The Bolshevik

The Bolshevik
A painting from 1920 by Russian artist Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev (1878–1927) currently in the possession of The Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

20 December 2011

Under "Reconstruction"

Recently Published New Information About Soviet Security Services and the Judicial Branch Before WWII May Alter Some of the Chapters Already Posted Here

(This Will Certainly Slow the Progress of Presenting New Information Until Said Material Is Digested - the Vast Majority of Which Deals with Stalin's Death Grip Over the Military and His Irrational Fear of Spies, Particularly within the Ranks of the Red Army and the Public at Large)

WWII Counter-Espionage propaganda poster which reads: "Eradicate Spies and Saboteurs, [such as] Trotsky-Bukharin [the] Agents of Fascism!" Even the most elementary psychology acknowledges that power seized by means of subterfuge and violence will instill a need in the new leadership to continue to utilize secret political police while fearing the same.

I know it has been a while since I've posted something new, but I am in the midst of scouring over a variety of newly released resource materials (one book has not even been released to the public yet, but is supposed to make it to me in early January since I "pre-ordered" it) pertaining to Stalin and his abuse of every Soviet security service from the NKVD to the variously named foreign intelligence services and finally SMERSH - whose very existence was a state secret until shortly before the fall of the Soviet Union and whose actions were denied by many long after 1991.

Already, some of the new information is causing me to rethink some of the previously published materials in this website/web-book. I was hoping to move on to post-war security service tactics for suppressing dissent and preventing the influence of Western capitalist "Imperialism" from undermining the newly entrenched system of Soviet Communism. What the Bolsheviks had killed so many people to maintain was in jeopardy for the first time with Stalin at the helm of the Communist Party "Flag Ship" (the state security services) leading the rest of the fleet of frightened yet powerful ship captains - generals and admirals of the Soviet Red Army and Navy. These men managed to hold their ground against the Nazi "Bliztkreig" despite the efforts of Stalin to in fact become the commander and chief of the military.

As I sort out the new information, I will try to remember to add, if nothing else, some interesting photos pertaining to the Soviet security services.

For now, here are a few photos of some of the "egg" badges from the Cheka-GPU to the NKVD and finally the only one known to exist made for the briefly lived MGB (immediate predecessor of the KGB) housed in the KGB Museum in Moscow.

Photo from CD-ROM book, Cheka: Distinguished Worker Awards of the Soviet Secret Police by Robert S. Pandis. The above photo shows the faces of the 5th and 15th anniversary badges given to outstanding and/or high-ranking members of the GPU (State Political Directorate - "political police" of the time). These badges were made by silversmiths who were often carry-overs from Imperial Russia who were still making a living in metal working.
Pandis: OGPU was the name of the former Cheka in 1927. Their are three main types of this badge: two-piece silver and red enamel badge with (left) a gold profile of Felix Dzerzhinsky encircled in a wreath, (center) silver profile, and (right) single-piece solid bronze and enamel badge. Note the differences between the Cyrillic acronym lettering of "O.G.P.U." from the first issue and the last two. The second issue, silver badge had the widest banner from which the letters were raised.

Pandis made use of a popular OGPU "Gramota" award to an agent as the "cover" of his e-book (shown below):

Cover of the now rare but extremely important Robert S. Pandis e-book dealing with badges awarded to state security services of the early Soviet Union.

I will continue to post photos of award badges, documents and propaganda materials as I read though the new books I have acquired recently.
 Comments are always welcomed.

17 November 2011

Gathering Time (Photos and Info, That Is)

Someone wrote a comment today on one of my posted "chapters" asking for more to be done on this topic and I could not agree more. The problem is that I am not a full time  history professor who has the time and resources to post more than I am. I also agree that we need all remember what was some of the most unbelievable, Orwellian nightmare-like dystopia enforced during the Cold War by the KGB. However, the Soviet Union was maintained in its first years by fighting off other pretenders to the Russian Empire's thrown - regardless of what they called the seat of power. Besides the troops fighting in the Russian Civil War, Lenin had already formed the Cheka with the perfect bloodless "clean handed" man to lead it as Chekists executed scores of citizens who did not agree politically with the Bolsheviks.

Throughout the existence of the Soviet Union, secret police empowered by both their leaders and their sadistic natures propped up the regime until shortly before it fell. The fact that the head of the KGB and his minions of loyal agents and troops are the ones who lead the coup that served as the official end of the USSR is often lost on most people. Security agencies across the world still perform unimaginable acts on other humans in the name of "intelligence" while following orders - always following orders. It seems following orders is the perfect excuse for all sorts of crimes against humanity.

I promise to try to finish the next installment as soon as possible. In the meantime, and in order to lighten things up a bit, I present the following photo via slava1stclass. If only every security service agent looked like this fellow, they might not frighten us so much. It is likely that the colonel in the photo is an NKVD officer that eventually became an MVD agent in the early 1950s during the massive reorganization of internal, foreign and border intelligence services. Note the "egg" badge on his uniform (better pictures of these badges coming soon).


