First Published: Revolution, Vol. 3, No. 3, December 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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On November 19 and 20 a new organization was born in the small university town of Champaign, Illinois–the Revolutionary Communist Youth, Brigade. More than 600 young men and women plus several dozen observers registered and took part in the convention, despite the fact that it had to be postponed and moved several times after authorities had banned it from the Kent State campus and Ohio generally.
They came from the neighborhoods of more than fifteen cities and from almost 70 campuses from New England to Hawaii. Most had been members of the Revolutionary Student Brigade or of one of the local Youth In Action and other youth groups. Others had recently come forward and been working with these organizations in such battles as Kent State. For some, advance organizing for the convention itself had been their first contact. But over the weekend something new and greater than the sum of its parts was created– a national organization with its roots in the most important struggles of youth today, an organization whose communist character had been greatly deepened and consolidated in the course of the weekend.
The convention to form a communist youth organization began dramatically. The members of the Presidium which had overseen the building of the convention mounted the stage as a massive twenty by thirty foot banner descended majestically behind them. Above a bold graphic of hundreds of people in struggle, it proclaimed the theme of the convention, “The Future Is Ours If We Dare to Take It,” while underneath it read “Founding Convention of a Young Communist Organization.”
As the stormy applause subsided, the convention was officially opened with the pounding of a very special gavel–a length of fence post from Blanket Hill at Kent State University. The meeting was dedicated to the students who were slain in combat at Kent, at Jackson, Orangeburg and Southern University, to those who had taken part in the great student upsurge of the 1960s and early 70s, and to the future generations of youth, the young successors for whom the struggles of today are paving the way.
The convention got down to business fast. A member of Newark, New Jersey Youth In Action, who was on the Presidium, presented a report on the situation facing youth and the masses of people at the present time and the tasks of the convention and the organization it would form. Right at the outset it proclaimed, “Our generation, like those of the past, aspire for a world worth living in. A world where no one need know hunger. Where no nationalities are discriminated against and kept down. Where people use their muscles, brains and labor to contribute as fully as possible to overcome social problems and the problems of nature. Where peace is the rule and not a pause.
“These are high ideals–but not idealism. These are lofty goals–but not impractical. Fundamentally, these are the demands of our generation. At times these desires may be in the back of our minds, deep in our hearts or on the tip of our tongues. But every time youth, or anyone else for that matter, enter into the struggle it is not merely against how things are but also for how things should be. This is what we come to this convention to discuss. How to bring to birth a world that makes those ideals a practical reality. How to help mobilize millions of youth to contribute to that struggle. And how to help build up and contribute to a movement that will someday smash that fetter on constructing a new world–the political power of the capitalist class.”
From here the report went on to address the question, “Is revolution necessary?” and showed that the roadblock to all those ideals was indeed the capitalists and concluded that “This is our choice–to abandon our hopes and aspirations, for their continued profits, or to abolish their system to make realizable our hopes and dreams. To do the first is to give up life itself, to do the second is to make life worth living.”
The report summed up the situation today, with U.S. imperialism in deepening crisis, increasingly challenged by the imperialist USSR, and attacking the masses ever more viciously in its efforts to lighten the effects of that crisis. The general level of struggle is not as high as it was in the ’60s although the first shoots of a new and more powerful movement with the working class at its core are visible. In this context, the new organization will have to devote much of its energy to the task of building big battles with small forces, like what the RSB did around Kent State this Fall, using the single spark method pf concentrating forces in key battles, seizing the opportunity to spread and develop them to make a breakthrough. In such battles, the communists “have to present an alternative to being whipped around by the arbitrariness of the rulers, an alternative view of what’s going on in the world, an alternative future to the one offered by this system.”
The report was followed by an inspiring program of “testimonials” in which fighters described briefly some of the key battles they had been in and lessons learned in waging them. Speakers came from Stanford in the Bay Area, where hundreds of students seized a building last Spring in an anti-apartheid battle and triggered similar actions across California; from Kent; from Hawaii, the “island paradise” where the capitalist system operates just like on the mainland and huge battles around evictions have taken place; from Wall Street where hundreds of youths gathered this summer to demand jobs, saying, “If we don’t work, you don’t work!”: from the International Hotel anti-eviction battle in San Francisco, where hundreds of young peopie saw just what kind of life and future the capitalists had in store for them; from Ohio, where the young woman speaking had been arrested and subjected to racist threats for her role in smashing the KKK rally on July 4th and still said, “I’m proud I did it and I’d do it again.” An important testimonial from the past was delivered by Clark Kissinger, once national secretary of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), who described how SDS had been formed and developed. He compared it with the new group being formed, saying “You have banners, we had banners. You have picket signs, we had picket signs. You have marches, we had marches. But you have a weapon we didn’t have, you have Marxism-Leninism!”
