Tatyana Shvetsova




The All-Russia Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counterrevolution and Sabotage (or Cheka) – this was the name of an organization set up on December 20th 1917 (new style) under the framework of the Council of People’s Commissars. It was founded and headed by Felix Dzerzhinsky with the purpose of establishing the power and authority of the Bolsheviks with fire and sword across the entire expanse of the former Russian Empire..

We shall be quoting passages from a book by Roman Gul “Dzerzhinsky”. A participant of the ‘white movement’, an officer of the Voluntary Army, he wrote his book in emigration. Despite the quite understandable highly emotional and incriminative style, the book is undeniably honest. It is based on credible documentary evidence, which the author scrutinized, and the testimonies of witnesses to the events. 

“On December 19th 1917, in room ? 75 in Smolny, a bald man dressed in a worn jacket was dashing about, taking short, frenzied steps. This was none other than Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the October revolution, in consternation listening to a report made by executive secretary of the Council of People’s Commissars, die-hard cynic Vladimir Bonch-Bruyevich. The Secretary spoke of the reigning panic among the party leadership, the people’s growing discontent with the Bolsheviks, and the high likelihood of conspiracy and assassination attempts. Lenin interrupted Bonch with an outburst of indignation: “Can’t we find our own answer to Fouquier-Tinville, who could deal with the counterrevolution?”

Just a reminder: Fouquier-Tinville was appointed an official of the criminal court, set up to deal with the events of the antimonarchic coup in France of August 10th 1792, and was later elected by the Convention to be public prosecutor of the revolutionary tribunal with an annual salary of 8000 livres. According to Fouquier-Tinville himself, over 2400 accused passed through his hands while the revolutionary tribunal existed, and an overwhelming majority of them received the death penalty. 

When after the overthrow of Robespierre in the summer of 1794 the Convention took a decision to arrest and take Fouquier-Tinville to court, he showed up at prison himself. The trial that took place several months later ruled that he be sentenced to death, despite the fact that he scrupulously abided by the Law and never took bribes.

So, Vladimir Lenin was dreaming of just such a man like this Fouquier-Tinville for the Bolsheviks. According to the following quote from the book we are looking at today: “…on the next day the epitomized image of Fouquier-Tinville of the October revolution wasn’t long in manifesting itself. On December 20th a tall, skeletal-like man, dressed in ill-fitting soldier’s uniform, that accentuated his thin frame, appeared at the enlarged meeting of the Soviet of People’s Commissars. His name was Felix Dzerzhinsky… He spoke of terror, ways of saving … the revolution. His drawn face, sharp features and feverishly glowing eyes were those of a fanatic. He spoke with difficulty, hurriedly, nervously, as if fearful lest he omit something very important:

“Revolutions were always accompanied by deaths – there is nothing out of the common about this! At the present moment we need to make ample use of terror, making the most of it! Do not be mistaken in thinking I am searching for revolutionary lawful justifications! Justice does not become us right now… We mustn’t waste time on procrastinated debates! This is a head-on fight, to the death! It’s a case of who gets who… All I demand is that we organize a means of REVOLUTIONARY REPRISAL!”

He concluded his speech on a shout – an ill, wasted man, strongly resembling a monk, dressed in soldier’s uniform. 

They had found their Fouquier-Tinville.

Regarding the October coup, in a bout of cynical humor, among friends, Lenin liked to say with a smirk:

“Well, if this is gamble, it’s certainly on an international, historic scale!”

On December 20th 1917, when his choice fell on Dzerzhinsky, Lenin laid the cornerstone of terror for the protection of the ‘gamble on an international, historic scale.”

The protocol of the meeting where this decision was taken is kept at the Kremlin as a prize relic, for it was hurriedly jotted down in Lenin’s own hand:

“…to name the commission for fighting counterrevolution – the “All-Russia Extraordinary Commission under the Soviet of People’s Commissars’, and approve its members, headed by its Chairman Comrade Felix Dzerzhinsky…”

And so on… From that day on, Felix Dzerzhinsky raised aloft the ‘revolutionary sword’ above Russia’s head. In the terrifying number of slain victims of revolutionary terror the Soviet Fouquier-Tinville managed to outdo the Jacobeans, Spanish Inquisition, and all other manifestations of terror. By linking its particular period of dark history with the name of Felix Dzerzhinsky, Russia found itself doomed to a prolonged bloodbath.

So who was this individual, who succeeded in pushing not only Russia, but through it – perhaps, the rest of the world, back into the medieval frame of mind…There is every reason for wondering about his biography and spiritual constitution.

