Frunze, Mikhail Vasilievich

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(18851925), military leader and theoretician.

Mikhail Vasilievich Frunze was a native of Semirchesk oblast, the son of an orderly, and a student in the Petersburg Polytechnic Institute, from which he failed to graduate. He joined the social democratic movement (1904) and led strikes in Ivanovo (May 1905). Arrested and twice sentenced to death, he was exiled instead and managed to escape. He did party work in Belorussia (1917), was head of the militia in Minsk, and was a member of the Party committee of the West Front. Frunze was head of the Party Soviet in Shuia (September 1917). Opposed to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, he joined the "Left-Communists." Frunze was military commissar of Yaroslavl Military District. From February 1919, he was at the front as commander of the Fourth and Turkestan Armies, then he was commander of the south wing of the East Front, fighting against Kolchak. From July 1919, Frunze was commander of the East Front deployed in the Urals, and from September 1919, he commanded the Turkestan Front. From September 1920, Frunze served as commander of the South Front deployed in Crimea and accepted the surrender of Pyotr Wrangel's remaining forces in the Crimea, who were later massacred by the Party and Cheka operatives, despite his disapproval. From December 1920, he headed the Revolutionary Military Soviet (RVS) and commanded the Crimea and Ukraine forces, which embarked on various punitive operations. He was elected to the Party Central Committee (1921), appointed as Deputy People's Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs (March 1924), and later (April 1924) served as the Chief of Staff of the Red Army. Frunze was a candidate member of the Politburo (1924). He authored a number of studies, including a guide on reorganizing the Red Army (1921), on military doctrine (1921, 1924), and on Vladimir Lenin and the Red Army (1925). He led the military reforms in 19241925. Frunze's ideas, formed in bruising battles with Leon Trotsky, involved a "unified doctrine" and setting up of a bureaucratically structured Red Army high command to meet wartime as well as peacetime needs. The necessity for an industrial defense base, as well as machinery for rapid mobilization, was also emphasized. These views were opposed by those who favored a militia-type Red Army.

On March 11, 1924, Frunze was appointed as Trotsky's deputy, and on January 1, 1925, Joseph Stalin named him Commissar of Military and Naval Affairs, replacing Trotsky. Frunze's death, as a result of an operation recommended by Stalin, has given rise to a number of claims that his demise was no accident and that it gave Stalin the opportunity to replace him with Kliment Voroshilov, about whose loyalty there was little doubt. Frunze is buried on Red Square. His son, fighter pilot Timur Frunze, was killed during the Battle of Stalingrad.

See also: military, soviet and post-soviet


Gareev, M. A. (1987). M. V. Frunze, Military Theorist. Washington, DC: Pergamon-Brassey's.

Von Hagen, Mark (1990). Soldiers in a Proletarian Leadership: The Red Army and the Soviet Socialist State. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Michael Parrish

Mikhail Vasilievich Frunze

views updated Jun 08 2018

Mikhail Vasilievich Frunze

The Soviet military leader Mikhail Vasilievich Frunze (1885-1925) reformed the Red Army and guided the militarization of the former U.S.S.R.

Mikhail Frunze was born on Feb. 2, 1885, in Pishpek (renamed Frunze), Kirghizia, the son of a medical orderly. He attended the St. Petersburg Institute of Technology and joined the Bolshevik party in 1904. He was an active party member, and his revolutionary ardor earned him a sentence of 8 years at hard labor.

During the civil war years Frunze distinguished himself, first against Adm. A. V. Kolchak on the eastern front in 1919 and later against Gen. P. N. Wrangel on the southern front in 1920. In what was perhaps the most brilliant military victory of the civil war, Frunze ordered his men to wade through the shallow sea of the narrow Perekop Isthmus past Wrangel's sleeping White Army. Cannon, men, and cavalry all floated silently by the enemy, and in the morning Wrangel's men were dumb-founded to find themselves surrounded by the Red Army.

Frunze conceived the "unitary military doctrine," combining ideology, determination, and aggressiveness in the promotion of world revolution. In January 1921, 2 months after the close of the civil war, Frunze astounded war-weary Russia by calling for total Soviet militarization for the war of the future. In June 1925 the U.S.S.R. Congress of Soviets passed the momentous law ordering the total economic mobilization of the Soviet state. The continual growth of his program of peacetime preparedness played no small role in enabling the U.S.S.R. to become one of the world's greatest military powers.

Frunze was appointed deputy commissar for military affairs in March 1924 and succeeded Leon Trotsky as commissar for military affairs in January 1925. His influence on the development of the Red Army was of decisive importance, as he proceeded to regularize the military organization. He was responsible for the circulation in November 1924 of a declaration that defined the duties of both the military commanders and the political commissars, thus resolving the difficult problem of the unity of command. Field-service regulations were redrafted, and he systematized the duties of the conscript in a recruitment law that served as the basis of all such subsequent legislation until 1936. Frunze believed in the importance of a sound officers' corps and stimulated the development of a countrywide network of advanced military schools.

This rise in the military was paralleled by Frunze's ascent in the party. In 1921 he was elected to the Central Committee, and in 1924 he was made a deputy member of the Politburo.

The circumstances surrounding Mikhail Frunze's premature death on Oct. 31, 1925, are rather mysterious. Stalin summoned Frunze to Moscow, where he was ordered to undergo surgery for cancer, from which he never recovered. His successor as commissar was Stalin's old friend K. E. Voroshilov.

Further Reading

A recent biography of Frunze is Walter Darnell Jacobs, Frunze: The Soviet Clausewitz, 1885-1925 (1970). Another excellent source is John Erickson, The Soviet High Command: A Military-Political History, 1918-1941 (1962). See also Michel Gardner, A History of the Soviet Army (1959; trans. 1966). □

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