The most enthusiastically received of all these short speeches was that given by a leader of the Iranian Students Association (ISA), fresh from their historic demonstration in Washington, D.C. She was interrupted repeatedly by applause as she described how the ISA had worked to make the American people aware of their struggle and how they had smashed the Shah’s bought-and-paid-for “welcoming rally” and when she hailed the long ties of solidarity and mutual support between the ISA and the RSB.
This section of the program was followed by a set of workshops on major political and theoretical questions. Workshops on subjects as diverse as the nature of socialism, doing revolutionary work in a non-revolutionary situation, religion, the woman question, and the international situation were the scene of spirited discussion following an initial presentation. People came to them to learn about subjects on which they knew little or nothing, to debate questions that had been bothering them, to deepen their understanding of how to handle those issues among the masses. Almost every group summed up that it had had good discussion and that it could have easily used another couple of hours to answer unanswered questions and work out the major implications of what had been discussed.
The whole convention reassembled Saturday evening to hear the Chairman of the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party, Bob Avakian, deliver an important speech to the convention. He opened by pointing out that “the working class and its Party put great hopes and store in youth” in the struggle to change the world, to turn things right side up. In describing how the convention itself and the organization it was founding had come about as a result of the struggle and the questions that arise every day in this society, he pointed out that the capitalist system is a great teacher and if the lessons are not grasped the first time, the system will be only too happy to teach them again and again.
He proceeded to show how the inalterable vampire-like nature of the capitalist system and the ruling class promises only oppression and exploitation and, in fact, increasing oppression and exploitation for the masses. He then summed up that the gut hatred that this breeds in people, while it is absolutely indispensable and basic in making revolution, is not sufficient to overthrow the enemy. It must go hand in hand with dialectical materialism, the scientific outlook of revolution, to analyze the contradictions and motions of phenomena in the real world. Only by using this science can the working class win victory.
In the last section of his speech he addressed what communism is, what communists stand for–in opposition to the lurid tales of the bourgeoisie–touching on such questions as dictatorship, atheism, and such views as communism is against human nature, it always goes bad, it’s the same as fascism, it’s all brainwashing and so forth. In closing he laid out three broad tasks that the new organization would have to take up, in addition to training its members in Marxism-Leninism: first, leading the masses of youth in struggle against the attacks and abuses they face; second, fighting at the side of the working class under the leadership of its Party in the overall struggle against the imperialists and for revolution; and third, broadly and boldly propagating communism among the masses, and especially youth.
The first night concluded with a second set of workshops, on the key battlegrounds for youth and students in the coming period. Despite the late hour and fatigue of many participants, these covered important ground. In the Africa workshop, people began by exchanging summations of their practice. Not only did the reports of local victories paint a picture of a swelling grassroots movement, but they helped people deal with broader questions like how to develop struggle around an issue which is not immediately the most burning one on people’s minds and how to draw the real character and lessons of the issue out so it does not remain just a point of moral outrage. The workshop on the Bakke Decision considered among other questions how to work in coalitions with diverse forces and how to draw out the connections between the Bakke direct attack on oppressed nationalities and its effect on different sections of the masses, including the working class.
Before the convention reassembled Sunday, as during every other temporary lull in the scheduled activity, the halls were full of people discussing all sorts of questions, to such an extent that it took a long time to get through the area, even if you didn’t wind up in one of the conversations.
The second day’s activities began with reports on previous periods of struggle among youth. A former member of the Young Communist League, youth group of the CPUSA during the Great Depression, spoke on how the YCL had been an organization of struggle and an important social force among the broad masses of youth. A former leader of the Black Panther Party in Trenton, New Jersey drew on the positive and negative aspects of his experience to show how a small group can indeed become an influential force with broad support among the masses. Clark Kissinger spoke again, summing up at greater length the contributions and weaknesses of SDS and its effects on American society.
These talks were accompanied by film clips of some of the struggles they described. Indeed throughout the weekend several films and lengths of footage were shown on battles like Wall Street, the International Hotel and a Berkeley sit-in over university complicity in South Africa.
