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Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinskiy

Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinskiy (September 11, 1876 - July 20, 1926) (there are a number of alternate spellings of his name) was a Polish Communist and head of the Bolshevik secret police the Cheka, later the KGB.

Born into a bourgeois Polish family, he was expelled from school for "revolutionary activity". He joined the Marxist group - the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party in 1895 and spent the major part of his early life in various prisons including exile in Siberia.

In March 1917 he was freed (although Pravda usually asserts that he escaped and indeed the facts are uncertain), along with many others, from Moscow jail, where he had been since 1912. His first act was to join the Bolshevik Party. His honest and incorruptible character combined with his complete devotion to the cause gained him swift recognition and the nickname Iron Felix.

He was appointed by Lenin to organise a force to combat internal political threats and on December 20 the establishment of the Vecheka (All Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-revolution and Sabotage) was passed by the Council of Peoples Commissars.

As the Russian Civil War expanded, Dzerzhinsky also began organising the internal security troops to enforce the Cheka's authority. Lenin gave the organization huge powers to combat the opposition during the Civil War.

At the end of the Civil War in 1922, the Cheka was changed into the GPU (State Political Directorate) a section of the NKVD, but this did not diminish Dzerzhinskiy's power: from 1921-24 he was Minister of Interior, head of the Cheka/GPU/OGPU, Minister for Communications and head of the Russian Council of National Economy. It is said however that he was not ambitious.

Dzerzhinskiy died a natural death in July 1926. His name and image were widely used throughout the KGB and the Soviet Union (there were six towns named after him).

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