Ever eager to learn criminological lessons from the Russian Revolution I’ve been looking for interesting material on the Cheka, the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage. As part of understanding the events of the Russian Revolution we need to be able to examine the bodies used to prevent or deal with criminal activities and whether these were the best methods.
The volume under review covers not only the Cheka but also the OGPU and KGB. It consists on Mitrokhin’s own notes and manuscripts that Mitrokhin had smuggled out of the USSR when he left in 1992. The material is quite revealing, discussing the formation and several early cases of the Cheka, but also dealing with the repression against Trotskyists and others in later years.
Of course my interest lies with early years of the Soviet regime, but Mitrokhin’s material here is mostly his own notes which are full of his own opinions. And these opinions are similar to the ‘original sin’ of Bolshevism idea where Lenin and Stalin are equated, but in this case they are viewed as just more tyrants in a long line of them. Thus Mitrokhin tries to portray Lenin as changing his mind over the need for repressive force after the revolution, even though in his works, including State and Revolution, Lenin points to the need for a dictatorship of the proletariat to repress what remains of the capitalism system.
The big problem I have with this approach is that to truly understand the development of the Cheka, one needs to examine very closely the conditions it was created and developed in and what opposition it was attempting to overcome. Let us not forget that a civil war raged in Russia and that there were assignation attempts on Bolshevik leaders during this period. A detailed study of this period would allow us to come to an opinion as to the necessity of such an organisation preceding from material facts and not just pure moral sentiments. Whilst this book includes some material that could be useful for doing that, it fails at that task itself.