The Political Officer
Don't turn aroundThe Political Officer is an officer attached to a unit, usually outside the regular chain of command, who ensures that the regular soldiers and officers obey orders and conform to the government's ideology. Theoretically this is a means of 'civilian' control over the military, but in practice the focus is on keeping the military loyal to the government and its principles - even at the people's expense. Such posts usually exist because the Government or the State Sec want a way of curbing the military's power and promoting their own agenda. If the former, it is because the military is a threat to the legitimate government and so the political officers are 'good guys' for keeping them in line. However, the latter depiction is far more common. In this portrayal the Government and/or the State Sec view the military as a threat to their own power and so (team up to) use the Political Officers to keep it in-line, just as in the Real Life three-way power struggle between the Party/Government, State Sec, and Military in the USSR and the two-way struggle between the Party/Government and the Military in the PRC. In day-to-day affairs the Political Officer roots out dissenters and has them re-educated or executed, perhaps doubling as a member of the Secret Police or Culture Police. For them to survive in their line of work the collective penalties for fragging them have to be so severe that no matter how callous, unpopular, or evil the officer is when this trope is played negatively, no-one ever dares to make them have an "accident". This type of fictional character is overwhelmingly based on the Real Life example of Political Officers in the Soviet Union, although it also tends to draw on the SS and the Nazis as well. More often than not they are amalgams of real Political Officers and NKVD (counterintelligence) officers. The actual Soviet Political Officer is a stock character in fictional portrayals of the Soviet-German War and Cold War era. His job was to ensure that the regular soldiers and officers followed the orders of the Party leadership in Moscow, basically a tool for the Communist Party to limit the military's independence (the NKVD having similar oversight of the Party and Military). Stereotypically this character is unconcerned with the difficulties the unit faces in actual combat, and will insist on slavish adherence to orders no matter the impracticality, pointlessness, or cost of doing so. In Real Life, junior party leaders conscripted as Commissars and Officers (people often applied for re-assignment between the two) played a crucial role in the first months of World War II. With virtually the entire peacetime Army wiped out in the first three months, they became the backbone of the new Army. Commissars were often observer officers with veto power over decisions made by their attached units, although they did on occasion get into frontline combat. On the frontline, Commissars were meant to inspire troops through bravery and heroism- and many did. Even before the War's outbreak the German Army passed regulations mandating Communist party leaders' execution upon capture, this consquently covering many officers and all Commissars. The famous notion of commissars being empowered to shoot cowards stems from Stalin's 28/7/1942 'No Retreat' Order issued in response to the German 1942 Summer Blau Offensive to take the Caucusus, which forbade any military unit from retreating without orders (which in that operation were subsequently given, to the Germans' dismay). Though neutered in effectiveness through losses note and official nerfing by the end of the war, civilian women in Germany were advised to yell 'Commissar' when facing rape by Soviet soldiers because commissars would arrive and either stop the soldier or (in some cases) execute them. Stalin's orders mandating such treatment were concerned with preserving the prestige of the Soviet army and relations with the Soviets' neighbours, rather than altruism, but it helped codify the notion that commissars were given to shooting their own soldiers. Note that this is the Western depiction. In Soviet fiction, the political officers often were stern but just, inspiring and actually caring, and performed death-defying feats of heroism to inspire similar acts of bravery in soldiers, based on the fact that the Political Officers as an institute were abolished in 1943, and had to continue as common line officers. An alternative Soviet depiction from much later years is a lazy useless paper-pusher who never does anything useful and torments other officers with filling countless forms and boring lectures about "political situation". Often wears a Commissar Cap. See also The Inquisitor General.
Oh oh oh
Der Kommissar's in town
Oh oh oh!
Oh oh oh
Der Kommissar's in town
Oh oh oh!
— Falco (via After the Fire).
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Anime and Manga
- Muruta Azrael from Mobile Suit Gundam SEED serves this role on the Dominion. While officially just an "observer" from some committee, he's in fact the head of the Blue Cosomos terrorist group. He's really there to make sure his plans go right, even undermining the ship's Captain, who eventually turns on him.
