Political commissar

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.

The function first appeared as commissaire politique (political commissioner) 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.

Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc

RIAN archive 543 A battalion commander
Heroic image of a Soviet political commissar of the 220th Infantry Regiment calling soldiers to an assault, Eastern Front, Ukraine, 12 July 1942.
Brezhnev 1942
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 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.

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]

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.

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.

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

  • Armeysky komissar 1-go ranga (comparable to NATO OF-9a; en: Commissar of the army 1st rank)
  • Armeysky komissar 2-go ranga (OF-9b; Commissar of the army 2nd rank)
  • Korpusnoy komissar (OF-8; Commissar of the corps)
  • Divizionny komissar (OF-7; Commissar of the division)
  • Brigadny komissar (OF-6; Commissar of the brigade)
  • Polkovoy komissar (OF-5; Commissar of the regiment)
  • Starshi batalonny komissar (OF-4; Senior commissar of the battalion)
  • Batalonny komissar (OF-3; Commissar of the battalion)
  • Starshy politruk (OF-2; Senior politleader)
  • Politruk (OF-1a; Politleader)
  • Mladshy politruk (OF-1b; Junior politleader)

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.


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


  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.
  • Source: The Soviet Military Encyclopedia

External links


Commissar (or sometimes Kommissar) is an English transliteration of the Russian комиссáр, which means commissary. In English, the transliteration "commissar" is used to refer specifically to the political commissars of Soviet and Eastern Bloc armies, while administrative officers are called "commissary".

The word комисса́р is used in Russian for both political and administrative officials. The title has been used in the Soviet Union and Russia since the time of Peter the Great.

Deng Ruihua

Deng Ruihua (simplified Chinese: 邓瑞华; traditional Chinese: 鄧瑞華; pinyin: Dèng Ruìhuá; born February 1954) is a Chinese major general in the People's Liberation Army. He served as Political Commissar of the Joint Logistics Department of Lanzhou Military Region from April 2010 to March 2014. On July 10, 2015, the PLA announced that he has been transferred to the military procuratorates.

Fan Changmi

Fan Changmi (born June 1955) is a former lieutenant-general of the People's Liberation Army of China. In December 2014, he was under investigation by the PLA's anti-corruption agency. He served as Deputy Political Commissar of the Lanzhou Military Region, one of the seven military regions in China, but was placed under investigation for corruption in 2014.Fan was an alternate member of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and a member of the 11th National People's Congress.

Gao Xiaoyan

Gao Xiaoyan (Chinese: 高小燕; pinyin: Gāo Xiǎoyàn; born 1957) is a disgraced major general (shao jiang) in the People's Liberation Army of China. She successively served as Political Commissar and Discipline Inspection Secretary of the PLA Information Engineering University in Zhengzhou, and Executive Director of China Institute For Leadership Science (CILS). Investigated by the PLA's anti-graft agency in December 2014, She was the first female general to have been implicated in the anti-corruption campaign launched after the 18th Communist Party Congress.

Li Zhimin

Li Zhimin (李志民 or 李凤瑞 or 李明阶; pinyin:Lǐ Zhìmín or Lǐ Fèngruì or Lǐ Míngjiē; July 9, 1906 – November 16, 1987), was a general of the People's Liberation Army from Liuyang, Hunan. Li was the former political commissar and director for the Political Department of the Chinese People's Volunteers. Li was an outstanding political leader in the PLA.Li joined the Chinese Communist Party in 1927 and the Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army in 1928. He held various positions as Red Fifth Army party Secretary General and Second Division Security Bureau Chief prior to the Long March. Upon reaching Shanbei, he served as the director of the Central Military Commission for the eighty-first division. During the Second Sino-Japanese War, Li was the Hebei military region's Political Department deputy political commissar. After the establishment of the People's Republic of China, Li was the director for the Political Department of the Chinese People's Volunteers, Political Commissar for the Fuzhou military region and various other posts.

Liu Lei

Liu Lei (Chinese: 刘雷; born February 1957) is a general of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA). He has been Political Commissar of the PLA Ground Force since December 2015, and formerly served as Political Commissar of the Lanzhou Military Region and the Xinjiang Military District.

Ma Faxiang

Ma Faxiang (Chinese: 马发祥; 1953 – 13 November 2014) was a Chinese vice admiral (zhong jiang) who served as Deputy Political Commissar of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). He came under investigation for corruption and committed suicide in November 2014.

