April 15, 2017

The Tukhachevsky trial and the anti-Communist conspiracy within the army

On May 26, 1937, Marshal Tukhachevsky and Commanders Yakir, Uborevich, Eideman, Kork, Putna, Feldman and Primakov were arrested and tried in front of a military tribunal. Their execution was announced on July 12.

They had been under suspicion since the beginning of May. On May 8, the political commissar system, used during the Civil War, was reintroduced in the army. Its reintroduction reflected the Party's fear of Bonapartist tendencies within the army.

Getty, op. cit. , p. 167.

A May 13, 1927 Commissar of Defence directive ended the control that the political commissars had over the highest officers. The military commander was given the responsibility for `general political leadership for the purpose of complete coordination of military and political affairs in the unit'. The `political assistant' was to be responsible for `all party-political work' and was to report to the commander on the political condition of the unit.

Carr, op. cit. , p. 325.

The Tolmachev Military Political Academy in Leningrad and the commissars of the military district of Byelorussia protested against `the depreciation and diminution of the rôle of the party-political organs'.

Ibid. , p. 327.

Blomberg, a superior German officer, made a report after his visit to the USSR in 1928. He noted: `Purely military points of view step more and more into the foreground; everything else is subordinated to them'.

Ibid. , p. 320.

Since many soldiers came from the countryside, kulak influence was substantial. Unshlikht, a superior officer, claimed in 1928 and 1929 that the danger of Right deviation was greater in the Army than in the Party's civil organizations.

Ibid. , p. 331.

In 1930, ten per cent of the officer corps, i.e. 4500 military, were former Tsarist officers. During the purge of institutions in the fall of 1929, Unshlikht had not allowed a massive movement against the former Tsarist officers in the Army.

Ibid. , p. 317.

These factors all show that bourgeois influence was still strong during the twenties and the thirties in the army, making it one of the least reliable parts of the socialist system.


V. Likhachev was an officer in the Red Army in the Soviet Far East in 1937--1938. His book, Dal'nevostochnyi zagovor (Far-Eastern conspiracy), showed that there did in fact exist a large conspiracy within the army.

Getty, op. cit. , p. 255, n. 84.

Journalist Alexander Werth wrote in his book Moscow 41 a chapter entitled, `Trial of Tukhachevsky'. He wrote:

`I am also pretty sure that the purge in the Red Army had a great deal to do with Stalin's belief in an imminent war with Germany. What did Tukhachevsky stand for? People of the French Deuxieme Bureau told me long ago that Tukhachevsky was pro-German. And the Czechs told me the extraordinary story of Tukhachevsky's visit to Prague, when towards the end of the banquet --- he had got rather drunk --- he blurted out that an agreement with Hitler was the only hope for both Czechoslovakia and Russia. And he then proceeded to abuse Stalin. The Czechs did not fail to report this to the Kremlin, and that was the end of Tukhachevsky --- and of so many of his followers.'

Alexander Werth, quoted in Harpal Brar, Perestroika: The Complete Collapse of Revisionism (London: Harpal Brar, 1992), p. 161.

The U.S. Ambassador Moscow, Joseph Davies, wrote his impressions on on June 28 and July 4, 1937:

`(T)he best judgment seems to believe that in all probability there was a definite conspiracy in the making looking to a coup d'état by the army --- not necessarily anti-Stalin, but antipolitical and antiparty, and that Stalin struck with characteristic speed, boldness and strength.'

Joseph Davies, op. cit. , p. 99.

`Had a fine talk with Litvinov. I told him quite frankly the reactions in U.S. and western Europe to the purges; and to the executions of the Red Army generals; that it definitely was bad ....

`Litvinov was very frank. He stated that they had to ``make sure'' through these purges that there was no treason left which could co-operate with Berlin or Tokyo; that someday the world would understand that what they had done was to protect the government from ``menacing treason.'' In fact, he said they were doing the whole world a service in protecting themselves against the menace of Hitler and Nazi world domination, and thereby preserving the Soviet Union strong as a bulwark against the Nazi threat. That the world would appreciate what a very great man Stalin was.'

Ibid. , p. 103.

