Military Commissars

Military Commissars


(1) Representatives of the Communist Party and Soviet power in units (or ships) and installations of the armed forces from 1918 to 1942 (with interruptions). The position of military commissar was established during the Civil War. On Mar. 4, 1918, a resolution of the Sovnarkom (Council of People’s Commissars) created the Supreme Military Council, consisting of a military commander and two commissars. Other command agencies of the army and navy were created on the same principle. On March 31 the Plenum of the Central Committee of the Party deliberated over the role of military commissars in the army and navy. In accordance with the decision on April 6 of the Plenum, the People’s Commissariat on Military Affairs and the Supreme Military Council published the statute On Military Commissars and Members of Military Councils. It explained that military commissars are the direct “political agency of Soviet power attached to the army.” Military commissars were introduced into all military units, installations, and military educational institutions. In armies and in the fronts they were called members of the Military Revolutionary Council. Only irreproachable revolutionaries could be appointed as military commissars; they were to be people who through the most difficult circumstances could remain the incarnation of revolutionary responsibility. The main mission of military commissars was to execute in the army the policies of the Communist Party and the Soviet government. To further the coordination and unification of the activity of military commissars and with the goal of establishing checks and controls over them on an all-Russian scale, the People’s Commissariat on Military Affairs passed a resolution on Apr. 8, 1918, creating the All-Russian Bureau of Military Commissars. (In April 1919, by decision of the Eighth Party Congress, the Political Section of the Military Revolutionary Council of the Republic was formed to take its place and was renamed on May 15 the Political Directorate of the Military Revolutionary Council of the Republic, becoming the de facto military department of the Central Committee of the Party.) In July 1918 the creation of the position of military commissar was legalized by the Fifth Congress of Soviets. In March 1919 the Military Revolutionary Council of the Republic explained the origin of the institution of military commissars, stating that in the beginning of the existence of the Red Army “there were almost no officers who realized the missions of the army in the spirit that should permeate it. This lack necessitated the separation of the administrative and command agencies of the army: the technical side and the operational and command rights and obligations were entrusted to the commanders; the political, educational, and inspection rights and obligations were entrusted to the commissars.” The military commissars were allotted a great deal of power; not one order was carried out without their signature. Furthermore, military commissars not only checked up on commanders but also inculcated in Red Army soldiers trust and respect toward command personnel, something that was especially necessary for the military specialists—the former officers and generals. “The commissars in the army,” it was stated in the resolutions of the Eighth Party Congress, “are not only direct and immediate representatives of Soviet power, but, most importantly, they are bearers of the spirit of our Party, its discipline, its toughness, and its courage in the struggle for the realization of the goal that has been set. The Party can look back with complete satisfaction at the heroic work of its commissars, who, arm in arm with the best elements of the command personnel, created an efficient army in a short period of time” (KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh, 7th ed., part 1, 1954, p. 435). Among the military commissars in the years of the Civil War were R. I. Berzin, A. S. Bubnov, K. E. Voroshilov, la. B. Gamarnik, V. P. Zatonskii, S. M. Kirov, V. V. Kuibyshev, V. I. Mezhlauk, K. A. Mekhono-shin, A. I. Mikoyan, G. K. Ordzhonikidze, J. V. Stalin, I. S. Unshlikht, and many other Party figures. From 1925 to 1928 after extensive preparatory work (raising the level of political knowledge of command cadres, improving the social composition and increasing their Party involvement, etc.) one-man command was gradually introduced into the armed forces of the USSR. Military commissars were replaced by assistant commanders for political affairs, who were in charge of the political education of personnel and Party and komsomol work. In May 1937 the position of military commissar in units and installations was reestablished; in 1940 this position was again replaced by the position of deputy commander (chief) for political affairs. The institution of military commissar introduced at the beginning of the Great Patriotic War (July 16, 1941) existed until Oct. 9, 1942, at which time one-man command was permanently established in the army and navy.

(2) Leaders of local military administrative agencies in the USSR.


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Vos’moi s”ezd RKP(b): Mart 1919, Protokoly. Moscow, 1959. Page 417.
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