The Cheka

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To save the revolution, we must first destroy the counterrevolutionaries.”- Felix Dzerzhinsky

bodies tortured by chekists

The CHEKA began with a decree from Lenin and Sovnarkom, dated December 19th 1917. The main cause of formation was the paranoia that the revolution was still in danger and that it had to be shielded from enemies. Many of the first Cheka agents Okhrana double agents who had fully converted to the cause. It is interesting to see how before the secret police was used to destroy the revolution but now it was being used to protect it. The Cheka however operated outside the rule of law: it acted of its own accord, investigated and arrested whoever it chose, and answered to no-one. It was never restricted by the rule of law or any obligation to due process or the rights of suspects. Chekists operated as investigators, arresting authorities, interrogators, prosecutors, judges, juries and executioners. The Cheka was of extreme importance, along with the Red Army (headed by Trotsky) in providing the support Lenin needed to secure his powers and ideals of the new union.

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The slogan of “sword and shield” became famous because the metaphor was the secret police will shield the revolution from enemies and pursue them with the “sword”

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Felix Dzerzhinsky, leader of Cheka (source: russianpedia)

In December, 1917, Lenin appointed Felix Dzerzhinsky as Commissar for Internal Affairs and head of the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage (Cheka). He was a brilliant organizer and his main goal as the head was to keep the Bolsheviks in power. After an attempted assassination of Lenin in 1918, Dzerzhinsky was able to find an excuse to abuse his power and allow the Cheka to grow without restrain. It was also when “the terror” was unleashed.

The ingenuity of the Cheka’s torture methods was matched only by the Spanish Inquisition. Each local Cheka had its own specialty. In Kharkov they went in for the ‘glove trick’ – burning the victim’s hands in boiling water until the blistered skin could be peeled off: this left the victims with raw and bleeding hands and their torturers with ‘human gloves’. The Tsaritsyn Cheka sawed its victims’ bones in half. In Voronezh they rolled their naked victims in nail-studded barrels. In Armavir they crushed their skulls by tightening a leather strap with an iron bolt around their head. In Kiev they affixed a cage with rats to the victims torso and heated it so that the enraged rats ate their way through the victim’s guts in an effort to escape. In Odessa they chained their victims to planks and pushed them slowly into a furnace or a tank of boiling water. A favourite winter torture was to pour water on the naked victims until they became living ice statues.

Cheka torture methods are described by historian Orlando Figes in his book “A People’s Tragedy”

The Red Terror was a Bolshevik-instigated campaign of intimidation, arrests, violence and executions. It unfolded in the second half of 1918, as the new regime struggled to eliminate opposition and threats to its own power, in the face of a looming civil war. This was overseen by the Cheka leader, Felix Dzerzhinsky, and carried out mainly by his agents. The Terror was soon expanded to include anyone who might pose a threat to the Bolshevik party or its policies: former tsarists, liberals, Mensheviks, members of the Russian Orthodox church, foreigners, anyone who dared to sell food or goods for profit. Peasants who refused to meet state requisition orders were branded as kulaks – greedy parasitical speculators who hoarded grain and food for profit, while other Russians starved – and were subject to arrest, detention and execution. Later, industrial workers who failed to meet production quotas or dared to strike were also targeted. As the Bolsheviks expanded their definition of who was an enemy of the revolution, they also expanded the Cheka. A small force of just a few hundred men in early 1918, within two years the CHEKA was large government agency employed around 200,000. Most historians believe more than 100,000 people were executed under the Red Terror

“This is no time for speech-making. Our Revolution is in serious danger. We tolerate too good-naturedly what is transpiring around us. The forces of our enemies are organizing. The counter-revolutionaries are at work and are organizing their groups in various sections of the country. The enemy is encamped in Petrograd, at our very hearth! We have indisputable evidence of this and we must send to this front the most stern, energetic, hearty and loyal comrades who are ready to do all to defend the attainments of our Revolution. Do not think that I am on the look-out for forms of revolutionary justice. We have no need for justice now. Now we have need of a battle to the death! I propose, I demand the initiation of the Revolutionary sword which will put an end to all counter-revolutionists. We must act not tomorrow, but today, at once!” – In Dzerzhinsky’s first address as chief of Cheka

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THE CHEKA

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A CHEKA badge, showing the ‘sword and shield’ of the revolution.

The CHEKA (sometimes called VeCHEKA) was the much feared Bolshevik secret police – though to most Russians the CHEKA was no secret. The CHEKA was formed in the wake of the October 1917 revolution, established as a small agency to investigate and deal with threats to the new regime. It was to be the “sword and shield of the revolution”, defending the Soviet regime by attacking its enemies within. But as opposition to the new regime grew through 1918 so too did the size and scope of the CHEKA. Led by Felix Dzerzhinsky, a fanatical Bolshevik and ruthless operator cut from a similar mould as Lenin, the CHEKA ballooned from a couple of hundred investigators to a bureaucratic and paramilitary behemoth, containing more than 100,000 agents. More significantly, the CHEKA operated outside the rule of law. It acted of its own accord, investigated and arrested whoever it chose, and answered to no one. The CHEKA became a model for 20th century secret police agencies in totalitarian states, including the Gestapo (Nazi Germany), the Stasi (East Germany) and the KGB (Soviet Russia).

Like most significant aspects of the new regime, the CHEKA began with a decree from Lenin and Sovnarkom, dated December 19th 1917. The decree ordered the formation of the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage. The name CHEKA was an abbreviated form of Chrezvychainaia Komissiia, the Russian for ‘Extraordinary Commission’. The CHEKA’s directive was to “persecute and break up all acts of counter-revolution and sabotage all over Russia, no matter what their origin”; to “bring before the Revolutionary Tribunal all counter-revolutionaries and saboteurs and to work out a plan for fighting them”; and to “make preliminary investigation only, enough to break up [counter-revolutionary acts]”. A week later, the phrase “combating profiteering” was also added to the CHEKA’s formal title. The decree forming the CHEKA was broadly worded and contained few specific instructions about how it should operate. Lenin preferred to leave the CHEKA’s operational details and methods to the man he chose to lead it: Felix Dzerzhinksy.

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Felix Dzerzhinsky, the ruthless Polish Bolshevik put in charge of the CHEKA

Dzerzhinksy, like Lenin, had devoted his life to the Bolshevik cause. Born in Poland in 1877, Dzerzhinsky’s family were wealthy landed gentry with claims to a noble title, making him a most unlikely radical. Yet by the mid-1890s he was involved in Marxist political groups in the Baltic, before joining Lenin’s Bolshevik faction in 1906. Dzerzhinksy spent more than a decade in prisons and labour camps before his release during the 1917 amnesty. In the lead up to the October Revolution he became one of Lenin’s most trusted lieutenants. According to Louise Bryant, Dzerzhinsky adored Lenin and was “shy, aloof and deeply puritanical” – but he was also ruthless and dispassionate, hardened by years of abuse and persecution. “One feels he can neither understand nor forgive moral weaknesses in others, since he himself possesses that fanatical devotion which has made it possible for him to travel the hard, bitter road where his ideals lead”, Bryant wrote. Dzerzhinsky’s incorruptible fanaticism and hard-heartedness earned him the epithets ‘Iron Felix’ and the ‘Iron Count’.

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Ukrainian victims of the CHEKA, 1918 or 1919.

