National-Patriotic Education In Out-Of-School Organizations Of The Russian Empire


At the beginning of the 20th century youth organizations such as the Sokoly, the Poteshnye, and Scouts sprang up and spread rapidly throughout the Russian Empire. The state looked favorable upon these social undertakings, hoping to solve a number of its own problems with the help of these movements, the main of which were physical fitness of future soldiers and ideological opposition to revolutionary ideas that were gaining popularity. As an alternative to socialist and democratic ideas, these youth organizations offered conservative values, such as loyalty to God and the monarch, the country and their people. The three organizations presented in the article differed in their goals and methods of work. The Socoly (falcons) was, first of all, a gymnastics association while Scouting – a method of education through a spy-game and outdoor life. The Poteshnye promoted pre-military training for future military service, primarily through marching. These movements were similar in their ideology, which makes it possible to analyze it in the framework of one article. The work also examines the contacts of these youth movements with the authorities and right parties. It is noted that government support was not a decisive factor for their success in society.

Keywords: Educationnationalismpoteshnyescoutingsokolstvo


At the end of the 19th – early 20th century the first organizations appeared in Europe and America; whose aim was to arrange the younger generation’s leisure time and contribute to its socialization. Among the pioneers we can find the German “Wandervögel”, the British “Boys' Brigades” and the US-Canadian “League of Forest Craftsmen”. Based on the ideas of the last two, the most popular children's organization of the last century, Scouts, was created in 1907. Russia did not lag behind this process. On the eve of the First World War, detachments of one of the three organizations – Sokoly, Poteshnye, or Scouts – spread throughout the country. They emerged due to the public initiative, but quickly received state support and began to express state ideology: patriotism, monarchism and the imperial vision of the nation.

Problem Statement

One of the tasks of these organizations was to form in the youth from different social and ethnic groups an idea of themselves as a single community. For that, it was necessary to create unifying symbols and a narrative describing them. In fact, youth organizations are becoming agents of “official nationalism,” as Anthony Smith, a prominent nationalist scholar, has described this phenomenon (Smith, 2004, p. 20). An important aspect of this type of identity formation was to formulate a broad cultural rather than ethnic interpretation of Russianness (Bulatov & Bystrova, 2018). It was supposed to include not only the Great Russians, Belarusians and Little Russians, but also representatives of the elite from other ethnic groups (including the imperial German blood family).

Research Questions

This article will raise the question (the work, of course, does not claim to fully cover such an extensive topic) about the role of non-political Russian children and youth movements in the formation of national identity among the younger generation.

Purpose of the Study

Before moving on to listing specific reasons that led to the creation of youth organizations in the Russian Empire, we should mention one fact that is important for understanding the essence of youngsters’ movements. Like nationalism, youth movements were the product of Western culture of the epoch of modernity, and were inextricably linked to the changes in economic and social life.

In fact, they were a response to the need of society for a new education system, when traditional methods could no longer be used (Selten, 1996, p. 267).

Research Methods

As for the specific reasons that determined the emergence of youth organizations in Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, three main reasons can be distinguished. The first one was the increase of urban youth, which needed some occupation for their spare time. As Matthias Neumann (2011) wrote about this: “The rapid population growth in the late Russian Empire made children and young people extremely visible in society and had led to an increasing interest in childhood” (p. 24).

The second reason that served as the pretext for supporting these movements by the authorities was the need for physical fitness of youth to serve in the army (Jones, 2004, p. 58). Given this fact, since the end of the 19th century the military department tried to stimulate the Ministry of Education to create full-fledged physical education lessons in schools (Belyukov, 2015, p. 142, 148). When the Scout movement appeared in Russia, its founders also appealed to the necessity of physical training for future soldiers: “Meanwhile, the call for military service shows physical degeneration of the population, since the number of people ineligible for military service is increasing every year” (Young scouts, 1910, p. 4). The third reason was the implementation of national-patriotic propaganda. In Russia, the situation was aggravated by the necessity to resist revolutionary agitation. So, the question of proper youth education was extremely relevant for the authorities and right-wing organizations (Rylov, 2010, p. 153). To some extent, this is summarized in “Regulation On preparation for military service in and outside educational institutions”, especially in the part dedicated to out-of-school education. This document was approved by the Emperor on July 18, 1911. According to the Regulation, the objectives of this preparation were: “a) strengthening faith in God in the younger generation, devotion to the Tsar and the homeland, moral rules and respect for law and order; b) acquainting future soldiers with the valorous spirit of the Russian army and fundamental principles of military discipline; c) military training and physical development; and d) instilling from a young age spiritual and physical qualities necessary for an ordinary soldier during military operations” (Gefner, 2010, p. 165).


