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.

28 February 2011

Images of an Emerging New World

As the war drew to an end, Stalin had already decided what he wanted from the spoils of war, even though occupying some Eastern European countries and annexing the Baltic states is still a question of morality and the right to take over countries.

Before I venture into the end of WWII (to the Russians, "The Great Patriotic War"), and the "Cold War" - I thought a few posters and other pictures of propaganda from a War ravaged and politically untrusting government bent on "winning the hearts and minds" with promises for the stomach.

Intentional famines in the southern regions of the Soviet Union by Stalin to force compliance to his collectivisation laws and taxes among the Kulaks (or rather ex-Kulaks) of the agrarian lands well south of Moscow. These minor land-owners, or "wealthy peasants" were a significant problem for both Stalin and Lenin because these land-owning peasants became so because of Russian Imperial reform about 10 years before the October Revolution. They vehemently opposed the entire notion of Leninist-Marxist socialism-communism, especially since they had essentially bought their freedom and managed to create a profit through their work which allowed them to buy the land they worked.

The Kulaks and how they were systematically eradicated by Stalin (though Lenin began the killing with the Cheka) and his NKVD and Smersh troops, along with entire cultural and ethnic peoples will be discussed elsewhere.

The following are a few posters and other political art from the 1930s-1940s.

Please enjoy (those who are old enough - or watched enough old Warner Brothers' Bugs Bunny cartoons may recognize the Soviet Versions of some of our own WWII propaganda posters - like "Rosie the Riveter" and some of those old cartoons themselves).

The Battle of Stalingrad and Hitler's resounding,
and more importantly, humiliating defeat there started
a complete role reversal of battle tactics - namely the
Nazi War Machine had broken down and was loping
back to Berlin without a single significant win when
fighting the Red Army until the Soviets were standing
atop the Reichstag's making the famous replacement
of the Nazi headquarters flag for the USSR hammer
and sickle on that great red field. The rifle has the
word "Stalingrad" and the caption is basically -
"We beat the malicious Fuhrer here, we can beat
him anywhere." 

Propaganda poster for winning of the Battle of Moscow
and a likeness of the actual medal awarded to all those
who were responsible in some capacity for keeping the enemy at the gates out - whether they were bankers given
a rifle or a trained soldier or NKVD trooper.

"The sniper strikes from afar, but he always is certain [acurate - trans.]!"

This propaganda piece alludes to the Non-Agression Pact signed between Germany and the Soviet Union, which Hitler violated brought the full rath of not only the government, but of the public as well. This is reminiscent of the the
Warner Bros' cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny and several anti-Nazi nd pro US Army rediness and dominance cartoons. The newspaper Hitler is hiding behind has a headline about the Non-Agression Pact and the text at the top reads:
"Mercilessly smash and destroy the enemy!"
"Glory to the Partisan Heroes Who Destroy the Enemy's Rear Line [preventing them from leaving spies, mines
or having any other means of escape - trans.]" Partisans from countries with the former "Soviet Sphere of Influence" were greatly admired and given practically a hero status among both the public and the government. Countries like Hungary, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Poland as well as members of the Baltic States. The most obvious problem with the partisan movements is that some of them, particularly Ukrainians formed resistance groups which before WWII fought the Red Army and the Bolsheviks and many of them continued to refocus their attention on the Soviets, the most prominent was the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) which had arranged and trained itself to be a formidable enemy for the officers and armed troops of the  NKVD, NKGB, MGB and to an extent, the KGB.

11 February 2011

Stalin, Hitler and the Treaty of Non-Aggression

While Stalin was busy with having millions arrested, tortured, imprisoned and/or executed, he also turned a blind eye toward Hitler and the Nazi genocide of German Jews. In many ways, the two dictators were operating with similar goals - complete domination of their respective kingdoms - and used similar methods - mass removal of entire populations from their homes to prison camps, or in Stalin's case, relocating the population of a region to another simply to punish their perceived misdeeds. One of the most remembered is the systematic relocation by train of practically the entire population of Chechnya because too many among them refused to bend to his will and turn over the allotted amount of production as a state "tax."

Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov signs the German-Soviet non-aggression pact;
Joachim von Ribbentrop and Josef Stalin stand behind him, Moscow, August 23, 1939**
Hitler despised Stalin as he did all Slavic peoples and Stalin did not trust Hitler, but the two men needed the peace treaty for their own ends, much to the anger and bitter frustration of many of the Baltic States and  especially Poland, the first country Hitler's armies invaded. The peace held until 1941 when Hitler was no longer content with conquering Western Europe and decided he could use his Panzers and Blitzkrieg tactics to take Moscow within a year. He was wrong. Like many other invaders of Russia, including Napoleon, he did not fully take into account the severity of Russian winters and a terrain of Taiga forests that when blanketed with snow provided no sense of direction nor allowed for soldiers and commanders to get their bearings accurately. Despite these major handicaps, the Nazi army eventually came within only about one hundred kilometers of Moscow before they were stopped cold by a brutal arctic blizzard that pounded an army already stretched very thin and without adequate supplies of food and warm clothing. The German invaders had underestimated what both the Red Army and Mother Nature could do to prevent invading soldiers from reaching their goal.

The "Treaty of Non-Aggression" signed by representatives of the Soviet Union and Germany in August of 1939 was touted as a simple extension of the previous neutrality agreement signed between the two countries in 1926. The treaty was nicknamed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact by the average citizens because of the two men who drafted and signed the brief agreement, Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. The non-aggression treaty, signed during the night of August 23 in Moscow, 1939 asserted that each country would remain neutral in the event either was attacked by a third party. Article II: "In case one of the contracting parties should become the object of war-like acts on the part of a third power the other contracting party will not support that third power in any form."* For Hitler, this meant he did not have to worry about a war on two fronts and could continue his march across Western Europe. For Stalin, it meant that he was free to flush out saboteurs and "wreckers" among the rank and file of the Soviet Union.

Most of the articles of the treaty favored Germany and Hitler's plans for conquering the planet. In fact, Article IV was worded practically in anticipation of the formation in 1941 of the Allied nations against Nazi Germany which consisted of "The Big Three" - the British Empire, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States - as well as 16 other countries including France, Czechoslovakia, Canada, Australia, Greece, Yugoslavia, Poland and Brazil. The article stated that "Neither of the two contracting parties will participate in any grouping of powers which is indirectly or directly aimed against the other party." Of course, the minute Hitler ordered his armies to invade the Soviet Union just after 3 a.m. of June 22, 1941, the treaty was voided. However, Stalin had ignored warnings from intelligence services that such an attack was not only likely, but imminent. Because of this blind blunder the Red Army suffered 4.3 million casualties and three million more were captured in only six months after the initial invasion.

The treaty itself was an initial step on Hitler's part to buy time while he waged war in Western Europe and there is no direct evidence that he ever had any intention of honoring the agreement any longer than it suited him. But the treaty signed by the two foreign ministers was not the only agreement that the two countries decided upon. What no one outside the walls of the Kremlin other than Hitler and his closest advisers was that there was a "secret protocol" attached to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which divided up Eastern Europe between Germany and the Soviet Union into so-called "spheres of influence." Finland, Latvia and Estonia were assigned to the Soviet sphere while Poland was split between the two countries based on presumed political motives within the country and Lithuania was at first under the German sphere then later shifted to the Soviets. The maps below show the initial intent of the division according to the "Secret Protocol" (left) and the actual division in which the Soviet Union annexed the Baltic States and added them formally as republics of the Soviet Union in 1948 (right), without the consent of the citizens of these countries. At the same time, Finland and the USSR went to war over the Soviet attempt to annex them as well and eventually the Red Army backed down from this venture, although the USSR did gain two small portions of Finland - Karelia and Salla as can be seen below.

Since Hitler's first country of choice to invade was Poland, he did not want opposition from the Soviet Union at this stage of his overall plan. Hitler was allowed to expand the German borders as he wished within Eastern Europe which later included invasions of Hungary, Romania and Greece.

The pact was a treaty of convenience for both parties. Stalin wanted the UK and the US to agree to his wish to annex the Baltic States, but since they would not, he decided it would be better to have a peace treaty with Germany for the meantime until the Allies (in 1939 the "Allies" consisted of the UK, France and the US, even though the US had not officially gone to war yet) were more willing to see things his way.