As the irony of Russian history and Russian revolution would have it, the man who stood at the helm of the terror organization in a Russia of the ‘workers and peasants’ was neither the one, nor the other. He was from the gentry, a landowner, a Pole. His name is damned to perdition by the entire country, yet his colleagues of the order of ‘the hammer and sickle’ have long canonized the terror chief as a ‘communist saint’, and when recalling him, are generous on tender appellations, defining the sweet nature of his soul:

“Noble Knight of love”, “tender as a dove”, “golden heart”, “a creature of indescribable spiritual beauty”, “charming individual”…

While poet Vladimir Mayakovsky (who, alas, frequently demeaned himself to writing official odes) even dedicated the following lines to this inspiring force behind All-Russian killing:

   “To Youth, reflecting on life

                             In doubt as to whom to emulate

                             Without a moment’s hesitation I say:

                              Comrade Dzerzhinsky you should imitate!

So, Dzerzhinsky accepted the Chair of Chairman of the VCheka…

Now the Bolsheviks, who lived in endless fear of riots, conspiracy, assassinations, the masterminds of a world-scale gamble, could sleep easily. They knew whom they had entrusted with unlimited power over the population.

Rising up above the party and the people, the leader of the VCheka evolved into a terrifying figure, reminiscent of a thinking guillotine. With the setting up of the VCheka, all actual power in the country passed into the hands of Dzerzhinsky. Apart from him, nobody could exert any influence on the leader of the revolution Vladimir Lenin. 

A Bolshevist authority, People’s Commissar Leonid Krasin testifies:

“Lenin has become quite irresponsive, and if anyone can influence him it’s “Comrade Felix” Dzerzhinsky, an even greater fanatic, and, in actual fact, a clever manipulative genius, who intimidates Lenin with threats of counterrevolution, which he says will destroy everyone, Lenin first and foremost. While Lenin, I am quite convinced of this, is the greatest of cowards, trembling for his hide. Dzerzhinsky plays this card really well.”

“While initially it was planned to endow the VCheka with the office of ‘preliminary investigation’,” writes Roman Gul, “Dzerzhinsky insisted the VCheka be given the authority to committing direct reprisals and violence on the spot, on the basis of, as he put it “class and revolutionary conscience”. Thus, they were granted the right to execute.” 

Having secured the much-sought post of Chairman of the VCheka and brandishing the ‘sword of the revolution’, Dzerzhinsky thus characterized his task:

“I am in the fire of struggle. It’s the life of a soldier who knows no peace since he has to save a house on fire. No time to think of his own and himself. Only work and struggle… Yet, in this fearful struggle my heart remains alive, the same as it always was. All of my time is spent towards working incessantly at my post. I have been delegated to the forefront of the fire, and all my will is focused on fighting and looking with wide-open eyes directly at the imminent danger, and on ruthlessly tearing apart my enemies in the manner of a devoted guard dog.”

“Strong words. And terrifying inasmuch as the one who wrote them believed in his revolutionary calling.”

…Dzerzhinsky went home to visit his family only on big holidays. He worked round the clock, frequently personally interrogating the arrested.

…In this life of a ‘zealot’, as it transpires, Dzerzhinsky found only one form of entertainment – in personally interrogating well-known, prominent people among the arrested… His office witnessed the interrogation of all manner of political rivals, Mensheviks, monarchists, democrats, the clergy…

…Dzerzhinsky perceived the essence of his ‘terror’ as:

“Proletarian coercion in all its forms, beginning with executions, is a method of delivering a communist man out of the material of a capitalist epoch.”

At a time when in the post-October chaos a majority of branches of state government were  in a state of complete collapse, the punitive apparatus of the new state, the communist secret police -  developed at lightening speed.

The Kremlin owes this entirely to the VCheka…And Dzerzhinsky, as the head of the secret police, was invaluable. This formerly exiled revolutionary suddenly evinced rare policing skills, augmented by awesome work efficiency. Standing at the helm of the All-Russia Extraordinary Commission, Dzerzhinsky besides all else, created a previously unheard-of in the world academy of espionage and provocation, which was a symbiosis of past experience of Czarist security forces and revolutionary underground expertise…

A colleague and comrade-in-arms of Felix Dzerzhinsky – Vyacheslav Menzhinsky noted:

“In 1918 the All-Russia Extraordinary Commission , or VCheka, led by Dzerzhinsky, was already a state within a state, wielding immediate power over the Kremlin. This was the very heart of the communist center.”

At one time   Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin advised the French revolutionaries when seizing power to ‘awaken the devil in the popular masses’ and ‘unleash the most ugly of passions’… This is exactly the method Dzerzhinsky applied in 1917.

