1937: Alexander Yulevich Tivel

1 comment March 7th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1937 — probably — one of the numberless obscurities consumed by Stalin’s purges was convicted and presumably shot for “preparing to commit a terrorist act against [NKVD head] Yezhov.”

Alexander Yulevich Tivel, a Jewish bureaucrat who had the misfortune to have been in a party organ too close to Zinoviev, was disappeared by the NKVD one day in 1936.

His fate forms the opening hook for J. Arch Getty’s The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932-1939 — “the story of the Stalinist terror writ small.” (Here’s a review)

We do not know whether he was physically tortured by his interrogators, but there is ample evidence that countless others were. Even high-ranking officials under arrest were beaten or, as Molotov would put it, “worked over.” Ten years later, a high-ranking police official described interrogation procedures in a letter to Stalin. First, prisoners were offered better conditions — better food, mail, and so on — in return for a confession. If that failed, appeals to the prisoner’s conscience and concern for his family followed. The next step was a solitary-confinement cell without exercise, a bed, tobacco, or sleep for up to twenty days … Finally, the use of “physical pressure” was authorized …

Tivel was probably executed on the same day [of his conviction]. Unlike many others who were badgered and tortured by the NKVD, he had not confessed.

His wife and mother-in-law to internal exile. His son would suffer the stigma of being the child of an executed traitor.

The widow Eva Tivel, reports Getty, grappled for years with the unresponsive bureaucracy until she finally cleared Sasha Tivel’s name.

On 23 May 1957, twenty years after Tivel’s execution and after Eva’s many letters and appeals, Tivel’s sentence and party expulsion were overturned … [as] “based on contradictory and dubious materials.”

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1937: Masao Sudo, since rehabilitated

Add comment December 4th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1937, Japanese emigre Masao Sudo was shot in Moscow as a spy.

The executed man’s son, Dr. Mikhail Masaovich Sudo.

A true-red Communist who had fled increasingly right-wing Japan in the 1920’s and become a labor organizer in the far east, Sudo shared the tragic fate of the Japanese community in Stalin’s USSR, decimated by denunciations of one another.

Sudo was the father of Russian geologist Mikhail Masaovich Sudo, author of several abstruse texts (and also, it would appear, Japanese language primers for Russian speakers) — and under whom, apparently, you can take classes at the International Independent University of Environmental and Political Sciences.

Masao Sudo was rehabilitated in 1956.

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1937: Ikki Kita

3 comments August 19th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1937, intellectual Kita Ikki (Kita is the family name) was executed by the Japanese military government for inspiring a failed coup d’etat the previous year.

A onetime socialist turned radical nationalist, Kita — born Kita Terujiro — preached a doctrine of authoritarian national restoration around some socialist-sounding communitarian purpose, coupled with an unapologetic imperialism.

His Outline Plan for the Reorganization of Japan (the translation is from a reader, Sources of Japanese Tradition, partially excerpted here) argues that in the wake of Europe’s self-immolation in World War I, initiative lay with the Land of the Rising Sun — and that the country must adopt a muscular unity of purpose to grasp it.

The entire Japanese people, thinking calmly from this perspective which is the result of Heaven’s rewards and punishments, should, in planning how the great Japanese empire should be reorganized, petition for a manifestation of the imperial prerogative establishing “a national opinion in which no dissenting voice is heard, by the organization of a great union of the Japanese people.” Thus, by homage to the emperor, a basis for national reorganization can be set up.

Truly, our 700 million brothers in China and India have no path to independence other than that offered by our guidance and protection. And for our Japan, whose population has doubled in the past fifty years, great areas adequate to support a population of at least 240 million or 250 million will be absolutely necessary a hundred years from now. For a nation, one hundred years are like a hundred days for an individual. How can those who are anxious about the inevitable developments or who grieve over the desperate conditions of neighboring countries find their solace in the effeminate pacifism of doctrinal socialism? … At a time when the authorities in the European and American revolutionary creeds have found it completely impossible to arrive at an understanding of the “gospel of the sword” because of their superficial philosophy, the noble Greece of Asian culture [meaning Japan, of course] must complete its national reorganization on the basis of its own national polity. At the same time, let it lift the virtuous banner of an Asian league and take the leadership in the world federation that must come. In so doing let it proclaim to the world the Way of Heaven in which all are children of Buddha, and let it set an example that the world must follow.

