* young pioneer country movements

Young Pioneer Movement: Individual Countries

The first Pioneer movement was established in the Soviet Union, but upon seizing power, the Communist Party established the Young Pioneers in each country where they seized power from Momgolia to Cuba. Several countries of Eastern Europe including the Ukraine had active Scout movements which developed before and after the First World War. The Scouting Movement was supressed by the NAZIs in most occupied countries, especially in Eastern Europe. After the War the movement was outlawed by the Communists who organized national Young Pionner groups. Like the Soviet Communist Party, local Communists insisted on total control over schools and other institutions involved with children. There were no competing youth groups involved.

Figure 1.--The Soviet Young Pioneer Movement was the prototype for the Young Pioneer groups formed in the Eastern European countries dominated by the Soviets. Seeing the impact of the Hitler Youth Movement, greater resources were devoted to the Pionners after World War II. Here we see Soviet Pioneers, we think in the 1960s. We have found many Soviet Pioneer photographs. We note far fewer Eastern European images.

Soviet Union

The Soviet Union was the world's first modern totalitarian state. After the Civil War as the Bolshevicks began to consolidate their power they began to create a youth movement to shape the upcoming generation. Totalitarian states must control all aspects of the population's life. And shaping youth is a critical aspect of this. At the time the principal international youth movement was the Boy Scouts and Scouting influenced both new Pioneer Movement and the Hitler Youth. Unlike Scouting, however, there was little family involvement. The Pioneer Movement was entirely comtrolled by the Soviet state through the Communist Party. The Party used the Pioners to indoctrinate young people in Communist ideology and as a way of recruiting and evaluating new recruits. At first it was a movement just for the workers but was eventually broadened into a mass movement for all young people. The Young Pioneers became virtually compulsory and was managed through the schools. The Government underwrote the costs of the Pioneer Movement including a summer camp program. The Soviet Pioneers served as a model for the Pioneer groups established in the occupied countries of Eastern Europe and other countries where the Communists seized control. The Young Pioneers were founded in the Soviet Union as described above. The Communist Revolution in Russia occured during 1917, before the Scouting movement could be established to any extent. Scouting has always been a middle-class movement. The Communists instead set up the Young Pioneer movement to involve all children. The Communist Party (CPSU) was the most important organization in the Soviet Union. The Party used youth groups like the Young Pioneers as part of its overall program to inculcate Communist ideology. Other potentially competing youth groups were outlawed. At first only limited attention was given to the Pioneers. After World War II, influenced with the potential revealed by the Hitler Youth, greater resourcs were made availble to the Pioneer Movement. One notable aspect of the Pioneers is the rapidity with which the movement disapeared after state financial support was ended.

Figure 2.--East German pioneers participating in a school ceremony during the 1980s. Notice the red flag. Surprisingly, it does not look red.


No information currently available.


After World War II, the Communists backed by the occupying Red Army and NKVD seized power in Bulgaria. The The People's Republic of Bulgaria (PRB) (Народна република България (НРБ) formally took power (1946). The Bugarian Communust Party (BCP) banned Scouting and followed the Soviet model set up a party youth organization--the Communist Youth League of Bulgaria which was later renamed the Dimitrov Communist Youth League of Bulgaria (DPO) and abbreviated as the Komsomol. They were also called Septemberists. The organization for children was the Young Pioneers. There were also an organization called 'Chavdarcheta' for the younger children. The difference between the two was the distinctive scarf, which was sky-blue in the Chavdarcheta movement and red in the Pioneri movement. The Pioneri movement w founded immediately after the arrivlof the Rd Army during World War II allowing the Communists to begin seizing power (September 1944) The DPO "Septemberists" organized Bulgarian children between 9 and 14 years of age. It was organizationlly a unit of the Dimitrovist Young Communist League. The League sought to instill Socialist values among Bulgarian youth and to recruit future Party members. We have been able to find very little information about the Bulgarian Pioneers. We note a choir group visiting Berlin (about 1960). We also note the Pioneers presenting Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (1934-68) a dove presented to him in Sofia by Bulgarian Young Pioneers (1961). Membership totaled 0.7 million (1967) and peaked at 1.5 million members (1987). Membership was essentially compulsory. After the fall of Communism in Bulgaria, the Pioneers were disbanned. Without government support, The uniform was green with Boy Scout-like jackets and berets. there was little interest in continuing the organization. . Isn't it interesting that despite the fact that there were 1.5 million members that today virtually none of them are interested in contributing to this page. This probably reflects the fact that membership was compulsory and few found the movement interesting or beneficial. This seems to have been the case throughout the Soviet empire.


