Youth(redirected from youths)
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a social demographic group identified through age and the distinctive features of the social position of its members, as well as through sociopsychological traits determined by age and social position.
As a specific phase, or stage, of the life cycle, youth is biologically universal, but its specific age limits and the social status and sociopsychological features associated with it have their own sociohistorical nature and are dependent on the social structure, culture, and laws of socialization inherent in a particular society. Sociological research on youth presupposes a unity between analysis of the division of society into social classes and the systemic structural approach, which investigates distinctive features of the position and social functions of youth within all the age groups of a particular society, on the basis of the existing mode of production and a broader historical perspective.
In prehistoric preclass society, social characteristics were, for the most part, linked with and, to a certain extent, derived from natural biological ones. This generalization is chiefly associated with such universal attributes as sex and age, which form the foundation of the oldest natural forms of the division of labor. Most such preclass societies had a rigid system of exclusive male unions and organized age groups, which cultural anthropologists refer to as age classes. There were many variations of this system, but in most cases adherence to one age group or another was mandatory. Members of an age group were linked by bonds of group solidarity and had certain rights and obligations in relation to each other and to the community. Movement from one age group to another—particularly, the onset of maturity—was frequently formalized by a special initiation ritual. In certain societies, age groups encompassed the entire population, but in others, they included only youths who had not yet achieved full social maturity as defined by criteria accepted in the particular society. The system of age groups was a method of division of labor in society and, at the same time, a very important institution of socialization through which the old transferred their experience to the young and gave them military training. In the absence of written language, the elders, as the bearers of tribal traditions and wisdom, enjoyed the greatest respect and rights. The slow pace of social change and the strict delimitation of age group functions prevented natural age differences from growing into social conflicts. The “incompleteness” of youth’s social status was perceived as something natural and self-explanatory.
With the transition to a class society, the unity of age and social characteristics was severed. The social position and prestige of an individual were determined less by his age than by his social origin and his status as a property owner. The family gradually became the basic unit of primary socialization, and age groups lost their obligatory, formal character. Although various forms of “youth groups” existed universally in antiquity and during the Middle Ages (”urchins,” “bachelor groups,” and “kingdoms of jesters”), providing ”legal” outlets for youthful energy and lack of restraint, they fulfilled primarily subsidiary and not always precisely defined sociopsychological functions. Even the criteria for defining youth and maturity became less clear. Some ancient writers divided the life cycle by analogy with the seasons. For example, Pythagoras asserted that ”spring,” embracing childhood and youth, lasts until age 20; ”summer” runs from 20 to 40; fertile maturity (”autumn”), from 40 to 60; and old age (”winter”), from 60 to 80. Other writers proposed conventional chronological units. Solon divided human life into ten ”sevenths,” with youth beginning at age 14, the peak of physical strength falling between the ages of 21 and 28, the optimal conjugal age occupying the fifth ”seventh” of life, and the fully developed mind flourishing between 35 and 42. Still others adopted formal legal criteria to define the stages of human life.
During the Middle Ages the limits of youth were frequently set by legal criteria and the norms of common law, which regulated the conditions for the attainment of “adult” status. The English Statute of Artificers (1563) required that craftsmen in the towns and the countryside study their crafts for seven years under the observation of masters, who were responsible for them. The statute declared that “until a man grow into 23 years, he for the most part, though not always, is wild, without judgment, and not of sufficient experience to govern himself (G. M. Trevelyan, SotsiaVnaia istoriia Anglii, Moscow, 1959, p. 214 [Translated from English]). Until he was 24 and had finished a period of study, a craftsman could not marry, start work, or become a journeyman.
In the consciousness of the common people, a man was considered young (that is, lacking sufficient social status) until he started his own family. Language echoes this belief—for example, the German Junggeselle (bachelor) literally means “young fellow.” In addition, a particular life style was associated with youth in this concept, demonstrating the valuational aspect of the problem of defining youth. The concept of youth generally has meaning only in comparison with other age groups, but in many respects the character of this comparison depends on whether the accent is on the incompleteness of socialization and on the immaturity of youth (as opposed to adulthood) or on youth’s strength and creativity (as opposed to old age).
