Leagues of Worker and Peasant Youth
Leagues of Worker and Peasant Youth
proletarian youth organizations formed in Russia after the February Revolution of 1917.
From the very first days of the revolution, worker youth gave rise to a broad movement, seeking to form independent proletarian organizations of young workers, to organize and take part in the struggle of the working class, and to defend their own economic and legal interests. As such, their aspirations were in full accord with the tasks of the class struggle of the proletariat. The Bolshevik Party, guided by Leninist principles on the upbringing of youth, inspired and organized the proletarian youth movement. Owing to the democratic freedoms won by the working class, the circumstances were favorable to active participation by worker youth in public life. In March and April 1917, Pravda published a series of articles on the RSDLP(B)’s fundamental demands concerning the life, work, and education of working youth; the mass proletarian youth movement made these demands its rallying cry.
The revolutionary youth movement reached its height in Petrograd, Moscow, the Urals, and other industrial centers. The first leagues of worker youth emerged in March and April 1917 at plants and factories, in Petrograd. Local RSDLP(B) committees formed special commissions for youth work, in so doing relying on young party members who themselves organized leagues of worker youth at enterprises and in the city district. In April and May 1917 leagues of worker youth, calling themselves socialist, were organized in the Vyborg, Peterhof-Narva, Neva, and Vasil’-evskii Island districts. The May Day demonstration—which was actually held on April 18—and the preparations that preceded the demonstration speeded the emergence of youth leagues. In Moscow, a league of worker youth was formed at the Mikhel’son Plant—now known as the Vladimir Il’ich Plant—in March and April 1917, and similar leagues were formed at other enterprises in the following weeks.
During the league’s formative period, the Bolsheviks had to contend with the bourgeois, petit bourgeois, and nationalist parties, which were attempting to seize control of the youth movement and which were forming their own youth organizations among workers and students. In June 1917, in order to consolidate its youth work, the St. Petersburg committee of the RSDLP(B) organized a commission under N. K. Krupskaia. In the same month, Pravda published Krupskaia’s article “How Should Worker Youth Organize?” The article presented a model charter for leagues of socialist youth, a charter that was used by most of the leagues in 1917. The charter set the goal of preparing conscious participants for the proletarian struggle against capitalism and declared the leagues to be part of the international proletarian youth movement. In May and June 1917, leagues of worker youth were formed in nearly all the large industrial cities—in Petrograd the interdistrict (mezhraionnyi) Socialist League of Worker Youth, in Moscow the “Third International” Zamoskvorech’e League of Worker Youth, and in other Moscow districts and then in other cities as well, other “Third International” leagues of worker youth. The Central Committee of the RSDLP(B) and Pravda helped the leagues establish ties with one another and disseminated the experience gained from organizing the Petrograd and Moscow leagues. In the summer of 1917, leagues of worker youth were also organized in district cities (uezdnye goroda) and factory settlements in central Russia, the Volga Region, and the Urals. Initially factory cells, they coalesced to form district and city leagues.
Between April and June 1917, apart from the organizationally independent, mass leagues of worker youth, to which the Bolshevik Party imparted its ideology and gave its leadership, youth leagues consisting primarily of young party members and functioning as party organizations attached to RSDLP(B) committees also were formed in a number of cities. In May and June 1917, the League of Youth of the Moscow committee of the RSDLP(B) was organized. Its charter declared its goal to be propagation of the ideas of revolutionary social democracy among the broad masses of worker youth and students. At the same time, the charter emphasized, the league was affiliated with the Moscow committee of the RSDLP(B) with the status of a separate raion organization and structured according to the principles of party organization. Prospective members were required to acknowledge the Program and tactics of the RSDLP(B). Owing to these conditions of membership, proletarian youth who were unprepared to join the party could not join the league either; such youth first had to undergo political training and education in the ranks of a mass revolutionary youth organization. As N. K. Krupskaia, drawing on Leninist doctrine on the development of the youth movement, wrote, “Organizations of worker youth should not be given a purely party character, since the broadest strata of worker youth are to be drawn into such organizations” (Slavnyipul’ Leninskogo Komsomola, vol. 1, 1974, p. 75).
As a rule, the leagues of worker youth had no cells in the enterprises, a fact that also limited their activities among worker youth. The development of the youth movement in the summer of 1917 revealed the flaws in such organizations; the principal organizational form for the movement of worker youth was thenceforth to be mass leagues of worker youth, organizationally independent and directed by committees of the RSDLP(B).
The July Days of 1917 ushered in a new stage in the history of the leagues of worker youth. Armed insurrection was the order of the day. The circumstances demanded the unity of all detachments of the proletarian army—youth included—under the leadership of the party. There was a need to synthesize the experience gained by party youth work, to formulate the tasks of the youth movement, and to define the organizational principles incumbent on the leagues of worker youth.
In July and August 1917, therefore, the Sixth Congress of the RSDLP(B) debated the question of youth leagues along with other crucial questions. In its resolution On Youth Leagues, it recognized the establishment of class-oriented socialist leagues of worker youth as one of the party’s urgent tasks, and it otherwise pointed out that the party should encourage worker youth to “form independent organizations linked with the party in spirit rather than subordinated to the party organizationally” (KPSS v rezoliutsiakh, 8th ed., vol. 1, 1970, p. 499). The congress defined the principal functions of revolutionary youth organizations as party helpers and party reserves and underscored the socialist character of the revolutionary youth organizations. The congress resolution constituted a program for the growth of the proletarian youth movement in Russia, for the consolidation of party leadership over the socialist leagues of worker youth, and for the transformation of the leagues into mass revolutionary organizations. It dealt a decisive blow to bourgeois theories concerning the classless character of the youth movement and facilitated the ideological defeat of the Menshevik–Socialist Revolutionary (SR) and scouting organizations of youth.
