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New Left Review I/55, May-June 1969


NLR Editors

Introduction to Tukhachevsky

Mikhail Tukhachevsky, whose meteoric career illuminates certain episodes of the Soviet past that still have significance today, was born in Penza province of Czarist Russia in 1893. According to a colleague who knew him in the twenties, he came from an impoverished family of aristocrats, originally of Flemish descent: a crusading ancestor had ended near Odessa with a Turkish wife, and been granted lordship of the village of Tukhachev. Entering the Imperial Army at a very early age, Tukhachevsky fought the First World War as a lieutenant in the crack Semenovsky Guards Regiment. Captured by the Germans in 1915, he was incarcerated in the fortress of Ingolstadt: a fellow-prisoner was Charles de Gaulle. After five attempts at escape, he made his way to Petrograd, after the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917. Reportedly inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution and the Decembrists since his youth, he found no difficulty in entering the service of the Revolution. He joined the Bolshevik Party, and reported to Sklyansky, Trotsky’s right-hand man at the Commissariat of War. Within a few months, he was given command of the famous First Red Army on the Eastern Front, facing the Czechoslovak Legion near Simbirsk. He revealed himself a brilliant officer, and was responsible for the decisive breakthrough that shattered Kolchak’s line near Samara in May 1919, beginning an advance which rolled up the White Armies all the way to Tomsk and Krasnoyarsk within a few months. Transferred by Trotsky to the Caucasian Front, then menaced by Denikin’s regroupment, Tukhachevsky’s performance was equally swift and effective. His troops rapidly swung past Denikin’s flank and swept them into the sea at Novocherkassk and Tuapse in March 1920.

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