L. Kamenev

The Youth Movement

Lenin and the Youth

(27 October 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 68 [44], 27 October 1923, p. 776.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive

The Communist Youth League of Russia is publishing a collection of articles and speeches of Comrade Lenin on Youth. We append the preface written by Comrade Kamenev to this collection.Ed.

Vladimir Ilitch never occupied himself much with the youth movement. Still it has naturally been impossible for him to pass over, either in politico-economic works or in his political calculations, such an important factor of modern politics as the revolutionary youth organizations.

In old Russia, in pre-war Russia, the proletarian youth movement was as integral part of the whole proletarian movement, it had neither an organization of its own nor problems of its own. But at that time – especially until the year 1905 – a special political force was represented by intellectual youth, or, to speak more exactly, by the students. The role played by the youth of various social strata in Russia at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th was one of the crassest examples of the backwardness of the country, of the primitiveness of its social conditions, of the comparative weakness of the class struggle. At the same time the students of this period may be said to have played their part excellently in the struggle against Czarism; their role was that of light cavalry, which harasses the common enemy; and they also formed the reserves from which the political parties obtained the auxiliary powers which they required for “special arms of the service” (agitators, journalists, etc.)

Flesh of the flesh and bone of the bone of the Russian intelligenzia, the students of this period shared the ebb and flow of political feeling in common with this intelligenzia, and after passing through a stage of passionate enthusiasm for the proletariat, they settled down gradually into the state of ideological confusion and sickly philanthropy common to anti-proletarian social revolutionist.

When the broad masses of the proletariat appeared on the stage of history, and when the political struggle assumed the sharp features of an open class struggle, intellectual youth retired further and further from politics, and by the year 1905 it had completely vanished from the political arena. At the same time that “struggle for the youth”, of which the reader will find an echo in the first articles of this collection, entirely ceased. The history of Russian intellectual youth, the history of those “students” who for a time were regarded as synonymous with the revolutionary speakers and agitators, was at an end. The history of proletarian youth began.

The role played by proletarian youth, and the tasks incumbent upon it, have been set out by Vladimir Ilitch in such a way that his words not only exhaustively characterize working youth, but at the same characterise Vladimir Ilitch himself, as a fighter against Capitalism and as an architect of Socialism.

The revolutionary student with whom Vladimir Ilitch came in contact during the first stages of the revolutionary movement was for him a soon of another class, who might be his ally for the time being; for him the revolutionary student was a phenomenon belonging to a past historical epoch. Proletarian youth is a real creator of history, a real worker on that true history of humanity of which Engels wrote that it will first begin after humanity has passed from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom. The words recently addressed by Comrade Lenin to the Communist Youth show plainly that Comrade Lenin – cut off from daily work, and occupying himself with the question of the structure of the future communist society – has been directing his thoughts (apart from the attention he has devoted to modern technics) to the new human being, the new young generation which has not been infected by the miasma of capitalist society, which is free of the pestilential influence of slavery and degradation, and which is ready for the work of construction.

Vladimir llitch is no drenmer, but if he does dream of anything, it is of this new generation, this working youth, who will construct that for the sake of which the old generation was compelled to destroy. This is the reason why Vladmiir Ilich calls so insistently upon working youth to learn, to absorb knowledge. The soil is overgrown with weeds, the proletariat can only clear it at the cost of much pains. The ground once cleared, it is the task of working youth to build upon it an edifice worthy of the free human being. Working youth must accumulate a fund of knowledge, must train itself in will and character for this great work of construction. This is approximately the purport of the attitude of our old leader to the young generation of proletarians.

But Comrade Lenin is no mere moralist. He is no believer in the power of moral precepts. He believes rather in the power of facts, in the power of that science which penetrates into the brain to the sound of hammer-blows and the thunder of cannon. Before the young generation of workers can begin on constructive work, it has to turns through the practical school of civil war. Engels’ “Leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom” consists of years of hard, cruel relentless class struggle, of inevitable defeats and certain victories, of years of wars and revolutions.

In order that the young generation may be given the possibility of constructive work, that it may team how to construct, that the generation which is to change the world may itself be changed – for these reasons it must join the ranks of the fighters to-day.

This is the meaning of the words addressed by Lenin to proletarian youth – that their duties of today and their tasks of tomorrow are blended in one consistent whole.

Last updated on 28 April 2023