Loyal Comrades, Ruthless Killers: The Secret Services of the USSR 1917-1991

by Slava Katamidze

Published by Barnes and Noble

225 pages, 2007




Cold Secrets

Reviewed by Pedro Blas Gonzalez

Few people today will recognize the name Felix Dzerzhinsky a.k.a “Iron Clad.” Yet the effects that his perfection of the mechanisms of state sponsored terror had on the 20th century are undeniable, and are still being felt today.

Dzerzhinsky was the founder of the Cheka (All-Russian Extraordinary Commission to Combat Counter-Revolution). Under Lenin’s tutelage, Dzerzhinsky, a ruthless Bolshevik, was quickly made chief of the secret service of the first Bolshevik state. While changing names throughout the years, the Cheka -- which was also known as the OGPU and NKVD -- was the forerunner of the infamous KGB. Its mastermind, Felix Dzerzhinsky, would be forever known as the man who organized concentration camps in what was soon to be the Soviet Union.

From the start, the role of Dzerzhinsky and the Cheka was to instill mortal fear in dissidents, peasants and writers while fomenting and safeguarding the iron grip of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the sinister, worldwide sphere of influence that this entity enjoyed. The author of Loyal Comrades, Ruthless Killers best explains: “Dzerzhinsky stated that the arrest and execution of opponents to the new regime could not be random and unsystematic -- ‘that work must be properly organized.’”

Loyal Comrades, Ruthless Killers details the implementation and history of the Soviet Union’s secret service, its countless abominations and the crooked moral and spiritual quality of the men and women who formed it.  In the latter sense, this work is reminiscent of Czeslaw Milosz’s masterful depiction of the mind and soul of communist criminals in The Captive Mind and Milovan Djilas’ Conversations with Stalin.

Drawing from many declassified sources, Loyal Comrades, Ruthless Killers chronicles the history of state terror, its motivations and inhumane techniques of social-political control, which are still firmly in place today in countries like China, North Korea and Cuba.

Often the darling of a cynical and elitist literati, the atrocities committed by Soviet Communism and its satellite states, the murder of over 200 million people, and the accountability of those responsible for such a large scale, ideological massacre, have all been systematically excused and glanced over by the mainstream media as nothing more than mere “errors.” Fortunately, for the sake of truth, history in the age of the Internet is being written, if not uncovered, in large measure given the expansive number of sources that have surfaced since their declassification after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1991.

Gathering and utilizing the intelligence delivered to the west by the many Soviet defectors through the years, the author is able to paint a picture that few myopic or disingenuous intellectuals can continue to evade or “deconstruct.”  Simply stated, the Soviet Union’s mechanism of state terror was the premier manifestation of state-organized murder and terror of the 20th century.  

An expert in Russian political and military matters and a graduate of the Military Institute of Foreign Languages of the Soviet Army, author Slava Katamidze takes us from the heyday of the Russian Czar to the early days of the October “revolt,” through the malefic events of the Cold War and culminating with Vladimir Putin’s government, and its seemingly unassailable ties to the KGB. A startlingly worthwhile read. | September 2007

Pedro Blas Gonzalez is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Barry University in Miami, Florida. Amongst his intellectual pursuits is his interest in the relationship that exists between subjectivity, self-autonomy and philosophy.