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The Revolution caused the collapse of the Tsarist political system including all of its repressive institutions and agencies. Power was taken in February 1917 by a Provisional Government and in October 1917 by the Soviet of Workers and Soldiers Deputies, which in 1918 was extend to become the Soviet of Workers, Soldiers and Peasant Deputies. As the political and economic situation deteriorated an Extraordinary Commission (Cheka) was established to defend the revolution against wreckers and the new economic order against speculation. Counter-revolution, wrecking and speculation were considered to be political crimes that were subject to political organs of repression ChK/VChK/GPU/OGPU/NKVD/NKGB/MVD/KGB. Normal civil crimes against the person or against property would normally be handled by the civil repressive institutions of the procuracy under the Peoples Commissariat (later Ministry) of Justice (NKJus/MinJus) and the Militia and courts under the Peoples Commissariat (later Ministry) of the Interior (NKVD/MVD).

Until 1922 both the extraordinary political organs and the normal legal organs operated through the RSFSR and Federated with it Republics. But from 1922 the political organs of each republic were bound into an All Union agency known as OGPU. From 1922-1934 the Political organs operated at the All-Union level, while the civil organs of repression and justice operated at the Republican level without an independent central body. In 1934 an All-Union NKVD was established to co-ordinate the work of the separate Republics, but it was also given over-sight of the political organs of repression which were absorbed into NKVD as a Chief Administration of State Security (GUGB).

The record of civil and political repression is therefore complex and inter-related. At certain times certain crimes like theft of socialist property in 1932 was reclassified from a civil offense to a political offence and the State security organs were required to keep close control over investigations and sentences related to it. As we shall see below this would cause great complexities and apparent anomalies in recording of crimes.