Kronstadt and Petrograd in 1917: the memoirs of Fyodor Raskolnikov

At once I came upon a group of leading comrades in one of the rooms of the Kronstadt Party Committee. Among them were Kirll (Orlov), an old Potemkin mutineer; Semyon Roshal, a student of psychoneurology who had been released from the Kresty prison by the events of the February Revolution; Dmitry Zhemchuzhin; and Comrade Ulyantsev, a former hard-labour convict who had been sentenced at the end of 1916 in the sensational case of the Kronstadt sailors. This trial evoked a wide echo because the harsh sentence passed on him had stirred up a great wave of workers’ protest strikes in Petrograd, [1] Moscow and many provincial cities.

The only one of this group I already knew was Roshal. On December 9, 1912, he had been arrested along with others the ‘Witmer’ affair [2] and after the outbreak of war until arrested again he was a member of a group which met in my flat to discuss the question of the war, other current issues, and also Marxist theory. Needless to say, Comrade Roshal always held the Bolshevik position and like me was a Bolshevik-Leninist.

The Kronstadt comrades greeted me with extraordinary warmth and pleasure. We went together into the editor’s room. Through intimate, friendly talk with them I became briefly acquainted with the state of affairs at Kronstadt. The initial period of spontaneous settlement of old scores with the Tsarist oppressors had already passed, and the Kronstadt committee was applying itself, without losing any time, to organised consolidation of the achievements of the revolutionary victory a clarification of the class consciousness of the working people Kronstadt by means of systematic agitation and propaganda. In that connection it was particularly important that the local Party newspaper should be properly conducted. We agreed that I should edit the paper, with the Polytechnic student P. I. Smirnov, who was also a member of the editorial board, as an assistant. He had already brought out the first three issues Golos Pravdy, but on that day he happened to be in Petersburg.

Without more ado I set to work examining the manuscript submitted for publication and even started to prepare to write leading article and a feuilleton. But just then a loud conversation in the next room distracted my attention. It turned out that the town commandant, N.F. Ogarev, had come to remove his furniture from his flat, which the Kronstadt Committee had taken over. Comrade Kirill Orlov, in heated argument with him, was flatly refusing to let the place be stripped of its tables and chairs.

That evening Roshal and I went to the Soviet of Servicemen’s Deputies.

In the first days of the February Revolution a ‘Committee of the Social Movement’, usually spoken of as the ‘Movement Committee’, had been formed at Kronstadt. Later, however, the worker, sailor and soldier masses had set up their own organs and the ‘Movement Committee’, an organisation consisting only of members of the intelligentsia, was replaced by a Soviet of Servicemen’s Deputies and a Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, which at first existed separately.

When we arrived at the Soviet of Servicemen’s Deputies the meeting was in full swing. The big hall of the former officers’ club, equipped with tables and chairs, was full. We stood at the back. By a decision of the Kronstadt masses officers’ epaulettes had already been abolished and the army officers were distinguishable from the soldiers only by the better-quality cloth of their blouses. The naval officers stood out more noticeably owing to their blue, high-collared jackets with a row of gold buttons down the front. But both the military and the naval officers gave themselves away by what they said in their speeches and I realised at once that the Kronstadt Soviet of Servicemen’s Deputies had not yet outgrown the hegemony of the officers. In the chair was a young officer named Krasovsky, who was either from the fortress artillery or else a representative of some infantry regiment. The secretary of the Soviet was a volunteer [3] named Zhivotovsky, the son of a quite well-known rich man. In this first, casually composed Soviet, great authority was wielded by Colonel Dubov, of the construction unit, who quite often spoke at its meetings.

It was a closed session. When we arrived they were dicussing a scandalous matter. Chairman Krasovsky had reported that the widow of the murdered Colonel Stransky had come to him to complain that two persons claiming to represent the newspaper Golos Pravdy had visited her flat, inspected, found it suitable and requisitioned it as editorial premises. This was confirmed by Dubov, who was present at the meeting.