- In Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny Rey Za Burrel plays a similar, though more subdued role on the Minerva, keeping the crew—and particularly Shinn—on the track that Chairman Durandal wants them on. By the end Rey, and not Captain Talia Gladys, is the one really making decisions on the Minerva.
- In Cross Ange, Emma Bronson is in charge of monitoring the attitudes of the Normas on the Arsenal island so they don't get any funny ideas about turning their attention to the other lands. In fact, is the only non-Norma permanently stationed on the island. She also proves utterly incompetent at her job, failing to report a massive conspiracy to rebel festering right under her nose. After being left to die when Arzenal is set to be exterminated, she is saved by that very rebellion and taken aboard the submarine, which leads to an immediate about face.
- In a manner of speaking, the Sith Lords in Star Wars: Legacy fill a similar role. Though not part of the Imperial Military hierarchy, they oversee military units to ensure they serve the will of the Big Bad and Evil Overlord Darth Krayt. Complete with an "Oops, sorry sir" fragging of Darth Maleval by disgruntled stormtroopers.
- A rare Western-style version appears in the second volume of DC Comics's Star Trek series (set immediately after Star Trek V: The Final Frontier): Starfleet finally has enough of Kirk's out of control cowboy antics after several rather high-profile interstellar incidents in quick succession, and assigns him a civilian protocol officer to keep him under control and ensure Starfleet protocol is being adhered to. Unfortunately, Starfleet makes the mistake of assigning him a female officer, the quite attractive R. J. Blaise. Kirk being Kirk, it didn't take long before Blaise eventually decided their mutual attraction was detrimental to the mission, and eventually resigns.
- True to the book, The Hunt for Red October has a political officer accompanying Captain Ramius, who is actually trying to defect. To keep him from endangering his plan, Ramius causes him to fall into a sharp corner and tragically break his neck. Also Hilarious in Hindsight, also the political officer's last name is Putin.
However, unlike the book (detailed in the Literature folder below), Putin (even in the brief screen-time he gets in the film) thoroughly leaves the impression of being a smarmy weasel and the director tried (but claims to have failed) to portray Ramius as being reluctant to kill Putin.
- Several political officers are seen shooting anyone attempting to retreat in the movie Enemy at the Gates. The deuteragonist Danilov was a reasonably nice person, though.
- Mulan has Chi Fu, an Imperial bureaucrat attached to Shang's unit. He's extremely annoying, has little faith in Shang because he thinks Shang got his promotion through nepotism, and suggests killing Mulan for being a woman after she just saved everyone's lives.
- SS Corporal Gunther in Hornets' Nest, who has been assigned to keep an eye on the outspoken and unpredictable Captain von Hecht. Nobody cares when he gets his neck broken by the hero.
- One is, naturally, present aboard the flagship of the Soviet fleet in X-Men: First Class (he's the guy the captain calls "zampolit", which is short for "zamestitel' komandira po politicheskoy chasti" - "commander's deputy for political matters"). He ends up being mind-controlled by Charles to fire a missile at the Soviet transport ship to prevent the Americans from starting World War III. The captain commends him for his actions and immediately has him arrested, which the sailors do gladly.
- The Chinese film Assembly, which takes place during and after the Communist/Nationalist civil war, has two political officers. The first one dies in combat, and this so enrages military officer Captain Gung Du that he tries to have the Nationalist prisoners executed (his soldiers don't shoot). In the aftermath he is posted to a more dangerous battlefield, and requests a new political officer, to stop him making that sort of mistake again. The new man is a former teacher, whose main qualification is being able to read and write, rather than any sort of ideological rigour.
- The 1991 Czech comedy Tankový prapor (Tank Battalion) has The Neidermeyer version. After the soldiers get drunk and sing a subversive song, he threatens to have them all arrested, but 'accidentally' falls into a sewer and drowns. The next day the commanding officer reveals that before this incident he'd written a report on the protagonist that would have ended his chance of university, but he tears it up instead.
- In The Quantum Thief the chen copy clan has served this function since the Dragon Wars, acting as observers on all Sobornost ships so that inter-Founder conflicts don't get in the way of larger Sobornost goals.
- Star Wars: the Political Reliability Observer
- Putin in The Hunt for Red October, who is murdered by Ramius at the beginning. Oddly enough, it is implied that he was actually a decent man. The reason Ramius killed him was because he couldn't be trusted. Cold-hearted, yes. But rational under the circumstances.
