The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (Народный комиссариат внутренних дел, Narodnyy Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del), abbreviated NKVD(НКВД listen (help·info)), was a law enforcement agency of the Soviet Union that directly executed the will of the All Union Communist Party. It was closely associated with the Soviet secret police, which at times was part of the agency, and is known for its political repression during the era of Joseph Stalin.
The NKVD contained the regular, public police force of the USSR, including traffic police, firefighting, border guards and archives. It is best known for the activities of the Gulag and the Main Directorate for State Security (GUGB), the predecessor of the KGB. The NKVD conducted mass extrajudicial executions, ran the Gulag system of forced labor camps and suppressed underground resistance, and was responsible for mass deportations of entire nationalities andKulaks to unpopulated regions of the country. It was also tasked with protection of Soviet borders and espionage (which included political assassinationsabroad), influencing foreign governments and enforcing Stalinist policy within communist movements in other countries.
History and structure
After the Russian February Revolution of 1917, the Provisional Government dissolved the Tsar's police and created People's Militsiya. The subsequent Russian October Revolution of 1917, was a seizure of state power led by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, who established a new Bolshevik regime, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR), and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) turned into NKVD ("People's" Commissariat of Internal Affairs) under a "People's" Commissar. However, the NKVD apparatus was overwhelmed by duties inherited from MVD, such as the supervision of the local governments and firefighting, and the Workers' and Peasants' Militsiya staffed by proletarians was largely inexperienced and unqualified. Realizing that it was left with no capable security force, the Council of People's Commissars of the RSFSR created a secret political police, the Cheka, 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 Russian Socialist-Communist revolution".
The Cheka was reorganized in 1922 as the State Political Directorate, or GPU, of the NKVD of the RSFSR. In 1922, the USSR was formed with the RSFSR as its largest member. The GPU became the 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, and various other responsibilities.
In 1934, the NKVD of the RSFSR was transformed into an all-union security force, the NKVD of the USSR (which the Communist Party of the Soviet Union leaders soon came to call "the leading detachment of our party"), and the OGPU was incorporated into the NKVD as the Main Directorate for State Security (GUGB); the separate NKVD of the RSFSR 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. Until the reorganization begun by Nikolai Yezhov with a purge of the regional political police in the autumn of 1936 and formalized by a May 1939 directive of the All-Union NKVD by which all appointments to the local political police were controlled from the center, there was frequent tension between centralized control of local units and the collusion of those units with local and regional party elements, frequently resulting in the thwarting of Moscow's plans.
Since its creation in 1934, the NKVD of the USSR underwent many organizational changes; between 1938 and 1939 alone, the NKVD's structure changed three times.
On February 3, 1941, the Special Sections of the NKVD responsible for military counterintelligence (CI) became part of the Army and Navy (RKKA and RKKF, respectively). The GUGB was separated from the NKVD and renamed the "People's Commissariat for State Security" (NKGB). After the German invasion, the NKVD and NKGB were reunited on 20 July 1941. The CI sections were returned to the NKVD in January 1942. In April 1943, the CI sections were again transferred to the People's Commissariats (Narkomat) of Defense and 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, all Soviet Commissariats were renamed "ministries". Accordingly, the NKVD of the USSR was renamed as the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), while the NKGB was renamed as the Ministry of State Security (MGB). In 1953, after the arrest of Lavrenty Beria, the MGB was merged back into the MVD. The police and security services were finally split in 1954 to become:
- The USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), responsible for the criminal militia and correctional facilities.
- The USSR Committee for State Security (KGB), responsible for the political police, intelligence, counter-intelligence, personal protection (of the leadership) and confidential communications.
The main function of the NKVD was to protect the state security of the Soviet Union. This function was successfully accomplished through massive political repression, including authorized political murders, kidnappings and assassinations, inclusively in its international "secret" operations.
Domestic repressions and executions
In implementing Soviet internal policy towards perceived enemies of the Soviet state ("enemies of the people"), untold multitudes of people were 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. Use of "physical means of persuasion" (torture) 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. Some examples are the campaigns among engineers (Shakhty Trial), party and military elite plots (Great Purge with Order 00447), and medical staff ("Doctors' Plot").
A number of mass operations of the NKVD were related to the prosecution of whole ethnic categories. For example, the Polish Operation of the NKVD in 1937–1938 resulted in the execution of 111,091 Poles. Whole populations of certain ethnicities were forcibly resettled. Foreigners living in the Soviet Union were given particular attention. When disillusioned American citizens living in the Soviet Union thronged the gates of the U.S. embassy in Moscow to plead for new U.S. passports to leave USSR (their original U.S. passports had been taken for 'registration' purposes years before), none were issued. Instead, the NKVD promptly arrested all of the Americans, who were taken to Lubyanka Prison and later shot. American factory workers at the Soviet Ford GAZ plant, suspected by Stalin of being 'poisoned' by Western influences, were dragged off with the others to Lubyanka by the NKVD in the very same Ford Model A cars they had helped build, where they were tortured; nearly all were executed or died in labor camps. Many of the slain Americans were dumped in the mass grave at Yuzhnoye Butovo District near Moscow. Even so, the people of the Soviet Republics still formed the majority of NKVD victims[*17][*18].
The NKVD also served as arm of the Russian Soviet communist government for the lethal mass persecution and destruction of ethnic minorities and religious beliefs, such as the Russian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, Greek Catholics, Islam, Judaism and other religious organizations, an operation headed by Yevgeny Tuchkov.