Youth movements of the Russian Empire

In Russia of the early 20th century there were three mass youth movements: the Sokoly, the Poteshnye and Scouts. The first and last organizations were imported from Europe and still exist in Russia today, while the Poteshnye is a Russian invention and has existed for rather a short period of time. The sports organization "Prague Sokol" originally arose on February 16, 1862. The main objective of the organization was gymnastics, but educational work was also conducted among the Czech population. Kachulina (2017a) convincingly integrates the emergence of this organization into the long process of Czech cultural and national revival (p. 168-170). Soon, a similar system became popular in other Slavic countries within Austria-Hungarian Empire which were looking for ways to combat Germanization. In this situation, the ideas of pan-Slavic unity took an important place in the Sokoly’s ideology. Russia, as the strongest Slavic state and traditional defender of the Balkan Slavs, was given a special role.

In Russia, the first Sokol organizations appeared at the end of the 19th century (Jones, 2004, p. 58) but until 1907 they were forbidden to call themselves "Sokoly" in order to avoid complications with the Austria-Hungarian Empire, (Kachulina, 2017b, p. 67) whose authorities were suspicious of the nationalist activities of their Czech citizens. Since 1907, the Sokoly received the status of the official system of physical education, and since 1911, Russia joined the “Union of Slavic Sokol’stvo” (Kachulina, 2016, p. 167).

The following year, after the recognition of the Sokoly, Russia’s own children's movement – the Poteshnye – sprang up. On January 8, 1908, an Imperial Decree was issued to teach children marching and gymnastics at schools. Reserved and retired non-commissioned officers were to train them (Gefner, 2010, p. 164). The first to respond to the Emperor’s call was Lutskevich, an inspector of public schools, who in the spring of 1908 organized at his own expense a company of children aged 8 to 14 who were taught the military system and gymnastics at Bakhmut public school. He chose an original name for this organization, directly related to the Russian history – the “Poteshnye”, in memory of Peter I companions in children's games.

The organization grew and by 1912 the total number of members exceeded 70 thousand people. However, this year was the peak for the Poteshnye and even before the outbreak of the First World War, the organization, as such, completely disappeared, giving way to Scouts. Matthias Neumann (2011) connects this with the fact that the Poteshnye from the very beginning were an integral part of a “temporary nationalistic mobilization” and were not a “genuine youth’s movement” (p. 25).

The third big youth movement, namely the Scout movement, appeared in Russia on April 30, 1909. It came to Russia from England, where in 1907 Colonel Stephenson Smith Baden-Powell founded this organization. The purpose was to educate good citizens and people, physically fit and patriotic. By 1917, in Russia, according to various sources, there were about 25–30 thousand (Kudryashov, 2005, p. 49) boy and girl scouts in more than 200 settlements (Protsenko, 1918, p. 4).

Patriotic component in the ideology of children's movements

Youth organizations did not produce national ideas but were their advocates. This happened in close contact with the authorities and conservative parties supporting children's movements. The basic ideas were loyalty to the monarch, love for the motherland and its history, and a broad understanding of the Russian nation. The latter was interpreted as a union of different peoples living in Russia, working for its benefit and absorbing Russian culture. That means that both the Germans and the Georgians could join the youth movement, but there, in addition to physical and moral development, they would soak up the Russian culture, history and traditions. An exception was the Sokol movement, which promoted Slavic brotherhood, so there was a heated discussion within the organization as to whether non-Slavic peoples could be included in it. Now, we will move on to a more detailed consideration of some aspects of the relationship between youth movements and Imperial authorities and national education.

It should be noted right away that from the very beginning all three organizations carried a nationalistic and patriotic boost, and therefore enjoyed the support of both the authorities and right-wing parties. At the same time, they arose not on a state basis, but upon a private initiative. David Jones (2004) described it as follows: “All were begun and sustained by private individuals, but they all eventually benefited from the support provided by prominent officials who included, on occasion, Tsar Nicholas II himself” (p. 57).

As already mentioned, the Sokoly initially functioned semi-officially, but since 1907 they received a completely legal status. Moreover, the historian Kachulina, relying on extensive historiography, comes to the conclusion that in 1907–1917 in Russia the sports and gymnastic movement was represented only by the Sokol movement, which, having received state support, was soon represented in more than half of the country's secondary schools (Kachulina, 2017b, p. 67).

The main patron of this organization is known to be Prime Minister Stolypin (Matsukevich, 2011, p. 130). Moreover, according to Merkulov (2014), the Prime Minister and his son even joined the “Union of the Russian Sokol’stvo” (p. 287). The Black Hundreds and nationalists also supported this organization. In 1907 Purishkevich tried to get money for the development of this movement. In 1908 such right-wing figures as Maklakov, Komarov, and Count Bobrinsky were present at the Sokol’s congress in Prague. The Russian Assembly also provided comprehensive support to this movement, in particular, in St. Petersburg, where the Sokoly conducted physical training in the gymnasium of the Russian Assembly (Rylov, 2010, p. 151).

