Terror and Policing in Revolutionary Russia

Agatha Leach


This research guide intends to serve as a resource for the study of the institutionalization of state control under the Bolshevik regime in the period immediately following the Russian Revolution. The time period here is focused towards the first five years of Bolshevik power, from 1917 to 1922. Within this space, the leadership of Lenin and the developing nature of the party-state apparatus provide a lens through which to view and understand the significance of the creation of state’s secret police organization, the Cheka (or All-Russian Extraordinary Commission to Combat Counterrevolution, Speculation and Administrative Crimes). The Cheka was established by decree on 7 December 1917; it was tasked with combating sabotage and counterrevolution by carrying out preliminary investigations and defending Soviet power.

The central issue in the study of political systems is the nature of the state and the preservation of the state, and innate to this are control and accountability. The character of the state and the nature of its political leadership can be understood in its methodological approach to the preservation of internal order. The identification of threats to the established order and the punishments dispensed to those who destabilize that order further characterize and color the complexion of the state’s political culture. In order to approach a topic such as the establishment of the Cheka, it is necessary to consider the broader trends and legacies surrounding policing and terror in Russia as well as in Europe. Several resources have been provided which seek to offer a place to ground such a research effort.

By the 19th century, Europe’s understanding of bourgeois and aristocratic power shifted under the rise of terrorism and ideologies seeking to debase traditional social stratification. New definitions of “political crimes” expanded to address the new attempts to uproot the established order. The situation of imperial Russia was unique among European states. While western European liberalism had made an indelible impression on certain aspects of Russian political culture, its location on the periphery of Europe—both geographically and culturally—remained visible in its persisting patrimonial governance. At the brink of revolution in the 1910s, Russia’s socio-political environment was one deeply shaped by its feudal-absolutist past. Further, the adversarial relationship between the tsarist regime and the ruling elites and the subjected populations resulted in modern political police systems colored by the desire for state control against insurrection. The legacies of tsarist rule should be considered in the study of police under the early Bolshevik regime.

The peculiar role of the Cheka within the Soviet Union offers an area of state policy in which to examine a feature of the regime—the reliance on a police agency to harness the proletarian masses. An examination of the role of the Cheka within Soviet government, society, and politics should highlight the distinctive character of the state.

The history of the Cheka has yet to be fully explored. The existing historiography harbors various weakness and problematic themes. First, Soviet historiography remains largely apologetic for the activities of the Chekists and is based off of assessments by Soviet leaders of the time who supported the agency. Some historical monographs lapse into romanticized tales of heroism, espionage, and thrill, failing to offer wholly academic studies of the agency. One of the most significant obstacles in studying the Cheka lies in the fact that the documents pertinent to the agency remain in closed Soviet archives. Thus, many primary materials remain secret or are released, either fully or with redactions. These topics lack good recent scholarship, most works dating to the Cold War era. One should keep in mind the geopolitical situation of the Cold War and the perspectives of the authors when pursuing these topics.

Historical Context of Russian State and Culture in 20th Century

Russia and the Russians: A History

This text is an attempt to seek the roots of Russians’ perception of national ambivalence, focusing on a variety of identities Russia has assumed over the centuries. The text considers the paradoxical combination of colossal strength and crippling weakness that has imparted to the Russian Empire its salient characteristics: its territorial expanse, its multi-ethnicity, its economic underdevelopment, and its pervading marginality against Europe. The text covers a large time frame (from the first appearance of the Rus in 860 to Russia in 2010), but has several chapters on the rise of mentalities of terror and the social transformations of Marxism. The text also explains in good prose the social developments that preclude and result from the 1917 Revolution. Themes covered are agrarian dislocation, failed tsarist reform, nationalism, social change, polarization, utopian ideologies, radical society, and the onslaught of terror.

Hosking, Geoffrey. Russia and the Russians: A History. 2nd ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011.


Revolution, Reform, and Social Justice: Studies in the Theory and Practice of Marxism

This collection of essays on the nature of Marxist attempts to address the plurality of social manifestations of its ideology. Hook approaches his analysis with a determined notion of Marxism’s inherent wrongness, which does distort his understanding. The social science presented here to some extent is Hook’s critique of the defense of the Soviet dictatorship over the proletariat. Hook is strongly influenced by the Cold War in examining only the views of Stalinists and their allies on democracy. Of particular interest are the chapters pertaining to the ideology of violence, the human costs of revolution, and blind obedience and civil disobedience.

