Key youth subcultures from Lenin to our day

Narodniki (Populists)
Flourished in the 1860s-80s.

Values: equality, education, justice, social progress, self-sacrifice, building an ideal world.

Values rejected: aristocracy, privilege, conservatism.

Lifestyle: today Narodniki might be called volunteers. Thousands of young people dropped out of school, left their families and “went to the people” to teach, cure and propagate their views. Some were content to teach peasant children to read and write, while others hoped to incite peasant uprisings. Later many of them became disenchanted with their missionary work and took up bombs and revolvers instead of books.

Main works: texts by Herzen, Lavrov, Bakunin, Mikhailovsky; the newspapers and magazines Narodnoye Delo (People’s Cause), Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will), Vperyod (Forward) and Nabat (The Tocsin).

Revolutionary workers

Flourished in 1890s-1910s

Values: equality, being a member of the working class, revolutionary struggle, building an ideal world.

Values rejected: private property, lust for gain, exploitation, czarism, capitalism.
Lifestyle: conscientious worker activists who, unlike their comrades who got drunk in the evenings, pored over revolutionary pamphlets and planned strikes. Confrontations often developed into bloody clashes with police and the Black Hundreds.

Main works: writings by Lenin, Marx, Plekhanov and other thinkers, or rather, pamphlets containing a digest of their ideas. The newspapers Iskra, Revolutsionnaya Rossiya and Rabocheye Delo (Workers’ Cause).


Flourished in the 1910s

Values: aestheticism, individualism, experimenting in creative work and sex, perceptiveness and mysticism.

Values rejected: conservative morality, bourgeois attitudes, the state, money, social position.

Lifestyle: writing poetry, painting and composing music. They founded their own magazines and galleries and formed artistic and poetic groups. They gathered at cafes or in apartments to hold soirees with endless discussions about creative principles. While constantly mixing with one another they paraded their individualism. The poet Konstantin Balmont wrote: “I hate humanity/ I flee it in a hurry/ My only country is / my desolate soul.”

Main works: Collections of poetry by Sologub, Bryusov, Merezhkovsky, Gippius and Balmont.

Avant Garde

Flourished in the 1890s-1930s

Values: experiment, progress, novelty, building an ideal world, technologies of the future

Rejected values: traditions, historical continuity.

Lifestyle: They were atheists and anarchists. Vadim Rudnev, author of A Dictionary of XX Century Culture, writes: “The avant garde seeks to engage and shock the public. To shock, scandalise and titillate – avant garde art cannot be imagined without all this.” The followers of avant garde dreamed of changing life at least “on the global scale”. Some of their works have not been decoded to this day, one famous example being the “The Black Rectangle” by Malevich.

Main works: paintings by Malevich, Kandinsky, Tatlin, Lisitsky, the poetry of Mayakovsky, Vvedensky, Khlebnikov and Harms.

Student Construction Teams

Flourished in the late 1950s - mid 1980s

Values: work, collectivism, camaraderie, altruism, social activism.

Rejected values: greed, lust for gain, hedonism.

Lifestyle: The students usually lived in tents with all the attributes of outdoor life: singing around a bonfire, picnics and contests, be it on the football pitch or at work. The key features of appearance are a worker’s blouse with chevrons and insignia of the construction team.

Their activities: They developed virgin land, built roads and power stations. Hardly any major Soviet construction project was built without using students as cheap labour.

Main works: Baikal-Amur Railway, Sayano-Shushenskaya Power Station, the cities of Ust-Ilimsk and Bratsk.


Flourished in 1960s-1970s

Values: collectivism, sincerity, self-government, creativity, experiment.

Values rejected: individualism, formalism in art

Lifestyle: the Communards’ aim was to bring up “the new man” one hundred percent prepared to live in a commune. It began at school: children were taught according to a new method, a mixture of boy scouts, teaching of creativity, group psychotherapy and games. Pedagogical teams involved more than 60,000 students, according to some estimates.

