AskDefine | Define commissar

Dictionary Definition

commissar n : an official of the Communist Party who was assigned to teach party principles to a military unit [syn: political commissar]

User Contributed Dictionary



From комиссар < Kommissar (“commissioner”) < commissarius.


  1. An official of the Communist Party, often attached to a military unit, who was responsible for political education.
  2. In the Soviet Union, the head of a commissariat.

Derived terms

Extensive Definition

Commissar is the English transliteration of an official title (комисса́р) used in Russia after the Bolshevik revolution and in the Soviet Union, as well as some other Communist countries. Leon Trotsky was the commissar for foreign affairs. He was appointed by Lenin. It denotes a political functionary at a military headquarters who holds coequal rank and authority with his military counterpart. No military order might be issued which did not have the prior approval of both men.
The term was used by the British and U.S. Military to denote an officer in charge of supplying an army with provisions and equipment. (See also Commissary and Commissariat).
The institute of political commissars has been established to control the military forces by the Communist party. The Soviet Army (together with the whole Soviet state) was also controled by the state security organizations, such as SMERSH and the KGB.
It is used to distinguish the title from similar titles in a variety of languages (such as commissaire in French or Kommissar in German), which are usually translated into English as commissioner.
In Russia, the title was associated with a number of administrative and military functions in the Bolshevik forces during the Russian Civil War and the Soviet government afterwards. During the war, the White Army widely used the collective term bolsheviks and commissars for their opponents.
There were two well established titles: People's Commissar (government) and political commissar (military).
The term derives from a similar term in French to describe the equivalent of the rank of Major both in the army of the ancien regime and the French revolution. Such officials were not military officers but reported back to the political authorities: the king and the National Assembly, respectively. It is the use by the French revolutionary government which gave the idea to the Russian one.

See also

commissar in Hebrew: קומיסר
commissar in Romanian: Comisar
commissar in Russian: Комиссар (в воинском подразделении)
commissar in Finnish: Komissaari

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Simon Legree, absolute monarch, absolute ruler, alderman, all-powerful ruler, archon, arrogator, autarch, autocrat, bailie, burghermaster, burgomaster, cabinet member, cabinet minister, caesar, chancellor, city councilman, city father, city manager, commissary, commissionaire, commissioner, councillor, councilman, councilwoman, county commissioner, county supervisor, czar, delegate, despot, dictator, disciplinarian, driver, duce, elder, emissary, envoy, hard master, headman, herald, induna, legate, legislator, lord mayor, magistrate, maire, martinet, mayor, messenger, minister, minister of state, oligarch, oppressor, pharaoh, portreeve, reeve, secretary, secretary of state, selectman, slave driver, stickler, supervisor, syndic, tyrant, undersecretary, usurper, warden, warlord
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