Young Pioneers


Figure 1.--This was the flag of the Soviet Young Pioneer movement, a red flag, with a star, flame and image of Lennin.

The Young Pioneer movement is the largest youth organizatioin in history. It involved virtually all Soviet, eastern European, and Chinese children, as well as children in Cuba, North Korea, and Viet Nam for nearly half a century. It does not, however, appear to be as effective as either the Hitler Youth in totaliatarian NAZI Germany or the Scouts in many democratic countries. HBU knows of much less written about the Young Pioneers and there appear to be far fewer images available of the children in their Pioneer uniforms. Unlike the Scouts, we note few internet sites about the YoungvPioneerscand very few of all the children affected interested in setting down their experiences.

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.


Figure 2.--East German pioneers participating in a school ceremony during the 1980s. Notice the red flag. Surprisingly, it does not look red.

Individual Country Movements

The first Pioneer movement was established in the Soviet Union, but upon seizing power, the Communist Party established the Young Pioneers in each country where they seized power from Momgolia to Cuba. Several countries of Eastern Europe including the Ukraine had active Scout movements which developed before and after the First World War. The Scouting Movement was supressed by the NAZIs in most occupied countries, especially in Eastern Europe. After the War the movement was outlawed by the Communists who organized national Young Pionner groups. Like the Soviet Communist Party, local Communists insisted on total control over schools and other institutions involved with children. There were no competing youth groups involved.


Figure 4.--Pioneers in China and other Asian Communist countries often do not have uniforms, but instead wear kerchiefs with their ordinary clothes.

Garments

Pioneer uniforms like Scout uniforms varied from country to country. They appear to have been much simplier than Scout uniforms with far fewer badges being worn. Thecone constant from country to country is of course the scarves. All Pioneer units had red scarves, although younger boys might wear blue scarves. Caps were much less common. Shoirts were usually plain white or blue dress shirts--although other colors were also worn. Boys wore both short and long pants. Kneesocks were not as common as in Scouting and in many cases there was no standard type of socks. Sandals were not common, but were sometimes worn.

Current Status

The fall of Communism in Eastern Europe has brought an end to the Young Pioneer Movement. It continues in Russia, but participation is just a fraction of the massive youth movement which once functioned in the Soviet Union. It has disappeared complelety in the Baltic states and other Eastern European countries where the movement had little grass root support and existed only because of Government financial support and the need to participate to demonstrate ideological conformity to gain academic and professonal advancement. East Europeans today have mixed emotions about the disappearance of the Pioneers. The Pioneers in East Germany as in the other East Bloc countries disapeared really quick. Also the FDJ, which was a forbidden organization in Western Germany was disbanded. This didnít bother most of the kids, especially given the big changes in Germany. Some changes, however, weren't so positive. Summer camp declined. There were a lot of economic difficulties. Most companys didnít have the money anymore to run the summer camps. So many kids today have to hang around home for the long summer-break. One German teen writes, "The re-union of Germany in general was good, but there are also some bad trends. So today everyone fights only for himself, the big holding-together of the people in the GDR doesnít exist anymore."

Some Eastern Euroean boys have returned to Scouting, although the strained economic conditions throughout most of Eastern Europe limit the abilities of many boys to participate.

Pioneers continue, however, in China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba.

National Pioneer Uniforms

I have little information on Pioneer uniforms. Young pioneers' uniforms were different from state to state. Pioneers in the relatively poor Asian countries generally just wore kerchiefs along with their school or other clothes, except for some children which may have been outfitted for ceremonial puroses. The absence of uniforms probably relates to the limited incomes in the Asian Communist countries. The most common uuniform was only a red scarf. Usually the children also wore white shirts. But not all.

Czecheslovakia

Czech Czech Pioneer uniform was similar to that worn in other Easter European countries. It was a simple uniform of light blue shirt, dark blue pants or skirt worn with a red scarve. It was primarily worn on ceremonial occassions. There was no major uniform dectinction for the older children as was common in Scouting.

Germany (East)

East German Pioneers had a basic uniform. Children wore whatever pants they wanted. In the 1950s-60s, shorts were common, but in the 70s-80s boys mostly wore longs. Boys and girls wore white shirts and blue (Young pioneers) or red (Thaelmann pioneers) neckerchief. The shirts (long or short sleeved) had the logo of the pioneer-organization on it, and additional one to three small beams for officials like group leaders. Those uniforms in the 1980s werenít worn on normal school days. (This may have been different in the 1950s-60s. By the 1980s, however, the Pioneer uniforms were only worn for celebration days (Labor-Day, foundation of the republic and others). There was a second youth-organization for older kids (approx. from 12-26), called "Freie Deutsche Jugend" (FDJ: Free Germany Youth). As uniform they had only dark-blue shirts with the organization-logo on it. The rules for when to wear it were the same as for the Pioneers.

The Pioneers would sponsor summer camps and to varying degrees uniforms were worn at the camps. There were summer-camps in East Germany, to be exact two kinds of them. First the pioneer camps. They were kind of official. You had to bring your uniform, but only for roll calls and other formal events, not for the normal activites, which were the same like in every summer camp I think (playing, swimming, hiking). In some pioneer camps were also kids from other socialist countries. Going to a pioneer camp was kind of an award for good pioneers. There were also other summer camps, organized by the parents companyís. Almost every company had such a camp, only for the kids of itís own company or together with other companys. Those camps were much less formal then the pioneer camps. Nobody had his pioneer uniform with him. Those camps lasted usually for 3 weeks. The summer-break in East Germany was 8 weeks, so childrencould go to the summer-camps of both parents' companys and extra 2 weeks for the family vacation.

Netherlands

I do not know of any Young Pioneer groups that were formed in the Netherlands. The Pioneers were primarily Government sponsored groups formed once the Communists seized control in a country. A Dutch reader mentions the Arbeiders Jeugd Centrale (AJC), a communist/socialist organization for boys and girls from working class families that was active in the Netherlands during the 1930s before World War II. They did not have a very elaborte uniform. They usually wore blue shirts and a red neckerchief and the boys often brown corduroy long or short pants, perhaps to emphasize their prolitarianism. He believes the AJC groups were mixed, boys and girls together. They would march in the May Day parades and go to summer camps. The AJC was disbanded by the German occupation immediately after the Dutch surrender in 1940. Our Dutch reader report that AJC members were looked upon with disdain by most Dutch. He remembers how people talked about them.

Poland

Poland Pioneers "Polskie harceri" wore light green (khaki) shirt with two-colored scarves.


Figure 5.--Summer camps were one popular aspect of the Young Pioneers. Most income families in Eastern Europe can now not aford such camp experiences.

Summer Camps

The Young Pioneers in the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries also built nation-wide systems of youth camps. We believe that each of the European satellite countries as well as the Soviet Union had impotant ummer camp program. We believe that virtually all children particiapted in these programs, but are not sure if any choice was involved. We believe that these were coed camps, but again have little information. Nor do we have much information on what type of uniforms were worn at the summer camps. We are not sure if the Asian communist countries also had summer camp programs.

Photographs

HBU has noted very few available images of boys in their Young Pioneer uniforms. We have found some uniforms in old Soviet magazines, but there seem to be relatively few individual portraits that parents had taken of their children in their uniforms. In contrast there are numerous such portraits of German boys in Hitler Youth uniforms or American boys in their Scout uniforms.

Additional Information

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 were hardened 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.

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.

Related Information

Soviet children's literature







HBU






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Created: November 15, 1998
Last updated: 1:40 AM 3/4/2011