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Thursday, October 29, 2015


All-Union Leninist
Young Communist League
Всесоюзный ленинский коммунистический союз молодёжи

Komsomol Emblem (Vectorized Image).
October 29, 1918
September 1991
Mother party
International affiliation

The All-Union Leninist Young Communist League (Russian: Всесоюзный ленинский коммунисти́ческий сою́з молодёжи (ВЛКСМ))), usually known as Komsomol (Russian: Комсомо́л, a syllabic abbreviation from the Russian kommunisticheskii soyuz molodyozhi), was a political youth organization in the Soviet Union. It is sometimes described as the youth division of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), although it was officially independent and referred to as "the helper and the reserve of the CPSU".

The Komsomol in its earliest form was established in urban centers in 1918. During the early years, it was a Russian organization, known as the Russian Young Communist League, or RKSM. During 1922, with the unification of the USSR, it was reformed into an all-union agency, the youth division of the All-Union Communist Party.

It was the final stage of three youth organizations with members up to age 28, graduated at 14 from the Young Pioneers, and at nine from the Little Octobrists.


Image of Komsomol poster. Caption says "Prepare for worthy successors to the Leninist Young communists"

Before the February Revolution of 1917 the Bolsheviks did not display any interest in establishing or maintaining a youth division, but the policy emphasis shifted in the following months. After the Russian Civil War of 1917-1922 ended, the Soviet government under Lenin introduced a semi-capitalist economic policy to stabilize Russia’s floundering economy. This reform, the New Economic Policy (NEP), introduced a new social policy of moderation and discipline, especially regarding Soviet youth. Lenin himself stressed the importance of political education of young Soviet citizens in building a new society.

The first Komsomol Congress met in 1918 with the patronage of the Bolshevik Party, despite the two organisations having not entirely coincident membership or beliefs. Party intervention in 1922-1923 proved marginally successful in recruiting members by presenting the ideal Komsomolets (Komsomol youth) as a foil to the bourgeois NEPman. By the time of the second Congress, a year later, however, the Bolsheviks had, in effect, acquired control of the organisation, and it was soon formally established as the youth division of the Communist party however, the party was not very successful overall in recruiting Russian youth during the NEP period (1921-1928).

This came about because of conflict and disillusionment among Soviet youth who romanticised the spontaneity and destruction characteristic of War Communism (1918-1921) and the Civil War period. They saw it as their duty, and the duty of the Communist Party itself, to eliminate all elements of bourgeois culture from society. However, the NEP had the opposite effect: after it started, many aspects of bourgeois social behavior began to reemerge. The contrast between the "Good Communist" extolled by the Party and the bourgeois capitalism fostered by NEP confused many young people. They rebelled against the Party's ideals in two opposite ways: radicals gave up everything that had any bourgeois connotations, while the majority of Russian youths felt drawn to the Western-style popular culture of entertainment and fashion. As a result, there was a major slump in interest and membership in the Party-oriented Komsomol.


"Youth on the planes" propaganda poster
In March 1926, Komsomol membership reached a NEP-period peak of 1,750,000 members: only 6 percent of the eligible youth population. Only when Stalin came to power and abandoned the NEP in the first Five Year Plan (1928–1933) did membership increase drastically.
The youngest people eligible for Komsomol membership were fourteen years old. The upper age-limit for ordinary personnel was twenty-eight, but Komsomol functionaries could be older. Younger children joined the allied Vladimir Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organization. While membership was nominally voluntary, those who didn't join lost access to officially sponsored holidays and found it very difficult (if not impossible) to pursue higher education.
Komsomol had little direct influence on the Communist Party or on the government of the Soviet Union, but it played an important role as a mechanism for teaching the values of the CPSU to youngsters. The Komsomol also served as a mobile pool of labor and political activism, with the ability to relocate to areas of high-priority at short notice. Active members received privileges and preferences in promotion. For example, Yuri Andropov, CPSU General Secretary (1982-1984) in succession to Leonid Brezhnev, achieved political importance through work with the Komsomol organisation of Karelia in 1940-1944. At its largest, during the 1970s, the Komsomol had tens of millions of members; about two-thirds of the present adult population of Russia is believed to have joined.


