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International Socialism, Autumn 1962


Will Fancy & John Phillips

The Young Socialists


From International Socialism, No.10, Autumn 1962, pp.3-14.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


John Phillips, a member of the Young Socialists currently thrusting against the age limit, joined the Labour Party in 1956 and has been active in its youth movement ever since. He has been editor of Rebel and on the editorial board of Young Guard.

Will Fancy joined the Labour League of Youth in 1950 and has been variously secretary, treasurer, acting chairman, delegate and other things since then in the Hanworth, Ashford, Bedfont-Feltham and Exeter Central (twice disbanded) branches of the League of Youth; and the Exeter (once disbanded), North Lewisham and Eltham Labour Youth Sections. An officer or delegate to the Middlesex and Devon Federations of the LoY, the (illicit) Devon Federation of Youth Sections and the SE London Federation of the Young Socialists, he has been at various times an editor of The Leaguer, Devon Rally, Keep Left and Rebel.

The history of the Labour Party youth movement has been a chequered one. Constant conflict with Transport House on both political and organizational issues has resulted in two disbandments and a number of reorganizations to date. At the moment the new Young Socialists, barely two years old. is on unfriendly terms with the parent body. This article is an attempt to find out whether such relations are inevitable and what the future might hold for Labour Party youth.

I. Youth and the Party


In April 1959 the Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) set up a working party to look into the inadequacy of the Youth Sections. It consisted of Anthony Greenwood. George Brinham. Harry Nicholas, J. Callaghan, and eight co-opted members with youth experience. Their report, submitted just before the 1959 party conference and published in February 1960 together with a model constitution and standing orders for the new Young Socialists, concluded:

’... that what was needed immediately was an organisation to interest active young members of the Party and to attract to it the many young people now outside its own machinery of administration from local to national levels. It felt that to function successfully members of the Young Socialists’ organisation also should be members of the Labour Party, and that the organisation should be an integral part of the Party.’ [1]

Transport House acted quickly. It announced the formation of the Young Socialists and soon Regional Youth Officers were round to every branch in the country ‘sprinkling the holy water.’ Although the ceremony itself did not augur well for the new movement – nobody was allowed to question or oppose the new standing orders or constitution – the structure of the Young Socialists was certainly the most liberal ever. It provided for a national organization, which had been denied the first League of Youth until 1929, suspended again in 1936-7 and finally taken away in 1939; and denied the Youth Sections between 1955 and 1960. National organization meant primarily a national conference with the right to discuss and vote on political resolutions and a national committee elected by the delegates at national conference (with powers to recommend or advise the NEC on youth matters) – both of which had generated tremendous conflict in the past.

Transport House also envisaged a youth paper to be run by Young Socialists. As Anthony Greenwood said, replying on behalf of the NEC at the 1960 party conference.

‘We appreciate the suggestion ... that the editor should be a Young Socialist. We think that it is difficult to appoint a member of the Young Socialists to do a technical job of that kind, but we promise you that the member of the Transport House staff in charge of the publication will himself be a Young Socialist; and when the national organisation – so far it is only on the local and the regional level – is set up, then we shall be in a position to consider what sort of an editorial board we have to advise the editor on the way that he has to edit the paper.’

This again promised to be a new departure.

Transport House treated the new organization generously in other ways: it allocated £25.000 per annum (of which £18,000 is used on Regional Youth Officers salaries); it put all Assistant Regional Organizers on youth work and made three new appointments at headquarters to co-ordinate activities. The results exceeded all expectations. The number of branches rose very quickly from 288 Youth Sections in December 1959 to 608 Young Socialist branches in October 1960 and then to 726 by April 1961 (Transport House figures). It looked in fact as if Party headquarters had at last found the secret of building and sustaining a youth movement. But no; the adult party and its new youth movement were set on a collision course.

Roots of Conflict

The Party’s electoral defeat in October 1959 shocked Transport House into putting plenty of weight behind the youth organization. Post-election analysis showed that Labour had done particularly badly amongst new voters. The spotlight latched on to the relatively high average age of Labour MPs and the crabbed senility of local party organization. An article in the Guardian by Anthony Howard, now political correspondent of the New Statesman, which took the party to task for its chilling attitude to youth and compared it unfavourably to that of the Tories and Liberals, is reputed to have crystallized opinion in the NEC. There were other factors: the unilateralist tide was running strong – October 1960 was to see its victory at the Party’s Conference at Scarborough – and threatened to siphon off political and potentially political youth. The youth sections themselves were responding by stirring towards national status: unofficial meetings of some 25 London and Home Counties Sections held in Luton and St. Albans, early in 1959, and ending in a conference in Chigwell (some 15 sections) put as a principal demand the formation of a national movement under some sort of political control by its members. The pressures were, then, there. So was the experience. Many members of the NEC itself – amongst them George Brown, Alice Bacon, Anthony Greenwood – could trace their political origins to the Labour youth movement of their day. Their growing obsession with parliamentary success put a premium on doorstep and street corner work that – in the eyes of the NEC – youth was uniquely equipped to carry out. Yet, they took care this time not to lash the new animal too closely to the electoral cart – at least not immediately. On the contrary freedom was guaranteed, high spirits expected and, it appears, welcomed. [2] Nevertheless, conflict soon marred the atmosphere of self-congratulation. By the time Annual Conference came round in October 1960. eight months after the organization was formed, Tony Greenwood was forced to protest on behalf of the NEC:

