The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault… (Shakespeare)
The Old World Order does not care for actual Revolutions. I mean, real ones. Ones that overturn the social order and take things away from the ruling class. Take their land, their factories, their money; that sort of thing. The elites might cheer on fake revolutions, or may even get confused from time to time and don the red cockade of some cool cause; but when the real deal comes along, just like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in regard to pornography, they know it when they see it.
The French Revolution was the real deal. Which is why Revolutionary France found herself invaded by all the major nations of Europe, including Great Britain, the Holy Roman Empire, Prussia, Russia, Austria, and lots of others. French revolutionary leaders such as Robespierre and Saint-Just may have been amateurs in military matters, but quickly had to become professionals. And were lucky to be able to attract real professionals to their cause, as well, career soldiers and officers who fought for the Revolution.
Similarly, after the Russian Revolution: This was the real deal as well. Workers seizing factories, and peasants seizing land. Well, we can’t allow that! And so Russia was invaded by a host of nations, including Great Britain, the United States, Japan, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Italy, and even Greece! Each invading nation wanted to take its chunk. Most of the professional officers from the Tsarist Imperial army had joined the Whites. Major White warlords such as Denikin, Kolchak, etc., were beholden to one or the other foreign power and had to promise them swaths of territory in order to earn their support. Had the Whites won the war, I daresay Russia would have been left just a dismembered stub of itself, plunged into smaller wars of competing White warlords. It would look like modern Libya or Afghanistan. Which is why it was crucial to history that, if Russia were to remain intact as a major European power, then the Reds had to win. But how could they, when they had so few human resources, and the ones they had, were just a rabble.
Like the French Revolutionaries before them, Bolshevik amateurs had to become military professionals very quickly. With men like Trotsky, this actually worked out, because Trotsky had hidden talents in this regard, which nobody had previously suspected. In this sense, Trotsky could be compared to the French Saint-Just, although he wasn’t nearly as good-looking as the latter.
Old Bolsheviks like Stalin and Voroshilov also tried their hand at commanding armies, but with mixed results. As we saw, Voroshilov’s only previous military experience was robbing trains. If he put this on his resume, then Billy the Kid could have been a Field Marshal. Klim and Koba were good at handling guns, but that isn’t quite good enough to run an army; otherwise, institutions like West Point could be replaced by hunting clubs. Voroshilov was a great political orator and could recruit hordes of volunteers, and lead them into battle shouting “Hoorah!” but when it came to commanding an army, he could easily lose 60,000 men at a single pop. Oops! Had no sense of tactics or strategy. Didn’t know the meaning of a “strategic withdrawal” not to mention the notion of “conserving forces”. Had never read Kutuzov.
Fortunately for them, the Bolsheviks were able to attract a small, but influential cadre, of Tsarist Junior Officers to their side. Actual professionals who had fought in the front lines of WWI and were familiar with both tactics and strategy. Of whom, the superstar was Mikhail Tukhachevsky, a man full of Napoleonic dreams of glory. The historian hath said that Tukhachevsky was ambitious, if so it was a grievous fault, and grievously did he pay the price, 20 years after the fact. It is said that Tukhachevsky had studied the history of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars; and that he hoped to be the Bonaparte of the Russian Revolution, the man who would emerge from all the smoke and chaos with Monomakh’s Crown on his head. Who knows if any of that is true, though? Who can see into a man’s soul?
