Soviet youth sets out on a ‘new, heroic and revolutionary path’

For Soviet Leadership, the 1957 Moscow World Festival of Youth and Students was a prime opportunity to illustrate the Soviet Union as “an international, active, peace-loving population that was collectively committed to promoting an alternative to American exploitation around the world.” The festival contributors were depended upon to exhibit Soviet Youth as superior, having admirable ethics and awareness. These youth were not only expected to convey these ideals, but also give the impression to the world delegates that they were invigorated by the memorandum in Khrushchev’s 20th Party Congress speech and embody “Soviet openness and international mobilization.” The Youth was supposed to present these sentiments and ideals as “participants who were acting of their own free will” as a means to revise the public assumption of a forcible Soviet government. Margaret Peacock portrays the 1957 festival as endeavoring to “replace older Stalinist visions of grateful, insulated Soviet youngsters with new images of well educated, independent, creative and activist youth” competent of international opposition with capitalism.

Youth Delegates at the Moscow World Fair

Youth and children in general are widely known for being easily influenced and moulded. So why then, did the Soviet Union choose this particular demographic to represent the face of the nation? Was it because the party wanted to ensure delegates would only spout Soviet propaganda? If that it true, then the 1957 World Moscow Festival did, in fact, completed some of the goals it set out to accomplish. As Peacock notes in her article, The Perils of Building Cold War Consensus at the 1957 Moscow World Festival of Youth and Students, there were no organized protests during this particular festival. Delegates routinely answered questions with the same responses, presenting the unified, joyous front imperative for both Soviet propaganda and ideology. More importantly, perhaps, was the exchange of cultures that occurred between delegates of different nationalities. Soviet delegates, and those from other communist nations, were exposed to the capitalistic lifestyle normative of most of Europe and the West. In return, delegates from Europe and the West received a look into life in the Soviet Union, albeit a carefully constructed and falsified one. Although the majority of delegates were probably already members of a communist organization within their home country, the Moscow World Festival allowed them unprecedented access to the actual application behind Marxist theory. The festival may not have completely accomplished its political agenda, but it provided a cross-cultural exchange that laid the groundwork for future interactions between the world’s youth.

The Significance of the 1957 Moscow World Festival

In Peacock’s article, the 1957 Moscow World Fair is established as a symbol for the newly-found importance in the youth’s involvement in the Soviet Union.  Peacock begins by pointing out the World Festival’s display of this view is not only for the international community, but to the Soviet youth as well.

Peacock give some historical  context to the feeling of necessity of the government to reemphasize the importance of the youth.  In World War II, the youth of that time “suffere disproportionately at the hands of the Nazis” who were able to “understand the necessity of peace against imperialist aggression” (Peacock 517).  This resulted in the USSR feeling the need to shelter these youth from the outside world, especially capitalist/Western influences.  This imposed a sweeping restriction on all foreign art mediums.

Peacock then argues that when the 1957 World Fair was held, the significance of culture became evident, as it was just as important to be winning the cultural war along with the economic and militaristic wars.  The Soviet organizers of the fair aimed to show the inspiring and joyous lives of the youth, who were oft culturally isolated, especially during the late Stalinist period.  The organizers transformed the neighboring parts of the city to embody this idealistic youthfulness, which even some of the Soviet youth had never even seen before.

Peacock then counters the Soviet’s facade of joy with the West’s “descriptions of the festival…consistently met these apparent manifestations of happiness with skepticism” (Peacock 525).  Peacock states that the machine like nature was too prevalent, and the youth simply could not be happy while being in this robotic nature.  American youth delegates at the fair had a number of incidents with rule-breaking, which exacerbated the western media’s views of the Soviets.

Despite the West’s negative publicity, American youth were genuinely intrigued by the Soviet Union’s policies, some even changing their view altogether.   The Soviet youth showed that they were “all the same”, and were successful in casting off their stereotypes to foreign delegates.  The world fair was successful for the Soviet’s as it changed the international community’s perception of them, in addition to solidifying a collective unity of the Soviet youth.