|VCheKa (Russian: ВЧК)|
|Всероссийская чрезвычайная комиссия
Vserossiyskaya Chrezvychaynaya Komissiya
|Preceding agency||Petrograd VRK|
|Headquarters||2 Gorokhovaya street, Petrograd
Lubyanka Square, Moscow
|Agency executive||Felix Dzerzhinsky|
Council of the People's Commissars
The Cheka (ЧК - чрезвыча́йная коми́ссия Chrezvychaynaya Komissiya, Extraordinary Commission Russian pronunciation: [tɕɛ.ˈka]) was the first of a succession of Soviet state security organizations. It was created by a decree issued on December 20, 1917, by Vladimir Lenin and subsequently led by aristocrat turned communist Felix Dzerzhinsky. After 1922, the Cheka underwent a series of reorganizations whose members continued to be referred to as "Chekisty" (Chekists) into the late 1980s.
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 (on both the right and the left) to torture and summary execution, put down (peasant) rebellions, riots by workers, and mutinies in the Red Army, which was plagued by desertions.
The name of the agency was originally The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage (Russian: Всероссийская чрезвычайная комиссия по борьбе с контрреволюцией и саботажем; Vserossiyskaya Chrezvychaynaya Komissiya po Bor'bye s Kontr-revolyutsiyei 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. Chekists of the years after the October Revolution wore leather jackets creating a fashion followed by Western communists; they are pictured in several films in this apparel. Despite changes over time, Soviet secret policemen were often referred to as "Chekists" throughout the Soviet period. 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).
In the first month and half after the October Revolution the duties of extinguishing the resistance of exploiters were assigned to the Petrograd Military Revolutionary Committee (further VRK). It represented a temporary, extraordinary body working under directives of Sovnarkom and Central Committee of RDSRP(b). The VRK has been creating new bodies of government, organizing food supply to cities and the Army, requisitioning products from bourgeoisie, sending its emissaries and agitators to provinces. One of its most important functions was the security of revolutionary order and fight against counterrevolutionary (see Anti-Soviet agitation).
On December 1, 1917 the All-Russian Central Executive Committee (VTsIK or TsIK) reviewed a proposition of reorganization of the VRK and creation instead of it the department in the fight against counterrevolutionary. On December 5 the Petrograd VRK published an announcement of dissolution and transfer the functions to the department of TsIK in the fight against counterrevolutionary. On December 6 the Sovnarkom reviewed an issue Possibility of strike by workers of government institutions on the All-Russian scale. It was decided to organize a special commission to find ways to fight such event by implementing the most energetically revolutionary measures. On the position of a chairman of the commission was offered a candidacy of Felix Dzerzhinsky (the Iron Felix) who was directed by Sovnarkom to its next meeting present a list of the commission members and compose measures in fight against sabotage. Dzerzhinsky invited the following people: 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.
On December 7 all invited except Zhydelev and Vasilevsky have gathered in Smolny for a discussion on the issue of competence and structure of the commission in fight with counterrevolution and sabotage. The obligations of the commission were as following, "liquidate to the root all of the counterrevolutionary and sabotage activities and all attempts to them in whole Russia, to hand over counter-revolutionaries and saboteurs to the revolutionary tribunals, develop measures to combat them and relentlessly apply them in life. 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 in fight against counterrevolutionary 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 it was previously anticipated, but rather under the Council of the People's Commissars.
The next day (December 8) some of the original members of the VCheka were replaced such as Averin, Ordzhonikidze, and Trifonov were replaced by V. V. Fomin, S. E. Shchukin, Ilyin, and Chernov. On the meeting of December 8 the presidium of VChK was elected of five members chaired by Dzerzhinsky. Simultaneously an issue of speculation was raised at the same meeting which was handed over to Peters to solve and report with results to one of the next meetings of the commission. A circular published on December 28 [O.S. December 15] 1917, gave the address of VCheka's first headquarters as "Petrograd, Gorokhovaya 2, 4th floor". On December 11 Fomin was ordered to organize section in fight against speculation. And in the same day VCheKa offered Shchukin to conduct arrests of counterfeiters.
