Soviet Young Pioneers


Figure 1.--Soviet Young Pioneers are shown here in 1965 participating in a ceremony at a World War II memorial. The boys wear red scarves, white shirts, and blue long or short pants. Many of the boys in shorts wear white socks.

The Soviet Union was the world's first modern totalitarian state. After the Civil War as the Bolshevicks began to consolidate their power they began to create a youth movement to shape the upcoming generation. Totalitarian states must control all aspects of the population's life. And shaping youth is a critical aspect of this. At the time the principal international youth movement was the Boy Scouts and Scouting influenced the new Pioneer Movement. Unlike Scouting, however, there was little family involvement. The Pioneer Movement was entirely comtrolled by the state through the Communist Party. The Party used the Pioners to indoctrinate young people in Communist ideology and as a way of recruiting and evaluating new recruits. At first it was a movement just for the workers but was eventually broadened into a mass movement for all young people. The Young Pioneers became virtually compulsory and was managed through the schools. The Government underwrote the costs of the Pioneer Movement including a summer camp program. One interesting aspect of the Pioneers is the rapidity with which the movement disapeared after state financial support was ended.

Foundation

The Communist Revolution in Russia occured during 1917, before the Scouting movement could be established to any extent. Scouting has always been a middle-class movement. The Communists instead set up the Young Pioneer movement to involve all children. The Communist Party (CPSU) was the most important organization in the Soviet Union. The Party used youth groups like the Young Pioneers as part of its overall program to inculcate Communist ideology. Other potentially competing youth groups were outlawed. The first Pioneer groups were founded at industrial plants (1922). Membership was at first resticted to socilly acceptable groups, especially workers. We do note the Pioneer camp "Artek" was opened in 1925. The first All-Union Pioneer Rally, I think that this was something like a Scout Jamboree, took place in Moscow during 1929.

Chronology

Shortly after the Russian revolution in 1917, the communist government took serious steps to break down the strength of other social institutions. The government took control of the economy by establishing a command model economy. It closed churches and burned as many religious books as it could find to keep the ideas from being further circulated. It tried to break down the family by requiring parents to send their children to state-operated boarding schools controlled and staffed by communist party members in which students were not only educated according to party principles but also taught that the state was the entity they could count on to care for them. While students in the state-run boarding schools were not required to join the party's youth group, the Young Pioneers, they soon learned that membership was rewarded and non-membership subtly punished by both teachers and fellow students. Thus, the government gradually gained control over both people and nearly all aspects of their lives while at the same time reducing or eliminating the influence of social institutions it could not control.

Introduction

There was a formal ceremony for the children in grade/year 3 formally introducting them into the the Young Pioneers. The children in year 3 were was 9-10 years old. All the children were inducted into the Pioneers at one time each year. Some of the children were not yet 10 years old, but they would be coming up on bring 10 years old. The ceremony was always held on April 22, 1870, the birth date of V.I. Lenin. There was an important ceremony which took place in front of all the Pioneers in the school, meaning almost all of the school in the school assembly hall. With the sound of drums, the Pioneer banner was brought into the assembly hall. The Pioneer leader then gave a small speech. It is at this time that each new Pioneer would recite the Pioneer oath and have his red neckerchief tied on. A Russian reader writes, "I also once stood in this rank of third graders and with a sinking heart awaited when it was my turn to say the oath and have my neckerchied tied on me.

Levels

Personal advancement in the Soviet Union required membership in the Communist Party. Carreer advancements were sigbnificantly affected by Party membership. Opportunities You couldn't become a member of the KPSU until you were old enough, but there were other groups or clubs that were created for children and teenagers to participate in and to train for future party membership. The Young Pioneers were an important part of this. And a good record in the Pioneers was importnt to gain access to university education. There were three different levels to the Communist youth movement. The first was the Children of October, the youngest Pioneer level. Next was the main Young Pioneer group. After graduating from the Pioneers, a select group of ideloically committed teenagers, or at least teenagers who appeared to accept the regime's ideology, were selected to the Komsomol.

National Organization

The Pioneers were a national organization. The program was created at a central (All Union) organization and distribyted around the county. Each republic had it's own Pioeer organization. The largest by far was the Russian Republic. We hve very little informaion on the various republics, but will create pages as information becomes available. We have some information on Azerbaijan.

