“If a tree falls in the forest and no person is there to witness it, then it didn’t actually fall.”Bishop Berkeley
“If the tree falls and somebody is there to witness it, but that person is later liquidated, then the tree didn’t fall after all.”Joseph Stalin
[both fake quotes, my apologies….]
Today concluding this recap of a very troubling case of Office Politics in Russian history. And hopefully people will have learned some valuable lessons, including this one: Even after a violent social revolution, it is very important to distribute revolutionary power on the widest possible basis, especially after the ensuing Foreign Invasion/Civil War is over. A temporary Dictatorship should not turn into a permanent one. Never allow such power to concentrate in the hands of a small clique, let alone one single unaccountable “Dear Leader” type individual. In conclusion, it should be possible to vote anyone out of office, at some point when you are sick of their shenanigans. Otherwise what you will get is Caligula. That was my public service warning message of the day.
So, having witnessed this ugly dinner-table scandal involving
Caligula Stalin and his wife, now fearing for the lives of himself and his family; also knowing that his hated rival Tukhachevsky was riding high and intended to have him forcibly retired in order to spend more time with his family; well, it was only natural that Voroshilov would fight back. Everything was at stake: His life, the life of his beloved wife; his power and his career. And so he proceeded on his vengeful gambit: To turn Stalin against Tukhachevsky once and for all. By using Stalin’s own paranoia against him. The historians say it was not all that difficult for Voroshilov to convince Stalin that Tukhachevsky sought to overthrow the Dear Leader via palace coup. After which, Tukhachevsky himself would either seize the throne as Red Bonaparte and/or bring Trotsky back into the Kremlin riding on a white horse. Stalin, now with so much blood on his hands after the first couple of Terror tranches, and, even more importantly, having gotten away with everything to date, was receptive to Voroshilov’s Iago impersonation.
Grab your popcorn, folks, we resume our movie watching at 28 minutes in:
Narrator: From abroad Trotsky was busy tossing oil into the flames. In 1936 the purges of the leading Old Bolshevik cadres began, via the so-called “Moscow Trials”. Lev Davidovich [Trotsky] responded with his book, “The Revolution Betrayed” (in Russian Predannaya Revolutsia). Using the analogy of the French Revolution, he postulated that, after the execution of Oppositionists, the country was on the verge of a military coup.
Writer Vladislav Goncharov: This was precisely the type of personage whom the Bolsheviks feared. It was widely believed, for example [Felix] Dzerzhinsky back in the day stated that the main danger to us is the appearance of a Red Bonaparte and a military dictatorship. They didn’t see it coming that [the counter-revolution] would appear in the form of Stalin.
Historian Boris Sokolov: Stalin was afraid that Tukhachevsky may become the new Bonparate. But even if Tukhachevsky wanted to be Bonaparte, he didn’t have the concrete means to do this. In order to carry out a [successful] conspiracy, one needs to create certain concrete conditions. For example, one needs the support of [at least] part of the military. Only then can one carry out a coup. In this regard Tukhachevsky never undertook one single move in this direction. Never.
Narrator: The arrests of Tukhachevsky’s inner circle began in the summer of 1936. There was nobody left in a high [political] post who could have stood up for him or defended him. Those high-ranking people who could have helped him had all mysteriously disappeared: Kirov had been assassinated, [Valerian] Kuybyshev died under mysterious circumstances. Ordjonikidze shot himself. Naturally, Tukhachevsky sensed death approaching. Not long before his arrest, he confessed to the composer, [Dmitry] Shostakovich, that his main regret in life was that he never became a good violinist. He was able to play the violin, but only at a hobbyist level. He left behind [after he died] a specialized monograph entitled “Primers and Varnishes For Violins”.
Next we hear from Tukh’s Great-Nephew (Russian внучатый племянник) Nikolai Tukhachevsky. Nikolai is the grandson of one of Tukh’s siblings, not sure which one:
Nikolai Tukhachevsky: Notwithstanding how busy he was at his job, and all the problems tumbling down upon his head, [my Great Uncle] liked to busy himself, as a hobby, with building [and repairing] violins.
Narrator: Tukhachevsky’s normal method of distracting himself from dark thoughts, were his ephemeral affairs with women. He spent time with Natalia Sats who was the first woman in the world to become the Director of an Opera Theater. He also had an affair with Nadezhda Peshkova, wife of the writer Maxim Gorky, and currently the Toast of Moscow. Also on the list of Tukhachevsky’s lovers was the niece of White Guard General [Nikolai] Skoblin who was also a secret agent of the NKVD. The niece, Shura, was also a secret NKVD informer and wrote denunciations against the Marshal. However, the main reason why the Marshal was removed from his post as Deputy Narkom of Defense, was due to his longstanding connection with a different woman, Julia Kuzmina. In May of 1937 she was declared to be a Polish spy and was arrested. [yalensis: Julia was Tukh’s official mistress and said to be almost like his second wife. She bore him a daughter who was also named Svetlana, just like his legitimate daughter. Historians postulate that Tukh gave both daughters the same name to prevent himself from slipping up and calling one by the other’s name. It must have been hard to juggle two families. Julia was the first person in this family cluster to be arrested, and her arrest then served as the pretext to arrest Tukhachevsky. This whole series of arrests was obviously planned out very carefully between Stalin, Molotov, Yezhov, and Voroshilov.]