Monument to Courage, Firmness and Faithfulness of members of the Komsomol in Sevastopol. It is one of the monuments of the Great Patriotic War. Built in October 1963 using means collected by members of the Komsomol of Sevastopol. Sculptor Stanislav Chizh, architect V.I.Fomin.
During the early phases of perestroika in the mid-1980s, when the Soviet authorities began cautiously introducing private enterprise, the Komsomol received privileges with respect to initiating businesses, with the motivation of giving youth a better chance. The government, unions and the Komsomol jointly introduced Centers for Scientific and Technical Creativity for Youth (1987). At the same time, many Komsomol managers joined and directed the Russian Regional and State Anti-Monopoly Committees. Folklore quickly coined a motto: "Komsomol is a school of Capitalism", hinting at Vladimir Lenin's "Trade unions are a school of Communism".

The reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev, perestroika and glasnost, finally revealed that the quality of Komsomol management was bad. The Komsomol, long associated with conservatism and bureaucracy, had always largely lacked political power. The radical Twentieth Congress of the Komsomol (April 1987) altered the rules of the organisation to represent a market orientation. However, the reforms of the Twentieth Congress eventually destroyed the Komsomol, with lack of purpose and the waning of interest, membership and quality of membership. At the Twentysecond Congress of the Komsomol in September 1991, the organisation disbanded. The press organ of the Komsomol, the Komsomolskaya Pravda, survived the organisation and still exists (as of 2015).

A number of youth organisations of successor parties to the CPSU continue to use the name Komsomol, as does the youth organisation of Ukrainian communists: Komsomol of Ukraine.


Klim Voroshilov at a meeting with Komsomol members (1935)

“Kliment Voroshilov at a meeting with young Communist League members”. USSR Commissar of Defense Kliment Voroshilov (fourth right) has a meeting with Young Communist League female members awarded an honorary title "Voroshilov marksman."
The ideal Komsomolets

Not only was the ideal Communist youth an asset to his (or her) organisation, but he also “lived correctly”. This meant that every aspect of a Komsomolets’s life was in accordance with Party doctrine. Smoking, drinking, religion, and any other activity the Bolsheviks saw as threatening were discouraged as “hooliganism”. The Komsomol sought to provide them with alternative leisure activities that promoted the improvement of society, such as volunteer work, sports, and political and drama clubs. These efforts proved largely unsuccessful, since the Bolshevik Party and the Komsomol were not in touch with Soviet youths’ desires and thus were not able to manipulate them. Soviet youth remained relatively politically unaware or uninterested during the NEP period.


Komsomol membership card, (1983)

Komsomol Membership Cards

Komsomol direction. Document in the USSR youth guarantee compulsory employment

Youth Campaigns During NEP

In 1922 with the establishment of the New Economic Policy, the Soviet government changed their rhetoric directed towards the youth from a revolutionary, militaristic tone to one with emphasis on philosophical education through book-learning and stability of the state by peaceful means. The young communists were uninterested in these new principles, and mass culture campaigns became the most important tool used by the Komsomol as an attempt retain membership during the 1920s.

One of the most popular campaigns was the Novyi Byt (The New Way of Life). At these assemblies, Komsomol Leadership promoted the values which they considered to be the most important for the ideal young communist. The New Soviet Man was to be “a lively, active, healthy, disciplined youngster who subordinates himself to the collective and is prepared for and dedicated to learn, study, and work.” By establishing strict guidelines to what they expected, the Komsomol was able to denounce the traits and habits they saw harmful to the youth. It condemned sexual promiscuity, drinking, smoking and general mischievous behavior, as it posed moral danger to the organization’s young members. The majority of the youth did not take this well, as unsavory activities were enticing to them. At a time when membership was at its lowest (1.7 million in 1925), the Komsomol harmed only itself, as this type of campaign further distanced the organization from their target audience.

The Komsomol also launched campaigns of an anti-religious nature. The new communist regime wished to dismantle the already limited control the Orthodox church had on society, and the young were generally interested in seeing the upheaval of old traditions than their elders who had lived under the tsar’s rule. The Komsomol rallied members to march in the streets, declaring their independence from religion. Problems came when the enthusiastic youth took this passion too far. Open harassment of church members sprang up, and earned the Komsomol a negative image in the minds of older generations. When the League made attempts to draw back on their anti-religious rhetoric, Soviet youth became increasingly disinterested in the organization.

