Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Third conference of the Communist Youth Organization: CYO charts new course for ’80s

First Published: The Call, Vol. 8, No. 49-50, December 24, 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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“Ain’t no stopping us now!”

This was the banner raised over a gathering of nearly 100 young activists held in Chicago over the Dec. 7-9 weekend.

The occasion was the Third National Conference of the Communist Youth Organization, and the banner’s slogan captured the mood of the CYO delegations as they arrived fresh from many fronts of struggle in cities and campuses across the country.

Throughout the weekend, conference participants repeatedly stated that the CYO was “at a crossroads.” This theme reflected the fact that the organization had gone through a months-long period of debate and discussion over the character of the CYO and its tasks. This self-criticism and summation of past experience, however, took place in the context of increasing CYO activism in the mass struggle.

“I was never so proud of the CYO as when 1 turned on the TV news on the Iranian crisis and I saw all these CYO people I knew standing up in the thick of the battle with all these chauvinists who were trying to launch pogroms against the Iranian students,” said Carl Davidson in his opening remarks to the meeting. Davidson was a leader of Students for a Democratic Society in the 1960s and is currently a spokesman for the CPML.

“There is another thing you can be proud of,” Davidson added. “Just look around the room here today and you can see six or seven different nationalities. This is a problem we never solved in SDS, which was, nearly lily white. And in the end, opportunists with a chauvinist line came into SDS and played a major role in destroying it. You must treasure this aspect of the CYO and constantly struggle to maintain it, never bowing to complacency.”

Another featured speaker was Ken Chastain, a Lumbee Indian and trade union leader who was recently attacked by the Ku Klux Klan. He pointed out how the Klan had recently doubled its membership, with most of them being youth.

“Who will stand up to the right-wing among these youth?” Chastain asked. “Who will expose the right and give an alternative? It must be the CYO.”

Chastain also tied the fight against the Klan with the crisis around Iran.

“The other day,” he said, “I was approached by this dude who said, ’Are you one of them Iranians?í I said, ’Hell yes, I’m Iranian. I’m also Black, Indian, Chinese, Puerto Rican, Mexican. In fact, I’m a rainbow of colors. What do you want to do about it?”

Chastain’s remarks served as a militant introduction to a special guest from the Iranian Students Association (CIS), who gave a historical account of U.S. backing to the reactionary regime of the shah.

“The American people are not our enemy,” declared the Iranian representative. “In fact, we have a common enemy in U.S. imperialism.” He received a standing ovation.

Roy Smith, past CYO chairman, gave the main political report of the conference. In it, he traced the group’s history and summed up its strengths and weaknesses.

Smith lashed out at the ultra-“leftists” from the now defunct “Revolutionary Wing” who had attacked the CYO at its founding conference several years ago.

“We had 200 revolutionary youth, mostly workers and minorities,” Smith said. “They claimed we were not capable of building a CYO, that we didn’t know enough Marxism. What they really wanted us to do was stay inside a closet and study Marxism as abstractly as possible. Well, our practice has proved them wrong.”


Smith went on to describe the CYO’s activity in the fight for jobs, against segregation and in the movement to free Gary Tyler. At the same time, he boldly criticized the CYO’s weaknesses.

“We tended to mechanically apply the experiences from the Chinese and Russian youth movements to our situation. We made sectarian errors, thinking we were the ’pure proletarians’ and downplaying work among other strata of the youth, including students.”

“But we learned from our mistakes,” he continued, and by 1977 “we took up the struggle at Kent State and the anti-Bakke struggle. Now we are active also in the anti-draft and anti-nuke movements.”

Smith warned, however, that the CYO had to guard against “getting swept away” by the mass movements. He stressed the importance of the CYO as a clear representative of the Marxist-Leninist trend among youth.

“As long as we tail behind the mass movements,” he explained, “the government doesn’t care. It is when we exercise leadership and popularize Marxism-Leninism that they begin to care. They donít care if we just sit around and debate, but they do care if we organize the youth and get them into the CYO.”

Smith concluded by pointing out that the CYO would continue to make some mistakes, but that the growing maturity of the organization was shown by its ability to learn from its mistakes and correct them.

Smith concluded by pointing out that the CYO would continue to make some mistakes, but that the growing maturity of the organization was shown by its ability to learn from its mistakes and correct them.

Many of these issues were taken up in two sets of workshops. The first focused on the character of the CYO. This included whether it should be a communist organization and, if so, how it could develop a mass, democratic style, combining political activity with sports and cultural activity.

The second set of workshops focused on the CYO as a multinational organization. Discussions were held on Afro-American, Puerto Rican and Chicano history and on how to unite with organizations of the various nationalities on the campuses.

The conference concluded with a plenary session which adopted a number of resolutions. The activists unanimously resolved to maintain and build the CYO as a communist organization, which includes work among the community-based youth as well as students. Other resolutions opposed the Klan, supported Iran’s struggle against the superpowers, called for a program around Black history month and offered continuing support to the Terrence Johnson campaign. They also will join activities around the tenth anniversary of the killings at Kent State and Jackson State as well as the Aug. 29 Chicano Moratorium.

The CYO also elected new leaders. The National Secretary is Marja Wessels and the Organizational Secretary is John Duffy.

“It was a great success,” said one participant summing up the meeting. “We didn’t answer every question, but we took a good stand and we united around a good political orientation. We’ve got a great year ahead of us.”