In January 1918 there was organized a subsection of the anti-counterrevolutionary in fight the crime against bank officials positions. The structure of VCheKa was changing repeatedly. By march 1918 at the time of arrival to Moscow it contained following sections: against counterrevolution, speculation, nonresidents, and informational. By the end of 1918-1919 were created secretly-operative, investigatory, of transportation, military (special), operative, and instructional. Also there were informational bureau and control-revisionary collegiate. By 1921 it changed once again forming the following sections: directory of affairs, administrative-organizational, secretly-operative, economical, and foreign affairs.
In the first months of its existence VCheKa consisted of only 40 officials. Under its subordination was a team of soldiers of the Sveaborgesky regiment and a group of Red Guardsmen. On January 14, 1918 Sovnarkom ordered Dzerzhinsky to organize teams of energetic and ideological ones out of sailors in the fight against speculation. So by the spring of 1918 the commission had several teams. Beside 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 encompassed mainly the city of Petrograd and was one of the several other commissions that fought against counterrevolution, speculation, banditry, and other dangerous crimes. Other organizations included: Bureau of Military Commissars and Army-Navy investigatory commission to fight a counterrevolutionary element in the Army; Central requisite and unloading Commission to fight speculation; investigation of counterrevolutionary and major criminal offenses was conducting by the Investigatory Commission of Revtribunal. The most closely the functions of VCheKa intertwined with the Commission of V. D. Bonch-Bruyevich which beside the fight against wine pogroms was engaged in the investigation of the most major political offenses (see Bonch-Bruyevich Commission).
All results of its activities VCheKa had either transfer to the Investigatory Commission of Revtribunal or 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). Important fact is that VCheKa although was officially an independent organization from 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. Petrovsky in his turn later (November 1918) 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 Narkomjust its control over its work. Having failed in attempts to subordinate the VCheKa to Narkomjust, the Left SRs were to seek control of the Extraordinary Commission in a different way. They requested that to the Central Committee of they party was granted the right to directly enter the VCheKa their representatives. Sovnarkom has recognized the desirability of including in the composition of collegiate of the Cheka five representatives of 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(b) retained the right to approve members of collegium of the VCheKa.
Originally, the members of the Cheka were exclusively Bolshevik; however, in January 1918, left SRs also joined the organization The Left SRs were expelled or arrested later in 1918 following an attempted assassination against Lenin.
By the end of January 1918 the Investigatory Commission of Petrograd Soviet (probably same as of Revtribunal) addressed Sovnarkom with a petition 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 transfer to it. The petition of the Investigatory Commission was supported. On January 31, 1918 Sovnarkom ordered to relieve VCheKa of the investigative functions, leaving for the commission only the functions of detection, suppression, and prevention of crimes. At the meeting of the Council of People's Commissars on January 31, 1918 was proposed merger of VCheKa and the Commission of Bonch-Bruyevich. The existence of both commissions VCheKa of Sovnarkom and the Commission of Bonch-Bruyevich of VTsIK with almost the same functions and equal rights has become impractical. However, no decision at this time was accepted. It followed only two weeks later.
On February 23, 1918 VCheKa sent a radio telegram to all soviets with a petition to immediately organize in areas of emergency commissions to combat counter-revolution, sabotage and speculation, if such were not organized yet. February of 1918 saw the creation of local extraordinary commissions. One of the first was founded the Moscow Cheka. Following its example there were starting to be established sections and commissariats to combat counterrevolution in other cities. The Extraordinary Commissions arose, usually in the areas during the moments of the greatest aggravation of political situation. Such on February 25, 1918 in connection with the threat of armed intervention by the counterrevolutionary organization Union of front-liners was formed a section to combat counter-revolution at the executive committee of the Saratov Soviet. On March 7, 1918 because of transferring out of Petrograd to Moscow it was decided to create the Petrograd Cheka. On March 9 was created a section for combating counterrevolution at the Omsk Soviet. There were also created the extraordinary commissions in Penza, Perm, Novgorod, Cherepovets, Rostov, Taganrog. On March 18 VCheKa adopted a resolution On the work of VCheKa on the All-Russian scale foreseeing the formation at all locations a single-type extraordinary commissions and sent a letter, which drew attention on the necessity for the widespread establishment of the Cheka in combating counterrevolution, speculation, and sabotage. Establishment of provincial extraordinary commissions largely was completed in August 1918. At this time in the Soviet Republic was 38 gubernatorial Chekas (Gubcheks).
