On the day of the 100th anniversary of the pioneer movement, May 19, a draft law on the creation of a new all-Russian youth movement was submitted to the State Duma. Its tasks will include, among other things, the formation of the worldview of the younger generation. RTVI asked the historian, author of works on Soviet youth and children’s literature, Dmitry Kozlov, to talk about how successfully the pioneers and the Komsomol carried out ideological work, and also about whether such an organization is needed in Russia now.
Dmitry Kozlov is a candidate of historical sciences, teacher and journalist. He is engaged in the study of the educational system of the USSR and the analysis of protest actions in the Soviet and post-Soviet space.
Is it worth reviving children’s and youth organizations at the state level?
If you hope that large funds will be allocated for this project, due to which it will be possible to amuse your pride and nostalgia, and along the way to master these funds, then, of course, it is worth it. But I feel sorry for the teachers who will have to do this in parallel with the wild teaching load. In order to educate some kind of pioneer leader, it is necessary that the conditional teacher of literature instill in the mind of the child love for the conditional Lenin. I don’t know how much one can love Lenin, Nicholas II, or Georgy Zhukov collectively now. It seems unnatural to me.
The big problem with the construction of a new ideology now is that it, even a conservative one, must offer some kind of project for the future, albeit with attention to the past. Suvorov, Kutuzov, Prince Svyatoslav, the gathering of Russian lands, a single state, the expansion of borders – all this existed in the teaching of history before the revolution, and was returned to the course of the history of the CPSU (b) under Stalin. The scheme of history, which tells about the rulers of the country and victories in wars, did not disappear either in the 90s or in the 2000s. This is the same Karamzin, supplemented by the October Revolution.
Ask any of our compatriots about history, and he will reproduce it something like this: we won on Lake Peipsi, we defeated Napoleon, Hitler, and now we will win. We inherited it from Stalin’s time, when, having somewhat pushed back the communist vision of the future, the heroic figures of Alexander Nevsky, Kutuzov, Suvorov, Ushakov and so on were returned to it. We are still studying our history along this heroic pattern.
Yes, we can talk even more about Ushakov and Georgy Zhukov. But the more we talk about them, the more caricature and funnier they will seem. Children will draw memes about them. It is very difficult to find some new hero in the past, although such attempts were made in the 90s.
Young people who can now go to war lived without this youth organization. How much has her absence affected them? I don’t think it had any effect at all. Some basic things about the heroic history of our country and so with them, they are very deeply felt.
Therefore, it seems to me that the germ of a new ideology is doomed to failure, since it is based on nostalgia for a personal past. When we talk about a person making a decision to create a new youth organization, perhaps at this moment he wants to personally feel comfortable and understandable, as it was in his childhood. This has absolutely nothing to do with either patriotic or paramilitary education. Like, it used to be good, so let’s restore it! So, I was a pioneer, a leader, then a Komsomol organizer of the class, I grew up to the first secretary of the regional committee, and then to the speaker of the upper house of parliament.
The Soviet party experience of our political elite is either none or minimal. They made state decisions as members of the new post-communist institutions. Their experience of confrontation with Soviet ideology is at the level of the late Komsomol, from which only stereotyped slogans remain. They remember him, and they think it’s good.
How successful were Soviet youth organizations in influencing a child’s worldview?
The ideological guidelines that Soviet youth organizations gave really worked and had an effect on the younger generation. But this effect was sometimes specific. On the one hand, yes, especially if we are talking about the end of the 70s and 80s, we see the de-ideologization of everyday life, which is well described, for example, in the book by Alexei Yurchak “It was forever until it ended.” All these slogans remain only in white letters written on a red banner. But a significant part of Soviet citizens, including young people, teenagers, Komsomol members, tried to put together some new meanings from these letters and words, or at least just read them with expression.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the words “Marxism”, “revolution”, “justice” are read not in the way they were muttered in political information, but with some other political feeling. Young people tried to cope with this feeling on their own, creating their own new “Komsomol”, their own “communist party” – semi-playful, semi-serious, as a rule, underground organizations. All this was before the war, under Stalin, and continued after him.
One can recall the recent bursts of activity associated, for example, with the tragic fate of Salvador Allende in Chile, which was learned from the magazine “The Same Age” or from international news. For adults, it was just another plot from another incomprehensible country, but for young people it was not. For them, it was the same bright page of the revolution as Cuba was for their parents.