The Czech Pioneer movement was similar to similar organizations created in Eastern European countries. Like other countries, the uniforms were quite simple, dominated by red scarves. Unlike several other countries, the Scouts were allowed to opetate in Czecheslovakia, at least until the Sovier intervention in 1968.


HBU has little information on Chinese Pioneering, but a HBU reader who recently visited China has provided some information. Membership in the Chinese Pioneers is in the 2000s not compulsory, but refusing to join could, until recently, run you into some trouble. One report from Shanghai indicated a boy who refused to join because he was Catholic had some diffulty obtaining further education. HBU is not sure just when this occurred, but suspects that in the 1950s and 60s that membership probably was virtually compulsory. Certainly refusing to join the Cultural Revolution could have been dangerous for a boy or even his family. The red neckerchief is the only uniform item. They tie it with an overhand knot or a reef knot and use no woggle.

Figure 3.--This East German boy wears a full Young Pioneer Movement. The Young Pioneers did not put a much emphasis on uniforms as the scouts. Many Young Pioneers never wore the cap.


We know of no French Pioneer movement. Some French political parties may have had youth groups, but HBU does not believe they were of great importance--having trouble competing with Scouting. There has been at least one pre-war French youth organization based on socialism/communism : the Mouvement des Jeunes Socialistes was active in the 1930s. They were nicknamed Les Faucons Rouges (the Red Falcons). Unfortunately, we have virtually no information about them at this tume. U believe that there was a similar group in Germany before the 1933 NAZI takeover. I do not know if this movement existed in other European countries.


Germany before the 1933 NAZI take over had a socialist youth movement called the Falcons. This was outlawed in 1933 and the leaders presumably arrested, although here I have few details. After World War II, the Young Pioneer movement was founded in the Soviet occupation zone. Almost every kid in the DDR had to participate in Young Pioneers. East Germans who participated in Pioneers report that were a kind of a double-edged sword. Children had to join the Pioneers (and when older the FDJ) to have any chance of a higher education like college. Very few few kids refused to join. There were regular meetings, but always at school. The organization-form was based on the school-classes. Pioneer meetings were never held at private homes or of course churches. They did not meet kids from other schools or areas at meetings as in Scouting. Parents were very seldom involved in pioneer activites. The Pioneer groups organized s some official events like special celebration days. Those were organized by the schools pioneers unit. Like marching in uniform in the Labor Day parade--a very important event in communist countries. There was also a little fun like hiking trips, school-discos, or carnival. It’s hard to tell which role the pioneers played in this events. Mostly they were organized by the pioneers group managment (group = school-class), but probably without the pioneers they would also happened in some way.


As in other East Bloc countries, the Young Pioneer youth group was established. Other youth groups such as the Scouts and Guides were banned. The Pioneers were a school based prigram and thus virtually mandatory. A child could theoretically refused to join, but it was not the kind of thing small children woukd do. And such rfusal would draw attention on a the parents, not an advisable things in a police state. Many children did not like the Pioneers because of tge regimentation, in many respects a continuation of school. Some children did like it. One former Pioneer writes, "I loved my schooldays, and in particular my membership of the Pioneers - a movement common to all communist countries. Many in the West believed it was a crude attempt to indoctrinate the young with communist ideology, but being a Pioneer taught us valuable life skills such as building friendships and the importance of working for the benefit of the community. 'Together for each other' was our slogan, and that was how we were encouraged to think. As a Pioneer, if you performed well in your studies, communal work and school competitions, you were rewarded with a trip to a summer camp. I went every year because I took part in almost all the school activities: competitions, gymnastics, athletics, choir, shooting, literature and library work. On our last night at Pioneer camp we sang songs around the bonfire, such as the Pioneer anthem: 'Mint a mokus fenn a fan, az uttoro oly vidam' ('We are as happy as a squirrel on a tree'), and other traditional songs. Our feelings were always mixed: sad at the prospect of leaving, but happy at the thought of seeing our families again. Today, even those who do not consider themselves communists look back at their days in the Pioneers with great affection." [Clark] We havev no doubt that some Hungarians like Clark enjoyed the Pioneers, but the disappearance of the Pioneers after tghe collapse of Communism suggests to us that this was not the opinion of most Hungarians.


