The origins of the Committee for State Security, notoriously known as the KGB, began in 1917, after the October Revolution, which thrust the Bolsheviks into control of Russia. To assist in tracking down and silencing enemies to the regime, the Bolsheviks created the All Russian Emergency Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage (Cheka). Cheka started what is now known as the “Red Terror”, after the death of the leader of the Bolshevik party, Vladimir Lenin, died, and the resulting campaign against political dissidents, even as far as mere food hoarders, caused the deaths of almost 100,000 people to mass shootings and hangings. This of course, set part of the stage for the rise of Joseph Stalin, who replaced Cheka with the NKVD, and used the organization to take out potential political rivals to his power, using methods such as torture, killings, and sabotage.
What is now known as “The Great Purge” began after the assassination of Sergei Kirov, a potential rival to Stalin, who used the assassination as a way to start a reign of complete terror, leading to the NKVD committing massive amounts of murders, deportations, with around 1.5 million Soviet citizens arrested, with half the number killed and sent into gulags as forced labor.
This reign of terror left the Soviet Union unprepared for the Nazi invasion in 1941, which brought about even more death and suffering for Eastern Europe. Even so, the NKVD still worked as an arm to silence any sense of discontent in the many rows of troops being sent out to fight the Germans, stopping potential Soviet retreats, resulting in massive casualty counts on the battlefield.
During World War II the Soviets split the NKVD into two agencies, the NKVD and the NKGB, with a further split happening later on, with the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) and the Ministry of State Security (MGB) formed in 1946. The MVD was responsible for spying on foreign countries, overseeing intelligence operations over both the US and British atomic bomb programs. Almost 300 Soviet spies had been placed in the United States government in 1945, with even more being sent to Britain, with thousands of confidential documents being passed to the Soviet Union.
After the end of World War II in 1945 and the allied victory in Europe and Asia, and Stalin’s death in 1953, the NKVD became the KGB.After the war, the MGB was merged with the MVD, and when Nikita Khruschev, Stalin’s successor, came to power after the death of Stalin, he removed Lavrenty Beria, the head of the NKVD since 1938, and many of his associates were arrested and jailed following his removal from power. Millions were released from forced labor camps, with the MVD being abolished in 1960.
At first, it seemed as if during the 1960s potential dissent and the possibility of speaking out against the government could be permitted, especially after Khruschev attacked the former dictator Joseph Stalin in his famous 1956 speech. It began to seem, however, that this glimmer of small hope was crushed, as there were still arrests and killings of those who spoke out against the government. The KGB was used as a way to promote propaganda and act as a watchdog over the whole of the Soviet Union, and began to become a notorious name in the world of espionage and counterintelligence, and under Yury Andropov, became extremely powerful, with some of the elite members of the communist party being recruited into its ranks, and the agency enjoyed continued access to its rivals secrets during the Space Race and the Cold War era proxy wars which plagued the 1960s-1980s.
The KGB began to fall apart, however, after Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev came into power in 1985, in which Gorbachev pushed for reformist policies which undermined KGB control. In 1991, several KGB officers participated in a coup to take power from Gorbachev, however, this coup failed, and the KGB was never again to hold any political or military power in the Soviet Union, corresponding with the Soviet Union fall in 1991, resulting in the end to the Cold War. However, KGB leaders were never addressed for their crimes against the people of the former Soviet Union under the resulting creation of the Russian Federation and the advent of Boris Yeltsin. According to many historians, the KGB and its predecessors were responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people, and the mark it made on the history of the Soviet Union and Russia as a whole still stands today.