Miao Hua

Miao Hua (Chinese: 苗华; pinyin: Miáo Huá; born November 1955) is an admiral of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). He has served as director of the Political Work Department of the Central Military Commission since October 2017. Previously he served as political commissar of the PLA Navy from December 2014 to September 2017, and political commissar of the Lanzhou Military Region in 2014.

Political Commissar of the People's Liberation Army Navy

The Political Commissar of the People's Liberation Army Navy (simplified Chinese: 中国人民解放军海军政治委员; traditional Chinese: 中國人民解放軍海軍政治委員; pinyin: Zhōngguó Rénmín Jiěfàngjūn Hǎijūn Zhèngzhìweǐyuán) is the political head of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).

The Commissar is in charge of building Party organizations and directing political ideology, as well as building the force. The political commissar holds a unique position in the PLAN. This post was created in the Sanwan Reorganization by Mao Zedong in 1927.

Su Zhenhua

Su Zhenhua (simplified Chinese: 苏振华; traditional Chinese: 蘇振華; June 2, 1912 – February 7, 1979), born Su Qisheng (蘇七生), was a Chinese Communist general and politician. He fought for the Communists in the Chinese civil war. After the founding of the People's Republic, Su became an admiral in the People's Liberation Army Navy, the Party Secretary of Guizhou province, the First Secretary of Shanghai, and a member of the Politburo.

Su was born in Pingjiang County, Hunan province. Su joined a guerrilla fighting force in 1926 at age 14, and entered the Communist Youth League three years later. He joined the Red Army in June 1930 and the Communist Party several years later. He participated in the Long March and was instrumental in the Communist takeover of Zunyi. He then served successively in a series of roles as political commissar. In December 1949, following the Communist takeover of Guizhou province, Su became the Party Committee Secretary of Guizhou. In April 1954, he became a deputy political commissar in the PLA Navy. He joined the Central Military Commission in 1959. During the Cultural Revolution, Su was purged and called "a time bomb in the navy planted by Deng Xiaoping." He was rehabilitated in 1972 and became the First Political Commissar of the Navy.

Su played a pivotal role during the arrest of the Gang of Four in 1976, when he was commissioned by Hua Guofeng and Ye Jianying to 'invade' the Xinhua News Agency, central television and radio stations, and the People's Daily headquarters, which were all then under the control of elements friendly to the Gang of Four. In order to prevent a coup by the Gang of Four in their power base of Shanghai, Su was then sent to Shanghai as First Secretary to oversee the party organization in collaboration with Ni Zhifu and Peng Chong.

He was an alternate member of the 8th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, and a full member of the 10th and 11th Central Committees. He was also a member of the 11th Politburo of the Communist Party of China. He died on February 7, 1979 and was eulogized with high honours.

Third Field Army

The Third Field Army of the Chinese People's Liberation Army was one of the five main forces of the Chinese People's Liberation Army during the Chinese Civil War. It was established in early 1949. Initially known as the East China Field Army, by the New Fourth Army and the Eighth Route Army troops stationed in Shandong Province, a gradual adaptation of the expansion.

It took control of the troops in eastern China, with Chen Yi as its commander. It comprised the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th Corps Armies (bingtuan) plus the headquarters of the special technical troops, with a total of 580,000 men.Forces associated with the Third Field Army included:

The 7th Army, Commander Wang Jianan , political commissar Tan Qilong , chief of staff Li Yingxi:

21st Corps (including 61, 62, 63rd Divisions), military commander Teng Haiqing , political commissar Kang Zhiqiang

22nd Corps (including the 64th, 65th, 66th Divisions), the military commander Sun Jixian , political commissar Ding Qiusheng

23rd Corps (including 67th, 68th, 69th), commander Tao Yong , political commissar Lu Sheng

35th Corps (including 103, 104, 105th Division), military commander Wu Huawen , political commissar He Kexi

The 8th Army, Commander Chen Shizhong , political commissar Yuan Zhongxian, chief of staff He Xiangxiang:

24th Corps (including the first 70, 71, 72 Division), commander Wang Bicheng , political commissar Liao Haiguang

25th Corps (including the 73rd, 74th and 75th divisions), military commander Cheng Jun

26th Corps (including 76, 77, 78th Division), commander Zhang Renchu , political commissar Wang Yiping

34th Corps (including the first 100, 101, 102 Division), military commander He Ji Feng , political commissar Zhao Qimin

The 9th Army, Commander Song Shilun , political commissar Guo Huoruo , chief of staff Qin Jian ,

20th Corps (including 58, 59, 60th Division), military commander Liu Fei , political commissar Chen Shifu