In modern times the problem has become even more complex. First, the conventional sociopsychological limits of youth have been broadened. On the one hand, acceleration has significantly hastened children’s and adolescents’ physical development and, in particular, the time of sexual maturation, which has tradition-ally been considered the lower limit of youth. On the other hand, as a result of the increased complexity of labor and of the sociopolitical activity in which man must take part, the period of training for life required by society has grown longer. This is particularly true of the period of instruction associated with low social status. Today’s youth spend a longer period of their lives in school and, consequently, are late in beginning an independent existence as members of the labor force. The criteria of social maturity have also become more complex. The beginning of independence as a member of the labor force, the completion of education and the acquisition of a stable occupation, the receipt of political and civil rights, the achievement of economic independence from parents, marriage, and the birth of a first child are events which, in their totality, give a person a feeling of full adulthood and corresponding social status. But these events do not take place at the same time, and the order in which they take place and the symbolic value of each of them are not the same in different social strata. As a result, chronological, absolute age limits are problematic. Various authors establish the lower limit of youth between 14 and 16 years of age, and the upper between 25 and 30 or even later.
The increased complexity of socialization is as important as the increasing length of the period defined as youth. Today, a young person’s personality takes shape under the influence of several relatively autonomous social factors, the most important of which are the family, the school, the mass media, and the peer group (special youth organizations, most of which are directed by adults, and numerous informal groups and associations). Owing to the multiplicity of these institutions and influences, the formative personality has a significantly greater degree of autonomy from each of them than ever before. The organization of the upbringing and instruction of youth on the principle of age, which was not considered in the medieval school, strengthens age homogeneity, facilitating the development of a selfawareness and life style (“subculture”) associated specifically with youth.
The acceleration of the pace of public life as a result of scientific and technological progress has heightened the role and significance of youth in sociopolitical and cultural life. In this regard, changing social conditions have been more important than the absolute growth of the number of young people. (In developed countries, where birthrates are lower and average life expectancy greater, young people account for a lower percentage of the total population than in the developing countries.) The higher the pace of technological and economic development and the more rapid the changes in knowledge and in working and living conditions, the more noticeable are sociocultural differences between generations. New problems and events lead to quests for fundamentally new solutions, as well as to a critical reevaluation of previous experience. Contrary to the opinions of a number of Western scholars, including M. Mead of the USA, this does not alter the basic trend in socialization, for in their search for new answers, young people rely on experience and knowledge acquired from their elders. Moreover, social succession is not reducible to the transfer of rapidly obsolescent, specialized knowledge. It also involves the assimilation of much more stable, more profound psychological structures, cultural values, and traditions, which represent the entire experience of world history. Disdain for these values, which is typical of certain members of the “new left,” leads to political adventurism. The mastery of past experience and the search for new solutions to problems arising under the conditions of the scientific and technological revolution require more active and creative participation by youth.
There are qualitative differences in the position of young people living in the two opposing social systems. Under capitalism, young people, particularly those who come from the lowest social strata, are painfully beset by unemployment and by problems associated with obtaining an education and finding opportunities to use it. Consequently, they do not feel that they are masters of their lives, and they are not confident about the future. Disillusionment with the ideals of bourgeois society creates in the consciousness of the young an enormous ideological vacuum, which many young people find impossible to fill. The majority of young people derive no satisfaction from working for the exploiters, and unilateral orientations toward consumerism lead, in the final analysis, to spiritual bankruptcy. All of this results in a feeling of protest and in dissatisfaction with the existing society. The forms taken by this protest vary. In some cases, it is best described as a total, passive nonacceptance of the bourgeois system of values—a description that is equally applicable to labor morale and consumer orientations. But the hippies’ attempts to lead a “nonacquisitive” way of life in capitalist society are doomed to failure; drug addiction or alcoholism becomes a means of “escape” from reality. Equally hopeless are attempts to revive religious faith, which most often focus on various forms of contemplative Eastern mysticism.
In conjunction with the aggravation of the general contradictions of capitalism, the political movement of youth and students in the name of socialist or democratic goals (civil equality for the Negroes and an end to the war in Vietnam) expanded in the 1960’s. Although it plays an important political role, ideologically the youth and student movement is extremely heterogeneous. It is seriously harmed by the influence of “ultraleftist” anarchistic ideologists, who lack a clear, constructive program and who play on the emotions of young people.
