This Day in History – December 20th, 1917

Znak5_GPUCheka, Emergency Commission, Russian pronunciation: [tɕɪˈka]) was the first of a succession of Soviet state security organizations. It was created on December 20th, 1917, after a decree issued by Vladimir Lenin, and was subsequently led by Felix Dzerzhinsky, a Polish aristocrat turned communist. By late 1918, hundreds of Cheka committees had been created in various cities, at multiple levels including: oblast, guberniya (“Gubcheks”), raion, uyezd, and volost Chekas, with Raion and Volost Extraordinary Commissioners. Many thousands of dissidents, deserters, or other people were arrested, tortured or executed by various Cheka groups. After 1922, Cheka groups underwent a series of reorganizations, with the NKVD, into bodies whose members continued to be referred to as “Chekisty” (Chekists) into the late 1980s.

From its founding, being the military and security arm of the Bolshevik communist party, the Cheka was instrumental in the Red Terror. In 1921 the Troops for the Internal Defense of the Republic (a branch of the Cheka) numbered at least 200,000. These troops policed labor camps; ran the Gulag system; conducted requisitions of food; subjected political opponents to torture and summary execution; and put down rebellions and riots by workers or peasants, and mutinies in the desertion-plagued Red Army.

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