25 October 2011

Examples of Four of the Most Common Military Awards Members of Soviet State Security Were Eligible For


For the most part, members of a paramilitary organization such as the NKVD and NKGB (OGPU – later the MGB and finally the KGB) were in a similar “gray area” as people who were in the Soviet diplomatic corps. At least periodically, they both answered directly to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union instead of the chief of the armed and naval forces.
The following are examples of awards and Orders that the NKVD and sometimes members of SMERSH were eligible to receive.

Note: all of the photos below were taken by me of orders and medals in my collection. Any other photos used will be indicated as such. Many of the best awards, flags and uniforms in my collection were once part of collections of very good friends and fellow collectors/historians including Paul J. Schmitt, Norm Braddock, Alexei Merezhko, families of original awardees, others who wish to remain anonymous, and many, many more whose knowledge far surpasses mine in their areas of expertise. I am now and always will be grateful to these trustworthy people who continue to find authentic "needles" in a proverbial "haystack" of counterfeit items made and sold purely for the purpose of turning a profit at the expense of history.

Early Medal for Bravery. Left-face of the medal;Right-reverse
(serial #106366). The screw plate used to fix the medal to a
uniform may not be original to this medal. The plate has the
Russian word Monetniy Dvor or simply "mint." The medal is
made of silver with enamel filling the Russian words For
Bravery and the initials for the USSR. Photos made possible
by Norm Braddock.
Since NKVD agents tended to come from within the ranks of the military, they usually had already been awarded one or more medals by that point. The two most common medals awarded were the Order of Bravery and the Medal for Combat Service. The first types of both of these medals started out with 4-sided screw post suspensions before later, under new regulations, the five-sided ones that all medals and many orders hung from.
Early four-sided suspension Combat Service Medal which was
typically awarded to non-officer servicemen and women as
well as NKVD and SMERSH troops. This medal is also made
from silver with enamel filling the Cyrillic letters "CCCP"
which stood for USSR in Russian. Photos made possible by
Norm Braddock.
The Bolsheviks had done away with all orders and medals when they initially assumed power because they thought that such decorations furthered the imperial notion of class separation. However, it was not very long before a few awards were instituted. The first order to be issued nationally was the Order of the Red Banner. For many years, this was the highest award one could be given either for combat merits or lengthy and exemplary service in the Red Army. Eventually, a specific set of “irreproachable service” medals were established and the awarding of orders for long service was abolished. The Order of the Red Banner was given as a companion award to anyone receiving the Order of Lenin.

Originally, the Order of the Red Banner was a “screw back” award with a central screw post that had a large silver screw plate or “nut” to hold the order in place on the uniform. During WWII, the order was transformed to hang from a five-sided suspension that pinned to the uniform rather than punched a hole through it.

The Order of the Red Banner was originally a "screw back" award, but was converted to be held by a five-sided suspension (above). The ubiquitous phrase of the Soviet era was written in the red flag: "Workers of the World Unite!" as well as the Cyrillic initials for USSR across the lower section of the obverse. The order was made from silver with dramatic red enamel work behind any text with gold and silver plating on specific parts for contrast of iconic symbols of the Bolshevik Revolution such as the hammer, plough and bayonet. The reverse of this particular example shows the words Monetniy Dvor or simply "mint" and the hand-engraved serial number 160410. Many of these orders issued in the 100,000 range were for long service. As soldiers, NKVD and SMERSH troops were eligible recipients of the order.

Another order that state security troops were eligible for during WWII and later in the Korean War, Vietnam War and the Afghanistan War as well as during peacetime was the Order of the Red Star (ORS). The order went through a number of changes though it remained a screw back until the end of the Soviet Union. The first of these orders issued were worn with a red silk “rosette” to make it “pop out” on the uniform. Later, the cloth backing was abandoned and the ORS was worn directly on the uniform. Unlike the previous order and medals, this one was worn on the wearer's right breast (see photos below).

An Order of the Red Star with a serial number in the 1.3 million range which would put the awarding of this ORS in approximately 1944-45. Since over 4 million were issued by 1991 - the vast majority of which were for conduct prior to 1950 - this number is not considered very high by collectors. The previous/original owner clearly polished the silver very heavily since the natural tarnish is very light.

