This very day in 1917 saw the official formation of one of the world’s most terrifying and ruthless organisations- the Cheka.
The ‘Cheka’ was the secret police of the Russian Soviet Union however it was very rare to find anyone who was unaware of its existence due to the terror which it imposed on so many people across Bolshevik Russia. The original idea of this agency was to keep track of any threats to the new regime and essentially dissolve them before they could do any damage. This small unit began as early as October 1917 at the peak of revolution. It was only in December that they saw the success the growing force had to offer and so a decree was signed by Lenin.
The name ‘Cheka’ originates from the Russian term ‘Chrezvychainaia Komissiia’ which means ‘Extraordinary Commission’. The man chosen to lead operations was very similar to Lenin in his fanatic Bolshevism and dedication to the communist cause- Felix Dzerzhinksy. He led the Cheka for 9 years before entering the soviet government as a prominent statesman with much involvement in the running of the union. Nicknamed ‘Iron Felix’, his ruthless personality allowed him to rule the Cheka in such a way which maintained little restraint concerning trailing the executed and imprisoning the innocent.
The pseudonyms (nicknames) Russian statesmen were granted can tell us a lot about their character, much like Stalin’s many names, Man of Steel being the actual meaning of his name. I found something really interesting whilst researching this and although it may be myth, it’s still interesting to consider. Stalin was often named ‘Koba’ towards to earlier end of his career in politics, primarily in the run up to the revolution. Apparently, Koba is the name of a character from Stalin’s favourite Georgian novel, “The Killer of his Father”. It’s common knowledge that Stalin despised his drunk and violent father so there’s a high chance that this is true. It’d be really cool if it is.
The crimes of the Cheka are quite painful to even consider. From torture to rape, the actions are simply unforgivable. It’s terrifying to think about how a government which proposed such freedoms could impose such atrocities on the people it ruled over. It makes me feel very lucky to live in the country we do, despite my occasional political complaints.
Here’s some information provided by Wikipedia on the statistics concerning executions.
Estimates on Cheka executions vary widely. The lowest figures (disputed below) are provided by Dzerzhinsky’s lieutenant Martyn Latsis, limited to RSFSR over the period 1918–1920:
For the period 1918 – July 1919, covering only twenty provinces of central Russia:
In 1918: 6,300; in 1919 (up to July): 2,089; Total: 8,389
For the whole period 1918–19:
In 1918: 6,185; in 1919: 3,456; Total: 9,641
For the whole period 1918–20:
In January–June 1918: 22; in July–December 1918: more than 6,000; in 1918–20: 12,733.
I also managed to find a few relevant historian quotes which are interesting to consider when thinking about the purpose of the Cheka’s formation.
“Of course a regime subjected at its inception to the pressures of a civil war such as that faced by the Bolsheviks will seek and find rationalisations for its harsh policies. The question is, how clearly did Lenin and his followers distinguish, in their own minds, between the force and coercion required to combat their armed enemies, and that which they used against their purely political foes, real and potential? The promise to create a new society without oppression, police rule and terror…was swallowed up by the imperatives of Bolshevik survival and never retrieved”.
“Like the sound of a bolt being shot, the two syllables, Che-ka, would stop any conversation”.
“Under Lenin’s regime – not Stalin’s – the Cheka was to become a vast police state. It had its own leviathan infrastructure, from house committees to the concentration camps, employing more than a quarter of a million people”.