Comrade Roshal then spoke. Speaking excitedly and quickly he declared that the editors of Golos Pravdy had not authorised anyone to inspect Mrs Stronsky’s flat, and added that comrades whom our paper sent out on jobs always carried with them the appropriate documents bearing our seal. After the clarification supplied by Comrade Roshal, the Soviet of Servicemen’s Deputies resolved to despatch two of its members Mrs Stronsky’s flat to arrest the persons who had pretended to be representatives of Golos Pravdy. The mission soon came back bringing a certain Citizen Chernousov, who stated that he had approached Mrs Stronsky not as a representative of Golos Pravdy, but as a member of the Executive Committee of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies. The chairman of the Soviet Workers’ Deputies, a technology student named Lamanov, who was present at the meeting, declared with feeling that this was a disgraceful business, that nobody had authorised Chernous to requisition the flat and that after what had happened Chnousov could no longer remain a member of the Executive Committee of the Council of Workers’ Deputies.

Comrade Roshal took advantage of the favourable situation thus created and came down heavily upon Krasovsky for having in the course of his remarks spoken very sharply about Golos Pravdy.

In general, the Soviet concerned itself that day only with matters of minor importance.

From the Soviet of Servicemen’s Deputies we went to spend the night at the barracks of the Naval Sub-Depot, which adjoined the building of the Party committee. The elected commander of the Sub-Depot, a tall, vigorous sailor, gave us an account based on his first-hand impressions of the course of the revolutionary events at Kronstadt. In the cells of the Sub-Depot were several officer prisoners, whom the commander was industriously teaching to sing the ‘International’, the revolutionary funeral march, and other revolutionary songs. Next morning I settled down to current work and began to go through the material for the next issue. In addition, I had to write a whole series of articles.

Generally speaking, I was obliged all this time to stay at my desk from morning until evening. Manuscripts arrived in enormous numbers. The revolution had aroused among the workers, sailors and soldiers a remarkable interest in writing. The sailors in particular supplied many articles, items of correspondence and short notes. They were constantly crowding into my room, demanding that I read their manuscripts while they were present, and give my opinion then and there. Among this material offered to the editors I often encountered articles which called for abolition of the St Andrew’s flag, [4] seen as a symbol of coercion and old-regime insults to the sailors. Other notes received were aimed against ranks and decorations, while a third category heatedly defended the principle of election. The overwhelming majority of these articles written by the sailors concerned matters of everyday life which had come to the sailors’ notice in their routine activities. Besides these, though, there were articles of a broader political character, castigating and abusing the autocratic system which had been reduced to scrap by the flood-waters of the February Revolution. All these articles had to be examined and responded to on the spot – sparing so far as possible the feelings of their authors. If an article was for some reason not suitable, then, while encouraging the writer to persist in his literary work, one had to set out carefully the arguments against, publishing what he had written. It was interesting that the overwhelming majority of contributors to our paper were workers, sailors and, to some extent, soldiers. Apart from the members of the editorial board, intellectuals played no part in the paper. Only twice did we receive some undistinguished articles submitted by a teacher at Kronstadt High School, who very soon went over to the Mensheviks. Also, Dr Konge, a member of our Party, contributed now and then some short but meaty articles. Besides editorials and feuilletons I had to write short articles on historical themes, and even notes about local life. Several times during the day Comrade Petrov, the compositor, would come to us from the press: he was a tall young man who wore pince-nez. One day, when I handed over to him several of my articles, he asked me, in a tone of surprise: “How does this Raskolnikov manage to send us his articles from Petrograd?” I had to dispel his perplexity and explain that Raskolnikov was actually at Kronstadt and at that very moment standing before him.

Every evening the study of Marxism was pursued in the room next to the editorial office. Lectures were given by Roshal, Kirill Orlov and Ulyantsev. A large number of representatives of Party groups from the ships attended these study meetings, which were held regularly and with success. This was our first Party school.

When speaking of the leading group of the Kronstadt Committee, I must not fail to mention also our treasurer, a sailor named Stepanov, an unpretentious comrade who carried out with care his modest task of keeping account of our Party’s ‘capital’.

