Political commissar

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In the military, a political commissar or political officer (or politruk, a portmanteau from Russian : политический руководитель, "political leader", "political official"), is a supervisory officer responsible for the political education (ideology) and organization of the unit they are assigned to, and intended to ensure civilian control of the military.

Russian language East Slavic language

Russian is an East Slavic language, which is official in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely used throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. Although nearly three decades have passed since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is used in official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states, as well as in Israel and Mongolia.

Officer (armed forces) member of an armed force or uniformed service who holds a position of authority

An officer is a member of an armed forces or uniformed service who holds a position of authority.

An ideology is a collection of normative beliefs and values that an individual or group holds for other than purely epistemic reasons. The term is especially used to describe a system of ideas and ideals which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy. In political science it is used in a descriptive sense to refer to political belief systems. In social science there are many political ideologies.

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The function first appeared as commissaire politique (political commissioner) or représentant en mission (representative on mission) in the French Revolutionary Army during the Revolution (1789–99). [1] It also existed, with interruptions, in the Soviet Red Army from 1918 to 1942, as well as in the armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1943 to 1945. The function remains in use in China's People's Liberation Army.

<i>Représentant en mission</i>

During the French Revolution, a représentant en mission was an extraordinary envoy of the Legislative Assembly (1791–92) and its successor the National Convention (1792–95). The term is most often assigned to deputies designated by the National Convention for maintaining law and order in the départements and armies, as they had powers to oversee conscription into the army, and were used to monitor local military command. At the time France was in crisis; not only was war going badly, as French forces were being pushed out of Belgium, but also there was revolt in the Vendée over conscription into the army and resentment of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy.

French Revolutionary Army

The French Revolutionary Army was the French force that fought the French Revolutionary Wars from 1792 to 1802. These armies were characterised by their revolutionary fervour, their poor equipment and their great numbers. Although they experienced early disastrous defeats, the revolutionary armies successfully expelled foreign forces from French soil and then overran many neighboring countries, establishing client republics. Leading generals included Jourdan, Bonaparte, Masséna and Moreau.

Red Army 1917–1946 ground and air warfare branch of the Soviet Unions military

The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, frequently shortened to Red Army was the army and the air force of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, and, after 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The army was established immediately after the 1917 October Revolution. The Bolsheviks raised an army to oppose the military confederations of their adversaries during the Russian Civil War. Beginning in February 1946, the Red Army, along with the Soviet Navy, embodied the main component of the Soviet Armed Forces; taking the official name of "Soviet Army", until its dissolution in December 1991.

Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc

Heroic image of a Soviet political commissar of the 220th Infantry Regiment calling soldiers to an assault, Eastern Front, Ukraine, 12 July 1942. RIAN archive 543 A battalion commander.jpg
Heroic image of a Soviet political commissar of the 220th Infantry Regiment calling soldiers to an assault, Eastern Front, Ukraine, 12 July 1942.
Brigade commissar Leonid Brezhnev (right) giving a Communist Party membership card to a soldier (1942) Brezhnev 1942.jpg
Brigade commissar Leonid Brezhnev (right) giving a Communist Party membership card to a soldier (1942)

The political commissar is often associated with the Soviet Union (1922–91), where the Cheka introduced them[ dubious ] to the military forces to ensure the government’s political control. The chief reason was because the newly created Red revolutionary military units were associated with different, often conflicting political parties, and there were so many leftist political parties and movements at that time, who despite differing doctrines supported the bolshevik seizure of power. They all had party members and sympathizers among the military, and tried to use that to benefit their viewpoint. The Left SRs and the Anarchists were among such hard-nosed competitors, who were popular among the lower ranks no less than bolsheviks, contesting them quite frequently. The Bolsheviks saw this as a matter of life and death during the ongoing civil war against the White movement. To gain permanent control over the entire military, they introduced the commissarship. After the SRs were left behind, the forces loyal to them split off from the Red Army to create the Green armies, and guerrilla war soon erupted in the countryside along with civil war. The commissars' task was to prevent the warfighters, both commanding officers and troops, from tending towards the rivalrious political authorities. There were many examples of defiance and outspoken disobedience, when the troops killed or banished their commissars and switched sides, going Green. After the bolsheviks eliminated all their rivals and became the one and only political entity in the country, creating a one-party dictatorship.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission, abbreviated as VChK and commonly known as Cheka, was the first of a succession of Soviet secret police organizations. Established on December 5 1917 by the Sovnarkom, it came under the leadership of Felix Dzerzhinsky, a Polish aristocrat-turned-communist. By late 1918, hundreds of Cheka committees had sprung up in various cities at the oblast, guberniya, raion, uyezd, and volost levels.

