Boys' Uniformed Groups: Organization Essay

Figure 1.--Camping was a major part of the activities of most important boys' youth groups, especially in the first half of the 20th century.

HBU in collecting the information on these various groups is struck by the debate over whether the groups in the totalitarian states were different than those in the democratic states. Scouts say they were very different from the Hitler Youth or Young Pioneers. Many Hitler Youth boys and Pioneers say their group was little different than Scouting.

Contending View Points

Various sources have provided their views on this issue.


The HBU pages on the youth groups of the Second World War are very readable and well organized. The volumes on the foreign legions of this era SPEAK volumes about totalitarian states; every trade, profession, and group was organized by the state. The pages on youth groups are especially appropriate because the fascist regimes, just like the Communist regimes, targeted young people for their message. Among the leaders and followers of these earlier attempts at a new order might be found older citizens. And some others might be "re-educated" (a particularly insidious term), but the real hope of these totalitarians were the young, who had yet unformed political beliefs. The fascist and communist leaders tried desperately to eradicate the old values and replace them with a new social and political creed, their own.


It is undeniable that there are similarities between Scouting, the main youth group in democratic societies, and the totalitarian youth groups. The totalitarian groups like the Hitler Youth and the Pioneers were in fact based on Scouting and copied lavisly from it, not only activities, but uniforms and even slogans in many cases.

HBU Assessment

HBU has begun an assessment of youth organizations in democratic and totalitarian societies. This is just an initial assessment and HBU readers are incouraged to submit their thoughts and ideas. HBU believes that there were many similarities between these groups, but the one overiding difference was the role of the family. The information summarized here is developed from the various HBU pages describing these groups and variations among countries.


Many of these groups engaged in many of the same activities. All had active outdoor programs, this was especially true through the 1950s when the primary focus was outdoor actibities like camping and hiking. This was especially true of the Scouts and Hitler Yooth. In recent years the Scouts have changed focus as kids, while still interested in outdoor activities, have an expanding range of other activities. The Pioneer activities program was somewhat different in that it was more school-based than the other groups.

Ethnic diversity

Family role

HBU believes that the role of the family is a critical difference among totalitarian and democratic youth groups. otalitarian societies used youth groups as one of many instruments of social control. Parents often had to be careful how they spoke even in their home. In some cases this was because young children might inocently repeat what their parents said. In other instances they might knowingly report their own parents. The Pioneers made heros of such boy, lauded as an aexample to emulate. In most cases, totalitarian groups conducted their activities with little parental involvement. Democratic youth groups, on the other hand, sought to involve parents and the parents played a key role in the activities program. Parents commonly severed as cubmasters and scout masters.

Figure 2.--The Young Pioneers in communist countries tended to have relatively simple uniforms. One of their major activities was marching at state holidays. Note the red yarn on the girl's pig tails. Scouts might also participate in parades, but rarely in mass like the Pioneers.

Government support

Youth groups in totalitarian societies are Government agencies and implement policies established by the Government and ruling party. The extent of this Government support can be seen in the virtual disappearance of the Pioneer movement once Government funding ended. Scouts and other groups like the Boys' Brigade and Camp Fire are private groups. The strength of the groups can be seen in their ability to function with out Government funding. In fact many continued to be strongly supported even in totalitarian socities which in most cases were forced to abolish Scouting and in many cases jail Scout masters. Democratic societies, except in rare instances, have no restricted the formation of youth groups--even groups with totalitarian orientations. Scouts are not without government support. Many Scout groups were once organized at schools and boys wore their uniforms to school once a week. Scouting in America and other countries is often chartered by the national Government--but not directly supported financially.


Boys youth organizations have two types of leaders, boys and adults. The selection process for these leaders is instructive and provides indications as to the nature of the organizations involved.
Boys: American Scout leaders such as the patrol leader are selected democratically by a vote of the boys, although admittedly adult leaders can influence the selection, especially with younger boys.
Adults: Adult leadership selection processess are also intructive. Leadership positions in totalitarian groups are always appointed by the Government or sponsoring group. The process in democratic societies is more varied, but is usually conducted at various levels by democratic processes. European Scouts sponsored by Protestant churches are usually more democratic in this regard than Catholic groups where leaders may be appointed by the Church hierarchy.


Youth groups in totalitarian socities had very active military programs. Activities included not only programs useful for miliary operations, but also weapons training for older boys. Hitler Youth camps were a mixture of scouting amd military basic training. The older boys were chanelled into the military, and if of appropriate racial background into the SS. Hold military units were formed of Hitler Youth boys and were some of the most fanatical fighters in the Germany Army. In the case of the Pioneers, this weapons training was conducted in the schools. Scouting also had military commections. It was formed by an army general (Lord Baden Powell) and their was much discussion that the poor performance of British soldiers in the Boer War was due to poor health and physical conditioning. Scouting was seen as a sollution. Many camping activities had military conotations, but HBU knows of no weapons training. Scouts did introduce a rifelry merit badge. The military also uses Scouting in their recruitment programs. The Ametican National Scout Jamboree, for example, is held on permanent facilities at Fort Polk, an active U.S. army base in Virginia, near Washington.



The totalitarian groups had a high level of partisan political content as the group was controlled by the party which founded it or the ruling party which dominated the Government. Free political discussion was not allowed. The boys were instead instructed in political matters. This of course is an important difference between totalitarian and democratic youth groups. Political diversity was tolerated, at least within the mainstream of political thought at the time. I doubt, for example, that a boy from a liberal family would have been too vocal in a Boy Scout unit in Mississippi during the 1950s. The Scouts as a group, however, strongly promote the ideal of free speech and democraric government.


The totalitarian youth groups like the Hitler Youth downplayed religion. The Pioneers actively discouraged it. There few was in esence that total alligiance was owed to the state, not God. The religious role in democratic groups is more varied. The Boys' Brigade is an active Christian group. Scouts continued this Christian focus, but after spreading to non-Christian countries modified the focus to a general belief in God. Scouting in America is non-sectarian to a point. The BSA requires a boy to believe in God. As many Scout groups are organized by churches, there is often a sectarian orientation. In Europe, churches have often organized sectarian religious scout associations.

Figure 3.--A focus on uniforms is not a characteristic of titalitarian youth groups. Scouts have often given great emphasis to the uniform. The fully kitted out British Scout was probably photographed in the 1910s.


One might think that the use of uniforms was most pronounced in totalitarian groups. Certainly the uniform was very important in the Hitler Youth and Balial. But it was also strongly stressed in American and English scouting at the same time. In addition, the Pioneers in the Soviet Union and other countries never put much of a emphasis on uniforms. I am not sure why this was, I think in part it was the need to keep the uniform as simple and inexpensive as possible.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: April 27, 2000
Last updated: April 27, 2000