From morning until late evening our closely united group of comrades was kept busy at the Party Committee and in rare instances also elsewhere, but always exclusively on Party work. I edited the paper and wrote articles. Semyon Roshal, Ulyantsev and Kirill conducted the study-group. Now and again Roshal would contribute an article to Golos Pravdy, signing it with his old Party pseudonym, ‘Doctor’. Besides doing this work, Roshal was our principal agitator and for a certain period even the Party organiser. Day after day he travelled round the ships and the waterfront barracks and workshops, not over-looking even the smallest units. An excellent orator, he made speeches on the most topical political subjects and these always met with enormous success. Every one of his speeches was densely crammed with content and at the same time he knew how to present this in a lively way. Whenever it was appropriate he would introduce a funny story, a witty saying, a pointed sarcastic comparison or a biting allusion. If to this we add his erudition and his fiery temperament, it will be appreciated that Roshal enjoyed immense popularity among the Kronstadt masses.

In the afternoon we usually broke off from work and went to eat, in the same building, in the kitchen which also served as the residence of Comrade Kirill and his wife. Comrade Kirill Orlov’s wife was the solicitous housekeeper who looked after us all. It was she who cooked the meal and hospitably entertained us. During the war, when Comrade Kirill was working in the ‘Aivaz’ factory, and the police carried out a search, this woman cleverly hid her husband in a feather-bed. Comrade Kirill’s wife was helped by an efficient sailor named Zhuravlev, who volunteered to take charge of the obtaining of supplies.

At night we all went together to the barracks of the Naval Sub-Depot. One evening the first ‘stranger’ guest appeared in Kronstadt – the representative of another fleet. This was Comrade Polukhin, who was later shot by the British in the Transcaspian steppe as one of the 26 Commissars. He had arrived directly from Archangel. We had endless talks with him. We were extremely interested in the development of events in the North, among the White Sea sailors, and were sincerely glad that Comrade Polukhin had made this first living contact between us.

One day the comrades dragged me out of the editorial den and took me to a meeting at the Naval Drill Hall. After that I often had to break off my work on the paper in order to make speeches. For example, a meeting for working women was organised in the Naval Drill Hall. The downtrodden working women and workers’ wives of Kronstadt listened with profound interest to the Bolsheviks’ speeches which were new to them. Besides me and Roshal, the sailors Pavlov, Kolbin and others also spoke. When the meeting ended the working women chaired some of the speakers and shook their hands with heartfelt gratitude saying: “Thanks for not forgetting us women.”

When a day was set in Petrograd for the funeral of the heroes of the revolution a special delegation to the Field of Mars [5] was sent from Kronstadt under the leadership of Comrade Kirill. A parade and a meeting were held that day in Kronstadt. The parade was taken, in white gloves and high boots, that is, in full parade uniform, by the first elected commander of the naval forces, P.N. Lamanov. After the meeting I made a short speech from an improvised tribune erected in Anchor Square.

Comrade Kirill returned from Petrograd that evening. Usually expansive, he was on this occasion especially excited: “What a tremendous impression it made! Just think, the procession stretched for several versts,” [6] exclaimed Comrade Kirill loudly and with animation. “Hundreds of thousands of workers and soldiers took part. This will be a good lesson for the bourgeoisie. Let them now realise how strong we are.” And Comrade Orlov went on sharing his impressions with us late into the night.

One day we learned at the committee that Kerensky had arrived in Kronstadt. We went straight to the Kronstadt Soviet. There Kerensky launched into his usual hysterics and as was his habit fell down in a faint. After he had been brought round with the aid of a glass of cold water he flew at once to the Naval Drill Hall. Quite a lot of people were assembled there. Roshal and I also hastened thither. Kerensky was already at the tribune hysterically hurling disjointed words into the air. He wept, sweated, wiped the sweat away with a handkerchief: in short, he emphasised in every way his superhuman exhaustion. Benevolent listeners were supposed to interpret this as a sign of how nobly he overstrained himself in the self-sacrificing performance of government work.

While Kerensky was speaking, Roshal and I consulted together and decided that we would not greet him as a representative of the Provisional Government but only as the deputy chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. Roshal was given the task of making the speech. After Kerensky had burst into tears Roshal rose to deliver his address of welcome. He split Kerensky into two parts, distinguishing the Minister of Justice from the deputy chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. After Roshal had finished Kerensky convulsively rushed up to him and with reddened eyes full of congealed tears quite unexpectedly clutched him in an embrace. So far as Kerensky was concerned this was quite literally a Judas kiss. Then Kerensky made his way impetuously, with big strides, to his motor car, took his seat and went off – he was gone in a flash.