In 1937, Abdurakhman Avtorkhanov was working for the Central Commitee of the Bolshevik Party. A bourgeois nationalist, he had close ties to opposition leaders and with the Central Committee members from the Caucausus. In his book The Reign of Stalin, he regrets that Tukhachevsky did not seize power in 1937. He claims that early in 1937, after his trip to England, Tukhachevsky spoke to his superior officers as follows:

`The great thing about His Britannic Majesty's Army is that there could not be a Scotland Yard agent at its head (allusion to the rôle played by state security in the USSR). As for cobblers (allusion to Stalin's father), they belong in the supply depots, and they don't need a Party card. The British don't talk readily about patriotism, because it seems to them natural to be simply British. There is no political ``line'' in Britain, right, left or centre; there is just British policy, which every peer and worker, every conservative and member of the Labour Party, every officer and soldier, is equally zealous in serving .... The British soldier is completely ignorant of Party history and production figures, but on the other hand he knows the geography of the world as well as he knows his own barracks .... The King is loaded with honours, but he has no personal power .... Two qualities are called for in an officer --- courage and professional competence.'

Alexander Uralov (Abdurakhman Avtorkhanov), The Reign of Stalin (Westport, Conn.: Hyperion Press, p. 1975), p. 50.

Robert Coulondre was the French Ambassador to Moscow in 1936--1938. In his memoirs, he recalled the Terror of the French Revolution that crushed the aristocrats in 1792 and prepared the French people for war against the reactionary European states. At the time, the enemies of the French Revolution, particularly England and Russia, had interpreted the revolutionary terror as a precursor of the disintegration of the régime. In fact, the opposite was true. The same thing, Coulondre wrote, was taking place with the Soviet Revolution.

`Soon after Tukhachevsky's arrest, the minister of Lithuania, who knew a number of Bolshevik leaders, told me that the marshal, upset by the brakes imposed by the Communist Party on the development of Russian military power, in particular of a sound organization of the army, had in fact become the head of a movement that wanted to strangle the Party and institute a military dictatorship ....

`My correspondence can testify that I gave the ``Soviet terror'' its correct interpretation. It should not be concluded, I constantly wrote, that the régime is falling apart or that the Russian forces are tiring. It is in fact the opposite, the crisis of a country that is growing too quickly.'

Robert Coulondre, De Staline à Hitler: Souvenirs de deux ambassades, 1936--1939 (Paris: Hachette, 1950), pp. 182--184.

Churchill wrote in his memoirs that Benes `had received an offer from Hitler to respect in all circumstances the integrity of Czechoslovakia in return for a guarantee that she would remain neutral in the event of a Franco-German war.'

`In the autumn of 1936, a message from a high military source in Germany was conveyed to President Benes to the effect that if he wanted to take advantage of the Fuehrer's offer, he had better be quick, because events would shortly take place in Russia rendering any help he could give to Germany insignificant.

`While Benes was pondering over this disturbing hint, he became aware that communications were passing through the Soviet Embassy in Prague between important personages in Russia and the German Government. This was a part of the so-called military and Old-Guard Communist conspiracy to overthrow Stalin and introduce a new régime based on a pro-German policy. President Benes lost no time in communicating all he could find out to Stalin. Thereafter there followed the merciless, but perhaps not needless, military and political purge in Soviet Russia ....

`The Russian Army was purged of its pro-German elements at a heavy cost to its military efficiency. The bias of the Soviet Government was turned in a marked manner against Germany .... The situation was, of course, thoroughly understood by Hitler; but I am not aware that the British and French Governments were equally enlightened. To Mr.\ Chamberlain and the British and French General Staffs the purge of 1937 presented itself mainly as a tearing to pieces internally of the Russian Army, and a picture of the Soviet Union as riven asunder by ferocious hatreds and vengeance.'

Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War: The Gathering Storm (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1948), pp. 288--289.

The Trotskyist Deutscher rarely missed an opportunity to denigrate and slander Stalin. However, despite the fact that he claimed that there was only an `imaginary conspiracy' as basis for the Moscow trials, he did have this to say about Tukhachevsky's execution:

`(A)ll the non-Stalinist versions concur in the following: the generals did indeed plan a coup d'état .... The main part of the coup was to be a palace revolt in the Kremlin, culminating in the assassination of Stalin. A decisive military operation outside the Kremlin, an assault on the headquarters of the G.P.U., was also prepared. Tukhachevsky was the moving spirit of the conspiracy .... He was, indeed, the only man among all the military and civilian leaders of that time who showed in many respects a resemblance to the original Bonaparte and could have played the Russian First Consul. The chief political commissar of the army, Gamarnik, who later committed suicide, was initiated into the plot. General Yakir, the commander of Leningrad, was to secure the co-operation of his garrison. Generals Uberovich, commander of the western military district, Kork, commander of the Military Academy in Moscow, Primakow, Budienny's deputy in the command of the cavalry, and a few other generals were also in the plot.'

I. Deutscher, Stalin: A Political Biography, second edition (London: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 379.

Deutscher, an important anti-Communist, even when he accepted the veracity of the Tukhachevsky plot, made sure that he underlined the `good intentions' of those who wanted `to save the army and the country from the insane terror of the purges' and he assured his readers that Tukhachevsky was in no way acting `in Germany's interest'.

