December 20 A famous structure was created under the Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR, the All-Russian Emergency Commission to Combat Counter-Revolution, Sabotage and Crimes under the post headed by Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky.
Historian and writer Ilya Ratkovsky in an interview on Nakanune.RU told how the Cheka became the shield and sword of Soviet power, shared information about the mythologization of the "Red Terror" and recalled how the year of the centenary of revolution had passed.
Question: Ilya Sergeevich, December is a landmark this year - a century since the creation of the Cheka, and you recently published the work "The Sword of Revolution", tell us about the book?
Ilya Ratkovsky: The book "The Chronicle of the Red Terrorism of the Cheka. The Punishing Sword of the Revolution" is an edited and improved version of my ten-year-old work "The Red Terror and the Cheka's activities in 1918 year." It includes both new materials and edited material from the previous edition. There I consider the reasons for the creation of the Cheka, its activities in 1917-1919, the main operations of the KGB. Naturally, punitive practice is also considered. This body fought both counter-revolution and banditry and crimes of office. There is also a real statistics of repression, which does not correspond to the works of Sergei Pavlovich Melgunov. This book is part of a peculiar trilogy, which was published by me this year. I published a book about white terror (its third updated edition is now being published), a book about Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, and this work reveals my vision of the activities of the Cheka in the initial years of its existence.
Question: How did 2017 go by in general, don't you think that at the official level the century of revolution passed unnoticed?
Ilya Ratkovsky: The public had an interest in the revolutionary 1917, another thing is that at the official level, this response was not matched by the response of the authorities. In my opinion, they clearly feared to discuss these events, replacing it with other topics, including various television projects: from Matilda to Trotsky with Parvus. Meanwhile, it was necessary to discuss both the causes of the revolution, and its course and consequences, both for Russia and for the world.
This world event was marked by the authorities as purely Russian, meanwhile its significance is much greater. In China, for example, the discussion at the official level was much larger. For them, this is an event of global significance. And not only for the PRC. A lot of books have been published in the West. And this is not a momentary interest, but a statement of the significance of those historical events. The assessments are different, but there is recognition of the significance and its influence on world history.
At the same time, the contribution of Russian historians and archivists, employees of the largest libraries was serious. Many projects have been implemented, many special electronic resources have appeared. Of course, there were attempts to place their accents, but on the whole a certain reserve was made for the future not a commemorative discussion.
Question: What conclusions do you draw from this situation?
Ilya Ratkovsky: There was no reconciliation proclaimed by the authorities. Actually, they did little for this. Everything is crumpled. I remember in 2017 a whole series of open monuments. They opened the monuments to Stolypin, about the same openly and restored monuments to Dzerzhinsky. The initiative came from different circles, the state (local and central authorities) did not interfere, sometimes it helped. It is obvious that there is something common for the authorities in these figures. Strong power, restoring order, carrying out reforms. By the way, both of these figures studied in the same institution - the First Vilna Gymnasium. Two options for "order and reform." A monument to Alexander III in the Crimea and a number of other monuments, such as the Alley of Russian rulers in Moscow, are characteristic in this respect. Reconciliation of such construction of monuments and ended. Given that all these monuments were not a landmark event for the whole of Russian society. There was no explanation for this sculptural construction either. I remember the year and the "movies" on the topic of 1917. These projects were prepared for a long time, but historically they did not stand up to scrutiny.
Question: In general, the Great October Socialist Revolution and the activity of the Cheka is now unjustly rejected in the minds of people for such a "marginal line"?
Ilya Ratkovsky: The thesis about the marginality of the October Revolution is advanced by the marginals from science. Will explain. First, there is a separate category of critics of October, who do not consider themselves to be part of Russian society. They argue about their Europeanness, about other people, etc., that is, they put themselves beyond the framework of both Russian history and Russian society as a whole, arguing about their elitism. But this is not elitism, but marginality, isolation from its roots. Putting yourself out of the box is a typical definition of marginal. There are also marginals from science. Here the other often happens. People deliberately distance themselves from famous historical sources and materials, not recognizing them and not entering into a scientific discussion of them. This is, of course, not all historians who do not accept October, but a certain part. There is just such a popular terminology.
The question of the global significance of October sounded a little at the official level this year. Meanwhile, there were achievements not only within Soviet society, but also beyond its borders, which were caused by its influence. The socialization of Western society in the twentieth century is a consequence of the influence of the USSR. This factor determined the need for the development of the West in the direction of the social security system. The same factor of the USSR determined the collapse of the colonial system. October destroyed the estate system. All this, and much more, is the meaning of those centenary events.