Another aspect of this treaty with Germany was that the NKVD met with the Gestapo on several occasions in Poland and helped train the SS on tactics for killing large numbers of captives at one time. It is well known that the Gestapo itself was founded in the image of the NKVD by German officers who had trained in the Soviet Union and many other tactics for dealing with rebels and "undesirables" (or as the Soviets termed them, "bandits") because high ranking members of the Gestapo noticed during their collaboration with the NKVD on border areas that the NKVD was far more efficient and effective in carrying out Stalin's murderous plans. It was not uncommon for NKVD officers to capture German Jews who fled from Germany and across the border into a Soviet Sphere of Influence and then turn them over to members of the Gestapo.

Perhaps the most disturbing result of the pact pertained to Poland and the officers and soldiers who fought the Germans when they invaded and/or the Soviet Red Army when it began occupying western Poland (see maps above). In 1939, about 180,000 Polish prisoners of war were turned over to the Red Army which divided them up with the regular soldiers being taken to labor camps and the officers and other ranking leaders who fought the Nazi invasion taken to three "special camps." There was a total of approximately 15,000 men placed in camps at Kozelsk (near Smolensk), Starobelsk (near Kharkov), and Ostashkov (Kalinin district). All three camps were under NKVD control and all of the prisoners were subjected to intense interrogations and Soviet propaganda.

After the USSR reestablished diplomatic ties with the Polish government in exile in London, the Soviets assured the Poles that the prisoners from these three camps would be released and later insisted that they had been released. However, no one outside of the NKVD ever saw any of them again.

In 1943, German soldiers discovered several mass graves in the Katyn Forest near the Kozelsk camp and the Nazis announced the discovery to the world press. At first, the Stalin and the Polit Bureau remained silent while the Germans announced that all of the 4,400 dead in the mass graves had their hands bound behind them and were each shot in the back of the head. When world leaders began demanding answers the Soviet propaganda machine tried to turn the tables on the Nazis saying that it was the German army that had killed these people and tried to label it as another Nazi atrocity.

In 1946, none of the judges would put blame on either party for the Katyn Massacre, even though the Soviets continued to point the finger at the Nazis. It was not until 1990 that two similar sites of mass graves were found near the other two special camps, and the many years of not knowing for certain who was responsible for all of the killings came to an end in 1992 when then president Boris Yeltsin of the Russian Federation turned over documents to the Polish government proving beyond all doubt that the 15,000 people had been executed under Stalin's orders by the NKVD.

Red Arny soldiers escorting Polish prisoners to one
of the "special camps"***

The first page of a letter from Beria to
Stalin suggesting the execution of the
Polish prisoners***

Bodies found after the excavation of one of the mass graves at Katyn***

*** Photos from Wikimedia Commons - public domain

07 February 2011

NKVD and the Great Terror Part I

Beginnings of the Great Purge/Terror

The NKVD, or People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (Russian: Народный комиссариат внутренних дел), was created shortly after the 1917 October Revolution, but inherited an overwhelming number of duties from its Imperial predecessor, the MVD. Under Stalin the NKVD was transformed in 1934 for the initial purpose of being both the standard public police/militia and the Soviet secret/political police. The organization was a combination of the MVD, Ministry of Internal Affairs (Russian: МВД or Министерство внутренних дел), and the OGPU, All-Union State Political Directorate (Russian: ОГПУ or Объединённое государственное политическое управление) which was the direct descendant of the Cheka founded by Felix Dzerzhinsky. 

The NKVD from 1936-1938 is infamous as the instrument by which Stalin "purged" the Communist Party, Soviet military and generally anyone who spoke out in opposition to his regime - including some who were quite innocent of the fabricated charges made against them. Stalin gave the NKVD the same powers of arrest, trial and execution that the now subordinate OGPU once had (see No. 5 in decree below). Their main and most feared concept was the troika or three man "extrajudicial" system which was charged with the duty of taking some of the burden off of the standard Soviet judicial system at the time by means of  trying those arrested by the infantry units of the NKVD. History has shown that it is unlikely that anyone brought before a troika received anything remotely near a fair trial and were often simply executed in accordance with the "speedy trial" mandate.

