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Manifestations and Youth clubs in the 1930s

From Women in European History

The 1920s-30s endorsed the spirit of the Soviet experiments that contributed toward the phenomenon of mass celebrations and performances. These massifications (mass gatherings) were envisioned as a creation of new type of popular spectacle, combining entertainment with serious educational work, noted Alexander Zakharov.[1] Such organized mass celebrations occurred during national holidays SUCH AS: May First, THE Anniversary of the October Revolution, and International Women’s Day, which were also described in Nina Lugovskaya’s diary. These patriotic holidays were comprised of amateur performances by workers’ clubs, drama clubs, women’s and youth unions. Such mass celebrations especially portrayed the face of the ‘first Soviet generation’, which was to be the most educated and militant. It was exactly this type of ‘brainwashing’ massification and the “voluntary” membership in the Young Pioneers club that Lugovskaya mentioned in her diary as organizations FROM WHICH she tried to isolate herself.

It was compulsory for school children, like Lugovskaya, to join the Young Pioneers. It was a Communist youth club, founded in 1922, which was based on Baden-Powell’s scouting movement. During the 5th Komsomol Congress, the club’s original purpose was to teach children the principles of discipline, hard work, morality and collective thinking. Their motto was “Vsegda gotov!”, ("Always Ready!"). Activities included marching, singing songs and attending summer holiday camps. (See Video I)[4]

File:pionermax.jpg[2] File:young-pioneers.jpg[3]

Long Live Young Pioneers(1939) Source: New Gallery, 2000.

Even though such communist organizations were declared as “voluntary,” declining to participate within them was highly discouraged and created personal obstacles for the outsiders. Leaving the Pioneers or declining to be a member was an overt declaration of opposition and anti-patriotism. In her diary, Nina Lugovskaya expressed her constant anger with the new regime’s ideologies and their propagandistic tactics toward children. Her decline to participate in the Young Pioneers and May First celebration manifestations earned her bad reputation among schoolmates and created later obstacles, as she was constantly rejected from the colleges she applied to. Any form of social opposition or unconformity was taken rather seriously especially during the years of Stalin’s purges 1936-37. It was exactly during this period that Nina shared with her diary her anti-revolutionary thoughts, her boycott activities at school and her ‘snobbish’ ignorance toward any kind of revolutionary manifestations and communist clubs. Removing herself from the socialist ‘utopia’ portrayed Nina as a traitor and enforced her consequential imprisonment by the NKVD.

The 1930s were not only a time of growing mass celebrations and performances, but were also a product of progressive women and youth clubs that were to create the face of the first Soviet generation. Children of the 1930s were to be the most educated and militant generation of Russians ever, although Nina Lugovskaya felt the contrary. “The slogan ‘Thanks to Comrade Stalin for our happy childhood’ rang without irony for children who were cared for, believed in the society that cared for them, and accepted its structures of authority.”[4] Educational policies changed with the new political ideologies. Stricter rules and limitations were enforced, in order to keep students as a homogeneous mass, easy to manipulate. (See Video II) [5]

During holidays, school authorities sent students out into the streets to join the public rallies. Manifestations for Stalin’s birthday, state funereal, or May First involved marching, singing Soviet songs, carrying posters of Stalin or the Soviet flag. These were outdoor celebrations of communist spirit, from which Nina chose to abstain. Such demonstrations and other recreational opportunities were meant to improve children’s lives and to forge their socialist consciousness. However, the idea of “voluntary” participation within such enforced youth clubs and mass celebrations began to appear problematic. Their unnatural and mechanical character was felt by the intelligentsia and by people like Nina Lugovskaya. “The popular celebration, torn apart from its intrinsic national spiritual traditions …turned into a meaningless commotion and hubbub,” says Alexander Zakharov.[5] The forced participation and manifestations earned the apathy of the people, which led to decline in social enthusiasm and consequential institutionalization of the massovodstvo (a pure form of mass manipulation authority). Even though claimed as voluntary, participation within communist clubs and mass celebrations turned to be seen and stimulated ‘from above’.

Lunacharsky wrote: “In order to be able to experience themselves, masses have to express themselves in action, and this is possible only when… they become the spectacle for themselves.”[6] Celebrations were created by the masses for the masses, a new wave of constructivist artists created “a total artwork” that depicted the masses, posters and lithographs were to be carried and viewed by the masses, and “Vsegda gotov!”, ("Always Ready!") was to echo among the masses of the first Soviet generation. It was a time of vast industrialization, upward mobility and massive revolutionary constructions – it was a time when the masses were to strive for the future utopia. Everybody was meant to be equal, and nobody could be different… or so stated the communist ideology.

Works Cited

  1. Alexander Zakharov, “Mass Celebrations in Totalitarian System,” Totalitarianism as historical phenomenon, (Moscow: Association of Soviet Philosophers, 1989) 284.
  2. “Childhood under Stalin: Raising Children in Stalin’s Russia,” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. 2009. Macalester College. 10 May, 2009. [<http://soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1936children&Year=1936&Theme=596f757468&navi=byTheme>].
  3. “Childhood under Stalin: Raising Children in Stalin’s Russia,” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. 2009. Macalester College. 10 May, 2009. [<http://soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1936children&Year=1936&Theme=596f757468&navi=byTheme>].
  4. “Childhood under Stalin: Raising Children in Stalin’s Russia,” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. 2009. Macalester College. 10 May, 2009. [<http://soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1936children&Year=1936&Theme=596f757468&navi=byTheme>].
  5. Alexander Zakharov, “Mass Celebrations in Totalitarian System,” Totalitarianism as historical phenomenon, (Moscow: Association of Soviet Philosophers, 1989) 211.
  6. A. B. Lunacharsky, “O narodnykh prazdnestvakh,” Vestnik teatra 62 (1926): 4.

Additional Materials

Always Prepared! The Next Shift Comes In (1924) Be prepared to fight for the workers' cause. ""I, a young pioneer of the USSR, here before my comrades do solemnly swear : 1) to stand firm for the cause of the working class in its struggle to liberate workers and peasants of the whole world 2) to honestly and unswervingly fulfill the testament of Il'ich (Lenin), and the laws and customs of the young Pioneers.""[1]

M. Ia.: To the Light and to Knowledge! (1920) Young Proletarians - To the Light and to Knowledge! "All worker-peasants into the ranks of the Russian Young Communist League!"[2]

1972 Soviet Union 4 kopeks stamp. 50 Years of Pioneers Organization[3]

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