Anarchism is an anti-authoritarian political philosophy that advocates self-governed societies based on voluntary, cooperative institutions and the rejection of hierarchies those societies view as unjust. These institutions are often described as stateless societies, although several authors have defined them more specifically as distinct institutions based on non-hierarchical or free associations. Anarchism holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary and harmful.

An early kind of political commissars arose already during the February Revolution 1917 as the Ispolkom issued the controversial Order no 1. [2] As the Bolsheviks came to power through the October Revolution 1917, and as the Russian Civil War began, Trotsky who then gradually established the Red Army, imposed the formal political officers. These were almost invariably tasked to make sure the Communist Party of the respective country could count on the loyalty of the Army. Although there was a huge difference between the February Revolution and the October Revolution, their leaders both feared a counter-revolution, and both regarded the military officers as the most likely counter-revolutionary threat. [3] [4]

February Revolution first of two revolutions in Russia in 1917

The February Revolution, known in Soviet historiography as the February Bourgeois Democratic Revolution and sometimes as the March Revolution, was the first of two revolutions which took place in Russia in 1917.

The Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, commonly known as the Ispolkom was a self-appointed executive committee of the Petrograd Soviet. As an antagonist of the Russian Provisional Government, after the 1917 February Revolution in Russia, Ispolkom became a second center of power. It was dissolved during the Bolshevik October Revolution later that year. Ispolkom is known for the controversial "Order No 1" which stipulated that all military units should form committees like the Petrograd Soviet and that the military from every political perspective should not contradict to Ispolkom. The socialists at the Petrograd Soviet feared that officers were the most likely counter revolutionary elements and the intention of the Order was to limit their power, but these orders rendered the officers powerless at the Russian front lines of World War I, which had led to confusion, disastrous military discipline, and desertions.

Soviet Order Number 1 was issued March 14, 1917 and was the first official decree of The Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies. The order was issued following the February Revolution in response to actions taken the day before by the Provisional Committee of the State Duma, headed by Mikhail Vladimirovich Rodzianko. On February 28, the Provisional Committee, acting as a government following the disintegration of Tsarist authority in Petrograd and fearing that the soldiers who had gone over to the revolution on February 26–27 (O.S.) without their officers constituted a potentially uncontrollable mob that might threaten the Duma, issued an order through the Military Commission of the Duma calling on the soldiers to return to their barracks and to obey their officers. The soldiers were skeptical of this order; for one thing, they saw Rodzianko as too close to the Tsar. Some soldiers perhaps feared that in sending them back to their barracks, he was attempting to quash the Revolution, though most were concerned that in being sent back to the barracks they would be placed under their old commanders whose heavy-handedness had led them to mutiny on the 26th; thus their grievances would go unaddressed. In response, the Petrograd Soviet issued Order Number 1.

In the Red Army and the Soviet Army, the political commissar ( Russian : комиссар; komissar) existed, by name, 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 equaling 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 periods of the Red Army's history when political officers were militarily subordinate to unit commanders, the position of political commissar did not exist.

Soviet Army name given to the main part of the Armed Forces of the Soviet Union between 1946 and 1992

The Soviet Army is the name given to the main land-based branch of the Soviet Armed Forces between February 1946 and December 1991, when it was replaced with the Russian Ground Forces, although it was not fully abolished until 25 December 1993. Until 25 February 1946, it was known as the Red Army, established by decree on 15 (28) January 1918 "to protect the population, territorial integrity and civil liberties in the territory of the Soviet state." The Strategic Missile Troops, Air Defense Forces and Air Forces were part of the Soviet Army in addition to the Ground Forces.

