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Soviet Union

Party Control in the Armed Forces

The Main Political Directorate of the Soviet Army and Navy was responsible for party control over the armed forces. It organized, conducted, and reported on political and ideological indoctrination in the armed forces, supervised the military press, and monitored the ideological content of military publications.

The Main Political Directorate of the Soviet Army and Navy was subordinate to the Ministry of Defense, as well as to the CPSU Central Committee. It had the official status of a Central Committee department and reported to the Central Committee outside the military chain of command (see Secretariat , ch. 7). These reports included information on the political attitudes and reliability of armed forces personnel and high-ranking officers in particular. The Central Committee's Party Party Building and Cadre Work Department used the information on political reliability supplied by the Main Political Directorate of the Soviet Army and Navy to approve or deny appointments, assignments, and promotions of professionally qualified officers at the rank of colonel and above (see Nomenklatura , ch. 7).

The Main Political Directorate of the Soviet Army and Navy supervised a network of political organizations and officers within the armed forces. Every armed service, territorial command, and supporting service had a political directorate. Service branches, divisions, and military education institutions had political sections, which were smaller than directorates. Each political section had a small staff that included a chief, a deputy chief, several senior political instructors, and officers responsible for agitation and propaganda, party organizational work, and the Komsomol (see Glossary). A party commission of high-ranking personnel was attached to each political directorate and section. A deputy commander for political affairs was assigned to each unit of company, battery, and squadron size or larger (see fig. 32). Smaller military units had primary party organizations ( PPOs--see Glossary). Each PPO had a secretary, and secretaries met in their regiment's or ship's party committee to elect a party bureau. About 80 percent of all companies in the Ground Forces had party organizations. They were present in half the company-sized units of the armed forces as a whole.

A deputy political commander (zampolit) served as a political commissar of the armed forces. A zampolit supervised party organizations and conducted "party political work" within a military unit. He lectured troops on Marxism-Leninism, the Soviet view of international issues, recent CPSU decisions and documents, and the party's tasks for the armed forces. For Soviet military personnel, political training averaged between two and four hours every week. It was usually squeezed into what might otherwise be off-duty hours and was therefore widely resented. The zampolit was also responsible for resolving morale, disciplinary, and interpersonal problems, which were chronic in military units. These problems often involved poor living conditions, conflicts among different nationalities, and poor attitudes toward training. Like the old political commissars, the modern zampolit remained responsible for keeping soldiers, and even entire frontline combat units, from deserting or defecting.

Since World War II, the zampolit has lost all command authority, although retaining the power to report to the next highest political officer or organization on the political attitudes and performance of the unit's commander. Negative reports from the zampolit could exert considerable influence on the course of a commander's career. Yet under the principle of one-man command, tension between professional and political officers has decreased. Commanders were fully responsible for the political state of the troops under them, and this responsibility forced them to allow adequate time for political training.

In 1989 over 20 percent of all armed forces personnel were CPSU or Komsomol members. Over 90 percent of all officers in the armed forces were party or Komsomol members. The figures for party membership were even higher in such armed services as the Strategic Rocket Forces or the Border Troops, in which political reliability has been especially crucial. The Komsomol was important in the armed forces because most soldiers and young officers were in the normal age-group for Komsomol membership.

The KGB has been another instrument of party control over the armed forces. Its Third Chief Directorate had special counterintelligence sections that operated within regiments. The "special sections" used networks of informers inside units to monitor foreign contacts of armed forces personnel and to protect military secrets. Unknown to a commander or zampolit, a KGB officer could be reporting on their political attitudes, outside of military or Main Political Directorate of the Soviet Army and Navy channels.

Data as of May 1989

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