One could quibble about particulars, but it’s essentially fascism — paralleling Mussolini in doctrine as well as ideological evolution. (According to W.G. Beasley Kita also co-founded a Gen. Jack Ripper-esque Society for the Preservation of the National Essence.)

A military coup was supposed to get the ball rolling, which made him a guru to an aggressive cadre of young officers who tried to seize the government in the February 26 Incident, named for the date in 1936 it took place.

Kita wasn’t himself involved in the coup, but his intellectual sponsorship was enough of a connection for the Kempeitai.* Modern Japanese Thought tartly observes that Kita’s vision for an imperial dictatorship didn’t turn on any misty-eyed allegiance to the emperor’s person.

When he was executed for his role in the mutiny of 1936, he was ordered to recant by saying “long live the emperor” as a final act of reverence and submission. He is reported to have refused by replying that he had vowed long ago never to joke about his own death.

In Fighting Elegy (or Elegy to Violence or Elegy to Fighting), Seijun Suzuki’s 1960’s skewering of militarist 1930’s Japan (review), Kita makes cameos to inspire the main male character to greater feats of violent sublimation of his repressed sexuality. (The following clip is merely the trailer.)

There’s also a 1973 biopic — the last film of Yoshishige Yoshida.

* I don’t have definite documentation on the method of execution; I’m supposing it was hanging, the standard method in Japan since the Meiji period.

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1937: Mikhail Tukhachevsky and seven other Soviet commanders purged

8 comments June 12th, 2008 Headsman

Early this date in 1937,* Soviet Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky was executed by a gunshot to the head for allegedly plotting a coup d’etat against Stalin.

One of the most infamous trials** of the Soviet Union’s Great Purge, which would strip the Red Army of much of its officer corps on the eve of its existential test against the Wehrmacht, the Case of the Trotskyist Anti-Soviet Military Organization has always offered fodder for debating the whys and wherefores.

The bare facts are that nine extremely high-ranking members of the military brass were suddenly arrested and within a few weeks (except the one who committed suicide first) shot on the staggering charge of counterrevolutionary conspiracy. Foremost among the victims was Marshal of the Soviet Union Mikhail Tukhachevsky, notable in the annals of military history for pioneering (along with several other Soviet officers, notably Triandafillov) the military doctrine of “deep battle” or “deep operations”.

Deep Battle

Reflecting on the grinding, indecisive struggles of attrition that characterized World War I and the Russian Civil War (both conflicts Tukhachevsky served in), he sought a theory of offensive warfare for modern armies fighting in large and complex engagements — the operational art. In an early (1923) formulation, Tukhachevsky noted

the impossibility in the presence of modern wide fronts to destroy an enemy army by a single blow compels us to achieve this by a series of successive operations … A series of annihilating operations, introduced successively and combined by continuous pursuit, can replace the annihilating engagement, which in former armies was a better type of combat. (Cited here.)

Deep operations would require sophisticated application of technology to strike an opposing army’s entire support structure behind its lines in coordinated operations, rather than the unproductive World War I tactic of throwing waves of cannon fodder across No Man’s Land in the hope of achieving a breakthrough by sheer mass alone. It ripened into official Red Army doctrine in the 1930’s, decreeing

[s]imultaneous assault on enemy defenses by aviation and artillery to the depths of the defense, penetration of the tactical zone of the defense by attacking units with widespread use of tank forces and violent development of tactical success into operational success with the aim of the complete encirclement and destruction of the enemy. The main role is performed by the infantry, and the mutual support of all types of forces are organized in its interests. (Cited here.)

What Happened?

The mystery has always been exactly why Stalin should shoot Tukhachevsky, even if any question beginning “why should Stalin shoot …” nearly answers itself.

Explanations particular to Tukhachevsky range from rivalries within the army (early blocs of officers appointed by Trotsky and Stalin formed professional rivalries; Trotsky had given Tukhachevsky his first Soviet command) to purely personal enmity between the two men. Many have speculated that a genuine “plot” of some sort — whether a coup or assassination, or more mundane political scheming — was indeed afoot against the Soviet dictator. Tukhachevsky’s (officially sanctioned) links with a German military then developing its own similar operational concepts have told against him in some readings.

