Chekism is a term used by some historians and political scientists to emphasize the omnipotence and omnipresence of secret political police in the Soviet Union (USSR) and contemporary Russia.[1][2] Derived from Cheka, the name of the first Soviet secret police organization that conducted the Red Terror in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) and the USSR, the word emphasizes the importance and political power of Cheka and the successor Soviet and Russian secret police services: the NKVD, KGB, and FSB. Some politologists define Chekism also as an imperial ideology that includes an aggressive anti-Americanism.[3] According to Peter Struve: "It is only the omnipotence of political police that makes Russian State so exceptional. That is what sets us apart of the remaining world as a matter of our national pride."[4]


Soviet Union

The idea of the secret political police as a backbone of Soviet society was put forward by Abdurakhman Avtorkhanov, who wrote:

It is not true that the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party is a supreme power. The Political Bureau is only a shadow of the real supreme power that stands behind the chair of every Bureau member (...) The real power thinks, acts and dictates for all of us. The name of the power is NKVD—MVD—MGB. The Stalin regime is based not on the Soviets, Party ideals, the power of the Political Bureau or Stalin’s personality, but on the organization and the techniques of the Soviet political police where Stalin plays the role of the first policeman. To tell that NKVD is a state secret police—means to tell nothing to the point. Intelligence Service is also a secret police, but in the eyes of the Britons its existence is as natural as the Health Ministry. To tell that NKVD is a body of mass inquisition also tells nothing to the point, because Gestapo also was a mass inquisition, although its chief Heinrich Himmler—would not be fit to serve as a sergeant of the Soviet State Security Service. To tell that NKVD is «a state within the state» means to belittle the importance of NKVD because this question allows two forces: a normal state and a supernormal NKVD: whereas the only force is Chekism. A state Chekism, a party Chekism, a collective Chekism, an individual Chekism. Chekism in ideology, Chekism in practice. Chekism from the top to the bottom. [5]

These ideas were also shared by journalist John Barron[6], retired KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin[7], and researcher on KGB subjects Evgenia Albats. According to Albats, most KGB leaders, including Lavrenty Beria, Yuri Andropov, and Vladimir Kryuchkov, have always struggled for the power with the Communist Party and manipulated the communist leaders.[8]

Commenting on the Soviet regime of early 1980s Yegor Gaidar writes: "Authority of the regime was based on the effective secret police." Along with that, "since 1968, before death of Brezhnev no weapons were used to suppress the dissent. The regime has learn to do without extreme forms of violence". According to the data provided by Gaidar, "In 1958-1966 people convicted for anti-Soviet agitation amounted to 3448. In 1967-1975, 1583 people were convicted. In 1971-1974, KGB "took care" of 63 thousand people[9]. Potential dissidents must realize that their activities are known to the authorities and there's an alternative—to be jailed or to express loyalty to the authorities."[10]

Contemporary Russia

According to former Russian Duma member Konstantin Borovoi, "Putin's appointment is the culmination of the KGB's crusade for power. This is its finale. Now the KGB runs the country."[11]. Olga Kryshtanovskaya, director of the Moscow-based Center for the Study of Elites, has found that up to 78% of 1,016 leading political figures in Russia have served previously in organizations affiliated with KGB or FSB.[12] She said: "If in the Soviet period and the first post-Soviet period, the KGB and FSB people were mainly involved in security issues, now half are still involved in security but the other half are involved in business, political parties, NGOs, regional governments, even culture... They started to use all political institutions."[12]

The KGB or FSB members usually remain in the "acting reserve" even if they formally leave the organization ("acting reserve" members receive second FSB salary, follow FSB instructions, and remain "above the law" being protected by the organization, according to Kryshtanovskaya[13]). As Vladimir Putin said, "There is no such thing as a former KGB man"[14]. Soon after becoming prime minister of Russia, Putin also perhaps somewhat jokingly claimed that "A group of FSB colleagues dispatched to work undercover in the government has successfully completed its first mission."[11] Moreover, the FSB has formal membership, military discipline, and an extensive network of civilian informants.[15], hardcore ideology, and support of population (60% of Russians trust FSB[16]), which according to Yevgenia Albats and Catherine A. Fitzpatrick makes it a perfect totalitarian political party.[8]