On Aug. 18 (31), 1917, the First Conference of the Socialist League of Worker Youth of Petrograd, representing 13,000 league members, was convened; it adopted a program and charter and elected a city committee, which included V. P. Alekseev, E. N. Pylaeva, O. L. Ryvkin, and P. I. Smorodin. By October 1917 membership in the Petrograd Socialist League of Worker Youth had grown to 20,000.
In Moscow, the Organizational Committee of the “Third International” League of Worker Youth was formed under the leadership of the RSDLP(B) city committee; it did the preliminary work for the convocation of the first Moscow city conference of the “Third International” League of Worker Youth, which met on October 8 (21) and which united all the district leagues in a single city organization—with more than 2,000 members in all. By the October days of 1917 the Moscow league numbered about 4,000; throughout Russia, the membership of all the socialist leagues exceeded 35,000.
Socialist leagues of worker youth were organized in nearly all the country’s proletarian centers—Ekaterinburg, Zlatoust, Ufa, Cheliabinsk, Perm’ (after the October Revolution of 1917 the united “Third International” Urals Socialist League of Worker Youth was founded), Kiev, Kharkov, Ekaterinoslav, and Sevastopol’. Leagues of worker youth were formed in Baku, Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Yerevan, Siberia, and the Far East.
In the countryside, the first revolutionary youth organizations sprang up in the fall of 1917 in several provinces of the Central Industrial Region, in Vologda Province, along the Volga, and elsewhere. The socialist leagues of worker youth in the industrial centers rendered assistance to these organizations of peasant youth; special provincial sections were set up in the Petrograd and Moscow committees of the socialist leagues of worker youth.
Members of the socialist leagues of worker youth took an active part in the October Armed Uprising in Petrograd, in the fighting against the counterrevolution in Moscow, and in the struggle to establish soviet power in other cities. After the victory of the socialist revolution, the socialist leagues confronted the vital task of inspiring the broad masses of youth to engage in constructive work and contribute to the defense of the Soviet Republic.
In 1918 the number of new socialist leagues of worker youth continued to grow, and existing leagues were consolidated in terms of ideology, politics, and organization. In several leagues, ideological unity among youth was forged in the struggle against the SR’s, Mensheviks, and anarchists. In late 1917 and early 1918 the socialist leagues of worker youth held various congresses and conferences in the Urals, the Far East, the Kama River region, the Central Industrial Region, and the Donbas, thus demonstrating the solidarity of proletarian youth with the Bolshevik Party. Led by the party, they involved themselves in the building of the Soviet state and in the struggle against devastation and hunger, sabotage and counterrevolution. Their members fought against Dutov and Kaledin and against the German occupation forces. They were sent by the party to work in the people’s commissariats, local soviets, trade unions, the workers’ militia, and food appropriation detachments (prodotriady). The socialist leagues of worker youth carried out a series of recruiting campaigns for the Red Army and, from the fall of 1918, fought in the partisan movement in Siberia, the Ukraine, and the Baltic Region.
As the socialist revolution took hold in the countryside, the party was aided by leagues of poor peasant youth, which, under communist leadership, were formed in the summer and fall of 1918 in Moscow, Petrograd, Vladimir, Tula, and Nizhny Novgorod provinces, in the Ukraine, and in the Urals. The leagues of peasant youth took part in the struggle against the kulaks, rendered assistance to the committees of the poor, the soviets, and the food appropriation detachments, and helped recruit peasant youth for the Red Army; in areas under enemy occupation, they fought in the partisan movement.
The socialist leagues of worker youth did a great deal of cultural-educational and propaganda work among youth. Their press—youth newspapers and journals—played an important role in inculcating class consciousness among youth and in propagating party slogans.
The party relied on prominent teachers and revolutionary-minded students to accomplish a fundamental reform of public education. In order to oppose the counterrevolutionary bour-geois-conciliationist organizations, the Bolsheviks formed revolutionary student organizations—leagues of Communist students—which included student party members and RCP(B) sympathizers. In many cities these leagues functioned as party organizations attached to the local committees of the RCP(B), taking an active part in school reform. They were not united on a countrywide scale; in practice, however, the Moscow League of Communist Students performed the functions of an all-Russian center. In some cities, such as Simbirsk, Petrozavodsk, and Viatka, the leagues, led by party committees, organized mass revolutionary youth leagues. Many leagues of Communist students took part in the partisan movement against the interventionists and White Guards.
The growth of the youth movement brought to the fore a task that had been noted as early as the Sixth Congress of the RSDLP(B)—namely, the task of uniting all socialist leagues of worker youth into a single revolutionary proletarian organization for the youth of Russia. In the summer of 1918, an organizational bureau was created to convene the First All-Russian Congress of Leagues of Worker and Peasant Youth. The bureau included socialist league representatives from Moscow, Petrograd, and the Urals. All preparations for the congress proceeded under the guidance of the Central Committee of the RCP(B), the secretary of the Central Committee of the RCP(B) Ia. M. Sverdlov, and N. K. Krupskaia, who carried out the instructions and suggestions of V. I. Lenin. On Oct. 29, 1918, the First All-Russian Congress of Leagues of Worker and Peasant Youth met in Moscow and joined the various youth organizations into a single Russian Communist Youth League (seeKOMSOMOL).
REFERENCESKPSS v rezoliutsiiakh i reshenüakh s”ezdov, konferentsü i plenumov TsK, 8thed., vol. 1. Moscow, 1970.
Slavnyiput’ Leninskogo Komsomola, vol. 1. Moscow, 1974.
Atsarkin, A. N. Zhizri i bor’ba rabochei molodezhi v Rossii (1901 g.-okt. 1917g.). Moscow, 1965.
A. N. ATSARKIN