The Cheka was the secret police of the USSR. Wikipedia maintains a list of the Cheka and its subsequent renamings:

  • 1917: Cheka
  • 1922: GPU
  • 1923: OGPU
  • 1934: NKVD
  • 1941: NKGB
  • 1941: NKVD (again)
  • 1943: NKGB (again)
  • 1946: MGB
  • 1954: KGB

It stops at KGB in 1954. This is roughly when Khrushchev came to power. The renamings start in 1922. Though Lenin had not died yet, 1922 - 1954 is roughly the era of Stalin. So I wonder, does this have anything to do with Stalin's rise to power or control via the Chekists? If so, how? How could renaming accomplish this or serve some other purpose? Were there really significant re-organizations each time it was renamed?

  • 8
    Don't forget the FSB! Oct 26, 2017 at 13:52
  • 3
    Meant it as a Tongue in Cheek Oct 26, 2017 at 13:55
  • 45
    But the table clearly shows that the Cheka was only renamed once! ;-) Oct 26, 2017 at 15:31
  • 15
    @DavidRicherby Technically correct, the best kind of correct.
    – pipe
    Oct 26, 2017 at 17:23
  • 3
    Cheka is actually an acronym ChK.
    – Anixx
    Oct 27, 2017 at 16:25

2 Answers 2


The secret police was key to the Soviet government (so-called Chekism), so its structure changed frequently in response to state political needs.

  • CheKa: The "Emergency Commission" was formed in 1917, at the start of the Civil War, and was structured as appropriate for such a time - most notably, it was empowered to act extrajudicially. After the Civil War ended, The Ninth All-Russian Soviet Congress dissolved the CheKa and created the GPU, an organization more appropriate for a real country that was, in theory, more restrained by laws and rules.
  • GPU/OGPU: The "O" stands for Joint, and was added after the various Soviet republics joined together to form the USSR in 1922, and the Russian agency had to become a Union one. While the original GPU reported to the NKVD of the Russian Republic, the OGPU reported to the SovNarKom (the executive government branch of the USSR).
  • NKVD: The NKVD of the Russian Republic was transformed into an All-Union organization, and so they got their secret police back. This change also coincides with the beginning of the Great Purge, so it was likely that Stalin found it advantageous to arrange the state apparatus this way.
  • NKGB: The NKVD soon became a target of the purges themselves. The secret police component was pulled out to make this more effective, then rolled back in during the war as an intelligence/counterintelligence arm, then taken out again to police occupied Eastern Europe.
  • MGB: The "people's komissariat" was changed to the "ministry"; this was a change that affected all agencies as the USSR was rebuilding and reorganizing after the war. Nothing changed except the agency name.
  • KGB: Stalin died in 1953, and the de-Stalinization process touched all parts of the government, including the MGB. The KGB resulted from a merger of the MGB and the MVD (the non-secret police); however, the MVD broke off again in 1954.

Note that the renaming and restructuring was fairly transparent to the population, and there was no "rebranding" effort - security officers were informally called "Chekists" up until the dissolution of the USSR.

  • 1
    Almost perfect answer. You got just one thing wrong: latter-day MVD and KGB were independent (and to an extent, rival) bodies. Oct 26, 2017 at 13:26
  • 3
    @FelixGoldberg Ah, sorry - missed that the MVD broke off again in 1954. The history of the secret police is such a whirlwind.
    – SPavel
    Oct 26, 2017 at 13:30
  • 13
    I'd feel better about my upvote with a reference or two added as well.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 26, 2017 at 13:39
  • 1
    Are you listing these bullet points from memory? If so, what books or articles give these explanations?
    – DrZ214
    Oct 27, 2017 at 4:50
  • 7
    Added sources - please note that primary sources are not just in Russian, but in dense bureaucratic Russian.
    – SPavel
    Oct 27, 2017 at 14:12

An "umbrella" organization such as the Cheka was literally made up of hundreds of sub organizations with different purposes.

These suborganizations were recombined at various times under different chiefs to constitute new organizations with slightly different (mostly) internal mandates, and new umbrella organizations, with new names were created most of these times. For instance, the secret and non-secret police merged and de-merged from time to time.

The only thing that was constant was the ever-presence of the "organs." The forms often changed but the substance, seldom.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.