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 on Mikhail Vasilievich Frunze

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).