Participation

While students were theoretically not required to join the Young Pioneers, they soon learned that membership was rewarded and non-membership subtly punished by both teachers and fellow students. Few children refused to join. A Russian reader reports, "ALL the school students of that age were Pioneers. Exceptions unknown to me. At the age of 15 nearly all of them joined the Komsomol (Young Communist League). There were 23 million Pioneers in 1970. We notice that in many phjotographs of school groups that their are often a few children who are not wearing their scarves. We are unsure if these were children who chose not to partiicipate in the Pioneers or if they just forgot towear their scarves on the day the photograph was taken. Given there are usually only a few, we assume the school put considerable ekmphasis on participation. This appears to have varried over time. There may have also been regional differences.

Ethos

Baden Powell's Boy Scouts was used as a protype for the Young Pioneers. The ethos of the pioneers followed many precepts of the Scouts such as loyalty, honesty, be prepared, ect. but the precepts of citzenship taught were quite different. The Scouts always tried to involve the family and stressed a boy's responsibilities in it. The Pioneers, however, were a state organ designed to instill a child's duty to the State and to help ensure his socialization was not contaminated by parents not committed to the Socialist ideal. the best example of this is Pavlik Morozov 1918(?)-1932(?), the mosdt famous pioneer of all time. Pavlik was supposedly killed by "kulak" (wealthy peasants who resisted collectivization) relatives for denouncing his father to Stalin's secret police (OGPU-NKVD). He was adopted as a patron saint by the "Young Pioneers". It is incoceivable of a British or American boy being so honored by the Scouts. The ideological component may have changed over time. A Russian reader believes that the Pioneers are poorly understood in the West, he comments, "Special communistic Ideology was not a major component of the Pioneers as is commonly accepted in the West. What was emphasized was patriotic education."

Exclusive Youth Group

The Communist Party insisted on controlling all organizations involving children. As a result, while using the Scouts as a prototype, they outlawed the Scouts. Adults trying organize Scout groups received prison sentences. As rescently as the 1990s, Soviet Police were preventing the organization of Scout groups. Organizers report being harassed and actually physically attacked. For details see the individual Scout country pages: Ukraine.

Activities

We do not yet have details on just what activities Young Pioneers were involved in. The activities seem far more limited than the Scouting program. One reader writes, "We dressed in uniforms met in school, never in homes or of course churches. I remember playing table tennis (ping pong) and other games of this type. During our school vacations in the summer we went to camps." As far as we can tell, the program was primarily limited to a limited range of school-based activities and the annual summer camp. There does not seem to have been any kind of merit badge program. One activity that we do about was that the Pioneers were used as a way of organizing children to participate in parades for important national celebrations. Small groups of Pioneers alsp participate in a varietyy of ceremonial functions. Hopefully our Russian readers will provide us more details about the activities they ebgaged in as Young Pioneers.

Uniforms

I do not yet have any detailed information on Soviet Young Pioneer uniforms. Some rough assessments can be made from available photographs. Photographs suggest that the boys usually wore a simple white shirt, red kerchief, and dark trousers--I think blue trousers. There was an official pioneer cap, but it does not seem to have been commonly worn. I think that the pioneer uniform was basically the same as their school uniform, which included a jacket. The boys always seem to wear long pants with their school uniform. During the summer, especially at camps, the boys often wore short pants. I have seen, however, more elaborate uniforms, but I'm not sure how common it was for Young Pioneer members to have the more elaborate uniforms.

Bands

I do not know of any Pioneer bands or band competions as sometimes practiced in Scouting. Some Pioneer units, however, seem to have bugglers or perhaps small band units. More information is needed here. Hopefully some Russian readers will help us with information here. The boys involved would normally wear the full forma uniform.


Figure 2.--The Russian boys in the 1980s appear to belong to a naval unit of the Young Pioneers. They appear to be accurate reproductions of actual Soviet naval uniforms.

Specialized Divisions

There may been specialized Soviet pioneer units much as the Boy Scouts have Sea and Air Scout units. I have no information on this, but the image here shows Russian boys in sailor suits as part of a organized youth group. We note marine Young Pioneers with different uniforms. Presumably in the Soviet Union there were no organized youth groups organizationally independent from the pioneers. I know nothing about the organization of such specialized Pioneer divisions yet, but the existence of independent units seem likely. We know that there were specialized marine Young Pioneers. We think there were other specislized groups, but have no information at this time.

