The devil finds work...
Youth energy can be a revolutionary force. Governments feel safer when
it is contained in youth organisations strictly controlled by adults.
Huw Richards looks at six youth movements around the world.
Malawi: The Young Pioneers
‘The history of the Youth of the country begins with the arrival of His Excellency the Life President, Dr H Kamuzu Banda, from abroad on 6th July 1958.’
Just in case you had any doubts who the Pioneers see as their founder, this extract from the Malawi Youth Week programme for 1982 should settle them. Youth week includes a prayer for long life for Dr Banda. It obviously works - he’s well into his 80s.
The pioneers dedicate themselves to serving Malawi and its ruling party’s principles of ‘Unity, Loyalty, Obedience and Discipline’.
They were set up after independence in 1963 with the object of: ‘Harnessing the energy and determination of youth for spearheading progress, instead of allowing them to flood into urban areas seeking employment.’
The flood has rather been into rural Malawi. Volunteers are recruited to help develop villages. They are trained at one of the 25-plus bases established around the country, with agricultural techniques a vital part of their work.
The aim is that pioneers should eventually take their expertise back to their own communities and help to develop and modernise them.
By 1981, 40,000 pioneers had been trained. The focus of the year is Youth Week, during which young people give their services to self-help projects in their communities.
International Youth: The Scouts
In spite of its rejection of drill the Scouts have never really been able to shake off a militaristic image. It’s probably got something to do with their founder, the military eccentric and mystic Baden-Powell.
He had been impressed by the Boys’ Brigade and the ‘Woodcraft Indians’ of the American Ernest Thompson Seton, who advocated teaching boys the backwoods skills of the American Indian.
Baden-Powell aimed to harness the high spirits of youth: ‘We say to a boy "Come and be good." Well, the best class of boy, that is the Hooligan, says "I’ll be blowed if I’ll be good!" We say "Come and be a Red Indian, and dress like a Scout" and he will come along like anything.’
They did indeed. There were 140,000 Scouts by 1913. Many subsequently responded to Baden-Powell’s statement that all should be ready to defend the British Empire - and fell in the First World War.
The horrors of the war produced a shift from the nationalism of the pre-war period to a new internationalism. The movement grew dramatically and is now almost universal outside Communist countries, an expansion celebrated by a succession of international jamborees. In the US alone there are six million boy Scouts.
Recent years have see modernisation. Long trousers replaced shorts in 1966. Controversy recurs, though rarely with the flavour of the row caused in the 1950s when a Scout was expelled for becoming a regional secretary of the Young Communists.
In 1982 the new British Chief Scout Major-General Walsh created a stir with comments that some parts of the movement had gone sloppy and ill-disciplined and the wish that Scouts would call him ‘Sir’ or ‘Chief: ‘I understand it is not fashionable among our so-called "enlightened academics" to pay even this acknowledgement or respect,’ he said.
Unlike most Western political parties, which are little more than electoral machines, their Israeli counterparts are dug deep into their society at several points.
Most have their own banks, co-operatives, Industrial concerns - and youth movement. One of the most powerful youth organisations is B’nai Akiva, which is attached to the National Religious Party (NRP).
NRP is a small, but vital, part of the ruling coalition. Three of its four MPs are ministers, controlling the important ministries of Religion, Education and Culture. The high proportion of rabbis in membership is alleged to make its intra-party debates the most sophisticated in any party.
B’nai Akiva was founded in 1938 by Hapoe Hamizmachi, one of the groups subsequently absorbed in the NRP. It was a movement of religious-nationalist labourers dedicated to rebuilding what was then Palestine in the spirit of the Jewish holy book - The Torah. B’nai Akiva was the most liberal section of the NRP and its youth wing reflected this. Religious fundamentalism blends with co-operative socialism, and the aim is to establish settlements in which these could be implemented. As a result B’nai Akiva has played an important part in the Kibbutz movement as well as supporting a network of seminaries: 70,000 members have joined its 140 branches since 1939.
The movement supports ‘a healthy mind and healthy body, spiritual fortitude and mental stability’. Physical health is catered for by its sports association and thriving soccer, volleyball and basketball sections.
‘The other night when I got home I couldn’t remember what my assignment was. Just then there was a knock at the door and there was my group leader to remind me about my assignment and help me work on it.’
That might sound an everyday story of a Chinese activist’s life. It is, but the speaker is a primary school child. The Chinese believe in catching them young.
The junior pioneers - the Red Scarves - have branches in almost every primary and junior school in China. The aim is to turn each member into ‘a builder and defender of Communism’. Selection begins as early as six or seven. Older members talk to classes of younger children about their organisation. Qualifications are: ‘A concern with current affairs, service to the people, studying hard, showing a spirit of self-criticism and criticism, taking an active part in physical education.’
Schools are structured around a network of committees and sub-committees; classrooms reflect this network in microcosm, with committees and leaders for Study, Work, Gymnastics, Life-Culture and the Class as a whole.
Members may later progress either into the Red Guards (no longer as radical as the shock troops of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s) or to the Young Communist League, nursery for the party officers of the future.
International youth: Boys’ Brigade
Combining drill with evangelism, the Boys’ Brigade is one of the longest-standing of the organised youth movements.
Today it has over 400,000 members in more than 60 countries. There is particular strength in Nigeria and New Zealand. Membership is in decline in traditional areas such as Great Britain and the white dominions but growing in the Third World.
It’s a far cry from the first group, started in 1883 in a Glasgow church. The church link has always been fundamental to the movement, a product of nineteenth century muscular Christianity.
Its declared object of ‘the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom among Boys and the promotion of habits of Reverence, Discipline, Self-respect and all that tends towards a true Christian manliness’ has remained unchanged except for the addition of the word ‘obedience’ in 1893. ‘Think of the other fellow first’ remains equally unchallenged as the Brigade motto.
It is a conservative organisation, with an approach that received royal endorsement in 1966. On the opening of their new headquarters the Queen declared: ‘I believe that in a swinging age it is still important to have a basis of faith and discipline in order to keep one’s feet on the ground. The establishment of positive standards of value is becoming increasingly difficult for young people, who find it hard to know what or whom to respect.
Even so there have been changes as the movement feared its image was becoming dated. Brigades are now far more likely to be found sailing or orienteering than drilling - and the traditional pillbox hat was abolished in 1971.
That the devil finds work for idle hands may be a Christian expression but it’s taken very seriously by many Communist governments. Certainly the Cubans seem very keen to preempt the forces of evil by providing their own work. The ballot boxes in the 1976 elections, for example, were guarded by schoolchildren.
Almost all Cuban children belong to organisations supported by the Union of Young Communists and the Department of Education. The official aim, of keeping young people out of mischief and on the political straight and narrow, is well summed up by the statement: ‘The pioneer organisations constitute the first school of Communist education for our children and adolescents, contribute to their integral formation and incorporate them actively and enthusiastically to social life.’
Young Cubans may take advantage of extensive sports organisations. They have their own newspaper, Juventud Rebele. They are also likely to carry out a variety of tasks for the state. Construction projects have been a vital part of this work. In the late 1960s, 42,000 pioneers took part in the reclamation of the Isle of Pines - renamed the Isle of Youth - after it had been devastated by Hurricane Alma.
In 1973 the Youth Army of Labour was founded under military control. Members serve three years’ social service as conscripts in addition to their three years’ military service. The wide range of its work is indicated by Fidel Castro’s 1974 tribute to: ‘Your decisive help in the sugar harvest, your formidable work in fulfilling agricultural plans, in the construction of schools, factories, and housing.’