He joined the Russian army and entered the military school in Irkutsk. He then became a cadet of the 25th Reserve infantry regiment. Berman joined the Bolsheviks in June 1917.
In 1918 he joined the Red Army and was stationed in Tomsk and in June was working in a propaganda unit
In August 1918 he joined the Extraordinary Commission Against Counterrevolution, Sabotage and Speculation and was named chief of state security in the city of Glazov. He then led the Joint State Political Administration in Central Asia.
In November 1929 he helped develop the GULAG system of camps and became deputy chief of the GULAG in 1930. From June 9, 1932 to August 17, 1937 he was head of the GULAG. He was awarded the Order of Lenin on August 4, 1933, soon after the completion of the White Sea – Baltic Canal.
By 1935, by his own count, Berman was in charge of over 740,000 prisoners working on 15 major projects in the GULAG. After the fall of Genrikh Yagoda, Berman continued to rise in the hierarchy of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs and he held the offices of head construction of the Moscow-Volga Canal and Deputy head of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs in 1936-1937.
In August 1937, Berman"s fall began in the time of the Great Terror. On August 17, 1937, he lost his position as head of the GULAG and was appointed People"s Commissar of Posts and Telecommunications (Russian: Наркомпочтель). On December 23, 1938, he was expelled from the Soviet Communist Party, arrested the next day in the office of Georgi Malenkov, and sent to prison at Lubyanka.
He was found guilty by the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics of belonging to a "terrorist and sabotage organization" and shot on March 7, 1939 at Kommunarka.
On October 17, 1957 Matvei Berman was legally rehabilitated. Matvei"s younger brother, Boris, also worked for the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs and the GULAG in supervisory positions.
He was not rehabilitated.
From 1923 to 1924 he was People"s Commissar for State Security in the Buryat-Mongol Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. From February 1927 to October 1927 he was the chairman of the Joint State Political Administration in the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic.