The Cheka played a critical role in the Bolshevik victory in the Russian civil war that left millions dead by bullet, hunger, and cold. Feliks Dzerzhinsky and his subordinates provided critical intelligence on the Bolsheviks’ White and anarchist opponents, put backbone in the Red Army, and crushed all opposition to communist rule. The Cheka used the Red Terror to destroy real and imaginary enemies of Soviet power, executing more than 140,000 men and women.
   The Cheka put cadres into every military formation in the new Workers and Peasants’ Red Army. These sections kept an eye on tsarist specialists the Bolsheviks had pressed into serving as military commanders. Military power in commands was shared between the Red Army commander, the party’s representative, and a Chekist. This division of authority in military commands lasted until the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Cheka officers were the bureaucratic ancestors of the officers in the Third Chief Directorate of the modern KGB. During the civil war, Cheka representatives took over command of major Bolshevik formations after executing the military commander. A little known but critical component of the Red victory over the White resistance was the Cheka’s role in the Russian and Ukrainian countryside, where counterintelligence targeted clergy and peasant rebels for arrest and execution. There were more than 100 peasant risings in the winter of 1920–1921 alone, and rebels controlled large sections of western Siberia and the Ukraine. During the Antonov revolt in Tambov province (1920–1922), the Cheka identified rebel leaders for liquidation and carried out 2,500 executions of rebels and the deportation of 80,000 families. Cheka gangs, disguised as rebels, lured clandestine supporters of Anatoly Antonov into the open for arrest and elimination.
   Cheka units also played a critical role in breaking the revolt of Ukrainian anarchists led by Nestor Makhno in the Ukraine during the same years. According to a British scholar, Red forces killed more than 200,000 peasants in crushing Makho’s revolt. The Cheka was also instrumental in crushing rebellions in Central Asia and the Caucasus. In 1921 when a revolt by anarchist sailors at the naval base at Kronstadt near Leningrad threatened Soviet power, Cheka units led the assault and forced recalcitrant Red Army units to assault the fortress. Following the victory, Cheka units helped the Communist Party reestablish power and shot 2,103 rebels captured in the storming of the naval base.
   The secret to the Cheka’s success was ruthless efficiency, and the use of prophylactic Red Terror to destroy all enemies of the regime. While the tsarist regime never mastered the tools of counterterrorism, the Cheka establish a nationwide ring of surveillance to identify enemies of the people. The Cheka moreover had no qualms about destroying the “innocent”: as Cheka deputy director Martyn Latsis said, “We are not waging war against individuals. We are exterminating the bourgeois as a class.”

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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