Class Dismissed? New Elites and Old Enemies among the “Best” Socialist Youth in the Komsomol, 1934–41
During the formative period after the “victory of socialism” in the Soviet Union, the Young Communist League (Komsomol) underwent significant changes. The advent of socialism was supposed to herald the gradual disappearance of class differences, reflected in the meritocratic, class-blind membership policy that Komsomol leaders introduced in 1935-36. Instead of a league of young proletarians, youth leaders claimed the Komsomol would become an organization of the “best” youth of all classes. However, the policy facilitated the creation of a new social hierarchy based on the perceived needs of the state and the continuing biases of political leaders. As young professionals and students joined the Soviet elite, they displaced proletarians as the ideal young subject. At the same time, Komsomol admissions reified old divides, in particular the marginal place of special settler youth in Soviet society. Rather than resolving class tensions, the policies the Komsomol embraced created significant anxiety among leaders and ordinary youth about the role of class under socialism. Ultimately, they reflected a broader trend in Soviet socialism, as class categories were reconfigured but reinforced as tools to distinguish elements of the population. It adds to scholarship on the impact of Stalinism on Soviet socialism and the role of class in the USSR.