Last updated on February 13, 2019
This is an article that I wrote for an educational journal back in 2004. They wanted something about children in the Soviet Union, in particular, about the youth organisations. I recently found it while cleaning out, so I scanned it and I am now reproducing it here, because I think it is one of the best pieces of work I have ever done.
I have also done a similar article about children in the Third Reich.
With Donald Trump beginning to sound more and more like a dictator, I am starting to feel as if my old article here is becoming relevant once more.
I hope some of you will find some educational value in it. If you want to reproduce it for any school projects or whatever, please contact me first and obtain my permission. I will gladly give it, but I would just like to be told first. Thanks!
Give me four years to teach the children and the seed i have sown will never be uprooted.
Communism and Nazism were poles apart in an ideological sense. After the First World War, Germany and Russia never saw eye to eye. Being so different was one of the reasons why Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. The German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact signed in 1939 was just a temporary marriage of convenience. Hitler saw Communism as Nazi Germany’s natural and ever-lasting enemy of which they (Germany) could never come to terms with.
But if you were to examine the social structures of Nazi Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), you would notice startling similarities. If the theories behind Communism and Nazism were different, the methods to implement those ideological ideas were all but identical. One of the ways in which Communism and Nazism were similar were the ways in which the two regimes regarded their young people.
In Germany, there was the Hitler Jugend and the Bund Deutscher Madel. In the Soviet Union, it was the Young Pioneers and the Komsomol. Different names but identical aims. The main aim of the Soviet groups, as with the Nazi version, was to get young Russian people to swear blind obedience to the Soviet Communist Party and the State. They would be brainwashed and lectured on doses of Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, and they would be taught that their sole vocation in life was to serve the state unquestioningly and willingly.
All traces of the former Tsarist regime would be erased to be replaced with a left-wing workers paradise (in theory anyway). The people would go along with it because as Marx puts it, “the proletariat have nothing to lose but their chains”.
But, as with Hitler, Stalin saw the value of controlling the state’s children from the moment they were born and decided that he couldn’t just assume that the people would go along with him at the way, all the time. He would need to ensure their loyalty by controlling their lives and indoctrinating them into the faith. “Ideas are mere powerful than guns” was a phrase Stalin believed in strongly and was often repeated to party colleagues and in speeches.
The Young Pioneers
“I, a Young Pioneer of the Soviet Union, in the presence of my comrades solemnly promise – to love my Soviet Motherland passionately. To live, learn and struggle as the great Lenin bade us and as the Communist Party teaches us”
The solemn promise of a Young Pioneer.
In the first rung of the youth group ladder was the Young Pioneers at the age of 10. Membership of the youth movements were officially optional but, in reality, it was compulsory if the child wanted to get ahead in life and make something of themselves. As with the Nazi groups, your level of future success in the Soviet Union depended on your political track record, your attendance at meetings and your political connections. Everything you said and did in life was noted and nothing was forgotten.
The Young Pioneers organisation existed in the USSR from May 1922 until the break up of the Communist regime in 1990. By 1923, membership was at around 75,000, 2 million by 1940 and approximately 25 million people by 1974. The Nazis in Germany would segregate the children into their respective sexes – boys into the Hitler Jugend and girls into the Bund Deutsche Madel. But in the Soviet Union, there was no segregation of the sexes into different groups. Soviet children were instead segregated according to their age.
Children of between 10 & 11 years old were called “Young Pioneers of the 1st stage“; 11-12 years old – “Young Pioneers of the 2nd stage“; 13-15 years old – “Young Pioneers of the 3rd stage“. Young Pioneers of 15 years old could then apply for a transfer and join the other youth organisation – the Komsomol. But to join the Komsomol, you needed the recommendation and approval of the Young Pioneer group leaders.
The main aims and duties of the Young Pioneers and membership requirements were set down by the “Regulations of the Young Pioneer organisation of the Soviet Union”, by the “Solemn Promise” (recited as an oath by each Young Pioneer joining the organisation for the first time and which is set out at the beginning of this section); and by the “Rules of the Young Pioneers“.
The rules of the Young Pioneers of the Soviet Union were:
- A Young Pioneer loves his Motherland, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and prepares himself to enter the Komsomol organisation.
- A Young Pioneer honours the memory of those who gave their lives in the struggle for freedom and for the prosperity of the Soviet Motherland.