‘It is a little crabbing to suggest on an occasion of this kind that when we have made this revolutionary change in our youth organization there may be somewhere in the background an inclination on the part of the National Executive to gag our young comrades in the Young Socialists.’ [3]

The Young Socialists’ rapid growth was due in no small measure to the bard work put in by Assistant Regional Organizers particularly in the rural areas and in constituencies where no branch existed. The national apprentices’ strike in April 1960 also resulted in increased strength for those Young Socialist branches that had shown support. ‘ This is particularly evident in Glasgow where the strike movement was strongest. Other open ‘street events’ strongly supported by Young Socialist branches such as the South Africa Boycott and the Anti-Apartheid movement were instrumental in bringing in recruits. But, undoubtedly, the single most important political issue, the one which the Young Socialists has since made its own, which brought it into contact with non-Labour Party youth, and which threw it into headlong collision with Transport House, was and still is unilateralism.

At its first conference – Easter 1961 – the Young Socialists passed, by 222 to 97. a unilateralist resolution, calling on the Labour Party to campaign for

  1. the cessation of the manufacture, testing and storing of nuclear weapons by Great Britain;
  2. the removal of all nuclear bases from British soil and the withdrawal from NATO;
  3. the discontinuance of Hydrogen Bomber patrol flights over British soil;
  4. the pursuit of world peace through the co-operation with other genuine Labour Movements throughout the World.

Since the Conference was held 6 months after Scarborough. the scene of Hugh Gaitskell’s notorious ‘ fight, fight, fight’ speech, it linked the question of leadership to the original political issue and demanded his resignation – in 3 separate votes of almost 2 to 1. The second Conference held in Easter 1962 saw no weakening on this issue despite the adult party’s retreat at the Blackpool Conference. The unilateralist resolution was again carried overwhelmingly, with the same majority as at the previous Conference. Gaitskell was again called upon to resign – 180 to 141. Almost as indicative of the strength of unilateralist feeling in the Young Socialists is the fact that, on both occasions, a large proportion of the delegates sandwiched the two-day Conference between two days of Aldermarching with the CND; that no anti-Bomb demonstration, whether of the CND or the Committee of 100, would be complete anywhere in the country without a solid contingent of Young Socialists; and that many YCND groups owe their cohesion, longevity and, sometimes, actual existence to Young Socialists. Commitment to unilateralism was unlikely to make for smooth relations with Transport House. Nor was the cynical rejection of Scarborough Conference resolution on unilateralism by the Party leadership and Parliamentary Labour Party or their somersault on nuclear testing calculated to endear the parent body to the new organization.

The battle on unilateralism added point to a series of battles on organizational issues in which Transport House, through graceless withdrawals and bureaucratic manoeuvrings, stoked up enough resentment to spark off the near-riots in London and Glasgow this May Day, [4] which in turn drew retaliatory measures such as the disbandment of the Glasgow Federation of Young Socialists, the proscription of Keep Left, the first skirmish with Young Guard, and so on (see below). These organizational battles revolved around the degree of democracy in the Young Socialists and the degree of autonomy it was to enjoy. The first skirmishes took place, the moment the new constitution was announced, over the function of federations. Transport House saw them as purely functional bodies, co-ordinating the political activities of Young Socialist branches, arranging social functions and schools. Its constitution thus ruled out political discussion and political resolutions. The Young Socialists naturally saw them as centres in which one could share experiences and co-ordinate political activity with other branches which one had met on political demonstrations or some such occasion. By the first Young Socialist conference in April 1961 the demands had extended to control over the paper New Advance, demands for a representative at NEC meetings, representation at Annual Conference and freedom to send delegates and resolutions to the Young Socialist Conference without interference from adult parties. Transport House gave way on a number of issues. They conceded a representative at NEC meetings, limited representation at Annual Conference, and freedom for the Young Socialists to choose delegates and resolutions to their own Conference. They also set up an editorial advisory committee for New Advance, consisting of four members of the National Committee elected by that Committee (one Left wing member of this advisory body resigned after the first meeting saying that it was a waste of time as it exercised no real control).

In all probability Transport House initially intended to keep no more than a benevolent eye on the paper it was planning to produce. But by the time it was actually launched in November 1960, a certain amount of rethinking had taken place. Still, the Young Socialists were not too badly off. True they didn’t get an elected Editorial Board, but a Transport House appointee from their Press and Publicity Department. Nevertheless, the man in question, Roger Protz, was at least of Young Socialist age. True, he had not been long in the movement and did not appear to have any political views, but then who, bar a very few, had? Within five months, however, months of increasing acrimony in which New Advance devoted only one article to the burning issue of the day – unilateralism – and had achieved a circulation of no more than 4,000 (and that largely unpaid), the chips were down. At the Young Socialist Conference, March 1961, Roger Protz resigned as editor because, as he stated in a duplicated handout to delegates ‘The NEC is the Editor of New Advance, not me. I carry out their wishes. They have produced a paper FOR Young Socialists, not OF the Young Socialists.’ He was denied the right to address Conference amidst uproar and an attempt on the part of some delegates to rush the platform. Very shortly afterwards Protz was sacked from Transport House and became the editor of Keep Left.