The CHEKA became the embodiment of Dzerzhinsky’s ruthlessness, just as the Bolsheviks had become the embodiment of Lenin’s obsessive impatience for revolution. On receiving the decree Dzerzhinsky began hand-picking Bolsheviks he knew could be trusted for the difficult task of securing the revolution: men who were neither corruptible nor squeamish. At first, the CHEKA was small and its operations were limited: by early March 1918 there were only 120 Chekists (CHEKA agents). But increased anti-Bolshevik activity, the onset of the Civil War, the failed Left SR uprising of July 1918 and the assassination attempt on Lenin the following month saw the ranks of the CHEKA grow exponentially. Given a virtual blank cheque by Lenin, Dzerzhinsky ordered the recruitment of thousands of new agents. He also organised CHEKA paramilitary units, which by the autumn of 1918 numbered 33 battalions and more than 20,000 men. By 1919 the CHEKA employed more than 100,000 people and was one of the largest and best-funded agencies of the Soviet state.

“Its original mandate was to root out the regime’s enemies: the counter-revolutionaries and saboteurs, enemy agents and speculators. In doing so, driven by revolutionary fervour and unrestrained by law, by 1922 the Cheka had penetrated virtually every area of life in Soviet Russia. It was active in assuring the food supply, in maintaining transport, in policing the Red Army and Navy, in monitoring the schools, and in ensuring that industries continued to function and deliver essential material to the state. It hunted down speculators and hoarders, sometimes cordoning off entire neighbourhoods during its massive operations. It surrounded villages and short peasants resisting the forced requisitions of grain, often leaving the peasants who remained alive without enough to eat. It even suppressed strikes by factory workers, the presumed rulers of the ‘workers’ state’.”

Michael Kort, historian

During its four year lifespan, the CHEKA carried out arrests, interrogations, executions and campaigns entirely of its own accord. Dzerzhinsky was technically accountable to Sovnarkom but only reported CHEKA operations after they had taken place. In 1918 the CHEKA came into conflict with the Commissariat of Justice, which demanded to be notified before the arrest of suspects. This infuriated Dzerzhinsky, who queried how it was possible for him to “crush counter-revolution with legal niceties”. Lenin subsequently altered Soviet regulations so that the CHEKA was required to notify the Commissariat of an arrest or execution after it had happened, rather than before. From that point the CHEKA was never restricted by the rule of law or any obligation to due process or the rights of suspects. Chekists operated as investigators, arresting authorities, interrogators, prosecutors, judges, juries and executioners.

With this free rein the CHEKA was able to persecute, detain, torture and summarily execute thousands of suspected spies, tsarists, counter-revolutionaries, kulaks, black marketeers and other ‘enemies of the state’. While the CHEKA’s methods drew on those used by the Okhrana, its size and willingness to use extra-legal killing soon surpassed the activities of the former tsarist security police. In its first two years the CHEKA executed 900 people suspected of trading on the blackmarket; another 600 bureaucrats were executed for “economic crimes”, mostly taking bribes. Official government figures suggest that just over 12,000 people were killed by Chekists in 1918-20. Some historians suggest that 200,000 or more are more realistic figures. Dzerzhinsky neither denied nor retreated from the CHEKA’s brutal role, declaring that “we stand for organised terror, terror being absolutely indispensable in the current revolutionary conditions”.

CHEKA agents also developed inventive but ghastly means of torture and psychological torment by which they extracted information or simply created a public deterrent. Written records of these methods were not kept so they are only anecdotally known, and possibly prone to exaggeration or falsification. According to historian Edward Peters, some of the torture methods employed by the CHEKA included beating, burning, branding and scalping. Alexander Solzhenitsyn writes that some CHEKA victims were force-fed large amounts of salted fish – but were prevented from drinking water. Other CHEKA methods are described by historian Orlando Figes in his book A People’s Tragedy:

The ingenuity of the Cheka’s torture methods was matched only by the Spanish Inquisition. Each local Cheka had its own specialty. In Kharkov they went in for the ‘glove trick’ – burning the victim’s hands in boiling water until the blistered skin could be peeled off: this left the victims with raw and bleeding hands and their torturers with ‘human gloves’. The Tsaritsyn Cheka sawed its victims’ bones in half. In Voronezh they rolled their naked victims in nail-studded barrels. In Armavir they crushed their skulls by tightening a leather strap with an iron bolt around their head. In Kiev they affixed a cage with rats to the victims torso and heated it so that the enraged rats ate their way through the victim’s guts in an effort to escape. In Odessa they chained their victims to planks and pushed them slowly into a furnace or a tank of boiling water. A favourite winter torture was to pour water on the naked victims until they became living ice statues.

The CHEKA is often described as the ‘Bolshevik secret police’ but in reality only some of its operations were secretive or concealed. The existence and activities of the CHEKA were widely known and many of its operations were conducted openly and publicly. Though CHEKA agents had no standard uniform, most wore long leather coats and could be easily identified. All this was purposely done: to show Russians that the CHEKA was everywhere and could deal swiftly with those who betrayed or opposed the Bolshevik regime. Some CHEKA killings were carried out more for public effect than any political purpose. In 1918 CHEKA agents appeared in the audience of a Moscow circus and began shooting, after one of its clown acts, Bim Bom, made fun of the Bolsheviks and their leaders. Another example of this public gesturing was Lenin’s famous order to the Penza CHEKA to hang at least 100 men, “and make sure that the hanging takes place in full view of the people”.

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THE CHEKA

The VCheKa
ВЧК – чрезвыча́йная коми́ссия chrezvychaynaya komissiya

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1917 VCheKa Emblem

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VCheKa – BЧК – чрезвыча́йная коми́ссия chrezvychaynaya komissiya, Emergency Commission, Russian pronunciation: [tɕɪˈka]) was the first of a succession of Soviet state security organizations. It was created on 20 December 1917, after a decree issued by Vladimir Lenin, and was subsequently led by aristocrat-turned-communist Felix Dzerzhinsky. By late 1918, hundreds of Cheka committees had been created in various cities, at multiple levels including: oblast, guberniya “Gubcheks”, raion, uyezd, and volost Chekas, with Raion and Volost Extraordinary Commissioners. Many thousands of dissidents, deserters, or other people were arrested, tortured or executed by various Cheka groups. After 1922, Cheka groups underwent a series of reorganizations, with the NKVD, into bodies whose members continued to be referred to as “Chekisty” “Chekists” into the late 1980s. With Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, the reference to the FSB members as “Chekists” arose, particularly by Putin’s political opponents, often with negative connotations.

From its founding, the Cheka was an important military and security arm of the Bolshevik communist government. In 1921 the Troops for the Internal Defense of the Republic (a branch of the Cheka) numbered 200,000. These troops policed labor camps; ran the Gulag system; conducted requisitions of food; subjected political opponents to torture and summary execution; and put down rebellions and riots by workers or peasants, and mutinies in the desertion-plagued Red Army. [Commissar [See Appendix XXVIII] [Bolshevik [See Appendix XXIX]

Name

The name of the agency was originally “The All-Russian Emergency Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage”, Russian: “Всероссийская чрезвычайная комиссия по борьбе с контрреволюцией и саботажем; Vserossiyskaya chrezvychaynaya komissiya po bor’bye s kontrrevolyutsiyei i sabotazhem”, but was often shortened to “Cheka” or “VCheka”. In 1918 its name was changed, becoming “All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution, Profiteering and Corruption”.

