Walter Held

The Copenhagen Socialist Youth Conference

(October 1935)

From New International, Vol. 2 No. 6, October 1935, p. 206.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

THE CLOSING of the Seventh World Congress of the Comintern nearly coincided with the opening of the Fifth Congress of the Socialist Youth International in Copenhagen. And the parallel extends beyond this coincidence. At both Congresses, the same banal phrases on bourgeois democracy, the same incapacity and the same lack of will to resolve urgent problems in a revolutionary manner, that is, actually to abandon the resolution of them and to leave the task to Fascism. No doubt but that these two Congresses will enter into history as examples of the lowest ideological level that the labor movement ever knew.

The reports of activity at both the Congress of the CI and the Congress of the socialist youth at Copenhagen cover a period filled with the most horrible defeats of the labor movement. The bankruptcy of the policy of reformism and of Stalinism expressed itself in the crushing defeats of the German, Austrian and Spanish workers’ movements. But the two Congresses only recorded with satisfaction that all these events merely confirmed the correctness of the decisions of the Sixth Congress in Moscow in 1928 or else the Prague Congress of the SYI in 1931. And with conscience at rest, new and terrible defeats are being prepared for by new flawless decisions.

The very outward aspect of the Copenhagen Congress was extremely pitiful. It was the Danes, the Swedes and the Hollanders who gave their imprint to the congress. Countries like Spain, Switzerland and the United States were not even represented by their own delegates. And thus, the stupid representatives of the Scandinavian countries, who very seriously consider that the relative economic rise and the corresponding relative stability of Scandinavian bourgeois democracy are due to the gifted policy of Scandinavian reformism, proved to be the actual dominators of the Congress. But alas! in reality their stupidity is only the product of the partial boom that exists in Scandinavia and which has its principal roots in the international war preparations. If therefore the narrow policy of the Scandinavian reformists is applied to the countries convulsed to the crisis, the end can only be a horrible catastrophe. But that is precisely what the president of the SYI, the Hollander Koos Vorrink, whose narrow-mindedness surpasses that of the Scandinavians, recommended to the Congress delegates in his opening speech. He called the Scandinavian countries models of socialism and praised as the highest merit of the Scandinavian social democratic parties their having put the interests of the community above the limited interests of the industrial proletariat! An then intoned all the hollow phrases about the renunciation of violence and the “spiritual power of argument”, of the “eternal values of democracy and humanity”, etc., as if nothing had changed in the last hundred years. Why worry about contradictions when, later on, the president of the Socialist and Labor International, Friedrich Adler – whose evolution from a lion-killer to a flea-cracker was characterized so strikingly in a poem by Erich Mühsam, tortured to death by Hitler – invited precisely the workers of Italy to direct their arms against the enemy in their own country. Against Mussolini, it seems, the Second International itself recognizes the ineffectiveness of arguments alone. These miserable cretins who called upon the workers clubbed down by the Fascist penitentiary state to engage in armed struggle, but refuse the workers arms in the democratic countries to prevent the victory of Fascism – when will they cease preoccupying themselves with the labor movement?

Particularly characteristic of the reactionary spirit that dominated this Congress is the fact that the declaration of the representative of the youth organization of the Polish Jewish Bund, in which there were such painful words as “revolutionary class struggle”, “struggle against social-patriotism”, was simply not translated. The same fate was suffered by the speech of the secretary of the Belgian Socialist Young Guards, Godefroid, at the evening festival. Whatever its vague character and its contradictions may have been, it was inspired by a revolutionary spirit. But in order not to upset the harmony, the translator confined himself to reproducing a few phrases on “peace, liberty and socialism” which had nothing to do with Godefroid’s speech.

Sunday was reserved for the “day of Nordic democracy” at Malmö, where the reformist state ministers of the “democratic” Nordic countries, who seem to have forgotten entirely that they really represent monarchies and not republics, served up to the youth their insipid wisdom on the advantages of capitalist democracy.

Only two days were reserved for the conference, properly so-called, the afternoon of one being occupied, moreover, by a reception at the City Hall. The opposition to the arch-reformist bureaucracy of the SYI was led solely by the delegates of the Belgian Socialist Young Guards and the French Socialist Youth, whose value, moreover, is diminished by the fact that a few weeks ago it rid itself of its revolutionary wing. The narrow-minded spirit, truly hair-raising, of the Scandinavians and the Hollanders, shows itself in the fact that the debates always revolved around the admissibility of the united front with the CI These people have not yet understood the significance of the turn of the CI with its complete abandonment of all revolutionary policy. In vain did the press of the miserable Danish section of the CI treat the Congress with the greatest benevolence and express the desire that it would contribute to the realization of the “united front of all the friends of progress”, of the same progress in whose name Mussolini is proceeding, with Moscow’s benediction, to the “abolition of slavery in Ethiopia”. The French delegate did all that was in his power to convince his narrow-minded colleagues of the absolute candor of the Communist Youth International. The sole result was the adjournment of the question and the turning over of full power to the bureau of the SYI to examine the results of the Seventh Congress of the Comintern with a view to an eventual realization of the united front, he same in all the other questions, as for example the question of war; the Belgians and the French who defended the resolutions of the conference of the socialist youth of the Latin countries in Toulouse, remained entirely alone. The majority contented itself with recording the fact that the SYI is for the maintenance of peace.

Koos Vorrink was not reëlected president. But do not rejoice too soon. His successor is H.C. Hansen, president of the Danish section, who yields in nothing to his Holland colleague with respect to reformist narrowness. The secretariat was once more entrusted to the tested hands of the strategist of defeats, Ollenhauer. A little less in his place in this entourage is the Belgian, Fernand Godefroid, the third member of the small bureau.

But another word must be said about the Belgians. For years they have been consoling themselves with the illusion that they will succeed in winning the majority of the SYI. Meanwhile, however, the International has been falling more and more into the hands of the arch-reactionary Scandinavian reformists. The Left wing sections are crushed by the party bureaucracy, as in Switzerland, themselves expel their active revolutionary wing, as in France, or fall into the danger of Stalinist disaggregation, as in Spain. The Socialist Young Guards of Belgium are threatened with the same fate if they lack a firm international perspective. It is not yet too late today. The SYG, by means of an uncompromising struggle for the building of a new Youth International, within the frame of the Fourth International, can still exercize an immense attraction and reinforce their own ranks. The eternal compromising with the completely rotten International can lead only to the bureaucracy of the Belgian Labor party, in joint agreement with the bureaucracy of the Youth International, strangling the SYG at the first opportunity.

All told, the Copenhagen Congress of the SYI furnished a vivid lesson on the reasons why the proletarian youth falls victim to depression and indifference, while the petty bourgeois youth feels itself drawn to Fascism. The proletarian youth of the highly industrialized countries turns its back upon this narrow-minded pretentiousness, this complete inability to say a single serious word about the decisive problems of our epoch. The working youth of the world needs a new international organization with an intransigent revolutionary policy. The Copenhagen Congress will not express the highest degree of the rotting of the workers’ movement unless we succeed in building up the new movement. The question of the young proletarian generation is the question of the Fourth International. To work to create sections of the youth on the basis of the Open Letter to all the revolutionary workers’ organizations! Then we shall also be in a position to show the road to the Belgian SYG and to the other elements inspired with a revolutionary will inside the old organizations.


Walter Held

Last updated on 3 February 2018