Komsomol, the Communist Youth League of the Soviet Union, recruited children into communism, even starting the success of oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Before the Soviet Union was established in 1922, the Russian Communist Party decided to involve the Russian youth in its efforts toward political domination. Therefore, in 1918, the All-Union Leninist Communist League of Youth, known as Komsomol, was born. To ensure that the youth fully supported communism, the leaders of the party organized children and young adults to join their political mission through this organization. Their idea worked with great success.
To join Komsomol, children had to be at least 14 years old. As the Encyclopedia Britannica says, “a new purpose [for Komsomol] was set in 1922–to engage the members in health activities, sports, education, publishing activities, and various service and industrial projects.”
To entice the youth, the leaders of the Communist Party had to develop ways in which to get them interested in the cause. One way of doing so was generating propaganda. In the early days of Komsomol, during Lenin’s reign, the party would erect statues in Lenin’s likeness and plaster the country with posters of Lenin appearing god-like and almighty. To children, Lenin appeared a hero.
Even though parents may have disagreed with Lenin and the Communist Party’s politics and inner workings, they still entered their children in Komsomol, since it was a boon. Children who proved their loyalty in the organization were considered first for state employment. If a child was a favorite of the party’s leaders, he would most likely receive a highly sought-after job. And his family would be taken care of. In the Soviet Union, a society where the people hardly had anything of value, this nepotism elevated dedicated Komsomol members to a higher socio-economic status.
Komsomol and Mikhail Khodorkovsky
One of Komsomol’s greatest products is oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Even though today he sits in Siberian prison as an outspoken opponent to Russia’s premier Vladimir Putin, Khodorkovsky once held great power in Russia and the world. He started to build his fortune as a member of Komsomol. Party leaders took a liking to the young Khodorkovsky. He acquired the right business contacts, which allowed him to start up extremely lucrative businesses, including a bank and an oil company. By 2004, he was Russia’s richest man, the 16th richest man in the world according to Forbes magazine and his oil company, Yukos, mass produced two percent of the world’s oil supply. All his success started with Komsomol.
Communist Youth League Through the Years
Through Lenin and Stalin’s reigns, Komsomol flourished. Many of the citizens were trying to feed themselves and their families. They did not have the time, education or resources to care about politics. In fact, Robert Service says in A History of Modern Russia, “in 1937 there were still only 3.5 million radios in the country”.
As time passed, Khrushchev stepped into power in the 1950s and 1960s and the Soviet people began to awaken to the concept of politics. They became more aware of different political systems due to outside media and a rise in literacy levels. However, the youth were still strongly involved in Komsomol. The Encyclopedia Britannica reports, “Komsomol membership reached a maximum of about 40 million in the 1970s and early 80s.”
By the mid-1980s, Gorbachev introduced glasnost and perestroika. The Soviet people had freedoms they’d never had before and relished in this new way of life. In 1991, the Soviet Union was dismantled and so was Komsomol.