Some observers note that the current Russian state security organization FSB is even more powerful than KGB was, because it does not operate under the control of the Communist Party as the KGB in the past.[12][17] Moreover, the FSB leadership and their partners own the most important economic assets in the country and control the Russian government and the State Duma. According to Ion Mihai Pacepa,

In the Soviet Union, the KGB was a state within a state. Now former KGB officers are running the state. They have custody of the country’s 6,000 nuclear weapons, entrusted to the KGB in the 1950s, and they now also manage the strategic oil industry renationalized by Putin. The KGB successor, rechristened FSB, still has the right to electronically monitor the population, control political groups, search homes and businesses, infiltrate the federal government, create its own front enterprises, investigate cases, and run its own prison system. The Soviet Union had one KGB officer for every 428 citizens. Putin’s Russia has one FSB-ist for every 297 citizens.[18]

However, the number of FSB staff is a state secret of Russian Federation.[19], and the staff of Russian Strategic Rocket Forces is not officially submitted to the FSB[20], although FSB might be interested in monitoring these structures, as they intrinsically involve state secrets and various degrees of admittance to them.[21] The Law on Federal Security Service[22] which defines its functions and establishes its structure doesn't involve such tasks as managing strategic branches of national industry, controlling political groups, or infiltrating the federal government.

Andrei Illarionov, a former advisor of Vladimir Putin, describes contemporary Chekism as a new socio-political order (the Power Model), "distinct from any seen in our country before". In this model, members of the Corporation of Intelligence Service Collaborators [Russian abbreviation KSSS] took over the entire body of state power, follow an omerta-like behavior code, and "are given instruments conferring power over others – membership “perks”, such as the right to carry and use weapons". According to Illarionov, this "Corporation has seized key government agencies – the Tax Service, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Parliament, and the government-controlled mass media – which are now used to advance the interests of KSSS members. Through these agencies, every significant resource of the country – security/intelligence, political, economic, informational and financial – is being monopolized in the hands of Corporation members." The ideology of "Chekists" is "Nashism (“ours-ism”), the selective application of rights", he said.[23]

Attitudes toward Chekism in contemporary Russia


Chekists perceive themselves as a ruling class, with political powers transferred from one generation to another. According to a former FSB general,

A Chekist is a breed. ... A good KGB heritage—a father or grandfather, say, who worked for the service—is highly valued by today's siloviki. Marriages between siloviki clans are also encouraged.[24]

The head of the Russian Drug Enforcement Administration Viktor Cherkesov said that all Russian siloviks must act as a united front:

We [Chekists] must stay together. We did not rush to power, we did not wish to appropriate the role of the ruling class. But the history commanded so that the weight of sustaining the Russian statehood fell to the large extent on our shoulders... There were no alternatives.[25]

Cherkesov emphasized the importance of Chekism as a "hook" that keeps the entire country from falling apart:

The country has survived a full-scale catastrophe in early 90-s. ... Some Chekists have quickly fell apart and parted the professional community. Some became traitors. Some have sweepingly become depraved. But a part of the community has nevertheless stayed. I won't discuss again what's the part and why did it remain intact... Falling into the abyss the post-Soviet society caught the 'chekist' hook. And hanged on it. ... Someone will say: “We saved the country from chekism!” In actuality, they will not have saved the country, they will have ruined it.[26]


Political scientist Yevgenia Albats found such attitudes deplorable:

Throughout the country, without investigation or trial, the Chekists [of an earlier generation] raged. They tortured old men and raped shoolgirls and killed parents before the eyes of their children. They impaled people, beat them with an iron glove, put wet leather 'crowns' on their heads, buried them alive, locked them in cells where the floor was covered with corpses. Amazing, isn't it that today's agents do not blanch to call themselves Chekists, and proudly claim Dzerzhinsky's legacy?[27]

"Chekism" has also been criticized as a modern Russian ideology that is actually very old. According to critics, its essence is very simple:

... the state is everything, people are nothing. Those who are against the state will be labeled as enemies of Russia and therefore enemies of the people.[28]