A member of Cheka was called a “chekist”. Also, the term “chekist” often referred to Soviet secret police throughout the Soviet period, despite official name changes over time. In The Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn recalls that zeks in the labor camps used “old ‘Chekist'” as “a mark of special esteem” for particularly experienced camp administrators. The term is still found in use in Russia today “for example, President Vladimir Putin has been referred to in the Russian media as a “chekist” due to his career in the KGB”.

The Chekists commonly dressed in black leather, including long flowing coats, reportedly after being issued such distinctive coats early in their existence. Western communists adopted this clothing fashion.

Creation

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Members of the presidium of VCheKa “left to right” Yakov Peters,
Józef Unszlicht, A. Ya. Belenky “standing”, Felix Dzerzhinsky,
Vyacheslav Menzhinsky, 1921

In the first month and half after the October Revolution “1917”, the duty of “extinguishing the resistance of exploiters” was assigned to the Petrograd Military Revolutionary Committee or “RK”. It represented a temporary body working under directives of the Council of People’s Commissars “Sovnarkom” and Central Committee of RDSRP. The VRK created new bodies of government, organized food delivery to cities and the Army, requisitioned products from bourgeoisie, and sent its emissaries and agitators into provinces. One of its most important functions was the security of revolutionary order, and the fight against counterrevolutionary activity. [Council of People’s Commissars [See Appendix XXX]

On 1 December 1917, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee “VTsIK or TsIK” reviewed a proposed reorganization of the VRK, and possible replacement of it. On 5 December, the Petrograd VRK published an announcement of dissolution and transfer the functions to the department of TsIK to the fight against “counterrevolutionaries”. On 6 December, the Council of People’s Commissars “Sovnarkom” strategized how to persuade government workers to strike across Russia. They decided that a special commission was needed to implement the “most energetically revolutionary” measures. Felix Dzerzhinsky the “Iron Felix” was appointed as Director and invited the participation of the following individuals: V. K. Averin, V. N. Vasilevsky, D. G. Yevseyev, N. A. Zhydelev, I. K. Ksenofontov, G. K. Ordjonikidze, Ya. Kh. Peters, K. A. Peterson, V. A. Trifonov.

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Smolny, the seat of the Soviet Government, 1917

On 7 December 1917, all invited except Zhydelev and Vasilevsky gathered in the Smolny Institute to discuss the competence and structure of the commission to combat counterrevolution and sabotage. The obligations of the commission were:

“to liquidate to the root all of the counterrevolutionary and sabotage activities and all attempts to them in all of Russia, to hand over counter-revolutionaries and saboteurs to the revolutionary tribunals, develop measures to combat them and relentlessly apply them in real world applications. The commission should only conduct a preliminary investigation.”

The commission should also observe the press and counterrevolutionary parties, sabotaging officials and other criminals. It was decided to create three sections: informational, organizational, and a unit to combat counter-revolution and sabotage. Upon the end of the meeting, Dzerzhinsky reported to the Sovnarkom with the requested information. The commission was allowed to apply such measures of repression as ‘confiscation, deprivation of ration cards, publication of lists of enemies of the people etc.'”. That day, Sovnarkom officially confirmed the creation of VCheKa. The commission was created not under the VTsIK as was previously anticipated, but rather under the Council of the People’s Commissars.

On 8 December 1917, some of the original members of the VCheka were replaced. Averin, Ordzhonikidze, and Trifonov were replaced by V. V. Fomin, S. E. Shchukin, Ilyin, and Chernov. On the meeting of 8 December, the presidium of VChK was elected of five members, and chaired by Dzerzhinsky. The issue of “speculation” [ambiguous] was raised at the same meeting, which was assigned to Peters to address and report with results to one of the next meetings of the commission. A circular, published on December 28 [O.S. 15 December 1917], gave the address of VCheka’s first headquarters as “Petrograd, Gorokhovaya 2, 4th floor”. On 11 December, Fomin was ordered to organize a section to suppress “speculation.” And in the same day, VCheKa offered Shchukin to conduct arrests of counterfeiters.

In January 1918, a subsection of the anti-counterrevolutionary effort was created to police bank officials. The structure of VCheKa was changing repeatedly. By March 1918, when the organization came to Moscow, it contained the following sections: against counterrevolution, speculation, non-residents, and information gathering. By the end of 1918-1919, some units had been created: secretly operative, investigatory, of transportation, military “special”, operative, and instructional. By 1921, it changed once again, forming the following sections: directory of affairs, administrative-organizational, secretly operative, economical, and foreign affairs.

First Months

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Vladimir Bonch-Bruyevich

In the first months of its existence, VCheKa consisted of only 40 officials. It commanded a team of soldiers, the Sveaborgesky regiment, as well as a group of Red Guardsmen. On 14 January 1918, Sovnarkom ordered Dzerzhinsky to organize teams of “energetic and ideological” sailors to combat speculation. By the spring of 1918, the commission had several teams. In addition to the Sveaborge team, it had an intelligence team, a team of sailors, and a strike team. Through the winter of 1917-1918, all the activities of VCheKa were centralized mainly in the city of Petrograd. It was one of the several other commissions in the country that fought against counterrevolution, speculation, banditry, and other activities perceived as crimes. Other organizations included: the Bureau of Military Commissars, and an Army-Navy investigatory commission to attack the counterrevolutionary element in the Red Army, plus the Central Requisite and Unloading Commission to fight speculation. The investigation of counterrevolutionary or major criminal offenses was conducting by the Investigatory Commission of Revtribunal. The functions of VCheKa were closely intertwined with the Commission of V. D. Bonch-Bruyevich, which beside the fight against wine pogroms was engaged in the investigation of most major political offenses.

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Grigory Petrovsky

All results of its activities, VCheKa had either to transfer to the Investigatory Commission of Revtribunal or to dismiss a case. The control of the commission’s activity was provided by the People’s Commissariat for Justice “Narkomjust, at that time headed by Isidor Steinberg” and Internal Affairs “NKVD, at that time headed by Hryhoriy Petrovsky”. Although the VCheKa was officially an independent organization from the NKVD, its main members such as Dzerzhinsky, Latsis, Unszlicht, and Uritsky “all main chekists”, since November 1917 composed the collegiate of NKVD headed by Petrovsky. In November 1918, Petrovsky was appointed as the head of the All-Ukrainian Central Military Revolutionary Committee during VCheKa’s expansion to provinces and front-lines. At the time of political competition between Bolsheviks and SRs “January 1918”, Left SRs attempted to curb the rights of VCheKa and establish through the Narkomiust its control over its work. Having failed in attempts to subordinate the VCheKa to Narkomiust, the Left SRs were to seek control of the Extraordinary Commission in a different way. They requested that the Central Committee of the party was granted the right to directly enter their representatives into the VCheKa. Sovnarkom recognized the desirability of including five representatives of the Left Socialist-Revolutionary faction of VTsIK. Left SRs were granted the post of a companion “deputy” chairman of VCheKa. However, Sovnarkom, in which the majority belonged to the representatives of RSDLP retained the right to approve members of the collegium of the VCheKa.

Originally, the members of the Cheka were exclusively Bolshevik; however, in January 1918, the Left SRs also joined the organization The Left SRs were expelled or arrested later in 1918, following the attempted assassination of Lenin by an SR, Fanni Kaplan.