On March 25 I was due to be promoted to Sub-Lieutenant. The ceremony took place in the office of the Minister for Military and Naval Affairs, A.I. Guchkov. ln view of the extraordinarily heavy burden of work I could not go to Petrograd that day to waste my time in empty formalities, and so my promotion was effected in absentia.

Soon after that, Semyon informed me that the crew of the training ship Osvoboditel had elected me officer of the watch. I accepted this responsibility and went to see Lamanov to get my appointment confirmed. Lamanov and his chief of staff, Weiner, known in naval circles as Pitro Weiner, promised to communicate the news of my election to Supreme Naval Headquarters and gave me a categorical assurance that so far as they were concerned they wholeheartedly approved the decision taken by the crew of the Osvoboditel.

“If Supreme Naval Headquarters confirms you, then of course everything will be in the bag,” added Comrade Lamanov, jokingly.

I don’t know whether confirmation was indeed given by the highest authorities of the Navy, but in any case, I continued to be formally registered with Osvoboditel, and received no appointment to any other post. The Petrograd naval authorities had evidently decided to wash their hands of me and leave me to stew in the juice of Bolshevik Kronstadt, considering this to be the lesser evil, since Reval and Helsingfors [7] enjoyed the very best reputation with the supreme command of the Navy.

Every Saturday Semyon and I went to Petrograd, returning on Monday morning. During these visits I always visited the editorial office of Pravda, and sometimes handed in articles there.

This was a hard time for our paper and for our Party in general. The exposure as a provocateur of Chernomazov, who had played some part in the editing of the old, pre-revolution Pravda, was used by our political foes to vilify and blacken Pravda. I remember that once, walking along Nevsky Prospekt, I saw in the window of the newspaper Vecherneye Vremya (Evening Times) a big poster on which was printed in large letters: “Editor of Pravda a provocateur”. To ill-informed readers this would give the impression that the current editor of Pravda was a provocateur.

The bourgeoisie tried to exploit the exposure of Chernomazov in every possible way and mounted a provocation on this basis. Radical organs like Dyen (The Day) did not lag behind the Black Hundred, anti-Semitic Novoye Vremya (New Times) or the Cadet Rech (Speech). The cynical feuilletons contributed by Zaslavsky to Dyen under the pseudonym ‘Homunculus’ could give a hundred yards’ start to any gutter rag. The Mensheviks arid SRs, glancing maliciously in our direction, tried especially hard to increase their political capital at our expense.

One day when I was at the editorial office of Pravda word came in that soldiers of the Moskovsky Regiment, stirred up by our political enemies, were going to smash up our newspaper’s premises. The old Bolshevik Muranov, a former member of the Fourth State Duma, was at once directed to the scene and succeeded without much trouble in preventing any disagreeable incident and dispersing the cloud which had gathered over our heads.

The big event of those days was our receipt from abroad of Ilyich’s first article in the series ‘Letters from Afar’. [8] I read it in the Pravda office. I remember how greatly interested in it were comrades Pylayev and Shvedchikov, who worked in the office. We were very excited at that time about the question of Vladimir Ilyich’s arrival. With what painful acuteness we felt the absence of our leader and how very necessary it was, we realised, that he should be with us in those difficult days of the revolution. I remember that Anna Ilyinishna [9] informed us that Ilyich could not come back yet but must still remain abroad for a time. That saddened us greatly.

On one of my visits to Petrograd I called on Maxim Gorky. My acquaintance with him had begun at a distance, in 1912, when I sent to him at Capri a letter on behalf of the Petersburgers’ Society [10] of the students of the Petersburg Polytechnic requesting that he send us, free of charge, from the Znanie [11] book depot, some literature for our society’s library. Alexei Maximovich had agreed to do this, and as his letter happened to coincide with an intensification of the student movement he added some lines with a political content: “I wish you courage in the difficult days you are now living through. Russia will not rise again until we Russians learn to stand up for our human dignity and fight for the right to live as we want.” This letter from Gorky was included along with my other ‘offences’ when the gendarmes arrested me in the summer of 1912.

I first met Gorky in the flesh in the spring of 1915 in Petrograd, in the Volkov cemetery at the funeral of the historian Bogucharsky. Noticing my naval cadet’s greatcoat, Gorky remarked with friendly sarcasm: “My goodness, what a change of costume for you Pravdists.” That was during the imperialist war.