This ORS has a serial number over the 2.1 million mark, yet the natural patina of the silver is more evident. Also, this particular type was somewhat wider in the arms of the star and the tips of each arm were slightly rounded unlike the points on the ORS in the first picture. Nearly all Orders of the Red Star with serial numbers above 2.1 million were issued in 1945, according to extrapolation of information in Paul J. Schmitt's book Echoes of War: Researching Soviet Military Decorations.* The serial number is also hand engraved again though in a much larger script. 
A controversial and relatively rare item is the duplicate or dublikat (Russian - дубликат) which was made for recipients of a medal or order who for an acceptable "official" reason had lost the original. On the example above, a Cyrillic "Д" was stamped below the serial number. The original number was sanded off most likely at the mint and was then given a new and in this case, stamped, serial number. Due to this reprocessing, there is no way to tell what the original serial number was though serious collectors could give a safe estimate based on the order's shape, style and weight - all of this type of information is cataloged in numerous sources, but one of the most respected and commonly used is Ордена и медали СССР (Orders and Medals of the USSR) whose web address is The controversy comes from debates among collectors as to how reliable a duplicate order or medal is when so many of these Soviet awards are counterfeited with extreme skill and precision.

The portrait above is of NKVD General V.M. Blokhin who is wearing two Orders of the Red Banner on his left breast and an Order of the Red Star on his right breast just above the two shield and sword NKVD fifth and tenth anniversary badges. He also wears an Order of the Red Banner of Labor and Order of the Badge of Honor (last two on top row, right), which are normally non-military awards that security service personnel were also eligible to be given. These and other awards available to Cheka-KGB agents will be discussed in future chapters. One thing that should be mentioned about General Blokhin is that he was a viscious man who was responsible for some of the horrors that made the NKVD under Stalin such an infamous organization. Military decorations do not make a better man or woman. 

*Schmitt, Paul J. Echoes of War: Researching Soviet Military Decorations; Historical Research L.L.C., Lorton, West Virginia, 2006.
** Photo courtesy of "slava1stclass" (see note about him in previous chapter).

26 September 2011

Photos of Early Soviet State Security Service Personnel

Part 1: The Beginnings

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Above is a grainy photo from 1921 of the members of the Cheka Presidium which included (from left) Yakov Peters, Jozef Unszlicht, A. Ya Belensky, the infamous Felix Dzerzhinsky and Vyacheslav Menzhinsky. As can be seen by the names, not everyone was of strict Russian origin. Dzerzhinsky, himself, was of Polish noble origin. Many people were welcomed by the Bolsheviks in the first couple decades after the October Revolution so long as they were in idealistic agreement with the new Soviet regime. There were many who came from what is now called the UK, the US and numerous countries bordering the Soviet Union. At the very outset of the construction of the Cheka and its agents, there was no specific uniform and many of the new recruits simply wore black tunics to emulate the ones almost always worn by Dzerzhinsky himself (see photo above). There are rumors that the Checkists in 1917 wore more or less what they pleased with an armband - if they wanted to be identified - while design decisions and manufacturing of a more universal uniform were being carried out.

[Note: Many of the following photos were contributed by a very active and knowledgeable member of the Soviet Military Awards Page Forum: (and in the column on the right side of this page. This is an invaluable forum filled with an enormous amount of information and rare photographs. In order to see the photos so many of the members are talking about, registration is required - which is free of charge). This member goes by the moniker "slava1stclass" which are the transliterated words for the Order of Glory, 1st class and was one of the highest awards given to the rank and file soldiers. Officers were ineligible to receive any of the three classes of this award which were given mostly during WWII. He has been kind enough to lend his photos anonymously and I extend my gratitude.]

If a photo did not come from him, it will be noted as such.

The above officer is wearing, besides the Cheka fifth ("V") badge, an early form of the Order of the Red Banner (the first award to be created by the Soviets after they had discontinued the practice of awards all together because some thought it hearkened too much back to Imperialist Russia's class system in which heavily decorated officers were among the higher echelons of power and influence in the aristocratic society even though they might not be of noble birth. Typically, however, no one rose to the highest ranks of the Tsarist military unless they had exceptional skills on the battlefield or were born among the wealthy and/or nobility.

The Cheka officer above is also wearing an award that is considered by most collectors to be one of the rarest and most difficult to find - the so-called "Tractor Lenin." The design only existed a few years and was given its nickname because a tractor is displayed prominently in the background of the obverse of the order. All later models were gold with elaborate enamel work whereas this one was made from silver with a small amount of gold plating and enamel. This, together with the 5-year Cheka anniversary badge dates the photo as no earlier than 1922. It is likely he was awarded the Order of Lenin and Order of the Red Banner (which at the time were presented together) as an award for efforts in the Russian Civil War.

It was very common for servicemen and women of all branches - military and security services - to have their photos taken in full dress uniform, usually after a graduation, promotion or in honor of some occasion or even for their official personnel file. The organization calling for or taking the picture would typically write who the photo was of, his or her rank and was generally signed and/or stamped by the same organization. 

Disclaimer: I do not know the person's name, nor to whom this picture might belong - it was sent anonymously in an email with a simple typed note asking if I could use this photo for this website. So if anyone knows anything about the current owner of the actual photograph and either wants it removed or given credit, simply show me the reverse in context (such as near a current date on a newspaper) and give contact information and the deal will - whichever - be done.

