Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del (or NKVD) (Russian: НКВД, Народный комиссариат внутренних дел; People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs) was a government department which handled a number of the Soviet Union's affairs of state.
The NKVD is best known for the Main Directorate of State Security (GUGB), which succeeded the OGPU and the Cheka as the secret police agency of the Soviet Union. The GUGB was intrumental in Stalin's ethnic cleansing and genocides, and was responsible for massacres of civilians and other war crimes. Many consider the NKVD to be a criminal organisation, mostly for the activities of GUGB officers and investigators, as well as supporting NKVD troops and GULAG guards.
In addition to its state security and police functions, however, some of its departments handled other matters, such as transport, fire guards, border troops, etc., the tasks that were traditionally assigned to the Ministry of the Interior (MVD).
Evolution of the NKVD structure and tasks
After the October Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks dissolved the old police and sought the creation of Workers' and Peasants' Militsiya under the supervision of the NKVD of the RSFSR. However, the NKVD apparatus was overwhelmed by functions inherited directly from the Imperial MVD, such as the supervision of the local governments and firefighting, and the new proletarian workforce was largely inexperienced.
Realizing that it was left with no capable security force, the Council of People's Commissars of the Russian SFSR created a secret political police, the Cheka (the Russian acronym for the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for the Suppression of Counterrevolution and Sabotage), led by Felix Dzerzhinsky. It gained the right to undertake quick non-judicial trials and executions, if that was deemed necessary in order to "protect the revolution".
The Cheka was reorganized in 1922 as the GPU (State Political Directorate) of the NKVD of the Russian SFSR. Upon the formation of the Soviet Union in 1923, the GPU was transformed into the all-Union OGPU (Joint State Political Directorate), under the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR. The NKVD of the RSFSR retained control of the militsiya, as well as various other responsibilities.
In 1934, the OGPU was incorporated into the newly-created NKVD of the USSR, becoming the Main Directorate for State Security (GUGB); the NKVD of the Russian SFSR ceased to exist and was not resurrected until 1946 (as the MVD of the RSFSR). As a result, the NKVD also became responsible for all detention facilities (including the forced labor camps, known as the Gulag) as well as for the regular police.
Other NKVD departments dealt with:
- general police functions and criminal investigations (militsiya);
- intelligence and overseas special operations (Inostrannyi Otdel);
- personal security for high officials,
and other related tasks.
At various times, the NKVD had the following Chief Directorates, abbreviated as "ГУ" - главное управление.
- ГУГБ - государственная безопасность, of State Security (GUGB)
- ГУРКМ - рабоче-крестьянская милиция, of workers' and peasants' militsiya
- ГУПВО - пограничная и внутренняя охрана, of border ad internal guards
- ГУПО - пожарная охрана, of fire guards
- ГУШосдор - шоссейные дороги, of highways
- ГУЖД, железные дороги, of railways
- ГУЛАГ - GULAG
- ГЭУ - экономика, of economics
- ГТУ - транспорт, of transport
- ГУВПИ - военнопленных и интернированных, of POW and interned
On February 3, 1941, the Special Sections of the NKVD (responsible for counter-intelligence in the military) became part of the Army and Navy (RKKA and RKKF, respectively). The GUGB was removed from the NKVD and renamed the NKGB. Following the outbreak of World War II, the NKVD and NKGB were reunited on July 20,1941 and counter-intelligence was returned to the NKVD in January 1942. In April 1943 it was again transferred to the Narkomat of Defence and Narkomat of the Navy, becoming SMERSH (from Smert' Shpionam or "Death to Spies"); at the same time, the NKVD was again separated from the NKGB.
In 1946, the NKVD was renamed the MVD and the NKGB was renamed the MGB. Following yet another merger with the MVD in 1953, the Checkist forces were finally removed from the MVD in 1954 to finally become the KGB. The police force was finally split into two independent agencies:
- MVD (Ministerstvo Vnutrennikh Del; Ministry of the Interior), responsible for the criminal police, correctional facilities and fire rescue.
- KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti; Committee of State Security) - responsible for the political police, counter-intelligence, intelligence, personal protection and confidential communications.
Although the NKVD perfomed the important function of state security, the name of the organization today is associated primarily with activities considered criminal: political repressions and assassinations, military crimes, violations of the rights of Soviet and foreign citizens, and violation of the law.
Repressions and executions
See Category:Soviet political repressions for detailed articles on the issue.
