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Komsomol (Комсомол) is a syllabic abbreviation word, from the Russian Kommunisticheski Soyuz Molodiozhi (Коммунистический союз молодёжи), or "Communist Union of Youth". The organisation served as the youth wing of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), the youngest members being fourteen years old, the upper limit for an age of rank and file being 28, while komsomol functionaries could be older. Younger children could join the allied Pioneers organisation.
Komsomol had little direct influence on the Communist Party, and on the government of the Soviet Union. But Komsomol played an important role as a mechanism for teaching the values of the CPSU in the young, and as an organ for introducing the young to the political domain. Along with these purposes, the organisation served as a highly mobile pool of labour and political activism, with the ability to move to areas of high-priority at short notice. Members received privileges and preferences in promotion. For example, Yuri Andropov, CPSU General Secretary for a short time following Leonid Brezhnev, reached political heights by means of the Komsomol organisation of Karelia. At its height, in the 1970s, Komsomol had tens of millions of members; around two-thirds of the present adult population of Russia is believed to have once been a member.
During the revolution, the Bolsheviks showed no interest in establishing or maintaining a youth wing. However, by 1918 the first Congress was held under the patronage of the Bolshevik Party, despite the organisations having not entirely coincident membership or beliefs. By the time of the second Congress, a year later, however, the Bolsheviks had, in effect, taken control of the organisation, and it was soon formally established as the youth wing of the party. In the early years, the organisation bore a number of names, initialized as: RKSM, RLKSM, and VLKSM.
The reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev, perestroika and glasnost, finally recognized that Komsomol was no longer serving the interests of the youth; the calibre of Komsomol leadership was low, and these, along with other structural problems, could no longer be hidden in the new, more open, atmosphere. Komsomol had long been a haven for conservatism and bureaucracy, and had always been largely politically impotent, properties then at odds with the times. At the radical Twentieth Congress of the Komsomol the rules of the organisation were massively altered to reflect a more market-oriented approach. However, the reforms of the Twentieth Congress eventually destroyed the organisation, with fragmentation, lack of clarity-of-purpose, and waning of interest, membership and calibre of membership -- there was simply no longer a need for the organisation.
During the early stages of perestroika, when private enterprise was cautiously introduced, Komsomol was given privileges in opening businesses, with a motivation to give youth a better chance. As a result, many Komsomol leaders were given a chance to get rich quick, Mikhail Khodorkovsky being a prominent but otherwise typical example. Folklore was quick to put together a motto: "Komsomol is a school of Capitalism", hinting at Lenin's "Trade unions are a school of Communism".
The organ of the Komsomol, Komsomolskaya Pravda, survived the organization.
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