Overview - Cheka (Soviet Union), The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Speculation.
The Cheka (ЧК - чрезвычайная комиссия) was the first of a succession of Soviet state security organizations. It was created by a decree issued on December 20, 1917, by Vladimir Lenin and subsequently led by Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky. After 1922, the Cheka underwent a series of reorganizations.
It was soon an important military force, crucial for survival of the Soviet regime. In 1921 the Troops for the Internal Defense of the Republic (a part of Cheka) numbered 200,000. These troops policed labor camps, ran the Gulag system, conducted requisitions of food, put down peasant rebellions, riots by workers, and mutinies in the Red Army, which was plagued by desertions.
The full name of the agency was The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Speculation) (Russian: Всероссийская чрезвычайная комиссия по борьбе с контрреволюцией и саботажем), but was commonly abbreviated to Cheka or VCheka. In 1918 its name was slightly altered, becoming All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution, Profiteering and Corruption.
A member of Cheka was called a chekist. Chekists of the post-October Revolution years wore leather jackets creating a fashion followed by Western communists; they are pictured in several films in this apparel. Despite name and organisational changes over time, Soviet secret policemen were commonly referred to as "Chekists" throughout the entire Soviet period and the term is still found in use in Russia today (for example, President Vladimir Putin has been referred to in the Russian media as a "chekist" due to his career in the KGB).
The Cheka was created immediately after the October Revolution, during the first days of Bolshevik government. Its immediate precursor was the "commission for the struggle with counter-revolution", established on December 4 [O.S. November 21] 1917, by the Milrevkom (the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet) on the proposal of Dzerzhinsky. Its members were the Bolsheviks Skrypnik, Flerovski, Blagonravov, Galkin, and Trifonov.
The Cheka was established on December 20 [O.S. December 7] 1917, by a decision of the Sovnarkom. It was subordinated to the Sovnarkom and its functions were, "to liquidate counter-revolution and sabotage, to hand over counter-revolutionaries and saboteurs to the revolutionary tribunals, and to apply such measures of repression as 'confiscation, deprivation of ration cards, publication of lists of enemies of the people etc.'". The original members of the Vecheka were Peters, Ksenofontov, Averin, Ordzhonikidze, Peterson, Evseev, and Trifonov, but the next day Averin, Ordzhonikidze, and Trifonov were replaced by Fomin, Shchukin, Ilyin, and Chernov. A circular published on December 28 [O.S. December 15] 1917, gave the address of Vecheka's first headquarters as "Petrograd, Gorokhovaya 2, 4th floor".
Originally, the members of the Cheka were exclusively Bolshevik; however, in January 1918, left SRs also joined the organisation The Left SRs were expelled or arrested later in 1918 following their attempted rebellion against Bolshevik rule.