The Poteshnye and the Scouts were patronized by Nicholas II. The Emperor was aware of current European trends. In 1908 he got acquainted with the book of Baden-Powell "Scouting for boys". Having read it, he ordered to translate the book and then carefully watched the development of children's movements in the country. As it has already been mentioned, the Poteshnye arose in Bakhmut under the leadership of Lutskevich in the spring of 1908. A year later, on May 5, 1909, the Emperor gave the company the following name: “The first people’s class of the military system and gymnastics of His Imperial Majesty the Successor Tsesarevich and the Grand Duke Alexei Nikolaevich”. At the “Highest Review” in January 1910, the Poteshnye met with the tsar. Nicholas II went down the line, talked with the children, and took a picture (Inspection of the first people’s class of gymnastics in the Highest Presence, 1910, p. 4).

All patriotic forces liked the Poteshnye. Their detachments were organized at educational institutions, fire associations, and military units (Gefner, 2010, p. 164). There was a joint project of officers of the Semyonovsky Life Guard Regiment and Hieromonk Pavel, the founder of the “first Russian Sergius school of sobriety”. As it was noted in the press, the Emperor wrote on this initiative in a report: “I rejoice at the emergence of the company Poteshnye Semenovtsy” (The company of the "Poteshnye Semenovtsy", 1910, p. 5). The patriotic Ministry of Communications did not lag behind. Minister Rukhlov recommended to “Nemeshaev, the Head of the southwestern railways, to think about the early introduction of military education into the course of lower general education railway schools” (Classes of military formation and gymnastics, 1910, p. 5). Non-commissioned officers of the gendarmerie departments were offered for the role of instructors.

It is not known how patriotic juvenile delinquents were, but the Ministry of Justice was not going to lag behind the Ministry of Railways. So, at the direction of the Minister of Justice Shcheglovitov, “military training was introduced in juvenile prison colonies” (Classes of military formation and gymnastics, 1910, p. 3).

At the same time, there were attempts to combine methods of the Poteshnye with the ideas outlined in the “Scouting for boys”. The ataman of the Vilensk Poteshnye army, von Axlé, tried to use such an experiment. von Axlé set forth his achievements in a book with the complex title “Vilensk Poteshnye Army or the Sovereign’s Case, described in the military language of laws and giving answers to all questions of the organization and training troops according to the English system, but in the Russian spirit”. The army itself was divided into two squads: “The Black Sokol (falcon)” and “The Fight against the Yellow Danger” (Zotov, 1998, pp. 89-91).

The Russian rights took a liking to the Poteshnye as well as to the Sokoly. In 1910, in Yaroslavl, the "Poteshnye Company" was created on the basis of the "Union of Children of the Russian People" (existed since 1907), the children's department of the Union of Russian People (Razmolodin, 2001, p. 78). Rylov (2010) notes that the meetings of Russian monarchists often raised the question of patriotic education and support in this regard for the Poteshnye. In particular, the researcher mentions the solemn meeting of the Mikhail Archangel Russian People’s Union on October 1, 1911, the constituent congress of the All-Russian Dubrovin Union of the Russian People at the end of 1911, and the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Russian People in St. Petersburg in May 1912 (Rylov, 2010, pp. 153-154).

From the very beginning Scouts were also kindly treated by the monarch. The founder of Russian Scouting, Oleg Ivanovich Pantyukhov, served in the First Infantry Imperial Guard Battalion (General list of officer ranks of the Russian Imperial Army, 1909, p. 142). This unit was lodged in Tsarskoye Selo, and the young officer Pantyukhov could have contacts with the tsarist family from time to time. For example, during a traditional tsar’s visit of the regiment assembly, Oleg Ivanovich gave him a scout lily with the monogram of the sovereign and the crown for the heir, thereby receiving a royal blessing to continue the work. Later, the heir to the throne, Alexei Nikolaevich officially joined this organization. According to a scout legend, it was him who was portrayed by the wife of the scouting founder, Nina Mikhailovna Pantyukhova, on the famous scout emblem “Boy under the tree”. Grand Duchess Elizaveta Fedorovna, sister of the Empress, officially accepted patronage of the Moscow Society for the Promotion of Scouts (Bulatov, 2012, p. 80). Grand Duke George Konstantinovich also helped the scout movement (Merkulov, 2014, p. 289).


Summing up, it should be noted that in Russia both society and the state welcomed youth organizations, largely due to their moderate ideological position based on patriotism and imperial understanding of nationalism.

We should also stress that close interaction with the state and right-wing parties would certainly have been impossible if the children's movements had not shared common principles with them, in particular, monarchism and Orthodoxy. At the same time, the Scouts differed from other organizations because they had smaller contacts with the right parties. This was facilitated by the cautious attitude of the conservatives towards the British organization, while the Slavic Sokoly and the Russian Poteshnye inspired them with more confidence.


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National interest, national identity, national security, public organizations, linguocultural identity, linguistic worldview

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Mosolkin, S. V., Bulatov, I., & Emelyanov, A. (2021). National-Patriotic Education In Out-Of-School Organizations Of The Russian Empire. In I. Savchenko (Ed.), National Interest, National Identity and National Security, vol 102. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 657-663). European Publisher.