- A sub sent to catch the Red October is running flat out when its reactor develops a small fault. The technician wants to fix it, but the political officer won't allow any time to be wasted when in service of the Motherland. As a result of such patriotic zeal the problem escalates, the reactor melts down and the whole sub sinks with all hands.
- In Red Storm Rising we see a few political officers. They are almost invariably incompetent - when the Soviet forces in Iceland are about to be mauled by an Anglo-American task force and need to surrender, General Andreyev gets rid of his political officer by seizing on a throwaway remark the zampolit made about "true courage" by giving him a rifle and ordering him to the front, to inspire the men to some more "true courage."
- Another Russian example appears in World War Z.
- In Harry Turtledove's Darkness Series, the Russia-parallel nation has a line of these people stationed half a mile behind the front with sticks (magic guns) and orders to blaze (shoot) anyone passing by them.
- Honor Harrington: The People's Commissioners of Haven's second regime fit this to a tee. Their dampening effect on the competence of "elitist, recidivist" officers (who were liable to get shot, along with their entire extended families, for the slightest imagined disloyalty or failure in battle-based on the French Revolution) was half the reason Manticore won that war. Most of the political officers that have significant time on screen, however, tend to work with their assigned personnel instead of against them, as generally Reasonable Authority Figures. Some even go beyond that, actively concealing outright treasonous activities and planning, including ultimately overthrowing the Committee for Public Safety and restoring the original Republic of Haven.
- And even further beyond that, some of the commissioners not only become friends of the officers they are supposed to oversee, but in the most famous case, become lovers — and one of the most touching love stories of the whole series, to boot!
- Charles Stross's story "Missile Gap" has Misha Gorodin as the zampolit assigned to Yuri Gagarin's ship on the "five-year mission" to explore the disk-shaped world where human civilization has been transplanted.
- Corporal Strappi from Monstrous Regiment, a particularly loathsome example. He takes cruel delight in bullying his soldiers (to the point that one of them throws up whenever he starts yelling), talks big about patriotism, and when it looks like he's actually going to get sent to the front, wets himself and deserts.
- Oddly, the identities of Borogravian political officers seems to be a secret - Strappi's status is just rumoured at first, until The Reveal. As such they're probably more of a cross between this trope and Stasi-esque informants, presumably to avert the inherent risk of fragging that comes with the role.
- Barrayar has political officers in the early parts of the Vorkosigan Saga. Admiral Aral Vorkosigan notoriously murdered his own particularly scheming one with his bare hands on his flag bridge during the invasion of Komarr, and only dodged serious consequences (other than a demotion to Captain) due to his bloodline. Later, another political officer tries to murder him in return.
- It is implied that while the outcry was intentionally high, he was demoted only to keep the official face on the thing, political officers being a rather new institution and just another tool in the Ezar's box.
- Broken Angels by Richard K. Morgan. The Wedge are kept under the surveillance of a political officer, so to avoid any problems with him they forcefully addict him to "the wire", threatening to withhold it if he causes trouble. The political officer gets his revenge when his surveillance reveals the protagonist is planning to kill his former colleagues — he 'forgets' to inform the Wedge commander of this.
- Commissar Ciaphas Cain, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM, is actually an aversion. While a great many commissars are the shoot-the-men-if-they-get-rowdy type who happily pull rank (they technically outrank anyone who's not a senior commissar, Inquisitor, or Space Marine) to ensure regulations are followed, he carefully cultivates bonds of camaraderie with the troops under him so he's less likely to suffer an "unfortunate accident" (see Catachans below).
- In Falkenberg's Legions, the Soviet-backed International Brigades sent to the Santiago Civil War are controlled by Political Officers. Very much in the Soviet zampolit style, the one featured takes on the Western stereotype.
- In Dorsai!, the Friendlies have "Conscience Guardians" who seek out heresy among their troops. Interestingly enough, the Guardians authority is only over their Chruch members and not foreign mercenaries. In addition, they keep their forces from bickering with each other over issues of religious doctrine, preventing tensions within their army.