Conference passed a resolution calling for the democratic control of New Advance by the Young Socialists ‘ otherwise,’ it ran, ‘ the paper can be of no value to the organization as a whole. Therefore there must be: –

‘(a) An Editorial Board comprising one member elected by each region to meet not less than monthly to decide the contents and policy of the paper within the lines laid down by the National Conference and the National Committee of the Young Socialists;

(b) An Editor to superintend the carrying out of the decisions of the Editorial Board and appointed by the National Committee of the Young Socialists. The Editor and members of the Editorial Board must be members of the Young Socialists.’

What they got, however, was Reg Underhill, born 1914, a Labour Party official of some fifteen years’ standing (and behind him in the shadows, reported to be doing most of the work, a Transport House employee, Arthur Bax, of uncertain age, but who has since retired). And still no unilateralism. Instead main articles on such topics as commercial television, teenagers, European youth movements and apprentices, etc. Little had changed by Easter 1962, except for the formation of the Editorial Advisory Committee. At the second Annual Conference another resolution calling for

‘(1)an editorial board consisting of Young Socialists to be elected on the basis of one delegate per two adjacent regions, not later than 30th June, 1962.

(2) an editor to be elected by this board at its first meeting who is a Young Socialist and not a full time official of the Labour Party.

(3) the editorial policy of New Advance to reflect the decisions of the Young Socialists’ Annual Conference.

(4) Editorial board meetings to be held at least once a month.

(5) the board to inaugurate a page of branch news in New Advance each month.

(6) the National Committee not to work on any arrangements other than these for democratic control of New Advance.’

was carried by a large majority on a show of hands. By now Transport House was adamant. Since the energy which would have flowed naturally into a democratically run youth paper was now concentrated in the two unofficial journals Keep Left and Young Guard (see below) they concentrated the attack on these two. Using a confused vote at conference as an excuse, the NEC proceeded to investigate Keep Left. There was in fact no formal enquiry but nevertheless the May NEC meeting announced the proscription of Keep Left, on the grounds of their alleged connexion with the Socialist Labour League. There were protests since neither the editor nor any member of the editorial board had been interviewed by the NEC. The NEC countered by saying that they had long had all the evidence they needed to proscribe Keep Left but that they were waiting for the young socialists themselves to make the first move. The protests remained ineffectual. At the same time the NEC announced that they would hold an enquiry into Young Guard – no reasons given. [5]

The NEC also used the May Day rumpus as an excuse to disband the Young Socialist Federation in Glasgow. This was a militant left-wing federation of mostly Young Guard supporters, which had for some time been at loggerheads with the Scottish Regional Youth Officer. Again there were protests from branches, the Young Socialist National Committee (NC) at its first meeting after the disbandment called for the ban to be lifted but to date it has been unable to meet. At a Young Socialist rally at Skegness in May, which started three days after the NEC meeting, the high-handedness of party officials reached a new peak. When young socialists started selling papers – mainly Young Guard – they were told they would be thrown off the camp unless they stopped. All protests and demands that reasons be given were of no avail.

This was not all. So long as Keep Left was under threat of proscription, that is from April to May, the NC was not convened (it met for the first time at the end of June, over two months after the conference). There were three known supporters of Keep Left on the NC. Seven left-wing members of the newly elected committee of 11 were called for interview at Transport House to answer questions about their ‘activity’ in the Young Socialists and of these seven four were suspended from the NC – three supporters of Keep Left and one supporter of Young Guard. It is understood that these four will either be re-instated or expelled from the Party. Meanwhile the NC will continue to meet with four regions unrepresented and, what is more important to Transport House, the substantial left-wing majority on the NC is impaired, at least until the next NEC meeting in September.

This is where the story rests at the moment. Political young socialists are suspicious and hostile towards Transport House; and they are repaid in kind. It looks in fact as if we have been here before. Have we?

Skeletons in the Cupboard

The first League of Youth (LoY), formed officially in 1923, started off badly. Very reluctantly the Party took over an unofficial body, the National Young Labour League (NYLL), gave it a constitution which defined the new body as ‘a Labour youth organization organized definitely for Labour Party purposes,’ refused to discuss the matter with its old leadership and denied it the national organization necessary for making out policy and the semi-autonomous status demanded by that leadership. Bitter protests from the League brought the right to form no more than county federations. Initially the absence of any basic difference of opinion on policy made the loss of autonomy and of national status more easy to accept. The Party was, then, relatively left; individual membership in it was new; Leaguers were very young – up to 21; and the exhilaration of fighting elections with a new organization substituted often enough for polemic. Nonetheless agitation for an annual conference and a national committee continued. Despite their size they won concessions. In 1926 the age limit was raised from 21 to 25, allowing the maturation of a political leadership, and a national conference was permitted for the first time in 1929. Still no discussion on policy resolutions was allowed nor was New Nation, the official paper started in 1933, under LoY control.