Consolidation of VCheKa and National Establishment

By the end of January 1918, the Investigatory Commission of Petrograd Soviet “probably same as of Revtribunal” petitioned Sovnarkom to delineate the role of detection and judicial-investigatory organs. It offered to leave, for the VCheKa and the Commission of Bonch-Bruyevich, only the functions of detection and suppression, while investigative functions entirely transferred to it. The Investigatory Commission prevailed. On 31 January 1918, Sovnarkom ordered to relieve VCheKa of the investigative functions, leaving for the commission only the functions of detection, suppression, and prevention of so-called crimes. At the meeting of the Council of People’s Commissars on 31 January 1918, a merger of VCheKa and the Commission of Bonch-Bruyevich was proposed. The existence of both commissions, VCheKa of Sovnarkom and the Commission of Bonch-Bruyevich of VTsIK, with almost the same functions and equal rights, became impractical. A decision followed two weeks later.

On 23 February 1918, VCheKa sent a radio telegram to all Soviets with a petition to immediately organize emergency commissions to combat counter-revolution, sabotage and speculation, if such commissions had not been yet organized. February 1918 saw the creation of local Extraordinary Commissions. One of the first founded was the Moscow Cheka. Sections and commissariats to combat counterrevolution were established in other cities. The Extraordinary Commissions arose, usually in the areas during the moments of the greatest aggravation of political situation. On 25 February 1918, as the counterrevolutionary organization Union of Front-liners was making advances, the executive committee of the Saratov Soviet formed a counter-revolutionary section. On 7 March 1918, because of the move from Petrograd to Moscow, the Petrograd Cheka was created. On 9 March, a section for combating counterrevolution was created under the Omsk Soviet. Extraordinary commissions were also created in Penza, Perm, Novgorod, Cherepovets, Rostov, Taganrog. On 18 March, VCheKa adopted a resolution, The Work of VCheKa on the All-Russian Scale, foreseeing the formation everywhere of Extraordinary Commissions after the same model, and sent a letter that called for the widespread establishment of the Cheka in combating counterrevolution, speculation, and sabotage. Establishment of provincial Extraordinary Commissions was largely completed by August 1918. In the Soviet Republic, there were 38 gubernatorial Chekas “Gubcheks” by this time.

On 12 June 1918, the All-Russian Conference of Cheka adopted the Basic Provisions on the Organization of Extraordinary Commissions. They set out to form Extraordinary Commissions not only at Oblast and Guberniya levels, but also at the large Uyezd Soviets. In August 1918, in the Soviet Republic had accounted for some 75 Uyezd-level Extraordinary Commissions. By the end of the year, 365 Uyezd-level Chekas were established. In 1918, the All-Russia Extraordinary Commission and the Soviets managed to establish a local Cheka apparatus. It included Oblast, Guberniya, Raion, Uyezd, and Volost Chekas, with Raion and Volost Extraordinary Commissioners. In addition, border security Chekas were included in the system of local Cheka bodies.

In the autumn of 1918, as consolidation of the political situation of the republic continued, a move toward elimination of Uyezd-, Raion-, and Volost-level Chekas, as well as the institution of Extraordinary Commissions was considered. On 20 January 1919, VTsIK adopted a resolution prepared by VCheKa, On the abolition of Uyezd Extraordinary Commissions. On 16 January the presidium of VCheKa approved the draft on the establishment of the Politburo at Uyezd militsiya. This decision was approved by the Conference of the Extraordinary Commission IV, held in early February 1920.

Other Types of Cheka

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Portrait of Martin Latsis on a
Soviet postage stamp

On 3 August, a VCheKa section for combating counterrevolution, speculation and sabotage on railways was created. On 7 August 1918 Sovnarkom adopted a decree on the organization of the railway section at VCheKa. Combating counterrevolution, speculation, and malfeasance on railroads was passed under the jurisdiction of the railway section of VCheKa and local Cheka. In August 1918, railway sections were formed under the Gubcheks. Formally, they were part of the non-resident sections, but in fact constituted a separate division, largely autonomous in their activities. The gubernatorial and oblast-type Chekas retained in relationship to the transportation sections only control and investigative functions.

The beginning of a systematic work of organs of VCheKa in RKKA refers to July 1918, the period of extreme tension of the civil war and class struggle in the country. On 16 July 1918, the Council of People’s Commissars formed the Extraordinary Commission for combating counterrevolution at the Czechoslovak “Eastern” Front, led by M. I. Latsis. In the fall of 1918, Extraordinary Commissions to combat counterrevolution on the Southern “Ukraine” Front were formed. In late November, the Second All-Russian Conference of the Extraordinary Commissions accepted a decision after the report of I. N. Polukarov to establish at all frontlines and army sections of the Cheka and granted them the right to appoint their commissioners in military units. On 9 December 1918, the collegiate or “presidium” of VCheKa had decided to form a military section, headed by M. S. Kedrov, to combat counterrevolution in the Army. In early 1919, the military control and the military section of VCheKa were merged into one body, the Special Section of the Republic. Kedrov was appointed as head. On 1 January, he issued an order to establish the Special Section. The order instructed agencies everywhere to unite the Military control and the military sections of Chekas and to form special sections of frontlines, armies, military districts, and guberniyas.

In November 1920 the Soviet of Labor and Defense created a Special Section of VCheKa for the security of the state border.

On 6 February 1922, after the Ninth All-Russian Soviet Congress, the Cheka was dissolved by VTsIK, “with expressions of gratitude for heroic work.” It was replaced by the State Political Administration or “GPU”, a section of the NKVD of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic “RSFSR”.

Operations

Suppression of Political Opposition

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Российские чекисты / Victim of torture of Cheka

Initially formed to fight against counter-revolutionaries and saboteurs, as well as financial speculators, Cheka had its own classifications. Those counter-revolutionaries fell under these categories:

  1. any civil or military servicemen suspected of working for Imperial Russia;
  2. families of officers-volunteers “including children”;
  3. all clergy;
  4. workers and peasants who were under suspicion of not supporting the Soviet government;
  5. any other person whose private property was valued at over 10,000 rubles.

As its name implied, the Extraordinary Commission had virtually unlimited powers and could interpret them in any way it wished. No standard procedures were ever set up, except that the Commission was supposed to send the arrested to the Military-Revolutionary Tribunals if outside of a war zone. This left an opportunity for a wide range of interpretations, as the whole country was in total chaos. At the direction of “Lenin”, the Cheka performed mass arrests, imprisonments, and executions of “enemies of the people”. In this, the “Cheka” said that they targeted “class enemies” such as the bourgeoisie, and members of the clergy; the first organized mass repression began against the libertarians and socialists of Petrograd in April 1918. Over the next few months, “800” were arrested and shot without trial.

