The political commissar (also ''politruk'' (ロシア語:политрук from политический руководитель): political officer) is the supervisory political officer responsible for the political education (ideology) and organization, and committed to the civilian control of the military. Historically, the ''commissaire politique'' (political commissary) first appeared in the French Revolution (1789–99), guarding it against anti-Revolutionary thought and action, and so ensuring the Republican victory.〔R. Dupuy, ''Nouvelle histoire de la France contemporaine: La République jacobine'' (2005) p.156〕
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 communist regime established by 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, by name, only during 1918–1924, 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'' ((ロシア語: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'' ((ロシア語: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'' ((ロシア語: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.〔(Commissar Ranks? )〕 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., Soviet Army, Soviet Navy, Soviet Air Force, Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces, ''et al'', until the Soviet dissolution in 1991.
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