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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



militarily organized policemen whose functions involve internal national and military security; in tsarist Russia, political police. The gendarmerie was first established in France (1791), where it is an integral part of the armed forces, although it is subordinate to the ministries of internal affairs and justice in addition to the ministry of war. It consists of separate units (legions) and subunits (companies). A similar organization was formed in early-19th century Prussia (later Germany) and Austria. There are gendarmeries in France, Austria, and a number of other countries.

In Russia detachments of gendarmes were organized in 1792 at Gatchina in the military units subordinate to Pavel Petrovich, the heir to the throne. These detachments were used as military police until 1796. In 1815 gendarme units (a regiment and a guards half-squadron) were formed to oversee order and attitudes in the army, and the gendarmerie began to acquire the significance of a political police in 1817, when detachments of gendarmes were established in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and 56 other cities as part of the corps of internal guards. The gendarmerie became tsarism’s main weapon in the struggle against the revolutionary movement.

After the establishment of the Third Section of His Imperial Majesty’s Chancellery in 1826, the gendarmerie was consolidated into the Corps of Gendarmes (1827; from 1836, the Separate Corps), which was subordinate to the director of the Third Section, the chief of the gendarmes. The Corps of Gendarmes was administered by the executive body of the Third Section until its dissolution in 1880, when supervision of the gendarmerie was assumed by the executive body of the Department of Police of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The system consisted of a staff and five (later eight) gendarme districts, each made up of several provinces and divided into sections, each of which included from one to three provinces. Between the mid-19th and the early 20th century gendarme battalions in St.. Petersburg, Moscow, and Warsaw and 123 gendarme detachments were under the authority of these executive bodies.

The tsarist gendarmerie investigated and tried cases involving “crimes against the state,” struggled against the mass peasants’ and workers’ movement, and exiled particularly dangerous criminals and prisoners. It directed the capture of fugitive serfs (before the abolition of serfdom), deserters, and convicted criminals, kept watch over attitudes among various strata of the population, and supervised the maintenance of order on the railroads and the stamping of passports at the borders.

In 1867 provincial (regional) gendarme administrative bodies became the basic supervisory agencies of the gendarmerie throughout Russia, except in the Caucasus, Poland, and Siberia, where districts were retained for some time. In addition, there were several extraterritorial administrative units associated with the railroad gendarmerie and police. In 1880 the Corps of Gendarmes consisted of 521 officers and bureaucrats and 6,187 cavalry sergeant majors, noncommissioned officers, and rank-and-file gendarmes. (The corresponding figures for 1895 were 721 and 8,522; for 1914, 946 and 12,699; and for October 1916, 1,051 and 14,667.) The chief director of the Third Section was chief of the gendarmes until 1880, when the minister of internal affairs assumed this function. A deputy minister of internal affairs was the commander of the corps. At the beginning of the 20th century the field gendarmerie, which was not subordinate to the chief of gendarmes, was made up of one guards squadron and six squadrons of army field gendarmes. The field units were subordi-nate to the headquarters of the military districts and served as police in areas where troops were based. The gendarmerie was abolished after the February Revolution of 1917.


Eroshkin, N. P. Istoriia gosudarstvennykh uchrezhdenii dorevoliutsionnoi Rossii, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1968.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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