The present occasion was the first since the revolution on which I had met Gorky. When I arrived, he was busy with a meeting that was being held in his flat. I was shown into a small drawing room and asked to wait. The door into the next room was open and from it fragments of speeches reached my ears. I learnt that the matter under discussion was the establishment of a museum-cum-memorial dedicated to the fighters for the revolution. E. Breshko-Breshkovskaya was speaking. In a trembling old person’s voice she said: “This monument to the fighters for the revolution must be a temple. It must be built in the centre of the land of Russia at the place where all roads cross, so that the peasant with his knapsack and the tired traveller may come there and, resting from the hardships of their journey, learn about the past of their people.” In short, her proposals were absolutely typical Narodnik fantasies, lacking any link with reality. But the participants in the meeting, out of respect for the prestige of her name, listened with bated breath to this speech by the ‘grandmother of the Russian Revolution’.

Soon afterward there hastened into the room where I was awaiting the end of this rather boring meeting the well-known writer I. Bunin, who is now on the run. When he learnt that I had come from Kronstadt, Bunin bombarded me with a whole heap of philistine questions: “Is it true that anarchy reigns in Kronstadt? Is it true that unimaginable excesses are going on there? Is it true that the sailors are killing any officer they come upon in the streets of Kronstadt?” In a tone that permitted no objection I rebutted all these bourgeois calumnies. Bunin, sitting with his legs crossed on the ottoman, listened with great interest to my calm explanations and fixed his sharp eyes upon me. My officer’s uniform evidently gave him confidence, as he offered no objections to what I said.

The meeting in the next room soon came to an end and Gorky, accompanied by his visitors, went into the dining-room, inviting us to follow him. We sat around a tea-table. ‘Grandmother’ felt that it was her nameday. A touching smile never left her wrinkled face. She kissed everyone without exception. When she heard that I was from Kronstadt she joyfully nodded her head, saying: “They’ve already invited me there. When are we down to go to Kronstadt?” – turning to the woman who was with her. This woman, after consulting her notebook, mentioned the day. “There now, they rush me from one place to another. I’m booked for every day for a long time ahead,” said ‘Grandmother’ in a tone of sincere cordiality. In these times she evidently felt she was something like a wonder-working icon. On the whole, though, ‘the king turned out to have no clothes on’. The so-called ‘grandmother of the Russian Revolution’ struck me at my first meeting with her as being rather stupid. Vera Figner had made quite a different impression: lively, quick and energetic, she certainly seemed a clever woman. Not long after this, ‘Grandmother’ said goodbye, kissing everyone present as though they were her children.

At table, Bunin said to Gorky: “But, do you know, Alexei Maximovich, all these rumours about excesses in Kronstadt are greatly exaggerated. Just listen to what an eyewitness has to say.” And I had to repeat my story about Kronstadt’s well-being. Maxim Gorky heard me out with close attention and, although a look of doubt flickered across his face, he gave no open expression of this doubt.

Next day I returned to Kronstadt. In the meantime, our Soviets had merged into a single Soviet of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Deputies. In this new Soviet we organised a Bolshevik fraction, which put me forward as candidate for the Presidium of the Soviet. The Presidium consisted of the chairman, who was the non-party-man Lamanov, and two deput chairmen – one from the Left SRs, Pokrovsky, and one from the Bolsheviks, me. Roshal and I regularly attended all the meetings of the Soviet, which took place three times a week. The plenary sessions were usually preceded by a meeting of the fraction. In our Bolshevik fraction we discussed in advance the various points on the agenda, drafted our resolutions and appointed our official speakers.

At the plenary sessions Lamanov usually took the chair, or if he was away then either Pokrovsky or myself. The secretary was the Left SR, Grimm. Brushvit’s wife took everything down in shorthand. Generally speaking, the overwhelming majority of the items for discussion were topical and mostly local in character and presented no very great political interest. Nevertheless, very often, when one question or another was being discussed, lively disputes developed in which the respective physiognomies of all the parties revealed themselves clearly. Often the meetings became extremely stormy. At that time our enemies had already made a great to-do about Kronstadt, and the progress of Bolshevism in Kronstadt received much publicity. Consequently, Kronstadt was all the time visited by delegations of one sort or another. They came with instruction from their electors to find out on the spot what the situation really was in Kronstadt and to form a judgment about Bolshevism on the basis of its application in practice. Delegations from the front were almost constantly visiting us, one hard on the heels of another. As a rule, after making our official speeches in the Soviet, we invited the delegates to inspect our institutions, giving them full access everywhere, and, in conclusion, we made use of them as speakers at meetings in Anchor Square.