However, within a month, the Cheka had extended its repression to all political opponents of the communist government, including anarchists and others on the left. On 11/12 April 1918, some 26 anarchist political centre’s in Moscow were attacked. There 40 anarchists were killed by Cheka forces, and about 500 were arrested and jailed after a pitched battle took place between the two groups. “P. Avrich. G. Maximoff” In response to the anarchists’ resistance, the Cheka orchestrated a massive retaliatory campaign of repression, executions, and arrests against all opponents of the Bolshevik government, in what came to be known as “Red Terror”. The Red Terror, implemented by Dzerzhinsky on 5 September 1918, was vividly described by the Red Army journal Krasnaya Gazeta:

“Without mercy, without sparing, we will kill our enemies in scores of hundreds. Let them be thousands, let them drown themselves in their own blood. For the blood of Lenin and Uritsky … let there be floods of blood of the bourgeoisie – more blood, as much as possible …”

An early Bolshevik, Victor Serge described in his book Memoirs of a Revolutionary:

Since the first massacres of Red prisoners by the Whites, the murders of Volodarsky and Uritsky and the attempt against Lenin “in the summer of 1918″, the custom of arresting and, often, executing hostages had become generalized and legal. Already the Cheka, which made mass arrests of suspects, was tending to settle their fate independently, under formal control of the Party, but in reality without anybody’s knowledge. The Party endeavourer to head it with incorruptible men like the former convict Dzerzhinsky, a sincere idealist, ruthless but chivalrous, with the emaciated profile of an Inquisitor: tall forehead, bony nose, untidy goatee, and an expression of weariness and austerity. But the Party had few men of this stamp and many Chekas. I believe that the formation of the Chekas was one of the gravest and most impermissible errors that the Bolshevik leaders committed in 1918 when plots, blockades, and interventions made them lose their heads. All evidence indicates that revolutionary tribunals, functioning in the light of day and admitting the right of defense, would have attained the same efficiency with far less abuse and depravity. Was it necessary to revert to the procedures of the Inquisition?”

The Cheka was also used against the armed “anarchist Black Army of Nestor Makhno in the Ukraine”. After the Black Army had served its purpose in aiding the Red Army to stop the Whites under Denikin, the Soviet communist government decided to eliminate the anarchist forces. In May 1919, two Cheka agents sent to assassinate Makhno were caught and executed.

Many victims of Cheka repression were ‘bourgeois hostages’ rounded up and held in readiness for summary execution in reprisal for any alleged counter-revolutionary act. “Lenin’s dictum was”: that it was better to arrest 100 innocent people rather than to risk one enemy going free. That ensured that wholesale, indiscriminate arrests became an integral part of the system.

It was during the Red Terror that the Cheka, hoping to avoid the bloody aftermath of having half-dead victims writhing on the floor, developed a technique for execution known later by the German words “Nackenschuss” or Genickschuss”, a shot to the nape of the neck, which caused minimal blood loss and instant death. The victim’s head was bent forward, and the executioner fired slightly downward at point blank range. This had become the standard method used later by the NKVD to liquidate Joseph Stalin’s purge victims and others.

Persecution of Deserters

It is believed that there were more than three million deserters from the Red Army in 1919 and 1920. Approximately 500,000 deserters were arrested in 1919 and close to 800,000 in 1920, by troops of the ‘Special Punitive Department’ of the Cheka, created to punish desertions. These troops were used to forcibly repatriate deserters, taking and shooting hostages to force compliance or to set an example. Throughout the course of the civil war, several thousand deserters were shot – a number comparable to that of belligerents during World War I.

In September 1918, according to The Black Book of Communism, in only twelve provinces of Russia, 48,735 deserters and 7,325 “bandits” were arrested, 1,826 were killed and 2,230 were executed. The exact identity of these individuals is confused by the fact that the Soviet Bolshevik government used the term ‘bandit’ to cover ordinary criminals as well as armed and unarmed political opponents, such as the anarchists.

Conflicts

The Civil War intensified due to the “Czechoslovak” invasion May 1918 that was supported by the Entente powers,. “Massive White Terror” against the Soviet forces intensified. The total number of victims of the White Terror in Central Russia at the hands of the Czechoslovaks and the SR-led Komuch regime amounted to more than 5000 people killed in the summer and autumn of 1918. After the White Cossacks led by Krasnov seized control of the Don Province, more than 40,000 people were killed by Krasnov’s regime. In the Samara region on May 5, 1918, Dutov’s Cossack forces killed 675 people by execution and burying the victims alive. In the autumn of 1918, General Pokrovsky’s forces killed 2500 people in the town of Maikop, while Ataman Annenkov’s forces shot more than 1500 peasants in Slavgorod region. The intensification in the summer of 1918 of massive and individual White Terror inevitably led to the revision of punitive-repressive policies of the Soviet government to an increase in repression. This policy more easily asserted itself with the more frequent reports of White Terror.

“Czechoslovak” A former country of central Europe. It was formed in 1918 from Czech- and Slovak-speaking territories of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Communists gained control of the government after World War II and stayed in power until late 1989 when demands for democratic political reform forced Communist leaders to resign. In 1993 the country split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

In addition to White Terror, individual terrorism against the Soviet forces significantly increased as 1918 progressed. In the summer of 1918 in Petrograd, Socialist-Revolutionary cells organized plots of assassinations against leading Soviet officials Volodarsky, Zinoviev, and Uritsky, as well as Lenin, Trotsky, and other officials of the Soviet state. The situation in Petrograd after the assassination of Soviet official Volodarsky showed the willingness of the population for mass repression, as seen in the slogans of banners during his funeral. In Petrograd on 22 June, a Menshevik member Vasiliev was killed, motivated by revenge over the death of Volodarsky. Individual terror against the Soviet government killed 339 people. The end of August 1918 marked a new surge of individual terrorism directed against the Soviet state.

Saint Petersburg University Professor studies the subject in his book The Red Terror in Russia in 1918.

During the Red Terror that began in early September 1918 and ended particularly after the issuing of an amnesty to prisoners on 7 November 1918, executions amounted to amounted to 8000 people. 2000 executions occurred from 30 August to 5 September 1918, and another 3000 during the remaining days of September. 3000 more were executed during October–November 1918. There were several stages of the Red Terror during the autumn of 1918. The first stage includes the period from 30 August 1918 to 5 September 1918, beginning with the attacks on Lenin and Uritsky and ending with the publication of the Red Terror decree. During this uncontrolled wave of repression, there were more than 3 thousand executions, especially in provincial towns and the frontier provinces. More organized repression took place during the remaining days of September. The total number of victims of the policy of Red Terror in this period was up to 2 thousand.

Starting in October 1918, Red Terror policy experienced a crisis. With victories at the front and the growth of the revolutionary movement in Europe, the need for the previous policy of suppressing counter-revolution subsided. Against this backdrop, Communist Party leaders changed the repressive policies. The main outcome of this was the redistribution of powers between the Chek and Revolutionary Tribunal. The Cheka in early 1919 were denied the right to sentencing. The county Chekas were eliminated. On 6 November 1918, an amnesty to prisoners was issued, which according to Ratkovsky meant the end of the Red Terror. The result was a decrease in repression, with the executions in the RSFSR in 1919 numbering a third of those in 1918.

Leading Cheka official Martyn Latsis stated that in the period 1918-July 1919 in Russia, there were 9,641 executions and 12,733 in the 1918-1920 period. W. H. Chamberlin claims “it is simply impossible to believe that the Cheka only put to death “12,733” people in all of Russia up to the end of the civil war.” Chamberlin provides the “reasonable and probably moderate” estimate of “50,000”, Author Robert Conquest claims that the number of executions at about “250,000”, while Leggett puts the number at “140,000” and an equal number killed during armed revolts.

