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Komsomol is a portmanteau word, from the russian Kommunisticheski Soyuz Molodezhi, 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 eldest being in their mid twenties. Younger children could join the allied Pioneers organisation.

Komsomol had little direct influence on the Communist Party, and so the government of the soviet union, but 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, Komsomol fulfilled an important role in Soviet government. 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 preferment in promotion. For example, Yuri Andropov, CPSU General Secretary for a short time following Brezhnyev reached political heights by means of the Komsomol organisation of Karelia. At its height, in the 1970's, 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 partonage 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, including: RKSM, RLKSM, VLKSM, all acronymns.

However, under the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev Perestroika (restructuring) was accompanied by Glasnost (openness), which revealed Komsomol as an organisation out-of-touch with modern youth, and no longer serving their interests, the calibre of Komsomol leadership was low, and these, and 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. Unfortunately, the reforms of the twentieth congress eventually destroyed the organisation, not with a bang, but with a whimper, with fragmentation, a lack of clarity-of-purpose, and a waning of interest, membership and calibre of membership -- there was simply no longer a need for the organisation.