On December 7, 1917 the decree of the Counsel of the People’s Commissars, the top Soviet governmental body, was issued giving birth to the legendary Cheka – Extraordinary Committee. The All-Russia Commission for Fighting Counter-Revolution was later transformed into the Soviet’s major tool of repression in the 1930s, the NKVD, and later the infamous KGB.
The Cheka was expected to protect the nascent Russian socialist state from its enemies—principally the monarchist White Army, simultaneously becoming the cradle for all Soviet special and intelligence services. Vladimir Lenin, its creator, called the Cheka “Our smashing weapon against numerous conspiracies, numerous assassination attempts on the Soviet regime on the part of people who used to be many times stronger than us.”
From its first days, the Cheka was responsible, practically, for every aspect of the country’s legal existence, as it fought sabotage, speculation, and crimes of officials. It didn’t enjoy that obscure reputation as the country’s number one executioner in the early years; however, it was involved not just in investigations, but also in punitive actions. Mild at first, they varied from depriving culprits of food vouchers and listing individuals as people’s enemies, to confiscation of “counter-revolutionaries’” processions. Since the death penalty had then been abolished in Russia, the Cheka members had no right to kill anyone, all the more without trial.
The Civil War of 1917 – 1922 between the Bolsheviks and the White Guard demanded stiffer measures, the decree dated February 21, 1918, allowing the Cheka more power, that is, the right for physical extermination of secret agents, speculators, hooligans, counter-revolutionary propagandists and German spies. However, by July of 1918 very few people had actually been shot, aside from major criminals charged with serious crimes. The death penalty had not been used in political cases until the decree of September, which gave the green light for the first wave of the so-called “Red Terror”, as it provided the death penalty for anyone having any connections to the White Guard, conspiracies, or riots.
The Cheka existed until 1922, and after a series of transformations became the NKVD – an acronym for the People’s Commissariat for the Interior, and Joseph Stalin’s http://russiapedia.rt.com/prominent-russians/leaders/joseph-stalin/ major tool of repression. Its history culminated in the Great Purge of 1936–1938, as thousands of civil, military, and government employees deemed politically unreliable were killed by NKVD agents. In the 12 years of its existence, the NKVD displayed unprecedented violence and immorality, climaxing in the so-called troikas in 1937-1938, when entire trials were reduced to a 20-minute procedure as three NKVD employees would sentence a suspect, charged in political cases, to death.
In 1954 the KGB was formed, the organization said by many to have been the world's most effective intelligence agency during its time. Aside from strictly intelligence activities, it also was in charge of maintaining ideological purity inside the country, which was crucial during the years of the Cold War. Yury Andropov, the KGB Chairman in 1967-1982, established the Fifth Directorate to monitor dissent and eliminate dissenters. KGB dissident-group infiltrations consisted of employing smear tactics toward dissidents and conducting show trials. However, Mikhail Gorbachev's policies, brought about by glasnost, lessened persecution of dissidents, gradually eliminating it totally, as the Communist regime was slowly exhausting itself. The collapse of the Soviet Union ended the KGB as well, on 6 November 1991, replacing it with the FSB, standing for the Federal Security Service.