How the Cheka Became the FSB

Мonument to Cheka founder Felix Dzerzhinsky on Shpalernaya Street, near the Smolny, Petersburg city hall. Photo courtesy of yakaev.livejournal.com

How the Cheka Became the FSB
The notion of the Cheka’s superiority is one hundred years old
Pavel Aptekar
Vedomosti
December 20, 2017

On December 20, 1917, the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage (VChK) aka the Cheka was established. Its successors will mark its centenary today. Numerous reforms of the secret services and the transition from socialism to capitalism have had little impact on how the leaders and officers of the secret services view their mission and social standing. The notion of Chekism, the superiority of state and official necessity to the law and justice, have proven tenacious. But if they were previously justified by the interests of the Party, they are nowadays often used to achieve personal ends.

Initially, the Cheka’s powers were insignificant. They were supposed to conduct preliminary investigations of crimes and refer the cases to tribunals. Soon, however, the Chekists were endowed with the right to carry out extrajudicial actions.

As Cheka deputy chair Martin Lācis said in 1919, “The Cheka is not a court, but the Party’s combat unit. It destroys [criminals] without trial or isolates [them] from society by imprisoning [them] in concentration camps. Word and law are identical.”

But we should not exaggerate the degree to which the Chekists were independent. As follows from a 1919 Central Committee decree, “The Chekas [sic] have been established, exist, and function only as direct agencies of the Party, guided by its directives and under its oversight.”

After the Russian Civil War, the commissars of justice, first Dmitry Kursky and later Nikolai Krylenko, spoke of the need to limit the powers of the Cheka. (In 1921, it was renamed the Joint State Political Directorate or OGPU.)

Dzerzhinsky insisted, however, that “our right to shoot [people] is our reserve. On the ground, we must conspire with court chairmen.”

The interests of state and revolution were placed above the rights of Soviet citizens to freedom of opinion and protection from illegal prosecution. Specific notions of revolutionary duty and the good of the revolution generated numerous provocations and trumped-up cases against “socially dangerous elements.” The Chekists honed the techniques of mass arrests and falsified cases during the trials of the late 1920s and early 1930s.

The scope of the work done by the secret services gradually expanded. In April 1930, the OGPU established the Gulag (Chief Administration of Corrective Labor Camps) and was given control of the militia (i.e., the Soviet regular police). In July 1934, the OGPU was transfigured into the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs or NKVD, which was given control of the archives and civil registry offices. In 1936, Genrikh Yagoda, a career Cheka officer, was replaced as the People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs by Nikolai Yezhov, a Stalin appointee and Party functionary who would play a key role in carrying out the Great Terror of 1937–1938.

Yagoda_kanal_Moskva_Volga

Yagoda (middle) inspecting the construction of the Moscow-Volga canal. Behind him is Nikita Khrushchev. Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Chekists competed in their cruelty to detainees and demanded that quotas on executions and arrests be raised. Moscow’s directives were magnified by initiative from the regions.

“The Central Committeee has explained that the use of physical coercion in the practice of the NKVD has been allowed since 1937 at the behest of the Central Committee. […] The method of physical coercion was contaminated by the scoundrels Zakovsky, Litvin, Uspensky, and others. […] But this in no way discredits the method itself, since it is applied correctly in practice,” Joseph Stalin noted in a signed coded telegram, dated January 1939. So when Laventri Beria replaced Yezhov, the overall crackdown abated, but not cruelty to defendants.

In February 1941, the NKVD was divided into two people’s commissariats, the NKVD per se and the People’s Commissariat for State Security. Led by Vsevolod Merkulov, it took over foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, and protection of high-ranking officials. The NKVD remained in charge of interior troops, border troops, and prisoner escort troops, as well as the concentration camps and the militia. The organizational reforms were kept up even during the Second World War. In July 1941, the two people’s commissariats were merged, but in April 1943 they were divided once again.

The powers of the security forces were considerably limited after the death of Stalin and execution of Beria in 1953. In 1954, the Ministry of State Security or MGB was replaced by the Committee for State Security or KGB, formally overseen by the USSR Council of Ministers. In the reality, the security services were subordinated to the Politburo, but they were stripped of their control of Interior Ministry troops, the penal enforcement agencies, the state archives, and the civil registry offices. During the Khrushchev and Brezhnev periods, crackdowns were selective and isolated, but this had no impact on the confidence of Chekists in their own rightness in the battle against dissidents and the prevention of potential “anti-Soviets.” The KGB was still the “armed detachment of the Party” that the VChK had been under Felix Dzerzhinsky.

In the early post-Soviet years, the secret services underwent a number of large-scale reorganizations. The KGB was initially renamed the RSFSR Federal Security Agency, and then the Russian Security Ministry, and an attempt was made to merge it with the Ministry of the Interior or MVD. (The Constitutional Court overruled Boris Yeltsin’s decree to this effect in January 1992.) It was then split up into a foreign intelligence service, a border guards service, a counterintelligence service, a government information service, and a bodyguard service. More important, however, were not these structural changes, but their implication that the lack of oversight over the secret services had been called into question, as well as their alleged right to intervene extrajudicially in the lives of people and the life of society. Numerous documents, demonstrating the lawlessness and tyranny of the Chekists during the Soviet years, were declassified.