- Grunts!: Having spent a lot of time reading over the political philosophy texts in Dagurashibanipal's hoard, Marine Razitshakra turns into Marine Commissar Razitshakra, complete with Commissar Cap and Russian Army greatcoat, monitoring her fellow orcs for "ideological instability".
- A democratic variant in Ian Douglas's Star Carrier series with the Senate assigning their "political liaisons" to fleet carriers in order to make sure their orders are carried out. In the first book, Admiral Alexander Koenig ends up at odds with John Quintanilla, the Senate's liaison to the America, who keeps criticizing Koenig's orders and the overall battleplan, even though Koenig's wasn't the one who came up with it. Koenig ends up kicking Quintanilla out of the CIC, which later has political repercussions. For someone who's supposed to "liaise" with the military, Quintanilla doesn't even know how this 'verse's method of FTL works. Naturally, the author only does this for an As You Know exposition.
- Cordwainer Smith presents an imaginative variant of this trope in one of his Instrumentality stories. Monitors are criminals modified to simply do nothing but watch and record events in their memories. Secretly, if a military commander attempts to defect or run away during a war, the Monitor will act and destroy the captain.
- Naturally, all over the place in Fyodor Berezin's Red Stars books in the Parallel!USSR. One of them is introduced debating another political officer about the wording of a warship's news bulletin (whether it's appropriate to call their not-far-off descendants "glorious", since they haven't earned the glory yet; he goes with it anyway to avoid the alternative "not-far-off", which can be interpreted as "dimwitted"; his superior then claims that a Soviet sailor will not think the alternative if he's ordered not to). Later, when said warship is being sunk by the American fleet, he goes on the horn and broadcasts a message about the crew putting up a fierce fight before going down. He survives but is later charged with treason for revealing a state secret (namely, the fact of the ship's destruction).
- Mongoose by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear. The protagonist has an Oh Crap! moment when the political officer for the Space Station he's clearing of Eldritch Abominations turns up and starts asking awkward questions. Subverted when she turns out to be a Reasonable Authority Figure who doesn't ask about his Mysterious Past, but is more interested in helping him do his job.
- In Blindsight, protagonist Siri Keeton is a synthesist sent into a First Contact situation. His job is to translate jargon and create a framework between several specialists in very different disciplines, and is also responsible for 'dumbing it down' and reporting on the crew's progress for the baseline humans in charge back on Earth. The crew's biologist refers to him as 'Commissar' because of it, and is only partway joking.
- A minor recurring character in the Worldwar series is a Soviet NKVD officer who spends much of his time explaining why certain actions are necessary to preserve communism, justifying them by using the Marxist dialectic.
- Inquisitors serve this purpose in the Safehold series when the Church begins active military operations in their war with Charis. They have about as much or more power than the actual military commanders of the various Army of God forces in deciding what needs to be done.
- In the Boojumverse story "Mongoose", Colonel Sadhi Sanderson is a political officer on Kadath Station. Part of the conflict is Station Master Lee wanting protagonist Izrael Irizarry to fix the station's problems without letting Colonel Sanderson know the station had any problems to begin with.
Live Action TV
- One major sign of EarthGov's slide into dictatorship was the assignment of a political officer to Babylon 5. A very hot female political officer. Who can go from fully clothed to stark naked in the time it takes someone to turn around (neat trick).
Ivanova: I think you're about to go where everyone has gone before.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Face of the Enemy", Troi is disguised as a Tal'Shiar officer who fills this role on a Romulan warship. It could also be said that this is also her role on the Enterprise.
- It's implied in "Mirror, Mirror" and the Expanded Universe that Security Chiefs in the mirror universe are also political officers, with the power to assassinate their ship's captain and/or first officer if they begin to deviate from Terran Empire doctrine.
- An episode of Seven Days involves a Russian submarine testing out a new sonar. The crew is surprised when a political officer is assigned to the boat, considering that a democratic government shouldn't need them. The guy is especially critical of a young sonar technician for the latter's preference of "American rock music" (apparently, no one told the guy the Cold War was over). He later forces the captain to keep the sonar focused on a foreign ship instead of using it to map the ocean floor, resulting in the sub hitting a reef and causing a reactor breach. As per protocol, the captain wishes to scuttle the boat, sacrificing the crew. However, the political officer and several of his men get guns and force the captain to surface, shooting the young sonar technician for questioning the legality of their actions. This causes massive irradiation of the surrounding area, and the political officer claims it was the captain who chose to surface, and that he tried to object. When the captain tries to claim his innocence, he is brutally beaten and taken away. Naturally, when Parker goes back to fix the situation, his main problem is this Jerkass.
