On This Day: Creation of the Cheka

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Cheka badge, 1922

On this day, December 20, in 1917, the first Soviet secret police, the Cheka, was formed from a decree from Vladimir Lenin. In Russian, its acronym was Вчк (VChK), standing for Всероссийская чрезвычайная комиссия (VChK – Vserocciyskaya Chrezvychaynaya Komicciya). This stood for the “The All-Russian Emergency Commission,” a shortened form of their official name “The All-Russian Emergency Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage.”

Under the Cheka (or VCheka, depending on the source), its members, called chekists, commonly dressed in black, would arrest, imprison, torture, and execute anyone suspected of counter-revolutionary activities against Communist Russia.. This included anyone loyal to the former Tsarist regime, families of former officers, any and all clergymen, and anyone who’s property exceeded 10,000 rubles in value. Any political opponents, even fellow anti-Tsarists who may not have shared Lenin’s view of socialism, were also targeted. Many times, there would be no trial before execution.

They had unlimited power, which only became more standard and consolidated in the coming years. By 1921, the number of chekists rose to at least 200,000 members.

An estimate number of deaths under the Cheka until it was dissolved and reformed into the GPU (State Political Directorate) in 1922, vary considerably. The absolute lowest number of executions from 1918 to 1922 are 12,733; however, many experts agree that this number is substantially low. Some scholars put a more accurate statistic at 50,000, while others give a estimate of half a million deaths.

No matter the specific number, it is known that Lenin would stop at nothing to reach the so-called communist utopia. In January 1920, he stated, “We did not hesitate to shoot thousands of people, and we shall not hesitate, and we shall save the country.”

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