Monday 25 May 2015


Most people only have a very vague idea of what commissars actually did in the Red Army. People that have watched too many Hollywood movies might tell you that they yelled a lot and shot people. As expected, this has little connection with reality. Here's what a commissar's job was, from CAMD RF 236-2673-2714:

"Party-Political Work in the Berlin and Prague Operations

Preparation for the Berlin operation: In the first half of April, the attention of political, party, and Komsomol organizations was directed at preparing units for completion of combat tasks in the shortest possible time. With this in mind, meetings were held of corps and brigade level political chiefs, as well as their deputies, as well as seminars for party commission secretaries, activists, and Komsomol organziation workers. In turn, meetings were called for battalion and division party and Komsomol chiefs and their assistants.

Meetings and seminars were chiefly aimed at sharing experience in party-political work in a combat environment, and preparing political workers for the coming final battles. The seminars contained the following lectures:
  • International position of the Soviet Union
  • Ethical image of the Soviet soldier
  • Raising revolutionary awareness
  • Germany (historical and economical overview)
  • etc.
At the same time, units held party and Komsomol meetings with the topic of "Political-ethical condition of the personnel and tasks for Communists in the upcoming final battles". The army political department considered it paramount that the personnel are prepared politically and order and discipline are maintained.

For instance, in the 61st Guards Tank Brigade, during training exercises, political workers discussed their experiences in the previous battles. Exchange of experience by the best gunners was established, and this experienced was passed on to newly arrived tankers.

Party and Komsomol members covered the shooting range with banners and slogans, the progress of the exercise was summarized in unit newspapers. Requirements for shooting were displayed, results were recorded. Thanks to these efforts, training went smoothly and gave positive effects. In the second battalion, from 11 tank crews, 7 received a score of "Excellent", 3 received "Good" and only one "Satisfactory". 

The political department paid close attention to preparing the personnel of the 20th MIBr, as the unit was to cross several water hazards in the upcoming offensive. The Military Council of the Army tasked the Brigade with swift and refined execution of all work when crossing rivers and making passages through minefields. The issue of ensuring this success was raised at party and Komsomol meetings. Talks were held with personnel on the topic of "The role of the sapper and pontoneer in the downfall of Hitler's Germany". Special issues of unit newspapers were dedicated to this.

During training exercises at the Oder river, party and Komsomol organizations routinely tallied up results and announced soldiers and officers that excelled at their tasks. Communists and Komsomol members served as an example for soldiers and officers that carried out their assigned tasks. For instance, the company of Senior Lieutenant Ovsyannikov, VKP(b) member, built a pier in 3 hours, a task that is scheduled to take 5 hours and 30 minutes. The company of Senior Lieutenant Rogov, VKP(b) candidate, completed this task in 4 hours.

Political, party, and Komsomol organizations strived to maximally use pre-combat days to hold political events. Good initiative was displayed by political workers of the 2nd battalion of the 63rd Guards Tank Brigade. A house was dedicated to political work for the period in which training took place. Each of the three rooms was cleaned up and tidied. There were always available issues of Pravda, Red Star, Krasnoarmeyets, Frontline Illustrations, and others. There were also checkers, dominoes, paper, envelopes, pencils, etc. The walls were decorated with specially selected materials. In the foreground there was reference material regarding order #5 issued by the Supreme Commander, comrade Stalin. Another board had the plan for political work and a SovInformBureau news bulletin, then posters "This is what will happen to fascist beasts" and "I await you, liberator". Another board displayed the combat report of Guards Major Chirkov's unit. It showed off the best soldiers of the battalion, the combat scores of tankers, counting destroyed and captured enemy vehicles. 

Next to the combat record of the battalion, several issues of the Guardsman newspaper were posted, as well as company newspapers. The main spot was reserved for a map of Europe, with red and blue flags marking the progress of the Red Army and our allies. Tankers spent their free time here, and also this is where various talks and seminars were held.

Before combat started, widespread propaganda work was held. All units were read a set of lectures on the following topics:
  • International position of the Soviet Union
  • Ethical image of the Soviet officer
  • Bolshevist awareness is the key to victory
  • Germany (historical and economical overview)
  • etc
The personnel regularly attended talks on the progress of the Red Army and its allies. The political map of the world was frequently demonstrated at those meetings. Activists instructed their subordinate activists about upcoming work that they would be performing. The most well received talk was on the topic of "Let us fly the banner of victory over Berlin".

By the start of the Berlin operation, the army forces were well instructed in the spirit of Supreme Commander comrade Stalin's Order #5: fly the banner of victory over Berlin. 

Party and Komsomol organizations counted 9087 VKP(b) members, 4995 VKP(b) candidates, and 11194 Komsomol members, 60% of the army personnel in total. Communists and Komsomol members were ready to lead the charge in these final battles to defeat the Germano-fascist armies."

There's more, of course, in this same very verbose tone. Individual heroisms are described, calls to join the party are issued, it's really quite tedious. The exercises held before the Prague operation are largely the same.

"Prague operation: The three-day pause between the Berlin and Prague operations were filled with political work to prepare the personnel for another offensive and execution of a most important government campaign, the Fourth State War Loan. Having received the directions of the Front Political Department, the Army Political Department developed a plan for a loan campaign among its army units.

In accordance with this plan, a meeting of political department chiefs and their deputies was held, with the topic of "Tasks for political workers, party, and Komsomol workers in preparation for the Fourth State War Loan.""

There were also lectures that did not have to do with loans.