Ibid. , p. x, n. 1.

The Nazi Léon Degrelle, in a 1977 book, referred to Tukhachevsky in the following terms:

`Who would have thought during the crimes of the Terror during the French Revolution that soon after a Bonaparte would come out and raise France up from the abyss with an iron fist? A few years later, and Bonaparte almost created the United Europe.

`A Russian Bonaparte could also rise up. The young Marshal Tukhachevsky executed by Stalin on Benes' advice, was of the right stature in 1937.'

Louise Narvaez, Degrelle m'a dit, Postface by Degrelle (Brussels: Éditions du Baucens, 1977), pp. 360--361.

On May 8, 1943, Göbbels noted in his journal some comments made by Hitler. They show that the Nazis perfectly understood the importance of taking advantage of opposition and defeatist currents within the Red Army.

`The Führer explained one more time the Tukhachevsky case and stated that we erred completely at the time when we thought that Stalin had ruined the Red Army. The opposite is true: Stalin got rid of all the opposition circles within the army and thereby succeeded in making sure that there would no longer be any defeatist currents within that army ....

`With respect to us, Stalin also has the advantage of not having any social opposition, since Bolshevism has eliminated it through the purges of the last twenty-five years .... Bolshevism has eliminated this danger in time and can henceforth focus all of its strength on its enemy.'

J. Göbbels, Tagebücher aus den Jahren 1942--1943, (Zurich, 1948), p. 322. Quoted in Hans-Adolf Jacobsen, La seconde guerre mondiale: caractères fondamentaux de la politique et de la stratégie, vol. 1, pp. 213--214.

We also present Molotov's opinion. Apart from Kaganovich, Molotov was the only member of the Politburo in 1953 who never renounced his revolutionary past. During the 1980s, he recalled the situation in 1937, when the Purge started:

`An atmosphere of extreme tension reigned during this period; it was necessary to act without mercy. I think that it was justified. If Tukhachevsky, Yakir, Rykov and Zinoviev had started up their opposition in wartime, there would have been an extremely difficult struggle; the number of victims would have been colossal. Colossal. The two sides would have been condemned to disaster. They had links that went right up to Hitler. That far. Trotsky had similar links, without doubt. Hitler was an adventurist, as was Trotsky, they had traits in common. And the rightists, Bukharin and Rykov, had links with them. And, of course, many of the military leaders.'

F. Chueva, Sto sorok besed s MOLOTOVYM (One hundred forty conversations with Molotov) (Moscow: Terra, 1991), p. 413.

The militarist and Bonapartist tendency

In a study financed by the U.S. army and conducted by the Rand Corporation, Roman Kolkowicz analyzed, from the reactionary point of view found in military security services, the relations between the Party and the Army in the Soviet Union. It is interesting to note how he supported all the tendencies towards professionalism, apolitism, militarism and privileges in the Red Army, right from the twenties. Of course, Kolkowicz attacked Stalin for having repressed the bourgeois and military tendencies.

After describing how Stalin defined the status of the army in the socialist society in the twenties, Kolkowicz wroted:

`The Red Army emerged from this process as an adjunct of the ruling Party elite; its officers were denied the full authority necessary to the practice of the military profession; they were kept in a perennial state of uncertainty about their careers; and the military community, which tends toward exclusiveness, was forcibly kept open through an elaborate system of control and indoctrination ....

`Stalin ... embarked on a massive program intended to provide the Soviet army with modern weapons, equipment, and logistics. But he remained wary of the military's tendency toward elitism and exclusiveness, a propensity that grew with its professional renascence. So overwhelming did his distrust become that, at a time of acute danger of war in Europe, Stalin struck at the military in the massive purges of 1937 ....

`Hemmed in on all sides by secret police, political organs, and Party and Komsomol organizations, the military's freedom of action was severely circumscribed.'

Roman Kolkowicz, The Soviet Military and the Communist Party (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1967), pp. 343--344.

Note what the U.S. army most `hates' in the Red Army: political education (`endoctrination') and political control (by political organs, Party, Komsomol and security forces). On the other hand, the U.S. army views favorably the tendencies towards autonomy and privileges for superior officers (`elitism') and militarism (`exclusivity').

The purges are analyzed by Kolkowicz as a step in the Party struggle, directed by Stalin, against the `professionalists' and Bonapartists among the superior officers. These bourgeois currents were only able to impose themselves at Stalin's death.

