The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB

By Christopher Andrew; Vasili Mitrokhin | Go to book overview

TWO
FROM LENIN'S CHEKA TO STALIN'S OGPU

For most of Mitrokhins' career in the KGB, the history of its domestic operations was something of an embarrassment even to its own historians. During the late 1930s the KGB (then known as the NKVD) had been the chief instrument of Stalin's Great Terror, the greatest peacetime persecution in European history. The KGB officers club in the Lubyanka, its Moscow headquarters, lacked even the usual boardroom photographs of past chairmen; most were more suited to a chamber of horrors than to a hall of fame. Three had been shot after being found guilty of horrific crimes (some real, others imaginary): Genrikh Yagoda in 1938, Nikolai Yezhov in 1940 and Lavrenti Beria in 1953. A fourth--Ivan Serov--blew his brains out in 1963. KGB historians in the post-Stalin era tended to take refuge from the blood-stained reality of their Stalinist past and homicidal former chairmen by returning to an earlier, mostly mythical, Leninist golden age of revolutionary purity.

The KGB traced its origins to the foundation on December 20, 1917, six weeks after the Bolshevik Revolution, of the Cheka, the first Soviet security and intelligence agency. Throughout Mitrokhin's career, KGB officers styled themselves Chekists ( Chekisty) and were paid their salaries not on the first but on the twentieth of each month ("Chekists' Day") in honor of the Cheka's birthday. The KGB also adopted the Cheka symbols of the sword and the shield: the shield to defend the revolution, the sword to smite its foes. Outside the Lubyanka, the KGB's Moscow headquarters, stood a huge statue of the Polish-born head of the Cheka, Feliks Dzerzhinsky, venerated in countless official hagiographies as the selfless, incorruptible "Knight of the Revolution" who slew the dragon of counter- revolution which threatened the young Soviet state. He had been a professional revolutionary for over twenty years before the Revolution, spending eleven of those years in Tsarist prisons, penal servitude or exile. KGB training manuals quoted his description of the Chekist as a man with "a warm heart, a cool head and clean hands." Like Lenin, he was an incorruptible workaholic, prepared to sacrifice both himself and others in the defense of the Revolution.1 In the headquarters of the KGB First Chief (Foreign Intelligence) Directorate at Yasenevo, the main object of veneration was a large bust of Dzerzhinsky on a marble pedestal constantly surrounded by fresh flowers.

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