30:30 minutes in: This film called Children of the Arbat (made in 2004, Director A. Eshpai) reconstructs the final encounter between Stalin and Tukhachevsky. [In the film], they speak about the arrest of his mistress, and it is suggested that the Marshal leave the capital temporarily. During his leave of absence he will head the Privolga Military Okrug.
[yalensis: There is a blonde actor, is he supposed to be Voroshilov? He looks too young for that, but on the other hand he shows disgusting table manners, so maybe that is supposed to be him. The actor who plays Tukh doesn’t look very much like Tukh either. The Stalin sort of looks like Stalin, though. And he also has disgusting table manners in this clip.]
Blonde Actor: Your close friend has been arrested. Namely, Julia Ivanovna Kuzmina. Well, we have to do something to stop the gossip and maintain your military authority. Therefore the Politburo has decided to make a few changes [and transfers] within the army.
Actor portraying Tukhachevsky: I will go wherever the Party orders.
Actor portraying Stalin: [chewing loudly] Thank you for your service. Hahahaha.
Narrator: The actor portraying the role of the Marshal, Sergei Astakhov, posed the question to himself many times: How could it happen that Tukhachevsky fell into Stalin’s trap and even believed that the Leader would [ultimately] let him return to Moscow?
Actor Sergei Astakhov: His entire life, every day of his life, he risked [himself] to defend the interests of his Motherland, his people; and then somebody accuses him of being a traitor. How is such a thing possible? In our country anything is possible.
Narrator: Before taking that final decision to arrest Tukhachevsky, Stalin heard the opinions of Molotov, Yezhov, and Voroshilov. Voroshilov did not bother to conceal his longstanding hatred of Tukhachevsky.
Vladislav Goncharov: No officer can be arrested without the approval of his commanding officer. It’s a feudal system, in general, in which a commanding officer decides the fates of his subordinates. And thus, in order to arrest Tukhachevsky, they would have to get Voroshilov to sign on.
32:00 minutes in: Tukhachevsky was arrested on May 22, 1937, in the waiting room of the office of [Pavel] Postyshev, First Secretary of the Kuybyshev Obkom of the Communist Party. Tukhachevsky had just arrived there from Moscow; the Marshal didn’t even have time to stop by his [assigned] flat or check into a hotel. Witnesses recount that Tukhachevsky was already a broken man, just by the fact of his own arrest. His medals and stripes were torn off him, and he was asked to take off his military uniform. He refused.
Julia Kantor [historian who wrote a biography of Tukhachevsky]: Many years later, after his rehabilitation, Tukhachevsky’s family [what was left of it] received a letter from a witness who had been there at the time of his arrest in Kuybyshev. [This person] had witnessed some monstrous things, just speaking purely from a moral point of view. They ripped his Marshal’s uniform off of him. For any soldier this was the grossest humiliation possible.
Narrator: Parallel with Tukhachevsky’s arrest, they searched the Marshal’s train car, where Mikhail Nikolaevich’s wife Nina Evgenievna Grinevich was staying. During the search they took his medals and his Mauser, other unloaded guns, his periscope and binoculars. His wife was also subjected to repressions. She was sentenced to 8 years in the camps, but in July of 1941 she was accused of belonging to a terrorist organization (formed of wives of repressed enemies of the people) and was sentenced to be shot there and then.
The majority of Tukhachevsky’s relatives also perished in the ensuing arrests: His two brothers, his sister Sofia. Three other sisters (Olga, Elizabeth and Maria) were exiled to Kolyma.
Nikolai Tukhachevsky: These [relatives] had to sit it out for over 19 years. Of the women, three sisters survived, their mother had died, [rest of sentence inaudible to me].
Narrator: And even the Marshal’s beloved daughter Svetlana, whose birthday he celebrated every month, and for whom he wished a “bright” life — she too had to spend 20 difficult years in camps and in exile.
Julia Kantor: The case against [the child] Svetlana Mikhailovna Tukhachevskaya is astounding in its cynicism. The formulaic accusations found it sufficient that she happened to be the daughter of an enemy of the people.
