Voroshilov versus Tukhachevsky – Part II

Dear Readers:

Continuing with my recap of this rather interesting short documentary made by the Russian Central Television channel. Apparently it was part of a series which aired a couple of years ago, in the format of X vs Z. Sort of like Plutarch’s “Parallel Lives” of the noble Greeks vs Romans, wherein one can gain more insight into a specific man by comparing him to a different man. But with the Russian TV series, the emphasis is less on the comparison of similarities in the biographies, but more on the personal conflict between the two men in question. I watched some episodes on youtube, for example, “Trotsky vs Stalin“, “Khrushchev vs Beria“, etc. All testifying to a heightened interest, among the Russian public, in the history of the Soviet period. The Trotsky segment was particularly interesting to me (I might review it in some future post). In that, if I am not mistaken, this is the first time in almost a century that the Russian public have heard some nice things said about Trotsky other than the usual tendentious Stalinist and/or Nationalist anti-Semitic slanders. Signs and portents that maybe a section of the Russian public, if not the government, is finally ready to rehabilitate Trotsky’s good name.

Romulus vs Remus: “I take dibs on the larger teat!”

Anyhow, returning to our “Voroshilov vs Tukh” episode: Where we left off, we were around 4:40 minutes in, and listening to the words of historian Julia Kantor who specializes in the history of World War II and also the pre-war period. She is a Doctor of History and teaches at the Russian State Pedagogical University named after Alexander Herzen. In 2007 Julia successfully defended her dissertation on political/military relations between Germany and the USSR 1921-1939. Since then she has published over a hundred books and monographs, and so it seems clear that she knows what she is talking about, when it comes to this period of history.

Julia: Tukhachevsky became the youngest Marshal in the history of the Soviet Union and yet, paradoxically, this apex of his career also became the point of his downward spiral.

Narrator: Tukhachevsky’s fame even spread abroad. In January of 1936 he visited London as a member of the Soviet delegation, ostensibly to honor the burial of the English King George V. The main purpose of the visit, however, was to [try to] create an anti-Hitler coalition [with the English].

Historian Julia Kantor

From London, Tukhachevsky travelled to Paris to continue negotiations with the French.

Julia: Tukhachevsky tried to explain to the French how they were being threatened by the greatest enemy they had ever faced [i.e., Hitler], and that it was necessary to stand together against him in a united front.

Narrator: This young attractive Soviet Marshal made a big impression on these potential allies. Narkom of Defense Voroshilov was obviously not quite as suitable in this arena of finely-tuned diplomatic nuances.

5:30 minutes in, Male historian whose name I don’t know: It was obvious that Voroshilov had been passed over, due to his unsuitability. Tukhachevsky [with his fluency in foreign languages] was able to engage in serious diplomatic conversations [at a high level], but Voroshilov didn’t speak any other languages [other than Russian].

The Triumph Of Mediocrity

[yalensis: We can see what the producers are building up to here: The theory that Voroshilov’s motive in destroying Tukh was to soothe his own feelings of inferiority. All the while probably rationalizing to himself: “I may not be as smart or as handsome as that guy, but at least I am loyal to the Communist cause and to Stalin, and I’m not a dirty traitor or spy! That’s one thing I can do, at least.” This is a variant of the familiar Dostoevskian theme about the wounded feelings of the lesser man; and we see this phenomenon not just in Russian history: Emotionally-injured and pride-offended mediocrities still have a chance to triumph over people who are smarter and better than them, via the employment of slander and brute force against the latter. The pattern started much earlier, with Stalin’s resentment of Trotsky; Stalin’s rejection of Lenin, a man he once idolized as a father-figure, because the latter seemed to prefer Trotsky over him; the emotional waves of resentment and hatred, brooding and simmering, eventually leading to a cold fury and a very long game of revenge played out. We also note that, while Stalin’s capacity for returning loyalty is up to question, it does seem like he did that sometimes, once in a while. He certainly seems to have had Voroshilov’s back.]