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 (or Revvoyensoviets- 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.

Company (military unit) military unit size

A company is a military unit, typically consisting of 80–150 soldiers and usually commanded by a major or a captain. Most companies are formed of three to six platoons, although the exact number may vary by country, unit type, and structure.

Division (military) large military unit or formation

A division is a large military unit or formation, usually consisting of between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers. Infantry divisions during the World Wars ranged between 8,000 and 30,000 in nominal strength.

Revolutionary Military Council

The Revolutionary Military Council, sometimes called the Revolutionary War Council or Revvoyensoviet (Реввоенсовет), was the supreme military authority of Soviet Russia and later the Soviet Union. It was instituted on September 2, 1918 by decree of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee (VTsIK), known as the "Decree Declaring the Soviet Republic Military Camp".

In 1919, the title politruk (Russian : политрук, from политический руководитель, political leader) was assigned to political officers at company level. 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 reinstated 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 position of political commissar reappeared. The commissar had an influential role as a "second commander" within the military units during this time. Their ranks and insignia generally paralleled those of officers. [5] When this proved less-than-effective, General Konev asked Stalin to subordinate the political officer to commanding officers: the commissars' work was refocused to morale-related functions. The term "commissar" itself was formally abolished in August 1942, and at the company- and regiment-level, the pompolit officer was replaced with the zampolit (deputy for political matters). Though no longer known by the original "commissar" title, political officers were retained by all the Soviet Armed Forces, e.g., Army, Navy, Air Force, Strategic Missile Troops, et al, until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Eastern Bloc armies

After World War II, other Eastern Bloc armies also used political officers patterned on the Soviet model. For example, East Germany's Nationale Volksarmee used Politoffiziere as the unit commander's deputy responsible for political education.

Red Army rank designations

Nazi Germany

From December 1943 until the defeat of Nazi Germany, the German armed forces created a network of political instructors to maintain National Socialist indoctrination of the Wehrmacht . The officers, called Nationalsozialistische Führungsoffiziere (NSFO; "National Socialist Leadership Officers"), drawn from convinced officers and selected by Martin Bormann, Head of the Nazi Party Chancellery, to instill ideological conviction and reinforce combat morale through training lessons and teaching. They had no direct influence on combat decisions as had the political commissar in the Soviet Army. At the end of 1944 more than 1,100 full-time and about 47,000 part-time instructors had been trained, under the control of General Hermann Reinecke, commander of the National Socialist leadership staff at the OKW.

China

The position of political commissar (zhengwei, 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, and mainly serves as second-in-command.

The position of political commissar (Chinese : ) 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. [6] Chiang Ching-kuo then arrested Sun Li-jen, charging him of conspiring with the American CIA of plotting to overthrow Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang. Sun was placed under house arrest in 1955. [7] [8]

See also

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References

  1. R. Dupuy, Nouvelle histoire de la France contemporaine: La République jacobine (2005) p.156
  2. Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution, Swedish ISBN   91-27-09935-0, pp 106-108
  3. Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution, Swedish ISBN   91-27-09935-0, p.120
  4. Isaac Deutscher,"Stalin",2nd edition, 1961, Swedish ISBN   91-550-2469-6, pp.168-169
  5. Commissar Ranks?
  6. Jay Taylor (2000). The Generalissimo's son: Chiang Ching-kuo and the revolutions in China and Taiwan. Harvard University Press. p. 195. ISBN   0-674-00287-3 . Retrieved 2010-06-28.
  7. Peter R. Moody (1977). Opposition and dissent in contemporary China. Hoover Press. p. 302. ISBN   0-8179-6771-0 . Retrieved 2010-11-30.
  8. Nançy Bernkopf Tucker (1983). Patterns in the dust: Chinese-American relations and the recognition controversy, 1949-1950. Columbia University Press. p. 181. ISBN   0-231-05362-2 . Retrieved 2010-06-28.