Political commissar

Political commissar

The political commissar (also politruk Russian: политрук from политический руководитель: political officer) is the supervisory political officer responsible for the political education (ideology) and organisation, and loyalty to the government of the military. Historically, the commissaire politique (political commissary) first appeared in the French Revolution (1789–99), guarding it against anti-Revolutionary (ideological) thought and action, and so ensuring the Republican victory.[1]


Red Army

Brigade commissar Leonid Brezhnev (right) giving a Communist party membership card to a soldier (1942)

Despite a French Republican origin, the political commissar usually is associated historically with the Soviet Union (1917–91), where the Russian Provisional Government of 1917 introduced them to the military forces to ensure the government’s political control. In the event, after the October Revolution, the political commissar remained in the Red Army until 1942.

In the Red Army and the Soviet Army, the political commissar existed only during the 1918–24, 1937–40, and 1941-42 periods; not every Red Army political officer was a commissar. The political commissar held military rank equalling that of the unit commander to whom he was attached; moreover, the commissar also had the military authority to countermand the unit commander’s orders when required. In the Red Army historical periods when political officers were militarily subordinate to unit commanders, the political commissar institution did not exist in the Red Army.

The political supervision of the Russian military was effected by the Political Commissar, who was introduced to every unit and formation, from company- to division-level, including the Navy. Revolutionary Military Councils (RVS) were established at army-, front-, fleet-, and flotilla-level, comprising at least three members — commander and two Political workers. The political workers were denominated "Members of the RVS", not "commissars", despite being official political commissars.

In 1919, the title Politruk (Russian: политрук, from политический руководитель, political leader) was assigned to military commissars at company level, like-wise, despite being official political commissars, they were not addressed as "commissar". Beginning in 1925, the politico-military doctrinal course towards edinonachalie (Russian: единоначалие, single command) was established, and the political commissar, as a military institution, was gradually abolished. The introduction of edinonachalie was twofold, either the military commander joined the Communist Party and became his unit’s political officer, or a pompolit (Russian: помполит, assistant commander for political work) officer was commissioned sub-ordinate to him. Earlier, in 1924, the RVSs were renamed as Military Councils, such high-level political officers were known as ChVS (Chlen Voennogo Soveta, Member of the Military Council), they were abolished in 1934.

On 10 May 1937 the political commissar was re-instated to the Red Army, and Military Councils were created. These events derived from the political purges that began in the Soviet armed forces. Again, in August 1940, the political commissars was abolished, yet the Military Councils continued throughout the German-Soviet War (1941–45), and afterwards. Below army level, the edinonachalie (single command) system was restored. In July 1941, consequent to the Red Army’s defeats at war’s start, the political commissar reappeared. The commissar had an influential role as a "second commander" within the military units. When this proved less-than-effective, in 1942 the political officer was much more firmly subordinated to commanding officers: the commissars' work was confined to non-combat functions, the term "commissar" itself was formally abolished, and at the company- and regiment-level, the pompolit officer was replaced with the zampolit (deputy commander for political work). Although the Military Councils remained, command authority was the unit commander’s. In 1943, the company-level political commissar was eliminated, yet restored after World War II. Though no longer known by the original "commissar" title, political officers were retained by the Soviet armed forces until the Soviet dissolution in 1991.

Chinese military

The position of political commissar (Chinese: 政治委员, 政委) also exists in the People's Liberation Army of China. Usually, the political commissar is a uniformed military officer, although this position has been used to give civilian party officials some experience with the military. The political commissar was head of a party cell within the military; however, military membership in the party has been restricted to the lower ranks since the 1980s. Today the political commissar is largely responsible for administrative tasks such as public relations and counseling, but mainly serves as second-in-command.

The position of political commissar (Chinese: 政戰官/政战官) also exists in the Republic of China Army of the Republic of China (Taiwan). Chiang Ching-kuo, appointed as Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) director of Secret Police in 1950, was educated in the Soviet Union, and initiated Soviet style military organization in the Republic of China Military, reorganizing and Sovietizing the political officer corps, surveillance, and Kuomintang party activities were propagated throughout the military. Opposed to this was Sun Li-jen, who was educated at the American Virginia Military Institute.[2] Chiang Ching-kuo then arrested Sun Li-jen, charging him of conspiring with the American CIA of plotting to overthrow Chiang Kaishek and the Kuomintang, Sun was placed under house arrest in 1955.[3][4]

See also


  • Source: The Soviet Military Encyclopedia

External links

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