Assassins at Large. Hugo Dewar 1951

Addendum: Brief Historical Note on the GPU

Throughout this work the initials GPU have been used to designate an organisation that is, strictly speaking, not now so called. This is because in spite of altered initials essentials remain unchanged, and it is considered preferable to use GPU instead of initials less widely known and not having the same associations in the mind of the reader. In fact, it may be confidently asserted that the change in name was at least partly due to the evil associations aroused by the initials GPU.

The reader may, however, be interested in the following outline of the development of the Soviet police apparatus, based on an official Soviet work on the subject published in 1947.

At the time of the October Revolution the combating of counter-revolutionary tendencies and acts, and the maintenance of public order was in the hands of the Military Revolutionary Committee attached to the Petrograd Soviet. On 4 December 1917, a Special Commission for the Fight Against Counter-Revolution was set up, and on 20 December this was renamed the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission to Fight Counter-Revolution and Sabotage (Vserossiskaya Chrezvychainaya Komissia Po Borbe s Konterrevoliutsiei i Sabotazhem). This organisation was headed by Felix Dzerzhinsky and attached to the Council of People’s Commissars and nominally subordinate to it.

It became known as the Cheka, from the initials of the Russian words for Extraordinary Commission. The long-drawn-out civil war, the flames of which were fanned by foreign intervention, helped to strengthen the power of the Cheka and encourage the tendency for it to act in its own right and throw off any control by the formally superior governmental body. As time went by the Cheka grew more and more away from any sort of popular control and became in due course an independent body.

With the end of the civil war and intervention the Cheka was reorganised into the so-called State Political Administration (Gosudarstvennoe Politicheskoe Upravlenie, that is, the GPU), as a branch of the People’s Commissariat for Home Affairs (NKVD). The GPU was entrusted, among other tasks, with the suppression of counter-revolutionary activity, protection of the country against spies, ‘political’ protection of the frontiers, and the carrying out of any special instructions of the highest government organs (Central Committee and Council of People’s Commissars).

When the RSFSR was finally consolidated into the USSR in 1922, the GPU was detached from the NKVD and one all-embracing ‘Intelligence body’ was created, the Unified State Political Administration (Ob’edinyonnoe Gosudarstvennoe Politicheskoe Upravlenie – sometimes referred to as the OGPU, but more commonly retaining the initials GPU). The Chairman of the OGPU and his deputy were appointed by the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR. The Chairman was also an ex-officio member of the Council of People’s Commissars, but without a vote on that body. Members of the Collegium of the OGPU had to be approved by the Sovnarkom (Council of People’s Commissars) and enjoyed the same status as members of the Collegiums of the Commissariats. The OGPU had its representatives at the Soviet Supreme Court. The work of the local organs of the OGPU was directed by plenipotentiaries appointed by the centre and attached to the Sovnarkoms of the Union Republics.

In 1934 an NKVD was set up and the OGPU merged in it, hence the subsequent reference to the political police as the NKVD instead of the GPU. According to the official Soviet explanation this fresh reorganisation was made in conformity with the new methods of fighting the class enemy required by the fact that socialist construction had been victorious. Various administrative departments of the NKVD were formed to handle specific tasks: State Security, Workers’ and Peasants’ Militia, Frontier and Internal Guards, Fire Brigades, Corrective Labour Camps and Settlements, Civic Registration, Administrative Department. Under the Chairman of the NKVD Collegium a Special Committee was formed with the power to take action against people regarded as ‘publicly dangerous’. Meetings of this committee were attended, inter alia, by the Procurator of the USSR or his Deputy.

In February 1941, it was considered desirable to detach certain intelligence and secret police functions from the NKVD, and a People’s Commissariat for State Security was therefore formed; but on the outbreak of the Soviet-German war the two Commissariats were fused. When the tide of war flowed in favour of the USSR the State Security organ again became independent.

In 1946 all People’s Commissariats were renamed Ministries; consequently the NKVD is now known as the MVD and the Ministry of State Security is known by the initials MGB. It is the MGB which undertakes the functions of intelligence and counter-intelligence and for this purpose has its secret agents abroad as well as in the USSR It is, of course, not excluded that a specialised body, operating in even greater secret, may have been set up within the MGB, or even independent of it. The term GPU used in this book, while it primarily corresponds to the present term MGB, must also be taken to embrace some of the functions of the MVD.

The secret police organisation of Soviet Russia is, of course, in direct line of succession with the Tsarist Okhrana. One cannot refrain from quoting the words of Maurice Paleologue, one-time French Ambassador in Russia:

This formidable officine dates from Peter the Great, who formed it in 1697... Its historic origins must, however, be looked for much earlier; one finds them in the byzantine traditions and in the operations of the Tartar domination... espionage, delation, torture, secret executions were the normal and regulating instruments of the Russian police. (La Russie des Tsars, Paris, 1921, p 252)