Stalin and Voroshilov (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Narrator: Voroshilov was always envious of his second-in-command. Klim himself was not a cultured man, and he also lagged behind Tukhachevsky in the arena of military erudition. His only education being two grades in a rural school, this former welder from Luhansk knew deep down inside that he was not qualified for the post that he occupied. Once he even wrote a letter to Stalin asking when he would finally be allowed to go back to [military] school and study. Stalin’s reply: “Never.”

6:00 minutes in, young male blonde historian: Stalin’s reasoning was, who could possibly take over the Defense Ministry if his Narkom was back behind the school desk for a couple of years? The Defense Narkom was the key post, and the army was still teeming with cadres picked and developed by Trotsky. Stalin couldn’t afford to lose Voroshilov, one of his top players, this would have been like a death sentence for him.

6:30 minutes in: Scenes of some wild party where a drunken Voroshilov is just shooting at chandeliers egregiously. The actor who is playing the role of Voroshilov in these scenes, Sergei Nikonenko, personally believes that Voroshilov was given all these high posts in the military solely because of his personal loyalty to Stalin, in other words, because of cronyism.

Elderly historian: In the real world this man should have been a commander of a unit no higher than a Regiment or a Company. He had no knowledge of strategy. He was put where he was by Josef Vissarionovich. Who, the way, never abandoned him, and who valued him for his loyalty.

Julia: In this sense, the pre-revolutionary thesis was always an important one for the army. Namely, Virtue (Honor) is placed above Loyalty. But with Voroshilov it was loyalty above all.

7:30 minutes in:

Narrator: Voroshilov and Stalin first became acquainted in 1906. The two revolutionaries met at the 4th Congress of the Social-Democrats held in Stockholm.

Blonde historian: Both were able to talk to real workers and knew how they thought. At the same time, neither was completely comfortable in this milieu of primarily intelligentsia. This drew them closer to each other.

Narrator: Voroshilov never gave Stalin any cause to doubt him, and such loyalty is a prize for any leader to have. Klim’s fate was decided. His predecessor, the military chief Mikhail Frunze, died suddenly, on the operating table, in October of 1925. The official version was that Frunze died from sepsis, but rumors flew through Moscow: The death was not an accident. [According to the rumors], Stalin insisted on Frunze having the operation, fully knowing that Frunze’s weak heart would not withstand the stress of surgery. Voroshilov’s appointment to Frunze’s post of Narkom was greeted in military circles with a combination of astonishment and dissatisfaction. Tukhachevsky was beside himself. Both he and Voroshilov had been Frunze’s deputies.

Brown-haired historian at 8:30 minutes in: Frunze dies, Voroshilov takes his post, Tukhachevsky is upset, no? The latter did not perceive Voroshilov as a shining example of military leadership. Tukhachevsky even allowed himself a sarcastic attitude, sometimes even without saying anything, and his passive-aggressive attitude discombobulated Voroshilov.

[to be continued]

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4 Responses to Voroshilov versus Tukhachevsky – Part II

  1. Ben says:

    Speaking of Trotsky and slandering, I’m sure you’re at least partly referring to that 2017 Russian mini-series. I think I got about three episodes into it before giving up. It’s not even subtle or clever propaganda; Trotsky and his cohort are portrayed as sinister goose-steppers, all decked out in sleek Nazi-ish black leather, roaming the landscape in a comically giant doom train.

    I watched it on Netflix. The Russian section there is wild. They have a docudrama thing on the last days of the Romanovs, which is pretty okay (everyone speaks English, but it’s well acted and everyone looks the part). It’s useful for getting a firm understanding of the broad flow of events, and I’m a big believer in the power of film for conveying solid basic understanding (Nicholas II comes across as a pure fucking moron). Simply seeing a portrayal gives you a solid footing in time and place much better than reading even a detailed description. Even when a portrayal is 99% wrong, it gives you a scaffold to hang a deeper understanding on if you follow it up with reading on the subjects involved.