  1. ^ The Chekist Takeover of the Russian State, Anderson, Julie (2006), International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, 19:2, 237-288.
  2. ^ The HUMINT Offensive from Putin's Chekist State Anderson, Julie (2007), International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, 20:2, 258-316
  3. ^ According to Stanislav Belkovsky, "Chekism is a neo-Soviet imperial ideology and not just a line in a resume." Faking Left, by Stanislav Belkobsky, The St. Petersburg Times
  4. ^ (Badly informed optimists, by Irina Pavlova,
  5. ^ The Chechen Times №17, 30.08.2003. Translated from "Technology of Power", 1991, ISBN 5-85050-012-4, chapter 34 Russian text
  6. ^ KGB: The Secret Work of Soviet Secret Agents. New York: Reader's Digest Press, 1974. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1974. [pb] New York: Bantam Books, 1974.
  7. ^ The Triumph of the KGB by retired KGB Major General Oleg D. Kalugin The Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies
  8. ^ a b Yevgenia Albats and Catherine A. Fitzpatrick. The State Within a State: The KGB and Its Hold on Russia--Past, Present, and Future. 1994. ISBN 0-374-52738-5.
  9. ^ The original expression was literally a "prophylaxis" of the people by the KGB, an example of Soviet newspeak, which means that people were forced to stop their harmful political activities. This was done by different means, including threats, firing them from their job, or putting them into a psychiatric hospital.
  10. ^ E. Gaidar. "Death of the Empire. Lessons for the contemporary Russia.", 2007, ISBN 5-8243-0759-8. Buy, download.
  11. ^ a b The KGB Rises Again in Russia - by R.C. Paddock - Los Angeles Times, January 12, 2000
  12. ^ a b c In Russia, A Secretive Force Widens - by P. Finn - Washington Post, 2006
  13. ^ Interview with Olga Kryshtanovskaya (Russian) "Siloviks in power: fears or reality?" by Evgenia Albats, Echo of Moscow, 4 February 2006
  14. ^ A Chill in the Moscow Air, by Owen Matthews and Anna Nemtsova, Newsweek, February 6, 2006
  15. ^ Slaves of KGB. 20th Century. The religion of betrayal (Рабы ГБ. XX век. Религия предательства), by Yuri Shchekochikhin Moscow, 1999.
  16. ^ Archives explosion by Maksim Artemiev,, December 22, 2006
  17. ^ Symposium: KGB Resurrection, interview with Vladimir Bukovsky, Ion Mihai Pacepa, and R. James Woolsey, Jr.,, April 30, 2004.
  18. ^ Symposium: When an Evil Empire Returns, interview with Ion Mihai Pacepa, R. James Woolsey, Jr., Yuri Yarim-Agaev, and Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney,, June 23, 2006.
  19. ^ FSB will get new members, the capital will get new land, by Igor Plugataryov and Viktor Myasnikov, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 2006, (in Russian)
  20. ^ Russian Armed Forces, official site (in English)
  21. ^ The Law on State Secrets, 1997 (in Russian)
  22. ^ The Law on Federal Security Service, 2003 (in Russian)
  23. ^ Andrei Illarionov: Approaching Zimbabwe (Russian) Partial English translation
  24. ^ Russia under Putin. The making of a neo-KGB state., The Economist, August 23, 2007
  25. ^ Viktor Cherkesov: KGB is in Fashion?, Komsomolskaya Pravda, December 28, 2004 (in Russian)
  26. ^ Cherkesov, Viktor. One can't admit the warriors to become traders (Нельзя допустить, чтобы воины превратились в торговцев) Kommersant #184 (3760), October 9, 2007. (in Russian)English translation and Comments by Grigory Pasko
  27. ^ Yevgenia Albats and Catherine A. Fitzpatrick. The State Within a State: The KGB and Its Hold on Russia - Past, Present, and Future. 1994. ISBN 0-374-52738-5, page 95.
  28. ^ Ordinary Chekism, by Boris Vishnevsky, Novaya gazeta. This is an apparent allusion to definition of totalitarianism by Benito Mussolini: "Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state".

Further reading

See also

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