However, after a cohort of former secret service officers came to power, the circumstances changed radically, and the new leaders of the secret services have once again claimed exclusivity. Former Federal Security Service (FSB) director Nikolai Patrushev’s statement about a “new gentry,” uttered long ago, in 2000, was implemented with extreme alacrity. Former FSB officers have taken up key posts in many sectors of the government and economy. The FSB has regained control of the border guards and FAPSI (Federal Agency for Goverment Communications and Information), has stripped juries of the right to hear terrorism and espionage cases, and forced the adoption of new, expanded interpretations of laws governing the violation of state secrets. Today’s Chekists have learned to protect state interests in a way that bolsters their own standing and material well-being. They will mark their professional holiday today with complete confidence in the future.

Translated by the Russian Reader

P.S. If you liked this article and found it informative and thought provoking, please share it with friends and colleagues on social networks. Robust readership numbers are the only feedback I get for a job I do in my spare time for free.

Neo-Stalinist Pulp Fiction

28222476.cover_415

SMERSH: Stalin’s Special Forces
Alexander Tamonikov, It’s a Pity We Didn’t Finish Them Off (Eksmo, 2017)

The time is 1946, the place, Lvov. SMERSH Captain Alexei Kravets has been appointed head of the local MGB office. The main job of its operatives is still liquidating gangs of nationalists. Among their ranks is Alexei’s personal enemy, Nestor Babula. Once again, the houses of peaceful Ukrainians and Poles are ablaze, and blood flows. The captain has been planning a decisive operation to destroy the bandits, but the hardened Babula is on the alert. The trap he sets is sprung, and a wounded Kravets is captured by the Banderites. The hour of reckoning has come. The only question is who will get off the first shot.

Source: LitRes

Yesterday in Soviet History (Susanna Pechuro, Maya Ulanovskaya, and the SDR)

Susanna Pechuro. Photo courtesy of Sergei Stepanov
Susanna Pechuro. Photo courtesy of Sergei Stepanov

Sergei Stepanov
Facebook
February 7, 2017

On February 7, 1952, the closed trial of members of a Moscow young people’s literary club was held in Moscow. They were accused of disseminating leaflets, produced on a hectograph, about the undemocratic Soviet electoral system. A total of sixteen schoolchildren and university students stood as defendants in the case. They were charged with treason and planning the murder of [Politburo member and Stalin henchman Georgy] Malenkov. The group’s three organizers were sentenced to death. Three other members were sentenced to ten years in the camps, while the remaining ten members were sentenced to twenty-five years in the camps. In addition, Susanna Pechuro was accused of acting as a liaison between youth organizations and Jewish Zionist organizations.

Yevgeny Gurevich, Boris Slutsky, and Vladlen Furman, executed in 1952. Photo courtesy of Sergei Stepanov
Yevgeny Gurevich, Boris Slutsky, and Vladlen Furman, the group’s three organizers, executed in 1952. Photo courtesy of Sergei Stepanov and Wikipedia

_____________

At the end of World War II and shortly after, Malenkov implemented Stalin’s plan to destroy all political and cultural competition from Leningrad, the former capital of Russia, in order to concentrate all power in Moscow. Leningrad and its leaders earned immense respect and popular support due to winning the heroic Siege of Leningrad. Both Stalin and Malenkov expressed their hatred to anyone born and educated in Leningrad, so they organized and led the attack on the Leningrad elite. Beria and Malenkov together with Abakumov organized massive executions of their rivals in the Leningrad Affair where all leaders of Leningrad and Zhdanov’s allies were killed, and thousands more were locked up in Gulag labour camps upon Stalin’s approval. Malenkov personally ordered the destruction of the Museum of the Siege of Leningrad and declared the 900-day-long defense of Leningrad “a myth designed by traitors trying to diminish the greatness of comrade Stalin.” Simultaneously, Malenkov replaced all communist party and administrative leadership in Leningrad [with] provincial communists loyal to Stalin.

Source: Wikipedia

_____________

Susanna Pechuro, circa 1950-1951, before her arrest. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Susanna Pechuro, circa 1950-1951, before her arrest. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Susanna Solomonovna Pechuro (22 July 1933, Moscow—1 January 2014, Moscow) was Soviet dissident, political prisoner, and historian.

In 1950, while still a schoolgirl, she became involved in the underground youth organization Union of Struggle for the Revolution (SDR), formed by several 16- and 17-year-olds who had met in a literary club at the Moscow Young Pioneers House. The SDR tasked itself with returning Soviet society and the Soviet state to Leninist principles of organization, which, in their opinion, had been perverted by Stalin’s Bonapartist regime.

On January 18, 1951, Pechuro was arrested along with the organization’s other members. On February 13, 1952, the Military Collegium of the USSR Supreme Court sentenced Pechuro to 25 years in labor camps on charges of treason and planning the murder of Georgy Malenkov[.] The organization’s three leaders, Boris Slutsky (born 1932), Vladlen Furman (born 1932), and Yevgeny Gurevich (born 1931) were shot.