- A rare non-military and democratic variation is the eternally intimidating Chief Whip (a party official tasked with upholding the agenda and whipping renegade members back into line) in Yes, Minister, who is regularly utilised by Sir Humphrey to scare Jim Hacker into not pursuing his idealistic dreams in office.
- Commissars in Warhammer 40,000 are longcoat-wearing political officers attached to Imperial Guard armies and Imperial Navy ships. Interestingly, they feature elements of both the "eastern" and "western" stereotypes in that they are inspirational badasses who are calm under fire and lead by example, but can and will mercilessly shoot soldiers who fail to meet their stringent standards. One or the other angle can be emphasised Depending on the Writer - minor character commissars are more likely to be Bad Bosses, while Ibram Gaunt fits the "benevolent commissar" mold, and Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM) is a pure pragmatist who has caught on to the fact that overzealous commissars tend to die in combat suspiciously far from the front line.
- Catachans, being fiercely independent badass jungle fighter Ramboes, used to have a special rule ("Oops, sorry sir!") in which if a commissar is attached to them, you must roll before the game starts to find out whether or not he suffered an "unfortunate accident". Being based off of Vietnam War soldiers, such incident were commonplace. If you're an American officer and your soldiers don't like you, you ought to be prepared to get fragged. Considering that most of them were drafted, they had low morale and didn't like their authority, i.e. you.
- Most Badass of them all is Commissar Sebastian J. Yarrick. He lost an arm in battle with an Ork Warboss and retorted by decapitating the Warboss, only "allowing himself the luxury of passing out" after the battle was won. He then had the Warboss's Power Klaw converted into a prosthetic for his own missing arm, powered (presumably) by the sheer badass he radiates. The Orks have immortalized him in fearful legends, believing that he cannot be killed and that a single glance from him brings death. On hearing the latter part of this legend, Yarrick decided that if the Orks believed he had an evil eye, then by the Emperor, he would HAVE an evil eye. He then proceeded to PLUCK OUT HIS OWN EYE AND HAVE IT REPLACED WITH A LASER-SHOOTING BIONIC EYE. The short version? This man makes Orks wet themselves.
- Dawn of War plays the trope straight: the Winter Assault tutorial specifically mentions that the Guardsmen are simple humans fighting against the worst monstrosities of the universe, hence why they break so easily. Attaching a commissar to a squad however makes that squad near-immune to morale: not even a flamethrower will make them run. If they do break anyway, the commissar has the ability of executing a random soldier to instantly restore squad morale. And they happen to be awesome melee fighters to boot... but only three can be deployed at a time.
- Taken to ridiculous extreme in second game. At max experience level, shooting one soldier will make your entire army do twice as much damage, run faster than a land speeder and be completely invulnerable to all forms of damage. And there is a trait that makes execute cool down less than its duration.
- Commissar Holt from the Final Liberation game. Bitchslaps planetary governors when they forget certain details like who's in charge, what gubernatorial duties entail, or rank.
- Ultramarines novel series features a commissar that was actually terrified of his regiment colonel. This is rather strange, given that commissars stand outside of command structure and officially outrank anyone in their regiment and have legal right to shoot you if they feel like it after filling in some minor amount of paperwork.
- Commissar Dottski from Up Front. He adds +1 morale to everyone in his group ("in the Red Army, advance is less dangerous than retreat") but if any man in the group becomes pinned, draw a card to see who the commissar is watching. If he's watching the pinned soldier, BAM! Dottski takes out his pistol and executes the man. Germans score victory points for KIA.
- The name Dottski was a reference to the Dotts, the owners of the game publisher. (Many of the other soldier names in the game were also references to the game designers and playtesters.)
- Advanced Squad Leader allows the Russians (and a few other countries by scenario special rule) to have commissars until late in 1942. Said leaders raise the morale and improve rallying for any troops they are stacked with. But any squad that does NOT rally is lowered in quality.