Hook, Sidney. Revolution, Reform, and Social Justice: Studies in the Theory and Practice of Marxism. New York: New York University Press, 1975.


Historical Context of Revolutionary Russia

Critical Companion to the Russian Revolution, 1914-1921

This volume consists of free-standing essays thematically organized. Each section of the volume addresses an aspect of the revolution, presenting in an accessible manner recent research into the materials handled. In addition, the volume contains an index which includes supplementary material on numerous participants in the revolution. The work, intended for an audience with minimal prior knowledge on the subject, concisely presents the necessary structural concepts relating to various aspects of the revolution and serves as a starting point for further research.

Acton, Edward, Vladimir Iu. Cherniaev, and William G. Rosenberg, eds. Critical Companion to the Russian Revolution, 1914-1921. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1997.


The Russian Revolution

This a concise volume on the Russian Revolution that emphasizes its social aspects in the period from February 1917 to the Great Purges of 1937-8. Fitzpatrick concentrates on three motifs, that of modernization and revolution as a means of escaping backwardness, revolution as the mission of the proletariat and the Bolshevik Party, and revolutionary violence and terror in the Soviet state. This work serves a survey of the course of the revolution within a realm limited to the experience within Russia.

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. The Russian Revolution. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.


The Soviet Experiment: Russia, the USSR, and the Successor States

Suny examines a variety of complex themes of Soviet history on the premise of the history of the Soviet Union conceived in a series of three revolutions. In the course of the text, Suny attempts to recover the real achievements of Soviet power as well as the unintended results of the Soviet experience. Chapter 3 covers “Socialism and Civil War,”  looking at the new Soviet state in the wake of long and protracted crises and the emergence of a particular type of authoritarian, centralized, and prepared government apparatus. Suny specifically examines the founding of the new state in war, peace, and terror.

Suny, Ronald Grigor. The Soviet Experiment: Russia, the USSR, and the Successor States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.


The Bolsheviks in Power: The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd

This volume attempts to reconstruct the dynamics of the earliest development of authoritarian Soviet political system against the backdrop of Petrograd’s post-October political, economic, social, and military crises. Rabinowitch reconstructs these to shed light on one of the central historiographical issues in early Soviet history, the importance of developing circumstances and responses to them as opposed to a preconceived Bolshevik revolutionary ideology or a firmly established pattern of dictatorial behavior, in shaping Soviet Russia’s centralized, authoritarian political system. Rabinowitch’s sources lie in unpublished sources of recorded minutes of meetings of Bolshevik committees and councils in Petrograd, revealing the internal debates within the Party. He examines pertinent case files of the Cheka, as well as those of local investigative agencies.

Rabinowitch, Alexander. The Bolsheviks in Power: The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2007.


The First Socialist Society:  A History of the Soviet Union from Within

The work intends to serve as a textbook on Soviet history from 1917 to the 1980s (its time of publication) in a rounded picture of Soviet society. The text focuses on Stalinism and deliberately neglects foreign affairs, primarily discussing the history of Soviet politics, repression, and dissent. Hosking largely paints an image of Soviet society existing under a totalitarian regime. It is a useful text in that it serves as a handle to grasp the synthesis of trends in early Soviet society, but poses a serious problem in its pervading bias and Cold War mentality. It perpetuates Cold War views and should be supplemented with more balanced readings.

Hosking, Geoffrey. The First Socialist Society: A History of the Soviet Union from Within. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1985.


Peasant Russia, Civil War: The Volga Countryside in Revolution (1917-1921)

Figes’ text details the relationship between the Bolsheviks and the peasantry, the overwhelming majority of the Russian population, during the formative years of the Soviet regime. He investigates how Bolshevik victory was made possible by the transformation of the Russian countryside in the years leading up to and during the revolution.

Figes, Orlando. Peasant Russia, Civil War: The Volga Countryside in Revolution (1917-1921). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.


