Red Terror

   Vladimir Lenin and Cheka chief Feliks Dzerzhinsky ordered local Soviets to take violent “prophylactic measures” to prevent insurrections in early August 1918. These messages were followed by orders establishing concentration camps for right-wing and left-wing enemies of the regime. The terror intensified after 30 August when Fanny Kaplan wounded Lenin in a botched assassination attempt. Within hours, the Cheka began shooting thousands of prisoners across Russia. Kaplan was shot without a trial in early September. According to recent historical estimates, between 10,000 and 15,000 men and women were shot, hanged, or drowned in the fall of 1918, including members of the former royal family, parliamentarians, and military officers, as well as anarchists and socialists. The number of people incarcerated in camps rose from approximately 16,000 in the summer of 1918 to more than 70,000 a year later. Terror became a tactic of the embattled Bolshevik government, and prophylactic measures were used to execute potential enemies of the regime, from the palaces of the aristocracy to the poorest villages in the land. Whole categories of people became targets: members of the middle class, rich farmers, and clergy were killed because of their pasts. In June 1918, Lenin wrote to the head of the Petrograd Cheka: “We are in a war to the death. We must spur on the energy and mass character of the terror against the counterrevolutionaries.” For Lenin, who was a student of the French Revolution and the Paris Commune of 1870–1871, revolutionary terror was a necessity. For the Soviet regime, the heritage of the Red Terror was impossible to erase. For Joseph Stalin, the mass killing of enemies in the civil war justified a new reign of terror in the 1930s—first against the peasantry and then within the Communist Party.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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