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.
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.
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