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Communist Youth League, Once a Haven for 42 Million, Is Ready for ‘Last Rites’ : Soviet Union: Delegates at Komsomol convention are expected to parcel out money to other groups.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

With a mound of rubble piled outside in a symbolic grave, leaders of the Communist Youth League, which once boasted 42 million members and indoctrinated virtually all Soviet young people, gathered in a Moscow hotel Friday to pronounce the organization’s “last rites.”

The league, known in Russian as the Komsomol, had struggled to adjust to the changing times, getting heavily into business and stripping itself of most of the Communist ideology that was once its main reason for being.

But after last month’s coup attempt, which left the Communist Party a shambles and the central Soviet government too weak to hold the country together any longer, Komsomol leader Vladimir Zyukin said it was clear that the Komsomol, too, must go.

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“Leaving the political arena, the Komsomol should fulfill its final duty--to begin the civilized, legal, truly democratic transition to a new kind of youth organization,” he told a two-day conference of the group.

Delegates to the conference are expected to vote on disbanding the central organs of the Komsomol and parceling out its money and property to “inheritors,” about 23 newly declared non-Communist youth organizations across the country.

“We have to write the Komsomol’s will,” one delegate said from the podium.

With the Komsomol’s massive resources at stake--an army of more than 100,000 full-time employees, a successful publishing house, a chain of youth hotels and 4,500 committees nationwide--the conference showed signs behind the scenes of turning into a grab-fest.

“There’s a battle going on in the corridors,” Moscow delegate Alexei Neugodov acknowledged during a cigarette break. “There are things that have to be shared out, and people are negotiating. Just to waste property would be wrong.”

Skeptical young reporters for various Komsomol-run newspapers and magazines even speculated that the whole dissolution of the organization was meant to help its leaders and commercial directors take over its assets.

Yet, for all the cynicism, there was a heavy air of nostalgia at what most everyone agreed would be the last conference ever of the All-Union Leninist Communist Youth League.

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“You know what fate awaits our organization,” press aide Alexander Petkun said sadly.

Founded in 1918 as the “reserve” and “helper” of the Communist Party, the Komsomol in its heyday provided a good “Communist upbringing” for generations of Soviet youth from 14 to 28, operating everything from summer camps to school clubs that combined youth activities with ideology.

At conferences accorded almost the status of all-important Communist Party meetings, delegates traditionally shouted “Lenin! Party! Komsomol!”

“For me, it was a great honor to join,” Neugodov said. “It was for most people. We were raised in those traditions.”

But in recent years, the Komsomol has been regarded more and more cynically, with polls showing that Soviet citizens trusted it even less than they did the clandestine KGB security agency.

It came to be perceived first as a career ladder for would-be Communist Party functionaries and government officials and lately more of an obsolete vestige of the defunct Communist regime that is shamelessly using its resources purely to make money for its apparatchiks.

The Komsomol runs chains of video salons that show soft pornography and shoot-’em-up films for heavy profits, as well as a variety of trading firms, all of which are allotted tax benefits because it is still technically a nonprofit youth group.

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Komsomol membership has dropped from its peak of 42 million in 1985 to fewer than 20 million now, and many current members say that they joined simply because there was no alternative youth organization available.

Now, delegates said Friday, the challenge is to dissolve the Komsomol without leaving the country with no real youth groups at all, no one to organize training, activities and tours.

Zyukin proposed setting up an interim leadership committee to oversee the Komsomol’s breakup, and most assets are expected to be transferred to republic-level youth groups or those in major cities.

Although most delegates appeared reconciled to the breakup, a small group known as the Communist Initiative declared its intention to take over the Komsomol’s name and symbols.

The Communist Initiative members organized a tiny protest of five posters stuck into the mound of construction rubble outside the Orlyonok Hotel in southwestern Moscow.

Framed in black, the centerpiece sign, resembling a mourning notice, read “The Last Road of Lenin’s Komsomol.”

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“The Komsomol did heroic deeds for 70 years,” Mikhail Vakulenko, a protester from the Ukrainian city of Poltava, said. This time, he added, “they should have defended themselves better.”

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