“21st Komsomol congress: Viktor Mironenko steps down”. Komsomol (Young Communist League) First Secretary Viktor Mironenko retreating from the platform of the 21st YCL congress after voicing his self-resignation
Youth reactions

Many youths were drawn to “hooliganism” and the Western bourgeois culture of entertainment, which included cinema and fashion magazines. It is no coincidence that these youths were primarily from the peasantry or working class. They saw Western culture as a way to elevate or distinguish themselves from their humble beginnings. The Soviet authorities eventually made their own films with ideologically “pure” messages, but it was not the same. Soviet pictures, which were often informational or political, lacked the draw of Westerns or romances from Hollywood. Both the authorities and the youths themselves blamed the NEP for corrupting Soviet youth culture. Because the Komsomol was simply not as attractive to these young men and women, the government began to limit their cultural and entertainment options. This signalled the end of the NEP, and the end of the brief influx of Western culture in Soviet Union before Stalin’s ascendancy.

Militant young Communists were a threat to the older Bolsheviks because they had the potential to undermine the new, NEP-based society. The shift from destruction of an old state to creation of a new one, mirrored by the shift from War Communism to the NEP, was necessary to maintain and stabilise the Bolshevik regime. The Party’s disapproval of young militants was necessary in order not only to define what was considered proper behavior, but also to maintain social and political control over the masses. However, after Stalin came to power and the NEP was abandoned in favor of the revolutionary, anti-bourgeois Five-Year Plans, many of the young radicals’ ideas were absorbed back into the mainstream and they no longer presented a problem.


Members Celebrate 80 Years of the Komsomol in Moscow
Young Women in the Komsomol

The ideology of the new Soviet regime under Vladimir Lenin strove to break down societal barriers that they believed to be harmful to their goal of unity. Specifically, they hoped to elevate women to a level equal to men. The Komsomol pushed hard to recruit young women and raise them under this new mindset. In the period of the early 1920s, women primarily stayed at home and performed the majority of housework. The Komsomol seemingly represented a door to a public life unseen by women of the time. Young women enthusiastically joined as they were finally given a chance to detach themselves from the traditional patriarchal structure. Moreover, they were drawn to the Komsomol because it promised them an education during a time when young girls were deprived of a proper one in favor of preparing them for household duties. The Soviets encouraged women to take an active role in the new system and participate in the same activities and work their male counterparts were involved. The Soviets desperately needed to create unity between men and women at this young age in order to establish legitimacy and security to their rule.

Major conflicts surfaced when the regime took these new steps. The Bolshevik Party was not the most popular at the time, and much of the rest of the nation wished to hold onto their patriarchal values. Parents hesitated allowing their daughters to join the youth organization, because “the Komsomol seemed like an immoral organization, for it removed young girls from adult control, and then required for them to attend meetings held at night.” Soviet citizens felt that if they released their hold on their children, they would be corrupted by the Komsomol’s influence. They also worried that if their daughters became independent and promiscuous, then no man would want to marry them. Aside from this point parents, wondered who would take care of the home if all the young women left home to join the Komsomol.

Women, generally, were also unprepared for the realities of the workforce. The ancient structure of female subordination allowed for little in terms of work experience. Men had been given better education and were traditionally raised to take part in military and industry. Therefore, they had a much wider range of opportunity than women whose only role had been caretaking. Here lies the irony of the regime’s efforts; the Komsomol tried desperately to empower young women achieve equality, yet women’s perceptions of themselves worsened because they were now being directly compared to their much more prepared counterparts.

Even though the Communist Party preached and demanded equality, men dominated both the governing body and the Komsomol’s leadership. Upward mobility, contrary to initial belief, was incredibly hard for women to achieve. In addition, female Komsomol openly encouraged their members to pursue positions of teaching and nurturing of young Soviets rather than positions of real authority.

Propaganda poster encouraging Komsomol members to participate in farm work
Recruitment of Peasant Women

The Komsomol also had issues with recruitment and motivation of women amongst the rural populations. During NEP, this demographic represented only 8% of the organization. Poor membership numbers from rural areas were the result of a few different factors. By 1925, the failures of implementing equality in the Komsomol were evident to young rural women, as society still perceived them as inferior because they were both women and came from the peasant class. Various women’s organizations criticized the Komsomol because of these failures. Chiefly, the Women’s Bureau of the Communist Party, known as Zhenotdel, openly criticized the youth organization. Komsomol women were provided little in regards to programs that could interest them in involvement. Annual conferences, where organization leaders gathered to discuss topics interesting to female members, were truly the only activities in which early Komsomol women took part. Therefore, the Youth League made concerted efforts to fix these issues and raise membership of peasant women.

