Little Bits of History

Purging the Russian Army

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 11, 2014
Mikhail Tukhachevsky

Mikhail Tukhachevsky

June 11, 1937: Eight Soviet Union army leaders are executed. Joseph Stalin was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1929 until 1952. He followed Vyacheslav Molotov into power. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, he was the general secretary of the party’s Central Committee and was able to consolidate his power base after the death of Vladimir Lenin. His control over the USSR was total and he ruled without fear of reprisals, since he brooked no questioning of his methods. One of the ways he kept power was the Great Purge where he rid the country of dissidents between 1934 to 1940. He got rid of opposition government officials and Red Army leadership and repressed peasants via widespread police surveillance.

The Case of Trotskyist Anti-Soviet Military Organization (aka the Tukhachevsky Case) was a secret trial held in 1937 to get rid of high ranking military personnel. Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky and seven other officers were accused of anti-Soviet conspiracy. A ninth man would also have been brought to trial, but he committed suicide before he could be arrested. A secret tribunal was presided over by Vasili Ulrikh and seven other high ranking military personnel. Only three of them would survive the purges that followed. The trial triggered a massive purge of the Red Army in September 1938 where 37,761 officers and commissars were dismissed, 10,868 were arrested, and 7,211 were condemned for anti-Soviet crimes.

After Leon Trotsky was removed as Commissar of War, his supporters were removed from the army in a series of purges. Tukhachevsky was a popular leader and a public trial would have been difficult. Evidence was based on confessions from others, probably arrived at during torture. It was thought that the German Nazi Party had manufactured documentation leading to Tukhachevsky’s arrest. After 1990, when Soviet archives were opened, the theory was changed. It appears that Stalin manufactured the reason and offered Tukhachevsky surreptitiously to the Nazis who went on to create even more forged documents. None of these were needed during the trial since the tortured suspects had confessed to their crimes. Immediately following the secret trial, the eight men were executed.

The reason for the entire farce remains somewhat unclear. The best hypothesis is simply that Stalin wished to consolidate his power base. By getting rid of the most popular and well-regarded generals, the following Great Terror was easier. The killing off of all opposition was easier without leadership to question it. By the end of the Terror, three of the five Soviet Marshals, 90% of all Red Army generals, 80% of all colonels, and 30,000 officers of lesser rank had been purged. Virtually of these men were executed.

One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.

Death solves all problems – no man, no problem.

I trust no one, not even myself.

Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach. – all from Joseph Stalin

Also on this day: Epicurean Feast – In 1939 the US President serves the King of England hot dogs.
Limelight – In 1892, a new filming industry opened in Australia.
Great Barrier Reef v. Endeavour – In 1770, Captain Cook ran aground.
Wedded Bliss – In 1509 King Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon.

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