By: Sima Vasilver
The Komsomol, formally known as the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League (or VLKSM) was the youth organization of the Communist Party. It was formed in 1918 and was composed of youth 14-28 years old. As an organization, it had little to no influence on Soviet policies, but was an important propaganda tool for the regime. Lenin himself believed in the importance of education young Soviet members in establishing a new society. The Komsomol was composed of millions of members throughout its existence, and had a significant influence over member’s lives. In addition to teaching the values of the Communist Party, it stressed moderation and discipline, and highly discouraged activities such as smoking and drinking. These were considered “temptations of bourgeois life” – not enough however, to discourage youth during the NEP, resulting in a significant membership drop around the 1920s.
Once the Komsomol found its footing again though, it became a significant organization in the Soviet regime. It ultimately served as a pool of labor and activists, and saw its members in high positions of the government. Studying the Komsomol can provide interesting insight into the Soviet regime. Because the Soviet saw their children as the future of the nation, what it chose to teach and instill upon them bears significance as it is representative of the direction leaders believed the nation was headed in. The collection of sources below seeks to provide a variety of information on the Komsomol, from general background to specifics such as the Komsomol woman or notable comparisons between the Komsomol and the Hitler Youth. Research guides dedicated specifically to this topic aren’t readily found on the internet, nor do many primary sources and documents exist. There are potential archives in Russia with useful documents, but unfortunately these collections are not accessible online. There is a separate section in this guide dedicated to peasant-Komsomol relations, as this was a significant point of debate within the organization and is worth exploring further. Historians have dedicated either sections of their books to the Komsomol, or written articles with a very specific and narrow focus; this guide seeks to explore any potential sources and get as much information as possible on the Komsomol.
This is a Komsomol document found on this archive on social – political history from the Russian government. Both the website and the document are in Russian. The document describes the Central Party Committee giving a task to the heads of the Komsomol, local party organizations, and soviet organizations to select 50 people under 40, and 50 people under 35 to go to a 2-year training program to prepare for the KGB. Asking the organizations to send their best people, they CPC give quotas for each local organization. Another document, published later on, reveals that the officials from these organizations who went to this training program, returned back to their organizations and were promoted to high positions with lots of power. The document emphasizes that the KGB, through placing it’s officers in these leading positions in the aforementioned organizations, was essentially in control of them.
The documents were signed in 1977 by Yuri Andropev, Chaiman of the KGB at the time and Alexei Kosygin, Chairman of the Council of Ministers.
This is the current website of the Komsomol. It publishes current events, international news, and the history of the Komsomol, and general updates in the Komsomol. It is worth a visit to see both what the Komsomol’s role is today, and to get a first-hand perspective of the organization’s history.
This is a link to the Komsomolskaya Pravda (Komsomol Truth.) During the Soviet reign, it served as the All-Union paper of the Soviet Union and an official organ of the Komsomol. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it began to serve as a Russian daily tabloid newspaper. The archives don’t seem to go too far back so there isn’t much information from before the collapse, but it still interesting to note that the Komsomol hasn’t disassociated itself with this paper to this day, and attaches its name to this tabloid.
PATTERN FOR SOVIET YOUTH: A STUDY OF THE CONGRESSES OF THE KOMSOMOL
In this book, Fisher focuses on the importance of the fact that unlike other western youth organizations, the Komsomol played no role in policy-making. Despite this however, it still played an important role in training political leaders of the party. Fisher creates a chronological account of the changes of Komsomol activity and indoctrinational patterns. This proves useful as it parallels the changes of the organization with the changes in the party and country, and how they had an effect on one another.
Fisher, Ralph Talcott Jr. Pattern for Soviet Youth A Study Of The Congresses Of The Komsomol, 1918-1954. New York: Columbia University Press, 1960.
THE KOMSOMOL AND WORKER YOUTH: THE INCULCATION OF ‘COMMUNIST VALUES’ IN LENINGRAD DURING NEP
This article talks about the several ways the Komsomol tried to inculcate Soviet proletarian, revolutionary, and communist values. Methods explored include social work and sport, communal living, ‘red christenings,’ and books and cinema. This is a good resource as it examines not only Komsomol ideology, but methods through which it spread and enforced that ideology.
Gooderham, Peter. “The Komsomol and Worker Youth: The Inculcation of ‘Communist Values’ in Leningrad During NEP.”Soviet Studies 34, no. 4 (October 1, 1982): 506–528.
THE BIRTH OF THE PROPAGANDA STATE: SOVIET METHODS OF MASS MOBILIZATIONS, 1917-1929
This book is about the evolution of Bolshevik propaganda, and features a section specifically about the Komsomol. The book uses the Komsomol as a case study for political use of “voluntary organizations.” It claims that the Komsomol was important in the beginning of the regime as it gave a place for enthusiasts to have a voice, and during the NEP period where in some places, it served as the only reminder of Soviet power.
Kenez, Peter. The Birth of the Propaganda State: Soviet Methods of Mass Mobilization, 1917-1929. London: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
THE COMMUNIST YOUTH LEAGUE AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE SOVIET UNION, 1917-1932
This book focuses on the social and political dimension of Komsomol membership during the 1917-1932 period. It also studies the relationship between the organization and the regime of the time, broadening understanding of the organizations development and evolution.
