Mystery You Can’t Miss in Russia: Secret Police, Spies and the Cheka
Mystery You Can’t Miss in Russia: Secret Police, Spies and The Cheka
The Cheka, originally known as “The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage” was founded on 20th December 1917 by Vladimir Lenin. The Russian Civil War had started a month earlier, and anti-Bolshevik uprisings were increasing rapidly. To combat this the Cheka was tasked with dealing with ‘enemies of the state’, in order to tighten Lenin’s grip on power and terrorise his opposition.
This led to what became know years after as the ‘Red Terror’, and while in theory the Cheka were bound to operate within the letter of the law, in practice this was not the case; the Cheka ended up ruling as judge, jury and invariably executioner. The secret police made their own arrests, convictions and sentences all under the watchful eye of Lenin.
By 1921 tens of thousands of people had been executed by the various Cheka groups, which had risen drastically in numbers and in the fighting units of the Red Army tens of thousands of members of the Cheka targeted a variety of perpetrators, ranging from associates of the old Tsarist regime, the clergy, landowners and the rich. Fixed in their minds at all times was Lenin’s mantra; that it was better to arrest 100 innocent people than to let one guilty person free.
In 1922 the Cheka was reorganised and a new secret police agency, the GPU was formed. Many groups followed after, and the secret police continued into the 1990s in the form of the KGB (the Committee for State Security). It is interesting to witness the crossover of power and police in Russia over the 20th century, and its legacy lives on in Vladimir Putin, who once said to his ex-colleagues at the FSB (Federal Security Service), “A group of FSB operatives, dispatched under cover to work in the government of the Russian federation, is successfully fulfilling its task.” Although tongue was firmly in cheek with this comment, the connections between secret police and state in 20th century shaped the government’s control of political foes significantly.
This post was brought to you by James, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz