Tis an easy segue from the Kirov Assassination back to Tukhachevsky. When I was researching my series of posts on the Tukhachevsky trial and on the life of General Uborevich, I came upon this documentary film from Russian Central Television, dated December 2020. It’s 40 minutes long. I used to be able to embed youtube videos directly into my WordPress posts, but after the upgrade, they don’t allow me to do that any more (without purchasing the premium WordPress instead of the freebie I have), so you’ll just have to go out to that link yourself and watch it, maybe bring it up in a second window. Meanwhile my intent here is to provide a running commentary of the content.
Readers will recall that I have developed my own personal theory of what really happened back then, I call it the “Standard Office Politics Theory”, and it goes something like this:
Once upon a time, there was a group of “Reformers” in the Soviet army, led by Marshal Tukhachevsky, who wanted to clear out the old wood (such as General Voroshilov, for example) and introduce sweeping technological reforms into the Red Army. In areas such as aviation, use of tanks instead of horses, employment of massive artillery, development of a new war strategy, that sort of thing. Ordjonikidze was also loosely affiliated with this group, which included old chums such as Uborevich and Gamarnik. These top generals were mostly loyal to Stalin and counted on him to back them in the end. (They probably didn’t realize yet, what a lying sociopath their boss was.) But Stalin, playing the cautious bureaucrat, backed Voroshilov in the end, and even appointed the latter as Peoples Commissar (Narkom) of Defense. This was a huge slap in the face to Tukhachevsky and his faction. Tukhachevsky wanted that post for himself, but his major ambition in life had already been thwarted a couple of decades earlier, when he lost the battle for Warsaw to the Poles.
Anyhow, despite their disappointment, these disciplined generals soldiered on and tried to shine in every way possible, making sure that they, and not Voroshilov, got the credit for the amazing successes of the Soviet army, over the next few years. Behind everything loomed the threat of the German Nazi invasion. Things came to a head during a series of historic war games in which these talented Soviet generals managed to impress even visiting military attaches from the Western “democracies”. A bunch of stuff must have happened behind the scenes, because the whole thing starts to fall apart after several of these men (Tukhachevsky and Uborevich, and probably others) went as a group to Stalin, to complain about Voroshilov. To their shock and dismay, Stalin took Voroshilov’s side (again!), and within days the arrests began. This being Stalin, he wasn’t content to just slap these guys on the wrist or demote them; no, he had to go whole hog, turning this office squabble into another tranche of the mass terror campaign. While also throwing out wildly ludicrous accusations against the disgruntled generals and sending ripples of mass destruction throughout the entire army. And Yezhov up to his usual, fabricating lies, torturing and killing people, threatening their wives and daughters, the usual dirty tricks. So, that’s my theory, and now please pick up your popcorn and enjoy the movie…
The Marshal To The Slaughter
Marshal Kliment Voroshilov was one of the most popular men in the country, everybody sang his name. And yet his second-in-command Mikhail Tukhachevsky would have signed on to Trotsky’s words that Klim Voroshilov was, in essence, a fiction. Just a component of Bolshevik mythology.
:30 seconds in: Tukhachevsky’s fondest wish in life was to create the greatest army the world had ever seen. And to head that army himself.
He was always fascinated by the figure of Napoleon and dreamed of copying the latter’s career.
But fate decided otherwise. [Dramatic music.] – Cherchez la Femme!
1:00 minute in: It’s the mid 1930’s of the last century, we are at the Bolshoi Theater of the USSR. On the stage they are performing the opera “Carmen” and, shining in that role, we see the famous singer Vera Davydova. [voice clip of Davydova singing Carmen’s famous “Habanera” aria in Russian]. Rumors are swirling through Moscow that Stalin himself is in love with the diva. All of a sudden, in the theater box reserved for members of the government, Voroshilov suddenly appears, the Narkom himself! Accompanied by his second-in-command Mikhail Tukhachevsky.
When the show is over, both men go together to Vera’s dressing room, bringing her bouquets of roses, and each offering to walk her home. Whom to pick? It doesn’t take Davydova very long to decide. [She chooses the handsomer Tukhachevsky.] Voroshilov is beside himself. His second-in-command has outsmarted him every time, and now Tukhachevsky just cleaned his clock on the romance front as well.
1:40 minutes: Not long after this, Klim Voroshilov goes after his rival, launching attacks on all fronts. This is what he had to say [a year and a half later] at a session of the Military Soviet held on 29 November 1938. Voroshilov [retroactively] attacks Tukhachevsky and a series of other commanders with whom he had spent the last 10 years working side by side at the helm of the Red Army.
2:00 minutes: Quoting from Voroshilov’s report: “When, last year, we uncovered this group of despicable traitors of our Motherland, led by Tukhachevsky, and they were destroyed by the court of the Revolution, it would not have entered anyone’s head that this vileness, this digusting thing, this treason, had spread and settled in on such a broad scale within the ranks of our army.”
But returning to a time before Tukhachevsky knew that he would be declared an enemy of the Revolution. He was still in a position to enjoy the pleasures of life, such as his close relationship with the opera diva. Tukhachevsky always had a magical touch with women.
2:26 minutes in: The female historian relates that a mass of documentation has survived, testifying to the fact that Tukhachevsky was the kind of handsome man who would knock the ladies off their feet, he was a very successful ladies man, there can be no doubt of that. He did not lead a celibate life, and he did not deprive himself of any opportunity in that arena. [yalensis: We saw in previous accounts that Tukhachevsky did not treat his wife very well at all; on the other hand, he poured out all the love that he had in him for his little daughter, Sveta, endowing her with all the affection which he withheld from his wife.]
Tukhachevsky could have been a throw-back to an ancient Roman legionnaire, or a medieval Knight, in the words of (Soviet artist) Zinaida Serebryakova. Zinaida was fascinated by the the commander’s “Latin” facial features; and indeed, genealogical research shows that the Tukhachevsky family did indeed descend from members of the Holy Roman Empire.
3:00 minutes in: There was a Count Idris, the spellings differ, who came from the Holy Roman Empire to the court of Prince Mstislav Vladimirovich (The Brave) of Kiev. Count Idris settled in Chernigov and was baptized. [The aristocratic Tukhachevsky family are in a direct line from him.] The Tukhachevsky line were predominantly military men. With time, their lineage fell into poverty. Mikhail’s father made an uneven marriage: This hereditary landowner was forced to marry a [wealthy] peasant woman. They had nine children together. And that peasant woman, whom he married, was herself very educated, was fluent in politics, knew several languages.
4:30 minutes in: Mikhail Tukhachevsky did not only possess a striking physical appearance, he was very smart and well educated. And one day, along with Voroshilov and three other commanders — Budyonny, Bliukher and Yegorov — he was awarded the highest military title possible: Field Marshal.
[to be continued]