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1938 Socialist Workers Party Resolution on the Young People’s Socialist League

Source: Trotskyist Youth Archives –
Adopted at a November 19-20, 1938 National Committee meeting of the Socialist Workers Party. By Joseph Carter

The progress of the YPSL in the past year has been in keeping with the slow development of the SWP. The highly political character of the league as it issued out of the struggle in the Socialist Party was, as its activities show, fully maintained. The fact that, for example, the league in New York and Chicago was (and is) numerically as strong or stronger than the party, has displayed greater vitality and activity, and consists of more mature youth strengthened this character.

In these conditions, the YPSL, though its leaders and members accepted the principle of the political leadership of the party over the youth league, in practice functioned as a “youth party”; the young comrades assumed the role – in their external activities and within the movement as a whole – of mature revolutionary socialists, i.e., party members. Numerous frictions developed out of this situation.

A radical change in the character of the YPSL is imperative if these difficulties are not to be repeated and if we are to develop the league from a “youth party” into a broad, colorful, youthful movement which will train young people for the SWP. The prerequisite for such a transformation is a realistic approach to the problems of the youth and, on the basis of the experiences of the revolutionary youth movement, a clear definition of the fields of activity and methods of work of the youth league.

The basis of our youth work should be a recognition of the divergent interests, needs, and habits of adolescents and of youth eighteen years of age and older. Every attempt to embrace these groups in one organization has failed. The revolutionary youth leagues under such conditions have in practice worked primarily among the more mature youth and necessarily became “youth parties,” that is, highly political organizations conducting activities suitable for a revolutionary party. In given circumstances – such as in the struggle against the SP leaders – such a role is highly progressive. However, once a revolutionary party exists the role of the youth league must be changed.

Its proper sphere of activity should be among youth between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. Its general tasks remain the same: the winning of the youth for socialism, their cultural and political training for effective participation in the class struggle and for membership in the SWP. However, the political training of the youth will assume more indirect forms, suitable to adolescents and dependent upon local conditions and inclinations; along varied cultural and educational lines as well as through their direct participation in the class struggle (for example, various forms of aid to strikers and refugees; in defense of the economic interests of high school students and adolescents and, in particular cases, cooperation with the party in work among the NYA and CCC boys). Along these lines – which should be elaborated by a joint party-Yipsel committee – the YPSL can be converted into a socialist cultural center for youth.

The party itself, then, will assume the more advanced tasks previously set for the YPSL: opponents work, “youth” industrial and unemployed activity, antimilitarist and antifascist work, activity in the settlement houses, etc. In a word, the party will seek to win the more mature youth through its own organization. In practice, this will mean the early infusion of much needed trained youth into the party from the ranks of the YPSL; and engender activities which will give the party a greater attractiveness for both youth and adult workers.

The need for this transformation is particularly pertinent in view of the social crisis in the United States. Since all social, economic, and political questions are now being posed more sharply than ever before, the YPSL, if it continues to operate among the more mature youth, will in fact increase rather than decrease its highly political, that is, vanguardist, character. It will be unable to cope with the problems of these youth and simultaneously attract and educate the adolescent, immature youth.

On the other hand, the growing maturity of the young workers and unemployed youth under the lash of the social crisis and in face of the danger of war and fascism creates an exceptionally fertile field for direct party work. Even the meager experiences we have had indicate that these youth will more readily join the party than the youth league – particularly if the latter includes adolescents; and that they can be won in far greater numbers if the party makes special efforts in that direction.

We therefore propose to the Yipsel convention the above general position on the character of the YPSL and its relation to the party. More specifically, we propose:

  1. That the YPSL convention establish the upper age limit for new members at eighteen. That members of the YPSL over twenty-one should join the party and drop out of the YPSL within three months. That those between eighteen and twenty-one should join the party and drop out of the YPSL within six months. Exceptions to this rule which will be necessary for leading comrades for at least a year – are to be made by joint agreement between the Political Committee of the party and the National Bureau of the YPSL (on recommendation by the respective party and league bodies).
  2. Each party body is to elect a youth committee to be responsible for work among young people over eighteen years of age. In special cases, youth branches may be formed with the consent of the Political Committee.
  3. The present system of exchange of representatives in corresponding committees of the party and the league is to be reinforced by regular quarterly reports on party-Yipsel relations by party branches and local committees.


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