoon, a counterattack by the rebels was on the verge of rejecting government troops but the arrival of the 27th Cavalry Regiment and a group of Bolshevik volunteers defeated them. At dusk, the artillery brought in from Oranienbaum began to attack positions that were still controlled by the rebels, causing great damage; shortly after the forces from Lisy entered the city, captured Kronstadt headquarters and took a large number of prisoners. Until midnight the fighting was losing its intensity and the troops governmental forces were taking over the last strong rebels. Over the next day, about eight thousand islanders, including soldiers, sailors, civilians and members of the PRC like Petrichenko, escaped the island and sought refuge in Finland.
The sailors sabotaged part of the fortifications before abandoning them, but the battleship crews refused to take them off the island and were willing to surrender to the Soviets. In the early hours March 18, a group of cadets took control of the boats. At noon there were only small foci of resistance and the authorities already had control of the forts, the fleet's boats and from almost the entire city. The last spots of resistance fell throughout the afternoon. On March 19, the Bolshevik forces took full control of the city of Kronstadt after having suffered fatalities ranging from 527 to 1,412 (or much higher if the toll from the first assault is included). The day after the surrender of Kronstadt, the Bolsheviks celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Paris Commune.
The exact number of casualties is unknown, although the Red Army is thought to have suffered much more casualties than the rebels. According to the US Consul's estimates on Viborg, which are considered the most reliable, government forces reportedly suffered about 10,000 casualties among the dead, wounded and missing. There are no exact figures for the rebel casualties either, but it is estimated that there were around six hundred dead, one thousand wounded and two and a half thousand prisoners.
The Kronstadt Fortress fell on 18 March and the victims of the subsequent repression were not entitled to any trial. During the last moments of the fighting, many rebels were murdered by government forces in an act of revenge for the great losses that occurred during the attack. Thirteen prisoners were accused of being the articulators of the rebellion and were eventually tried by a military court in a secret trial, although none of them actually belonged to the PRC, they were all sentenced to death on March 20.
Although there are no reliable figures for rebel battle losses, historians estimate that from 1,200-2,168 persons were executed after the revolt and a similar number were jailed, many in the Solovki prison camp. Official Soviet figures claim approximately 1,000 rebels were killed, 2,000 wounded and from 2,300-6,528 captured, with 6,000-8,000 defecting to Finland, while the Red Army lost 527 killed and 3,285 wounded. Later on, 1,050-1,272 prisoners were freed and 750-1,486 sentenced to five years' forced labour. More fortunate rebels were those who escaped to Finland, their large number causing the first big refugee problem for the newly independent state.
During the following months, a large number of rebels were shot while others were sentenced to forced labor in the concentration camps of Siberia, where many came to die of hunger or sickness. The relatives of some rebels had the same fate, such as the family of General Kozlovski. The eight thousand rebels who had fled to Finland were confined to refugee camps, where they led a hard life. The Soviet government later offered the refugees in Finland amnesty; among those was Petrichenko, who lived in Finland and worked as a spy for the Soviet Gosudarstvennoye Politicheskoye Upravlenie (GPU). He was arrested by the Finnish authorities in 1941 and was expelled to the Soviet Union in 1944. However, when refugees returned to the Soviet Union with this promise of amnesty, they were instead sent to concentration camps. Some months after his return, Petrichenko was arrested on espionage charges and sentenced to ten years in prison, and died at Vladimir prison in 1947.
Although Red Army units suppressed the uprising, dissatisfaction with the state of affairs could not have been more forcefully expressed; it had been made clear to the Bolsheviks that the maintenance of "war communism" was impossible, accelerating the implementation of New Economic Policy (NEP), that while recovering some traces of capitalism, according to Lenin, would be a "tactical retreat" to secure Soviet power. Although Moscow initially rejected the rebels' demands, it partially applied them. The announcement of the establishment of the NEP undermined the possibility of a triumph of the rebellion as it alleviated the popular discontent that fueled the strike movements in the cities and the riots in the countryside. Although Bolshevik directives hesitated since the late 1920s to abandon "war communism", the revolt had, in Lenin's own words, "lit up reality like a lightning flash". The Congress of the party, which took place at the same time as the revolt in Kronstadt, laid the groundwork for the dismantling of "war communism" and the establishment of a mixed economy that met the wishes of the workers and the needs of the peasants, which, according to Lenin, was essential for the Bolsheviks to remain in power.
Although the economic demands of Kronstadt were partially adopted with the implementation of the NEP, the same was not true of the rebel political demands. The government became even more authoritarian, eliminating internal and external opposition to the party and no longer gave any civil rights to the population. The government strongly repressed the other left parties, Mensheviks, Revolutionary Socialists and Anarchists; Lenin stated that the fate of socialists who opposed the party would be imprisonment or exile. Even though some opponents were allowed to go into exile, most of them ended up in Cheka prisons or sentenced to forced labor in the concentration camps of Siberia and central Asia. By the end of 1921, the Bolshevik government had finally consolidated itself. .
For its part, the Communist Party acted at the 10th Congress by strengthening internal discipline, prohibiting intra-party opposition activity and increasing the power of organizations responsible for maintaining affiliate discipline, actions that would later facilitate Stalin's rise to power and the elimination of virtually all political opposition.
