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

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The Cheka (sometimes referred to as VeCheka) to be the much-feared Bolshevik protection agency, formed to identify and eradicate counter-revolutionary activity. The Cheka is sometimes referred to together the Bolshevik ‘secret police’, though many Russians to be well aware of the existence and activities.


The Cheka was formed in the wake of the October 1917 revolution, as a small agency to investigate and resolve threats come the new regime. It was to it is in the “sword and also shield of the revolution”, defending the brand-new regime versus its adversaries within. Its very first leader to be Felix Dzerzhinsky.

As opposition come the Bolshevik regime prospered through 1918, for this reason did the size and power that the Cheka. Between 1918 and also 1920, the Cheka ballooned native a couple of hundred investigators come a bureaucratic and also paramilitary behemoth containing more than 100,000 agents.

More significantly, the Cheka operated exterior the rule of law. The acted of its very own accord, investigated and arrested whoever it chose and also answered to no one. The Cheka ended up being a version for 20th century an enig police organ in totalitarian states, consisting of the Gestapo (Nazi Germany), the Stasi (East Germany) and also the KGB (Soviet Russia).

Formation and early years

Like most significant aspects the the brand-new regime, the Cheka began with a decree from Vladimir Lenin and the Sovnarkom, dated December 19th 1917. The decree bespeak 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 also break up every acts of counter-revolution and also sabotage anywhere Russia, no matter what their origin”, come “bring prior to the Revolutionary Tribunal every counter-revolutionaries and also saboteurs and also to occupational out a arrangement for fighting them”, and to “make preliminary examination only, enough to rest up ”. A main later, the phrase “combating profiteering” to be also added to the Cheka’s formal title. 

The decree developing the Cheka was extensively worded and also contained couple of specific instructions about how it need to operate. Lenin wanted to leaving the Cheka’s operational details and methods come the guy he made decision to command it: Felix Dzerzhinksy.

Dzerzhinsky the ‘Iron Count’

Felix Dzerzhinsky, the ruthless polishing Bolshevik placed in charge of the CHEKA

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

Born in Poland in 1877, Dzerzhinsky’s household were wealthy landed gentry with claims to a noble title. He was a many unlikely radical – yet by the mid-1890s, Dzerzhinsky was associated in Marxist political teams in the Baltic. He ultimately joined Lenin’s Bolshevik faction in 1906.

Dzerzhinksy spent much more than a decade in prisons and also labour camps prior to his release during the 1917 amnesty. In the lead approximately the October Revolution, he came to be one that 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 also dispassionate, hardened by years of abuse and also persecution. “One feels he have the right to neither understand nor forgive moral weaknesses in others, because he self possesses that fanatical devotion which has made it possible for him to travel the hard, bitter roadway where his ideals lead”, Bryant wrote.

Dzerzhinsky’s incorruptible fanaticism and also hard-heartedness earned him the epithets ‘Iron Felix’ and also the ‘Iron Count’.

The agency grows

Ukrainian victim of the CHEKA, 1918 or 1919.

The Cheka came to be the embodiment the Dzerzhinsky’s ruthlessness. On receiving the decree, Dzerzhinsky began recruiting Cheka agents. He decided Bolsheviks he can trust for the an overwhelming task the securing the revolution, guys who to be neither corruptible nor squeamish.

At first, the Cheka was little and the operations to be limited. By early march 1918, over there were just 120 Chekists (Cheka agents). Increases in anti-Bolshevik activity, the start of the civil War, the fail Left SR uprising that July 1918 and the assassination attempt on Lenin the adhering to month observed the ranks of the Cheka flourish exponentially.

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

Unrestrained through law

During its four year lifespan, the Cheka brought out arrests, interrogations, executions and campaigns entirely of its very own accord. Dzerzhinsky to be technically account to the Sovnarkom but only reported Cheka operations after ~ they had actually taken place.

In 1918, the Cheka came into problem with the Commissariat that Justice, i beg your pardon demanded to be notified prior to the arrest of suspects. This infuriated Dzerzhinsky, that queried just how it was feasible for him to “crush counter-revolution through legal niceties”. Lenin subsequently altered Soviet regulations so the the Cheka was compelled to inform the Commissariat of an arrest or execution after ~ it had happened, fairly than before.