Atrocities

Claims were made by the Soviet state’s opponents among the White regimes such as Denikin’s Commission to Investigate Bolshevik Atrocities as well as political opponents like S. Melgunov about lurid tortures committed by Soviet forces. At the head of the Commission was a member of the anti-Soviet Kadet Party G.A. Meyngard. The tasks of this commission was to publicize the alleged crimes committed by the Soviet forces, mainly intended for a Russian émigré audience.

The Cheka was alleged by the Denikin “Commission to Investigate Bolshevik Atrocities” and the publications of anti-Soviet political émigrés such as S. Melgunov to have practiced torture. They claimed that victims were reportedly crucified, stoned to death, and other measures. They claimed that the Cheka personnel poured water on naked prisoners in the streets during winter until they became living ice statues, as well as beheadings. Others reportedly beheaded their victims by twisting their necks until their heads could be torn off. The same sources claimed that women and children were also victims of repression: women allegedly tortured and raped before being shot and that children between the ages of 8 and 13 were imprisoned and occasionally executed.

The results of the Commission’s work was met with controversy. Orenburg University professor L. Futoryansky argues that “the nature of these so-called documents is questionable” according to modern standards and are not suitable for a place in a scientific publication. Futoryansky notes that the commission engaged in exaggerations and instructed witnesses to emphasize negative aspects of the Soviet state and the Cheka. Futoryansky notes that most of the documents do not have signatures, names, dates, and locations, and that “Allegations were made of V.I. Lenin’s hatred for Cossacks, but we cannot find anything about this…All of this is extremely unreasonable.”

Another skeptical historian, Y. Semyonov, wrote that “As for the material created by the Denikin Commission to Investigate the Crimes of the Bolsheviks, this institution was least interested in the truth. Its purpose was anti-Bolshevik propaganda. The White Guard propagandists were so overdone with the exposure of Bolshevik atrocities that when the falsity of much of what they said became clear, western public opinion was inclined not to believe bad things about the Bolsheviks.” In his preface to his “Red Terror in Russia”, S. Melgunov stated that he was unable to verify the authenticity of the sources he cited. In his essay “Defeated”, G. Y. Villiam in the chapter “Osvag [Denikin Commission]” wrote that this institution’s purpose was to slander the Soviets and the Cheka.

Regional Chekas

Cheka departments were organized not only in big cities and guberniya seats, but also in each uyezd, at any front-lines and military formations. Nothing is known on what resources they were created. Many who were hired to head those departments were so-called “nestlings of Kerensky” – Russian: “птенцы Керенского”, the former convicts “political and criminal” that released by the Kerensky amnesty.

Moscow Cheka, 1918–1919

Chairman – Felix Dzerzhynsky, Deputy – Yakov Peters, initially heading the “Petrograd Department”, other members – Shklovsky, Kneyfis, Tseystin, Razmirovich, Kronberg, Khaikina, Karlson, Shauman, Lentovich, Rivkin, Antonov, Delafabr, Tsytkin, Yelena Rozmirovich (wife of Krylenko), G.Sverdlov, Bizensky, Yakov Blumkin, Aleksandrovich, Fines, Zaks, Yakov Goldin, Galpershtein, Kniggisen, Martin Latsis, later transferred to “Kyiv”, Deybol, Seyzan, Deybkin, Libert “chief of jail”, Fogel, Zakis, Shillenkus, Yanson.

Petrograd Cheka, 1918–1919

Chairman – Meinkman, Moisei Uritsky “replaced Peters after his transfer”, Giller, Kozlovsky, Model, Rozmirovich, I.Diesporov, Iselevich, Krassikov, Bukhan, Merbis, Paykis, Anvelt.

Kharkov Cheka

Comrade Eduard, Stepan Saenko, Mykola Khvylovy “Bohodukhiv uyezd”.

Kiev Cheka

Chairman – Martin Latsis, other members – Avdokhin, Comrade Vera, Rosa Shvarts.

Odessa Cheka

Deych, Vikhman, Timofey, Vera “Dora” Grebenshchikova, Aleksandra “aged 17”.

Simferopol Cheka

Ashykin.

Red Terror

The Red Terror in Soviet Russia was a campaign of mass arrests, executions, and atrocities conducted by the Bolshevik government. In Soviet historiography, the Red Terror is described as having been officially announced on 2 September 1918 by Yakov Sverdlov and ended about October 1918. However, many historians, beginning with Sergei Melgunov, apply this term to political repression during the whole period of the Russian Civil War, 1918–1922. The mass repressions were conducted by the Cheka “the Bolshevik secret police”, together with elements of the Bolshevik military intelligence agency the “GRU”.

The term “Red Terror” was originally used to describe the last six weeks of the “Reign of Terror” of the French Revolution, ending on 28 July 1794 with the execution of Maximilien Robespierre, to distinguish it from the subsequent First White Terror. “Historically this period has been known as the Great Terror – French: la Grande Terreur”.

Purpose

The stated purpose of the Red Terror was to eliminate counter-revolutionaries who belonged to former “ruling classes”. Martin Latsis, chief of the Ukrainian Cheka, explained in the newspaper “Red Terror”:

Vladimir Lenin, writing in “Pravda”, criticized Latsis for this comment, saying that he had gone to “absurd lengths” and that “He wanted to say that Red terror meant the forcible suppression of exploiters who attempted to restore their rule”.

Grigory Zinoviev declared in mid-September 1918: “To overcome of our enemies we must have our own socialist militarism. We must carry along with us 90 million out of the 100 million of Soviet Russia’s population. As for the rest, we have nothing to say to them. They must be annihilated.”

History

The campaign of mass repressions was officially initiated as retribution for the assassination of Petrograd Cheka leader Moisei Uritsky by Leonid Kannegisser, and attempted assassination of Lenin by Fanni Kaplan on 30 August 1918. While recovering from his wounds, Lenin instructed: “It is necessary – secretly and urgently to prepare the terror” Even before the assassinations, Lenin was sending telegrams “to introduce mass terror” in Nizhny Novgorod in response to a suspected civilian uprising there, and “crush” landowners in Penza who protested, sometimes violently, to requisition of their grain by military detachments:

“Comrades! The kulak uprising in your five districts must be crushed without pity … You ust make example of these people. (1) Hang (I mean hang publicly, so that people see it) at least 100 kulaks, rich bastards, and known bloodsuckers. (2) Publish their names. (3) Seize all their grain. (4) Single out the hostages per my instructions in yesterday’s telegram. Do all this so that for miles around people see it all, understand it, tremble, and tell themselves that we are killing the bloodthirsty kulaks and that we will continue to do so … Yours, Lenin. P.S. Find tougher people.”

Five hundred “representatives of overthrown classes” were executed immediately by the Bolshevik communist government after the assassination of Uritsky.

The first official announcement of Red Terror, published in Izvestiya, “Appeal to the Working Class” on 3 September 1918 called for the workers to “crush the hydra of counterrevolution with massive terror! anyone who dares to spread the slightest rumor against the Soviet regime will be arrested immediately and sent to concentration camp”. That was followed by the decree “On Red Terror”, issued 5 September 1918 by the Cheka. On 15 October, “checkist Gleb Bokiy”, summing up the officially ended Red Terror, reported that in “Petrograd 800 alleged enemies had been shot and another 6,229 imprisoned”. Casualties in the first two months were between “10,000 and 15,000” based on lists of summarily executed people published in newspaper “Cheka Weekly” and other official press.