Peasants, Political Science, and the Early Soviet State

Hudson’s work investigates the evolution to collectivization through the prism of the powerful institution of the political police. He examines the flow of information from police agents in the countryside in the 1920s to the Cheka/OGPU headquarters and through that office to key party and state leaders in order explain how and why policy makers chose to interact with the peasantry. The work essentially attempts to answer the questions: how did the relationship between political policy, peasantry and the ruling elite work, and what was the political culture within which the political police and peasantry interact? The study relies on field reports (svodki) from the countryside. This work is a recent piece of scholarship, and is particularly helpful in its analysis of the state, peasants, and political police to 1921.

Hudson, Hugh D. Peasants, Political Science, and the Early Soviet State. New York: Palgrave MacMillian, 2012.


Bread and Justice: State and Society in Petrograd, 1917-1922

This volume addresses the relationship between society and social activity in its many forms and the emergent elements of the Soviet state in revolutionary Petrograd. She explores the practical activities of economic production, food distribution, efforts to maintain civil order, the activities of the Cheka and the judicial system, the allocation of housing services, and a range of other political and social activities. McAuley argues that these activities symbolize the overarching administrative and moral tasks of state-building that were presented to the Bolsheviks. Of particular interest is the chapter on the Cheka, which attempts to show how an array of different factors were responsible for the role played by the Cheka during and after the Civil War, and for defining Bolshevik attitudes towards opposition.

McAuley, Mary. Bread and Justice: State and Society in Petrograd, 1917-1922. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.


War and Revolution: Lenin and the Myth of Revolutionary Defeatism

The work aims to dispel a ‘myth’ fabricated in 1924 that claimed that “revolutionary defeatism” became a permanent and fixed part of the Lenin canon and a fundamental principle of Leninism. Draper argues that the persuasiveness of Lenin’s revolutionary defeatism was dependent on a series of implicitly

Draper, Hal. War and Revolution: Lenin and the Myth of Revolutionary Defeatism. Edited by E. Haberkern. Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: Humanities Press International, 1996.


Police Organs

December 1917: Cheka (All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution, Speculation, Sabotage, and Misuse of Authority).
February 1922: Cheka incorporated in NKVD (as GPU).
July 1923: OGPU
July 1934: Reincorporated in NKVD (as GUGB).
February 1941: NKGB
July 1941: Reincorporated  in NKVD (as GUGB).
April 1943: NKGB
March 1946: MGB
October 1947-November 1951: Foreign intelligence transferred to K1.
March 1953: Combined with MVD to form enlarged MVD.
March 1954: KGB

Historical and Political Context of Police Organs

The Russian Secret Police: Muscovite, Imperial Russian, and Soviet Political Security Operations 1565-1970.

Hingley looks at the development of the Russian police tradition against a backdrop of the larger themes of political evolution within Russia. In revolutionary Russia of the 20th century, Hingley contrasts Bolshevik power with the of the Tsarist regime. He looks at the continuation of long-established policing ideologies as well as the emergence of new police functions in the post-1917 setting.

Hingley, Ronald. The Russian Secret Police: Muscovite, Imperial Russian, and Soviet Political Security Operations 1565-1970. London: Hutchinson & Co., 1970.


The Tsarist Secret Police in Russian Society, 1880-1917

Zuckerman focuses on the operations of infiltration into revolutionary organizations in Russia, specifically on the internal agents of the Okhrana who served the tsarist department of police. The work presents the unique position of the Russian state at the end of the nineteenth century, where its political police acted independent of the limits imposed by tsarist law. Zuckerman ultimately concludes that the leadership of the tsarist political police sought control over society and resulted in a deeply embedded police culture that persists in Russian society.

Zuckerman, Fredric S. The Tsarist Secret Police in Russian Society, 1880-1917.  New York: New York University Press, 1996.


Organizations in Focus

Fontanka 16: The Tsars’ Secret Police

This work, based largely off of Soviet documents declassified in 1989, looks at the Russian tsarist secret police, the Okhranka, during the period of the imperial regime leading up to the Revolution of 1917. The work further offers the development of a secret police organization that was deeply rooted in tsarist Russia as providing a model for Soviet police organizations. Ruud and Stephanov examine the methodology, psychology, and morality of the police forces and their civilian opponents, focusing particular attention to the Russian police involvement with antisemitism.

