Komsomol under Perestroika
-The Attempts to Survive and the Beginning of Collapse 1987-1988-

  Copyright (C) 2000 by Slavic Research Center,Hokkaido University.All rights reserved.

This paper looks at the attempts made between 1987 and 1988 to reform and revive Komsomol under the pressure of political and social change, and their consequences that paradoxically led to the collapse of Komsomol.

When we explore the process of Perestroika and the breakdown of the Soviet Union, we tend to perceive Perestroika simply as the prologue to the collapse of the Union and interpret all factors and phenomena during Perestroika from the perspective of how they contributed to the demise of the Soviet system. While it is true that Perestroika ultimately brought about the collapse of the old regime, ten years have elapsed since the beginning of Perestroika. I believe that a more critical and historical examination of the complicated and contradicted process of Perestroika is necessary.

Upon reconsidering the historical meaning of Perestroika, it is puzzling to realize how the measures were first initiated to make the system work better, and then transformed intentionally or unintentionally under given circumstances, thus deviating from their original aims and reaching completely different results.

Komsomol, as I will examine later, is a good example of this process. Komsomol was one of the major 'social organizationsユ with enormous membership and a very high saturation rate among the Soviet young. It had been an indispensable part of the Soviet political system, functioning as a mobilization and indoctrination machine since the early years of nation construction. Therefore, even though it had little actual importance and autonomy in political decision making, it did have the potential to exercise great influence on the potential of Perestroika as a driving force of political and social change.

As a matter of fact, Komsomol played an important role in determining the direction of Perestroika. It came to be an avant-garde of economic change and secure a position as a leading actor in the emerging market economy and consumerism. In the chapters of this paper, I will investigate the transformation process of Komsomol, which resulted in its eventual fragmentation and collapse, in close connection with the destination of Perestroika.

This paper is composed as follows. First of all, I will survey the critical situation of Komsomol just prior to Perestroika and the measures of the Party to make Komsomol more effective as a doctrination machine. Several months after the introduction of Perestroika, the glasnostユ uncovered the pathological reality of Komsomol, triggering harsh attacks on it from the society. Holding serious concerns for the future of Komsomol, the Party and Komsomol officials at last proclaimed to start genuene reform. In the second chapter, I will examine the consequence of his reform and discuss the problems, especially the draft of the new "ustav"which was presented at the 20th Komsomol Congress. This marked the actual starting point for making the new Komsomol.

In the following section, the two principal directions of Komsomol reform will be elucidated separately in detail. The first is the giving of greater autonomy to the local organizations. The second is the representation of youth interests as an interest association. Komsomol's post-reform direction will then be discussed in the conclusion.

Up to the end of 1986, Komsomol seemed to be very reluctant to do anything special even amidst the criticism that was being leveled against it. It rather belatedly declared to hold the 20th Congress in April 1987 to revise the "ustav"(rules) of the organization. Complains and opinions about Komsomol were concentrated on the widening gap between Komsomol and ordinary young people. In the course of active discussions in preparation for the Congress, a general consent was formed that Komsomol should be more responsive to young people's interests through the establishment of local organizations, especially primary organizations. It was believed that Komsomol should grant these organizations rights to decide policies, and allocate budgets for staffing and activities such as local recruitment. The aim was to reform Komsomol from a youth mobiliser to a youth representative.

At the 20th Congress, the directions referred to above were officially confirmed and the "ustav"revised accordingly. Therefore it was in the 20th Congress that Komsomol took the first step to remake itself to survive under the unique circumstances brought about by Perestroika, showing not only the members but also the other organizations which Komsomol was working with Komsomol's two new directions of giving local organizations more autonomy and becoming an initiator of the youth interests not a mobiliser of the youth force. Despite this, real change inside Komsomol had not begun yet. An exploration of the practical changes that emerged after the Congress and their effects on the future of Komsomol is necessary.

The ideal image of the new Komsomol formulated by the 20th Congress was one that would be activated by the initiatives from the below. Empowerment of local organizations, especially the primary organizations, thus was essential for real change. The authorization of primary organizations to make final decisions on recruitment and the abolishment of membership targets was welcomed by the local organizations that had in the past been prevented from other substantial activities.

The effectiveness of local organization largely depended, however, on the quantity of funds and the quality of staff. Thus from 1987 to 1988, local organizations were only gradually given autonomy form the central committee not only on the jurisdiction of the activities, but also on the budget and the personnel administration.

The measures mentioned above gave the local organizations the incentive to earn funds because they had to survive on their own at the time the membership began to decline. This meant that through local organizations getting autonomy more and more, Komsomol was becoming more and more centrifugal instead of a united active political force supported from below.

This contradicted development can also be seen in the another direction Komsomol took to transform itself under Perestroika. For a long time, Komsomol had been functioning as the main mobilization machine to provide human resources for economic purposes. It had been in charge of students construction brigates (SSOs) and Komsomol storming units (KUOs), sending labor fources to destinated sites or factories that had high economic priority. But this had largely been against their will and interests according to rank and file members.

So when it confronted the difficult situation around 1987, in order to restore authority among the members, it was natural that Komsomol turned to the very members who were accusing it of being indifferent to the welfare of the nation's youth through a failure to resist hindrance by governmental or economic organizations. The members appealed to its status as the only representative of the youth, arguing that it should be a reliable promoter of their interests through acquiring the right to determine how much labor forces to supply, where to send brigades and so on.

Moreover, through 1987 and 1988, local organizations began to mobilize labor to create profit-making enterprises under Komsomol auspices. The professed aim of the measure was to increase the income of the participants of SSOs or KSUs by giving them the chance to make profits at their own discretion. It should not be overlooked that Komsomol's interest in the measure was to utilize these enterprises to make money because it had to maintain the organization and support the staff in spite of the declining membership and income from membership fees.

SSOs, KSUs and other forms like youth housing complexes (MZhKs) which were originally made to provide young workers opportunities to acquire dwelling through social competition got to be the foundation for Komsomol to develop profit-making enterprises which would be leading to genuine Komsomol businesses in the near future. In other words, the Komsomol transformation into be the representative of youth interests entailed the shift from political activities to profit making ones. As a consequence, we can consider Komsomol to have been one of the leading pioneers in making of the market economy in the Soviet Union.

As was already mentioned, Komsomol's underlying rationale for reform was to survive the radical political and social change around 1987. Thus it took fundamental actions to be responsive to the demands of youth and to the circumstances under Perestroika. Its breakdown was not due to the obstinate resistance of the stubborn conservative careerists in Komsomol. It was also not the result of any students' revolts or social uprisings. At the present stage, it is necessary to further illuminate the process by which Komsomol reformed itself and should refrain from assertive conclusions. However, it can be assumed that the collapse of Komsomol was an unexpected outcome inadvertently brought about by actions aimed at creating a new Komsomol, but that these actions deviated gradually from their original purpose and drove Komsomol into fragmentation and finally collapse. This paper attempts to analyse this process and serves as a preliminary step to further investigation.