Related Information

HBU has collected other information about the Soviet Young Pioneers.

Soviet children's literature

Soviet children's literature often deals with the Young Pioneers. Many stories were written about individual Pioneers who destinguished themselves, especially diring World War II. A favorite during the Stalinist era was a boy who reported his parents into the police.

Ceremonial functions

Young Pioneers in Russia served in ceremonial functions, such as guarding war memorials. One account in Kiev notes:

Four young people, barely in their teens guns held to their shoulders, goose-stepped down the concrete. Their faces were marked by more than the sternness of military training: they werehardened into the emotionless expressions of people afraid to show what goes on in their hearts and minds. Green clothing with red neckerchiefs identified these four as Young Pioneers. The changing of the guard at the war memorial was commencing. Their marching footsteps echoed off the pavement. The sound of metal on flesh and cloth pattered as the routine came to an end. The old guard's footsteps receded. The air was heavy with a moisture that promised rain.

Summer Camp

An important part of the Young Pioneer experience was summer camp. Millions of Sovier children went to these camps. I'm not sure how vountary they were. They reported varied greatly in quality. Like schools and stores for privlidged adults there were some very impressive camps and reportedly hard to get into. Most camps ayttended by the great bulk of the children were reportedly not very well equipped, although I have only limited sources of information. I'm not sure if the children were issued special uniforms for these camps, but red scarves, wjite shirts, and blue socks appear to have been the customary uniform.

Banners

Some images are archived on HBU of Pioneer groups with their banners (flags). The Pioneer organization had many banners. There was one main national banner for the entire Pioneer organization. This was located at the national headquarters in Moscow. A similar banner is archived on HBU. This may even be the main national banner, although it is not identified. Each school had its own banner which was similar, but not as elaborately made. The banner had a background with Lenin's image. Gold threads were used to embroider the Pioneer motto "be finished!" These banners were used in formal Pioneer meetungs and events. The banners were solemnly carried by standard-bearer with two assistants along the sides (a guard of honor) accompanied by the drum and buggle unit that most Pioneer units had. The entire school Pioneer Force would be gathered for a formal ceremony in which the banner would be brought out. After ceremonies, the banner would be securely stored in the Pioneer Room. The Pioneers at each school were organized by class. Each Pioneer class unit would have its own small flag.

Government School-Based Program

The Soviet Young Pioneer program was a school-based program. And of course as all Soviet schools were state schools with private schools prohibited, this mean that that it was government controlled program. Unlike Scouting which emphasized the family, Pioneers were built around the school and parents did not have a role in the program or other institutions such as churches and community groups. In fact, the Pioneer's greatest here was a boy who turned his parents in to the police. And of course part of the ideology taught was the atheism of the Soviet state. Schools were used by the Pioneer program as part ofa ready-made way of ensureing mass participation. Each school had a Pioneer Room. This room was separate from the school program and devoted exclusively to the Pioneer program. The school Pioneer banner as well as posters and other valuable items were stored. Pioneer leaders would hold meetings called councils or conferences here. We do not yet know much about the Young Pioneer meetings. They were held at school. I'm not sure if they began my full school ceremonies, but the basic meeting was held in classrooms because the basic Pioneer unit was the school class. I assume that on Pioneer meeting day that the children wore their Pioneer uniforms rather than their school uniform.

Membership Books

We are not yet sure about Young Pioneer membership cards/books. We assume they were issued, but do not yet have details. We do note ID books. We are not sure at what age children were issued IDs. Apparently by the time an individual became a teen ager, they had very elaborate IDs. We have found Soviet-era ID cards. What we find surprising is how many of these very detailed cards were issued to one individual over the space of so few years. We have noted four of these IDs issued for one Soviet boy. Two are photo IDs and two are not. They were issued to a teenaged boy in 1979, 1981, 1981, and 1982. He was born in 1964, and there are entries through 1985. One of these, top of scan 2, is a Military ID. We do not understand why so many different IDs were needed for a sinfle teenage boy. We understand the military ID, bit several IDs for a teenage boy seems rather strange.

