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Cheka and Nine Circles of Hell

On this date 100 years ago, the infamous All-Russian Emergency Commission for Combating Counter-revolution and Sabotage (Всероссийская чрезвычайная комиссия по борьбе с контрреволюцией и саботажем), ВЧК for short, or Cheka, the first Soviet secret police, was formed. This organisation was the principle organ and instrument for the implementation and enforcement of the "Dictatorship of the Proletariat" and the "Red Terror."

Even though Red Terror was officially announced in September of 1918, the Cheka actions at the end of 1917 were not much different than the latter ones. Those actions become only more severe and routine in time. In 1921, there were already 130 labour camps with tens of thousands of prisoners in the country. According to Felix Dzerzhinsky, the first leader of Cheka, the camps were designed for those who did not publically act against the Soviet authorities, because for the ones who did "a higher measure of social protection" was reserved. A branch of Cheka, Troops for the Internal Defence of the Country, numbered at least 200.000 people.

In the official publication of the commission, "Red Terror," Martin Latsis, one of the most prominent agents of the Cheka, wrote the following about its activities: "We are not waging war against individuals. We are exterminating the bourgeois class. Do not look in investigation materials for evidence that a suspect has acted in word or deed against the Soviet authorities. The first question we must ask him is what class he belongs to, what his origin, education, profession are. These questions must determine his fate. This is the essence of the Red Terror."

Depending on Cheka committees in various cities, the methods of torture preceding execution included: being 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, or rolled around naked in nail-studded barrels. Chekists also 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.

Almost all the torturers ended up in the same way as their victims. In 1937, Latsis, now with a much "cleaner" job at the head of the Plekhanov Institute, was arrested and taken through the same circles of hell he applied to his prisoners. He was interrogated multiple time, he gave false testimonies about his colleagues, party comrades, friends. He was shot at the notorious Butovo shooting range in 1938. "This system, which the Chekists created, was terrible also in that it broke them as well. They were not winners in this struggle; rather, they simply created a Moloch which they couldn't control," Russian historian Igor Garkavyi explains.

Felix Dzerzhinsky ended his life journey in 1926 after a heart attack caused by a nervous breakdown, which took place right after a two-hour speech he delivered at the meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. In this speech, upset about bad administration of the country, he vehemently accused two party comrades of "politicking." Poisoning hasn't been ruled out.

Cheka was officially terminated on February 6, 1922, when it was reshaped into GPU (Государственное политическое управление - State Political Directorate). According to the results of a wide research, about 140,000 people were shot in Russia during a little more than three years of Cheka's existence. Those who were killed in or near the combat during the Russian Civil War (1917-1922) are not included in this number.

Svetozar Postic

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