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 March 2011

Chekist Badges and the Enduring "Egg" Design

From the outset of awards for members of the state security agencies the basic shape with the oval "shield" and the sword pointing downward across it has survived - at least with the MVD - to this day. The badges shown in the chapter on NKVD badges illustrates the design that became the standard for at least four agencies with much more enamel than the earliest types.

The first anniversary badge, like the rest, was given to high-ranking officers in the Chekist and internal security agencies for "honorable" or "meritorious" service. Below is an example of the first such badge with an enamel-filled Roman numeral "V" across the obverse. Like most of the earliest Soviet awards, they were not only made from silver, but by individual or groups of silversmiths rather than mass produced in a factories or mints.*

This first design had the initials for the V. Cheka and the GPU raised from the ribbon/banner. Later versions had the letters depressed in the same locations filled with a black or blue paint, as in the following.

Examples of the obverse of both the 5th and the 15th Anniversary of the Cheka-GPU badges which were awarded in 1922 and 1932 respectively. These are some of the most difficult to find originals, but at the same time they are heavy counterfeited and sold as originals. Even the silversmith's maker's marks common on the reverse are replicated.


Typically, all awarded security service badges, including today, have serial numbers to identify who was given the award. The simple and at the same time ingenious design of these early badges was greatly in part due to the fact that silversmiths from Imperial Russia were essentially drafted to work for the Bolsheviks as were most skilled craftsmen. The swords, and on the 5th anniversary badge, the "V" were held in place on the shield by either relatively thick wires that were bent on the reverse or the same wire cut and shaped into "rivets" as pictured above. The ribbons/banners and hammer and sickle were soldered on by hand. In addition, the troughs in the shapes of the "V" and the "XV" were smooth or textured to provide a design for the enamel to enhance. The texture was especially true of the 5th Anniversary of the Cheka badges as can be seen above. A "textured design" was used in the ribbon/banner section of the KGB badges, but not the direct descendants of these designs followed by the NKVD, MVD and MGB (the last name change the Chekist side of the security services underwent before the final and renown KGB). Below is an example of of another NKVD Honored Chekist badge and a photo from the only known copy of the MGB version and is from the KGB Museum which is housed in the Lubyanka building and can be visited by prior approval only.

The above contributed photo and text below is from "Slava1stclass"* and shows "Zveryev, Yulian Lvovich. He was Russian and born on June 21st, 1895 in Saint Petersburg. He began his association with the VChK-OGPU-NKVD in 1920...His career culminated as follows: May 21st 1934 - July 10th, 1934 - Chairman, GPU of Turkmen SSR GPU; July 15th, 1934 - July 20th, 1937 - People's Commissar for Internal Affairs Turkmen SSR; October 21st, 1937 - [he was] arrested; September 7th, 1938 - [tried,] convicted/sentenced and executed by firing squad; January 23rd, 1958 - "rehabilitated" by order of the Supreme Court of the SSSR; rank: senior major GB [(state security)] effective 29 November 1935; awards: Honorary Chekist (V) Badge - serial number 472 awarded in 1929; Order of the Red Banner [pictured above] - serial number 21280/20280 awarded 3 April 1930."

Like many who were victims of Stalin's purges, he was
"rehabilitated" and awards restored sometimes decades after their murders - which was the post-Stalinist government's way there had been a mistake and the victim was in fact, innocent of whatever charges were used as a case for execution. More about "destalinization" is discussed in other chapters here.
However, before going that far forward, the main 10th anniversary OGPU badge design is essential to illustrate. As can be seen below, the design was far different than the 5th and 15th with a profile of Dzerzhinsky in the center as well as a laurel wreath and large banner behind the head. This badge was unique in that it had no sword and shield motif and the only presence of the H&S is inside the flagpole finial.  
They were made from various metals and combinations of metals, enamels and paints. Some were made of solid silver, others solid brass while some of the earliest and most uncommon designs used gold for Dzerzhinsky's profile.

The rarest gold profile and wreath surrounded by red and white enamel on a base of silver. There are crossed swords at the base of the badge as well as red enamel backing the letters OGPU (All-Union State Political Directorate - both the successor and later predecessor of the GPU) and filling the star above Dzerzhinsky's head.*

And here is an example of the solid silver base and Dzerzhinsky profile and wreath together with red enamel.
Finally, the least expensive versions were produced from bronze and/or brass with red paint replacing the enamel. There were even a final lot made of only brass with no paint or enamel at all - just the design itself.

