top of page
Cheka and The Red Terror

Modern History (Year 12) - Bolsheviks in Power

Ben Whitten

The Establishment of the Cheka

The Cheka, or the Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution, Sabotage and Speculation, was established in December 1917 as the secret police force of the Bolshevik Party. Led by Felix Dzerzhinsky, the organization's initial purpose was to suppress any political opposition that posed a threat to the Bolshevik regime. In August 1918, an assassination attempt on Lenin by a member of the Social Revolutionary party, Fanny Kaplan, further solidified the need for such an organization in the eyes of the Bolsheviks.

Expansion of the Cheka

As the Russian Civil War escalated, the Cheka's power and size grew exponentially. By 1920, the organization had grown to employ 200,000 people, and it held immense authority to arrest, interrogate, and execute anyone suspected of counter-revolutionary activity without trial. Initially, the Cheka targeted known political opponents of the Bolsheviks such as Tsarists, members of the clergy, kulaks, liberals and other socialists, but it soon expanded to target any political dissidents and critics of the Bolshevik regime.

Red Terror: Tactics and Impact

The Red Terror was a tactic of War Communism, which aimed to systematically oppress opposition and use terror to enforce new measures. The Bolsheviks faced increased opposition from various groups, including workers who were unhappy with their economic situation, anarchists who rejected the government's authoritarian control, and Left-wing Socialist Revolutionaries who protested the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The assassination of two Bolshevik Party leaders put the regime under real pressure, leading to the launch of the Red Terror by the Cheka in the summer of 1918. This led to the arrest of large numbers of Socialist Revolutionaries, anarchists, and other extreme left groups.

Execution of Tsar and his Family

Tsar Nicholas II and his family were executed on July 17, 1918, in Ekaterinburg in the Urals. Though Lenin and Sverdlov claimed it was done against their wishes, evidence suggests otherwise. The Bolsheviks attempted to take less accountability for the execution by spreading stories of possible survival of the children. The family was shot and their bodies were drenched in acid, thrown into a disused mine shaft, and later buried.

The Terror Intensifies

During the Red Terror, execution became the norm and many prisoners were shot without trial. Official records estimate that nearly 13,000 people were killed between 1918-1920, but estimates suggest the real figure may be closer to 300,000. The Cheka fanned the flames of class warfare, with the Bolsheviks discussing the complete destruction of the middle class. The real purpose of the terror, however, was to terrify all hostile social groups, leaving no one sure who the counterrevolutionaries were.

Impact on Russia

The Red Terror greatly affected Russian society, destroying any concept of justice and inspiring fear in the people. It enforced submission to the Bolshevik regime and the Cheka, which was used to eliminate the Bolshevik's class enemy, the bourgeoisie, without any respect for justice or due process. The impact of this period of history runs much deeper than statistics and continues to be studied by historians today.

bottom of page