`(W)ith Stalin's death and the division of the Party leadership that followed, the control mechanisms were weakened, and the military's own interests and values emerged into the open. In the person of Marshal Zhukov, broad sectors of the military had their spokesman. Zhukov was able to rid the establishment of the political organs' pervasive controls; he introduced strict discipline and the separation of ranks; he demanded the rehabilitation of purged military leaders and the punishment of their tormentors.'

Ibid. , p. 344.

Zhukov gave Khrushchev armed support in the two coups d'état of 1953 (the Beria affair) and 1957 (the Molotov--Malenkov--Kaganovich affair).


But how could generals of the Red Army have envisaged collaborating with Hitler? If they were not good Communists, surely these military men were at least nationalists?

This question will first be answered with another question. Why should this hypothesis be any different for the Soviet Union than France? Was not Marshal Pétain, the Victor at Verdun, a symbol of French chauvinist patriotism? Were not General Weygand and Admiral Darlan strong defenders of French colonialism? Despite all this, these three became key players in the collaboration with the Nazis. Would not the overthrow of capitalism in the Soviet Union and the bitter class struggle against the bourgeoisie be, for all the forces nostalgic for free enterprise, be additional motives for collaborating with German `dynamic capitalism'?

And did not the World War itself show that the tendency represented by Pétain in France also existed among certain Soviet officers?

General Vlasov played an important rôle during the defence of Moscow at the end of 1941. Arrested in 1942 by the Germans, he changed sides. But it was only on September 16, 1944, after an interview with Himmler, that he received the official authorization to create his own Russian Liberation Army, whose first division was created as early as 1943. Other imprisoned officers offered their services to the Nazis; a few names follow.

Major-General Trukhin, head of the operational section of the Baltic Region Chief of Staffs, professor at the General Chiefs of Staff Academy. Major-General Malyshkin, head of the Chiefs of Staff of the 19th Army. Major-General Zakutny, professor at the General Chiefs of Staff Academy. Major-Generals Blagoveshchensky, brigade commander; Shapovalov, artillery corps commander; and Meandrov. Brigade commander Zhilenkov, member of the Military Council of the 32nd Army. Colonels Maltsev, Zverev, Nerianin and Buniachenko, commander of the 389th Armed Division.

What was the political profile of these men? The former British secret service officer and historian Cookridge writes:

`Vlassov's entourage was a strange motley. The most intelligent of his officers was Colonel Mileti Zykov (a Jew). He had a been a supporter of the ``rightist deviationists'' of Bukharin and in 1936 had been banished by Stalin to Siberia, where he spent four years. Another survivor of Stalin's purges was General Vasili Feodorovich Malyshkin, former chief of staff of the Far East Army; he had been imprisoned during the Tukhachevsky affair. A third officer, Major-General Georgi Nicolaievich Zhilenkov, had been a political army commissar. They and many of the officers whom Gehlen recruited had been ``rehabilitated'' at the beginning of the war in 1941.'

E. H. Cookridge, Gehlen: Spy of the Century (New York: Random House, 1972), pp. 57--58.

So here we learn that several superior officers, convicted and sent to Siberia in 1937, then rehabilitated during the war, joined Hitler's side! Clearly the measures taken during the Great Purge were perfectly justified.

To justify joining the Nazis, Vlasov wrote an open letter: `Why I embarked on the road of struggle against Bolshevism'.

What is inside that letter is very instructive.

First, his criticism of the Soviet régime is identical to the ones made by Trotsky and the Western right-wing.

`I have seen that the Russian worker has a hard life, that the peasant was driven by force into kolkhozes, that millions of Russian people disappeared after being arrested without inquest or trial .... The system of commissars eroded the Red Army. Irresponsibility, shadowing and spying made the commander a toy in the hands of Party functionaries in civil suits or military uniforms ... Many thousands of the best commanders, including marshals, were arrested and shot or sent to labour camps, never to return.'

Note that Vlasov called for a professional army, with full military autonomy, without any Party control, just like the previously cited U.S. Army.

Then Vlasov explained how his defeatism encouraged him to join the Nazis. We will see in the next chapter that Trotsky and Trotskyists systematically used defeatist propaganda.

`I saw that the war was being lost for two reasons: the reluctance of the Russian people to defend Bolshevist government and the systems of violence it had created and irresponsible command of the army ....'

Finally, using Nazi `anti-capitalist' language, Vlasov explained that the New Russia had to integrate itself into the European capitalist and imperialist system.

`(We must) build a New Russia without Bolsheviks or capitalists ....

`The interests of the Russian people have always been similar to the interests of the German people and all other European nations .... Bolshevism has separated the Russian people from Europe by an impenetrable wall.'

Vlasov and Vlasovites. New Times 44 (1990), pp. 36--40.