The heightened social importance of youth and the growth of the youth movement have stimulated interest in youth problems among scholars, particularly sociologists. “Problems of youth” ranging from sociopolitical activity and consumer orientations to crime and other forms of antisocial behavior are interpreted as consequences of the influence of the social system and of changing conditions of socialization. In addition, the problems of youth may be interpreted in the light of their internal development. However, many non-Marxist works on the sociology of youth are plagued by a number of typical errors and shortcomings. They tend to substitute psychophysiological problems for social ones and are attracted to global ideological cliches, such as the concept of a universal “conflict of generations.” Underestimating the class stratification of youth and exaggerating its cultural and ideological homogeneity, non-Marxist scholars assert that youth is an independent social class that will replace the “bourgeoisified” proletariat. Non-Marxist works on the sociology of youth also tend to regard all “modern youth” in terms of conclusions drawn from studies of youth groups from the middle strata of developed capitalist countries.
Guided by Marxist-Leninist theory, Communist parties view youth and the youth movement from a class standpoint. In a class society, youth is always nonhomogeneous in terms of class. Various sectors of youth (working, peasant, and student youth) have specific interests, in view of which class commonality objectively outweighs that of age. The position and problems of youth are substantially different in developed and developing countries. Therefore, it is impossible to speak of youth as a unified political and ideological force. V. I. Lenin always attributed great positive significance to youth, stating that ultimately “the youth— the students and still more so the young workers—will decide the issue of the whole struggle”(Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 9, p. 247). He emphasized that it is necessary to consider not only young people’s age but also their sociopsychological characteristics, which have historically been conditioned by unavoidable differences between different generations. “The middle-aged and the aged,” he wrote, “often do not know how to approach youth, for the youth must of necessity advance to socialism in a different way, by other paths, in other forms, in other circumstances than their fathers”(Poln sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 30, p. 226).
Because of its social heterogeneity, youth must be approached in a strictly differential manner. The Communist parties work systematically among working and peasant youth and pay a great deal of attention to students, whose numbers are growing rapidly. As Lenin pointed out, students “are the most responsive section of the intelligentsia, and the intelligentsia are so called just because they most consciously, most resolutely, and most accurately reflect and express the development of class interests and political groupings in society as a whole. The students would not be what they are if their political grouping did not correspond to the political grouping of society as a whole—’correspond’ not in the sense of the student groups and social groups being absolutely proportionate, in strength and numbers, but in the sense of the necessary and inevitable existence among the students of the same groups as in society”(Poln sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 7, p. 343).
The student and youth movement and its leaders must be judged more in terms of their deeds and class position than their words and slogans. “Only close ties with the working-class movement and its communist vanguard can open a truly revolutionary perspective to youth” (Mezhdunarodnoe Soveshchanie kommunisticheskikh i rabochikh partii: Dokumenty i materialy, Moscow, 1969, p. 309).
Socialism is opening fundamentally new paths for young people, providing them with opportunities for free development and creative activity. Youth occupies an important position in the social and demographic structure and sociopolitical life of socialist society. The results of the 1970 census showed that 50.8 percent of the population of the USSR was under 30 years of age, and 19.9 percent, between the ages of 15 and 29. Youth accounts for more than 54 percent of the industrial workers and more than 44 percent of the agricultural workers in the Soviet Union. Half of all the scientific workers of the USSR are under 30 years of age. Soviet youth participates in the construction of a communist society. Its vanguard, the Leninist Komsomol, unites approximately 30 million young men and women. Concern for the communist upbringing of youth and for its comprehensive development is constantly a focal point of the Communist Party’s attention.
Because there is no unemployment and because education is free and socialist society adheres to the principle of making labor not simply an occupation but a calling, the development of a system of professional orientation is very important. The harmonious intertwining of social necessity and personal inclinations is an important and, at the same time, a complex task. Lack of correspondence between the level of aspirations and real opportunities can evoke sociopsychological conflicts. The system of educating and training personnel must become more flexible and more effective. An increase in leisure time presupposes the expansion of material opportunities for its efficient use and of the range of cultural needs and requirements of the individual. Consequently, it is necessary to consider the concrete sociopsychological characteristics of the various social groups of youth (urban and rural, working, peasant, and student). Because there are so many factors in socialization (family, school, peers, mass media), their functioning must be coordinated in a scientifically valid manner. It is the task of Marxist-Leninist science to study these problems with the clear understanding that youth is not simply an object of concern and upbringing but an active subject of social activity.
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I. S. KON
What does it mean when you dream about youth?
The vision of youth in a dream may represent the younger aspect of the dreamer. To dream of one’s original innocence stimulates and invigorates the self and the psyche.