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Leon Sedoff

Voroshilov Is Next!

(February 1938)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 13, 26 March 1938, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(The following was the last article written by comrade Leon Sedoff for the issue of the Bulletin of the Opposition which appeared a few days before his tragic death on Feb. 16.)

A series of symptoms, as well as fragmentary reports from the Soviet Union, have already indicated for some time that in the leading stratum a conflict is developing between the military apparatus and the G.P.U. After the military reforms of 1935, which greatly increased the specific gravity of the officers corps and linked it closely to the summits of the bureaucracy, the Army command felt more stable, stronger, and somewhat less dependent. But the decimation of the party apparatus by Stalin in 1936 could not fail to arouse uneasiness among the leaders of the Army. This uneasiness was dictated not by political considerations but by concern for the defense of the country which was being so dangerously sapped by the Stalinist purge.

Tukachevsky, Voroshilov, Gamarnik could not look on indifferently as the G.P.U. upset industry, especially that of armaments, by wholesale arrests, from government Commissars to qualified foremen. The army command could not but offer resistance to this frenzied purge, insofar as it began to affect the vital interest of defense. This resistance, probably quite strong from the beginning, necessarily became stronger as the G.P.U.

began to decimate the Red Army itself. The arrests of generals as important as Schmidt, Kuzmitchov, Putna, Primakov, the heads of the political sections of the Caucasus, the Far East, etc., of their aides, their friends, were certainly regarded by the Army command as discrediting and disorganizing the army itself. The Army chiefs entered into conflict with the G.P.U. and this conflict was doubtless aggravated by various other issues where the interests of the Commissariat of War clashed with those of the G.P.U.

Conflict Really with Stalin

Superficially, the struggle went on between the Army tops and G.P.U. Actually, it went on between the Army command and Stalin, although the generals probably did not realize this, at east at the outset. The subsequent course of events can only be explained, it seems to us, by the fact that Stalin held himself aloof in the first stages of the friction, giving an appearance of neutrality and that he even more probably, with his characteristic perfidy, egged the generals on. This attitude of Stalin’s could only pour oil on the fire.

The struggle between the military and the G.P.U., i.e., the interests of the defense of the country as opposed to the arbitrary rule of the G.P.U., undoubtedly contributed to the cohesion of the former, the strengthening of their mutual confidence, and the resumption of their activity. Meanwhile Yagoda and several others among the most odious chiefs of the G.P.U. fell into disgrace. To Tukachevsky, Yakir, Gamarnik, perhaps even to Voroshilov, the victory of Yezhov-Stalin might have seemed like their own victory over Yagoda. But Stalin; having played neutral and set the trap, gave Yezhov the signal for action. The military apparatus was decimated, its leaders and thousands of officers linked to them were shot.

“German Orientation”

(I do not stop here to consider the alleged German orientation of Tukachevsky and the others. This accusation, made out of whole cloth, has become a sort of ritual for Stalin when he suppresses his real or fancied enemies. In reality, to the extent that there exists a “German orientation” in the U.S.S.R., it is Stalin himself who embodies it. He is ready to support Hitler at any price in exchange for peace.)

If this explanation of the Tukachevsky affair, which seems to us to be only possible one, does not appear to offer anything essentially new, the most recent events shed new light on the personal role of Voroshilov. During the Tukachevsky affair, Voroshilov might have been supposed to be the accomplice of the Stalinist provocation, remaining for a time in the background and leaving the initiative to Tukachevsky, Gamarnik and the others. The whole past of Voroshilov, a mediocre man, lacking initiative and personally devoted to Stalin, offered support for this impression.

There was a serious fissure in 1929 in the relations between Stalin and Voroshilov, the latter (like Kalinin) displaying strong sympathy for the Right (Bukharin-Rykov). It was only to save his own neck that he joined Stalin against the Right.

Got Out in Time

Today there is reason to believe that Voroshilov himself was at the head of the alleged Tukachevsky plot. But as a member of the Political Bureau and closer to the center of political intrigue, and more experienced at the game of double-cross, Voroshilov sensed before the others where Stalin was heading. He had time to make an about-face at the last minute and so to save his life and his post by betraying, his comrades.