On June 12, 1918 the I All-Russian Conference of Cheka, adopted the Basic provisions on the organization of extraordinary commissions. There was formulated the task 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 extraordinary commissions. By the end of the year there were established 365 uyezd Cheka. 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 Cheka, with raion and volost extraordinary commissioners. In addition, in the system of local Cheka bodies were included security-border Chekas.
In the autumn of 1918 in connection with the consolidation of the political situation of the republic there have appeared a question on the elimination of uyezd, raion, and volost Chekas as well as the institution of extraordinary commissioners. On January 20, 1919 VTsIK adopted a resolution prepared by VCheKa, On the abolition of uyezd extraordinary commissions. On January 16 the presidium of VCheKa approved the draft on the establishment of the Politburo at uyezd militsiya. This decision was approved by the IV Conference of the Extraordinary Commission, held in early February 1920.
On August 3, at VCheKa was created a section of combating counterrevolution, speculation and sabotage on railways. On August 7, 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 at Gubcheks have been formed railway sections. 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-investigatory 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 July 16, 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 there began to form extraordinary commissions to combat counterrevolution on the Southern (Ukraine) Front. In late November the II All-Russian Conference of the Extraordinary Commissions accepted a decision after the report of I. N. Polukarov to establish at all frontlines and armies sections of Cheka and granted them right to appoint their commissioners in military units. On December 9, 1918 the collegiate (presumably presidium) of VCheKa had decided to form a military section, headed by M. S. Kedrov to lead the struggle against 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. The head of it was appointed Kedrov. On January 1 he issued an order in which he informed on the establishment of the Special Section. Order instructed agencies everywhere to unite the Military control and the Military sections of Chekas and to forme special sections of frontlines, armies, military districts, and guberniyas.
In November 1920 the Soviet of Labor and Defense has laid on Special Section of VCheKa the security of the state border. For that purpose there have been set up special sections for protection of borders.
On February 6, 1922 after the IX All-Russian Soviet Congress the Cheka was transformed by VTsIK into the State Political Administration or GPU, a section of the NKVD of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR).
Initially formed to fight against counter-revolutionaries and saboteurs as well as financial speculators, Cheka classified them in its own manner. Under the category of those counter-revolutionaries fell:
Already according to its name (Extraordinary) the Commission pretty much had unlimited powers and could interpret them in any way it wished. The fourth bullet pretty much was the catchall. No standard procedures were ever set up except that the Commission was supposed to sent the arrested to the Military-Revolutionary tribunals if outside of a War zone which also could have been interpreted in any way 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 libertarian 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 April 11-12, 1918, an attack on 26 anarchist political centres in Moscow occurred. 40 anarchists were killed by Cheka forces, about 500 arrested and jailed after a pitched battle took place between them. ( 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 September 5, 1918, was vividly described by the Red Army journal Krasnaya Gazeta:
On September 3, 1918 the newspaper Izvestiya published Dzerzhynsky own quote:
Let the working class squash with a mass terror the hydra of the counter-revolution! Let the enemies of the working class know that everyone stopped with weapon in arms will be shot in place, that everyone who dares to spread the smallest propaganda against the Soviet government will be promptly arrested and imprisoned in a concentration camp.
In the fall of 1918 the Cheka has openly and proudly announced that it is the terrorist organization in the name of a working class. At the direction of Lenin and Trotsky, the Cheka and Red Army state security forces (later renamed the OGPU), shot, arrested, imprisoned, and executed thousands of persons, regardless of whether or not they had actually planned rebellion against the Bolshevik government. Most of the survivors were later deported to Siberian labor camps.
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 endeavoured 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 defence, 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 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 it must 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 that it is better to arrest 100 innocent people than to risk one enemy going free 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 as the 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 Stalin's purge victims and others. 
It is believed that more than three million deserters escaped 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 dreaded '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.
The Cheka later played a major role in suppressing the Kronstadt Rebellion by Soviet sailors in 1921.