- The Loyalty Officer in Paranoia. Their loyalty is directly to Friend Computer, not the Team Leader. (Although the nature of Paranoia is such that neither of them are likely to be all that loyal.)
- The Southern Republic of Heavy Gear has them, in addition to an entire deep cover State Sec that serves some of the same duties.
- Major Lebedjev from World in Conflict: Soviet Assault.
- Commissar Letlev at the beginning of the Soviet campaign in Call of Duty 2. However, he was portrayed more as a gently chiding and often hilarious but still tough training officer and the only threats of being shot for cowardice came not from him but from regular officers. Except if you mess around instead of shoot a teddy bear for target practice like he ordered.
- On the other hand, the first Soviet mission in the original Call of Duty had you covering a sniper while he put down a commissar that was machine-gunning fleeing Soviet soldiers.
And the next mission plays it straight: a few dozen soldiers charge at a German line of machine guns with the commissars watching from behind and shooting you if you ever move in a direction that leads away from the enemy (even if you try to collect ammo from dead friendlies).
- World at War features Commissar Markhov, who mostly yells patriotic/bloodthirsty encouragement through a megaphone, but can occasionally be seen joining the front lines with a submachine gun in hand.
- Call of Duty: Finest Hour's Commissar Viktor Durasov.
- On the other hand, the first Soviet mission in the original Call of Duty had you covering a sniper while he put down a commissar that was machine-gunning fleeing Soviet soldiers.
- Confessors of Command and Conquer 3 serves as these for Nod. They serve both as intelligence and religious officers, guiding and educating Militants in the field. In-game, Confessors are an upgrade: they increase the Milita squad's effectiveness.
- Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 features the Twinblade helicopters, each one co-piloted by a Soviet commissar. While they don't serve this function in-game, the fluff mentions that their original purpose was to patrol the edges of battlefields and shoot any Soviet deserters.
- Among character classes in Allods Online, there is both Commissar (Imperial paladin) and Political Officer (Imperial healer). The Empire fuses the imagery of USSR and 19th century Russian Empire.
- As mentioned above, Dawn of War commissars are attached to squads in order to ensure that morale and loyalty remain constant. Executing a squad member results in increased firing rate for all nearby squads. Two commissars in the last two expansions are specifically mentioned to be watching the Governor-General for signs of weakening resolve.
- According to Battalion Wars II's unit dossiers, a Tundran battleship's political officer is also its head cook. Naturally, his having control over the quality of the food means the sailors never step out of line.
- While not Games Workshop canon, Commissar Fuklaw◊ epitomizes the "Trigger Happy commissar" character, to the point where he automatically shoots four members of any squad he joins, for the crime of suspected-HERESY! *BLAM!*
Gentlemen, there are two things I will kill a man for: Heresy...
But, sir, we were only-
... and interrupting me while I'm speaking.
Does raising your hand count as interrupting?
- The Civil War-era Red Army is the Trope Codifier for these guys. They also played a large role early during WWII, only to be deactivated in 1942 when a reliable structure of regular commanding officers was finally established. Later the guys were renamed "zampolits" (political assistants) or "politruks" (political guides) and became little more than advisors to commanding officers and lectors on Communism among soldiers. After The Great Politics Mess-Up, they were further nerfed and now are known as "educator officers", completely depoliticized and acting more like army psychologists than anything else.
- The "shoot the cowards" function got handed over to the "barrier troops", specially created for the purpose.
- Nikolai Popel, who served as the political officer in Mikhail Katukov's First Guards Tank Army was an example of a commissar who represented a personality little known in the West due to a trusting bond with his commanding officer and his competence in battle.
- By the time of the Battle of Stalingrad, political officers were much weaker, but remained influential enough to have meaningful impact. Nikita Khrushchev, the chief political commissar during the Battle of Stalingrad comes halfway between Popel and the stereotype of incompetent commissars. While not militarily skilled and not particularly involved in the military aspects of the battle, his political skills contributed substantially to keeping up the morale of both soldiers and civilians. It certainly contributed to his rise as the leader of Soviet Union after the war.