In the previous segment we saw that Tukhachevsky was eager to bring himself to Lenin’s attention, especially when he re-took Simbirsk (Lenin’s hometown) from the Whites. Technically, if I am not mistaken, Tukh reported to Trotsky in the chain of command; hence it should have been Trotsky who communicated this glorious news to Lenin. But anybody who has ever played the game of Office Politics, knows how important it is to get the word out to the Big Boss, of one’s amazing accomplishments. This incident shows a couple of other things, though; for starters, that Tukh really respected Lenin as The Boss and craved the latter’s praise. Possibly even admired him. So, it didn’t seem like Tukh was thinking, at the time: “I’ll win a bunch of battles, and then I’ll overthrow Lenin, just like Napoleon overthrew Robespierre.” Not at all, in fact Tukh’s act could be seen in an entirely different light, as well: Perhaps he literally loved Lenin, as a son would love his father; not just seeking praise, he truly wanted the Leader to be happy and feel better, especially after that awful assassination attempt and the ensuing pain and PTSD. In this sense, his telegram was like a Bolshevik Hallmark Card. And we know that Lenin himself appreciated this beau geste because we have the telegram in which he replied to Tukh that such great news was like balm to his wounds.
One Man’s Balm Is Another Man’s Poison
Back to the movie and by the way I just noticed in a subtitle (13:00 minutes in) that the person I have been referring to as “blonde male historian” actually has a name, it’s Yaroslav Listov, and he is a Doctoral candidate in Russian History. I apologize for that, I wanted to give everybody’s name, but I just didn’t know who these people were, except for Julia Kantor. Oh, and also Boris Sokolov, I have been referring to him as the “white-haired historian”. All-rightey.
15:00 minutes in: Tukhachevsky really hoped that the brownie points he had scored with the Leader would help him win a promotion and more money.
Brown-haired historian: Tukhachevsky needed more money and material goods, because he was the main bread-winner for his family. One of his brothers died around that time, and Tukh had to support his four younger sisters. The Soviet government provided a certain amount of social support, and Tukhachevsky received the salary of a colonel, but he needed more.
Narrator: However, Tukhachevsky, the man who had defeated Kolchak and Denikin, found his road to promotion blocked by Voroshilov. Klim’s finest hour came to pass when Stalin assigned him the [plum] job of creating the First Cavalry Army. The former welder could barely sit upright in a saddle; therefore he passed the [main tasks] along to a different man who knew his way around horses: the former Tsarist Wachtmeister Semyon Budyonny. Klim himself was put on the Revolutionary Military Committee. Victory followed upon victory. The two commanders shared the glory. During the entire Soviet epoch the First Cavalry was the subject of poems, paintings, theatrical performances, and movies. The reality is that the role of the Cavalry was much embellished.
Not once did this horse army actually decide the outcome of a battle on the front lines. Not just that, but Tukhachevsky continued to aver, that the First Cavalry had fatally ruined his own chance for victory at Warsaw. As a result, instead of the glorious Austerlitz that he craved, the Red Bonaparte was forced to endure a shameful Waterloo.
Historian Boris Sokolov, 16:00 minutes in: This turned into the most devastating defeat of the entire Civil War. Even the Whites never experienced such an all-encompassing catastrophe as this one.
Brown-haired historian: Up to 120,000 Russian soldiers and officers were taken prisoner. Of which approximately 60,000 subsequently perished.
Narrator: Tukhachevsky explained this crushing defeat in his book Battle For the Vistula. He blamed it on the First Cavalry, which had not come to bring him the reinforcements they were supposed to. Changing the plan that had been previously agreed to, Voroshilov turned his cavalry around, in a Southwest direction, to reinforce Stalin’s siege of Lvov.
Sokolov [refuting Tukhachevsky’s blame game]: Stalin thought that it was best to first take Lvov, and then on to help with the Western Front. When the order was transmitted to dispatch the First Cavalry to the Western Front, Stalin would not sign this order, which ended up delaying it for an entire day, because they had to find a different member of the Military Committee who would sign it. They lost a day, to be sure; but in the end, this did not play any role in [the ensuing defeat].
Narrator: When Voroshilov became Head of the Army, and Stalin Head of the Communist Party, they were wont to place the guilt for the Polish catastrophe entirely on Tukhachevsky. Some people even suggested that he should be hanged for the bungled Warsaw operation. But in the final analysis, standing before the Court of History, Tukhachevsky would be judged for an entirely different matter; namely, his suppression of the anti-Bolshevik uprisings.
[to be continued]