As for the simple ideologemes and figures used by the propaganda, it is obvious that the official rhetoric definitely evoked some simple feelings. Lenin as the leader and founder of the Soviet state is a very powerful mythological figure. Yes, you can believe in him, you can sympathize with him, especially since far from mediocre writers, artists and filmmakers were involved in his creation.
Lenin was placed in the Soviet pantheon in an almost absolute divine position. They did not talk badly about him until the year 1989, when they began to discuss not only Stalin’s repressions and terror, but also the fact that terror began in 1918 during the living and quite active Ilyich.
Again, in this pantheon there were pioneer heroes who were also taken very seriously, albeit not quite in the way in which they were represented by the authorities. In mass perception, they were something similar to the heroes of modern mass culture. On the one hand, there is a very well-felt fear associated with the death of the same Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya or Valya Kotik. On the other hand, it is clear that they are honest, ideal, good, you want to be like them.
But even here, the de-ideologizing evil irony, at least in adolescence, also fully manifested itself – in one class or in a group, or in the yard. Some could love Lenin, and it was uncomfortable for them to listen to some rhymes, like “Stone against stone, brick against brick, our Lenin Vladimir Ilyich has died.”
On the other hand, two Lenins could coexist in a person’s head. In any religion there is a moment when, on the one hand, we believe in a deity, we are afraid of him, but at the same time we “remove” this feeling of sacred awe by some kind of deliberate profanity, desacralization. Jokes about Lenin, Armand and Krupskaya, all sorts of dubious stories that have no basis, are at this level. But this is the same mythological Lenin, he just has a second face, such an appendage to the image.
How the heroic image of Stalin returned to the minds of the youth of subsequent generations
After the 20th Party Congress, Stalin was slowly purged from the public symbolic space, but then he began to slowly return to it. After 1965, he began to appear in films about the war, then somewhere he presented himself as a great theorist, but this is for adults.
Beginning in March 1956, after the 20th Congress, Stalin was actively removed from the school curriculum. By the next academic year, Stalin is definitely not in the history books, all the events are told without his participation. It appears only in the toponym Stalingrad.
There is a good article by the American historian Kevin Platt, who says that between the 20th and 23rd Party Congresses, when Stalin had not yet been taken out of the Mausoleum, a situation arises that can be compared with the psychoanalytic concept of disavowed trauma. That is, the injury has passed, we have already experienced it, but did not work it out. We cannot say that it was not, because we see Stalin in the Mausoleum and Stalin Street.
And now, when Stalin is taken out of the Mausoleum and Solzhenitsyn is printed, everything becomes more or less clear: now he simply does not exist. Although this, too, is a rather shaky design. An untreated trauma still causes phantom pains already in the children and grandchildren of those people who caught the removal of Stalin from the Mausoleum. It was not said why they put him there, why they took him out. And if we put it there, who made a mistake and when?
At first, Stalin is behind us, then he is gone, but we try not to turn around, and when we turn around, we don’t understand how to talk about it at all. We have to come up with some designs that satisfy a particular person. It turns out that we were deceived once, another time. This means that we need to roll back to some unshakable truth, which for many is that Stalin was unfairly slandered by subsequent rulers who hid the truth from us. This is trust in Stalin as an absolute infallible power, to which I wanted to devote myself completely.
What was the late Soviet pioneer
Pioneer, Komsomol organizations were one of the tools for introducing ideology into the minds of young people, as well as direct propaganda in newspapers, or feature films – let’s take the same “Elusive Avengers”. What every late Soviet child knew about the civil war was more likely to be gleaned from a movie made in the 70s.
Pioneer was conceived as a mass politicized youth organization, as it was in other totalitarian regimes. As a powerful institution for processing all its members, when everything must be the same, think correctly and believe in what they say and what they are told. But when the ideology grew old, decrepit, and by itself emasculated to some separate slogans, the pioneers began to engage mainly in extracurricular activities – circles, trips, and so on.
The pioneer organization, like its counterparts in other countries, is primarily teaching some skills that are not transferred as part of schooling. And it is clear that any person remembers his childhood and youth with tenderness. But is this nostalgia enough to become the basis of a new ideology? It is one thing forty-year-old, fifty-year-old uncles and aunts who, looking at the new pioneers, will remember how good it was under Brezhnev. But will their children and grandchildren, who now live in another world, understand this?