“On this day in 1917, wasting little time after the revolution, Vladimir Lenin called for the founding of the Bolshevik’s security apparatus and the forerunner of the KGB, the Cheka. Officially titled VCheKA, the transliteration of the acronym for the Russian words for All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counterrevolution and Sabotage, the Cheka was a brutal organisation, compared often to the Nazi’s Gestapo.
The newly formed Cheka was headed by a Polish-born nobleman named Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky. Dzerzhinsky, like many revolutionaries, had spent much of the past two decades attempting to elude the Czarist secret police. He is said to have been arrested six times and was exiled to Siberia. The Czar’s Siberian labour camps were hotbeds for revolutionary activity and were, of course, the basis for what would become the Soviet Union’s infamous Gulag.
Following the October Revolution in which the Bolshevik-led uprising effectively overthrew the state, the secret police was formed to combat counterrevolutionary activities and to root out potential saboteurs–in other words, to solidify the new dictatorship. Dzerzhinsky, or Iron Felix, as he was known, was appointed as the lead. With fanatical ruthlessness, he embarked on one of history’s most appalling undertakings: imprisoning, tutoring, and executing countless victims. Deemed “”enemies of the state,”” Dzerzhinsky went after, amongst others, the former nobility, the clergy, and the bourgeoisie, perhaps with a gusto that reflected his own insecurity with his noble background. Within four years, and through the Russian Civil War, it is thought that the Cheka was responsible for the deaths of over 140,000 people.
The Cheka would evolve into the GPU (State Political Administration) in 1922 and, under Stalin, the NKVD (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs) in 1934. Its capacity for orchestrating terror ebbed and flowed over the years, but its early days under Dzerzhinsky were only matched in horror by those under Stalin. In 1954, the security apparatus became the KGB (Committee for State Security), and despite the ongoing Cold War, it continued its obsessive preoccupation with domestic activity. In 1994, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the KGB was succeeding by the FSB (Federal Security Service). President Vladimir Putin served as the director of the FSB in 1998 before becoming prime minister for the first time.”
Credit: © 2011 Laski Collection
Caption: Founder Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky among crucial members of VCheKA, the Bolshevik secret police.