- Dmitri Furmanov, the commissar attached to Chapaev's troops, became the epitome of the benevolent commissar after the release of The Movie about Chapaev. Later, he experienced Memetic Mutation (along with Chapaev and Petka) and became a recurring character in Russian Humour.
- It should be noted that Furmanov wrote the book that made Chapaev famous in the first place.
- Valery Sablin, who led a mutiny in 1975 on board the Soviet frigate Storozhevoy (a "Krivak"), aiming to sail it from Riga to Leningrad and incite a revolution against a regime that he felt was failing. A crew member escaped, alerted the authorities and the ship was stopped in international waters with the aid of Yak-28 "Brewer" bombers (they considered using Tu-16 "Badgers" but realised that launching anti-shipping missiles into a crowded shipping line was a dumb idea). The captain regained control of the ship just before the Yaks actually did some serious damage and Sablin was arrested. He was convicted of treason and shot. This was one of the incidents that inspired The Hunt for Red October.
- Modern ideological dictatorships tend to have these guys in no small number. Communist regimes are perhaps the most obvious, but Those Wacky Nazis and even Chiang Kai-Shek's KMT had them. This is also Older than You Think, with their introduction early in The Napoleonic Wars by the Revolutionary government. Any general that failed in battle could expect to meet La Veuve (the Widow, i.e. the Guillotine).
- Even earlier than that: the "adgitators" (from whence we get Adjutant, usually a low-ranking staff officer) during the English Civil War. They were political officers, elected from the ranks, and put forth increasingly radical demands to Cromwell's government. Many were Levelers, insisting on universal male suffrage.
- In what may be a confusing aversion, some countries' police forces have a rank that is referred to as Commissar, but is essentially the equivalent of a police captain with no relation to the trope.
- Stalinist NKVD (a ministry that combined Secret Police and regular police) also used the word commissar in sense of a high-ranking police officer. These commissars confusingly coexisted with the ones from this trope during early Great Patriotic War (1941-1942). The USSR abolished the police (militsiya) commissar rank in the 1970s and renamed them "generals".
- There also were "People's Commissars", which is Bolshevik politically correct speak for ministers (the word "minister" was associated with the uber-corrupt Tsarist cabinet at the time). And also the even more confusing "military commissars", who still exist to this day and are in charge of draft and conscription offices. The Commies loved the word "commissar".
- While the Soviet Union is the most obvious example, it was not the only modern dictatorship (communist or otherwise) to use political officers. Ironically enough, the Nazis established their own variant as the war went on and gave them increasing amounts of power over time, although they still never became as common or as powerful as their Soviet counterparts sometimes did. Maoist China, Saddam's Iraq, and theocratic Iran also had their own variants, as did many others.
- North Korea uses their Political Officer corps as an efficient way to get the sons of high-ranking officials into prestigious and cushy but ultimately harmless positions so that the actually commanding is left to people with talent.
- There is a story about a shipwrecked Soviet sailor who was rescued by an American ship. When he saw an officer with a cross on his lapel, he asked why. When told that this was the Chaplain, he asked, "What's a Chaplain?" When he heard the explanation he said, "Interesting. Does he also act as Political Officer?" (And was shocked to learn that the US Armed Forces don't HAVE political officers.)
- The French Revolution had the Représentants du peuple, or représentants en mission, who were sent to control the generals' conduct. More often than not, they proved a dangerous nuisance, having little understanding of military reality and setting unrealistic objective for the generals, who were labelled as traitors and guillotined when they failed to reach them. However some representatives were incredibly brilliant in their tasks, especially Lazare Carnot and Saint-Just, the latter disciplined and rebuilt the defeated and humiliated Army of the Rhine into a fighting force that won the decisive Battle of Fleurus.
"Soldiers, we have come to avenge you, and to give you leaders who will marshal you to victory. We have resolved to seek out, to reward, and to promote the deserving; and to track down all the guilty, whoever they may be.... All commanders, officers, and agents of the government are hereby ordered to satisfy within three days the just grievances of the soldiers. After that interval we will ourselves hear any complaints, and we will offer such examples of justice and severity as the Army has not yet witnessed."— Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, an actual bulletin from The French Revolution.
- Interestingly enough, the Representatives were also deputies of the National Assembly, meaning that the commissars were elected parliamentarians.