Main works: Pedagogical Poem by Makarenko, methodological works by educator Igor Ivanov, the “Pink Sail” column in the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Hikers and songsters

Flourished in the 1960s-1970s

Values: creativity, the outdoors, collectivism, overcoming difficulties, sincerity.

Values rejected: authoritarianism, passivity, individualism, pathos

Lifestyle: Weatherproof jacket and a rucksack, all tarp and a minimum of comfort. A necessary attribute was the guitar. The lifestyle involved regular outings that could be to the countryside around Moscow or as fair afield as Altai and Pamir mountains. Often such a group was a mini state in which images of the ideal world were constructed.

Main works: songs by Vizbor, Gorodnitsky, and Okudzhava, to name but a few.

Stilyagi (Teddy-Boys)

Flourished in the late 1940s - early 1960s

Values: individualism, laxity, hedonism, rejection of politics.

Values rejected: collectivism, uniformity, moral rectitude, asceticism.

Lifestyle: copied the trends among advanced youth in Europe and America. Young men wore bright-colored shirts and ties with matching socks, loose-fitting checkered jackets and wide-brimmed hats, “a slap in the face of public taste” which was all about grayness and uniformity. Pompadour haircuts imitating Elvis Presley were de rigueur. The girls were heavily made up and wore gaudy dresses. They had their own slang, some of which has survived to this day, for example, khata “apartment”, chuvak “one of their lot”, soksy “socks”.

Main works: boogie-woogie and rock’-n’-roll.


Flourished in the 1970s-1980s

Values: freedom, uninhibited behavior, hedonism, pacifism, individualism.

Values rejected: uniformity, militarism, patriotism, family, money, power.

Lifestyle: A typical hippy looks just Jesus Christ in the flesh: long hair, cheap simple bright-colored clothes, and ethnic trinkets symbolising rejection of racial and cultural differences. A frequent attribute was a ribbon on the forehead to prevent one “going off one’s head”, a wristband with some bric-a-brac, usually a memento given by a fellow hippie. They hung out in the streets and squares, sang soulful tunes to the strains of a guitar, recited poetry and smoked pot. They often moved about by hitching rides.

Main works: photographs and paintings by Sergey Solmi, Umka’s music, the early Aquarium group.


Flourished in the 1980s

Values: protest, independence, experiment.

Values rejected: authoritarianism, militarism, capitalism, racism, sexism, nationalism, puritan morality, money.

Lifestyle: The first and most eye-catching sign of a punk is spiky hair. Other attributes include a bomber jacket, worn jeans tucked into high combat boots. The apparel is decorated with skulls and other pieces of metal.

Main works: music by the Grazhdanskaya Oborona (Civil Defense) group.


Flourished in the 2000s

Values: sentimentalism, individualism, living in their own imagined world, mysticism.

Values rejected: authoritarianism, pragmatism.

Lifestyle: You can always tell a Goth by the white face with black eye and lip liner, and black clothes beneath a cloak or floor-length cape. The Goths usually have the cult of death and fetishes connected with the nether world.

They hang out in deserted buildings, at graveyards and in other dark places. They read mystic books, stage various medieval rituals and listen to Gothic music.

Main works: songs by the groups Antisisters, The Guests and Otto Dicks.


Flourished in the 2000s

Values: Emo is short for emotional, which implies sensitivity, love, friendship and individualism.

Values rejected: practical common sense, authoritarianism, pragmatism.

Lifestyle: The Emos are clad in black and pink and grow long forelocks. It is often hard to determine an Emo’s sex: boys and girls look absolutely the same.

“Don’t hurt Emos. They cry all the time anyway” read a notice at one youth forum. Indeed, Emos are usually in a depressed state, more often than not because of unrequited love. But it came as a surprise to many that Emos experience positive emotions too. The Emo’s mood can be told by the color of his/her clothes: if black predominates he/she is in a down mood, if it is pink, he/she is happy.

Main works: songs by the groups JaneAir, Origami, Maio and Ocean of my hope.

Young people find solidarity in the act of being different (+ Slideshow)

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