In the photo above, a young OGPU officer leans to one side for his photo as a member from Azerbaijan SSR. Though this was taken likely prewar, notice the unique sleeve, rather than what would be come the international standard use of shoulder boards as rank insignia.

One of the most notable aspects of the uniform is the unusual, almost corduroy-looking, material it seems to be made from, but this could be simply a number of things including lighting and stitching. The other remarkable thing about the uniform is the enormity of the buttons on the jacket. Also worth noting is the cloth belt. Regulation Red Army belts were leather with a large rectangular single- or double-tong buckle with regular waist belts and some with over-the-shoulder straps. Another variety came along a bit later and were buckles that were more square and had the hammer, sickle and star with "rays" motif but it was usually reserved for officers in all army belts. (See photos below for examples.) 

The belt above is a variation of the previous photo but it is unclear as to what the country of origin it is - whether USSR, a republic or simply another East European country on the side of the Soviet Union during The Great Patriotic War. The point is that it is made identically to the definitely Soviet version. There is a brass stud that comes up from the lower layer of the belt and pushes through the top layer to hold it in place. This design was eventually done away with all together.
Early Chekist-GPU uniforms varied from region to region and often differed from the All-Union Chekist official versions based on a number of reasons from regional customs to distance from Moscow which would cause regulation uniforms to take longer to reach Far-Eastern republics and some areas simply kept the style they had before for preference.

Ultimately, any effective political police officer would never appear in public wearing any uniform save the standard army clothing. The use of Royal Blue (sometimes referred to as "corn silk blue") as a symbolic color of the security services did not come into regular, widespread use until the late 1920s - early 1930s.   

12 June 2011

Brief Look at NKVD and MGB "Internal Army" Flags

A component of the security services of the Soviet Union that most outside observers might not take serious note of is the ever-present armed and trained special operations military units that the each version of the Cheka-KGB as well as the NKVD-MVD had at its disposal. The original concept of these “internal armies” or Внутренние войска in Russian (“VV” abbreviated in English), was to be the heaviest hand in the body of the special services.

A field banner for the 57[th] Rifle Division of the VV
NKVD USSR. This one was likely used right after WWII
according to what information is available regarding
this division. Theyspecialized in fighting armed groups
of counterrevolutionaries particularly in Ukraine. 
Initially, the units were created to enforce the political policies of the Moscow Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and, of course the man who was general secretary of this committee – a title first held by Stalin. Ironically, he was the same person who so greatly abused these troops that continued to exist long after WWII and Stalin’s death in 1953, when the Khrushchev-era “de-stalinization” of the country and the organizations such as the NKVD-MVD and Cheka-KGB began. In fact, these same "VV" troops from the KGB with names such as Alpha Group, Zenith, and Vymple (Russian for "banner" which was the airborne "group") were the vanguard in the assaults in 1979 on the Tajbeg Palace near Kabul that started the Soviet war with Afghanistan. The initial attack organized by the KGB was called Storm 333 in Russian and resulted in not only the taking of the government, but a revolutionary war that lasted nearly 10 years.  Even more ironic is the fact that had the Western governments not been so anti-Soviet and backed the USSR instead of the Afghani rebels, Osama Bin Laden and other US-trained militants would most likely never have come to power and the terrorists known as the Taliban would not exist. Of course this is is speculation about what should have and/or could have been.

The reverse of the above VV NKVD flag.
The VV NKVD troops were used by Stalin to carry out all sorts of highly controversial and very unpleasant actions before, during and after WWII, in part during the “Great Terror” of the 1930s and later post-war divisions were used to suppress anti-Soviet rebel groups throughout Ukraine and newly acquired Baltic States. The Organization for Ukrainian Nationalists was the most renowned and persistent of the rebel groups (see previous chapter dealing with OUN flag and the organization). The suppression took the roles of direct attack, capture and executions or mass deportation by train of whole ethnic populations to desolate regions in Siberia, or wholesale murder of civilians in small towns and villages suspected of collaborating with anti-Soviet rebels.

A closeup of the hand-sewn numbers and letters, which consist of several rows of stitching side by side and which simply says the name of the rifle division as explained in the previous photo. It is also easy to see the work of hands on the central star. What is interesting about this flag is that it does not have the ubiquitous "Workers of the Country [sometimes translated as "World] Unite" even though there is plenty of room at the top of the front of the flag. 

The text of the reverse simply says "For Our Soviet
Motherland" together with the hammer and sickle
symbol of the original revolution.

After the war, the foreign intelligence service, the OGPU (All-Union State Political Directorate) which had been subordinated by the NKVD, was once again an independent agency – “Ministry of State Security,” or MGB. They too had a number of “VV” units who also participated in counter-intelligence and espionage elimination of such elements among the counterrevolutionaries.

