Voroshilov versus Tukhachevsky – Part VII

Dear Readers:

Before proceeding with my recap of this documentary, a few housekeeping points. From rewinding and looking more closely at the captions, I found names for the faces of these analysts who have been sharing their expert knowledge and opinions with us. Most of them are PhD’s (at the Candidate level) in Russian history. Not knowing their names previously, I have been referring to them mostly by their gender and hair-color, for which I apologize, and is unforgivable in this woke era. In short, these guys are:

“Brown-haired historian” is Ilya Ratkovsky. “Blonde male historian” is Yaroslav Listov. Actually, they are all male, except for the one female who is Julia Kantor. Yaroslav is the only blonde on the team, though.”White-haired historian” is Boris Sokolov. Then there is one other guy, he has a youngish face but shoulder-length grey hair, his name is Vladislav Goncharov, and he is listed as a “Writer” instead of historian. I’m not sure, but think Vladislav is one of the writers for the movie about the Tambov peasant uprising, which we discussed in my previous post. Did I miss anyone? Time to continue with the recap. Where we left off: No matter what Tukhachevsky did to prove his loyalty to the Bolsheviks, it was never enough to earn the trust of Voroshilov. Voroshilov could never forget the fact that Tukh used to be an aristocrat and Tsarist officer. Looking ahead into the future and the Terror, one could speculate that Voroshilov was actually dumb enough to believe the Stalin-Yezhov lies about Tukh being a Nazi and/or British spy and/or Japanese spy, as in “Aha! I knew it all along!” Maybe…. More likely, Voroshilov wasn’t quite that stupid, but just chose to believe what he wanted to believe, because it made it easier for him to go along with Stalin’s plan to get rid of all these officers. And so he was, like, “Rah rah, punish these disgusting enemies of the people…” and still keep a clean conscience.

Yaroslav Listov, 20:00 minutes in: Tukhachevsky came from a completely different background, and these cultural differences caused tension from the very beginning.

The Red Army employed quite a few former Tsarist officers as military specialists. Some of them defected, but most stayed loyal to the Reds.

Narrator: The proletariat continued to regard Tukhachevsky and men like him, as class enemies. Their reasoning was: If he betrayed once [his class], then he will betray again [us]. Once appointed to the post of Narkom of the Red Army, Voroshilov’s first task was his attempt to expel Tsarist military specialists. But Stalin did not support Voroshilov in this, at that time. The Dictator needed these men, not just as decorative appliances, but as competent experts who could carry out assignments.

Yaroslav Listov: Stalin needed competent cadres. This problem [of cadres] was the Soviet Union’s Achilles Heel. This country, which had endured a Revolution and Civil War, which had been through World War I, which had lost a great number of specialists — there were very few specialists left.

Narrator: One thing those years of war proved was that the army needed to obtain the most modern forms of weaponry and re-arm itself. Tukhachevsky did not see a [future] role for a Horse-based Cavalry. Voroshilov regarded [such heresy] as a personal affront to himself.

A possible compromise: Let the horses drive the tanks!

Boris Sokolov, 21:00 minutes in: Voroshilov and Budyonny were personally associated with these cavalry troops, and they wanted not only to not get rid of the horses, but to increase and strengthen these horse troops. At that same time, other armies [in the world] were converting their cavalries into more mechanized units. Within the cavalry Divisions and Brigades, tank units were appearing.

Narrator: Between the two commanders [Voroshilov vs Tukhachevsky] a war began, on paper. To his second-in-command’s proposal to modernize the army, Klim Efremovich would usually respond harshly. The poor guy didn’t have a clue. Stalin followed very closely this duel between Voroshilov’s horse and Tukhachevsky’s motor. From time to time he would take one or the other’s side, and then switch sides again. The first round of this verbal shooting match was won by Voroshilov. In 1928 Tukhachevsky was demoted and sent to command the Leningrad Military Okrug. Narkom Voroshilov was able to enjoy his popularity and bask in peace.

