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How the “Czech” operated, the cruel Bolshevik secret police responsible for establishing the “Red Terror” in Russia

It was the armed wing of the government of Vladimir Ulyanov, better known as Lenin.

The Bolshevik secret police, called the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for the Fight against Counterrevolution and Sabotage—or simply “czech”—persecuted and arrested anyone who supported a “counterrevolutionary” act or who did not sympathize with the Marxist regime that was installed in 1917.

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Thanks to its sweeping powers, this security force—the first in a succession of Soviet-era secret police—is remembered to this day as one of the most brutal in recent Russian history.

But in what context was the Cheka created? What was his mission really and why was he so feared? Here we tell you.

Russian Revolution

To understand the history of the Bolshevik police, you must first go back to the convulsive political, economic and social situation that hit the Russians in 1917.

At that time, Russia was an empire but at the same time a rural country and economically backward compared to the rest of Europe. the tsar Nicholas IIlast heir to the Romanov dynasty, was an autocrat who concentrated all powers in his hands.

Tsar Nicholas II was the last heir to the Romanov dynasty. (Getty Images)

The population was divided into two social classes: the feudal nobility and the rest of the people. Four out of five Russians were working peasants and the inequalities were enormous.

But Nicholas II refused to grant reforms and periodically new revolts exploded that the tsar’s troops suppressed violently.

On the other hand, since 1914 the Russian army was fighting in the First World War. After 3 harsh years of war, their ranks did not draw happy accounts: there were more than 6 million dead, wounded and prisoners.

To this was added exorbitant inflation, food shortages and political discontent due to the lack of reforms.

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It is in this context that in February 1917, the imperial government was weakened by a series of strikes and by the pressure of the liberal opposition and the military commanders.

Within days, Tsar Nicholas II, discredited and unable to control the situation, he was forced to abdicate.

The rebels then assumed power through a provisional government committee led by the social-revolutionary Alexander Kerensky.

But Sovieta popular assembly made up of workers, peasants and soldiers, also wanted to govern.

Leon Trotsky leading his Bolshevik soldiers.  (GETTY IMAGES)

Leon Trotsky leading his Bolshevik soldiers. (GETTY IMAGES)

And within this political force, there were the Bolsheviksthe most radical group led by Lenin and Leon Trotsky.

On the night between November 7, 1917, Lenin and Trotsky stormed the Winter Palace in Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg), the seat of the provisional government. They captured all its members and started a communist regime.

Among his first measures were the liquidation of the estates and delivery of the land to the peasants, the nationalization of the banks, workers’ control over industrial production and the abolition of the privileges of the nobility and the Church.

As expected, all these reforms based on the economic and social theories elaborated by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels generated resistance in different sectors.

Thus began a Civil war between the Bolsheviks and the so-called White Army —made up of a disparate group, ranging from pro-monarchy conservatives and liberals to democratic socialists—that lasted until 1922.

The Russian Civil War occurred between the years 1917 and 1922. (GETTY IMAGES)

The Russian Civil War occurred between the years 1917 and 1922. (GETTY IMAGES)

And it is at this moment that the secret police, called the Czech, enter the scene, playing a key role in supporting the ambitious plan of Lenin and Trotsky.

What exactly was the Czech?

The Cheka started out as a small agency to investigate and deal with threats to the new regime.

But as opposition to the Bolsheviks grew, so did the size and power of this security force, growing from 40 officers to more than 100,000.

Thus, they were organized into different teams that transferred information to each other and acted in coordination.

One group was from Intelligence that investigated and kept track of “counterrevolutionaries,” as well as combating sabotage and speculation. There was also a strike team, a recruit team, and a soldier team.

Its founder and first leader, the communist revolutionary Felix Dzerzhinskywas known as “Iron Felix” (or the “Iron Count”).

Felix Dzerzhinsky was known as

Felix Dzerzhinsky was known as “Iron Felix”. (Getty Images)

“There is a reason why the man who created it was known as Iron Felix. He was very rigid, very focused on what he wanted, he dealt with the counterrevolutionaries and protected the revolution like no other,” he explains to BBC Mundo Stephen Hallacademic expert on Russia at the University of Bath, UK.

But Dzerzhinsky’s brutality continues to cause controversy in Russia to this day: while some consider him a “national hero” others hold him responsible for cruelly repressing thousands of people.

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During her four years of life, the Cheka acted of her own free will, making mass arrests, imprisonments, torture and executions even without judicial processes.

“It was more efficient than the tsarist secret police. And much more offensive, partly because the Bolsheviks didn’t control that much territory at the time,” says Hall.

“His brutality certainly created a lot of fear,” adds the academic.



They also applied repressive measures such as the confiscation of property, the deprivation of food, assaults on houses, expulsion from homes and the publication of lists of “enemies of the people”.

the red terror

The period of atrocities committed by the Czech is known as “The Red Terror”.

Some historians reduce it to the executions and Bolshevik repression that occurred in 1918 while others extend it from 1918 to the birth of the Soviet Union in 1922.

“The purpose of the Red Terror was to frighten the population so that they would not at least conspire against the Bolsheviks,” says Stephen Hall.

“They were looking for the counterrevolutionaries to give a signal, so that other people would know that if they did something against the regime they would be shot,” he adds.

Lenin needed to control the

Lenin needed to control the “counterrevolutionaries” for the success of his regime. (Getty Images)

According to the academic, the assassination attempt against Lenin in August 1918 ended up giving even more powers to the Cheka.

In fact, many believe that this was the starting point of the Red Terror: the perfect excuse to start the campaign of repression against “class enemies” or anyone aligned with the white army.

“And so it ended up being a unit to effectively control the population, the peasantry,” Hall explains to BBC Mundo.

One of the leaders of the Czech, Martyn Latsis, he thus explained the “essence” of the Red Terror:

“We are not waging a war against individual people (…). We are exterminating the bourgeoisie as a class”said.

The number of deaths from this period is disputed. Estimates range from 50,000 people to more than a million.

Soviet Union poster.  (GETTY IMAGES)

Soviet Union poster. (GETTY IMAGES)

Among those who died at the hands of the Czech, there are important Russian figures such as the prominent poet Nikolay Gumilyovaccused of plotting an uprising against the Bolsheviks.

How did it dissolve?

When the Bolsheviks emerged victorious from the civil war in 1922, and definitively seized power, the Cheka was restructured and its name changed to GPU (Unified Political Directory of the State).

However, for many historians, the first secret police of the Soviet era laid the foundations for the following intelligence forces that ruled Russia.

Many of them, analysts say, replicated the repressive measures of that time.

That’s where it comes from, in fact, the dreaded KGBthe last intelligence agency of the USSR that came to have more than 480,000 agents in addition to millions of informants who efficiently controlled the Russian population.


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Source: Elcomercio

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