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How KGB founder Iron Felix justified terror and mass executions
The legacy of Felix Dzerzhinsky, who led Soviet secret police in the "Red Terror," still confounds Russia.
- Felix Dzerzhinsky led the Cheka, Soviet Union's first secret police.
- The Cheka was infamous for executing thousands during the Red Terror of 1918.
- The Cheka later became the KGB, the spy organization where Russia's President Putin served for years.
Attempting to change human behavior often ends up in unimaginable violence. The career and thinking of Felix Dzerzhinsky is a testament to this notion. Nicknamed Iron Felix, he founded the infamous Soviet security organization Cheka, known for its brutal enforcement of the regime. Cheka eventually became the KGB – a dangerous spy institution that gained international prominence in the Cold War. It also produced the current Russian President Vladimir Putin. He was a KGB officer for 16 years, reaching the rank of Colonel.
THE RISE OF IRON FELIX
The 20th century was the bloodiest time in human history as a result of a disastrous combination of factors. Chief among these was the horrific intersection between the mass spread of dangerous ideologies and the advancement of technologies that could harm human bodies. In the example of the Soviet Union, a project to radically transform human society resulted in millions of deaths. The 1917 Revolution attempted to institute communism by a complete re-imagining of a person's role in their community, enacted through brute force, a novel governmental structure, and continuous re-education of large portions of the population.
A new world needed new leaders. Felix Dzerzhinsky (1877-1926) was one of the very instrumental figures of this effort. He was regarded as a genuine hero of the Revolution who did much to make Soviet communism possible. He was a true Bolshevik, arrested numerous times for his pre-Revolutionary activities with Polish and Lithuanian Social Democrats between 1895 and 1912. The arrests were usually followed by exiles to Siberia, from which he would subsequently escape. He did get locked up for a while between 1912 and 1917, when the February Revolution freed him.
Felix Dzerzhinsky in the Oryol prison, 1914.
THE RED TERROR
Dzerzhinsky had a key role in the October Revolution of 1917 that swept the Bolsheviks to power in Russia. A strong supporter of Vladimir Lenin, he was named in December 1917 as the head of the newly-created All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counterrevolution and Sabotage (Cheka). This secret police had full support from Lenin in exercising all means necessary to weed out those who were perceived to be the enemies of the state. Spurred on by a failed assassination attempt on Lenin in August 1918, the fight against counter-revolutionaries became known as "the Red Terror" – a period of mass executions from September to October 1918, carried out by the Cheka with help from the Red Army.
The Cheka's methods were very efficient. From arrest to execution would take a day. The killings happened in basements of prisons and public places. No other governmental body supervised them. While records are hard to confirm, it is believed at least 10,000 to 15,000 people were often arbitrarily killed by the Cheka during this period. The real number could possible go up to a million as some argue. The murdered were class enemies, landlords, scientists, priests or often just those who were just caught in the net. Dzerzhinsky was accepting of collateral damage, saying "The Cheka should defend the revolution and defeat the enemy, even if its sword accidentally falls on the heads of innocents."
"We stand for organized terror - this should be frankly admitted," said Dzerzhinsky in a chilling quote in 1918. "Terror is an absolute necessity during times of revolution. Our aim is to fight against the enemies of the Soviet Government and of the new order of life. We judge quickly. In most cases only a day passes between the apprehension of the criminal and his sentence. When confronted with evidence criminals in almost every case confess; and what argument can have greater weight than a criminal's own confession."
In another telling quote, he explained how he saw the purpose of the Red Terror, defining it as "the terrorization, arrests and extermination of enemies of the revolution on the basis of their class affiliation or of their pre-revolutionary roles," as per George Leggett's book The Cheka: Lenin's Political Police.
The inscription on the banner reads, "Death to the bourgeois and their helpers. Long live the Red Terror!
THE LEGACY OF DZERZHINSKY
The Red Terror helped the Bolsheviks to hold onto power. As its leader, Dzerzhinsky developed a reputation for being a ruthless and staunch communist. He organized Russia's first concentration camps. Besides his work with the secret police, he was tasked with reforming the economy, popularizing sports, and other key projects for the Soviet Union. He also created a system of orphanages in Russia to take in the 5 million homeless children who lost their parents during the country's civil war and its revolution-related upheavals.
As an interesting side note, one of his other leadership roles included being the chairman of the Society of Friends of Soviet Cinema.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Dzerzhinksy's legacy has undergone periods of re-examination, with his monuments toppled and the truth about what his work entailed explored. On the other hand, the Kremlin and Russia's current leaders have tried to in some ways to rehabilitate that part of Soviet history, celebrating the founding of the Cheka, and having some monuments brought back.
A crowd watching the statue of KGB founder Dzerzhinsky being toppled on Lubyanskaya square in Moscow. August 22, 1991.
Credit: ANATOLY SAPRONENKOV/AFP/Getty Images.
Dzerzhinsky remains controversial to this day. While his work was brutal and resulted in countless deaths, those who support him see him as a hero who protected the Revolution. As the historian and a retired FSB officer Alexander Zdanovich said: "Dzerzhinsky founded a security service, one of the most powerful in the 20th century. It would be counterproductive to paint a portrait of this extraordinary man in black only."
Of course, others like the activist Ariadna Kozina, see whitewashing figures like Dzerzhinsky as "the glorification of all the wrong parts of the past."
Ever since we've had the technology, we've looked to the stars in search of alien life. It's assumed that we're looking because we want to find other life in the universe, but what if we're looking to make sure there isn't any?
Here's an equation, and a rather distressing one at that: N = R* × fP × ne × f1 × fi × fc × L. It's the Drake equation, and it describes the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy with whom we might be able to communicate. Its terms correspond to values such as the fraction of stars with planets, the fraction of planets on which life could emerge, the fraction of planets that can support intelligent life, and so on. Using conservative estimates, the minimum result of this equation is 20. There ought to be 20 intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way that we can contact and who can contact us. But there aren't any.
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.