The Polish Scouts (ZHP) and Guides were the most important Polish youth organization before World War II. After the German abd Soviet invasions (September 1939), security forces began arresting Scout leaders many were shot. Boys found wearing uniforms are involved in cladesrine operations were also arrested and nany were shot. Here German officers varied somewhat. This was done by both NAZI security organizations and the Soviet NKVD in their respective occupation zines. After the Red Army drive the Germans out of Poland (1945) the ZHP reorganized in the areas designated for the new Polish state by Stalin. The Communist authorities tolerated the independent ZHP ar first. Communist policy was not to allow independent organizations not under state/party control, especially when children were concerned. Communist authorities attempted to convince the ZHP organization to affiliate with the Communist Pioneer Movement. The ZHP was a highly respected orhanization in Poland and this would have lent considerable prestige to a new Pioneer Movement. When the ZHP refused, authorities banned the organization (1949). They began building a Polish Pioneer Movement along the lines of the Soviet Pioneers from the ground up. The Polish Pioneers were named the Organizacja Harcerska Związku Młodzieży Polskiej (ZMP-OH). Participation in the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries was virtually compulsory as it was a school-based program. We do not yetvhsvecdetails on Poland. . The same process occurred elsewhere in the Soviet Eastern European empire. Ourvinformation is limited, but the ZMP-OH appears to have adopted many features of Polish Scouting in part, because this was the youthbgroup that most Poles were famikar with. And many bPolish teachers had been Scouts or Scouts leader Stalin insituted severe policies througouth Eastern Europe to stamp out any resistance to Soviet control and the local Communists Stalin placed in power. In Poland this was Bolesław Bierut, an NKVD agent, and hard-line Stalinist who Stalin chose as President of Poland. Stalin died (1953) and Bierut (1956). This was just as Khruchev launched the De-Staliization process in the Soviet Union. This led to some liberalization theougout Eastern Europe, especially in Poland. This included the ZMP-OH. Some changes were made and it was remamed the ZHP, the old name of Polish Scouting. This was largely a superficial change. The new ZHP was not arevivalmof Polish Scouting and did not see itself as such, even though uniquely in Eastern Europe it keptvthe Scout and Guide name. Surviving pre-War ZHP Scouters were still part of the organization. The Scouting name was adopted, but the new organizatiin began the process of building a truly Communist organization in ernest. The Scout oath, law, educational content and methods were changed. This include removing God from the oath and religion from the program. Lenin Russian leader (who waged war against Poland) was introduced as a hero for Polish children. The Bolshevik Revolution was lionized. The troops were renajed brigades ahd tge movement became ceducational. The new ZHP then began dismissing pre-War Scout leaders from the new ZHP or marginalizing tthose not removed (beginning in 1958). Despite the best efforts of Communist officials, they never fully turned the ZHP into a reliable Communist organ. The ZHP was a rare organization in Easter Eutope that maintained a degree of independence from the Communist Party. The traditiions werectoo stringvas well as the number of Poles whobwee Scouts and Guides as children and youth. As aresult, it was popular with Polish youth. At the time of tge Solidarity rising, there werec3 million members (1980). The ZHP tooknon many duties, such as helping with harvests, especuallybin poor rural reguons. They also helped organize the visits of Pope John Paul II which Communist authorities were not interested in oromoting. Communist authorities to supress Solidarity and prevent aoviet invasion declared martial law (1981). The ZHP was the only important social organization not to shit down. ZHP at ita 8th Convention endorsed martial law, but herecthey had no option. Many important ZHP officials were interned because of their involvement in the Solidarność movement. Communist authorities finally agreed tobrelinquish power. A process of peaceful transition began (1989). The ZHP organization splintered . Some Scoutrs believed that top HP leasers and other Scouters had cooperated too closly with Communist officials and did not want to be associated with them. . .


