Courtesy Reuters

The Evolution of Soviet Terrorism

THE reorganization of the Soviet political police, the OGPU, and its virtual transformation into a Commissariat for Internal Affairs which does not possess the right to pronounce summary death sentences, marks a second important stage in the evolution of the terrorism which has been a consistent feature of Soviet administrative practice. The first stage was in 1922, when the Cheka, or Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-revolution, was reorganized as the OGPU. A strong element of continuity is noticeable in both these changes. Felix Dzerzhinsky, the original head of the Cheka, remained head of the OGPU until his death in 1926, when he was succeeded by another Pole, Menzhinsky, who died in the spring of 1934. Both the head of the new Commissariat for Internal Affairs, Heinrich Yagoda, and his two assistants, Agranov and Prokofiev, are veteran Chekists; and the Soviet newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda sees in this fact a desirable proof that the spirit of the Cheka will continue to prevail and that there will be no relaxation of the struggle against "class enemies."

The functions of the Commissariat for Internal Affairs are also strikingly similar to those of the OGPU. It retains control of border defense, of the ordinary police and of the numerous forced-labor camps which have grown up in Russia in recent years. It also possesses the less formidable functions of supervising fire prevention and the registration of marriages and divorces. Attached to the Commissariat is a special commission (osoboe soveschanie) which has the right to exile persons from the country or to sentence them to terms of confinement, up to five years, in prisons or in labor camps "administratively," i.e. without any court trial. This indicates that there will be no lack of conscripted "class enemies" for the digging of canals and for other rough tasks where large supplies of cheap labor are appreciated.

All these similarities between the functions of the OGPU and of its successor lend some point to the cynical remark of a foreign resident of Moscow

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