January 01, 1998

Russia's Political Tool

December 20, 1997 is the 80th anniversary of Russia’s bodies of state security, more commonly known here as just organy (bodies). While this is hardly cause for celebration, it is certainly cause for recognition and reflection.

Even though, after the disintegration of the USSR, the KGB has been reorganized and renamed the FSB (Federal Security Service), a great many Russians still associate the organy with three common letters — KGB — the Soviet Union’s notorious political police force that simultaneously occupied itself with internal security, foreign espionage, military intelligence, embassy and border protection and secret service. For many decades, these three letters were enough to strike fear into much of the world, not to mention the average Soviet citizen. At its height, the KGB had an estimated 400,000 persons in its employ and acted as a crucial crutch sustaining Soviet power.

But the KGB was not always the KGB. The powers that be loved to obfuscate by creating new acronyms and shuffling bureaucracies. On December 20, 1917, the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission to Combat Counterrevolution, Sabotage and Speculation (or Cheka) was founded. The Cheka actually replaced the Military-Revolutionary Committee (VRK), which lasted just a month and a half after the October Revolution, and was headed by “Iron” Felix Dzerzhinsky — whose iron statue dominated Moscow’s Lubyanka square until it was toppled along with the entire Soviet state in 1991. The Cheka and its organs liquidated plots and rebellions against Soviet power and also fought sabotage, malfeasance and “speculation.”

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