The Cheka and other special formations

On 7 December 1917, the All-Russia Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-revolution and Sabotage was formed. Its chairman and guiding star was Felix Dzerzhinsky (1877-1926), a Pole by birth. Known as the Chrezvichaynaya Komissya or Cheka for short, the commission soon earned itself a reputation for brutality beyond the call of duty.

The modern image of the Cheka as a 'secret pol< force, in the style of the later NKVD and KGB, d< not do justice to its wide-ranging role in the Civil W For example, 'Chekists' were regularly used as z«fi otryadi — screen detachments, whose function wa> shadow Red Army formations and shoot anyone I attempted to run from the battlefield. Far from bei secretive, Cheka members wanted everyone to km exactly who they were, and to fear them. They drea accordingly: the Chekist's normal outfit was made leather from head to toe, and his favourite weapon « the sleek German Mauser K-96. The secrecy cjI later, when the Cheka's task became the elimination Stalin's rivals and enemies. The Cheka did earn i occasional covert operations against the Whites, l| this was not its major function.

The Cheka had the right to make arrests, intern I suspects, pass sentence and carry out executions. ] even here the Cheka and the Soviet Militia (the p 4 force authorised in January 1918) exceeded ihJ authority. Even so, the Cheka were given a compl I free hand in December 1918, when the CerJ Committee passed a motion of the infallibility o I Cheka, on the grounds that it was working I extremely difficult conditions'. Though answerabl I theory, directly to Sovnarkom (the Soviet of Pe> r<l prototype of the (Council of Ministers) supplied activity reports only after n carried out.

heka was split into three departments: -imsation and Borbi (combat). \ rail epartment was soon added, but was I' . The Cheka Military Forces were cre-rch 191S, and initially numbered five if ntry, one of cavalry , one machine-gun and bicycle detachments, and three es By August 191S the military branch t 11 33 detached battalions with about luh 1921 it comprised 11 border-guard ree detached regiments, 68 detached to ■ armoured detachments, two aviation J seven cavalry squadrons. Half of these climated as reserves for the Red Army; \nded to fight counter-revolution, •ry 1922 the Cheka was reorganised into S . Political Department), which was the control of the N KYD (People's r Internal Affairs). D/er/hinsky contin-f both organisations. In 1923 the GPU The OGPU (Unified GPU), which contin-until 1934, when it was fully absorbed

i other special organisations were con-i Cheka to varving degrees. These were

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