Youth and Student Corner

Incredible Yipsels

(28 February 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 9, 28 February 1949, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

It’s a little hard to believe, but the letter is right in front of me. It came last week from the national secretary of the Young People's Socialist League (Socialist Party youth group). It also could happen only in the YPSL. There are other groups just as, and more, bureaucratically run, but none that trips over its own bureaucratic feet in exactly the same boggling way.

It’s a tale of two national secretaries, and begins last October when the YSPL published and circulated a document entitled The YPSL Position on Trotskyism, which was an unusually crass and ignorant collection of slanders and atrocity stories about Leninism, Trotskyism and Bolshevism. Soon after its publication in October, at an executive committee meeting of the National Youth Council for Independent Political Action, this document was presented to the committee by the official YPSL representative there (named Mecartney, then the group’s National Organizer), as the official YPSL charges in support of their modest proposal to oust the Socialist Youth League from the council.

At the beginning of this month (over three months later, you will note) the SYL published an Educational Bulletin which not only ripped apart this YPSL contribution to the enlightenment of our times, but also reprinted the whole document itself.

But in-between, during those long three months, an earth-shaking event took place: nothing less than a national convention of the YPSL and a change in personnel of its leadership. Among other changes of world importance, a new national secretary took office.

Repudiates Document

The letter referred to now comes to us from this new leader of the YPSL hosts, Charlie Taibi. In it we read: “I’d like you to know that the article published as the YPSL position is not the position we hold; and we demand [sic], accordingly, a retraction [sic] in the next issue of the SYL Educational Bulletin. The document in question obviously [sic] seems to have been written by John Mecartney, until recently YPSL Organizer, and is his own, personal, statement.” Taibi goes on to explain that the unlucky document "was never submitted for consideration by the various representative bodies of our organization” and “does not represent our official position, though we might agree with portions of it.” (From this point on, the reader can insert all sic’s for himself.)

Now while we are willing to be charitable, the black angel on our left shoulder whispers that this repudiation of their own document would have come with better grace before the SYL exposed it as a piece of rubbish, and before this unauthorized (so we now hear) piece of rubbish was circulated through YPSL ranks to poison them against the Marxist movement. But hold, enough! every ray of light is welcome in this benighted world. And besides, Taibi’s letter continues:

“If you were not aware of the fact that this was not our official statement, little can be said, except to warn you to check with us on matters of this sort; you have shown, it seems to me, though, an unseemly haste to get this whole business into publication form.”

(In passing: the reader will note a curious difference in point of view about “unseemly haste.” For the SYL three and a half months is an unconscionably and regrettably long time to take to answer a political attack. For the YPSL, it is “unseemly haste” – in fact, they often never get around to it at all ...)

Now what about this YPSL document which was “obviously” somebody’s personal statement? First of all, as we mentioned, it is entitled The YPSL Position on Trotskyism – right at the top, too, where everybody can see it. Naturally, a naive person who neglects to hotfoot it to a phone to call up Taibi would get the impression that is ... the YPSL position on Trotskyism. (Hot on the heels of this singularly uninformative title, the document starts right off in its first sentence: "The YPSL reaffirms its traditional opposition to Trotskyism ...” and speaks throughout in the name of the YPSL. It is obvious that any obviously intelligent person would at once understand, in a flash of obviously intuitive perception, that it was John Somebody’s obviously personal statement.)

Secondly, the real test of the reader’s intelligence comes at the end of the document, where the signature appears. This may seem like mere caviling, but the signature reads: “Young Peoples Socialist League, 303 4th Avenue, New York 10, N.Y.” If only it hadn’t been spelled out! Mere initials like YPSL might have been properly understood to be this John Somebody’s very personal pseudonym, obviously.

To make the going real rough, we recall the fact that this same hapless document was officially presented for the YPSL at the council mentioned; and another fact: The very stencils that were used by the YPSL in mimeographing it were kindly turned over to the SYL on its request, when we informed the then national secretary, Walter Petersen, that we intended to republish it with a reply! Of course, this was before Taibi took office and remolded things nearer the heart’s desire ...

Peanut Bureaucrats

So where are we? Oh yes, we have just learned that this document – entitled the YPSL position, signed by the YPSL, speaking in the name of the YPSL, circulated by the YPSL, presented to an outside body in the name of the YPSL – this deceptive document was actually put out by an officer without authorization, and that no one caught on to it until ... the SYL rushed in unseemly haste, unworthy of gentlemen and scholars, to make mincemeat of it.

Taibi “demands’’ a “retraction.” Merely to demonstrate that we are tolerant of anybody’s imbecilities without undemocratic distinctions, we agree on the following easy conditions:

  1. That the YPSL also make public the fact that the document in question is repudiated by it, and explain the circumstances of its publication.

    A suggestion along these lines. This repudiation is not to be printed in agate type in the Agony Column of the Times. We propose merely a notice in the Socialist Call approximating in size the advertisement which appeared in that paper, before the recent YPSL convention, inviting interested persons to apply for the job of national secretary of the league (no working conditions specified or promises of rapid advancement given). Since Taibi must have answered the ad satisfactorily, we assume he is familiar with it.
  2. This mischievous person John Somebody – yes, Mecartney! – what is to be done with him? Here is an officer of the YPSL (says Taibi) who took it upon himself to publish a false statement of the YPSL position, sign it with the official cachet, get it circulated by unsuspecting YPSLers, etc. without any democratic say-so by the group’s assembled brains, until the avenging hand of Taibi smote the deception hip and thigh. Obviously, a bureaucrat! We are pained to learn of this bureaucratic mess in the high councils of an organization like the YPSL which makes a career out of yelling about ... bureaucracy elsewhere.

This amazing affair could not possibly happen in the SYL, or, if it did, the offender would escape expulsion only by pleading possession of an ailing grandmother whose tenuous hold upon existence would be seriously affected by the resulting disgrace. It is not our place to insist that the YPSL take disciplinary action against their shameless ex-bureaucrat (according to Taibi’s story). We ask only that we be informed of what is done, if anything – just for assurance of bona fides. We wait with the usual bated breath.

A last earnest of our good will. Not only do we here publish this gory, blood-reeking account, but we go further. From now on, on seeing any document of the YPSL innocently circulated and signed by that group, we shall:

  1. Make sure that it was not mimeographed or printed in the dead of night by the office stenographer or building janitor.
  2. Ask about the date of the next YPSL national convention to make sure that national secretaries and assorted functionaries are not switched on us before we do anything in unseemly haste.

Last updated on 1 August 2019