"According to the Army Political Department, meetings were held on the following topics:
  • Tasks of political, party, and Komsomol organizations in the Prague operation
  • On the behaviour of soldiers and officers on the territory of allied Czechoslovakia"
And for the rank and file soldiers, more meetings:

"Communists and Komsomol members conducted talks on the following topics:
  • Let's help the Czechoslovakian people free themselves from German fascism
  • Raise Bolshevik awareness
  • Rapists and marauders are the enemies of the Red Army
On May 8th, before entering Prague, the personnel of the brigade were gathered for a meeting, and the brigade commander and political chief made speeches. In their speeches, they clarified the tasks for the soldiers, and outlined proper rules for behaviour. 

The brigade entered Prague in an organized fashion. The front tank displayed the brigade banner. Tanks and cars moved in a strictly ordered manner. There were no recorded instances of poor discipline and amoral behaviour. "

Sadly I could not find the contents of this lecture on the behaviour in Czechoslovakia, but I did find a similar one for Bulgaria.

"Memo for the Red Army warrior in Bulgaria

Comrade fighter, sergeant, and officer!

More than three years of battle with the German invaders and glorious heroism are behind you. You walked from the Volga to the Balkans, bringing freedom to tens of millions of people and death to fascist occupants.

The name of the Red Army is honoured! The Bulgarian Slavic people meet you with great joy, a brotherly people by language and blood.

This is the second time in history that our Motherland frees the Bulgarians from foreign occupation. 500 years ago, the Bulgarians suffered under the Turkish yoke, and received long-awaited freedom from Russia's hands. In 1877, Russian soldiers earned Bulgarian freedom with their blood. Each Bulgarian knows of the heroism of Russian bogatyrs during the siege of Plevna, heroic battles in the snows and mountains of Shipka, the glorious battle at Sheynovo. Brave groups of Bulgarian militia fighting alongside the famous Orlov division received an honourable banner from the people of Samara (today Kuybishev). The Samara banner is held sacred by the Bulgarians. In Plevna, a mausoleum was built in memory of Russian warriors who fell in defense of Bulgarian freedom. A monument to the glory of Russian weapons towers over Shipka.

Tight bonds of many years of friendship tie the Bulgarian people with its older brother, the great Russian people. The greatest hopes of Bulgaria were always tied to their hope for Russia. A deep gratitude towards Russia exists in the heart of every Bulgarian. Every Bulgarian knows the names of our great writers: Tolstoy, Turgenev, Chernyshevskiy, Gorkiy, and the names Lenin and Stalin are near and dear to many.

You, glorious warrior of the Red Army, descendant of the heroes of Plevna and Shipka, harden the love and gratitude of the Bulgarian people towards the Russian people and the great Soviet Motherland with your defeat of the Germano-fascist armies and liberation of Bulgaria from German oppression.

For 30 years the Germans tried to turn Bulgaria into their stronghold in the Balkans. They tried to turn the Bulgarians on the USSR. The old Bulgarian government sold out to the Germans, let the Germano-fascist armies into Bulgaria, and, against the will of the Bulgarian people, declared war on the USSR. Crushing the Germans, the Red Army crossed Bulgarian borders on September 8th and helped the Bulgarian people cast off the government clique on the same day. German power in Bulgaria ended forever. Bulgaria burned their bridges with Germany and declared war. Now, Bulgarian forces fight on the Bulgarian-Yugoslav border shoulder to shoulder with Red Army units. This joint struggle against the eternal enemy will further strengthen the many years of friendship between Bulgaria and the peoples of the Soviet Union.

Soviet warrior!

The name of the Soviet Union and the name of Russia is sacred, for Bulgarians and for all people. The title of Red Army warrior is a prestigious one. You are surrounded by love and respect as a liberator.

Carry the respected title of Soviet warrior high!
Remember that among millions of friends, enemies lie in wait, which will use every mistake and every misdemeanour to harm the Motherland, the Red Army, and you.

Keep military secrets safe! Be disciplined, cultural, and well groomed!

Ruthlessly combat those that shame the Red Army with their behaviour! The enemy will attempt to persuade you to take action that will shame the Red Army. They will tempt you with drunkenness, debauchery, insult to the honour of women and families, violation of personal property. They will try to cause a fight between you and the population, cause disrespect and unhappiness.

Be alert and relentlessly reveal German agents, no matter their disguise. Be relentless in your fight against robbers, marauders, rapists, and criminals that shame the honour of the Red Army warrior and in that help the Germans.

Be alert, always and everywhere.

Protect the love and respect of the people that you brought freedom for, respect their customs, laws, and families.

Always remember that we did not come to Bulgaria to force our laws on Bulgaria, but to chase out the Germans and their agents.

Offer assistance to the Bulgarian population and soldiers and officers of the Bulgarian army in anything that aids our struggle against the common enemy: Germano-fascist invaders.

Tirelessly perfect your combat skill and prepare for new battles in order to finish off the German invaders.

Warrior of the Red Army! New heroisms and the final defeat of the German fascists lie ahead! Carry the banner of our Motherland high beyond its borders!

Let the memory of the Red Army forever remain in the hearts of millions of people wherever the Red Army walks, a deep feeling of gratitude, love, and respect for you, comrade soldier, sergeant, and officer!

Political directorate of the 3rd Ukrainian Front"


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  2. Thanks for this article, comrade. Are you okay if we translate it to spanish and publish it in our forum ( We will give credits to you and your website of course.