After this the convention went into plenary session to collectively determine the most important questions about the nature of the organization it was bringing into being. Guided by the Presidium, the discussion focused on some key questions which had arisen, particularly in the workshops. The first was the national question and very important questions were discussed. Why is a single Party and communist youth organization needed? Could there be such a thing as “white socialism” under which minorities are still oppressed? Youth and students of all nationalities spoke out. One youth from Oakland, in summing up her experience, told how someone in a Black Student Union there had told her “communism is only for white people,” but she had come to the convention anyway to see. She concluded, “I’m going back there and tell her she’s wrong, and tell her why!”
A similar discussion took place on the question of freedom, of democracy and dictatorship, both under capitalism and socialism. Again the discussion was lively as the first speaker drew on what he had learned in the workshop on the restoration of capitalism in the USSR and others in theirs.
The plenary moved on to summing up that the kind of organization needed was a communist organization which would take up the tasks laid out by Bob Avakian in his speech. A statement of principles proposed by the Revolutionary Communist Party was adopted which embodied the position of the new organization on the situation in the world and the U.S. today and on the most important issues facing youth and the masses and which called clearly for socialist revolution and communism and identified the organization as the youth organization of the RCP, USA.
This discussion actually continued in another form and higher unity was reached in the discussion over the name of the group. There were two major proposals put forward–one by the RCP for the name Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade and one submitted by members of one chapter of the RSB who favored Revolutionary Youth Movement. It soon became clear that the real question was whether or not the word “communist” should appear in the group’s name.
The written proposal for the other name actually tended to undercut the whole idea of a communist youth group in favor of a more general group which people didn’t have to consider themselves communists to join. Some other speakers expressed reservations about using the term communist in the group’s name, because they felt it would serve as a roadblock to carrying out the group’s goals and make the issue in everything the organization did the question of communism. Both long-time communists and new people took part in the discussion, and by a great majority were in support of the RCP proposal. Drawing on experiences, particularly in building for the convention, they pointed out that the controversy over communism is unavoidable anyway and is a good thing which can help the group in carrying out its basic tasks. Anti-communism is a real phenomenon in this society but it cannot be uprooted among the masses if it is not confronted. Several people said, “Dammit, we are communists, we should say so!” The whole session helped consolidate people’s understanding of what it meant to build and be part of a communist organization. This organization, while a militant force in every major struggle facing youth, will at the same time be clearly identified as standing for the overthrow of the existing order and clearly offer to youth–particularly working class youth, to whom capitalism can offer nothing of substance–a life with a purpose and the future of communism.
When the vote was finally taken, it was overwhelmingly and enthusiastically in favor of the RCP’s proposal. The Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade had been formed!
There was still much work to do, however. The convention heard a moving statement of solidarity from Mzonke Xoza, a cofounder with Steven Biko of the South African Student Association and currently a representative of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC). In his speech he stated that the students who were murdered at Kent State and those gunned down in Soweto alike were comrades fallen in the struggle against imperialism. He went on to describe the heroic, difficult and victory-bound struggle that is raging in Azania today.
With little time left, the organization quickly passed on proposals for campaigns from the Africa, Bakke and jobs workshops, with plans for educational activities, local actions and big national demonstrations. Then a new leadership was chosen. The group divided into regions and nominated representatives to the National Political Committee of the new organization. The RCP and the old national office of the RSB also put a few names into nomination and the convention voted unanimously to accept the proposed slate, a broad body combining youth and students and experienced cadres and fighters who have come forward recently.
This new leading body, like the whole organization, has its work cut out for it. The convention had to leave many questions unsettled–from major tasks like overcoming the relative underrepresentation of working class youth compared to college student members, a legacy, among other things, of the longer existence of the RSB than any of the youth groups, to fleshing out the campaigns. Among these tasks is also the publication of a collection of the major documents and decisions of the convention.
At the same time, the members of the RCYB are in an excellent position to undertake the workload facing them. Their organization has come into being, strong and with a good and hard-earned understanding of its own character and tasks, an understanding which will now be put to work and deepened in practice and struggle in cities and on campuses all over the country.
The closing speech of its founding convention expressed the spirit of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade: ”We are determined to be the generation that grows up to establish socialism in this country. The future is ours, because we have shown this weekend that we do dare to take it.”