Behavior

Much less has been written about the Young Pioneers than the Hitler Youth, at least by Western authors. Some recall Young Pioneers, however, behaving much like the popular concept of the Hitler Youth. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's biographer recounts what it was like to grow up as a Russian Christian child among the children of the Jewish communist elite: "By the age of ten he had the cross ripped from his neck by jeering Pioneers and for over a year was held up to ridicule... Solzhenitsyn was, as a boy, exposed to students whose parents had an officially superior status. Most of the members of the Young Pioneers and Komsomol movements, at least in Rostov, were Jewish children..." [Michael Scammell, Solzhenitsyn: A Biography, p. 64]

Newspaper accounts

Soviet newspapers often carried rather pompous articles about the Young Pioneers, often with heavy political content. The Pioneers were covered in the national media to a much greater extent than Scouts in the western media.

Jokes

Many Soviet era jokes concerned the Young Pioneers. The focus of the jokes, however, appear different than those associated with the Scouts in the west.

Movement Ends

The Young Pioneers ended quickly have the disolution of the Soviet Union. Once Government financial support was ended, there was little grass root support for continuing the movement. I have few details, but believe all the property of the Young Pioneers was sold off, often for the personal benefit of adult leaders. I am not sure what became of the summer camps, but I believe that Soviet children no longer have access to free summer camp experiences.

Movies

The Soviets made movies with Young Pioneer themes. The great Soviet director, Eisenstein, In the middle of 1935, he began work on his first film in over three years, Bezhin Meadow. It was commissioned by the Communist Youth League to commemorate the contribution of the Young Pioneers to collective farm work. Its story was of the martyrdom of a young peasant, a member of the Young Pioneers, in a successful fight against sabotage by the village’s kulaks, led by his own father. By the end of the year, however, Eisenstein was stricken by smallpox. This was followed, in 1936, by an attack of influenza. He was unable to return to the film, which was 60 percent shot, but continued work on the scenario with the great Soviet writer, Isaac Babel. Kulak was an acusatory term in Soviet Russia and the Soviet media viciously attacked them, calling them rich and exploitive. They were nothing of the kind, but did resist collectivization. (The Revolution had promissed them land.) In the drive to collectivize agriculture Stalin killed about 10 million people. Not only was the campaign unbelieveably barbaric, but it was a program from which Soviet agriculture never recovered. Much more common than films about the Pioneers were films in which Pioneers were depicted, but were not an central element of the plot.

Filmstrips/Diafilms

In addition to movies were filmstrips. The Russians called them diafilms. As in American and I assume Europe, they were widely used in Soviet schools as an audio visual aid. They were made for many different subjects an age levels. Some appear to have been made for home use. We note fairy tales and other children stories. We are not sure how common this was. We note a Young Pioneer diafilm. It was entitled "Your pioneer's uniform". This diafilm was released in 1967 and oriented for young pioneers 9-12 years old. Some of the uniforms look more elaborate than those we have noted in the photographic record. We are not sure how common these uniforms actually were. For example, we have never seen Soviet Young Pioneers wearing checked knee socks.

Photography

Our Russian readers have sent us some fascinating images of Soviet Young Pioneers. With these impages an accompanying information, we have begun to piece together some basic details about the Pioneer Movement. We note, however, that almost all the availavle images appear to be "official" photographs. Many are images of Pioneers at parades in major cities (especially Moscow and Lenningrad (St. Petersburg) or at the show case Summer camps like Artkek. We see far few informal images images taken by parents and at small group troop activities such as hiking and camping. We are not sure why this was, but suspect it reflects the more centralized management of the movement. Perhaps readers may have some thoughts here.

Individual Accounts

We would love to obtain accounts from our readers about their experiences in the Young Pioneers. So far we hve not had much luck. We note a wonderful account by a Russian girl named Lyudmila Jackson. (She married a British subject.) Lyudmila attended both regular and the special Artek Camp during the 1960s. She loved the camps and experience. We also have an interesting account from a Canadian camper, Kirsten Koza, who as an 11-year old girl attended another of the special Pioneer camps in 1977.






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Created: November 15, 1998
Last updated: 6:38 PM 4/18/2009