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Revolution and Terror

Russian Civil War, Red Terror, Cheka execution squad
Bolsheviks execute 'counter-revolutionaries'

On 30 August 1918 Lenin was gravely wounded by two shots fired by a terrorist assassin called Fanny Kaplan whilst visiting a Moscow factory. Although Kaplan denied it, she was accused of working for the SRs and the Western Powers.

It was 'proof' in the paranoic theory that the regime was surrounded by a well-connected ring of internal and external enemies; and that to survive it had to fight a constant civil war against them. The same logic would drive the Soviet terror for the next 35 years.

The Soviet press called for mass reprisals for the attempt on Lenin's life. The Cheka arrested 'bourgeois' hostages en masse. Its torture methods were notorious.

Each local Cheka had its speciality. In Kharkov they went in for the 'glove trick' - burning the victim's hands in boiling water until the blistered skin could be peeled off. In Kiev they affixed a cage with rats to the victim's torso and heated it so that the enraged rats ate their way through the victim's body in an effort to escape.

The Red Terror evoked protests from all quarters of society. Within the party there were also critics of its excesses, Kamenev and Bukharin among them. But the 'hard men' in the party - Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky - stood by the Cheka. Lenin had no patience for those who were squeamish about using terror in a civil war.

It was under Lenin, not Stalin, that the Cheka grew into a vast police state within the state. By 1920, it employed more than a quarter of a million officials. Terror was an integral element of the Bolshevik regime from the start. Nobody will ever know the number of people repressed by the Cheka in these years, but it may have been as many of those killed in the battles of the civil war.

EXTRACT FOR SUBSCRIBERS ONLY. Orlando Figes, A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924 (Pimlico, 1997), p. 642-644.

One of the most terrifying aspects of the Terror was its random nature. The knock on the door at midnight could come to almost anyone... [FULL TEXT 1139 WORDS]

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