The following is a translation of the decree from the Central Executive Committee of the USSR which transformed the NKVD on July 10, 1934 and was originally published in the Soviet Union's official newspaper, Izvestiya:

The Central Executive Committee of the USSR decrees:
1. To establish the All-Union People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs and to include in it the Unified [All-Union] State Political Department (OGPU).
2. The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs is to be charged with the following duties: Internal ensuring of revolutionary order and security of the State. Internal safeguarding of public (socialist) property. Internal registration of civil acts (registration of births, deaths, marriages and divorces). Internal guarding of frontiers.
3. To form the following departments in the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs:
  • Chief Administration of Security of the State.
  • Chief Administration of Workers' and Peasants' Police.
  • Chief Administration of Security of frontiers and of order in the country.
  • Chief Administration of Fire Defense.
  • Chief Administration of Correctional and labor camps and labor settlements.
  • Chief Administration of Civil Acts.
  • Internal Administrative and Economic Department.
4. To organize, in the allied republics, republican People's Commissariats for Internal Affairs which are to function on the basis of the same Regulations as the All-Union People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, and to establish in the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic, instead of the republican People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, the office of Plenipotentiary Representative of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs of the USSR To organize in autonomous republics, provinces and regions, local departments of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs of the allied republics.
5. To abolish the judicial commission of the OGPU.
6. The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs and its local departments are to hand over the papers regarding criminal offenses which are investigated by them, after the investigation has been completed, to the courts in correspondence with their jurisdiction and in accordance with the existing legal procedure.
7. Documents relating to cases investigated by the Department of Security of the State in the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, are to be handed over to the Supreme Court of the USSR, and the papers relating to such crimes as treason, espionage and the like, are to be handed over to the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR or to the Military Tribunals according to their jurisdiction.
8. To form a special Council attached to the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs of the USSR which, in accordance with its Statute, shall have power to issue orders regarding administrative deportation, exile, imprisonment in correctional and labor camps for a term not exceeding 5 years and deportation outside the confines of the USSR.
9. To instruct the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs of the USSR to present the Statute of the Pan [All]-Union People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs to the Council of People's Commissariat of the USSR for confirmation.
President of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR, M. Kalinin Secretary of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR, A. Enukidze*

Nikolai Yezhov, Head of NKVD
from 1936-1938

Genrikh Yagoda, head of NKVD
from 1934-1936
The NKVD was given enormous power and at the same time was expected to coordinate the task of manning and operating every aspect of foreign or state security (with the help of the now subordinate OGPU) together with the more mundane duties of running local police and fire departments. Moreover, they were expected to administer the state border guard and the gulag system. Under normal circumstances it is unwise to give this much authority or power to a single organization, but with the leadership Stalin installed at the head of the NKVD (namely Yagoda, Yezhov and Beria) he was content with a false sense of "security" in believing that every charge on the NKVD's long list of duties was being performed to the best or highest possible standards. As a paranoid and delusional despot, Stalin felt more comfortable with being in total control of every aspect of foreign and internal intelligence and security, which also made it easier for him to hunt, find and judge his prey (either indirectly or directly) through orders to the chiefs of the NKVD, particularly Yezhov. In fact, the height of the Purge during 1937-1938 is referred to in Russian history as Yezhovshchina, or literally "Yezhov Regime." When Yezhov was later "purged" himself by Stalin, all traces of his existence were erased from Soviet history, going even so far as to alter photographs which showed Yezhov and Stalin together. The most famous example is below from a photograph where in the original (left) Stalin is walking along the Moscow-Volga Rivers Canal with three of the highest ranking officials of his government: from left, Marshal Kliment Voroshilov, Vyacheslav Molotov and Yezhov on the right. After Yezhov was tried and executed for crimes against the state in 1939, all of the original photos were replaced with the retouched one on the right until 1991. Yezhov was accused of crimes ranging from "incompetence" to "sexual deviancy" to simply treason. Today, best estimates suggest that Yezhov, acting mostly on Stalin's orders, arrested over 1.3 million Soviet citizens. Of these, over 680,000 were executed for "crimes against the state" and the rest were sent into the Gulag system where well over 140,000 died of malnutrition or disease brought about by malnutrition and a weakened state of health.