Ruud, Charles A., and Sergei A. Stepanov. Fontanka 16: The Tsars’ Secret Police. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999.


“The Okhrana”: The Russian Department of Police; a Bibliography

This volume is a bibliography of about 800 entries, detailing published materials and manuscripts in the Hoover Institution Library relating to the activities of the Okhrana, the secret police of the Russian Empire. The major sections handle  general background matters, organization, personnel, and operational methodology. Latter sections include glossaries of Russian security, police, and intelligence terms, as well as periodicals and serial publications consulted throughout the text.

Smith, Edward Ellis, and Rudolf Lednicky. “The Okhrana”: The Russian Department of Police; a Bibliography. Stanford: Hoover Institution, 1967.


The Cheka

This paper is located in a publication on Soviet affairs, This paper forms one of the main bibliographic sources to many works on this topic, but specifically to George Leggett’s Lenin’s Political Police and Ronald Hingley’s The Russian Secret Police (both of which are included in this guide). Scott’s paper served as one of the pioneering studies of the Cheka in western academic circles. It sought to assemble the then available evidence (1950s) concerning the origin and early development of the Soviet political police. It is a brief paper that is most helpful in its later referencing in more substantial academic pieces.

Scott, E.J. The Cheka. In Soviet Affairs: Number One. St. Anthony’s Papers, Number I. London: Chatto & Windus, 1956.


The Cheka: Lenin’s Political Police

This work appeared as one of the first substantial critical studies of the first Soviet political police organization. It takes as its point of departure the pioneering work of E.J. Scott, The Cheka (see above). Leggett seeks to answer the question of how Lenin, as a “self-appointed Marxist Messiah” (1), come to create the Cheka? He considers the possibilities of its creation as both a premeditated act, a random circumstance, and as an inevitable consequence of Lenin’s policy. The work emphasizes the genesis of the Cheka, its Leninist roots, and the significant part played in its early history by the Left Socialist Revolutionaries. The work further contains a variety of appendixes and glossaries useful in their providing of primary documents, name clarification, and statistics.

Leggett, George. The Cheka: Lenin’s Political Police. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981.


Chekisty: A History of the KGB

The intent of the book is to probe the history of the Soviet Union as a counterintelligence state, focusing largely on the internal dynamics of the party-state security condominium. Dziak explores the concept of the Soviet Union as the premier counterintelligence state whose roots lie in the conspiratorial and provocative roots of both the Bolshevik Party and the state security structure that it generated. Relevant chapters cover the formation of the state security tradition, the defense of the revolution under Lenin, the emergence of the Cheka, and the active counterintelligence measures and their legacy in the tsarists’ Okhrana.

Dziak, John J. Chekisty: A History of the KGB. Lexington, Massachusetts: Lexington Books, 1988.


The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KBG

This large volume is a collaboration between historian Christopher Andrew and former KGB officer and Soviet defector Vasili Mitrokhin, based on the materials secretly transcribed by Mitrokhin from the KGB’s foreign intelligence archives (the First Chief Directorate (FCD)). The work presents a narrative around Soviet espionage in various countries, focusing largely on the Cold War between the USSR and the West. Presenting its history chronologically, then, the first section of the work is most pertinent. It beings with the Cheka, examining its success and failures, its early domestic priorities, and its role as liquidator of threat. This text, like Andrew’s other work (see KGB below), verges on sensationalism and presents more narrative then analysis. Nevertheless, the volume itself is highly documented and engaging. It features a variety of charts, graphs, and appendixes that consolidate and organize the statistical transformation of police bodies over the course of Soviet history.

Andrew, Christopher, and Vasili Mitrokhin. The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KBG. New York: Basic Books, 1999.


The KGB: Police and Politics in the Soviet Union

This text represents an attempt to fill the gap in Western Sovietology by describing and analyzing the KGB as a political institution. Knight highlights a mixture of continuity and change evident in the development of the political police as revealing a deeper nature of the Soviet regime. The main argument of the text is that the political police had continued to the 1980s to be an essential institution for the Soviet regime despite the disavowal of terror after Stalin’s death and the subsequent political reforms promoted by Khrushchev and Gorbachev. Interest should be given to the first portion of the text, which addresses the origins of the KGB under Leninist policies. This volume contains extensive appendices on various methodologies and assignments of the police organizations, as well as useful compilations of suggestions for further reading.