27th Corps (including the first 79, 80, the first 81 division), military commander Nie Fengzhi , political commissar Liu Haotian

30th Army (including 88, 89, 90th Division), commander Xie Zhenhua , political commissar Li Qianhui

33rd Army (including the 97th, 98th, 99th Division), commander Zhang Kexia , political commissar Han Nianlong

The 10th Army, Commander Ye Fei , political commissar Wei Guoqing , Chief of Staff Chen Qingxian ,

28th Corps (including the 82nd, 83rd, 84th Division), commander Zhu Shaoqing,

29th Corps (including 85, 86, 87th Division), military commander Hu Bingyun , political commissar Zhang Fan

31st Corps (including 91, 92, 93rd Divisions), military commander Zhou Zhijian , political commissar Chen Huatang

Directly under the jurisdiction of Third Field Army

32nd Corps (including the first 94, the first 95 division), commander Tan Xilin, political commissar Peng Lin

Special forces column, commander Chen Rui Ting , political commissar Zhang Kai .

Guangdong and Guangxi columns (March 1947 - March 1949), commander Zeng Sheng , political commissar Lei Jing.In August 1950 the force was redesignated the East China Military Region.

Tian Xiusi

Tian Xiusi (Chinese: 田修思; born February 1950) is a retired Chinese general who served as Political Commissar of the People's Liberation Army Air Force. Previously, he was a standing committee member of the Communist Party of China Xinjiang committee and the political commissar of the Xinjiang Military District, as well as political commissar of the Chengdu Military Region. In July 2016, Tian was placed under investigation for "serious violations of discipline".

Wang Minggui

Wang Minggui (Chinese: 王明贵; pinyin: Wáng Míngguì; born 1954) is a general in the People's Liberation Army of China. A native of Shangqiu, Henan, Wang obtained the rank of major general in 2004. He was investigated by the PLA's anti-graft agency in November 2013 and transferred to judicial organs in January 2014. He served as Deputy Political Commissar of People's Liberation Army Information Engineering University before serving as Political Commissar of People's Liberation Army Air Force Command College in 2008.

Wang Yufa

Wang Yufa (Chinese: 王玉发; born August 1948) is a lieutenant general in the People's Liberation Army Air Force of China. He served as deputy political commissar of the Guangzhou Military Region and political commissar of its Air Force. On September 30, 2015, it was announced that he was being investigated for corruption and his case was handed over to military prosecutors.He was a member of the 10th National People's Congress and a member of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

Wei Jin

Wei Jin (born October 1959) is a general in the People's Liberation Army of China. He holds the rank of major general in the PLA. He began his political career in January 1977, and joined the Communist Party of China in September 1978. As of April 2014 he was under investigation by the PLA's anti-corruption agency. Previously he served as Deputy Political Commissar of Tibet Military District.

Xie Fuzhi

Xie Fuzhi (simplified Chinese: 谢富治; traditional Chinese: 謝富治; pinyin: Xiè Fùzhì; Wade–Giles: Hsieh Fu-chih; 26 September 1909 – 26 March 1972) was a Communist Party of China military commander, political commissar, and national security specialist. He was born in 1909 in Hong'an County, Hubei and died in Beijing in 1972. Xie was known for his efficiency and his loyalty to Mao Zedong, and during the Cultural Revolution he played a key role in hunting down the Chairman's enemies in his capacity as Minister of Public Security from 1959–1972.

Ye Wanyong (China)

Ye Wanyong (born September 1953) is a disgraced former major general (shao jiang) in the People's Liberation Army of China. He served as Deputy Political Commissar of Tibet Military District from December 2005 to October 2006, and Political Commissar of Sichuan Military District between October 2006 to 2007.

Ye attained the rank of major general in July 2001. He spent more than 37 years in Tibet Autonomous Region before being transferred to Sichuan in 2006. He retired in November 2013, and was investigated for "violating discipline" in 2014.

Yu Daqing

Yu Daqing (Chinese: 于大清; pinyin: Yú Dàqīng; born November 1957) is a lieutenant-general in the People's Liberation Army of China, who served as Deputy Political Commissar of the Second Artillery Corps. He was placed under investigation by the PLA's anti-graft agency in December 2014.

Zheng Weiping

Zheng Weiping (Chinese: 郑卫平; pinyin: Zhèng Wèipíng; born 1955) is a general (shang jiang) of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China and the current Political Commissar of the Strategic Support Force. He previously served as Political Commissar of the Nanjing Military Region (2012–2016) and Political Commissar of the Eastern Theater Command (2016–2017).

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