(Photo source:

Lavrenty Beria, chief of the
NKVD and later MVD from
Perhaps the most dangerous of all of the chiefs of the NKVD under Stalin was Lavrenty Beria who was a power-hungry man with his own driving aspirations for control of the Soviet Union similar to those of Stalin. After Stalin's death in 1953 and with the NKVD no longer at the helm of the foreign intelligence services since the creation of the People's Commissariat of State Security (NKGB) in 1943, Beria was desperate to regain all of the security services under his NKVD again. In 1946, all People's Commissariats (NKs) were renamed "Ministries" and thus the NKGB became the MGB and the NKVD became the MVD (again). Ironically, it wasn't until after Beria's arrest and Stalin's death in 1953 that the MVD took control of the MGB until 1954 when they were split again and would remain the MVD and KGB. The KGB was abolished in 1991 and replaced by several separate agencies - one dealing with foreign intelligence and many others handling counterintelligence and anti-terrorism within the Russian Federation. The MVD remains under the same name today.

For more information on the role of Beria in the Stalin administration, see the chapter, "Restructuring the Wartime Security Services" from 19 April 2015 here:

For additional information on the NKVD, Cheka, KGB or other Soviet and Cold War security agencies and subjects, please click on the dates in the column on the right. 

03 February 2011

A Brief History of the Soviet State Security Services Part II

Perceived Power

As the power of Lenin and the Bolsheviks grew, the former co-socialists from lesser parties such as the Mensheviks, grew jealous and alienated. This was not a matter of delusion or paranoia on their parts because Lenin's goal was a single, unified socialist/communist political leadership. The Mensheviks and other "right wing" socialist revolutionary groups were eventually considered "enemies of the state" by Stalin and "sanitized" or "eliminated" by means of exile and/or imprisonment for the lucky or execution for for the less fortunate.

"Felix Dzerzhinsky with Children" (1950) painted by L. Krivitsky
long after Dzerzhinsky's death, but while he was still a cult figure
for many of the idealistic Communists in the Soviet Union and
across the globe. Dzerzhinsky's face appeared almost as often
as that of Lenin throughout the entire lifespan of the Soviet Union.
In order to maintain an effective grip over other political parties, no matter how closely they resembled Bolshevism politically, Lenin found that he was unable to accomplish his goal without the "persuasive powers" of the Cheka, which included the power of arrest, trial [term used loosely] and execution without ever really having to answer to anyone since their leader, Felix Dzerzhinsky, was considered by Lenin as one of the heroes of the revolution and was beyond question in his actions. The Cheka was Dzerzhinsky's hand-picked creation designed to suppress internal political threats to the new Bolshevik regime. As these threats grew, or more likely as they were simply recognized despite being ever-present, Dzerzhinsky and the Cheka were granted increasingly significant powers and resources. In a very short time, they were known and feared by the entire population for their ruthless pursuit and elimination of any perceived counter-revolutionary elements. In fact, as the Russian Civil War expanded throughout the country and its territories, Dzerzhinsky was charged with raising an internal army to enforce the Cheka's authority.

The word Cheka is an acronym of sorts for the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage. The word "Extraordinary" implies a certain temporary quality to the Cheka that, though its creators may have firmly believed it would be at the time, it evolved many times and even though it was even officially dissolved in 1991, the legacy of the Cheka and the KGB is as active as ever in the government of the Russian Federation.

"The Commission itself...outlined its duties as follows: To cut off at the roots all counterrevolution and sabotage in Russia; to hand over to the revolutionary court all who are guilty of such attempts; to work out measures for dealing with such cases; and to enforce these measures without mercy. It was necessary to make the foe feel that there was everywhere about him a seeing eye and a heavy hand ready to come down on him the moment he undertook anything against the Soviet Government."*

One of the reasons that the state security services of the Soviet Union were so effective whether as the Cheka, the (O)GPU, GUGB, NKGB, MGB or KGB (with a little help from the NKVD/MVD), was the fanaticism of its earliest members and their leadership. It was relatively easy to attract young, bright people to the cause of the Soviet state because so many of the intelligentsia worldwide were drawn to the romanticized notions, ideals and goals presented by the leadership of the Soviet Union. As with the French Revolution, there were numerous sympathizers and members of the working classes - or proletariat - who looked upon the November Revolution as perhaps a better way of life after the end of WWI when the world had lost its innocence on the battlefield. It was not difficult for the Cheka and the GPU/OGPU to persuade or simply recruit citizens of many European countries, particularly in England as spies, or agents provocateur, and it was even less problematic to establish "front" organizations such as the Communist International (Comintern) in countries throughout the world. Granted, not all members of the Comintern were also members of the state security services, but in terms of foreign policy, their goals were the same - eliminate or at least weaken any opposition to the Communist ideals. With idealists who converted to Communism with a fervor such as the Cambridge Five, the Soviets got a significant lead over other countries in the eventual game of "spy versus spy" that we know today. In fact, it was not until several years after WWII that the United States even formed a peacetime foreign intelligence service - the Central Intelligence Service in 1947 with the National Security Act. By then, however, the MGB (soon to be KGB) was already running scores of "illegals" or undercover agents in governments around the world, and in particular in the US and UK.