Implementing Soviet internal politics with respect to perceived enemies of the state ("enemies of the people"), the agency conducted arrests and executions of Soviet and foreign citizens. Millions were rounded up and sent to GULAG camps and hundreds of thousands were executed by the NKVD. Formally, most of these people were convicted by NKVD troikas ("triplets") - special courts martial. Evidential standards were very low; a tip off by an anonymous informer was considered sufficient grounds for arrest. Usage of "physical means of persuasion" was sanctioned by a special decree of the state, which opened the door to numerous abuses, documented in recollections of victims and members of the NKVD itself. Hundreds of mass graves resulting from such operations were later discovered throughout the country. Documented evidence exists that the NKVD committed mass extrajudicial executions, guided by secret "plans". Those plans established the number and proportion of victims (officially "public enemies") in a given region (e.g. the quotas for clergy, former nobles etc., regardless of identity). The families of the repressed, including children, were also automatically repressed according to NKVD Order no. 00486.
The purges were organized in a number of waves according to the decisions of the Politburo of the Communist Party (e.g. the campaigns among engineers ("Shakhty Case"), party and military elite ("fascist plots"), and medical staff ("Doctors Plot")). Distinctive and permanent purging campaigns were conducted against non-Russian nationalities (including Ukrainians, Tartars, Germans and many others, who were accused of "bourgeois nationalism", "fascism", etc.) and religious activists. A number of mass operations of the NKVD were related to the prosecution of whole ethnic categories. Whole populations of certain ethnicities were forcibly resettled. Despite this, it is important to note that Russians still formed the majority of NKVD victims.
NKVD agents became not only executioners, but also one of the largest groups of victims. The majority of 1930s agency staff (hundreds of thousands), including all commanders, were executed.
During World War II, NKVD units were used for rear area security, including stopping desertion. In "liberated" territory, the NKVD and later NKGB carried out mass arrests, deportations and executions, including prosecutions of anti-Nazi resistance movements like the Polish Armia Krajowa.
The NKVD's intelligence unit organized overseas assassinations of ex-Soviet citizens and foreigners who were regarded as enemies of the USSR. Among the officially confirmed victims of such plots were:
- Leon Trotsky - a personal political enemy of Joseph Stalin and his bitterest international critic;
- Boris Savinkov - Russian revolutionary and terrorist (Trust Operation of the GPU);
- Yevhen Konovalets - prominent Ukrainian political and military leader.
After the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, the new Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev began a campaign against the NKVD purges. Between the 1950s and 1980s, thousands of victims were legally "rehabilitated" (i.e. acquitted and had their rights restored). Many of the victims and their relatives refused to apply for rehabilitation due to fear or lack of documents. Still, the rehabilitation was ineffective: in most cases the formulation was "due to lack of evidence of the case of crime", a Soviet legal slang that effectively said "there was a crime, but unfortunately we cannot prove it". Only a limited number of persons were rehabilitated with the formulation "cleared of all charges".
Very few NKVD agents were ever officially convicted of the particular violation of anybody's rights. Legally, those agents executed in the 1930s were also "purged" without legitimate criminal investigation and court decision. In the 1990s and 2000s, a small number of ex-NKVD agents living in the Baltic states were convicted of crimes against the local population.
At present, living former agents receive generous pensions and privileges established by the government of the USSR and later confirmed by all the CIS countries. They are not persecuted in any way, although some have been identified by their victims.
- Establishment of a widespread spy network within the Comintern;
- Successful infiltration of Richard Sorge, the "Red Orchestra" and other agents who alerted Stalin of the forthcoming Nazi invasion of the USSR and later assisted the Red Army during World War II;
- Recruitment of dozens of other agents who showed their worth in the Cold War intelligence operations of the MGB-KGB;
- Averting of several confirmed plots to assassinate Joseph Stalin.
The NKVD and the Soviet economy
The extensive system of slave labor of the Gulag system made a notable contribution to the Soviet economy and the development of remote areas. Colonization of Siberia, the North and Far East was among the explicitly stated goals in the very first laws concerning Soviet labor camps. Mining, construction works (roads, railways, canals, dams, and factories), logging, and other functions of the labor camps were part of the Soviet planned economy, and the NKVD had its own production plans.
The most unusual part of the NKVD's achievements was its role in Soviet scientific and arms development. On the initiative of Lavrenty Beria (the last and most influential commander of the agency), hundreds of researchers and engineers were arrested and placed in privileged semi-prison institutes (much more comfortable than GULAG), which were colloquially known as sharashkas. Continuing their studies there and later released, some of them became world leaders in science and technology. Among such sharashka members were Sergey Korolev, the head designer of the Soviet space mission in 1961, and Vladimir Tupolev, the famous airplane designer.
- History of the Soviet Union
- Secret police
- Chronology of Soviet secret police agencies
- Population transfer
- MVD: 200-year history of the Ministry (in Russian)
- MEMORIAL: history of the OGPU/NKVD/MGB/KGB (in Russian)
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