Student Movement

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Student Movement


the struggle of students in defense of their interests and their participation in political struggle in general.

Student involvement in public, political, and social issues had become an important factor in the Western European countries by the first half of the 19th century. Politically active students from the bourgeoisie and petite bourgeoisie took part in the struggle against feudal and monarchical reaction. Thus, in Germany they helped organize such demonstrations as the one at Wartburg Castle in 1817, in France they joined secret republican societies and student clubs, and in Italy they worked together with the Carbonari and the Young Italy organization. In a number of countries they were active in the revolutions of 1848–49.

With the growing mass movement of socialist workers in the second half of the 19th century, the progressive students of Western Europe began to side with the working class. However, the majority of students did not take part in the workers’ movement, and certain groups within the student population adopted reactionary nationalistic ideologies. Russia’s student youth became actively involved in the revolutionary democratic movement in the mid-19th century and even more so in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

By the late 19th century, some attempts had been made to create a coordinating center for the international revolutionary student movement. The International Congress of Socialist Students, convened in Geneva in December 1893, established an international secretariat to link more closely together the socialist students of various countries. F. Engels sent a letter of greetings to the congress (see K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch, 2nd ed., vol. 22, p. 432).

At the beginning of the 20th century, an important event of the international socialist youth and student movement was the Stuttgart International Conference of Socialist Youth Organizations (1907), which gave impetus to the formation of the Socialist Youth International. During World War I, many socialist students firmly and actively opposed the social chauvinism of the leaders of the Second International, although their positions were often marked by the same inconsistency as the resolutions of the Bern International Socialist Conference of Youth of 1915.

The student population became increasingly differentiated during the revolutionary upsurge following the Great October Socialist Revolution. The best among the students were active in the revolutionary struggle and in the early communist youth organizations, which then merged in the Communist Youth International (CYI). The majority of students in the capitalist countries, however, adopted bourgeois positions; some defended the bourgeois parliamentary system, while others were influenced by extreme right-wing reactionary and nationalist elements.

A number of international student bodies became active in the 1920’s, such as the World Student Christian Federation (founded 1895), the World University Service (1920), and the Catholic student organization Pax Romana (1921). These corporation-like organizations sought to involve students in issues that were purely academic or specifically student-related, such as efforts to improve learning and living conditions and to protect university autonomy.

The student movement in Latin America grew rapidly after World War I. For example, university reforms were demanded in the Córdoba manifesto of 1918, issued by Argentine students and supported by students of the entire continent. Students fought against US domination of Latin America, the militarist clique, the oligarchies, and the authorities’ support of incompetent and reactionary teachers.

In the mid-1930’s, with fascism preparing for another world war, progressive students worked to unite all antifascist youth. To further this goal, the Sixth Congress of the CYI (September-October 1935), following instructions from the Seventh Congress of the Comintern (July-August 1935), called upon communist youth organizations to overcome their sectarian self-isolation and create mass youth and student organizations. Among the international meetings that helped unite students of various countries in the antifascist struggle were the World Student Congress (Brussels, December 1934) and the International Congress of Socialist and Communist Students (Paris, July 1937), which founded the International Student Alliance.

During World War II, hundreds of thousands of students in many countries joined in the armed struggle against fascism, either at the front or within the resistance movement. International solidarity among progressive students grew steadily. At student meetings held in London in 1941, it was decided that November 17 be proclaimed International Students’ Day, to commemorate the antifascist demonstrations by Czech students in November 1939. (The most important of these had been the demonstration held in Prague on November 15—the day of the funeral of Jan Opletal, a student killed in a clash with the fascist occupiers; it was followed, on November 17, by reprisals against the students.) International conferences of antifascist students were held in the United States in 1942 and 1943.

The common struggle against fascism served to unite democratic students into a truly worldwide movement. Following the establishment of the World Federation of Democratic Youth in November 1945, a world conference of students was held in Prague, at which participants agreed to convene a congress in 1946 to create a new international student organization. At the World Students’ Congress, which met in Prague on Aug. 18, 1946, the International Union of Students (IUS) was founded; it included 35 national student unions representing 2.5 million members. The IUS worked actively for peace and waged a struggle against the threat of a new war, fascism, colonialism, imperialism, and the militarization of higher education; it also worked for increasing democracy in education and improving students’ living conditions and educational environment.

Opposition to the IUS came from both student and nonstudent reactionary circles, which strove to channel the student movement along the lines of cold war policies and to use it for subversive activities against socialist countries as well as against democratic and peace-loving forces in the West. Beginning in 1948, the leaders of some national student unions in the West, including the United States, Great Britain, Australia, and France, adopted policies tending to subvert the IUS and to split the international student movement. The International Student Conference, convened in Edinburgh in January 1952, established the Coordinating Secretariat of student unions (ISC-COSEC; from 1964, ISC). This international organization led the struggle against the IUS and the democratic student movement. ISC leaders spoke out against student participation in social and political struggles and attempted to limit the student movement to the area of students’ institutional interests. The goals and activities of the ISC-COSEC, however, failed to gain support among students. In Quebec, in 1962, the delegations of 27 national student organizations walked out of the Tenth International Student Conference and broke with the ISC-COSEC. Again, at the organization’s 12th conference, held in Nairobi in 1966, 16 national student unions expressed their disagreement with ISC policies. The ISC was dissolved in 1969, when the American press revealed the connections between the ISC leadership and the CIA, which had financed the ISC through the US National Student Association. The IUS thus remained the largest international student organization: in 1978 it included 94 national student unions, or more than three-quarters of the organized student movement. Many international student assemblies of different types, including the World Festivals of Youth and Students, are organized with the active help of the IUS. In 1978 the Eleventh World Festival of Youth and Students was held in Cuba.