An award flag for the 88[th] Rifle Regiment of the VV
MGB of the USSR with the slogan "For Our Soviet
Motherland" sewn in across the top.
As the KGB inherited this problem from its predecessor during the Khrushchev era, so it was ordered to publicly back off the hunt and pursuit of rebels. However, secretly, the KGB created new forms of VV units with the most famous called Vympel, Zenith, and Alpha. Each of these special operations units had specific purposes including emergency response teams and by the 1970s, a counter- terrorism unit. Nonetheless, the topic of the KGB and clandestine operations after its inception will be discussed in more detail later.
The reverse of the MGB flag with a more standard style state seal and the other, more famous slogan: "Workers of the Country [World] Unite!"
Like the NKVD flag above, the text was created by rows of stitching sewn closely together. An all-sewn rendition of Stalin and Lenin on silk is inside the octagon in the center of the flag.

A closeup of the state seal sewn into the reverse of the MGB flag with 16 republics represented by individual banners or "ribbons" each with "Workers of the World [Country], Unite!" in each of the constituent native languages of the republics. This version of the state seal only existed from 1946-1956 until the country was re-divided into the final 15 republics that existed until the union was dissolved in 1990.

31 May 2011

NKVD and the Other Security Services

An security services sergeant posing in front of an OGPU award
flag. A viewer pointed out that though the flag is certainly from
the OGPU, the uniform the sergeant is wearing is post WWII. 
Therefore, for some reason an older flag is being used as a for
the soldier to pose in front of though it will always make a good 
backdrop for any Soviet photo. Notice that there are only six
republics represented on the state seal which makes this a very
early, pre-WWII flag, though a post war photo. Also note that
he is not wearing a pistol as nearly all NKVD officers did -
though in posed photos, most officers from any branch of
security service is seldom seen armed. 
(Submitted photo)
The NKVD as opposed to the KGB and earlier security services incarnations of the Soviet Union were two equal but separate organizations. The lines between their specific duties were often blurred - especially during the Stalin years. The lines were even more obscure shortly before and especially after the USSR officially joined the fray of WWII. The OGPU ("All-Union State Political Directorate" and nearly immediate successor to the Cheka) as a whole was incorporated as a division/directorate of the NKVD. This included their specially trained military support units as well as all foreign intelligence agents.  

A small group of NKVD agents while taking a break in the field in 1944.* The NKVD political
branch had uniforms with bright colors - royal blue and crimson red, particularly on the caps.
They did this so that if they were running through a group of khaki-covered "simple Red Army"
sea of people in a charge of a battle, they would always be visible and distinct from the "mere"
or "average" soldier during WWII. The NKVD border guards's uniforms were more blended to
their surroundings and were only easily distinguished by the bright green caps they wore. Soviet
Security service/political police felt and were taught that they were superior to anyone who was not in the Cheka-KGB family. Considering the "perks" political agents received for being members of any of the Soviet security agencies, throughout the 70 plus years of the Soviet Union, were apparently worth the trade-off of losing friends, neighbors and sometimes family, and the loss, even temporarily for some, of the compassion that makes people human. 
Two different types of NKVD caps.
The one on top is for an agent/young
officer of the state security side of the
organization. The one beneath it is for
the NKVD border guard. Both caps in
remained in use until the entire NKVD
broken back up into the MGB and the
MVD in the late 1940s and earlier
part of the 1950s as the MVD donned
new uniforms as did the MGB-KGB. 
Eventually, only the colors remained
on the respective uniform cap.

However, in order for most citizens of modern democracies to comprehend the differences between the NKVD (later the MVD - Ministry of Internal Affairs) while Stalin and Lavrentiy Beria had control over them just before, during and more or less up until Stalin's death on March 5 of 1953 and the state security organizations of the Soviet Union, they have to be able to relate to these organizations in terms of their own country's security agencies. After Stalin's death in 1953 Beria subordinated the MGB to his MVD which made many state officials in the Kremlin extremely uncomfortable. In 1954, after Beria was arrested, tried and executed as the post-Stalinist fervor grew, the MGB (Ministry of State Security) was changed to the more renowned KGB (Committee for State Security – a post Stalin-Beria move to "demote" the massive and powerful MGB as separate from the MVD – again) from fear of what such an organization was capable of at the ministry level.

In the United States, the closest comparison to the NKVD would be the Federal Bureau of Investigation – if it were given free reign and powers of not only arrest, but trial and execution. The NKVD's "jurisdiction" superseded any local law enforcement or regional agency and, like the FBI, was supposed to only operate within the borders of the country. In fact, most militias (police departments) and fire departments were part of the NKVD itself.

