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

8 thoughts on “Enforcers of Red Terror: Cheka and Beyond”

  1. The history of Russian police is one of my favorite aspects of Russia’s history. It is interesting to note how, as it grew over time, it became more necessary for domestic order, but also more violent. From the outside the Cheka appeared harsh and authoritarian, but the government within saw the force as necessary for survival. Great stuff!

  2. Russia’s history of strong state security is fascinating, but I would also be interested in their foreign intelligence capabilities. These were combined in the Soviet era and were often considered to be the best in the world.

  3. First off, great title! “Enforces of Red Terror” really grabbed my attention. The sentence “Eventually, what started as Cheka would become the infamous KGB, one of the most notorious and secretive institutions in history” really stood out for me in your post. The result of Cheka forming into the KGB has so many outcomes and shapes many different aspects of future Russia. Cause and effect plays such a major role when studying history, and your post did a good job at relaying that idea in relation to “Cheka and Beyond”!

  4. Very interesting post. I always love reading about covert paramilitary/intelligence groups. The Cheka was truly a force to be reckoned with. I have heard that their numbers were in the hundreds of thousands, and like you said, they conducted arrests, torture, and even executions. Primarily targeting opposition groups. The group was later developed into the GPU, also known as the State Political Directorate. Like you said, the Russians continued to evolve this secret police, and their operations even expanded into intelligence operations.

  5. I found it interesting that Cheka was originally established as a temporary force until power was restored by the Soviet power. Seems like the more power the Russian government tried to restore and contain, the further they saw the need for Cheka, or similar institutions that were just under a different name.

  6. Were there any infamous massacres or human rights abuses undertaken by the Cheka? During the 30s the NKVD was involved in many ethnic cleansing campaigns and forced relocation of different ethnic groups. Did Stalin’s and Lenin’s involvement with their secret police differ at all? or was one worse than the other?

  7. How do you believe the Cheka were viewed by everyday Russians, before the terror of Stalinism, and before the zeal of revolution had faded? Did they see it as an abnormality and with concern, or did they simply view it as a necessary evil for socialism to prevail. (@e know that the latter was clearly the view of Soviet policymakers.)

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