It was only during the ‘thirties that the League grew and matured politically. MacDonald’s betrayal, the rise of fascism in Germany, the Communist Party-inspired but widely supported united front, hunger marches and, later, but most important of all, the Spanish Civil War, provided more than enough political fuel. Transport House did not like the turn of events ; but more than anything it did not like the effect on the League, in the form of its devotion to the United Front and its openness to Young Communist League influence. By 1936, with Spain in the headlines day by day a memorandum went out announcing a new lower age limit of 23 in 1938 and a planned further reduction to 21 the following year in a clear attempt to get rid of the more experienced and politically conscious members of the League. The League National Advisory Committee (NAC) was suspended as was the conference scheduled for the following year. After a thaw lasting a couple of years, the League’s destruction was finally sealed at the self-same NEC meeting which decided to expel Cripps. Many of the Leagues’ most active members joined the Young Communist League.

The running of New Nation reflected Transport House’s distrust. It was edited by three Transport House appointees over League age. It was the butt of non-confidence motions for its lack of political content as well as for its anti-Marxism. Unable to compete with the unofficial Advance, it was dismantled along with the national apparatus in 1936. The history of the post-war League 1945-1955 was not dissimilar. Growing from 1945 to 1948 with very little help or recognition from Transport House, the upper age limit was kept down to the restrictive 21 until the passage of a resolution at the 1948 Party Conference, moved by Ian Mikardo and accepted by the NEC, that this should be raised to 25. Federations of branches for joint activitity and discussion began to be set up very quickly after the war, but the Party opposed their creation and tried to prevent them discussing policy questions. There was no national committee until 1948 and then the first members were appointed by the Regional Executive Councils of the Party, although the representative organization of the LoY was usually consulted in the regions where they existed. There were no national conferences before 1951, except for the 1949 affair – a half day during a mass rally at Filey Holiday Camp, attended by anyone who wanted to from the 3,000 people of LoY age taking part.

This Rally was chiefly remarkable for the activity of the young ‘National Status Movement,’ which provided a long series of speakers who sought to refer back the whole of the report, and, when this was refused by the Chairman, to move him out of the chair. The NSM, largely responsible for the impetus which pushed the LoY up from about 260 branches at the beginning of 1948 to 820 in November 1950, presented five demands, all organizational: –

  1. an annual conference with the delegates elected by the Leagues;
  2. conference to elect an executive committee;
  3. the League to have delegates and resolutions at Party Conference;
  4. the League to have a seat on the NEC ; and
  5. the League Executive Committee to control Socialist Advance and other League publications.

Up to 1955 points 3 and 4, although frequently backed by LoY Conference, were no nearer realisation. The national committee of the League was still elected in the regional conferences and to confirm its lack of executive powers, it was given the official title of National Consultative Committee. Conferences were held in 1951, 1952, 1953 and 1954, but the NEC were never willing to allow them to be called annual conferences, and reserved to themselves the right to decide when and where they would meet, if they met at all. As the League declined in size and the circulation of Socialist Advance also fell, concessions were made; a certain amount of LoY participation in deciding its content was allowed in an effort to make it more saleable.

But the decline in the number of branches continued side by side with an increased militancy and degree of organization among those branches which survived. Attendance at the national conference declined, until the last one was cancelled because of insufficient enrolment. But the demands of the NSM, which continued in circulation long after its sponsors had let the original organization collapse, were passed by relatively larger and larger majorities. Most of the discussion documents presented to the 1954 Conference were referred back. At the previous year’s conference, a collection for an unofficial strike of motor-workers was held after numerous attempts by the standing orders committee to prevent it even being discussed. The 1954 Conference was almost closed down because of the reiterated demands of the delegates to discuss emergency resolutions, one of which supported the stand of Aneurin Bevan against the Parliamentary leadership.

When the LoY was officially disbanded at the 1955 Party Conference, over the protests of the NCC and in the middle of a Transport House-approved ‘Cut the Call Up Campaign,’ the remnants of the League were already in revolt in a number of places. The whole of the Southern Regional Committee, probably the strongest in the country, had been disbanded and was maintaining itself in defiance of the decision. The Merseyside Federation had been left for a number of years. London Federation had just gone left and was working in an unofficial alliance with the Middlesex, Kent and Surrey Federations. But the total membership was certainly under 5,000.

