Menzhinsky, Vyacheslav Rudololfovich

(1874–1934)
   One of the least known chiefs of Soviet security, Menzhinsky was born in St. Petersburg of Russianized Polish parents. Well educated—he spoke 16 languages—Menzhinsky joined the Bolshevik Party in 1902. In 1907 he emigrated and spent the decade before the revolution in Europe and the United States. Before 1917 he wrote novels and poetry and flirted with Satanism. He returned to Russia following the February Revolution.
   Menzhinsky joined the Cheka in 1919 and served in the Ukraine in intelligence and counterintelligence capacities during the Russian civil war. In the early 1920s he led the Cheka’s antireligious campaign against the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1923 he was made Feliks Dzerzhinsky’s deputy and heir apparent. Upon Dzerzhinsky’s death in 1926, Menzhinsky was appointed to lead the service. Menzhinsky, like his patron, was willing to use the service in intraparty struggles, supporting Joseph Stalin unconditionally against his opposition. Under Menzhinsky, the service’s empire grew: it supervised an expanding empire of forced labor camps, crushed opposition in the countryside during Stalin’s program of collectivization, and became an even more aggressive and intrusive security service. Menzhinsky played a key role in creating public show trials of foreign “spies” and Soviet “wreckers” in the late 1920s and early 1930s to intimidate the population and create a war scare mentality in the country. These proceedings became the model of the Moscow Trials of the late 1930s. Menzhinsky’s death in 1934 allowed Stalin to meddle further with the security service, promote Genrykh Yagoda, and take the final steps to make the service a pliant tool of the dictator.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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