A Cheka badge, mirroring the ‘sword and also shield’ that the revolution.

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The Cheka (sometimes called VeCheka) to be the much-feared Bolshevik protection agency, created to identify and also eradicate counter-revolutionary activity. The Cheka is periodically referred to together the Bolshevik ‘secret police’, though many Russians were well mindful of that is existence and activities.


The Cheka was created in the wake up of the October 1917 revolution, together a small agency to inspection and address threats come the brand-new regime. It to be to it is in the “sword and shield the the revolution”, defending the brand-new regime against its enemies within. Its very first leader was Felix Dzerzhinsky.

As opposition come the Bolshevik regime flourished through 1918, so did the size and also power the the Cheka. Between 1918 and 1920, the Cheka ballooned indigenous a couple of hundred investigators come a bureaucratic and also paramilitary behemoth containing an ext than 100,000 agents.

More significantly, the Cheka operated external the preeminence of law. That acted the its own accord, investigated and arrested whoever the chose and answered come no one. The Cheka became a version for 20th century an enig police organ in totalitarian states, including the Gestapo (Nazi Germany), the Stasi (East Germany) and also the KGB (Soviet Russia).

Formation and also early years

Like most far-ranging aspects that the brand-new regime, the Cheka started with a decree indigenous Vladimir Lenin and also the Sovnarkom, dated December 19th 1917. The decree ordered the development of the “All-Russian particularly Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and also Sabotage”. The surname ‘Cheka’ to be an abbreviated type of Chrezvychainaia Komissiia, the Russian for ‘Extraordinary Commission’.

The Cheka’s directive was to “persecute and break up every acts of counter-revolution and sabotage almost everywhere Russia, no issue what their origin”, come “bring before the Revolutionary Tribunal every counter-revolutionaries and also saboteurs and to job-related out a arrangement for fighting them”, and to “make preliminary examination only, sufficient to break up ”. A week later, the expression “combating profiteering” was also included to the Cheka’s formal title. 

The decree forming the Cheka was broadly worded and also contained few specific instructions about how it need to operate. Lenin preferred to leave the Cheka’s operational details and also methods come the man he determined to lead it: Felix Dzerzhinksy.

Dzerzhinsky the ‘Iron Count’

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

Dzerzhinksy had dedicated his life come the Bolshevik cause. His ruthlessness and also fanaticism pertained to rival the of Lenin.

Born in Poland in 1877, Dzerzhinsky’s family members were rich landed gentry with insurance claims to a noble title. He to be a most unlikely radical – however by the mid-1890s, Dzerzhinsky was connected in Marxist political groups in the Baltic. He ultimately joined 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 approximately the October Revolution, he became one the Lenin’s many trusted lieutenants.

According to Louise Bryant, Dzerzhinsky adored Lenin and also was “shy, aloof and deeply puritanical” – however he was additionally ruthless and dispassionate, hardened by year of abuse and persecution. “One feels he deserve to neither know nor forgive moral weaknesses in others, due to the fact that 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 also hard-heartedness earned that the epithets ‘Iron Felix’ and also the ‘Iron Count’.

The firm grows

Ukrainian victim of the CHEKA, 1918 or 1919.

The Cheka came to be the embodiment that Dzerzhinsky’s ruthlessness. ~ above receiving the decree, Dzerzhinsky started recruiting Cheka agents. He decided Bolsheviks he can trust for the daunting task the securing the revolution, males who were neither corruptible no one squeamish.

At first, the Cheka was little and the operations to be limited. By early march 1918, over there were only 120 Chekists (Cheka agents). Increases in anti-Bolshevik activity, the onset of the civil War, the fail Left SR uprising of July 1918 and also the assassination effort on Lenin the complying with month observed the ranking of the Cheka grow exponentially.

Given a virtual empty cheque, Dzerzhinsky bespeak the recruitment of thousands of new agents. He additionally organised Cheka paramilitary units. Through the autumn of 1918, these devices numbered 33 battalions and an ext than 20,000 men. By 1919, the Cheka employed more than 100,000 people and was among the largest and best-funded agencies of the Soviet state.

Unrestrained through law

During its 4 year lifespan, the Cheka lugged out arrests, interrogations, executions and also campaigns totally of its very own accord. Dzerzhinsky was technically accountable to the Sovnarkom but only reported Cheka operations ~ they had actually 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 just how it was possible for him to “crush counter-revolution with legal niceties”. Lenin subsequently transformed Soviet regulations so that the Cheka was required to inform the Commissariat of one arrest or execution after after it had actually happened, fairly than before.

From the point, the Cheka was never limited by the preeminence of legislation or any obligation to due process or the civil liberties of suspects. Chekists operated together investigators, arresting authorities, interrogators, prosecutors, judges, juries and also executioners. Through this free rein, Cheka agents were able come persecute, detain, torture and also summarily execute thousands of suspected spies, tsarists, counter-revolutionaries, kulaks, black marketeers and also other ‘enemies the the state’.