Pechuro served her sentence in various Gulag camps, including camps in Inta, Abez, and Potma. In 1956, the group’s case was reexamined. Pechuro’s sentence was reduced to five years and she was released.

Although she passed the entrance exams to Moscow State University’s history department, she was not enrolled. She graduated from the Moscow State Historical Archives Institute.

At the Historical Archives Institute, Pechuro researched the purges during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. Her work was published in the Proceedings of the Moscow State Historical Archives Institute. In 1961, she successfully defended her thesis, “The Decree Books as a Source on the History of Ivan the Terrible’s Zemshchina,” with Alexander Zimin as her advisor.

Pechuro worked in the Archive of Ancient Documents at the Institute for African Studies.

She was rehabilitated only on July 18, 1989, by the Plenum of the USSR Supreme Court.

A long-time member of Memorial, she signed the“Putin Must Go” petition in 2010.

Pechuro died in Moscow on January 1, 2014. She is buried at St. Nicholas Archangel Cemetery.

Source: Wikipedia

_____________

The Union of Struggle for the Revolution (SDR) was a radical left-wing anti-Stalinist underground youth organization that existed between 1950 and 1951.

The Union of Struggle for the Revolution (SDR) was organized in Moscow by university students Boris Slutsky, Yevgeny Gurevich, and Vladlen Furman in 1950. The organization drafted a program and manifesto that spoke of socialism’s degeneration into state capitalism, described the Stalinist regime as Bonapartist, and noted the lack of civil liberties, the farcical elections, the imperial nature of [Soviet] foreign policy, and the disastrous state of agriculture. The members of the organization reproduced the documents on a hectograph.

The members of the organization were arrested by the MGB in January and February 1951.

On February 13, 1952, the Military Collegium of the USSR Supreme Court issued a verdict in the case. The verdict stated that a group of Jewish nationalists had established a treacherous terrorist organization whose members had tasked themselves with overthrowing the current Soviet regime by means of an armed uprising and terrorist acts against the leaders of the Soviet government and Communist Party. The only SDR member who did not plead guilty was Maya Ulanovskaya. Slutsky, Gurevich, and Furman were sentenced to death. Ten members of the organization were sentenced to 25 years in prison, and three more, to 10 years. The three leaders of the SDR were shot on March 26, 1952, and their ashes were buried at Donskoe Cemetery. The surviving defendants were released from the camps after a retrial in 1956. In 1989, all the defendants in the case, some posthumously, were rehabilitated “for lack of evidence of a crime.”

SDR Members

Sentenced to death:
Yevgeny Gurevich (born 1931)
Boris Slutsky (born 1932)
Vladlen Furman (born 1931)

Sentenced to 10 years in prison:
Tamara Lazarevna (born 1932)
Galina Smirnova (born 1931)
Nina Uflyand (born 1934)

Sentenced to 25 years in prison:
Irena Arginskaya (born 1932)
Ida Vinnikova (born 1931)
Felix Voin (born 1931)
Grigory Mazur (born 1931)
Vladimir Melnikov (born 1932)
Yekaterina Panfilova (born 1932)
Susanna Pechuro (born 1933)
Alla Reif (born 1931)
Maya Ulanovskaya (born 1932)
Inna Elgisser (born 1930)

Source: Wikipedia

_____________

Maya Ulanovskaya in the Gulag, 1955. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Maya Alexandrovna Ulanovskaya (born October 20, 1932, New York) is a translator and writer who was a member of the Soviet dissident movement.

Ulanovskaya was born in New York, where her parents Alexander Ulanovsky (1891—1971) and Nadezhda (Esther) Markovna (1903—1986) were Soviet spies working for the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU). They were arrested in 1948 and 1949 on political charges.

In 1949, after graduating from high school, Ulanovskaya enrolled in the Moscow Food Industry Institute. There she joined the underground anti-Stalinist youth organization Union of Struggle for the Revolution (SDR).

On February 7, 1951, Ulanovskaya was arrested by the MGB. On February 13, 1952, she was sentenced to 25 years in prison. She served her sentence in Ozerlag.

In February 1956, the case was reviewed, Ulanovskaya’s sentence was reduced to five years, and she and her accomplices were released under an amnesty.

The same year, she married Anatoly Yakobson. In 1959, she gave birth to a son, who later became a historian, journalist, and politician.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Ulanovskaya worked at the library of the Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences (INION RAN) and was involved in the Soviet human rights movement, retyping samizdat publications, passing information overseas, etc.

In 1973, she emigrated with her husband and son to Israel. In 1974, she divorced her husband.

Ulanovskaya worked at the National Library in Jerusalem. She has translated several books from English (including books by Arthur Koestler), Hebrew, and Yiddish. She and her mother co-authored a memoir entitled The Story of One Family, published in the US in 1982 and later reprinted in Russia. She is author of the book Freedom and Dogma: The Life and Work of Arthur Koestler (Jerusalem Publishing Center, 1996).

Source: Wikipedia

All texts except the excerpt about Malenkov translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Yuri Albert for the heads-up on Sergei Stepanov’s Facebook post, which got this ball rolling.