 The "Honored NKVD Employee" badge resumed the oval shield with sword pointing downward atop it and the world renown hammer and sickle resting on top of the sword, but as the most prominent symbol on the badge. Designers continued to use various metals including silver and gold. Much later in the 1960s when MOOP was the name of the MVD, the base metal was an simple brass. Prior to that, real gold layers had been tried on the sword hilt and especially on the H&S, but this proved too likely to peel, tear or wear, so a gold-based allow was used to coat both the hilt and the H&S in a very thick layer that proved to hold up to use much better than previous attempts. It was this alloy that was used at least until 1991 and likely onward.

This pre-WWII NKVD badge once had a thin layer of gold coating the hammer and sickle in the center which likely wore off from everyday use and the color of the upper parts of the ribbon/banner suggest that the enamel has been repaired - which is extremely common since the enamel in early badges of this type were notoriously fragile. Rumors circulated that ingredients in the traditional red colored enamel used included blood and gold. The former was supposed to create a mystical quality while the latter was supposed to give the red its unique color. Neither have ever been found to be true.

The only widely known "Honored Chekist" MGB badge. This may have been a prototype, but curators at the KGB Museum in the Lubyanka building (and partial FSB counterintelligence headquarters) have not made an official statement about productions of these rarest of all "egg" badges. This is also the only design of this type to use text on the ribbon/banner. Later KGB badges did make use of text on the red enamel (see the top of the site page), but it was considerably thinner ribbon/banner to include text, but not on this large scale.* Also, KGB "shield and sword" badges were a unique design that has lasted well into the current era of Russian Federation FSB, SVR and MVD honor badges. 

In 1962 Khruschev, in all likelihood to limit the enormous powers of the MVD (roughly equivalent to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation) accrued by Beria who had been "tried" and executed after Stalin's death, the powers that were dissolved the "all-union" MVD and created a new, localized "Ministry for the Preservation for Public Order," or MOOP. This lasted until Khruschev was forced to resign and Brezhnev took over. Since the MVD was the "supercharged" internal police with the job of counterintelligence as well as combating crime and the new regional-only MOOP was not handling the job very effectively, Brezhnev started the process of returning the all-union status of the former MVD in 1966 and formally restored the MVD, name and all, in 1968.
In the example pictured above, the base metal used for the H&S, the backing of the ribbon/banner and the lettering appears to be simple brass. Judging from other examples of brass-based badges of this "egg" type, the oval shield is likely silver plated as is the sword blade. The sword hilt still has gold plating on it and the H&S and lettering probably had gold plating that wore off since these are the areas most prone to regular contact from hands, clothing and any number of reasons including excessive polishing and a very thin layer of gold over the base metal.

Though the MGB "egg" badge is by far the most scarce of this type for obvious reasons stated above, the MOOP version is the second most difficult for collectors to find for a couple of reasons. The first is that the organization under he name of MOOP only existed for six years. The second is that, as in the case of the NKVD badge being MVD simply because the badges were so complex to make that leftovers from one name of the agency to the next were given out until supplies were depleated. Thus MOOP agents were likely given MVD badges until those stocks were exhausted, and by the time MOOP badges were fully in production the name was changed back to MVD, thus logic dictates that far fewer MOOP badges were made and awarded to officers than would be expected between 1962 and 1968.  

*Most photographs in this chapter (except where otherwise noted are from Robert S. Pandis' compilation CHEKA: Distinguished Worker Awards Parts I, II and III, Ver. 8/6/01 and are copyrighted material. Formerly, these were on a website that is no longer active: Pandis' work is some of the best in the field of Soviet security services information and photography.

** "Slava1stclass" - which is the English for Слава класс 1 and one of the highest awards junior and non-commissioned officers could receive mainly for military duty, will appear in photo contributions extensively in other areas throughout this work. He uses that name as his "handle" on the Soviet Military Awards Page Forum where he is an active and knowledgeable member. It is also what he wanted me to call him in all credits.