The Western powers were unwilling to abandon negotiations with the Bolshevik government to support the rebellion. On March 16, the first trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the government of Lenin was signed in London; the same day a friendship agreement was signed with Turkey in Moscow. The revolt did not disrupt the peace negotiations between the Soviets and Poles and the Treaty of Riga was signed on March 18. Finland, for its part, refused to assist the rebels, confined them in refugee camps, and did not allow them to be assisted in its territory.
Claims that the Kronstadt uprising was instigated by foreign and counter-revolutionary forces extended beyond the March 2 government ultimatum. The anarchist Emma Goldman, who was in Petrograd at the time of the rebellion, described in a retrospective account from 1938 how "the news in the Paris Press about the Kronstadt uprising two weeks before it happened had been stressed in the [official press] campaign against the sailors as proof positive that they had been tools of the Imperialist gang and that rebellion had actually been hatched in Paris. It was too obvious that this yarn was used only to discredit the Kronstadters in the eyes of the workers."
In 1970 the historian Paul Avrich published a comprehensive history of the rebellion including analysis of "evidence of the involvement of anti-Bolshevik émigré groups." An appendix to Avrich's history included a document titled Memorandum on the Question of Organizing an Uprising in Kronstadt, the original of which was located in "the Russian Archive of Columbia University" (today called the Bakhmeteff Archive of Russian & East European Culture). Avrich says this memorandum was probably written between January and early February 1921 by an agent of an exile opposition group called the National Centre in Finland. The "Memorandum" has become a touchstone in debates about the rebellion. A 2003 bibliography by a historian Jonathan Smele characterizes Avrich's history as "the only full-length, scholarly, non-partisan account of the genesis, course and repression of the rebellion to have appeared in English."
Those debates started at the time of the rebellion. Because Leon Trotsky was in charge of the Red Army forces that suppressed the uprising, with the backing of Lenin, the question of whether the suppression was justified became a point of contention on the revolutionary left, in debates between anarchists and Leninist Marxists about the character of the Soviet state and Leninist politics, and more particularly in debates between anarchists and Trotsky and his followers. It remains so to this day. On the pro-Leninist side of those debates, the memorandum published by Avrich is treated as a "smoking gun" showing foreign and counter-revolutionary conspiracy behind the rebellion, for example in an article from 1990 by a Trotskyist writer, Abbie Bakan. Bakan says "[t]he document includes remarkably detailed information about the resources, personnel, arms and plans of the Kronstadt rebellion. It also details plans regarding White army and French government support for the Kronstadt sailors' March rebellion."
Bakan says the National Centre originated in 1918 as a self-described "underground organization formed in Russia for the struggle against the Bolsheviks." After being infiltrated by the Bolshevik Cheka secret police, the group suffered the arrest and execution of many of its central members, and was forced to reconstitute itself in exile. Bakan links the National Centre to the White army General Wrangel, who had evacuated an army of seventy or eighty thousand troops to Turkey in late 1920. However, Avrich says that the "Memorandum" probably was composed by a National Centre agent in Finland. Avrich reaches a different conclusion as to the meaning of the "Memorandum":
Avrich rejects the idea that the "Memorandum" explains the revolt:
Moreover, whether the Memorandum played a part in the revolt can be seen from the reactions of the White "National Centre" to the uprising. Firstly, they failed to deliver aid to the rebels or to get French aid to them. Secondly, Professor Grimm, the chief agent of the National Centre in Helsingfors and General Wrangel's official representative in Finland, stated to a colleague after the revolt had been crushed that if a new outbreak should occur then their group must not be caught unaware again. Avrich also notes that the revolt "caught the emigres off balance" and that "nothing... had been done to implement the Secret Memorandum, and the warnings of the author were fully borne out." 
In 1939, Isaac Don Levine introduced Whittaker Chambers to Walter Krivitsky in New York City. First, Krivitsky asked, "Is the Soviet Government a fascist government?" Chambers responded, "You are right, and Kronstadt was the turning point." Chambers explained:
From Kronstadt during the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the sailors of the Baltic Fleet had steamed their cruisers to aid the Communists in capturing Petrograd. Their aid had been decisive.... They were the first Communists to realize their mistake and the first to try to correct it. When they saw that Communism meant terror and tyranny, they called for the overthrow of the Communist Government and for a time imperiled it. They were bloodily destroyed or sent into Siberian slavery by Communist troops led in person by the Commissar of War, Leon Trotsky, and by Marshal Tukhachevsky, one of whom was later assassinated, the other executed, by the regime they then saved. Krivitsky meant that, by the decision to destroy the Kronstadt sailors and by the government's cold-blooded action to do so, Communist leaders had changed the movement from benevolent socialism to malignant fascism.
In the collection of essays about Communism, The God That Failed (1949), Louis Fischer defined "Kronstadt" as the moment in which some communists or fellow travelers decided not only to leave the Communist Party but to oppose it as anti-communists.
Editor Richard Crossman said in the book's introduction: "The Kronstadt rebels called for Soviet power free from Bolshevik dominance" (p. x). After describing the actual Kronstadt rebellion, Fischer spent many pages applying the concept to subsequent former-communists, including himself:
"What counts decisively is the 'Kronstadt'. Until its advent, one might waver emotionally or doubt intellectually or even reject the cause altogether in one's mind, and yet refuse to attack it. I had no 'Kronstadt' for many years." (p. 204).