“Dzherzhinskii asks: “Comrade Lenin, when should we execute people, before or after lunch?” Lenin: “Before lunch, absolutely, and then you can give their lunches to the children of workers. Workers’ children are starving”.
The state security of the Soviets was officially established December 7, 1917. They are the precursor to all other state security systems for the Soviets, including the MGB and KGB. During the first stages, they were know as the CHEKA; All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage. They were the internal iron fist for the Soviets. They were the force that kept the Soviets in power by making sure that they had no opposition. This was done by instilling fear into the public and bullets into the opposition. The Cheka were lead by Feliks Dzerzhinskii. He would be the one who decided to increase the Cheka powers after friend and one of the Cheka leaders Jozef Unshlikht was assassinated and after Lenin’s attempted assassination.
The objective of the Cheka was to protect the state from internal threats. They were tasked with finding and stopping anyone who opposed the state. This especially included counter revolutionary groups or activists, as well spies. More specifically, their official objectives were, “to cut off at the roots all counterrevolution and sabotage in Russia; to hand over to the revolutionary court all who are guilty of such attempts; to work out measures for dealing with such cases; and to enforce these measures without mercy. It was necessary to make the foe feel that there was everywhere about him a seeing eye and a heavy hand ready to come down on him the moment he undertook anything against the Soviet Government”(Bunyan). The increase of oppression after Jozef Unshlikht’s assassination was known as the Red Terror, in which the Cheka increased their power and arrested, imprisoned, and executed a large number of people. “Official figures for 1918 of 6300 executions by the Cheka in twenty provinces are probably an understatement”(Siegelbaum). The Cheka were up front with who they targeted and what the penalties were; commonly being execution or prison camp. The Chekas were also know for targeting Jews during their crackdowns in order to fill up their concentration camps. One might draw a comparison between the Cheka and the German SS.
L. Krivitskii. Feliks Dzerzhinskii with children(1950). Moscow Museum of Russian Impressionism. 2001.
Siegelbaum, Lewis. State Security. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. <http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1917security&Year=1917&navi=byYear>
William Henry Chamberlin, The Russian Revolution, 1917-1921 (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1935), Vol. II, pp. 475-76
James Bunyan and H.H. Fisher, ed., Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1918; Documents and Materials (Stanford: Stanford University Press; H. Milford, Oxford University Press, 1934), pp. 295-296.
This post is well-written and informative. I can’t imagine being under constant watch and threat of going to a prison camp by the government.
What a good quote you chose for an opener! Tell me more about the circumstances that prompted the Bolsheviks to organize the Cheka. Why do you think the assassination attempt on Lenin was so significant? Also, check back — the Cheka included many Jews in its ranks. It did not target Jews for arrest.