If there is one thing to be learned it is this: A major political issue plus the existence of an outside political organization furthering that issue can invest the organizational quarrels with Transport House with a significance they would otherwise lack. For example the conjunction of the lowering of the age limit which the League’s NAC, by then official, was fighting and an overriding political issue, in this case the League’s activities in the popular front against fascism and which was vehemently opposed by the Party, resulted eventually in the breaking up of the League for the first time. To a lesser extent again in 1955 when the continued agitation for national status combined with the political repercussions of the German re-armament sell-out and the leadership’s need to contain the Bevanite movement the League was again stifled. The correlation of these events is significant also in another way. It can be seen that when left opposition within the adult party reaches a dangerous stage for Transport House and they consider it necessary to perform a surgical operation it is quite often the youth organization that feels the knife first. That the current situation conforms to the past pattern in some respects need not be stressed. Nor are the dangers to the Young Socialists lessened by its numerical and organizational weaknesses.

II. Weakness of the YS

The Young Socialists to-day are as utterly dependent on the parent party as the two Leagues which preceded it. This dependence consists in many things. There are the Regional Organisers, paid from the Centre, already mentioned. Their pay – £18,000 a year is found by Transport House. The £2,000 subsidy for New Advance is found by the Party, as is the other £5,000 spent each year on youth work. As important – some would say more important, is the fact that almost all Parties, with some major exceptions in Glasgow, provide a room or rooms for the YS branches. These factors have always been present; they have always predetermined a defeat for the youth movement in any showdown with the parent organization. To-day, however, they are augmented by others, which either did not exist before or were very much less significant Of these, the most important is the kind of political issue which sustains the movement. Unilateralism as generally understood and campaigned about is intrinsically weak as an issue. Leaving this to one side for the moment, to be taken up in the following section, it is tragic for the YS that, while it stands solidly in support of unilateral nuclear disarmament, the constituency parties to which YS branches are attached are more often than not against it. Of the 781,000 known constituency party votes cast in the defence debate at the Scarborough Conference in 1961, 521,000 were anti-unilateralist and 260,000 pro – a right-wing majority of two to one. At Blackpool the following year, some of the abstainers moved into the unilateralist camp but the pro-Gaitskell, anti-unilateralist vote was still 548,000 to 320,000. [6] This is a far cry from the 4 to 1 majority cast against the leadership in the vote on German rearmament in 1954 ; it is a trend that looks like continuing, what with the systematic non-endorsement of non-unilateralist parliamentary candidates by Transport House these last months [7] and the adoption of young Gaitskellite parliamentary candidates in many constituencies.

This has not always been the case. The United Front, almost unanimously backed by the first League after 1935 and constituting its bone of contention with Transport House, was also the main plank in the Socialist League platform, and an important issue throughout the Party. ‘Do Transport House realise,’ wrote the New Statesman and Nation, in January 1937, ‘that a very large proportion of those who work hardest for the Labour cause up and down the country want the United Front and that a great many of them are already doing their best to operate it locally in relation to particular issues?’

The political gap between the parent party and its youth movement to-day is paralleled by the fact that few active Young Socialists have active party members as parents. It would be a nice point to discover where lie cause and effect, but one we cannot take up. All we can say with certainty is that from 20 answers to a questionnaire we sent out covering as many branches in Scotland, London, the Southern, Eastern, Northwestern and the East Midlands regions with a total membership of 584, of which 292 attended political meetings, it appears that no more than 139 parents were members of the Labour Party and of these 61 were active (attended Labour Party meetings). Although Party members’ children might be important in starting a branch – we have no firm data on this, although our experience is that this happens rarely – only 13 Young Socialists in 8 branches reported that they were introduced to the movement through their parents.

The answers also give evidence of what sociologists would call ‘ upward occupational mobility’ as between the generations. This is to be expected from the economic change that has occurred since pre-war days, but expected or not it is bound to affect the support given to the YS by the adult party and by the trade union branches affiliated to it locally.

This condition has changed radically since the earlier League of Youth days. It is difficult to adduce evidence, but many ‘old-timers’ and biographies give evidence of the close social fabric of the earlier organizations, particularly in pre-war days. Leagues were more tied to the parent organization by class and job. Each of the ‘old-timers’ interviewed in connection with this article made a point of the solidly working-class character of the League membership during the ‘thirties. Indeed, as its 1936-39 chronicler, Ted Willis, writes, Leagues were working class ‘as to 90 per cent, I would say’ as was also the National Advisory Committee.

The most important thing was that they could normally claim, as has been shown, the political sympathy, if not the support, of large sections of the adult party at local level and of trade union branches. Thus when in 1936 the party was threatening the League of Youth with suspension of all its national machinery, the NEC’s policies were passed at conference against a solid front of Constituency Party votes, and Ted Willis, then chairman of the League of Youth could write ‘we say to the NEC not only is the whole LoY opposed to your policy, but every major Labour Party throughout Great Britain is against it ... We shall not allow you to dissolve the LoY against its will ... the League will carry on because this is the wish of the party members.’ Even before the conference Advance was able to record the names of 100 parties which expressed their support for the League.

