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John G. Wright

Youth Play Increasing Role
in USSR Defense

Gaining Confidence as They Bear Brunt of Struggle
at Front and Behind the Lines

(17 January 1942)

From The Militant, Vol 6 No. 3, 17 January 1942, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In the resurgence of the Soviet masses which came with the German invasion of the USSR, the youth is playing a role of exceptional importance. The preponderance of the youth in the crucial spheres of Soviet life has marked the development of the workers state since its foundation in October 1917. Under the impact of the war this preponderance has assumed unprecedented proportions.

The majority of the front line fighters of the Red Army are young. A great many are in their teens. In point of age as well as formation, the Red officers’ corps is the youngest of any army in the world.

The predominance of the youth is even more accentuated behind the lines, especially in industry. In 1940, on the eve of the Nazi invasion, a decisive section of the giant Soviet proletariat consisted of young men and women under 27. In the year that has since elapsed, children of fourteen and fifteen have become indispensable parts of the labor force.

Youth in Industry

According to the official report of the Labor Reserves Administration issued in Sept. 1941, more than two million of these children were already working in the basic industries. The official program called for drafting several more millions not only for industry but also for labor on the farms.

In a dispatch from Kuibyshev, Eric McLoughlin, correspondent of The Sydney Morning Herald, reported:

“The younger children will be taught the cultivation of vegetable, berry and fruit plots. Boys and girls 12 to 14 will learn how to handle hand tools and care for stock while youths from 14 to the time they enter military training (the present age is 16 – JGW) will undergo a course of tractor and combine operation” (New York Times, Jan. 7).

It is clear that the Kremlin which began employing child labor on a vast, scale prior to the outbreak of the war has now extended its plans to include children of twelve and even younger.

This proletarianization of children and youth is taking place under conditions without parallel in history. These same children are simultaneously being trained in the art of war. In the above-cited dispatch McLoughlin reports that lectures in a Soviet school he visited were “punctuated by the intermittent crackle of gunfire from the basement below, where boys and girls were learning how to use a rifle ... This is a picture of a typical Russian school in wartime” (idem).

Military Training for Children

“As I walked out into the streets of Kuibyshev,” continues McLoughlin, “I met boys and girls from 14 to 16 practicing grenade throwing ... Brushing shoulders with me ... were boys a little older than those engaged in the grim grenade-throwing game. They were wearing the Red Army uniform for trainees and were undergoing the toughest. and most exacting course in the business of dealing out death of any army in the world.”

This eyewitness report of McLoughlin’s supplies some of the most revealing and important information that has recently emanated from the Soviet Union. It shows how deeply the war is ploughing up the masses, especially the youngest generations in the USSR. Alongside of the many-millioned Red Army there now stands an armed population.

On Sept. 1, 1941, a decree was passed instituting universal military training for men from 16 to 50. (It went into effect on Oct. 1, 1941.) The workers in large Soviet cities began training and arming months before.

Now we learn that without any official legislation this military training has been extended to school children. These developments can tend only to strengthen the fusion between the Red Army and the population – a fusion that has already been welded in battle when the regular army and the workers’ detachment – in Rostov, Leningrad, Moscow – fought side by side to beat back the Nazi offensive.

Stalinism and the Youth

The entire history of Stalinist rule in the USSR has been marked by the distrust and hostility of the regime to the youth. In 1936 the Komsomol (the Russian YCL) was dissolved as a political organization. The reason for this step was that Stalin feared it would develop into an opposition political party.

The Kremlin has been able to suppress the youth up to now because the latter lacked not only revolutionary traditions but, in general, traditions of struggle. The young men and women who have grown up in Russia since the 1917 revolution and the Civil War of 1918-1920 have known no school other than that of Stalinism. They were taught only blind obedience to the bureaucracy. They found all initiative and creative ability suppressed. They were without authority among the masses, and without confidence in themselves.

The Stalinist lie of building “socialism in one country,” which duped above all the Soviet youth, has now been exploded by events themselves. As a matter of fact, the Kremlin today prohibits any reference to socialism in the struggle both inside and outside the USSR. The war is placing the greatest burdens and responsibilities precisely on the masses, and above all the younger generations.

Initiative and Self Reliance

At the front as well as in the rear, initiative and self-reliance are now at a premium. The Soviet youth is learning how to stand on its own feet in the very heat of a life and death struggle. For every thousand that is gaining confidence and authority today, hundreds of thousands will rise on the morrow.

At the same time, the Stalinist regime which has found itself compelled to unleash these forces cannot permit them to develop freely. Every attempt to curb the self-action and participation of the masses, first and foremost the youth, in the defense of the USSR, will make all the more untenable the position of Stalin’s regime. Soviet victories which have been brought about by the mass upsurge, act to raise not only Soviet morale but also the confidence of the masses.

It is still too early to predict the final outcome of the processes engendered by the war. But the tendency is already clear:

Without in any way reducing the question of the fate of the Soviet Union to the struggle between two generations – the old and the young – we can nevertheless state with certainty that the Soviet youth is now playing and will continue to play a more and more decisive role in the struggle to preserve the conquests of the October revolution.


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