Russia Celebrates the Grim Centenary of Oppressive Police Rule

Russia celebrated a grim centenary this week. On December 20, 1917, the newborn Bolshevik dictatorship established its secret police force to crush opposition. It received the wordy title of the All-Russian Emergency Commission for Combating Counterrevolution and Sabotage, which got shortened to VChK. From the outset this new body was termed the more pronounceable Cheka.

Headed by Felix Dzierżyński, a hard-bitten Polish revolutionary, the Cheka cultivated an elite mystique. Its operatives, who proudly called themselves Chekists, were clad in long black leather coats as they tracked down enemies of the people for rough justice. There was a semi-religious aura around Dzierżyński, whom the Bolsheviks hailed as “Iron Felix” and portrayed as some sort of Red saint. He famously claimed that the ideal Soviet secret policeman possessed “clean hands, a cool head and a warm heart.”

The reality, Dzierżyński expressed more concisely in an interview with Novaya Zhizn in July of 1918:

We stand for organized terrorthis should be frankly admitted. Terror is an absolute necessity during times of revolution. Our aim is to fight against the enemies of the Soviet government and of the new order of life. We judge quickly. In most cases only a day passes between the apprehension of the criminal and his sentence.

From its birth, the Cheka engaged in terror against enemies, real and imagined. Mass executions were a daily affair and Dzierżyński’s men served as judge, jury and executioner of those deemed by the Bolsheviks to be enemies of progress. This included vast swathes of Soviet society. To house them all, the Cheka invented the GULAG, the vast empire of labor camps that stretched across the Soviet Union and imprisoned millions. Under appalling camp conditions, many never completed their sentences, succumbing to malnutrition and disease.

Read the rest at The Observer …