Strategies to Recruit Women-1920s

The Komsomol’s original tactic to recruit peasant women failed miserably. Representatives were sent to the countryside to reveal to potential recruits that they were being oppressed by male dominance, and that the youth organization provided them with an opportunity recreate themselves as independent women. However, women did not rally to the League in the numbers that the organization hoped for. The Komsomol turned to the Zhenotdel, which was more favorable to young peasant women, and cooperated with them to achieve better results. Another strategy was the addition of activities suited to the interests of the target demographic. Sewing and knitting classes became popular during the 1920s for rural Komsomol women. Additionally, educational classes, such as health and feminine hygiene were used to both draw more female members and alleviate concerns of rural parents. Peasant families were more inclined to allow their daughters to join the Komsomol since they knew they would be participating in beneficial programs rather than mischievous behaviors such as drinking and dancing.

“Soldier's Valour sign of Central Committee of Komsomol”. Soldier's Valour sign of the Central Committee of the Komsomol established on October 17, 1968.
Demographic issues

Soldiers returning from the Civil War, students in provincial towns, and workers fleeing the poverty of the cities established the first rural Komsomol cells in 1918. Most administrators, who wanted to retain the “proletarian character” of the organization, did not initially welcome peasants into the Komsomol. However, it soon became obvious that peasants were too large a part of the population (80%) to ignore. Also, peasants, who were benefiting from the NEP’s compromise with small producers, were in a better position to join than workers, who struggled with unemployment and other economic problems and thus had less interest in joining.

Older peasants reacted negatively to the growth of the Komsomol in rural areas. They saw the administrators as intruders who prevented their children from fulfilling their family obligations. The Komsomol needed full-time commitment, and peasant youths, who saw it as a chance for social mobility, education, and economic success, were willing to abandon their traditional duties to join. At the end of NEP, the majority of Komsomol members were peasants, while the administration remained largely urban.

Both the urban and rural populations had problems with the Komsomol’s attempts to unify the two demographics. Rural parents believed that because the League’s administration was city-centered, their children would be negatively influenced by city dwellers. In addition, land owning peasants were much more affected by the government’s revocation of private ownership, and many were uninterested in allowing their children to participate. For its part, the urban population viewed itself as superior to the peasants. They saw the rural members as backward and uneducated, and were angered by their swelling numbers.

Komsomol Badge
Leaders (First Secretary of the Central Committee)



Public safety

Public safety
Children's organization

The Komsomol received three Orders of Lenin, one Order of the Red Banner, one Order of the Red Banner of Labour, and one Order of the October Revolution. The asteroid 1283 Komsomolia is named after the Komsomol.

Of Russian origin: Komsomol

What’s in a name?

Komsomol (All-Union Leninist Young Communist League, b.1918) was a youth organization controlled by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.The name comes from the first syllables of three Russian words meaning Communist Union of Youth. In Russian - Kommunisticheskiy Soyuz Molodyozhi. This became a typical model for the formation of acronyms after the 1917 Revolution. It was used both for organizations and people. For example, many children were named Vladlen or Vladilen after the Revolution leader Vladimir Lenin.

Flag of All-Union Lenin's Communist Youth Union, VLKSM

Who were the members?

Basically, every teenager from the age of 14 in the USSR was a Komsomol member or komsomolets. It was the third stage in the hierarchy of youth organizations– the first two stages were Oktyabryonok (from October - the month in which the Bolshevik Revolution took place) and Pioner (pioneer). Only those who studied poorly or were sent to juvenile prisons did not receive this rank. Children of very religious parents were also excluded. Komsomol membership was valid up until the age of 28. But those who wanted to join the ranks of the Communist Party earlier could do so.