About the Red Terror

Declaration of Sovnarkom

5 September 1918

The Council of the People’s Commissars after listening to the statement of the chairman of the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission in the fight with the counter-revolution, profiteering and corruption about the activity of the commission finds

that in the current situation securing the rear is the direct necessity,

that for empowering the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission in the fight with the counter-revolution, profiteering and corruption and making it more methodical it is necessary to direct there possibly bigger number of the responsible party comrades,

that it is necessary to secure the Soviet Republic from the class enemies by way of isolating them in concentration camps,

that all people are to be executed by fire squad who are connected with the White Guard organizations, conspiracies and mutinies,

that it is necessary to publicize the names of the executed as well as the reasons of applying to them that measure.

Signed: People’s Commissar of Justice D.Kursky

People’s Commissars of Interior G.Petrovsky

Director in Affairs of the Council of People’s Commissars Vl.Bonch-Bruyevich

SU, #19, department 1, art.710, 04.09.1918

As the civil war progressed, significant numbers of prisoners, suspects and hostages were executed on the basis of their belonging to the “possessing classes” and such numbers are recorded in cities occupied by the Bolsheviks:

In Kharkov there were between 2,000 and 3,000 executions in February–June 1919, and another 1,000-2,000 when the town was taken again in December of that year; in Rostov-on-Don, approximately 1,000 in January 1920; in Odessa, 2,200 in May–August 1919, then 1,500-3,000 between February 1920 and February 1921; in Kiev, at least 3,000 in February–August 1919; in Ekaterinodar, at least 3,000 between August 1920 and February 1921; In Armavir, a small town in Kuban, between 2,000 and 3,000 in August–October 1920. “The list could go on and on”.

In the Crimea, Béla Kun, with Vladimir Lenin’s approval, had 50,000 White prisoners of war and civilians summarily executed via shooting or hanging after the defeat of general Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel at the end of 1920. They had been promised amnesty if they would surrender. This is considered one of the largest massacres in the Civil War.

On 16 March 1919, all military detachments of the Cheka were combined in a single body, the Troops for the Internal Defense of the Republic, which numbered 200,000 in 1921. These troops policed labor camps, ran the Gulag system, conducted requisitions of food, put down peasant rebellions, riots by workers, and mutinies in the Red Army, which was plagued by desertions.

One of the main organizers of the Red Terror for the Bolshevik government was 2nd Grade Army Commissar Yan Karlovich Berzin “1889–1938”, whose real name was Kyuzis Peteris. He took part in the October Revolution and afterwards worked in the central apparatus of the Cheka. During the Red Terror, Berzin initiated the system of taking and shooting hostages to stop desertions and other “acts of disloyalty and sabotage”. Chief of a special department of the Latvian Red Army later the “15th Army”, Berzin played a part in the suppression of the Russian sailors’ mutiny at Kronstadt in March 1921. He particularly distinguished himself in the course of the pursuit, capture, and killing of captured sailors.

Repressions

Peasants

SPIMG_0014X220X303_Leon_Trotsky

Bolshevik freedom” – Polish propaganda
poster with nude caricature of Leon Trotsky
from the Polish-Soviet War

The Internal Troops of Cheka and the Red Army practiced the terror tactics of taking and executing numerous hostages, often in connection with desertions of forcefully mobilized peasants. It is believed that more than 3 million deserters escaped from the Red Army in 1919 and 1920. Around 500,000 deserters were arrested in 1919 and close to 800,000 in 1920 by Cheka troops and special divisions created to combat desertions. Thousands of deserters were killed, and their families were often taken hostage. According to Lenin’s instructions,

After the expiration of the seven-day deadline for deserters to turn themselves in, punishment must be increased for these incorrigible traitors to the cause of the people. Families and anyone found to be assisting them in any way whatsoever are to be considered as hostages and treated accordingly.

In September 1918, in only twelve provinces of Russia, 48,735 deserters and 7,325 bandits were arrested, 1,826 were killed and 2,230 were executed. A typical report from a Cheka department stated:

Yaroslavl Province, 23 June 1919. The uprising of deserters in the Petropavlovskaya volost has been put down. The families of the deserters have been taken as hostages. When we started to shoot one person from each family, the Greens began to come out of the woods and surrender. Thirty-four deserters were shot as an example.

During the suppression of the Tambov Rebellion, estimates suggest that around 100,000 peasant rebels and their families were imprisoned or deported and perhaps 15,000 executed.

This campaign marked the beginning of the Gulag, and some scholars have estimated that 70,000 were imprisoned by September 1921 “this number excludes those in several camps in regions that were in revolt, such as Tambov”. Conditions in these camps led to high mortality rates, and there were “repeated massacres.” The Cheka at the Kholmogory camp adopted the practice of drowning bound prisoners in the nearby Dvina river. Occasionally, entire prisons were “emptied” of inmates via mass shootings prior to abandoning a town to White forces.

Industrial Workers

On 16 March 1919, Cheka stormed the Putilov factory. More than 900 workers who went to a strike were arrested, of whom more than 200 were executed without trial during the next few days. Numerous strikes took place in the spring of 1919 in cities of Tula, Orel, Tver, Ivanovo and Astrakhan. “The starving workers sought to obtain food rations matching those of Red Army soldiers”. They also demanded the elimination of privileges for Bolsheviks, freedom of press, and free elections. “All strikes were mercilessly suppressed by Cheka using arrests and executions”.

In the city of Astrakhan, the “strikers and Red Army soldiers who joined them were loaded onto barges and then thrown by the hundreds into the Volga with stones around their necks”. Between “2,000 and 4,000” were shot or drowned from 12 to 14 of March 1919. In addition, the repression also claimed the lives of some “600 to 1,000” bourgeoisie. Recently published archival documents indicate this was the largest massacre of workers by the Bolsheviks before the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion.

However, strikes continued. Lenin was concerned about the tense situation regarding workers in the Ural region. On 29 January 1920, he sent a telegram to Vladimir Smirnov stating “I am surprised that you are taking the matter so lightly, and are not immediately executing large numbers of strikers for the crime of sabotage”.

Atrocities

SPIMG_0015X480X234_Atrosties

Excavation of a mass grave outside the headquarters of the Kharkov Cheka

At these times, there were numerous reports that Cheka interrogators utilized torture methods which were, according to Orlando Figes, “matched only by the Spanish Inquisition”. At Odessa the Cheka tied White officers to planks and slowly fed them into furnaces or tanks of boiling water; In Kharkiv, scalping and hand-flaying were commonplace: the skin was peeled off victims’ hands to produce “gloves”; The Voronezh Cheka rolled naked people around in barrels studded internally with nails; victims were crucified or stoned to death at Dnipropetrovsk; the Cheka at Kremenchuk impaled members of the clergy and buried alive rebelling peasants; in Orel, water was poured on naked prisoners bound in the winter streets until they became living ice statues; in Kiev, Chinese Cheka detachments placed rats in iron tubes sealed at one end with wire netting and the other placed against the body of a prisoner, with the tubes being heated until the rats gnawed through the victim’s body in an effort to escape.