Dzerzhinsky burst open the society’s underworld, channeling into the VCheka an army of pathological killers and criminal elements. He was perfectly aware of the terrible force of his army. However, anxious to instill immediate communism by means of firing squads, already in 1918 Dzerzhinsky swiftly  spread out a bloody web of extraordinary commissions all across the vast expanses of Russia: these were Gubernia, uyezd, city, village, transport, frontline, factory commissions, augmented by so-called ‘military-revolutionary tribunals’, ‘special departments’, ‘extraordinary headquarters’, ‘punitive detachments’. 

From the social basement, broken open by an ‘armed psychopath’, a vast stream of sadistical morons filed into the ranks of these commissions, ready material for criminal psychologist and psychopathologist. With their help, Dzerzhinsky turned Russia into a basement of the VCheka…

In the French Revolution, Danton’s followers said of Robespierre that if he and Sain-Juste were given a free hand, “all that would be left of France would be a desert with some dozen or so monks”. This is the road Dzerzhinsky and his army were heading for, in their ultimate faith in terror as a system.

Take a closer look at Dzerzhinsky’s comrades-in-arms in the struggle for the ideals of world revolution. These warriors of communism are particularly fascinating, since in the words of Dzerzhinsky, they were “on the forefront of the line of fire”. 

Dzerzhinsky’s principle two colleagues at the VCheka were two famous Latvians, members of the collegium of the VCheka Yakov Peters and Martin Latsis. 

…When in 1917 Yakov Peters, dressed in the invariable VCheka uniform – a leather jacket - all festooned with mausers, strode into the Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, where there were also socialists, the latter met him with indignant cries of “A guard!” Yet, Peters was not at all fazed, replying brazenly: 

“Yes, I am proud to be a guard of the working people!”

Just two years later, after many bloodbaths that Peters generously exposed the Russian proletariat to, this easy rider, arriving in Tambov Gubernia to put down the peasants’ unrest there over the communist exactions, issued the curt order:

“To unleash merciless red terror against all families of rebellious peasant folk, arresting everyone over 18 years of age, regardless of sex, and if the revolt continues – execute them, as hostages; imposing extraordinary contributions on the villages, threatening those who do not pay up promptly with confiscation of land and property.”

So much for this “guard of the working people’s interests!” The October revolution transformed him into one of the all-powerful characters of the secret communist police.

Yakov Peters has his historical quotes:

“Any revolutionary knows that a revolution is not carried out in silk gloves.”

And more: 

“Any attempt of the counter-revolution to lift up its head shall encounter such violence, that everything referred to as ‘red terror’ shall pale in comparison.”

It was Dzerzhinsky’s right hand man, Yakov Peters, the hangman of dozens of Russian towns, who wrote the most bloody of pages in the chronicle of communist terror. It was through him that the Don region, Petrograd and Kiev were flooded with blood; his firing squads decimated the population of Krondshtadt; his atrocious brutality was notorious in Tambov. The second member of the VCheka collegium, Dzerzhinsky’s left-hand man, was Martin Sudrabs, a Latvian, who was notoriously known to all Russia under the name of Latsis. This lumpen-proletarian, a top terror official, like Peters, emerged from the bolshevist underground. When joining the VCheka in 1917 Latsis, simultaneously becoming ‘a comrade of the Minister of Internal Affairs’, thus summed up his state tasks:

“To turn everything upside down!”

He formulated the philosophy of his terror quite simply:

“The VCheka is the dirty work of the revolution. It’s a game of heads… If the work goes as planned, the heads of the counter-revolutionaries shall roll, but I make few mistakes, we might lose our own heads… All the customary norms of war, put down in various conventions, according to which prisoners are not executed, etc. are hilarious: the law of civil war demands that you slaughter all those wounded in action against you.”

Following this law, Martin Latsis bathed Russia and Ukraine in blood. 

“VCheka isn’t a court, a tribunal or investigative commission,” he said. “It is a military body, acting along the inner front. It does not serve to judge the enemy, but strikes it down…Does not display charity, but decimates each one… Do not seek to find proof during the investigation that the accused acted in word and deed against the Soviet power. The first question you should pose is: what class does he belong to, what is his education, upbringing, origins and profession. It is these questions that should determine the fate of the accused. There lies the essence of red terror.”

Later, in Moscow, during debates on the issue of the prerogatives of the VCheka, he phrased it even more simply:

“Why bother with these questions regarding origins and education. I shall just walk into their kitchen and look into the pot: if there is meat there – he is an enemy of the people! To be stood before a firing squad!”

These people were the pride of the All-Russia Extraordinary Commission, to be cited as an example for all others to follow. Now you can imagine in what hands lay the fate of Russia, its people…




Copyright © 2006 The Voice of Russia

Originally published at     12/15/2005


 Illustrations: A.Tishkov, “Dzerzhinsky”, Molodaya Gvardiya, Moscow, 1974