08 March 2011

NKVD Honored Employee Badges and Documents

Before leaving The Great Patriotic War and moving on to the development of the new security agencies such as the NKGB (People's Commissariat of State Security), MGB (Ministry of State Security), the return of the MVD and disbandment of the NKVD - or at least reshuffling duties and personnel, there are some awards that are essential to understanding the system of rewarding merit within these agencies. After all, one of the main objectives of this website is to show examples of security service and other awards.

The first and by far the most famous security service award is the so-called "egg" badge of the NKVD. These were awarded to top officers and service personnel for outstanding accomplishments or completion of extremely important/dangerous assignments. The basic design of the badge is not new. The oval with the sword and the hammer and sickle and the ribbon/banner were used from the beginning of the Cheka and the GPU with anniversary badges awarded for the fifth, tenth and fifteenth years of its existence.

The "sword and shield" symbol of the Cheka, NKVD, MVD and KGB in various
forms as it was carried in parade along with a portrait of founder Felix Dzerzhinsky.
Click on YouTube link: for
complete color footage of the above parade from 1938. 

The design of this early badge became famous throughout the Soviet Union as representing far more than the simple motif of an oval "shield" with a red enamel scallop shell design in the background and a sword pointing downward laid across the top of the shield. On top of the sword was a hammer and sickle (H&S) making the whole badge engaging to the eye because of the multiple-level three dimensional effect. There was also a flowing "ribbon" filled with red enamel and the letters "NKVD" rising up through the enamel of the horizontal portion of that ribbon.

When the NKVD was broken back up after the war into the MVD and MGB, the former kept the badge design with the use of "MVD" in place of "NKVD" and picked up the serial numbers from where they left off so that serial numbers on these badges - which continued to be awarded until 1991 and a few "catch-up" awards well into the mid 1990s.

This document is somewhat suspect as to authenticity even though it is from Robert Pandis' CD-ROM book discussing the history of the awards system of every security agency that existed throughout the lifespan of the Soviet Union. It is also noteworthy that Beria's "autopen" signature is on this document. This badge design became known to collectors as the "egg" badge which stayed with the MVD until the end of the Soviet Union, while the KGB adopted a  riveted shield, sword and instead of just an H&S and a star was added  with the H&S inside (see photo in right sidebar "Honored KGB Badge 1." For the most part, the KGB badges were only awarded to a very deserving operative and/or a high-ranking officer (politics have always had a role in the award system in every branch of service) .

Though the quality of this photo is poor, these images of the NKVD "egg" and the award booklet are most certainly real and also come from the Pandis CD-Rom. An interesting feature of both this booklet and later MVD versions is the relief image of the badge itself in the leather cover. The lettering is done in gold and the cover itself is a deep red color. Note that in the above example, the photo of the recipient is in place and one of the two circular stamps seals the photo in place.

A closeup of the obverse of the badge itself shows the detail of workmanship and the exquisite
and fragile enamel work in the form of sun rays spreading upward from just above the "NKVD"
in the ribbon above that section. The same design was used by the MVD. In fact, there was a certain amount of "overlap" when the NKVD became the MVD again in March of 1946 and officers scheduled to receive the award badge were often given one with the "NKVD" lettering still at the base rather than waste the stock of badges that had already been made. Considering the amount of labor necessary to make them, it is not surprising that none were simply thrown out because of the name change. The badges were originally made from brass with silver plating, then were made from solid silver and later back to silver plating with at least a shiny sword blade and gold plating on the hilt and hand guard of the sword. Though the basic design continued to be used throughout the history of the USSR mostly with the NKVD and the MVD, there is evidence that at least one badge - a prototype, perhaps - was made for the MGB and had the words "Honored Chekist" in Russian on the upward running arms of the ribbon on each side of the badge.