This was only a postponement, however. Stalin is suspicious, bitter and vindictive. No one has ever succeeded in regaining his confidence once lost. If Stalin is in no haste to finish with Voroshilov, it is because he understands the disastrous impression it would make in the U.S.S.R. and in. the world generally. It is quite probable that it is this consideration which determined the “grace” accorded to Voroshilov last June during the Tukachevsky affair. Faithful to his methods – slowly and gradually to prepare the mortal blow – Stalin began “encircling” Voroshilov soon after the Tukachevsky affair.

The Military Councils

The first step was the establishment of the Military Councils, i.e., of the collective principle in the Army command, a principle so harmful in the military sphere. This reform was dictated only by political considerations. The Military Councils provided Stalin with the means of reinforcing his control over the High Command of the Red Army and at the same time of decentralizing to some extent the over-powerful military apparatus by weakening the position of Voroshilov at its summit.

The same purpose – decentralizing and weakening the war commissariat – was served by a recent innovation: Withdrawal of the naval forces from the war commissariat and. the creation of an independent naval commissariat. The most privileged and qualified of the armed forces of the Soviet Union, the troops of the G.P.U. and the frontier guards, had already long since been removed from the sphere of authority of the war commissariat. Now the naval forces were taken away as well. The arguments advanced at the Supreme Council in favor of this reform seem scarcely convincing to us, especially at a time when all the great powers are snowing the tendency to concentrate in a single center the command of the land, sea and air forces. Moreover, the limited strength and nature of the Soviet fleet deprive it of any independent strategic importance and make of it an auxiliary instrument for the land forces.

Decision Not New

As for the decision to increase the naval forces, (adduced as a reason for the change), it is not new. This decision was made- several years ago and has been energetically carried out. In 1935 the reporter of the military department to the Congress of Soviets, Tukachevsky, devoted a good part of his report to the necessity for creating a strong fleet. (Since then an important step forward has been taken, at least in connection with the submarine fleet.) But neither in 1935 nor later did anyone raise the question of forming a special, autonomous department.

It is not by chance that a Moscow observer reported that this decision was a surprise to everyone. One need only, to confirm this, thumb through the Soviet press, especially the organ of the Army. But even if this step was sound in itself, that would mean, we believe, only that in this particular instance objective interests coincided with Stalin’s designs against Voroshilov. The flattering comments in the Red Star (organ of the Red Army) about Voroshilov apropos of the new reform are only a smokescreen to cover Stalin’s flanking movement.

Appointment of Mekhlis

The “encirclement” of Voroshilov is shown much more clearly in the appointment of Mekhlis, the probable successor to Voroshilov at the Defense Commissariat. By naming his horse a senator, Caligula wanted to humiliate the Senate. By appointing his lackey Mekhlis to the High Command, Stalin pursued less platonic aims. Former private secretary to Stalin, careerist without talent, specialist in lobby intrigues, executor of the basest designs of his master, Mekhlis’ strength derives solely from Stalin’s support. Mekhlis assistant Defense Commissar! Who would have thought it possible only six months ago? The more “enemies of the people” Stalin executes, the emptier grows the void around him. The reserves of the faithful are today limited to men of the type of Mekhlis.

Having lost last June his entire High Command, Voroshilov has remained suspended in midair. He subsequently submitted without protest to the disorganization of the Red Army, not even moving a finger when his last two assistants, Admiral Orlov and Gen. Alksnis were arrested when their turn came. (Both were “judges” of Tukachevsky. They did not survive their victim for long.) Today he accepts everything. He not only confirms automatically all the orders of his new assistant, but he does not even shrink from being photographed with this chief spy at his side.

In conclusion we mention a bit of interesting and wholly credible information provided by our murdered comrade Reiss – that the entire correspondence of Voroshilov is under the strict surveillance of the G.P.U. Stalin is methodically preparing, the “liquidation” of Voroshilov. It is obviously impossible to fix a time limit for it. Stalin himself does not yet know when it will come. Unforeseen circumstances may slow down or speed up this liquidation or even change the order in which the future victims will fall. We have already seen how Molotov, suspended for a long time by a hair, has succeeded in maintaining his position For how long? However that may be, neither. Voroshilov, nor Molotov, nor Litvinov – nor many others – will escape their fate.

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