"Youth, It's Your Turn!": Generations and the Fate of the Russian Revolution (1917-1932)

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Abstract

In the last two decades the concept of generations has seen a revival in history and the social sciences. This article employs a discursive-pragmatic concept of generation in history, deduced from Karl Mannheim’s seminal concept of generation, as a theoretical framework to examine the role played by young Communists and their official youth organization, the Komsomol, during the revolutionary transformation of the Soviet Union, 1917–1932. It shows how both experientially and discursively a cohort of young Communists who actively took part in the Revolution and Civil War coalesced into a distinct generational unit whose ideas, attitudes, and culture found a home in the Komsomol. Contrary to the Bolsheviks’ ideas of continuity of generations in a post-revolutionary society, the youth league became an outlet in which generational tensions were nurtured and expressed throughout the 1920s. In this process, formative expectations and aspirations were generated and cultivated among the younger members who had missed out on their own revolutionary experience. By employing social theory, the article advances our understanding of the process by which young people, organized in the Komsomol, became a major constituency for the Stalinist turn of the late 1920s. The article emphasizes the agency of youth, showing how their organization became a political and social driving force that shaped the fate of the Russian Revolution. Furthermore, the case of the militant Soviet youth is used as a case study to improve our understanding of the emergence and development of generations and generational cohorts, and thus of the concept itself.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-304
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of Social History
Volume46
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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