Estimates on Cheka executions vary widely. The lowest figures are provided by Dzerzhinsky’s lieutenant Martyn Latsis, limited to RSFSR over the period 1918–1920:
Experts generally agree these semi-official figures are vastly understated. Pioneering historian of the Red Terror Sergei Melgunov claims that this was done deliberately in an attempt to demonstrate the government's humanity. For example, he refutes the claim made by Latsis that only 22 executions were carried out in the first six months of the Cheka's existence by providing evidence that the true number was 884 executions. 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.” He provides the "reasonable and probably moderate" estimate of 50,000, while others provide estimates ranging up to 500,000. Several scholars put the number of executions at about 250,000. One difficulty is that the Cheka sometimes recorded the deaths of executed anarchists and other political dissidents as criminals, 'armed bandits', or 'armed gangsters'. Some believe it is possible more people were murdered by the Cheka than died in battle.
Lenin himself seemed unfazed by the killings. On 12 January 1920, while addressing trade union leaders, he said:
"We did not hesitate to shoot thousands of people, and we shall not hesitate, and we shall save the country." 
The Cheka is reported to have practiced torture. Victims were reportedly skinned alive, scalped, "crowned" with barbed wire, impaled, crucified, hanged, stoned to death, tied to planks and pushed slowly into furnaces or tanks of boiling water, and rolled around naked in internally nail-studded barrels. Chekists reportedly poured water on naked prisoners in the winter-bound streets until they became living ice statues. Others reportedly beheaded their victims by twisting their necks until their heads could be torn off. The Chinese Cheka detachments stationed in Kiev reportedly would attach an iron tube to the torso of a bound victim and insert a rat into the other end which was then closed off with wire netting. The tube was then held over a flame until the rat began gnawing through the victim's guts in an effort to escape. Anton Denikin's investigation discovered corpses whose lungs, throats, and mouths had been packed with earth.
Women and children were also victims of Cheka terror. Women would sometimes be tortured and raped before being shot. Children between the ages of 8 and 16 were imprisoned and occasionally executed.
All of these atrocities were published on numerous occasions in Pravda and Izvestiya: January 26, 1919 Izvestiya #18 articale Is it really a medieval imprisonment? («Неужели средневековый застенок?»); February 22, 1919 Pravda #12 publishes details of the Vladimir Cheka's tortures, September 21, 1922 Socialist Herald publishes details of series of tortures conducted by the Stavropol Cheka (hot basement, cold basement, scull measuring etc.).
The Chekists were also supplemented by the militarized Units of Special Purpose (the Party's Spetsnaz or Russian: ЧОН).
On August 10, 1918 Lenin sends a telegram to Penza addressed to Yevgenia Bosch to suppress the local Peasant Uprising by hanging and taken away their bread for the purpose for everybody else to know.
Cheka was actively and openly utilizing kidnapping methods. With kidnapping methods Cheka was able to extinguish numerous cases of discontent especially among the rural population. Among the notorious ones was the Tambov rebellion. Only during the Tambov's liquidation beside Cheka were utilized some RKKA units with the use of chemical weapons.
Villages were bombarded to complete annihilation like in the case of Tretyaki, Novokhopersk uyezd, Voronezh Governorate.
As a result of this relentless violence more than a few Chekists ended up with psychopathic disorders, which Nikolai Bukharin said were "an occupational hazard of the Chekist profession." Many hardened themselves to the executions by heavy drinking and drug use. Some developed a gangster-like slang for the verb to kill in an attempt to distance themselves from the killings, such as 'shooting partridges', of 'sealing' a victim, or giving him a natsokal (onomatopoeia of the trigger action).
On November 30, 1992, by the initiative of the President of the Russian Federation the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation recognized the Red Terror as unlawful act which in turn led to suspension of the Communist Party of the RSFSR.
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. A lot who was 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.
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.
Chairman - Meinkman, Moisei Uritsky (replaced Peters after his transfer), Giller, Kozlovsky, Model, Rozmirovich, I.Diesporov, Iselevich, Krassikov, Bukhan, Merbis, Paykis, Anvelt.
Comrade Eduard, Stepan Saenko, Mykola Khvylovy (Bohodukhiv uyezd).
Chairman - Martin Latsis, other members - Avdokhin, Comrade Vera, Rosa Shvarts.
Deych, Vikhman, negr Timofey, Vera (Dora) Grebenshchikova, Aleksandra (aged 17).