Author Robert Conquest put about the theory that Heinrich Himmler’s intelligence operatives had contrived to pass the Soviets forged documents pointing to Tukhachevsky’s German collaboration, the better to weaken the Bolshevik defenses. Conversely — and in his diary, Goebbels attributed this riff on the Dolchstosslegende to Hitler himself — a contrarian take has long defended at least this particular purge as a judicious one by Uncle Joe, insuring that wartime Russia would not be hamstrung by “defeatist” elements or other players who might develop both the means and motive for ending the war on German terms.

Inquiries along these lines, of course, expand beyond the particular case into the larger questions of why Stalin purged the army as a whole, and what ultimate effect that purge had on the Soviets’ military readiness in 1941.

Legacy

With Tukhachevsky’s fall, accompanied by other military reformers, the “deep operations” school acquired sufficient taint to abjure the company of the judicious officer. Nevertheless, Tukhachevsky’s influence would play its part in the Great War: his onetime associate Georgy Zhukov, who may have only accidentally avoided being purged himself, deployed Tukhachevskian mobile tactics to crush Japan’s Siberian aspirations at the Battle of Khalkhin-Gol in 1939; duly elevated for this victory to the precarious post of Marshal of the Soviet Union, Zhukov was a crucial commander in the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Tukhachevsky, along with all those shot this day, was rehabilitated during the Khrushchev era.

Sorry about shooting you in the head. Here’s a commemorative stamp.

* The condemned received their death sentence at 23:35 on June 11, the sentence to be carried out “immediately” — it seems likely but not completely certain that it had become the 12th by the time the executions actually took place, and different sources report different different dates of death. According to the contemporaneous New York Times report, Soviet authorities announced that the executions had taken place on the 12th. (As an interesting side note, the Times that day also blurbed exiled Stalin rival Leon Trotsky reading in the tea leaves of Tukhachevsky’s death “the beginning of the end for the Stalinist dictatorship.”)

** Not, however, a show trial — Tukhachevsky et al were tried in secret.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Mass Executions,Posthumous Exonerations,Power,Russia,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,USSR,Wrongful Executions

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1937: Teido Kunizaki

1 comment December 10th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1937, Japanese intellectual Teido Kunizaki was shot as a “spy of the Japanese army” in Moscow.

The reader is not deceived to infer from the date and place the dread hand of Stalin’s NKVD at the height of the Soviet purges. The fate of the Soviet Union’s tiny community of Japanese emigres, one of the hidden chambers in a house of horrors, only became fully understood after the Soviet Union collapsed.

The leader of the Japanese section of the German Communist Party in Weimar Germany, Kunizaki’s opposition to Japanese intervention in China and involvement in a publication as subversively titled as Revolutionary Asians had made him unwelcome in Germany shortly before Hitler took power.

But arriving in Russia in September 1932 with his German wife, he stepped into a struggle for power within the Japanese Communist Party’s Russian organs.

According to Tetsuro Kato, the professorial Kunizaki was among those denounced by another seminal Japanese communist, Kenzo Yamamoto — a working-class activist who distrusted intellectuals.

Kunizaki’s execution this day was only one of many wrought on the Japanese party by the Soviet secret police in the dangerous exchange of accusations and denunciations. On this date, Yamamoto himself was already in prison; early in 1939, he would swallow the same draught as Kunizaki — denounced, as it emerged after the Cold War, by yet another of Japan’s revered old Marxists.

In the 1920s and 1930s, there were about 100 Japanese who dreamed of living in “the paradise of the working class” and went to the USSR. These people were mainly communists, who were oppressed by the imperial police in Japan. There were also ordinary workers, intellectuals and artists who were not communist … Almost all Japanese living in the USSR [in the 1930’s] faced the same destiny. The exact number of victims is not yet known, but I now estimate there to have been about 80 Japanese [shot by the NKVD].

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,History,Intellectuals,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Russia,Shot,USSR,Wrongful Executions

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