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

Brutal methodology

While the Cheka’s methods drew on those supplied by the Okhrana, its size and willingness to usage extra-legal death both surpassed the activities of the Tsarist defense police. In its very first two years, the Cheka executed 900 people suspected of trading on the black color market. Another 600 bureaucrats to be executed for “economic crimes”, largely taking bribes. 

Official government numbers suggest that simply over 12,000 civilization were killed by Chekists in 1918-20. Some historians suggest that 200,000 or an ext are an ext realistic figures.

Dzerzhinsky no denied nor retreated native the Cheka’s brutal role, advertising that “we was standing for organised terror, terror gift absolutely indispensable in the current revolutionary conditions”.

Creative approaches of torture

CHEKA agents also developed inventive but ghastly way of torture and psychological torment. They used these to extract details or sometimes to develop a windy deterrent.

Written records of these techniques were not retained so they space anecdotally based and also possibly prone to exaggeration or falsification. Follow to chronicler Edward Peters, some of the torture approaches employed by the CHEKA consisted of beating, burning, branding and scalping. Alexander Solzhenitsyn to write that some Cheka victims to be force-fed big amounts the salted fish – however were prevent from drinking water.

Some that the more ghastly Cheka approaches are explained by historian Orlando Figes in his book 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 because that the ‘glove trick’ – burn the victim’s hands in boiling water till the blistered skin can be peeled off: this left the victims with raw and also bleeding hands and their torturers with ‘human gloves’. The Tsaritsyn Cheka sawed that victims’ bones in half. In Voronezh, they rolled their naked victim in nail-studded barrels. In Armavir, castle crushed your skulls through tightening a animal leather strap v an iron bolt approximately their head. In Kiev, castle affixed a cage v rats to the victim’s torso and heated the so the the enraged rats ate their means through the victim’s guts in an effort to escape. In Odessa, castle chained your victims come planks and pushed them slowly into a heater or a tank of cook water. A favourite winter torture was to pour water top top the naked victims until they became living ice cream statues.

Not-so-secret police

The Cheka is often explained as the ‘Bolshevik an enig police’. In reality, not every one of its operations to be secretive or concealed. The presence and activities of the CHEKA were commonly known and many that its operations were performed openly and also publicly.

Though Cheka agents had no conventional uniform, plenty of wore long leather coats and also could be quickly identified. All this was deliberately done: to show Russians the the CHEKA was everywhere and also dealt quickly with those who betrayed or opposed the Bolshevik regime.

Some Cheka killings were lugged out much more for public impact than any type of political purpose. In 1918, CHEKA agents appeared in the audience that a Moscow circus and also began shooting after among its clowns, Bim Bom, made funny of the Bolsheviks and also their leaders. An additional example of this publicly gesturing to be Lenin’s famed order come the Penza Cheka to cave at the very least 100 men, “and make sure that the hanging takes ar in complete view the the people”.

A historian’s view:“Its original mandate to be to root the end the regime’s enemies: the counter-revolutionaries and saboteurs, enemy agents and speculators. In act so, propelled by revolutionary fervour and unrestrained by law, by 1922 the Cheka had penetrated virtually every area of life in Soviet Russia. That was active in assuring the food supply, in preserving transport, in policing the Red Army and also Navy, in monitoring the schools, and also in ensuring that industries ongoing to duty and provide essential product to the state. It pursued down speculators and hoarders, sometimes cordoning off whole neighbourhoods during its huge operations. It surrounding villages and also short peasants resisting the forced requisitions of grain, regularly leaving the peasants who stayed alive without sufficient to eat. It also suppressed strikes by factory workers, the presumed rulers that the ‘workers’ state’.”Michael Kort


1. The Cheka was the Bolshevik security pressure or secret police. That was created by Vladimir Lenin in a December 1917 decree and also charged with identifying and dealing through potential counter-revolutionaries.

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

3. Originally very small with simply a couple of hundred agents, the Cheka flourished rapidly during the turmoil and also growing opposition of 1918. Within two years that had more than 100,000 employees.

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4. Cheka agents activate on their very own accord, delivering out arrests, detention and executions. The Cheka was not accountable come judges or courts and also there was no legal monitor of that is operations.

5. The Cheka routinely offered extra-legal violence and also torture. This was periodically done publicly, in bespeak to provide a deterrent come those who can oppose the regime.