In December, 1917, Felix Dzerzhinsky was appointed as Commissar for Internal Affairs and head of the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage (Cheka). As Dzerzhinsky later commented: "In the October Revolution, I was a member of the Military Revolutionary Committee, and then I was entrusted with the task of organizing the Extraordinary Commission for the Struggle against Sabotage and Counterrevolution I was appointed its Chairman, holding at the same time the post of Commissar for Internal Affairs."
Lenin and Leon Trotsky argued that unless internal opposition to the government was removed the White Army would win the Civil War. The Constituent Assembly was closed down and political parties such as the Cadets, Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries were banned. Strict censorship was also introduced with all anti-Bolshevik newspapers being closed down.
In March, 1918, Moisei Uritsky joined the Communist Secret Police (Cheka) and was appointed Commissar for Internal Affairs in the Northern Region. He was assassinated by Leonid Kannegisser, a young military cadet, on 17th August, 1918. Anatoli Lunacharsky commented: "They killed him. They struck us a truly well-aimed blow. They picked out one of the most gifted and powerful of their enemies, one of the most gifted and powerful champions of the working class."
On 30th August, 1918, Lenin spoke at a meeting in Moscow. Victor Serge later explained what happened: "Lenin arrived alone; no one escorted him and no one formed a reception party. When he came out, workers surrounded him for a moment a few paces from his car." As he left the building Kaplan tried to ask Lenin some questions about the way he was running the country. Just before he got into his car Lenin turned to answer the woman. Serge then explained what happened next: "It was at this moment Kaplan fired at him, three times, wounding him seriously in the neck and shoulder. Lenin was driven back to the Kremlin by his chauffeur, and just had the strength to walk upstairs in silence to the second floor: then he fell in pain. There was great anxiety for him: the wound in the neck could have proved extremely serious; for a while it was thought that he was dying."
Fanya Kaplan was soon captured and in a statement she made to Cheka that night, she explained that she had attempted to kill him because he had closed down the Constituent Assembly . In a statement to the police she confessed to trying to kill Lenin. "My name is Fanya Kaplan. Today I shot at Lenin. I did it on my own. I will not say whom I obtained my revolver. I will give no details. I had resolved to kill Lenin long ago. I consider him a traitor to the Revolution. I was exiled to Akatui for participating in an assassination attempt against a Tsarist official in Kiev. I spent 11 years at hard labour. After the Revolution, I was freed. I favoured the Constituent Assembly and am still for it."
Joseph Stalin, who was in Tsaritsyn at the time, sent a telegram to Yakov Sverdlov suggesting: "having learned about the wicked attempt of capitalist hirelings on the life of the greatest revolutionary, the tested leader and teacher of the proletariat, Comrade Lenin, answer this base attack from ambush with the organization of open and systematic mass terror against the bourgeoisie and its agents."
Leon Trotsky agreed and argued in My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography (1930): "The Socialist-Revolutionaries had killed Volodarsky and Uritzky, had wounded Lenin seriously, and had made two attempts to blow up my train. We could not treat this lightly. Although we did not regard it from the idealistic point of view of our enemies, we appreciated the role of the individual in history. We could not close our eyes to the danger that threatened the revolution if we were to allow our enemies to shoot down, one by one, the whole leading group of our party."
The Bolsheviks newspaper, Krasnaya Gazeta , reported on 1st September, 1918: "We will turn our hearts into steel, which we will temper in the fire of suffering and the blood of fighters for freedom. We will make our hearts cruel, hard, and immovable, so that no mercy will enter them, and so that they will not quiver at the sight of a sea of enemy blood. We will let loose the floodgates of that sea. Without mercy, without sparing, we will kill our enemies in scores of hundreds. Let them be thousands; let them drown themselves in their own blood. For the blood of Lenin and Uritsky, Zinovief and Volodarski, let there be floods of the blood of the bourgeois - more blood, as much as possible."
Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of the Cheka, instigated the Red Terror. It is estimated that in the next few months 800 socialists were arrested and shot without trial. In the first year the official figure, almost certainly an underestimate, suggested 6,300 people were executed without trial.
© John Simkin, May 2013