1924: Young Communists

Young Communists

Subject essay: James von Geldern

Youth, according to Communist ideology, was destined to live under Communism. Unlike the older generation reared in capitalist society, the youth of the Soviet republic was free of exploitation and the taint of bourgeois values that went along with it. But the young needed guidance and, as Lenin said, "to study, study, and study." The Communist Party ascribed to itself the role of guardian, but youth needed their own organization and leaders. This was what the Komsomol intended to provide. From its founding congress in October 1918 until 1924, the organization was formally known as the Russian Communist Union of Youth. Upon Lenin's death, his name was added, and two years later, in 1926, it became the All-Union Leninist Communist Union of Youth. Meanwhile, the party established a similar organization for younger children in 1922, calling it the Pioneers.

In its early years, the Komsomol attracted many young people who had fought in the Red Army and closely identified with the goals of the October Revolution. Others who had been too young to see action during the civil war hoped to perpetuate or resurrect its militantly heroic atmosphere. A significant number gravitated towards support of Trotsky in the inner-party struggles of the mid-1920s. For still others, it was the activities sponsored by the Komsomol -- dance and theater groups, gymnastics groups, choirs, reading circles, etc. -- that drew them into the organization. Overwhelmingly urban-based in its first years, the Komsomol made a concerted effort to expand into the villages as part of the party's campaign to "face the countryside." As of 1926, some 60 percent of Komsomol members consisted of peasants. However, they amounted to only six percent of all Komsomol-aged peasant youth as compared to more than half of working-class youth. Students who, unlike workers and peasants, had to obtain the recommendation of two party or Komsomol members and endure a six-month candidacy period before admission nonetheless comprised a third substantial group. Overall membership which exceeded 400,000 by 1924, reached a million after the "Lenin Levy" recruitment drive of that year. By 1927 it stood at approximately two million.

Komsomol members generally prided themselves on the purity of their commitment to building a Communist society. They were particularly hostile to manifestations of religious belief, practiced a kind of revolutionary asceticism that excluded drinking, pre-marital sex, affectations of dress or engagement in the "frivolous" activities of their peers, and chafed under the compromises with the bourgeoisie and kulaks that the New Economic Policy prescribed. Komsomol newspapers and journals such as SMENA and MOLODAIA GVARDIIA became known as venues for stories by Communist writers and articles on questions of daily life (byt). As was the case in the party, full-time Komsomol activists were required to uphold the party line, and were subjected to periodic oversight and purging. Many made careers for themselves by carrying out the dictates of their superiors in the party and over time killed the idealism that had infused the Komsomol during its early years.