We were particularly pleased to receive a delegation from the workers of the Donbas. These comrades came specially in order to acquaint themselves with the character of political life in Kronstadt and to ask us to send comrades to work in the Donbas. In exchange they promised to supply coal for Kronstadt’s economic needs. We sent to the Donbas a Party comrade named Pavlov, a sailor, who, according to the Donbas workers, rendered great services to the proletarian struggle in that region. About this time, we established very close links with the Petrograd Soviet and its Executive Committee. To this end we sent to Petrograd I. D. Sladkov and Zaitsev. Before he was sent to Petrograd, Sladkov was the chairman of the investigating commission. Intense, energetic and always preoccupied with work, he coped well with his job as investigator. It may be that he had been elected chairman of the investigating commission because, as an old gunner, he had a good knowledge of the fleet and its personnel. Only a short time before this he had returned from penal servitude, to which he had been sentenced in December, 1916 in the much-publicised case of the Kronstadt sailors. Sladkov was replaced as chairman of the investigating commission by Comrade Pankratov, who also proved to be absolutely the right man in the right place. He showed great ability in the most complicated investigations, expertly detecting the guilty.

The Kronstadt Soviet, in which I participated as representative of the local Party committee, took up a great deal of my time because, besides the plenary sessions, it was necessary to attend the meetings of the executive committee of which I was also a member. My work on the paper would have suffered had I not had such a good deputy as P. I. Smirnov. This young Polytechnic student usually looked over the manuscripts we received and sorted out the most useful material. All that I had to do was to examine the most important material and write editorials, feuilletons and political articles...

Breshko-Breshkovskaya kept her promise and came to Kronstadt on the appointed day. The insipid, generalising discourse of this ‘Grandmother’ called for no particular reply. ‘The grandmother of the Russian Revolution’ had in common with her audience only the joy she felt on account of the February Revolution.

Soon after Breshko-Breshkovskaya, we were visited by the commander of the troops of the Petrograd District, General Kornilov. He, too, tried to address the men of Kronstadt Anchor Square. But his address attracted very few people and had absolutely no success. A general’s epaulettes usually produced a very negative impression in Kronstadt.

On one of my subsequent visits to Petrograd I met L. Kamenev, who had just returned from exile at Achinsk. I had known him since 1914, and we embraced like old friends seeing each other after a long interval. Together with him came Comrade I. V. Stalin. Until then the editorial board of Pravda had consisted of Yeremeyev, Olminsky and Molotov. Kamenev and Stalin now joined it, and thereafter began to play the principal role in the editing of our central organ. [12]

Immediately after his return, Comrade Kamenev required me to visit him at his flat every Sunday to give a report on Kronstadt affairs and to receive his directives for the next period. After that, he and I would go either to the regular meetings of the Petrograd Soviet, which was very often held on a Sunday, or to some other meeting. One day, when I met Comrade Stalin along with Lev Borisovich [Kamenev], I complained to him about the extreme shortage of active Party workers in Kronstadt. Comrade Stalin took note of what I said and paid so much attention to it that within a few days Comrade I.T. Smilga was sent to Kronstadt. Thereafter Comrade Smilga took over the organisational work and, from time to time, on the most important occasions, spoke at big mass meetings.

After Comrade Smilga, our ranks were strengthened by Comrade Deshevoy. A young doctor, only recently graduated from Yuriev University, [13] Comrade Deshevoy was assigned to work on the paper and at the same time helped Comrade Roshal with agitational tours around the units. Comrade Deshevoy sent for his old friend at Yuriev, L.A. Bregman, who soon turned up in Kronstadt as well. Comrade Bregman, a serious and well-informed Marxist, was irreplaceable as a lecturer. He was also quite good as a chairman of meetings.