This support from the CLPs was due to two things – firstly, the League had been working hard for the party in elections and secondly, very many parties were sympathetic to the United Front against Fascism, the issue on which Transport House was attacking the League, and the Left Wing was still strong (the Socialist League had not yet been expelled). To-day the situation is somewhat different. Although Transport House has published the results of a questionnaire on this matter from which it appears that 123 out of 130 responding branches replied that they were active in electioneering, the trust is less encouraging, for few branch secretaries would care to answer in the negative, and the questionnaire does not seem to have allowed for gauging different degrees of involvement in electioneering work. A better idea of Young Socialist activity in the present organizations can be gained from our questionnaire despite its small coverage and its unquestionably city-biased character. In our our selection of 20 branches, there are 44 collectors from 17 branches, 31 ward officers from the 16 branches, 16 CLP officers from 10 branches and 3 councillors from 3 branches. Even if we make no allowance for the inevitable duplication of functions only 94 or under one-sixth of the YS membership were active in the parent Party, and even here the distribution is most uneven ; one Glasgow branch reports no less than 9 collectors, 4 ward officers and 2 CLP officers. In size too the current Young Socialists is unimpressive, particularly when compared with its pre-war and early post-war equivalents. Firm figures are hard to get; probably not even Transport House knows – or ever knew – the real situation, in which branches form, dissolve, reform with amazing rapidity, in which the cycle of the school calendar has, especially now, a disproportionate effect on the organization and in which the summer holiday season takes heavy toll of abandoned branches, especially non-political ones. Some idea of size in the past can be gained from the fact that by the time it was recognised by Transport House in May 1938 Advance was selling some 12,000 monthly and even, in July, reached a sale of 25,000. While the post-war LoY was given the official target of making 100,000 members, Transport House only once published a figure for the actual membership. A survey of 300 branches carried out early in 1951, when the number of branches had just begun to decline from its post-war peak of 820, showed an average membership of 30 and a total (if this can be believed) of 25,000. [8] A similar survey in January 1954, when the LoY was fast declining, gave an average membership of 20 per branch and an average attendance of 12 per meeting. [9] As at this time there were only 384 branches, the national totals would be 7,700 and 4,600.

To-day the scale is very much smaller. Transport House claims 25,000 members on the basis of 726 branches with 30 odd members per branch. It is an unlikely claim. In the experience of most activists only slightly more than half the branches function regularly ; there were no more than 380 delegates at the second Annual Conference this year; only 161 branches entered the national public speaking contest; and there were 400 campers at the Skegness rally at the end of May despite heavy publicity.

Our own questionnaire gives an average of 42 per branch which, if we drain it of the apparent social ‘water’, comes down to 20 per branch. A more realistic figure for the total would be somewhere around 7-10,000 organised in 450 functioning branches.

Figures of this order do not add up to much political weight in the Labour movement. They carry even less weight than they might since the political maturity of the Young Socialists leaves much to be desired.

III. Politics in the Young Socialists

It bears repeating that throughout its short history the basic political issue for the Young Socialists has been that of nuclear disarmament. The early months of its own fastest growth were also those in which the campaign against the defence policies of the Party leadership was developing, culminating in the unilateralist vote at the Scarborough Conference of October 1960. For a brief period the Bomb re-gilded the attractions of the Labour Party for young people – Gaitskell could be defeated and the Party could place itself at the head of the great new movement for survival. Party youth, already active in CND, were heartened. New recruits began arriving from amongst young campaigners. A few Youth Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament branches took the initiative in setting up Young Socialist branches or, more often, Young Socialist branches set up YCND groups and thus found an outlet for their activities and a source of further recruitment In one or two places, e.g. Hackney, the situation remains formalized and the two organizations are united with a common magazine, many common meetings and a lot of overlap in memberships. Even before the establishment of the Young Socialists, Aldermaston and other anti-Bomb activities had enabled youth section members to meet, sell their papers to each other and recruit members. Thus the initiative for the 1959 meetings of sections at Luton, St. Alban’s and Chigwell had come from those in contact for CND activities, and the paper Rebel developed from a few meetings of a group of London Young Socialists who had organized themselves as ‘Socialist Youth against the Bomb.’ But the Bomb has inherent weaknesses as a central coordinating issue for the Young Socialists. For a political issue to encourage a movement to unite and grow, it must be able to point to an enemy outside the movement’s own ranks over whom at least temporary or partial victories may be periodically obtained. But the struggle against the Bomb is too big to fit into this pattern, in the way, for example, that the struggle against Fascism did in the thirties. Then, while the strength of Fascism in Germany and Italy remained unruffled, Mosley’s marches in East London could be halted, British youth organizations of the working class could get together for some limited objective, showing that the United Front might be realised. All these victories encouraged. But the only victories the Young Socialist member in CND can point to are numbers on marches and sit-downs and paper victories won at Party and Union Conferences – not against the Bomb or even against the people who control the Bomb, but against the defenders of the Bomb in the Right Wing of the Labour Movement. The CND has failed to dislodge any nuclear bases from Britain, failed to delay any tests. The only success that can mean anything is the abandonment of the Bomb by, at the very least, Britain. The tendency for the young socialists to fight hardest within the movement is amplified by the difficulty in designating an enemy outside on whom the Bomb can be blamed. The Bomb is the product of the whole of society, both East and West, and ‘no sane man wants the Bomb.’

