December 20th 1917: Cheka established

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Vladimir Lenin (1870 – 1924)

 

On this day in 1917, Russian leader Vladimir Lenin issued a decree that founded the Cheka, a secret police force. Lenin appointed the feared Felix Dzerzhinsky as head of the organisation, which soon became infamous for its brutality. The Cheka was created to deal with enemies of the regime. The organisation ran forced labour camps, put down rebellions and riots, tortured and executed political opponents. The Cheka was known for its cruel methods, such as stripping people in the middle of Russian winter and hosing them with cold water and leaving them to freeze.

 

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1922 Cheka badge

Lenin’s creation of the Cheka has led some to claim that he really was no better than the tsarist regimes he replaced, and have hailed him just a ‘Red Tsar’. This debate, and the concept of Lenin as a ‘Red Tsar’, is a common feature of Russian historiography, though the title is usually bestowed on Stalin. The Cheka began the long line of infamous Soviet state security organisations, which culminated with the KGB. Most attention is usually focused on the later instances of Soviet brutality under Stalin, through the vehicle of a secret police, but we must remember that the Soviet secret police was in fact around since 1917.

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