The work of lecturing to Party study-groups was now divided between Roshal, Ulyantsev, Kirill, Smilga, Bregman and Deshevoy. In this way our leading group was enlarged to some extent, and our Party’s success among the Kronstadt masses made considerable progress. We were very soon working well together and formed a harmonious Party family.

Comrade Roshal carried on with his tours of the ships. Our Party’s agitation met with colossal success. Speeches against the war were especially well received. One day the following incident took place. A certain soldier named Shikin, a former trader in Kronstadt who had found himself a place in the rear and was therefore, of course, a notable defencist and patriot, a man alien to clear political consciousness but by nature quite courageous, made a speech in Anchor Square which culminated in the slogan: “War until complete victory.” The crowd who were present at the meeting at once arrested him and took him to the Soviet, demanding that this defencist agitator be once sent to the front. “He is for war to the end. Very well l him set the example and himself go to the Forward Position, to the front line”’ [14] said the sailors who brought him in, explaining why they had arrested him.

The Soviet did not, of course, send him to the front, but the incident was highly symptomatic. The imperialist war enjoyed no credit with the workers, sailors and soldiers of Kronstadt. The parties opposed to us could not show themselves at meetings, being met with unanimous cries of: “Down with them!” When Comrade Roshal went round the ships, there were occasions when entire crews asked to join the Party. According to Roshal, the total number of sympathisers with our Party reached at that time the colossal figure of 35,000, although formally the number of Party members did not exceed three thousand. This atmosphere of sympathy with us was such that even the Mensheviks and SRs were able to work in Kronstadt only by assuming a sort of protective colouring. The only Mensheviks and SRs we had in Kronstadt were of the Left-wing, internationalist tendency. We had no great differences with them on the questions of attitude to the war or even to the Provisional Government. Consequently we sometimes heard after a meeting the question: “So what divides you from the Left SRs?” One then had, of course, to deliver a long lecture on Marxism exposing the idealist theory and useless programme of the Left-SRs, and also their false, wavering and politically inconsistent tactics.

The Left-SR who had the greatest success at broad meetings was Brushvit. A young fellow who always went about in peasant’s coat and with a rather large, dishevelled beard, he earnestly strove to look like a peasant. Possessing a perfect mastery of popular speech, he was not without natural wit and his addresses were listened to with great interest: nevertheless, when it came to the vote, the overwhelming majority of hands were raised for our resolutions, and all that was left to Brushvit, in order to maintain his political prestige, was to support whatever we had proposed. Besides Brushvit, the SRs had working for them the sailor Boris Donskoy, who in 1918 in Kiev assassinated the German General Eichhorn and was hanged for it by the henchmen of German imperialism, and also a soldier named Pokrovsky and an intellectual named Smolyansky.

The SRs were housed in what had been Wiren’s house. They organised a club there, held meetings, delivered lectures on political and theoretical subjects – in short, they tried in every way to win the masses to their side. The Menshevik-Internationalists dragged out an exceptionally miserable existence in Kronstadt. They were headed by a teacher whom nobody had ever heard of and who in the first days of the revolution came several times to the editorial office of Golos Pravdy. The Menshevik-Internationalists formed a group consisting almost exclusively of intellectuals. Touring ‘artistes’ from Petersburg visited them extremely rarely. Martov never came once. Martynov came several times, to intercede devotedly on behalf of the arrested officers, and more than once he spoke at meetings of the Kronstadt Soviet, though without success. Considerably greater success than attended Martynov was enjoyed by the Anarchists. They had an intelligent and talented leader in Comrade Yarchuk, a tailor by trade. He had just returned from emigration in America. The well-known Petrograd Anarchist-Communist Bleichman frequently came to Kronstadt. But he did not get on well with Yarchuk, who adhered to the Anarchist-Syndicalists and was consequently very much closer to us. However, despite the ovations Yarchuk received, the Anarchists were far from equalling the political weight possessed in Kronstadt by the Bolsheviks.

To a large extent our meetings consisted merely of speeches made successively by the representatives of each party. Sometimes, however, vigorous polemics broke out between the speakers from the different parties, these being especially acute when old hands from among the Mensheviks and SRs visited us from Petrograd. Our specialists in debates with the Mensheviks were Comrade Roshal, a caustic and witty polemicist, together with Comrade Entin, who arrived in Kronstadt later than the rest of us.