Narrator: Comrade Stalin kept his word. On May 24 Tukhachevsky truly was returned to Moscow. To the Lubyanka. Already within 2 days, he started to confess. In summary, he confessed to being the head of a group of Red Army commanders who were plotting a coup against the government. Tukhachevsky confessed to being an agent of German and Japanese Intelligence, and so on and so forth, for 143 pages. He confessed to much more than he technically needed to. Voroshilov was exulting in private, but was publicly heard to exclaim: “What kind of man is this, who, after just a few hours has signed off to everything?”
Why did Tukhachevsky break so quickly? Tukhachevsky’s daughter later recounted how they guided her, a 15-year-old girl, into the room where her father was being interrogated, and threatened to rape her, unless he signed off on the confessions. There is no documentary evidence to corroborate her claim; however there is corroboration for certain other parts of the story.
Julia Kantor: From a judicial point of view, from a linguistic point of view, from a historical point of view, there is absolutely zero value to these confessions. Here is the conclusion of a specialist [holding up a signed document], who says that Tukhachevsky’s hand-written confessions, made by a man who finds himself in an unusual physical state, an unusual moral state, as a result of physical pressures put upon him — well, translating from judicial speak into normal Russian lingo — a man who is being tortured…
[yalensis: Julia doesn’t mention the historical fact that Tukh’s handwritten confession manuscript is spattered with his own blood. Which could have come from his face or hands. The movie director implies, in his staging of this scene, that Tukh’s fingernails had been ripped out.]
Narrator: From Tukhachevsky’s confessions the investigators derived, at a minimum, the names of his co-conspirators and his own self-incrimination. Two weeks after his arrest, on May 11, 1937, a group of military associated with Tukhachevsky — a group which until quite recently was considered the flower of the Soviet High Command — found themselves appearing before a closed military tribunal. [yalensis: here, once again, is the transcript of that trial, only recently declassified and published by the Russian government.] That very same night, all of them were shot in the basement of the Lefortovo Prison. Just before being shot, Tukhachevsky was heard to shout out: “You’re not shooting just us, you’re gunning down the Red Army!”
He was right. During the following year over 40,000 commanders of the Red Army and Navy were liquidated. Towards the end of 1939 an additional 125,000 soldiers were repressed. In the camp of the enemy, people were rejoicing.
Boris Sokolov: When such a wide-ranging purge is undertaken in the army, it goes without saying that the army is weakened. The Germans welcomed this development, naturally.
Narrator: Hundreds of inventors and engineering instructors were also subjected to repressions. This put a brake on the production of new brands of weapons. [yalensis: These engineers had done nothing wrong, but were unfortunate enough to work on grand construction projects sponsored by Tukhachevsky and his Reformers; for example, building tanks, hangars for planes, etc.]
Julia Kantor (36:45 minutes in): After Tukhachevsky was repressed, a campaign of repressions also began against scientists who were connected to [Tukh] in one way or another. For example, [Andrei Nikolaevich] Tupolev and [Sergei Pavlovich] Korolev. All of the projects that they were working on were halted. This was a huge tragedy which struck [us] hard precisely during this pre-war era.
Narrator: For example, the decision to mass-produce katyusha rockets was taken [only] several hours before the USSR entered into war against Germany. On the other hand, the [horse] cavalry experienced [during this pre-war period] an unusual renaissance. Development of this [horse] cavalry was allocated resources five times greater than the entire naval fleet.
In conclusion, Voroshilov will enter history as a Marshal who did not win one single battle. The catastrophic lack of success during the Finnish War will force Stalin to remove him from his post as Narkom. And after the start of the Great Patriotic War, Voroshilov will be the man who allows [by ineptitude] the blockade of Leningrad. After which the Leader will dispatch him to work in the rear-guard.
Julia Kantor: Voroshilov, towards the end of September, was put in charge of the Leningrad Front. The blockade happened [under his watch], in other words, he failed completely in his assignment of breaking through the tightening ring of blockade around Leningrad. This catastrophe is connected with the name of Voroshilov.
Narrator: Voroshilov’s military career was waning. But his political career did not suffer one bit. After Stalin’s death he spent the next seven years in the [ceremonial] Presidential role as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. During his last three years at this post, he found himself in conflict with Khrushchev, who insisted on the Rehabilitation of Tukhachevsky. [yalensis: I can only imagine what a bitter pill that must have been, for Voroshilov to swallow. But still very inadequate karma, considering the sheer heinousness of what he did to his fellow man.]
As if playing by the rules of a farcical tragedy, the names of the repressed military commander, subsequently rehabilitated; and that of his enemy; will be tied together [geographically]: The Voroshilov Museum in that region of Moscow bearing his name, was built on Marshal Tukhachevsky Street.
The “Voroshilov Region” of the capital city no longer exists, and the museum has been closed. But Marshal Tukhachevsky Street is still there. And today his name reminds us, that [even] a person with brains and talent, possessing an independence of thought, cannot out-game a dictatorship, however hard he might try.