The 1960’s were marked by the student movement’s upsurge in the capitalist world. The student demonstrations of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s were particularly stormy and of unprecedented scope. This new growth of the student movement is closely related to the sharpening of social contradictions in bourgeois society that accompany the development of state-monopoly capitalism and to the deepening antagonisms between the financial oligarchy and the vast majority of the population, as well as to the scientific and technological revolution of our time; these processes bring together the numerically growing salaried intelligentsia and the working class, at the same time moving many in the former group to adopt anticapitalist views.

As noted by V. I. Lenin, students are the most responsive part of the intelligentsia (see Poln. sobr. soch, 5th ed., vol. 7, p. 343), and consequently the student movement reflects with particular clarity the changing status, composition, and ideology of the intelligentsia. No longer does the majority of the intelligentsia constitute a privileged stratum. A growing number of students in the capitalist countries are faced with the prospect of joining the ranks of the proletariat or even the army of the unemployed, and they are therefore becoming increasingly hostile toward the capitalist system. Students are sharply critical of the bourgeois educational system and its outdated structure, the social discrimination with respect to admission to higher educational institutions, the subordination of education to the interests of the monopolies and the military-industrial complex, the high cost of education and the limited number of stipends, which force many students either to abandon their schooling or to work in order to complete their education, and the increasing difficulties in finding employment.

Realizing that the true causes of the crisis in higher education are to be found in the capitalist socioeconomic system, students carry on the struggle against the system with characteristic youthful enthusiasm and energy. Their political activism and their rapidly growing numbers (since World War II the student population has doubled or tripled in the advanced capitalist countries) will ensure their ever greater role in public life. At the same time, a large segment of the student population is politically inexperienced, socially heterogeneous, and poorly organized, and it lacks the habit of day-to-day sustained revolutionary activity, while exhibiting the romanticism and impatience characteristic of youth; these conditions facilitate the infiltration of student ranks by activists of the extreme left—for example, by anarchists and Trotskyists. Furthermore, some of the students were considerably influenced by such petit bourgeois and bourgeois ideologists as H. Marcuse, P. Goodman, A. Hoffman, J. Rowntree, and M. Rowntree, who attempted to counterpose the student movement to the struggle of the working class. All these varied influences were evident in the violent student demonstrations that took place between 1968 and 1971 at the universities of many of the advanced capitalist countries, including the United States, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Spain, and Japan-. Student demands covered a wide range of pressing political problems. In many German cities, such as Cologne, Munich, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hanover, Bonn, and West Berlin, students and youth demanded the abolition of emergency regulations and demonstrated against neo-Nazism and Springer’s yellow press. In the United States—in Washington, D.C., New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, and elsewhere—hundreds of thousands of students marched in protest against American aggression in Indochina and in defense of the civil rights of the black population and of other oppressed ethnic minorities. In Tokyo and in other Japanese cities, student demonstrators demanded repeal of the Japanese-American security treaty, improvements in education, and better living conditions for students. In France, the student demonstrations of May 1968 were an important factor in the workers’ growing struggle against the monopolies and the Gaul-list regime—a struggle that culminated in the general strike of May-June 1968, involving some 10 million people.

To achieve its goals, the student movement’s struggle in the 1960’s and 1970’s took the form of street demonstrations, protest marches, discussion meetings, and the occupation of universities and student dormitories. Many new political student organizations were formed, in addition to the traditional national student unions. Some of the new organizations were created by Trotskyists or by groups with anarchist tendencies—for example, the Movement of March 22 in France, which lasted four months in 1968 (in fact, most of these leftist groups were short-lived); other student organizations experienced internal conflicts between the leftists and the opponents of leftist extremism. The 1960’s and 1970’s also saw the revival of some reactionary, profascist student organizations, as well as the formation of new democratic youth and student organizations in some of the capitalist countries—for example, the Spartacus Association of Marxist Students was founded in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) in 1969 (renamed the Marxist Students’ League in May 1971; commonly known as Spartacus). This period was marked by the communists’ growing influence among the organized student leadership in France, Great Britain, Japan, and the FRG, as well as by the growing power of communist student organizations in the FRG, in Finland, and in France.