Our committee soon moved from the house of the former town commandant to new premises in the dacha which had formerly belonged to the late Admiral Butakov. These premises were incomparably more spacious, and the overgrown departments of the Party committee were now able to work in much greater comfort. Some comrades even took up residence in the committee’s building. Adjoining this large wooden house was an extensive, shady garden, in which, in the summer, we held the Party’s general meetings. The secretary was a sailor, Comrade Kondakov. At his desk there was always a very long queue of visitors who had come to seek solutions to a wide variety problems.

Enrolment as a Party member was very greatly simplified at this time. It was enough to give the secretary one or two acceptable recommendations and anyone who wanted would be given a Party card without delay. [15]

There was an immense demand for Party literature. Our paper Golos Pravdy was distributed with hardly any copies left over. In addition, we subscribed to the leading Party papers in both Petrograd and Moscow. We circulated, besides new papers, a large quantity of other Party literature and we also had to bring out pamphlets of our own. The thirst for literature was unprecedented in those days. Every ship, every regiment, every workshop sought to form a library of its own, however small this might be, and in those ship, regimental and work-shop libraries every political pamphlet was read literally to shreds. The February Revolution had aroused tremendous interest in politics and had thereby evoked an unprecedented demand for Bolshevik literature.


1. Petrograd workers to the number of 130,000, in 50 enterprises, went on strike in protest against the death sentences passed on Ulyantsev and others, as a result of which they were commuted to penal servitude.

2. S.G. Roshal, then aged 16, participated in a secret conference of secondary school students held at Witmer’s High School for Girls, in Petrograd, which was raided by the police, who made 45 arrests.

3. Translated here and later simply as ‘volunteer’ is the term used for a man possessing certain educational qualifications who joined the Army as a volunteer, instead of waiting to be called up, or seeking exemption: he was given some privileges during his service - notably, accelerated promotion.

4. The Imperial Russian Navy flew a white flag with a blue saltire - like the Scottish ‘St Andrew's cross’ flag but with the colours reversed.

5. The Field of Mars was a big parade-ground.

6. A verst is 1,067 metres, or about 3,500 feet.

7. Reval (now Tallinn) and Helsingfors were the two other principal bases of the Baltic Fleet besides Kronstadt.

8. Lenin’s first ‘Letter from Afar’ was published in Pravda on March 21 and 22 (April 3 and 4, new style). The editors made a number of abridgements and changes, and the full text was not published until 1949. The omissions included opprobrious mentions of Kerensky and Chkheidze and warnings against “supporting the Cadet-Octobrist imperialism, which abominable as Tsarist imperialism.” Lenin described Kerensky as “a balalaika on which they [the bourgeois heads of the Provisional Government] play to deceive the workers and peasants,” and declared that “he who says the workers must support the new a traitor to the workers”.

9. Anna llyinishna Ulyanova-Yelizarova was Lenin’s sister.

10. It was the custom in the Russian universities for students who came from the same part of the country to form themselves into a society for common undertakings and mutual aid. As Raskolnikov was born in the Petersburg district, he belonged to the Petersburgers’ Society at his institute.

11. The publishing house called Znanie functioned in St Petersburg from 1898 to 1913, and was headed by Gorky down to 1912. Maxim Gorky’s real name was Alexei Maximovich Peshkov.

12. Raskolnikov does not mention that the Bureau of the Party's Central Committee ruled that Kamenev's articles for Pravda should not be signed, in view of his “unworthy conduct” at the trial of the Bolshevik deputies at the beginning of the war. This decision was not consistently carried out, which evoked protests by some Party members.

13. The university of Yuriev (in Swedish, Dorpat; in Estonian, Tartu), founded by Gustavus Adolphus, had a high reputation among the universities of the Russian Empire.

14. The ‘Forward Position’ was the stretch of the Baltic Sea between Hangö (Hanko) and the island of Dago (Hiiumaa) where the Russian Navy directly confronted the Germans.

15. On entry into the Bolshevik Party during 1917, and the Party’s phenomenal growth in this period, see M. Liebman, Leninism Under Lenin (1975). Between the February Revolution and the April Conference membership in Petrograd increased from 2,000 to 16,000.