In the final year of World War II, the Soviet Red Army entered and occupied Romania (1944). Scouters attempted to revive the Scouting movement, but this proved politically dangerous. The Communist Government forced on Romania by the occupying Soviets set up the Young Pioner movement--a mandatory Communist group. Alternative youth groups were outlawed. As in the Soviet Union, the Pioneers were a school based youth group. We have been unable to find much information about the Pioneer movement in Romania. Given the number of children involved and the four decades that the Communists controlled Romania, the small number of available images seems remarkable. It was a mandatory movement and just like school, all children had to participate. The Pioneers as a school-based group basically used the school uniform as the youth group uniform. The communist regime by 1948 had firmly installed itself in Romania and had reimposed school uniforms The school unform regulations became stricter. Students were not alowed to participate in classes without the appropriate school uniform. Each school uniform had to have the record number and the name of the institution where the student was attending sewed on it for identification. The unifom consisted of Pioneer caps (white for primary school students and black for secondary school students), white long sleeved shirts, dark blue linen trousers/skirts. We have noted different colors over time. A red knecershief was added and the edges decorated with the Romanian flag. It was tightened with a plastic accessory (woggle). The overthrow of Communism resulted in the collapse of the Pioneer Movement which had no real support outside of the Communist Party (1989).


There was a Socialist oriented Pioneer group in Spain during the Civil War era, but we have few details at this time, epcept that we know they existed. The Spanish name was Pioneros, presumaby chosen because of the Young Pioneer Movement in the Soviet Union. We do not know just who organized the group, presumably Socialist or Communuist parties or perhaps the labor unions. We are not sure when theyvwere first organized, but we know that groups were active at least by 1935 before the outbreak of the Civil War (1936-39). We note an American volunteer of the Abrahan Lincoln Brigade promising to bring home a Pioneer pin. A reader who was a boy during the Civil War writes, "I recall that during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) I belonged to the Pioneers, and I distinctly remember our uniform: Blue shirt, navy blue pants/skirts, and red scarf. Our emblem was several fire flames over crossed logs." [Ymadlain] Notice that they were a coed group at a time that most youth groups were single gender organizations.

United States

There were also Young Pioneers in America. Some Americans with leftist leanings during the 1920s desired that their children participate in a more ideplogically oriented program than the Boy Scouts. Interest increased in the 1930s after the onset of the Depression. Unlike comparable right-wing groups like the German American Bund, the American Pioneers did not have uniforms. Summer camps were set up so that the children's political education could be pursued during their summer vacation.


HBC has only limited information on the Pioneer movement in the former Yugoslavia, before the breakup began in 1992? A Croatian reader reports that he still had to wear a Pioneer uniform in the mid-1980s. He didn't like the Pioneers. He asks, "What was the whole point of being a Pioneer anyway? I hated going to that place. Never understood why they made me do it." Pioneers in former Yugoslavia did wear blue caps as a symbol of sea which borders their country. HBU believes that the Pioneers in each of the different republics all wore the same uniform.

Other Countries

Pioneer groups were also organized in other countries where the Communist Party seized control of governments, the Asian countries like North Korea, Laos, Mongolia, and Vietnam. I'm not sure about Cambodia. There is of course an active Pioneer movement in Cuba. Interestingly, Pioneering only seems to have appeared to any extent in countries where the Communists seized power. This is interesting, because there were very powerful Communist movements in several European countries, especially France and Italy. Why a Pioneer movement did not develop there is not clear to HBU.


Clark, Zsuzsanna. "Oppressive and grey? No, growing up under communism was the happiest time of my life," Mail Online (October 17, 2009).


Navigate the Historic Boys' Uniform Chronology Pages:
[Return to the Main chronologies page]
[The 1900s] [The 1910s] [The 1920s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1950s] [The 1960s] [The 1970s] [The 1980s] [The 1990s] [The 2000s]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Uniform Web Site:
[Return to the Main Pioneer page]
[Activities] [Biographies] [Chronologies] [Countries] [Essays] [Garments] [Organizations] [Religion] [Other]
[Introduction] [Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Questions] [Unknown images]
[Boys' Uniform Home]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Uniform Web organizatiion pages:
[Boys' Brigade] [Camp Fire] [Hitler Youth] [National] [Pioneers] [Royal Rangers] [Scout]

Created: 1:30 AM 3/4/2011
Last updated: 6:24 AM 9/10/2018