The Cheka, “The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage” was founded by decree on December 20, 1917 by Vladimir Lenin. In order to tighten his grip on power and to set the stage for the brutal Russian Civil War, Lenin formed the Cheka to terrorize his opposition. Led originally by Felix Dzerzhinsky, by 1922, tens of thousands of people were arrested, tortured, and or executed by the various Cheka groups.
The organizational structure of the Cheka was created in regions like the oblast, guberniya, raion, uyezd, and volost Chekas. By 1922, there were hundreds of thousands of members of the Cheka, most in the fighting units in the Red Army. Their main targets were anyone associated with the old Tsarist regime, the clergy, anyone with any measurable amount of money or land holdings, and just about anyone who did not back the Bolshevik’s. People were encouraged to spy on their neighbors so anyone with a grudge against you could rat you out to a Cheka official which meant your death warrant was on its way.
Their goal, as Dzerzhinsky wrote in the Red Army journal Krasnaya Gazeta was, “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…” After the attempted assassination of Lenin by Fanny Kaplan and the successful murder of Moisie Uritsky, both in 1918, the Red Terror was unleashed on the people.
Guided by Lenin’s belief that it was better to arrest 100 innocent people than to let one guilty person free. the Cheka was given a free hand to do whatever they pleased. You can imagine the kind of criminal minds that were allowed to perpetrate gross inhumane crimes against humanity. Into that, you have to understand that the White Army was as guilty of the same depravity as was the Red Army.
By 1922, the Cheka was reorganized and a new secret police agency, the GPU or OGPU was formed which morphed into the NKVD and eventually the KGB. Its legacy remains dark and foreboding, with countless shattered lives strewn in it wake. A sad part of Russia’s history.
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