Question: Often one can hear from officials that all achievements are crossed out by that “red terror”. All those "horrors and executions without trial", and so on - what is true here and what is a myth?
Ilya Ratkovsky: The Red Terror, like the White Terror, is part of the history of the civil war. Actually, no civil war did not pass without violence. Violence took place as a manifestation of the dictatorship of the proletariat or the white dictatorships. There was a lot of abuse. To deny them is meaningless and even stupid.
However, it must be understood that neither revolution is being done in white gloves, nor counter-revolution. It is even more important to understand that this violence had social roots. Russian society was not one before the revolution. The confrontation between peasants and "landowners", non-resident and Cossacks, workers and "breeders", tops and intellectuals, and the national question, all this happened, and then "exploded." And there was also the First World War, which "accustomed" to the ordinariness of death and violence. There was a willingness to accept violence, and it was accepted by the parties towards their opponents. Therefore, the mythologization of the red terror is its consideration in isolation from the white terror, from social and other reasons.
Another mythologization is the linkage of its appearance to the initial period of Soviet power. Actually, until the summer of 1918, the central Soviet government did not apply it. Moreover, canceled the initiative for its introduction. You can, for example, mention that the question of its introduction was considered by the Central Committee in May 1918, but was rejected as an untimely measure. The scale of red terror is also mythologized. In the book, the real statistics of the executions of the Cheka in 1918 were considered in detail, as was the "statistics" of the famous émigré historian Melgunov, which many people still believe. Considered in the book and the fight against abuse in the Cheka, the discussion of the Cheka in the fall of 1918,
Question: Do you just write in your book about the creation of the Cheka, what was the purpose of the organization?
Ilya Ratkovsky: Lenin wrote that the Cheka should, in politics, become the same organ of the dictatorship of the proletariat as the economy created by the Supreme Council of National Economy became. It was about the fact that the predecessor of the Cheka, the Petrograd Military Revolutionary Committee, did not cope with the situation in the country. There were three problems that he was able to solve in the autumn period: sabotage, the approaching Constituent Assembly, and banditry. In addition, the All-Russian body of struggle against counter-revolution was needed, and the PVRK, even after its subordination to the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of Soviets, remained only a regional, Petrograd body.
Question: Is the Cheka a brainchild of Lenin or is it Dzerzhinsky?
Ilya Ratkovsky: Lenin and Sverdlov. It was Lenin who appointed and approved the candidacy of the chairman of the Cheka - Felix Dzerzhinsky. Sverdlov sent many members to the leadership of the new body. But then the role of Dzerzhinsky is decisive. He to a lesser extent recommended new members in the Cheka (unlike, for example, Peters), but he developed the basic instructions of the Cheka, determined the areas of activity, and gave an example of his behavior to other Chekists. It was he who conducted and cleansing the Cheka from stained by the abuse and crimes of the KGB.
Question: The Bolsheviks, when they came to power, first abolished the death penalty, they forget about it today - what were their plans originally? And what made this punitive practice return?
Ilya Ratkovsky: Initially it was assumed that the dictatorship of the majority, by virtue of this majority, would quickly crush the resistance of the minority. Lenin in his work "The State and the Revolution" wrote directly that this resistance would be short and would not require the creation of any special all-Russian body. Enough bodies with local councils. Under these conditions, the death penalty could not be used. It was important to follow its pre-October promise. And the Bolsheviks promised to abolish the death penalty, so the first decree of the Soviet government was its abolition, and the Decree on Peace was adopted after that. However, it was already realized that a new situation is possible, when it can be resumed. 18 February 1918 began the offensive of the German troops. 21 February 1918, under the conditions of the offensive, the decree "Socialist Fatherland in danger" was published. In it, among other measures, a shooting was introduced at the crime scene. Thus, the reason for the resumption of the death penalty was the need to strengthen the rear in the face of the beginning of the German offensive.
Question: Was it that the Cheka was shot, as some say, “without trial, without investigation, just like that, for an anecdote, for nothing”? And what is the real scale of the repression of the Cheka?