Neumann, Matthias. The Communist Youth League and the Transformation of the Soviet Union, 1917-1932. New York: Routledge, 2011
RUSSIA’S YOUTH AND ITS CULTURE: A NATION’S CONSTRUCTORS AND CONSTRUCTED
This book studies the development of Russian youth culture from Perestroika and the collapse of the Soviet Union by tracing back cultural themes of the youth. It includes a couple of chapters on the Komsomol and focuses mainly on its role on the post-revolutionary youth
Pilkington, Hilary. Russia’s Youth and Its Culture: a Nation’s Constructors and Constructed. New York: Psychology Press, 1994.
PEASANTS AND THE KOMSOMOL:
PEASANTS INTO SOVIETS: RECONSTRUCTING KOMSOMOL IDENTITY IN THE RUSSIAN COUNTRYSIDE OF THE 1920S
This is an article based on more than a thousand letters from Komsomol members to the newspapers Peasant News and Peasant Youth Journal, examining the rural/peasant Komsomol member and drawing on common recurring themes. The letters capture the voice of the rural Komsomol and reflect the increasing presence of the Komsomol among peasants. This source gives a good general overview of what it was like to be a Komsomol in rural peasant areas, and the role members played in that area.
Tirado, Isabel. “Peasants into Soviets: Reconstructing Komsomol Identity in the Russian Countryside of the 1920s.” Slavic Reseach Center, Hokkaido University 18 (2001): 42–63.
THE KOMSOMOL AND YOUNG PEASANTS: THE DILEMMA OF RURAL EXPANSION, 1921-1925
In this article, Tirado examines the controversy of peasant recruitment among the Komsomol. She does a good job exploring the controversy as it covers topics such as the pattern of Komsomol expansion in the rural areas, peasant reception of this expansion, and the many other points of the debate surrounding the controversy. The controversy and debate surrounding it manifested itself in many ways, and Tirado writes that in a way it “masked” multiple conflicts, such as Komsomol leadership refusing to compromise with the peasantry as inherent in the NEP. Ultimately, this divide between the city and countryside would prove troublesome well into the future of Soviet history.
Tirado, Isabel A. “The Komsomol and Young Peasants: The Dilemma of Rural Expansion, 1921-1925.” Slavic Review 52, no. 3 (October 1, 1993): 460–476
OTHER PERSPECTIVES ON THE KOMSOMOL:
THE KOMSOMOL AND THE HITLER JUGEND
In this article, Gould compares the handbooks of the Komsomol and the Hitler Jugend to emphasize the role of political education as an instrument of social control in a dictatorship country. Studying the Komsomol handbook provides useful insight into Soviet belief-systems and priorities, and comparing it to another youth organization helps place it in a broader context. Gould contrasts the two, emphasizing the Komsomol to have a more “defensive patriotism” air, as opposed to the handbook of the Hitler Youth, which places its emphasis on violence and the more dominant quality of Nazi society.
Gould, Julius. “The Komsomol and the Hitler Jugend.” The British Journal of Sociology 2, no. 4 (December 1, 1951): 305–314.
THE SHATTERED SELF OF KOMSOMOL CIVIL WAR MEMOIRS
In this article, Guillory interviews Komsomol civil war members and illustrates how the wars shaped their sense of self. For many, their sense of self became “shattered” as the trauma they experienced produced a darker version of themselves. This is a good source as it offers a perspective different from many other memories – a negative one. During a time when most of the published Komsomol literature served to unite everyone under a purpose, it is interesting to see that it ultimately did just the opposite – created fragments within people that would not be able to get fixed. These memoirs are also interesting in that they provide a sharp contrast to the wars’ current heroic memory.
Guillory, Sean. “The Shattered Self of Komsomol Civil War Memoirs.” Slavic Review 71, no. 3 (October 1, 2012): 546–565.
PERFORMING THE NEW WOMAN: THE KOMSOMOLKA AS ACTRESS AND IMAGE IN SOVIET YOUTH THEATER
In a period dominated by the “new soviet man” and female membership of the Komsomol dropping to about a quarter of all members, few females played significant roles in the organization. This article explores the role of the female Komsomol member in the context of the Komsomol theater of the 1920s – The Leningrad Theater of Working Class Youth. The article examines ten of the eleven plays performed at this theater, providing a perspective on gender relations about youth, and eventually on the creation of the Komsomolka (the female Komsomol member.) This is a great source because there are very few resources that mention in depth a woman playing any significant role in the organization – which alone says a lot about gender relations in the organization
Mally, Lynn. “Performing the New Woman: The Komsomolka as Actress and Image in Soviet Youth Theater.” Journal of Social History 30, no. 1 (October 1, 1996): 79–95.
YOUTH! IT’S YOUR TURN!
Although this article’s main focus is to explore the concept of the “generation,” it uses the Komsomol to do so, and thus reveals a lot of interesting information about the organization. It studies how this young constituency emerged, from the conception of the party forward. The author uses sociologist Karl Mannheim’s generational studies to examine the formation of the Komsomol and provides useful information on understanding what may have led the youth to join the Komsomol, and the circumstances and experiences surrounding that decision.
Neumann, Matthias. “‘Youth, It’s Your Turn!’: Generations and the Fate of the Russian Revolution (1917–1932).” Journal of Social History 46, no. 2 (2012): 273–304.