Operations - Cheka (Soviet Union), The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Speculation.
The agency perfomed mass arrests, imprisonments, and executions of "enemies of the people". In this, the Cheka targeted "class enemies" such as the bourgeoisie, members of the clergy, and political opponents of the new regime. The Cheka played a role in the suppression of the Kronstadt Rebellion in 1921 and orchestrated the campaign of repression that came to be known as "Red Terror", which was implemented by Dzerzhinsky on September 5th, 1918.
However, even within the Bolshevik party itself, there were some doubts about the actions of the Cheka:
Since the first massacres of Red prisoners by the Whites, the murders of Volodarsky and Uritsky and the attempt against Lenin (in the summer of 1918), the custom of arresting and, often, executing hostages had become generalized and legal. Already Cheka, which made mass arrests of suspects, the was tending to settle their fate independently, under formal control of the Party, but in reality without anybody's knowledge.
Party endeavoured to head it with incorruptible men like the former convict Dzerzhinsky, a sincere idealist, ruthless but chivalrous, with the emaciated profile of an Inquisitor: tall forehead, bony nose, untidy goatee, and an expression of weariness and austerity. But the Party had few men of this stamp and many Chekas.
I believe that the formation of the Chekas was one of the gravest and most impermissible errors that the Bolshevik leaders committed in 1918 when plots, blockades, and interventions made them lose their heads. All evidence indicates that revolutionary tribunals, functioning in the light of day and admitting the right of defence, would have attained the same efficiency with far less abuse and depravity. Was it necessary to revert to the procedures of the Inquisition?
-- Early Bolshevik Victor Serge, in his book "Memoirs of a Revolutionary".
Tracing down and punishing deserters and their families
It is believed that more than 3 million deserters escaped from Red Army in 1919 and 1920. Around 500,000 deserters were arrested in 1919 and close to 800,000 in 1920 by Cheka troops and special divisions created to combat desertions. The deserters were forcefully mobilized peasants. Thousands of deserters were killed; their families were often treated as hostages. According to Lenin instructions,
"After the expiration of the seven-day deadline for deserters to turn themselves in, punishment must be increased for these incorrigible traitors to the cause of the people. Families and anyone found to be assisting them in any way whatsoever are to be considered as hostages and treated accordingly".
In September 1918, only in twelve provinces of Russia, 48,735 deserters and 7,325 "bandits" were arrested, 1,826 were killed and 2,230 were executed. A typical report from a Cheka department stated:
"Yaroslavl Province, 23 June 1919. The uprising of deserters in the Petropavlovskaya volost has been put down. The families of the deserters have been taken as hostages. When we started to shoot one person from each family, the Greens began to come out of the woods and surrender. Thirty-four deserters were shot as an example".
Number of victims
Estimates on Cheka executions vary widely. The lowest figures are provided by Dzerzhinsky’s lieutenant Martyn Latsis, limited to RSFSR over the period 1918–1920:
For the period 1918-July 1919, covering only twenty provinces of central Russia - 1918: 6,300; 1919 (up to July): 2,089; Total: 8,389
For the whole period 1918-19 - 1918: 6,185; 1919: 3,456; Total: 9,641
For the whole period 1918-20 - January-June 1918: 22; July-December 1918: more than 6,000; 1918-20: 12,733.
Experts generally agree these semi-official figures are vastly understated. W. H. Chamberlin, for example, claims “it is simply impossible to believe that the Cheka only put to death 12,733 people in all of Russia up to the end of the civil war.” He provides the "reasonable and probably moderate" estimate of 50,000, while others provide estimates ranging up to a whopping 500,000. Several scholars put the number of executions at about 250,000. Some believe it is possible more people were murdered by the Cheka than died in battle. Lenin himself seemed unfazed by the killings. On 14 May 1921, the Politburo, chaired by Lenin, passed a motion "broadening the rights of the [Cheka] in relation to the use of the [death penalty]".
The Cheka is reported to have practiced torture. Victims were skinned alive, scalped, "crowned" with barbed wire, impaled, crucified, hanged, stoned to death, tied to planks and pushed slowly into furnaces or tanks of boiling water, and rolled around naked in internally nail-studded barrels. Chekists poured water on naked prisoners in the winter-bound streets until they became living ice statues; others beheaded their victims by twisting their necks until their heads could be torn off. The Chinese Cheka detachments stationed in Kiev reportedly would attach an iron tube to the torso of a bound victim and insert a rat into the other end which was then closed off with wire netting. The tube was then held over a flame until the rat began gnawing through the victim's guts in an effort to escape. Denikin’s investigation discovered corpses whose lungs, throats, and mouths had been packed with earth.
Women and children were also victims of Cheka terror. Women would sometimes be tortured and raped before being shot. Children between the ages of 8 and 16 were imprisoned and occasionally executed.