Ilya Ratkovsky: The Cheka was a state body, and the practice of its actions proceeded within the framework of an emerging revolutionary law. It is another matter that the revolutionary law itself implied court and sentence, taking into account revolutionary expediency. Old courts and laws were abolished by decree on court number XXUMX, even before the formation of the Cheka. Introduced people's courts and revtribunaly. The Cheka until the end of the autumn 1 was outside this court system. Therefore, the actions of the Cheka were declared by decrees and resolutions of the highest Soviet bodies and instructions of the Cheka. The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution, Sabotage and Crimes of office was a shield and sword of Soviet power. Abuses, of course, were. There were executions that even took place beyond the framework of this revolutionary legality. They fought against it, up to executions, but it was. There was also a reorganization by the highest Soviet organs of the VChK in the autumn of 1918.
Another thing that often indicates these cases, but does not mention their proceedings, as the Cheka, and the Soviet authorities. The scale of this phenomenon is often exaggerated. Actually, the scale of the repressive practices of the Cheka is exaggerated. If to speak scientifically, there were no “hundreds of thousands” shot by the bodies of the Cheka during the civil war. About 50 thousand people were shot. This includes the execution of the All-Ukrainian Cheka in the spring and summer of 1919 (20 thousand), in the Crimea at the end of 1920 - the beginning of 1921 (8-12 thousand). At the same time, these executions included both executions for counterrevolutionary activities, and banditry, various abuses of co-workers, etc. I note the dynamics of the shootings. In the first half of 1918, all the Cheka of Russia shot 200 people, most of them for banditry.
Question: Were serious opponents of the Cheka - a professional opposition? Foreigners?
Ilya Ratkovsky: Everything and a lot. Often, open organizations included thousands of armed units. Here you can mention Savinkovskiy "Union for the Defense of Homeland and Freedom" 1918, Moscow Headquarters of the Volunteer Army 1919. Real organizations with plans for the armed overthrow of the Bolsheviks. There was a strong underground, organized by the British and French intelligence services. Everything was.
Question: The Cheka is one of the strongest intelligence services afterwards, right? How did this happen? After all, nonprofessionals, revolutionaries, as some of them are positioning today, “the troublemakers who destroyed the country”, and yet created such a highly organized and professional structure?
Ilya Ratkovsky: There were several moments that "helped this." First, life itself taught. Experience in the face of constant opposition to foreign intelligence. Secondly, the help of the population. Often the signals went from there. This helped open up the underground networks. Again, the experience grew. Third, do not underestimate the experience of professional revolutionaries. For many years they had learned to “leave” from the secret police, to identify its agents. For example, Dzerzhinsky engaged in the Polish Social Democracy to identify provocateurs. Security methods they went through their own lives.
Question: Were they taken to the service of those who held similar positions under the old regime? Was there a danger here? Or ideologically recruited?
Ilya Ratkovsky: In the initial period of activity there. There was a fundamental rejection of this practice. Later the technical staff was taken into account and attracted. Some figures (General Dzhunkovsky) advised security officers on certain features of gendarme work. Instructions were also studied, for example, on surveillance and other methods of work.
Question: What was the fundamental difference between the Cheka and the similar structure under the tsarist regime?
Ilya Ratkovsky: The principal difference was primarily in the tasks. The tasks of the Cheka are wider, from the struggle against internal counter-revolution to the opposition of agents of foreign states. More actively Cheka acted abroad. Well, much more significant is the role of the Cheka in the fight against crimes of the post and economic crimes.
Question: A lot is said about honor, about the morality of the KGB, and the personality of Dzerzhinsky fascinates many with its inflexibility, is it a romantic aura left from the Soviet era, or can you really prove the integrity of the VChK with facts?
Ilya Ratkovsky: In my opinion, we can speak in this regard with reference to specific leaders of the Cheka. For example, there were not only ideological Bolsheviks, but also opportunists. There were bribe takers, but they were identified and shot, sometimes sent to bathe in blood to the front. Yes, and some ideological Chekists were supporters of extreme measures, maximalists.
Dzerzhinsky tried to create a certain ethic of behavior of the Chekists, but it was a civil war and not everything reached the employees of the Cheka, was accepted by them. The example of Dzerzhinsky, of course, played a role. The very same system, hard work sometimes "broke" them. There are cases of requests from the security officers for a transfer to military, economic work. There was a lot of stress. But there was among the security officers and an understanding of the need for their work. Most worked for the revolution, not for themselves.
From the editors. On the eve of .RU congratulates the state security employees on their professional holiday and wishes to follow the main principles of the Chekists, according to Felix Dzerzhinsky's covenant - “a cold head, a warm heart and clean hands”!