In 1922 Lenin proposed a resolution to the Tenth Party Congress that banned all factions within the Communist Party on the grounds that they only weakened the overall effectiveness of the Party. When the resolution was passed, Lenin was free to dictate policy as he felt fit. As the leader of the new country, a union of republics with Russia at the helm, Lenin rose to the status of a superior being especially after his death in 1924 and his cult of personality remained central to Soviet policy and propaganda alike until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. However, starting in 1922, the Cheka was renamed the GPU (State Political Directorate) of the NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs) of the RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic) for nearly two years before being converted to the All-Union State Political Directorate which was separate from the NKVD and operated across the entire USSR which was founded in December 1922. Though officially the GPU had fewer powers than the Cheka, losing the power of arrest and trial, the OGPU regained all of the power of the Cheka and then some. The jurisdiction of the OGPU overshadowed all other local or republic level authorities until Stalin had it re-subordinated to the NKVD in 1934.

Propaganda poster depicting how the GPU would strike down
"counter-revolutionary saboteurs"
When Stalin picked up the reigns of power in 1924, he gradually used and then abused the security services - particularly in 1934 when he combined the NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs) and the OGPU under a single director that answered to Stalin personally. This "new" section of the NKVD was the GUGB, or Main Directorate of State Security (Russian: Glavnoe Upravlenie Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti). This department lasted from 1934 to 1943 - at which point the Great Patriot War was nearing its most critical phase - and the need for a specific foreign intelligence agency separate from the NKVD was apparent even to Stalin. It was at that point the NKGB (People's Commissariat for State Security) was reformed - having existed a for a short time from February 3 to July 20, 1941. 

The NKVD became Stalin's personal army used to sway the minds of anyone who might have a political opinion that differed from his. The NKVD began what is known as the "Great Purge" or "Great Terror" which lasted from 1936-1938 and cost millions of people their lives, even founding members of the Communist Party and those closest to Stalin, including his own appointed heads of the NKVD - Genrikh Yagoda, then Nikolai Yezhov and finally Lavrenty Beria. All three of these men were the most powerful members of the regime other than Stalin himself, which is perhaps why they did not remain in Stalin's favor for very long (although Beria was arrested and executed shortly after Stalin's death under the lesser known Premier Georgy Malenkov who lost a power struggle two years later in 1955 to Nikita Krushchev). This period of Soviet history and the NKVD abuses of power is regarded by many as the lowest point in terms of ethical  and humane treatment of citizens and soldiers alike. An unknown number of millions were arrested and either locked up in asylums as mentally ill or were sent to the rapidly growing number of labor camps or Gulags mostly in Siberia where conditions were such that many did not survive their incarceration. And most unfortunately, a large number of those arrested and tried by NKVD "troikas" (three judge tribunals) were executed at the hands of their captors and often at the direct order of Stalin. It was during these two years prior to the Soviet Union's involvement in WWII that nearly everyone lived in fear of being arrested by the secret police (NKVD) in the middle of the night and  taken from their families only to be interrogated, tortured and otherwise coerced into making "confessions" of their crimes against the state, and either executed or exiled. The threat was real and citizens were encouraged to report suspicious behaviors of their neighbors, friends and families, and sometimes this was done as a sort of preemptive strike to divert the NKVD's attention away from themselves. Everyone lived in a constant state of fear of undercover NKVD agents and even their fellow citizens who might report them if they said the wrong thing, even as a joke. This level of paranoia and terror was so intense that to this day residents of the thousands of apartment buildings in Moscow keep an eye on each other and telephone operators are encouraged to listen in on private conversations and report any conversations of a suspicious or illegal nature, often with a monetary reward for doing so.

*Source: James Bunyan and H.H. Fisher, ed., Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1918; Documents and Materials (Stanford: Stanford University Press; H. Milford, Oxford University Press, 1934), pp. 295-296.