The Communist parties of the advanced capitalist countries actively support the democratic, anti-imperialist student movement in its demonstrations, by which the students fight “not only against the inadequacies of a backward educational system ... and for the right to have their own organizations and to effectively participate in the administration of educational centers, but also against the policies of the ruling classes” (Mezhdunarodnoe Soveshchanie kommunisticheskikh i rabochikh partii: Dokumenty i materialy, Moscow, 1969, p. 309). With their firm condemnation of left-wing extremism in the student movement, Communists are working for the union of all democratic student organizations and for united action by students and the working class.

The student movement’s role in public life is also growing in Latin America, where students are opposing US imperialism and its supporting local oligarchy and demanding a democratic reform of the universities. The socialist transformation of Cuba has had a tremendous revolutionary effect on the progressive students of Latin America. The activities of the Latin American student organizations are coordinated by the Latin American Continental Student Organization, founded in 1955 and reorganized along anti-imperialist lines in 1966.

The student movement has been active to varying degrees in the developing nations of Asia and Africa. In some of these countries, including Iraq, Algeria, and Syria, students support their governments’ efforts toward economic self-sufficiency and a progressive transformation of society, while often criticizing the inadequacy of the efforts. With the growth of the student movement in Asia and Africa, the need arose to create, in these areas, regional student organizations; these were to replace the disintegrating student unions, which mainly consisted of students being educated in the West. The Asian Students’ Union was created in 1969, and the All-African Students’ Union in 1972.

In the socialist countries, where higher education has been democratically restructured, the students’ social activism is part of the workers’ struggle to raise the socialist economic and cultural level and to promote world peace and social progress.

Students in the socialist countries combine education with constructive work, scientific research, and sociopolitical activities. In the USSR and in other socialist countries, students participate directly in the administration of educational institutions; they are members of scientific, cultural, sports, and social organizations that deal with educational issues and with students’ living conditions, work, and leisure. An integral part of the education and training of specialists in the socialist countries is their public and research activity in scientific and technical associations and their participation in productive work that is closely related to the needs of the economy and of socialist and communist construction. Students are encouraged to take part in competitions in the natural sciences, technology, humanities, and social sciences.

The Komsomol and the other fraternal youth organizations in the socialist countries are working to further the Marxist-Leninist and communist education of students, to raise scholastic achievement levels, to develop students’ creative potential, and to promote student participation in public life. Students have shown a high level of social activism by their mass participation as volunteers in economic development work—by joining, for example, the student construction detachments in the USSR, the brigade movement in Bulgaria, or the Freundschaft brigades in the German Democratic Republic. The participation of the socialist countries’ student organizations in the international student movement, in campaigns for anti-imperialist student solidarity, and in the activities of the IUS is an important component of their sociopolitical activity.

Students all over the world are working in support of the people’s struggle for peace, international security, peaceful coexistence, and cooperation between nations. In 1969 hundreds of thousands of students from various countries joined in mass demonstrations, marches, solidarity meetings, and fund-raising efforts as part of a campaign of world solidarity with the struggle of the Vietnamese people for freedom, independence, and peace, launched in Helsinki, as well as in the worldwide 1970–73 campaign for youth solidarity against imperialism. European students have met regularly since 1959; their 15th meeting took place in Bulgaria in 1978. These meetings are devoted to such issues as cooperation among the students of Europe and their contribution to the strengthening of European security. Progressive student organizations took an active part in the Assemblies of Social Forces for Security and Cooperation in Europe (Belgium, 1972 and 1975) and in the World Congress of Peace-loving Forces (Moscow, October 1973). The growing international student movement in support of the Chilean democratic struggle is part of an international campaign, launched by the IUS in 1973, aimed at making every university a center of solidarity with Chile. The Twelfth Congress of the IUS (Sofia, October 1977), which included 94 national student organizations, discussed a program of joint activities to achieve peace, security, cooperation, national independence, a democratic and modern education, and student rights.

Cooperation is growing between the IUS and other international and regional student organizations—the World Student Christian Federation, the International Student Movement for the UN (an independent organization since 1954), the International University Sports Federation (founded 1957), the Latin American Continental Student Organization, the All-African Students’ Union, and other international student organizations. The student movement today is becoming increasingly progressive and ever more active in the struggle for democracy, peace, security, and national independence.


Marx, K., and F. Engels, O molodezhi. Moscow, 1972.
Lenin, V. I. O molodezhi. Moscow, 1970.
Brezhnev, L. I. Molodymstroit’ kommunizm [a collection], 2nd ed. Moscow, 1974.
Molodezh’nashe budushchee: KPSS o komsomole i zadachakh kommunisticheskogo vospitaniia molodezhi v sovremennykh usloviiakh. Moscow, 1974.
Mezhdunarodnoe Soveshchanie kommunisticheskikh i rabochikh partii: Dokumenty i materialy. Moscow, 1969.
Vsesouiznyi slet studentov. Moscow, 1972.
Kommunisty i molodezh’. Prague, 1962.
Batalov, E. Ia. Filosofiia bunta. Moscow, 1973.
Fal’shivye proroki. Moscow, 1973.
Bannov, B. Miatezh vozmushchennogo razuma. Moscow, 1970.
Grachev, A. Porazhenie Hi urok? Moscow, 1977.
See also references under YOUTH MOVEMENT.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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