Knight, Amy W. The KGB: Police and Politics in the Soviet Union. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1988.


KGB: The Inside Story of its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev

The term KGB is used throughout the book to denote the Soviet State Security organization throughout its history, since its foundation as the Cheka in 1917 as well as to refer to State Security since 1954, when it adopted its more immediately associative name. While leaning towards sensationalism, the work serves as a large compendium of KGB and antecedent operations since the organization’s foundation in 1917. Andrew and Gordievsky have synthesized vast amounts of secondary sources from various languages and incorporated archival material from their respective experiences within the Soviet Union. This work, in focusing on the latter period of state development, can be useful in bringing together the themes displayed in the early state in their culmination after 1945.

Andrew, Christopher, and Oleg Gordievsky. KGB: The Inside Story of its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1990.


Social Control and Terror

The Bolsheviks in Russian Society: The Revolution and the Civil Wars

This volume investigates the Russian Revolutions in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse with particular attention to the interaction of state authority and social and political groups pursuing their own objectives. Brovkin brings together Western and Russian historians to reassess the Revolution, collecting essays examining the disintegration of the Russian government in 1917 and its reemergence under the Bolshevik dictatorship, as well as the response of social groups to the new order. The text further demonstrates the degree to which various social groups in Russia defended their autonomy and resisted the imposition of centralized dictatorship.

Brovkin, Vladimir N. The Bolsheviks in Russian Society: The Revolution and the Civil Wars. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1997.


State Control in Soviet Russia: The Rise and Fall of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate, 1920-1934

This work centers on the issue of state control as a pervasive preoccupation of the tsarist regime and the reemergence of similar tendencies under the early Bolshevik government, specifically under the leadership of Lenin. The work provides a history of the principle state control agency, the People’s Commissariat of Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection (NKRKI or Rabkrin). Rees studies state control for it provides a vantage point from which to study Bolshevik policies of state-building in combating bureaucratization and in binding the state to the society. He argues that the Bolshevik’s rose to power pledging to smash the centralized, bureaucratic tsarist state machine but subsequent reestablished similar procedures and methods.

Rees, E.A. State Control in Soviet Russia: The Rise and Fall of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate, 1920-1934. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987.


Culture and Power in Revolutionary Russia: The Intelligentsia and the Transition from Tsarism to Communism

This work proposes that the period of the New Economic Policy witnessed a consolidation of patters established during the Civil War. Read refutes the notion of Stalinism as inevitable, rather offering the continuing process of heightened control from Lenin to Stalin. He argues that the period of NEP was a midpoint between the confusion of the Civil War and the dogmatic authoritarianism of the 1930s. Read’s particular emphasis lies in the extensive cultural intervention by the Soviet authorities into the realm of intellectual life.

Read Christopher. Culture and Power in Revolutionary Russia: The Intelligentsia and the Transition from Tsarism to Communism. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990.


Terror by Quota: State Security from Lenin to Stalin (An Archival Study)

Gregory’s work centers on a political-economic analysis of two issues: the role of state security in a communist state and the manner in which the communist state organized and motivated state security to carry out tasks effectively. The text concludes that Stalinism’s mass repressions exercised dictatorial rationality, a key theme throughout. The book is about the punitive organs of the Soviet government and their state security agents, covering the Cheka, OGPU, NKVD, MVD, and KGB. The text features a large number of table, graphs, and appendices to supplement and document the arguments presented.

Gregory, Paul. Terror by Quota: State Security from Lenin to Stalin (An Archival Study). New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2009.


The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions

The work undertakes to counter what Mayer sees as an unjustified tendency to stigmatize the French Revolution of 1789 and the Russian Revolution of 1917 as disasters of human and material costs of historically indefensible proportions. Mayer sees revolution as necessitating violence and terror, conflict, collision, and polarization; violence stems from inevitable resistance of the forces opposed to it rather than from the ideological obsessions of revolutionaries. Mayer’s arguments rest on the power and intransigence of the old regimes.

Mayer, Arno J. The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000.


Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe

Gellately’s study focuses on the dominant powers on the Eurasian stage the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, analyzing the catastrophes of the twentieth-century in global terms in an effort to reveal their large-scale political and ideological nature. Gellately’s work rests on his argument that these European tragedies were inextricably linked and an integral part of the rivalry for domination by the Communists and the Nazis. Of particular interest here is Part I, which focuses on Lenin’s leadership and the Bolshevik’s establishment of a police force innately more radical that those of the tsarist regime.

Gellately, Robert. Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.


Power and the Sacred in Revolutionary Russia

The work examines the relationship among Orthodox clergy, laity, and Communist Party cadres during the establishment of Soviet power in the Russian countryside in the period of NEP, 1921-1928. Young examines the emergence of a Party-state ideologically obsessed with the eradication of religion and tracks the successive assaults conducted against religious activity. The work examines the increasing means of state control over this sector of Russian society in both the real, implied, and imagined modes of coercion.

Young, Glennys. Power and the Sacred in Revolutionary Russia. University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997.


Primary Documents

The Debate on Soviet Power: Minutes of an All-Russian Central Executive Committee on Soviets

This volume presents a composite text, reconstructed according to published primary sources, of the proceedings of Soviet Russia’s first quasi-legislative assembly, the VTsIK. In this forum, some of the most important questions to arise in the aftermath of the Bolshevik seizure of power were discussed, essentially the nature of the new government.

Keep, John L.H., ed. The Debate on Soviet Power: Minutes of an All-Russian Central Executive Committee on Soviets. 2d conv., October 1917-January 1918. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979.


Dictatorship vs. Democracy (Terrorism and communism): A Reply to Karl Kautsky by Leon Trotsky

This book was written by Trotsky in 1920 at the height of the Russian Civil War. It is a polemical response to the German Social Democrat theoretician Karl Kautsky (in his book Terrorism and Communism, 1919, available here), serving as the Bolshevik defense of the revolutionary dictatorship, of political terror, militarization of labor, command economy, and forced requisitioning.

Text is available online, here.

Trotsky, Leon, and Karl Kautsky. Dictatorship vs. Democracy (Terrorism and communism): A Reply to Karl Kautsky by Leon Trotsky. New York: Workers Part of America, 1922.


The Unknown Lenin: From the Secret Archive

This collection of documents date from 1886 through the end of Lenin’s life. The selection attempts to reveal Lenin as both man and politician, and to giver further evidence of Lenin’s motivations in the pursuit of his goals. This volume contains several documents pertaining to the establishment and nature of the Cheka, including correspondence with Feliz Dzerzhinsky, the head of the Cheka.

Pipes, Richard, and David Brandenberger, eds. The Unknown Lenin: From the Secret Archive. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1996.


The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-1918: Documents and Materials

The materials presented in this collection focus on the Bolshevik seizure of power and the subsequent period of their governmental consolidation. It provides decrees, manifestos, and other public documents, in the words of participants, observers, and reports of the contemporary press. The section most pertinent to this guide looks at the consolidation of the dictatorship in the wake of the signing of the Brest-Litovsk treaty, which allowed for the Bolsheviks to turn their attention inwards on the internal frontier. This section covers from the middle of January 1918 to May 1918 and offers documents on the endeavor to make efficient the Cheka. (eg. ‘The Cheka Orders the Arrest and Shooting of Counter-Revolutionists,’ Pravda; ‘The Cheka and the Commissariat of Justice,’ Materialy Narodnogo Komissariata Iustitsiii)

Bunyan, James, and H.H. Fisher. The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-1918: Documents and Materials. Hoover War Library Publications—No. 3. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1965.


Documents Related to the Organization of the Cheka

Decree On Fighting Counter-Revolutionaries And Saboteurs

Written 7 December 1917. From V.I. Lenin to F. E. Dzerzhinsky, chairman of the Cheka. The decree which established the Cheka was signed by Lenin 42 days after the Bolsheviks seized power. It was passed by the Sovnarkom and tasked the organization with combating sabotage and counterrevolution by carrying out preliminary investigations and handing the culprits over to revolutionary tribunals.

The Socialist Fatherland is in Danger!

Written 21 February 1918. By V.I. Lenin. Produced by the Sovnarkom as part decree, part appeal. It gave the Cheka the right to deal with ‘enemy agents, profiteers, maraudeers…’ without going through the courts.