- A Young Pioneer is friendly to the children of all countries.
- A Young Pioneer learns well, is polite and well disciplined.
- A Young Pioneer loves labor and is careful of public property.
- A Young Pioneer is a good comrade, he cares for the young and helps the old.
- A Young Pioneer is brave and unafraid of difficulties.
- A Young Pioneer is honest and values the honour of his detachment.
- A Young Pioneer hardens himself, he does physical exercises every day.
- A Young Pioneer loves nature, he protects green plantations, birds and animals.
- A Young Pioneer is an example for all children.
The main symbols which made the Young Pioneers stand out were the red banner, red tie and badge. A scarf, mostly red but sometimes also blue, was also traditionally worn.
Some of the rituals in the Young Pioneers were virtually identical to the Hitler Youth – saluting, parades, banner bearing and raising of the flag. Some of the most common traditions were the Young Pioneers rally (usually round a bonfire) and festivals. It was all very comradely, everyone working as a team, everyone of equal status, just as Marx and Engels declared communism to be about in their book, “The Communist Manifesto”.
The Pioneer organisation is often named after a famous party member that is considered a suitable role model for young Communists. In the USSR it was a man called Pavlik Morozov. The children were taught the slogan “We are Pavlik Morozov pioneers. We wear our red scarf with pride.” Morozov was an ordinary young Soviet citizen, risen to martyr status by the Soviet propaganda machine, after he was murdered by his relatives for denouncing his father to the KGB. The story, like all good propaganda, was mostly fake, and was thoroughly debunked after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Morozov’s life was used by the propagandists to show the natural duty of all loyal Soviet citizens, especially children, to be informers for the regime, regardless of family loyalties and relationships. Nazi Germany’s version of Morozov was Horst Wessel. So both sides understood the need to have at least one martyr for young people to look up to as a role model.
The Young Pioneers who did impressive work and made themselves stand out for excellent studies, hard work, outstanding sports results, or impressive social activities were elected to the self-governing institutions and were delegates on the Young Pioneers gatherings. The most notable members were written into the Book of Honour of the organisation.
During the war, when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, many young Pioneers suddenly found themselves with a gun in their hands, risking their lives to defend their country. During the sieges of Leningrad, Stalingrad, Kursk and other ferocious battles, many Young Pioneers fought bravely against the German military in small partisan groups.
Nearly 30,000 Young Pioneers were awarded various decorations and medals and 4 Young Pioneers became “Heroes of the Soviet Union“, the highest military award in Soviet Russia, equivalent to the US Congressional Medal of Honor or the British Victoria Cross.
At the age of 14, the child would graduate to the next level – the Komsomol. It was the last stage before becoming an adult and choosing a career path. For many, the Komsomol would determine who would go onto university or careers in the government or KGB.
In many ways, the Komsomol became the most effective method for the authorities to weed out those who would become the future Soviet elite and leave those who were deemed to be worthless and non-productive.
“The Komsomols of my generation took offence at our fate. When we went to work in the factories, we lamented that nothing was left to do because the revolution was over”
A quote by an unknown Soviet youth
“Komsomol” is a word taken from the Russian phrase Kommunisticheski Soyuz Molodezhi, or “All-Union Leninist Communist League of Youth“. The organisation served as the youth section of the Russian Communist Party. It is believed that two-thirds of the present adult population in Russia were once members of the Komsomol.
The Komsomol started in 1917 and its first congress was the following year. Its membership grew steadily over the years, and in 1936, membership stood at four million and by 1939, nine million. In the early years, just like all other Soviet agencies and organisations, the Komsomol bore a number of names, including the RKSM (Russian Communist Union of Youth), RLKSM from 1924 and WAKSMA from 1926.
The Komsomol proved invaluable in indoctrinating Russian youth about the values, aims and ideas of Communism and it also gave the young their first opportunity to be introduced into the political domain. The Komsomol also instructed Soviet young people on social and sexual morality, the right way to live and the evils of “anti-social behaviour”.
The term “anti-social behaviour” could cover many things such as listening to western pop music such as the Beatles (which was considered “decadent behaviour”) and alternative lifestyles such as homosexuality.
