The 1972 Soviet-American Youth Conference: The Illusion of Consensus

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Andrew Jacobs

Abstract

Hoping to capitalize on the spirit of détente, in June 1972 the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship (hereafter the NCASF, the official Soviet-Amer-ican friendship group headquartered in Manhattan) and the Soviet Committee of Youth Organizations (hereafter the KMO, the umbrella organization administer-ing the various Soviet youth groups) co-sponsored the first-ever Soviet-American Youth Conference held in Minsk. The conference proposed to feature around 100 young people from each side discussing issues relevant to youth the world over— “their hopes and problems and participation in the social struggle,” university life, future careers, war and peace, racism, imperialism, and national liberation.1 The topics, particularly the attention devoted to peace and imperialism, revealed the pro-Soviet orientation of the NCASF and hinted the conference would fea-ture much discussion of the Soviet Union’s pet causes. Still, the NCASF and the KMO promised to field diverse delegations and facilitate open dialogue.2 The sponsors of the conference envisioned the event as an attempt to bridge the Cold War divide, make friends, and generate solidarity across borders. Frank discus-sion at the conference would build mutual understanding and serve as an example of future possible dialogue between two sides now eager and able to get to know one another.


This article examines the 1972 Soviet-American Conference as a transnation-al point of interaction between the Soviet Union and the United States, wherein youth from both sides exchanged experiences, ideas, and representations of themselves. Things did not go as planned however. As we will see, the Soviet effort to control all aspects of the conference, including the composition of the American delegation, inadvertently led to stereotypes being confirmed rather than rejected. Because of the make-up of each delegation, the conference produced an ultimate-ly distorted but seemingly clichéd image of both sides in which Soviet youth appeared as a monolithic bloc of devoted patriots and the Americans as alienated youth. Much of this divergence related to differing perspectives on the importance of national consensus. For the Komsomol members (the youth wing of the Com-munist Party) who made up the Soviet delegation and who acted as the official representatives of Soviet youth, national consensus remained an absolute virtue. By 1972, with the Vietnam War still raging and the memory of the turmoil of the 1960s still lingering, many of the American youth at the conference by contrast rejected any display of national consensus. This gap in life experience and per-spective made solidarity, the ultimate goal of the conference, difficult to generate.

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How to Cite
Jacobs, A. “The 1972 Soviet-American Youth Conference: The Illusion of Consensus”. Journal of Marianne, vol. 3, no. 2, Apr. 2021, pp. 163-84, https://journals.ku.edu/marianne/article/view/15352.
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