“Executions took place in prison cellars or courtyards, or occasionally on the outskirts of town”, during the Red Terror and Russian civil war. After the condemned were stripped of their clothing and other belongings, which were shared among the Cheka executioners, they were either machine-gunned in batches or dispatched individually with a revolver. Those killed in “prison were usually shot in the back of the neck as they entered the execution cellar, which became littered with corpses and soaked with blood”. Victims killed outside the town were “conveyed by lorry, bound and gagged, to their place of execution”, where they sometimes were made to dig their own graves.

According to Edvard Radzinsky, “it became a common practice to take a husband hostage and wait for his wife to come and purchase his life with her body”. During Decossackization, there were massacres, according to historian Robert Gellately, “on an unheard of scale”. The Pyatigorsk Cheka organized a “day of Red Terror” to execute “300” people in one day, and took “quotas” from each part of town. According to the Chekist Karl Lander, the Cheka in Kislovodsk, “for lack of a better idea”, killed all the patients in the hospital. In October 1920 alone more than “6,000” people were executed. Gellately adds that Communist leaders “sought to justify their ethnic-based massacres by incorporating them into the rubric of the ‘class struggle'”.

Members of the “clergy” were subjected to particularly brutal abuse. According to documents cited by the late Alexander Yakovlev, then head of the Presidential Committee for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression, “priests, monks and nuns were crucified, thrown into cauldrons of boiling tar, scalped, strangled, given Communion with melted lead and drowned in holes in the ice”. An estimated 3,000 were put to death in 1918 alone.

Estimates for the total number of people killed in the Red Terror ranger from “50,000 to over a million”.

sovietbases

_______________________________

Kulak Revolt

cheka kulak revolt simbirsk ulyanovsk.jpg

Members of the Cheka, the Bolshevik state security organization, killed during the Kulak revolt in Simbirsk (later Ulyanovsk), 1918. The Kulaks were wealthy farmers who opposed the revolution.

________________________________________

unknownmisandry

Thursday, July 9, 2015

CHEKA Women – Bolshevik Secret Police: Sadism, Torture, Summary Executions & Massacres as “Social Justice” – 1918-1920s

cheka-women.jpg

No information about the woman given by English newspapers the name of “Jacobleva” has yet been located. “Jacobleva” (transliterated) may be a nom de guerre rather than a proper name.

The other three figures appear briefly in some studies of the Red Guard. Further research is needed. Perhaps visitors who have studied Bolshevism in detail can assist.

This post will be augmented after consulting the book: Barbara Evans Clements, Bolshevik Women (Cambridge University Press, 1997).

***

1) “Jacobleva” – Petrograd

EXCERPT: The real dictator of Petrograd is a woman of the name of Jacobleva, aged 22, who, in her capacity, of the head of the famous Commission (the Extraordinary Committee for Fighting the Counter-Revolution, Speculation, and Sabotage), surpasses all existing legends of cruelty. [“Woman Dictator – Chaos In Petrograd.” (Kalgoorie, Australia), Feb. 26, 1919, p. 6]

***

2) Vera Grebeniukova (aka Dora) – Odessa, Ukraine

“A large share of the torturers were of non-Russian nationalities, selected in Lenin’s assessment Russians seemed ‘too mushy,’ unable to cope with the ‘tough measures.’ Among the torturers there were also women. “Vera Grebennikova, one in Odessa, in just two months have killed 700 people.” (autostranslate revised by RStE)
[“Ideologias e ideias,” 06 de Abril de 2010, Boletim (newsletter) – 708]
http://antigo.apufsc.org.br/texto/1267/

“Women were also not exempt from the perpetration of sadistic violence. Vera Grebennikova, for example, was alleged to have killed over 700 people, many of them with her bare hands, during two months in Odessa..”
[Читать онлайн “A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924” автора Figes Orlando – RuLit – Страница 239]
http://www.rulit.me/books/a-people-s-tragedy-the-russian-revolution-1891-1924-read-232715-239.html

***

zemliachka-2-portraits

3) Rozalia Zemliachka (Rozalia Samuilovna Zalkind) – Ukraine

“Rozalia Zemliachka and her lover Bela Kun murdered 50,000 White officers (with Lenin’s approval). They were tied in pairs to planks and burned alive in furnaces; or drowned in barges that she sank offshore.” [Crimes of the Century, C. J. Griffin, on 20 July 2005, Amazon book review]

Wikipedia: Rozalia Samuilovna Zalkind (Russian: Залкинд Розалия Самуиловна) known under nicknames Devil (for personal participation in mass executions) and Zemlyachka (20 March 1876 – 21 January 1947) was a Russian revolutionary, Soviet politician and statesman. She is best known for her involvement in the organization of the First Russian revolution, and along with Bela Kun, as one of the organizers of the Red Terror in the Crimea in 1920-1921, against former soldiers of the White Army.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosalia_Zemlyachka

***

4) Rebecca Platinina-Maisel – Arkhangelsk

“In Arkhangel, Rebecca Platinina snuffed out the lives of more than a hundred, including the entire family of her husband, who was executed by crucifixion, in a an act of wanton revenge. “ The agents who committed these brutalities ended their days immersed in insanity. According to Gippius, a major female poet of Petrograd during the period of the red terror observed that “there was literally a single family in which someone had not been arrested, taken and then disappeared without a trace.” (autostranslate revised by RStE) [“Ideologias e ideias,” 06 de Abril de 2010, Boletim (newsletter) – 708]
http://antigo.apufsc.org.br/texto/1267/

“Rebecca Platinina-Maisel in Arkhangelsk killed over a hundred, including the whole family of her ex-husband whom she crucified in an act of savage revenge. Such was the brutalizing effect of this relentless violence that not a few Chekists ended up insane. Bukharin said that psychopathic disorders were an occupational hazard of the Chekist profession. Many Chekists hardened themselves to the killings by heavy drinking or drug abuse.” [Читать онлайн “A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924” автора Figes Orlando – RuLit – Страница 239]
http://www.rulit.me/books/a-people-s-tragedy-the-russian-revolution-1891-1924-read-232715-239.html

“Rebecca Platinina-Maisel” cited in: Orlando Figes, Tragedie van een volk: de Russische revolutie 1891-1924, p. 794

***

Wikipedia excerpt:

Cheka (ЧК – чрезвыча́йная коми́ссия chrezvychaynaya komissiya, Emergency Committee, Russian pronunciation: [tɕɪˈka]) was the first of a succession of Soviet state security organizations. It was created on December 20, 1917, after a decree issued by Vladimir Lenin, and was subsequently led by Felix Dzerzhinsky, a Polish aristocrat turned communist. By late 1918, hundreds of Cheka committees had been created in various cities, at multiple levels including: oblast, guberniya (“Gubcheks”), raion, uyezd, and volost Chekas, with Raion and Volost Extraordinary Commissioners. Many thousands of dissidents, deserters, or other people were arrested, tortured or executed by various Cheka groups. After 1922, Cheka groups underwent a series of reorganizations, with the NKVD, into bodies whose members continued to be referred to as “Chekisty” (Chekists) into the late 1980s.

From its founding, being the military and security arm of the Bolshevik communist party, the Cheka was instrumental in the Red Terror. In 1921 the Troops for the Internal Defense of the Republic (a branch of the Cheka) numbered at least 200,000. These troops policed labor camps; ran the Gulag system; conducted requisitions of food; subjected political opponents to torture and summary execution; and put down rebellions and riots by workers or peasants, and mutinies in the desertion-plagued Red Army.

***

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