However, it wasn’t a perfect system by any means. Having a child in the Komsomol didn’t always guarantee perfect party clones. In 1935, the NKVD (later renamed the KGB) discovered a plot by young Komsomol members in the town of Gorki to assassinate Stalin, in protest of the purges which were being carried out with murderous efficiency throughout the country. The plot was easily put down and the ringleaders executed but Stalin realised that the Komsomol was not politically reliable enough for his tastes and many more young Komsomol members with politically dubious track records were murdered or thrown into camps.
The Komsomol was often criticised for not doing their job property and for “not speaking with one voice“. Matters finally came to a head in the 1980’s. The reforms of General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, (Perestroika and Glasnost), finally recognised that the Komsomol was no longer serving the best interests of Russian young people and the Soviet state. The calibre of the Komsomol leadership was very low (at times, shockingly incompetent), and these, along with other problems, could no longer be hidden in the new, more open and liberal atmosphere.
At the radical Twentieth Congress of the Komsomol the rules of the organisation were massively changed to reflect a different strategy of running the Komsomol with a view to improving its overall efficiency. However the reforms actually had the opposite intended effect – the organisation eventually collapsed due to fragmentation, lack of clarity-of-purpose, and waning of interest, membership and calibre of membership.
In the past few years, there have been various attempts to revive the Komsomol, mostly by people who want a return to the Soviet way of life. It is well known that Vladimir Putin is a huge supporter of such an idea.
Moving Into a Career
When a Russian youth reached the age of 18, it was time to choose a career. As with Nazi Germany, you got nowhere if you were not a member of the party.
Membership in the party was not automatically granted like you would join a modern-day democratic party upon payment of membership dues. In the Soviet Union, who became party members and who didn’t ultimately became a privilege bestowed upon you, which you had to earn with a lifetime of loyalty and hard work.
When someone was finally admitted as a party member, they would become an elite, or nomenklatura, in Soviet society. Members of the nomenklatura would enjoy special privileges not open to non-members, such as shopping at well-stocked shops (including a huge, exclusive well-stocked Harrods-type department store off Red Square), receiving special preferences in obtaining the best housing, having first choice of dachas and holiday resorts, being allowed to travel overseas (non-party members had no chance to leave the Soviet Union because they were not granted passports), and also sending their children to the best universities and obtain prestigious jobs for them.
It became virtually impossible to join the Soviet ruling and managing elite without being a member of the Communist Party. So for a child in Soviet Russia, to get ahead in life with a meaningful career meant toeing the party line, being loyal, working hard for the regime and hoping that fortune would eventually smile on them.
The first path that a young person could follow would be to university. Moscow University was highly sought after (therefore places were few and highly valuable) and it was at university where your exceptional talents could be spotted which could propel you to the highest levels of Soviet society.
What jobs were open to young people in the Soviet Union? The most highly sought-after jobs were for the KGB (Committee for State Security – Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti). Recruitment for the KGB took place in the Komsomol and university where promising young people were tested and vetted. Those with high levels of intelligence, high levels of fitness, extensive knowledge of foreign languages (especially English and German), a proven track record of loyalty to the Soviet Union (being able to quote Marx certainly didn’t hurt) were accepted into the secret state police.
Being a member of the KGB was a very prestigious career in the Soviet Union. In the hierarchy of things, the KGB was superior to everyone else and KGB officers got the best of everything. So if a young person was offered the chance to go into the KGB, they rarely refused. Being in the KGB meant a good lifestyle with a good salary, being able to eat well, live in a nice apartment, foreign travel…in other words, being able to experience things what other Soviet citizens could only dream about.
Young people that went off to the KGB ended up becoming arrogant and egotistic with a superiority complex. If a person didn’t make it to the KGB, then other career avenues open to them included working in the government as a civil servant, becoming a politician with aspirations of making it to the Politburo (the executive decision-making body of the Soviet system) and the ultimate post of General Secretary, the military (which, just like Nazi Germany, was strongly encouraged), or performing a public service such as being a doctor or a lawyer.
Private business ventures were looked upon as decadent western capitalism and were strictly forbidden (which didn’t stop black markets from springing up). Everything in Soviet Russia was strictly controlled and supplied by the state so private enterprise wasn’t needed (at least that was the official view).
However, during the early stages of perestroika, when private enterprises were cautiously introduced, Komsomol members 8 leaders were given special privileges in opening businesses, with a motivation to give Russian youth a better chance in life, since the Soviet state probably wouldn’t be around forever to protect its citizens. As a result, many Komsomol members got a chance to get rich quick, the most prominent example being the head of Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.