    The Young Karl Marx film (also from 2017) was fantastic for this. I have no doubt that it compressed and simplified a huge amount (hell, it probably outright fabricates some things), but it covers a lot of ground and gives you a solid understanding of Europe in the 1840s, and of not just Marx and Engels but of the intellectual spheres they traveled in. You get some understanding of related figures like Bakunin and Proudhon. You come away knowing that anarchism and socialism are not remotely the same thing. You get a grasp of Marx’s shift away from idealism to materialism (they even feature the freaking Young Hegelians), spurred on by Engels telling him to learn English and to read the English economists (Smith, Ricardo, Bentham). This perfectly illustrates Michael Hudson’s point that Marx was the last of the Classical Economists, and firmly places Marx within an English intellectual tradition, in fact the very one that free-market liberals are constantly rhetorically referencing but have clearly never actually read any of.

    Hell, I didn’t even know Marx was married before watching the movie. If you look up ‘Karl Marx wife’, or ‘Jenny Marx’, you get a sparse Wikipedia page for Johanna Bertha Julie Jenny Edle von Westphalen that seems to be trying its best to minimize that she was his legal wife. Much as with Charles Darwin, the fact that Marx was an all around decent guy devoted to his family (and they devoted to him) makes attempting to portray him as a devil figure pretty difficult. Now I understand why it’s usually Engels that the romantic/sexual ad hominems are directed against.

    Anyway, the Romanov thing frequently cuts away to a bunch of historians opining on events, and they’re mostly okay. But there’s one guy who is clearly infatuated with them. Pure royalist this dude. When the family is finally executed, he literally says the killing of the kids is one of the worst events of the 20th century. Like, really guy? Make no mistake, the kids died slow and ugly (because they’d sewn jewels into their clothes to try and smuggle out some wealth if they escaped, and these formed a kind of bulletproof vest and the guards had to keep shooting them for awhile to kill them), but really? In all of the 20th century, that’s one of the worst things? I guarantee you it wasn’t, not by a long shot. It isn’t remotely the worst way a group of kids have died, nor is it the worst thing as a world historical event. Only someone who is an elitist conservative to a ludicrous degree could make such an absurd claim.


    • yalensis says:

      Hi, Ben, I didn’t see that Marx mini-series on Netflix, but it sounds really good, so I’ll see if I can find it. Yeah, Netflix is a crazy mixed bag, it’s fully integrated into American corporate media, so the propaganda line is usually pretty clear (they produced a positive documentary on the White Helmets, for crying out loud!), but once in a while something unorthodox slips through.

      Yeah, the Trotsky thing is interesting too. Russian public opinion is mostly still anti-Trotsky (after 100 years of brainwashing no surprise), but there are two main factions: (1) the pure true-blood tankies, aka Stalinist Furries, who believe every lie that Stalin told, namely they still believe that Trotsky collaborated with Hitler to bring down the Soviet Union; and (2) a faction of Russian Nationalists who also happen to be virulent anti-Semites, they believe that Trotsky was carrying out the Protocols of Zion in conjunction with the Rothschilds, that sort of thing, to bring down Mother Russia and the Holy Church. Not even kidding or exaggerating. This particular crowd loves Stalin as well, but for the wrong reasons: They love him because he destroyed Lenin’s Old Bolshevik cadre while also repressing Jews from time to time.

      Yeah, those Romanov shills who weep crocodile tears about the Romanov children, eesh, what hypocrites. They don’t give a damn about any other children in the world, just these little “royal” ones. People who worship elites and royalty are beneath the pale, in my opinion. It’s a form of celebrity worship. I was always struck by Pushkin’s quote (in his “Journey to Erzerum”) that Celebrity Worship is a form of vanity. I think Pushkin hit the nail on the head. People who worship kings, queens, princesses and celebrities are so vain, they think, in their fantasy world, that THEY should be in that group, and that’s why they identify with them and not, say, with the ordinary peons.

      Growing up, I personally always identified, well, not so much with peons, but with ordinary working people. That’s why I have no use for royalty. Not that I think it’s right to kill children under any circumstances, but still, like you say, it wasn’t the very worst thing to happen in the 20th century.


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