A further complication which particularly affects the traditional Left in the Young Socialists, but also in the Labour Movement as a whole, is that the Bomb is still not recognised as a class issue. In the Young Socialists it is the Left that shows the greatest consciousness of class, possibly because the few Right-wing theoreticians they meet spend so long trying to prove that class no longer exists or is no longer of any importance. Many of the Left feel uneasy about putting unilateralism at the head of their demands when it is quite obviously not considered the most important one by ordinary working-class people. And when the argument against the Bomb clashes with the arid, if traditional, quarrel among Marxists over the defence of the Soviet Union, such monstrosities are produced as the ‘workers’ bomb,’ which inhibited the growth of Keep Left and ruffled some supporters’ feathers in the early days of Young Guard. Again the contrast can be made with the thirties when the struggle against fascism as an extension of capitalism coincided conveniently with the Left’s tradition of worker versus boss and discomfited those few who preached class-collaboration. The fragmentation of working-class thinking and action in Britain, and the subsequent fragmentation of the political education of the Young Socialists has resulted in most Young Socialists being unable to carry the argument against the Bomb much further than opposition to NATO, foreign bases and troops in Britain and Gaitskell for defending these. There has been support for nationalization and workers ‘control, but very little study of their implications.

The inability of many Young Socialists to carry the implications of these into less obvious issues has come into the open most obviously at the 1961 and 1962 Young Socialist Conferences. As has been shown, the 1961 Conference, by majorities varying between 189-113 and 22-97, supported unilateralism, removal of all nuclear bases from Britain, withdrawal from NATO, acceptance of Conference decisions, the Aldermaston marches and the reinstatement of the 6 MPs who had had the whip withdrawn or been suspended, and three times demanded the resignation of Gaitskell. The battle against nationalization in the Party as a whole, found little echo in the Young Socialist Conference and resolutions were passed almost unanimously. At the 1962 Conference these decisions were reaffirmed by majorities of the same order, except that the resignation of Gaitskell was demanded by a majority of only 180 to 141 on a motion more specific than those of the previous year, and some advances were recorded, e.g., the withdrawal of all British troops from overseas was demanded (in a longer resolution, carried on a show of hands) and there was a majority of 221-42 for the rejection of Polaris and the training of German troops in Britain.

On resolutions which required more than the application of slogans, however, the majorities at both Conferences floundered. The first debate in 1962 was on the Immigration Bill. After condemning this unanimously and demanding the integration of immigrants into the Labour Movement, the outlawing of racial discrimination and a campaign to show the relationship of Racialism to Capitalism, the same delegates went on, in spite of opposing speakers warning them precisely what they were doing, to pass by 156 votes to 149 a demand for health checks on immigrants and legislation against overcrowding in houses. In the circumstances in which it was discussed this would inevitably be taken as tacit acceptance of the principles of discrimination against new entrants, and would, if it was ever translated into law, almost certainly be used against coloured people. The attitude to the United Nations also exhibits inconsistency on the part of some delegates. There was no reference to the United Nations in any resolution passed at the 1961 Conference. In fact, the main resolution on disarmament pointedly placed its hope for world peace in ‘ the co-operation with other genuine Labour Movements throughout the World,’ and its mover did not refer to the United Nations in his speech. However, in the debate on Keep Left, Gunter, speaking for the National Executive Committee, accused Keep Left of opposing the United Nations – which Keep Left did not deny in its report on the Conference – and the delegates condemned Keep Left. At the 1962 Conference the disarmament resolution repeated the reliance on co-operation with other working-class organizations throughout the world ; but in addition there were seven resolutions supporting the United Nations and one opposing it. As the report in Young Guard says,

‘Is the United Nations an instrument of imperialism or a force for peace and World Government ? These were the questions posed during the debate on the United Nations, but the decision made by Conference fell between the two. “Yes,” it said by 130-125, “the murder of Lumumba is only ONE way that the United Nations is used in the interests of imperialism,” but by 130-100 we reject the logical conclusion by Paddington that the United Nations is a pawn of Imperialism in the Cold War and that we must support the national forces in the Congo against Imperialism, and that World Government is only possible through International Socialism. The composite supporting the United Nations ... was carried by 179 to 61. The fact that over 100 delegates abstained on the amendment indicates the need for thorough discussion of the role of the United Nations.’

Although the majority, of the 1962 Conference decisions went at least as far as CND policy, a ‘positive neutralist’ resolution was rejected by 163 votes to 106. Indecision on this proposal extended into the ranks of Keep Left and of those Young Guard supporters who felt correctly that neutralism on these lines did not square with their view of Russia as a degenerated workers state. There was further confused voting in 1962 on the Common Market. The delegates rejected the entry of Britain on the terms of the capitalists (overwhelmingly) and then passed two contradictory resolutions. The first, carried overwhelmingly, recognised the historic necessity for European unity, but only on the basis of socialist planning and therefore called on the British Labour Movement to convene a meeting of European labour movements to formulate a policy for the achievement of this. The second, carried by 151-115, endorsed the attitude of the NEC of the Labour Party during the negotiations over entry (this attitude was condemned in the other resolution) but directed it to oppose entry now that the full implications were known.