Building That Ikonostas, Ikon By Ikon

Yaroslav Listov: Stalin was in the process of creating a series of cults. Which, in general, as a graduate of a seminary, he certainly knew how to construct a proper Eastern Orthodox ikonostas. For example, in place of the Holy Trinity, we have this [22:25 minutes in, you see the Holy Quadruple, with Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin; the ikon to viewer’s right depicts Voroshilov, and the one on the left is Molotov]. With Stalin in the top position, as the ideological head of the government; how shall we say it, and below him there are two supporting symbols: the administrative and functional, leading the charge for industrialization and so on, the governmental, which is Molotov; and the supporting military symbol: That’s Voroshilov.

There are certain rules in the layout of a classic Ikonostas

Narrator: The name of the first Red officer and then proletarian Marshal of the Red Army — was everywhere. Streets and cities bore his name, even one of the peaks of the Ivanovsky mountain range. Ordinary mortals dreamed about possessing one of those [lapel] pins bearing his image. [The wording on the pin says: “Voroshilovian horse-rider”.]

The cult of the Legitimate Heir: Stalin mansplains to Lenin how they are going to electrifiy the country by building power plants. Lenin listens intently to his Genius second-in-command who is also Heir to the Throne.

yalensis commentary: Listov makes some very interesting points here, about the use of symbols to consolidate raw political power. The Church always knew how to do this: The sumptuous paintings and beautiful images, the gorgeous walls shining with the fiery gold of hell’s kitchen. You tiptoe in to behold with awe all that money and all that power. Later, as you are being burned at the stake as a heretic, you can look up and see the Madonna and Child blessing you in just the right formation and pattern of arms, hands, fingers.

This is 1928, and Stalin has just emerged as the victor of quite a lot of faction struggles. Now the Dear Leader needs to consolidate his psychological hold over the proletariat by portraying himself as the legtimate Heir of an entire dynasty: From Marx-Engels (God) to Lenin (Christ), and then himself, the combination of all of them, in the Holy Spirit embodied. There is nobody else in the world, just him. Well, he has his helpers, of course. Even Christ needed loyal assistants, like John the Baptist. And thus the new God’s Chosen One builds ikons to his rapidly dwindling list of loyal friends: Voroshilov, Budyonny, Molotov, and a handful of others. The masses are told who the good guys are, and whom they are supposed to honor. They must carry their images, like religious ikons, they must chant their names down streets named after these brilliant heroes. You can call me an anarachist (which I am not), but personally, I cannot imagine anything that is so the opposite of human dignity, as being told by the government whom I must love! No thanks, I’ll choose my own heroes, if you don’t mind.

One can only imagine Tukhachevsky’s increasing frustration. He is a secular man, a technical specialist who knows his craft quite well. His enemies have said that he was ambitious and wore a colossal ego. But apparently not nearly as colossal as Voroshilov’s, in the final analysis. Not only is the more competent Tukh passed over for the promotion he thought he deserved, but now he sees the creation of this Voroshilov cult; and given that he himself believes that his boss Voroshilov is a complete idiot…

As an experienced player, myself, in the Game of Office Politics (although, admittedly, usually on the losing side), I can relate completely to the feelings of men like Tukh and Uborevich and the other reformers, intelligent military specialists, as they watch the mediocrities take over and make really stupid decisions. I can only imagine the grumbling around the equivalent of the water-cooler: “I can’t believe Stalin listened to that moron and chose horses over tanks – grrr!” Well, it goes without saying that Stalin, albeit vicious, is not a stupid man. Of course he is going to choose tanks eventually and get rid of the horses. He just doesn’t want to undercut his loyal aide just yet. Besides, as a dictator it’s fun to pit the underlings against each other and watch them all squirm.

Yaroslav Listov: This was a ferocious cult.

[to be continued]

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