Contrary to popular belief, the social-imperialist Brezhnev regime in the USSR, standing in Khrushchev’s tradition, was not simply accepted by the Soviet population, even less so by Soviet workers. The early 70’s were marked by a marked increase in the number of dissenting socialist publications, poems and even large-scale strikes that were crushed in true revisionist fashion.
In the widely known Moscow literary anthology, The Day of Poetry, one can find an entire section dedicated to labor, where countless “worker-poets” had been invited to contribute. One such poem was titled I Fear To Be Without Trade.
I fear to be without trade —
Not to know how
To cut fabric or sew,
To stack hay,
To handle a chisel,
Or to forge.
Not to know how to do anything
Is like having no soul.
As Raymond Lotta points out, this poem revolves around the Russian verb umet’ (уметь), “to know how [to do something]”. The author refers to the hardship experienced under the revisionist doctrines of professionalization and technocraticism, leaving workers utterly alienated.
Many more poems had been written in this style, depicting similar experiences of alienation and disenchantment among the workers. Such expressions tell us quite a lot about the conditions of the working class in the USSR at that time. One of the many Soviet citizens disillusioned with political developments during and after Khrushchev was the Captain 3rd Rank and political officer Valery Sablin.
Valery Sablin was born in Leningrad in 1939 and studied at the Higher Naval School “M.V. Frunze”. He joined the CPSU in 1959 and consequently graduated in 1960. During his studies, he was elected as the secretary of his faculty Komsomol committee. After his studies, Sablin began his service in the Soviet Naval forces and soon became known as an active and conscious political mind. Sablin’s first promotion was delayed by almost a year due to a letter he had sent to Khrushchev concerning his thoughts on ideological discipline in the party ranks, harshly criticizing Khrushchev’s leadership. Having suffered only a delayed promotion after such a letter was a rather small price to pay, considering comparable actions had been met with expulsion from the party and career sabotage. Pressing forward, he served for 9 years before beginning his studies at the Military-Political Academy “V.I. Lenin”, where he graduated with honors 4 years later in 1973.
After his graduation from the Military-Political Academy, Sablin entered active service again on the brand new ship Storozhevoy in August 1973. By then, his ideas on the ideological degeneration of the CPSU had already solidified, and he began thinking privately about what could be done to bring about a “second revolution” with the aim of ousting the corrupt bureaucrat-capitalist leadership which had forced its way into leadership in the USSR, and re-establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. He played with the idea of utilizing his position as political officer—the second-highest ranked officer on the ship—to pressure the Brezhnev regime by assuming control of the ship he served on, using it as a “tribune” and, similar to how the Aurora marked the beginning of the October Revolution, signalling the beginning of a second socialist revolution. However, not long after he had worked out his plan of action, he was forced to postpone their implementation, as the brand new Storozhevoy had, as well, a brand new crew that was occupied with organizing itself in order to fulfil their naval duties, rather than dealing with political questions.
Throughout the year 1974, he studied the crew and gradually acquainted crew members with his views on the current Soviet leadership, where he found a large number of sympathizers and like-minded sailors. Needless to say, a speech à la Lenin against the Brezhnevites was exceedingly dangerous, so Sablin would have to wait for the right opportunity to speak to his crewmen and launch the planned insurrection.
By the Fall of 1975, the Storozhevoy was sent for repair to Liepaya, a town in the former Latvian SSR. Prior to this, it was scheduled for a naval parade in Riga, commemorating the 58th anniversary of the October Revolution. As a result, many leading officers of the Storozhevoy went on leave, and Sablin recognized this as the moment he had been preparing for. When the Storozhevoy had arrived in Riga to stay for a night, planned to depart to Liepaya in the morning, Sablin decided to lock the ship’s commander, Anatoly Potulny, in a compartment in a lower deck of the ship. With the commander restrained, he drummed up 13 officers and 13 midshipmen, informing them concretely of his plans: the USSR had buried Leninist principles and that, as a result, bureaucracy, fraud and nepotism flourished. They were to sail to Kronstadt, declaring it a sovereign territory, so that the leadership of the party and the state would be pressured into letting them speak on national television, where they could propagate their views. By this time, as a consequence of his views, Sablin had already left the party.
After discussing Sablin’s plans, he proposed to vote on them. The result of this vote were a striking 16 in favor and 10 against, of which the latter were isolated to prevent them from sabotaging their plan. Sablin then mustered the rest of the crew, summarizing the results, and declared that the majority of the officers shared his views, calling upon the crew to do so as well. The vast majority of the crew supported and lauded Sablin. Unfortunately, the commander of the electrical engineering group on the ship, Senior Lieutenant Firsov, believed it treason and succeeded in escaping the ship unnoticed during the night, informing the commander of a submarine lying in a neighboring dock of the situation on the Storozhevoy. The submarine crew immediately warned the general staff, which then forwarded the warning to the leadership of the party and the state, therefore depriving the Storozhevoy crew of the element of surprise, as it would not have been suspicious for the ship to leave in the morning, given that it was scheduled to leave for repairs. When the leaders of the mutiny had taken notice of Firsov’s absence, they immediately realized that their plans were in great danger, and as a result called for the instantaneous departure of the Storozhevoy. This prompted the army leadership to mobilize the Baltic Fleet and 9 ships of the Border Guards, as well as the 668th Bomber Regiment, which received orders to sink the ship, if deemed necessary.
The 668th Bomber Regiment bombed the Storozhevoy and a dozen sailors released the previously locked up commander in panic, who quickly ran up to the bridge, shot Sablin in the foot and took control of the ship. Sablin and his followers were then arrested. A Soviet Military Court sentenced Valery Sablin to death in July 1976, executing him in August of the same year, and with him died one of the great revolutionary attempts to oust the revisionist leadership and restore the dictatorship of the proletariat.
It is absolutely necessary that we learn from such actions aimed at displacing and overthrowing rotten and reactionary “socialist” leadership. An argument that is always rebuked by revisionists (e.g. in regards to China today) is the existence of class struggle in a (nominally) socialist country. Sablin’s actions demonstrate once again the fact that class struggle does continue under socialism and, especially where such corrupt and embourgeoisified leadership exists, can take on a violently confrontational form. Today marks the 42nd anniversary of the Storozhevoy mutiny. Remembering this rebellion is remembering the many attempts of true, honest communists in resisting the corrupt party leadership as they slowly stripped the proletariat of their power; in struggling for socialism where it has been betrayed, where lack of discipline, as well as practical and theoretical mistakes, have led to the interment of socialism, and where communist principles have been “transformed from a philosophy of rebellion and conscious struggle for the future into a religion of the status quo.”