Brutal methodology

While the Cheka’s methods drew on those offered by the Okhrana, that is size and willingness to use extra-legal killing both exceeded the tasks of the Tsarist protection police. In its very first two years, the Cheka executed 900 world suspected of trading on the black color market. Another 600 bureaucrats to be executed for “economic crimes”, mainly taking bribes. 

Official government figures suggest that just over 12,000 human being were killed by Chekists in 1918-20. Some chroniclers suggest that 200,000 or much more are an ext realistic figures.

Dzerzhinsky neither denied nor retreated from the Cheka’s brutal role, proclaiming that “we stand for hold terror, terror being absolutely indispensable in the existing revolutionary conditions”.

Creative approaches of torture

CHEKA agents likewise developed inventive however ghastly way of torture and also psychological torment. They supplied these to extract information or occasionally to create a windy deterrent.

Written records of these methods were not retained so they are anecdotally based and possibly vulnerable to exaggeration or falsification. According to chronicler Edward Peters, some of the torture approaches employed through the CHEKA contained beating, burning, branding and scalping. Alexander Solzhenitsyn to write that part Cheka victims were force-fed huge amounts the salted fish – but were prevent from drinking water.

Some of the an ext ghastly Cheka techniques are defined by chronicler Orlando Figes in his publication A People’s Tragedy:

The ingenuity of the Cheka’s torture approaches was matched just by the Spanish Inquisition. Each neighborhood Cheka had its own speciality. In Kharkov, they walk in for the ‘glove trick’ – burning the victim’s hands in boil water till the blistered skin could be peeled off: this left the victims v raw and bleeding hands and their torturers with ‘human gloves’. The Tsaritsyn Cheka sawed the victims’ bones in half. In Voronezh, castle rolled their naked victims in nail-studded barrels. In Armavir, lock crushed their skulls by tightening a animal leather strap v an stole bolt around their head. In Kiev, lock affixed a cage v rats come the victim’s torso and also heated it so that the enraged rats ate their method through the victim’s guts in an initiative to escape. In Odessa, lock chained your victims to planks and pushed them progressively into a furnace or a tank of cook water. A favourite winter torture to be to pour water on the naked victims until they ended up being living ice statues.

Not-so-secret police

The Cheka is often defined as the ‘Bolshevik mystery police’. In reality, not every one of its operations to be secretive or concealed. The presence and tasks of the CHEKA were widely known and many of its operations were carried out openly and publicly.

Though Cheka agents had actually no standard uniform, numerous wore lengthy leather coats and could be quickly identified. Every this was intentionally done: to display Russians the the CHEKA to be everywhere and dealt rapidly with those who betrayed or opposed the Bolshevik regime.

Some Cheka killings were carried out more for public effect than any kind of political purpose. In 1918, CHEKA agents showed up in the audience that a Moscow circus and also began shoot after one of its clowns, Bim Bom, made funny of the Bolsheviks and their leaders. One more example the this publicly gesturing was Lenin’s renowned order to the Penza Cheka to cave at the very least 100 men, “and make sure that the hanging takes place in full view of the people”.

A historian’s view:“Its initial mandate to be to root out the regime’s enemies: the counter-revolutionaries and also saboteurs, foe agents and speculators. In law so, propelled by revolutionary fervour and also unrestrained by law, by 1922 the Cheka had actually penetrated basically every area the life in Soviet Russia. The was energetic in assuring the food supply, in maintaining transport, in policing the Red Army and also Navy, in security the schools, and in ensuring that industries ongoing to duty and supply essential product to the state. It hunted down speculators and also hoarders, occasionally cordoning off entire neighbourhoods during its enormous operations. It surrounded villages and short peasants resisting the required requisitions the grain, frequently leaving the peasants who continued to be alive without enough to eat. It also suppressed strikes by manufacturing facility workers, the presumed rulers that the ‘workers’ state’.”Michael Kort


1. The Cheka to be the Bolshevik security pressure or an enig police. The was developed by Vladimir Lenin in a December 1917 decree and charged with identifying and also dealing v potential counter-revolutionaries.

2. The Cheka to be headed through Feliz Dzerzhinsky, a Bolshevik of polish extraction. Dzerzhinsky was loyal to the point of fanaticism and also had been hardened by years of imprisonment.

3. At first very little with simply a pair of hundred agents, the Cheka thrived rapidly throughout the turmoil and also growing the opposite of 1918. Within 2 years the had an ext than 100,000 employees.

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4. Cheka agents activate on their own accord, delivering out arrests, detention and also executions. The Cheka was no accountable to judges or courts and also there was no legal monitor of the operations.

5. The Cheka routinely used extra-legal violence and torture. This was sometimes done publicly, in stimulate to carry out a deterrent to those who might oppose the regime.