* * * * * * * *

The NKVD advanced a culture of fear begun by the Cheka that had only been enhanced by the fear and propaganda campaign launched by Stalin's regime to frighten the citizens and/or foreigners (always potential spies) even as the Germans retreated together with anyone who thought, and rightly so, that they might be persecuted and/or executed by the members of the NKVD, SMERSH or the newly formed, post-war MGB. One of the most famous images and only one of many posters warning against the dangers of idle gossip eventually became synonymous with a warning from the KGB, though it was originally created as propaganda against speaking carelessly when foreign (especially German and later American) spies were thought to be everywhere. The text roughly translates to: "Be quiet! Watch that what you say isn't treasonous." [Literally, не болтай means "Do not talk" but in the sense of spreading idle rumors. "No gossiping" is often used as the translation.] Modern T-shirt designers for tourists often put this poster image on the reverse of shirts with a KGB sword and shield motif. With people "disappearing" in the night after NKVD agents would show up at an apartment door, and later when resistance groups in Ukraine and the Baltic States, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and just about any place where there was a Soviet "Sphere of Influence," an entire generation of people were made to feel afraid in their own homes. This often justified paranoia was passed from one generation to the next so that remnants of it are still present in Russia and Former Soviet Union (FSU) republics and socialist regions. Many people who emigrate from one of these areas to Western countries, especially the US, find it difficult to let go of the notion that they are being watched and their actions being recorded.

"Be quiet! Always be careful what you say."

05 March 2011

War with Japan

Though Hitler's deep hatred of Russian Communists essentially guaranteed war between the Nazis and the Soviets, Stalin had intended to avoid war with Japan. In fact, on April 13, 1941 a similar peace treaty to the secret Non-Aggression pact established with the Nazis was signed between the USSR and Japan. Stalin had no particular aims on Japan other than keeping them at more than arm's length from his Eastern borders. However, the peace was short lived. The Japanese Army's incursions into northern China were a concern for Stalin, but that was the least of his worries after Germany, Italy, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria began the invasion of the Soviet Union known as Operation Barbarossa in June (an action all of the participating countries except Italy would come to seriously regret during the Cold War and the Communist reciprocation - especially Bulgaria). Since Stalin was forced to declare war on all of the Axis powers which included Japan, he had no choice but to go to war with Japan as well.

Prior to WWII, the Soviets and Japanese had already faced off in 1939. The most famous of this Eastern conflict was the Battles of Khalkhin Gol in Mongolia (a Soviet protectorate and ally) near the border with Manchuria, a Japanese-propped "puppet" state. In terms of WWII, practically none of the fighting with the Japanese began for the Soviets until the Red Army had taken back all of its territories from the Nazis (and then some) as well as conquered Berlin itself.

At that point, maintaining his promise to the Allies, Stalin turned his attention to the East. It has been suggested by many historians that Stalin also had an interest in expanding the USSR into more areas of the Eastern borderlands and had designs on portions of an already divided China, particularly Manchuria which the Red Army invaded. Though direct conflict with the Japanese did not start until 1945, the Red Army was a significant factor in winning the War in the Pacific. Soviet forces met little resistance they could not overcome and after the US atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japanese Emperor Hirohito announced his county's surrender on August 15, 1945.

Nonetheless, the Soviet Union had suffered greatly during the war with over 20 million men, women and children killed as a direct result of The Great Patriotic War. Casualties suffered as an indirect result of the war - namely millions who were relocated, imprisoned and executed by Stalin and his private "secret service" the NKVD - will be discussed elsewhere.

This painting depicts Communist Chinese troops and the capture of the Presidential Palace in Japan after the end of WWII. 

04 March 2011

Images of an Emerging New World II

Here are a few more propaganda posters that were used to keep the spirits and patriotism of the Soviet citizens high during WWII (Great Patriotic War), much like the US had plastered in areas of high foot traffic such as outside cinemas, concert halls and metro stations.

"Gossip[ers] - A great prize for the enemy"
One of many such posters warning the
public to watch what they say because
they never know who might be listening.
(Note the surreptitious eavesdropping
man behind the red-nosed, drunken speaker
on the phone.) Ironically, regularly listening
in on Sovietcitizens' - and especially foreign
tourists' and dignitaries' telephone
conversations would become standard practice
for the KGB during the Cold War years - a 
practice still used by the FSB today in the
Russian Federation where telephone operators
 are encouraged and rewarded for reporting
"suspicious" conversations they happen to be
listening in on during the course of their jobs.

Another propaganda poster designed to bolster the morale of the citizens and soldiers. In this case, the medal for "The Defense of Leningrad"
is shown. This medal, like other "campaign medals" produced to honor those who helped defend and/or defeat invading German armies was awarded to soldiers,naval personnel,
civilians and members of thearmed troops of the NKVD (internal security service during
The Great Patriotic War).