On the other hand, the Cheka-KGB was charged with many tasks similar to the US Central Intelligence Agency and, like the CIA, was supposed to operate exclusively outside of the country except in cases of counterintelligence, counterrevolution and/or counterterrorism. However, the CIA alone is not a sufficient equivalent to the state security services of the Soviet Union. If the US National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security were combined with the CIA and the National Security Council to give indirect orders, then the comparison is a bit better. In fact, the CIA was the first dedicated and independent of the military security agency ever to exist in the United States and it did not come about until then President Harry Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 and completed the plans of his presidential predecessor Franklin D. Roosevelt who saw the urgent need for a permanent foreign intelligence service in the US, especially for a young country with high aspirations.

As mentioned above, the state security and political police (OGPU) was subordinated to the NKVD at Beria's request and Stalin's order shortly before war was officially declared on Germany by the Soviet Union. For a brief period in 1941, the OGPU (then renamed the NKGB, or "People's Commissariat for State Security) was made autonomous again, but shortly thereafter Stalin and Beria perceived the need to re-subordinate them into the NKVD. The power-hungry Beria, the last head of the NKVD and briefly of the newly named MVD, had hopes of eventually replacing Stalin; in fact, a rumor circulated among the Party elite in the Kremlin that Beria had poisoned Stalin to speed along his own plans to assume the role of General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee – a.k.a. "dictator for life." This rumor was not publicly pursued, particularly since Beria was executed only nine months after Stalin's death. Just as in many cases of "disappeared" persons, there was little, if any fanfare at the announcement of Beria as an "enemy of the people” – a title befitting one who was an enemy of all people who were not Beria and who used the same term to have a large number of Soviet citizens imprisoned or killed (precisely how many people is impossible to say given the “Top Secret” status of many related documents, even to this day).

A photo of the 158th Rifle Division of SMERSH taken most
likely immediately after their graduation from a specialized
academy - training course - for SMERSH agents. This was a
a new experiment in warfare and control over some
morally deficient SMERSH agents and their units was not
established. As a result, atrocities were committed sometimes in
conjunction with the NKVD. Please note that many of the
agents pictured above are women. The Red Army saw no
problem with women carrying a rifle into battle.  However,
though even to this day two years of service in the military is 
compulsory, women are exempt from conscription during 
times of peace.** 
The last group that needs to be mentioned is SMERSH (a semi-acronym for the Russian phrase "Death to Spies" or СМЕРть Шпионам [emphasis on the pasts of the two words used]). At least for the edification of the public and any other more observant citizen of the young country, the organization was created to capture and/or prevent the work of, for the purposes of propaganda, German spies and saboteurs. It was not long before they were working either without official orders or with the help of military intelligence (GRU).

The military intelligence division of the Red Army could not compete with the effectiveness of the OGPU and NKVD. Part of this gap in successful operations was in part due to the fact that a majority of the GRU officers were loyal to their superiors and bound by the Red Army's "Code of Military Conduct." However, there are a significant number of documented operations performed by GRU officers that are no better than the things the NKVD agents have been accused of by people who survived the Great Patriotic War only to find themselves fighting daily to stay alive in a Gulag and survived that as well, only finally enjoy their old age and government pension, if lucky enough to be re-approved for the pension and a decrease in their monthly money since inflation had made many pensions nearly worthless after 1991.

Agents with SMERSH had the same powers of arrest, trial and execution of anyone found to either be a collaborator during the Great Patriotic War with any of the invading fascist militaries, or had helped soldiers with these armies (particularly the Germans) in any way.

There is an entire chapter coming soon that deals entirely with SMERSH and their activities during the GPW, especially since they were often the first in a chain of events that typically ended with the NKVD, either interrogating and/or torturing of prisoners, or forming the troikas which were infamous for convicting a prisoner even before a word was spoken. Eventually, SMERSH agents too often did not like the public credit going to the NKVD for the extensive work, typically undercover work as a member of the same region the spy was sent to for the purposes of observation and infiltration of even the tiniest organization or group of dissidents. Once the leaders of such groups were identified based on an agent's reports, they were captured and normally killed by either members of the NKVD or SMERSH.

More coming soon on the SMERSH, NKVD-MVD and MGB-KGB pursuits of spies and saboteurs - though more realistically, they were usually after rebels hiding out in various parts of the incredible amount of uninhabited land across the Soviet Union, which reached from the border of Germany to the Pacific Ocean via Soviet regions north of (and including) Mongolia.  

* Bekesi, Laszlo. KGB & Soviet Security Uniforms & Militaria 1917-1991. Photos by Gyorgy Torok. The Crowood Press, Ltd., United Kingdom, 2002.
** Photo: There are copyrights by the "Group of Authors," the FSB Central Archive, an "artist" and layout designer and some other folks all working for the FSB on this book. Since there is no direct attribution of a copyright or a publisher, and after reading the very specific and frightening explanation of what can happen to someone who reprints the materials inside the book, I will only post one photo that hopefully has reached public domain status due to age. The copyrights listed inside the book were all taken out in 2003.

