Scouting in the Pioneer Movement

© by Dr. Yuri Kudriashov PhD, Arkhangelsk, Russia.

Scouting in the Pioneer Movement.
© by Dr. Yuri Kudriashov PhD, Arkhangelsk, Russia.

In the second half of the 1920s, several reasons led the Pioneer Movement into a crisis. Children began leaving it. Dissatisfied with the boredom and dryness of Pioneer life, they looked for satisfaction of their interests in other groups. These included: general groups ("Zhul'trest," "Jacks of Hearts," " The Union of Dovekeepers," "The United Society of Idlers," "Dobrozub," "The Party of free People"), socio-political groups ("Budenovtsy," "Our Answer to Chamberlain"), special interest groups (the children's section of "Friend of Radio," "Friends of the Air Force," "International Organization in Aid of Fighters for the Revolution," groups of Iunnants, school cooperatives, village circles). If the first, general groups arose frequently but existed only for a short time, the second type, although existing as an alternative to Pioneer groups, had local limits (usually within the boundaries of the village), while formations of the third type gave greater cause for concern to the party and the Komsomol. Together with doubts about the loyalty of their leaders (sometimes "bourgeois specialists," including Scouts), the clear dissatisfaction of the Party and Komsomol leadership was called forth first of all by concrete goals that were attractive to children; and secondly, they were disturbed by ties that arose among the groups, by attempts to create organs of the press, and to conduct large meetings. In all of this the Central Committee of the Komsomol saw tendencies toward centralization and conversion of local circles for special interests into parallel children's organizations, with a suspicious and even hostile social membership of children and adults. According to a proposal by the TsK VKP(b) to achieve class education of children and unity of leadership for children's movements, the Komsomol advocated the de-centralization of all non-Pioneer children's organizations, which would receive the status of school circles under the leadership of the Komsomol and the Pioneers. The Komsomol also proclaimed that the Pioneer organization was the one organization for children, "recognizing, organizing, and directing the initiative and activity of the mass of children in a communist direction, under the leadership of the RKP and RLKSM".

In 1926-1928 a heated discussion unfolded in the Komsomol press about the content, methods, and forms of Pioneer work, which found itself in a crisis situation. The Fourteenth Party Congress (December 1925) and the seventh Komsomol Congress (March 1926) analyzed the situation, but made no harsh conclusions. A peculiarity of the situation consisted in the fact that a similar crisis had flared up among the adults--the Komsomols and the Communists. The so-called "ideological" crisis of the VLKSM continued rather long--from 1925 until 1928--and, in essence, was brought about by the same reasons as the Pioneer crisis. "The content and methods of Komsomol work have come into conflict with the interests and needs of youth," announced N. I. Bukharin at the Fourteenth Party Congress. The Komsomol press conducted a lively discussion of ways out of the dead-end, such as intensified attention to the individual in the organization, and the transfer of the burden of work over to "the cultural approach."

Communists were occupied with the thinking out of their intra-party struggle. Only in 1928 did the eighth Congress of the VLKSM admit that the work of the Komsomol among children was unsatisfactory. "Significant difficulties" in the development of the Pioneer movement were also noted by the Central Committee VKP(b) in a directive of June 25, 1928. The culmination of the discussion was the Party meeting in Moscow on January 23 -24, 1928.

One of the questions included for discussion in the order of the day was Scouting. The komsomols asked each other: is it, perhaps, worth returning to? Many proposed to take from Scouting that which was more or less appropriate, adapt it to Soviet conditions, and apply it in practice: grades according to age, the weaving of cultural, hygienic, work, and military skills, elements of competition (even individual!), real forms of study, local circles, children's independent activities, a concrete approach to work, the transition from the simple to the more complex—in other words, all that was not traditionally a part of pioneer work.

It was openly stated that having thrown out the "negative" in 1923, they had also thrown out that which was positive. M.Reikhrud (of the Moscow bureau of Young Pioneers) even dared to affirm that "it is not at all revolutionary and Leninist to come out and simply lambaste an organization only because it is hostile to us." Some others (I.Razin of the Central Bureau of IuP) began to reminisce that they too had at one time been Scoutmasters, and retrieved from attics the books of Baden-Powell.

But the voices of the opponents were louder: "to direct our purpose toward the entire mass of children, and not just at certain individual, more proficient Pioneers," "we are against any sort of badges, against a system of individual encouragement, against individual competitions in Pioneer groups"; "it is necessary to discard episodes of individual cooperation, because it divides children, it trains the individualist." From newspaper pages and tribunes, there sounded cannons of major caliber: S.Saltanov (the Central Bureau of the IuP) and N.Krupskaia. They endlessly repeated the weighty, in their opinion, thoughts about the subversives of Scouting, which trains the "faithful servants of the bourgeois order, of King, Fatherland, and the Owner." They also brought forth a definitive condemnation of individual competition: "the stimulus of transferring from one group to another, according to the completion of a program, must be rejected as unnecessary and harmful, because it could develop in children ... a desire to push forward individually. Our education should not be built on the basis of competition ... This would be harmful." (S.Saltanov). "If we introduce into our Pioneer organization this individual competition, then it will be necessary to place a cross over any work regarding mutual assistance. ... One should not introduce sewn stripes, because this could easily head for the path of individual competition."(N.Krupskaia).

Judging by the results of the meeting and discussion, the VLKSM Central Commettee expressed itself against "the transfer into the Pioneer organization of such methods of Boy Scout work as the system of ranks, personal incentives, individual competitions, grades, and stripes as entirely unacceptable in the business of a communist education of children." To be sure, it proved impossible to reject the "bourgeois legacy" entirely: a "circle of abilities and skills" (program of Pioneer work) adopted in April 1928 was clearly based on the methods of scouting.

The eighth Congress of the VLKSM gave the usual command: to take social and labor training as a basis for Pioneer work. The party demanded from the Pioneer organization a more active participation in the life of the country, a complete engagement in solving the tasks of the first five-year plan. The sixth Komsomol conference placed special reliance on the necessity of activating the participation of the Pioneer organization in class struggle. The theoreticians of the Pioneer movement talked about the role of class approaches in the struggle for the industry finance plan, proclaiming them the moving force in the development of the Pioneer. Such a change in the strategy of education can be linked with the strengthening of the Stalinist system of managing society.

In 1929 there occurred a gathering of Pioneers of the USSR (it was clearly timed for the International Jamboree of Scouts and partially instigated by it). The Pioneer forum conclusively re-oriented the activity of the organization toward participation in fulfilling the five-year plans.

Later on there was more. In 1931, the ninth Komsomol Congress defined as for industrialization and collectivization in its usual program of work: "It is now funny to talk about some sort of special program or special circle of skills and knowledge in the Pioneer organization. The industrial finance plan for the third year of the five-year plan, the industrial finance plan of the factory, the shop, the Sovkhoz, and the kolkhoz—this is the plan for the fighting activities of any squad and group. Together with adult workers in the struggle with breakdowns' together with adult workers and kolkhozniks in the struggle for high tempos, for an increase in the productivity of labor, for rationalization, for a decrease in costs; in the struggle for new forms of socialist labor, to meet the industrial finance plan, for social towing forward, for socialist competition and shock working--this is the general line of our Pioneer organization."

Scouting in the USSR had come to an end.

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