Enforcers of Red Terror: Cheka and Beyond

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From the moment the Bolsheviks seized power in October of 1917, the new Soviet government faced immediate threats, both externally and internally. As is typical with any successful revolution, counter-revolutionary elements seek to resist and disrupt from within. The October Revolution was no different, and the Soviet government moved swiftly to suppress any internal enemies. To do this, the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage was formed in December 7th 1917. More commonly known as Cheka after the first letters of its abbreviation, it became the Soviet’s basis for a force of secret police.

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Cheka was meant to be a temporary institution, to be abolished once Soviet power had been firmly consolidated. As such, it originally was dedicated to only investigating and suppressing counter-revolutionary activity. However, the reach of Cheka grew at a rapid pace, acquiring the powers of summary justice. Paired with a reputation for swift and brutal reprisals, Cheka became the most feared Soviet institution in the civil war years following the revolution. Unknown thousands of suspects were imprisoned, tortured, or executed as Cheka committees were established all across the country. By 1921 the armed branch of the Cheka numbered over 200,000 troops, tasked with everything from running the Gulag system, suppressing riots, and hunting down fleeing soldiers from the desertion ridden Red Army. It was nasty, dark business, but through its brutality the Cheka proved to be extremely effective.

When the civil war ended in 1922, Cheka was not fully disbanded, but rather reformed and restructured into a new institution, the GPU. The necessity of a formidable secret police was clear at this point, and the Soviets would continue to evolve the service. As the 20th century continued, the secret police of the Soviet Union would continue to harden their bloody reputation, taking a leading role in Stalin’s purges. Eventually, what started as Cheka would become the infamous KGB, one of the most notorious and secretive institutions in history. The names changed, yet for the better part of a century the job of Soviet secret police remained much the same.

 

References:

State Security: 17 Moments in Soviet History – http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1917-2/state-security/

History of the Cheka. Systema Spetsnaz – http://www.systemaspetsnaz.com/history-of-the-cheka-ogpu-nkvd-mgb-kgb-fsb

Communist Secret Police: Cheka. Spartacus Educational – http://spartacus-educational.com/RUScheka.htm

Lenin & Guerrilla Warfare: Lessons Learned from 1905

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While guerrilla warfare has existed since the dawn of civilization, the modern principles of guerrilla strategy emerged during the early 20th century, with prime examples being found in the Russian Revolution of 1905. While Karl Marx closely studied military history, his focus was primarily upon conventional military doctrine rather than the use of guerrilla tactics. However, Vladimir Lenin not only recognized the effectiveness of guerrilla warfare, he also recognized the relationship such strategy shares with the revolution of the working class. After analyzing the Revolution of 1905, Lenin wrote his classic piece on the subject, simply titled Guerrilla Warfare.

Lenin begins by explaining that revolution and guerrilla warfare do not necessarily go hand in hand. In order for a guerrilla campaign to be successful in aiding a revolution, it must be closely linked to the struggle of the masses. Should individual groups act separately to the masses, it will simply demoralize and disorganize the revolutionary movement. Still, he is careful to point out that it is not the guerrilla action itself that poses these risks, but rather a weakness in the controlling parties of a movement who fail to keep such actions under their control. This is his counterargument to claims that guerrilla actions run counterproductive to the movement, and Lenin points out that with any new form of struggle, new dangers and sacrifices will be found in the absence of a proper and prepared leadership.

Lenin recounts the events of the 1905 revolution; how it gradually grew from economic protests, to demonstrations and strikes, until it finally reached the point of armed insurrection. It is at this stage of the revolutionary process where Lenin argues that guerrilla warfare is both essential and inevitable, and where the important relationship between the two must be strong. Lenin states “Guerrilla warfare is an inevitable form of struggle at a time when the mass movement has actually reached the point of an uprising and when fairly large intervals occur between the ‘big engagements’ in the civil war”.

After 1905, Lenin states that proud, smug Social-Democrats viewed guerrilla movements as being beneath them. To this notion he replies that guerrilla warfare paired with social uprising is the most revolutionary doctrine in the world, and that the seemingly distasteful aspects must be looked past. This statement returns to his initial argument that guerrilla warfare and revolution of the masses are inextricably linked, and an individual must not analyze and judge one component without the other.

Lenin’s study of the Revolution of 1905 and his work on Guerrilla Warfare would go on to inspire future Marxist leaders and intellectuals. Successful revolutionary leader Mao Zedong wrote his own work on Guerrilla Warfare and the political issues associated it with 31 years later. His work closely aligned with Lenin’s , even including direct quotes. Perhaps the most famous guerrilla fighter of the 20th century, Che Guevara ran a doctrine contradictory to Lenin’s lessons gleaned from 1905. Attempting to run guerrilla campaigns in Africa and Bolivia without first establishing mass uprising, Guevara would ultimately be captured and killed as both efforts quickly collapsed. While much has changed in the world since 1905, guerrilla warfare still remains, and Lenin’s work still provides relevant insight on the matter.

 

References

Vladimir Lenin, Guerrilla Warfare.  Marxist Internet Archive – https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1906/gw/index.htm#i

Dagestan’s Turbulent History

Tipy Dagestana

Dagestan is a region located in Russia’s North Caucuses, with the Caspian Sea to the east. In the Turkic languages, the name fittingly translates to “land of the mountains”. The rugged, mountainous terrain in Dagestan is impressive, with some of the peaks reaching elevations as high as 14,000 feet or more. Dagestan is quite diverse both ethnically and linguistically, home to dozens of different peoples and languages. Some of the major ethnic groups include the Avars, Lezgi, Noghay, Kumuck, and Tabasarans. Islam is the dominant religion in Dagestan, essentially having erased all others around the 15th century.

Pictured in the photograph from the early 20th century is a Sunni Muslim Dagestani man of unknown nationality. He is wearing the traditional garb and head gear typical of Dagestani men of the time period. His sheathed dagger provides a symbol of Dagestan’s warrior culture and traditions. Throughout much of the 19th century, Dagestan and nearby Chechnya fiercely resisted the expansion of the Russian Empire, presenting the Russians with a significant challenge in exerting control over the area. Eventually in the early 20th century, Dagestan successfully declared its independence from the Russian Empire, though this was short lived. In the early 1920s, Bolshevik invasion and occupation resulted in Dagestan becoming an autonomous Soviet republic.

As the 20th century continued, Dagestan was largely left behind during Stalin’s efforts to industrialize the Soviet Union. The economy was stagnant and near collapse, a trend that would endure throughout the century as Dagestan became rampant with poverty and corruption. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Dagestan remained loyal to Russia, though its economic problems and lawlessness continued to climb to infamous levels. Today, Dagestan is still riddled with poverty, organized crime, and radical Islamic militant groups, a sad transition from the proud culture of centuries past.

 

 

References:

Dagestan: New World Encyclopedia – http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Dagestan

Dagestan Profile Overview:  BBC News – http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-20593383