30 April 2011

The Spread of Chekist Ideas and Ideals at a High Moral Cost: Part II

Other Battles Faced by the Soviet Government Against Its Own Citizens

A political poster from the Bolsheviks which literally translated
means: "Electrification and Counter-Revolution" and makes no
sense out of historical context. At this point in time the first
Soviet government was pushing for and promising the public
the availability of electricity throughout the country. The implied
meaning is that "light" shed by the completion of such a huge
task would help find counter-revolutionaries. The usual group
of potential suspects includes an officer from the Imperial White
Guard, a high-ranking clergyman from the Russian Orthodox
Church, a "wealthy" merchant/capitalist and in the center, a
spy/saboteur - commonly depicted as a thin German complete
with stereotypical monocle and the attire of a member of the 
foreign service or possibly an ambassador. 
Stalin's and later Soviet Union leaders' attempts at maintaining public order to keep the ideals of the Revolution not only alive, but in practice despite continuous, organized pockets of resistance - especially after WWII - was a constant battle that involved the extensive use of the NKVD and subsequently MGB/KGB specialized troops. However, long before Stalin attempted to repress counter-revolutionary pockets throughout the Soviet Union, the first major battles were fought in the form of an Imperial Russian - Bolshevik Russian Civil War from 1917-1923. The war started after the collapse of the short-lived Provisional Government established after Tsar Nicholas II abdicated and turned over the reigns of power to a number of revolutionary groups varying in degrees of communism and socialism. (See early chapters here regarding the revolutions of 1917 and the resulting turmoil for more information.) When the Bolsheviks were clearly on one side, they were referred to as the "Red Guard" and later, more formally as the "Red Army." The Imperialists and their supporters were called the "White Guard." Other splinter groups not clearly in either of these groups either joined one side or the other with hopes of a better future for themselves or formed their own paramilitary organizations, such as the Organization of Ukrainian Nationals (OUN). During the Russian Civil War several other countries joined in the fight (usually against the Red Guard) for at least some of the time - but most lost interest as the Bolsheviks gained the upper hand on the battlefield throughout Russia and her component parts.

Post-WWII Rebels
When counter-revolutionaries were suspected within the contexts of cities, teachers or professors, writers, musicians and other members of the intelligentsia, or even just an average Soviet citizen who said something within earshot of the wrong person who would then turn said person in to the current security organization, the matter was dealt with a bit differently than the all too common battles waged against whole organizations - the most prominent and enduring of which was the OUN. The OUN was formed almost immediately after the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917 and became a constant problem for MGB/KGB troops.
Above is a photo of the reverse of a velvet banner made for "Friends"/"Supporters" of the Ukrainian Nationalists. The Ukrainian inscription (слава україні) simply means "Glory to Ukraine." The front of the flag (below) has the national symbol of Ukraine (currently in use again) and three Cyrillic letters for D, U, and N, or Друзі українських націоналістів for Friends of Ukrainian Nationalists. This particular flag was allegedly captured by NKVD or NKGB/MGB troops depending on whether it was seized during or shortly after WWII. Regardless of when it was captured, those who were arrested or killed immediately because of it were certainly treated as enemy combatants and were referred to by the Soviets as an "Enemy of the People" - a term that came to be known under the NKVD's and Stalin's "terror" as synonymous with a death warrant from the security services.

The OUN was most noticeable and problematic for the Soviets in the decades immediately following WWII, as were a number of other independence groups formed in parts of Mongolia and the newly annexed Baltic States of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. In fact, the Lviv Oblast (something like "county" or "parish" in English) and the city of Lviv was a bastion of continuous ill will toward Soviet rule. The city was once part of Poland but after WWII became a permanent part of western-most Ukraine. As a border region that had ties to Poland and Germany in addition to Ukraine many people got tastes for other governments varying from Imperial to Nazi and of course Communism. The city was a regular source of irritation for the KGB and its predecessor the Ministry of State Security (MGB) since it spawned anti-Soviet groups including members of the ranks of the most organized of them, the OUN. Because of this ongoing problem with the local public opinion, the KGB established one of its most notorious regional offices in Lviv. Serving as an agent there was either a punishment or a chance to gain notoriety and move up the ranks faster than in other parts of the USSR, and which situation it was depended on the individual officer and why he (very few women were actually KGB agents - despite various spy novel authors' fantasies) was assigned to that location. The security services and the border guard were always closely linked if not under the same agency name and this is understandable given the unstable nature of borderlands and the thought processes of people who have been rapidly shifted from one regime to another and the division of loyalties that results.

The pictures below show close-ups of the embroidery work on a flag from a prominent Ukrainian rebel-supporting group ostensibly from a group called the DUN or Druzhnnik or "friends"/"supporters" of the Ukrainian Nationalists. This flag was likely made during the early part of the Soviet involvement in WWII. Germany had been a potential ally of the Ukrainian people against the Soviets as early as the initial series of revolutions in 1917 when German troops were sent in support of members of the White Guard and other imperialists who wanted to maintain the status quo as far as the Russian Empire and the leadership thereof. (See for more information on the White Guard and the initial revolutions.)