What did Komsomol organizations do? They encouraged good pupils and “spanked” the bad ones. They set up meetings to support the decisions of the Communist Party. In the fight against drinking in mid-1980s, for example, “alcohol-free” Komsomol weddings were heavily promoted. They also performed free labor and volunteer work – like helping poor or weak collective farmers with the autumn harvest. Surprisingly, such activities were fun for most of the young Komsomol members, as they didn’t have to go to school or university while performing these tasks.

Monthly Komsomol meetings were held in every class, in every school, in every institution.
For many teenagers, Komsomol membership was not interpreted as propaganda – it was simply a stage in their development and most still maintain fond memories today.

Joining Komsomol by S. Grigoriev. 1949
The 73-year-long history

The Komsomol was set up on 29 October 1918 - one year after the Revolution - at the first Youth Congress under the patronage of the Bolshevik Party. The aim was to teach young people the values of Communism and prepare them for life under the rule of the Communist Party. This was crucial for the Soviet Republic during the Civil War (1918-1920), when young Komsomol members showed great bravery on the fronts. Immediately following the war young people were at the forefront of rebuilding the war-devastated country.

The events of the time are described in the novel “How the Steel Was Tempered” by Nikolay Ostrovsky. In this work of fiction the writer describes his own experience during the war – specifically his work in the railway workshops in Ukraine where he was a secretary of the local Komsomol organization. The book describes the heroic deeds of the young people who built one of the railroads in Ukraine, vital for the restoration of the country’s economy. At the end of the book the main character (and the writer himself) loses his eyesight. But he does not regret sacrificing his health for the good of the country. One of the key phrases of the book is: “Properly spent is the life that doesn't leave the man agonizing over all the years gone to waste.”

These words were often quoted in schools all over the U.S.S.R. The aim was to make young people think about how they could be useful to the Communist future and what they could do for the home country.

Nikolay Ostrovsky “How the Steel Was Tempered”
Komsomol pride

The following stories are examples of how Komsomol members showed bravery throughout Soviet history.

- during the Great Patriotic War in 1941-1945 many young people fought in the Soviet Army and in the underground resistance (two of the most popular examples are Aleksandr Matrosov, the young soldier who stopped the fire of the German machine gun with his chest, and Zoya Kosmodemyankaya, an 18-year-old partisan who was captured by the Germans while setting fire to houses in the occupied German Territory and was later executed by Germans);
– in the mid-1950s when the Soviet government decided to plough the virgin soil in Northern Kazakhstan for crop harvesting (known under the name of Tselina), Komsomol members flocked to the area and set up hundreds of collective farms, surviving in the harshest conditions, that even paid workers wouldn't have dared to live;
– in the 1970s and 1980s during the construction of BAM (the Baikal-Amur mainline), which became a huge Komsomol project, tens of thousands left their hometowns in Central Russia to endure the harsh winter and summer humidity.

Neither Tselina nor BAM produced any significant economic effects. But this was the manifestation of the slogan that reveals the relations between the Komsomol and the Communist Party: “When the Party says: ‘You must!’ The Komsomol replies: ‘Will do!’”

Komsomol members at the BAM construction site
Climbing up the ladder

The Komsomol for some was a chance to show their dedication to their country. For others, this was an opportunity to make a career within the organization and advance to become a powerful member of the Communist Party. Sometimes the latter were not good students or workers – all they wanted was power.

At the end of the 1980s some Komsomol bosses were smart enough to grasp the opportunities of the free market.

They used all their Party connections to set up their businesses at low cost or even no cost at all. Among such “entrepreneurs” was Mikhail Khodorkovsky – once a very powerful man in Russia now jailed for tax evasion and embezzlement. It was the time of the so-called “Komsomol banyas” (“Komsomol bathhouses”) - young Russian nouveau riches celebrating their first business successes with alcohol and lots of women.

After the Collapse of the USSR

The Komsomol, as a compulsory all-Russia organization, ceased to exist after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. But it is still alive as a youth wing of the now opposition Communist Party. Local organizations have become more marginal and more radical – they justify the activities of Joseph Stalin and support moderate nationalism but they are no longer numerous.
The newspaper of the Komsomol, the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, outlived the organization. It is now one of best-selling tabloids in Russia.

Note: This entry was written by a former Komsomol Deputy Secretary of the Army Company who was stripped of his post for smoking “Marlboro” and being addicted to hard rock – things unimaginable for a good Komsomol member in 1980s.

Written by Oleg Dmitriev, RT


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