In the photos above and below, some of the especially intricate details of this obviously handmade flag are more visible than from a distance. Besides the unusually long-fibered construction of the velvet, sheets of silk  and the embroidery discussed above were sewn together in this weighty example of what one might expect was a form of public announcement about the group and where their sympathies lay - a potentially life-threatening gamble depending on who saw the flag. The national colors of dark blue over a gold field are the dominant colors and have since been restored on the current Ukrainian flag.

Gulags and Asylums
Those who spoke out against the Soviet system in whatever form, faced severe reprisals from the security service personnel in a variety of forms. Arrest was merely an initial step in the final disposition of an individual's case. Most victims of political or alleged criminal activity that wound them up in the hands of the security services were exiled to potentially lethal servitude in one of many forced labor camps (widely known by the Russian acronym: GULAG). A disturbingly high number of people who were arrested particularly by the NKVD during Stalin's reign, were executed either publicly or in secret without a body ever turning up for family members to claim and bury. Both imprisonment and execution were almost always prefaced by some sort of torture.

One of the oldest jokes told about the KGB hearkens back to the theme of beating a confession out of someone, whether real or more likely an elaborately imagined one presented by the interrogating officers: Agents from the CIA, MI6 and the KGB were each told that they had to launch a mission to route out a a certain black rabbit. As per the joke, the British and MI6 were first up. The set about immediately to form organizational groups, discuss and debate strategy, until they finally deemed the whole project unfeasible economically and abandoned the whole task. The Americans and their CIA were up next and after a brief discussion among the highest members of the organization, decided to call in a massive air strike laying the whole forest barren and desolate - much to the protests of the locals. "But at least we know he is not alive down there or at worst, he has gotten away somewhere else," was the CIA agents' response. The KGB officers approached for their assignment already a little tipsy on vodka - but it was almost noon and this is understandable. "You want black rabbit, we get black rabbit." Three KGB officers went into the scorched woods and returned a few minutes later with a brown bear in cuffs and custody, mumbling and rubbing his whole head delicately. Finally, as the KGB officers and the bear approach the judging table, the badly beaten brown bear is heard saying, "Sure, I'm a black rabbit; anybody else you want me to be? I see the evil inherent in just being just a bear."

"I'm...a British, French, American, Japonese, Italian, German and some
other kind of spy probably..." [trans]. This drawing was reportedly  
done by an inmate of a gulag depicting members of the current
security service (possibly Smersh, probbably NKVD) obtaining a
"confession"from an arrested individual. This drawing and others below
 are from abook Drawings from the Gulag by Danzig Baldaev.*
The very existence of the gulags was a means for the security forces to eliminate the "enemies of the people" sent there together with hardened criminals - the ones who not only ran the prisons but also did some of the killings the NKVD wanted done in some of these labor prisons. Actual criminal convicts who had been multiple offenders and were sentenced to lengthy prison stays were known as the "thieves by law" and occupied a certain rank above more petty, non-violent criminals. Among these "lesser" prisoners, the counter-revolutionaries or "enemies of the people" were the lowest class and if they survived the initial tortures that brought them to the gulags then the were very often killed by either prison guards (NKVD) or hired or otherwise motivated members of the "thieves by law" groups. Those that survived the prison camps were either very clever or very lucky - or both.

The prisoners at the top of the hierarchy in gulags dispensed their form of "justice" based on the orders of the guards and on the whims of the the gangs of "thieves by law" and could be capricious at best. 
According to the author of Drawings from the Gulag the leading
gangs executed other prisoners with the cooperation of the guards
and administration as well as on their direct orders. The drawing above
shows a sentence of beheading ordered by a "court of thieves" according
to the author.* 
Another fate faced some people rather than being publically branded an “enemy of the people” for various reasons including being “saved” by influential Communist Party members who were either friends or family. One of the most common ways to make someone “disappear” other than by execution or gulag was to have them committed indefinitely to insane asylums. The theory was that if someone objected to the party line, then he or she must not be thinking correctly. The type of person sentenced to this sort of fate varied, but more often than not, this is where an artist, musician or writer might spend his or her life at least while Stalin remained in control of the Soviet Union. A very large number of people were either released from whichever sort of prison they found themselves in as a result of Stalin's paranoia or were "posthumously rehabilitated" - which meant that even though they had died in captivity, their families were not held to blame and their names were restored to good standing. This happened, of course, after Stalin's death during the subsequent reforms to the system. In order to prevent obvious discrepancies between the Communist Party dogma and the repatriation of accused and sentenced "enemies of the people," the task of freeing political prisoners was not a swift one. It crawled along and continued until well after the collapse of the Soviet Union itself.