The most obvious contradictions in the decisions of the Young Socialist conferences were thrown up when the delegates’ support for Party democracy and freedom of publication for unofficial papers came into conflict with the demands of Transport House for a witch-hunt against the oldest of these papers Keep Left. No doubt there are other, perhaps strong, reasons for delegates refusing to allow Keep Left in particular to have as much freedom as they demanded for young socialist papers in general. Keep Left had managed to make itself unpopular through its own brands of political dogmatism and arrogance as will be shown below. Nevertheless it remains a fact that the 1961 conference demanded ‘ unrestricted publication of independent young socialist newspapers’ and condemned ‘ the recent attempt to infringe on these rights with the assistance of official Party machinery.’ That done the delegates turned down a protest against the ban on Keep Left and expressed ‘its concern at the activities of the unofficial Keep Left movement, and in particular the policies of its paper Keep Left.’ There was probably some confused cross-voting on these last two, however, for although the total poll remained almost the same 10 percent of the delegates appear to have voted against Keep Left and against the ban on it by the NEC. For good measure the same conference both resolved that New Advance in its present form was of no value to the organization and criticized the existence of Keep Left in the light of its belief ‘ that the fullest scope for political activities and organization is to be found in the Constitution of the Young Socialists.’ The 1962 conference condemned the NEC for its witchhunt of Ernie Roberts, a unilateralist who had been refused endorsement as a parliamentary candidate. The majority felt able to do this although some of them must have voted with the other majority which had earlier asked the NEC to carry out an investigation of the political and other misdeeds of Keep Left.

Some of these inconsistencies are no doubt symptomatic of the political composition of the Young Socialists and of their age ... a broad soft centre of semi-political members, many of them young and only recently recruited into any section of the Labour movement, most of them CND supporters, few of them active in their ward Labour party or union branch, and in particular lacking any coherent and connected series of political ideas. From this mass emerge at each end the rocks of the hard right and left, the latter very much larger than the former (who depend largely on a-politicals from Labour strongholds for support). Both the extreme groups appear to be composed of, on the whole, older and more experienced young socialists than the centre. Although it is extremely difficult to prove – and wishful thinking is no substitute for scientific examination – there seems to be the impression that the leaders of the right (the group which have gathered around Strident and Counterblast) are mainly from the professions and white-collar jobs (one commentator mentioned that of the original signatories of Counterblast’s manifesto, only one, a printer, appeared to be an industrial worker). The prominent activists of the left tendencies, Keep Left and Young Guard, although many of them are clerical workers or teachers, have a much higher proportion of industrial workers.

Although they appear to have considerable resources, the right-wing group appears to be politically disunited, except on LoYalty to the present Party leadership, and although they have a few well-informed spokesmen, organizationally they are unable to compete with the left. Thus, whereas the London Federation of the post-war League of Youth was for long controlled by the right (up to the last year before its dissolution), of the four Federations into which the London Young Socialists have been re-divided, the right control only one (S.W. London) while in W. and S.E. they have sought to split or boycott federations with a left majority. The right-wing’s publications for national distribution appear at irregular intervals, usually timed to coincide with the Young Socialist conference and copies are, by some strange trick of fate received by members of all or most Young Socialist branches at their home addresses. By contrast the two major left publications, Keep Left and Young Guard, have what amounts to national coverage. Finally the left has an overwhelming majority on the elected NC – 8 out of 11 and, on some issues 9. The left then can make the running with little effective opposition from the right. Yet the political weakness of the Young Socialists remains. Partly, as has been said, this derives from the youth and high turnover of the majority of Young Socialist members, more important, in the final analysis is the weakness of political leadership provided by the left. It is a divided body, each part of which leaves much to be desired in the way of political effectiveness.

IV. The Left in the Young Socialists


The left is centred on two papers, Young Guard and Keep Left. By the second annual Young Socialist conference in April 1962 their supporters won eight of the eleven regions in the ballot for the National Committee (five more or less committed to Young Guard from, the London, East Midlands, Welsh, Scottish and Eastern regions; three Keep Left from the Northern, North Eastern and North Western regions). Their dominance can be gauged from the fact that with the possible exception of one person there are no unaffiliated left-wingers on the National Committee.

It is difficult to trace the history of these two journals without saying something of the official youth publications. In 1960 when the Young Socialists was formed the only regular circular was the Labour Party Monthly Newsletter sent by Transport House to all branches. Only a few sheets of internal information, it seldom got further than the branch secretary. This continued until November 1960 when the official paper for Young Socialists was published. This was a 12-pager called New Advance (descendent of the first League’s Advance and the second’s Socialist Advance) price 3d. It is technically well produced, fairly bright and gay; and so it should be, as has been shown, it is heavily subsidized. And yet it continues to be a failure. Being no more than the voice of Transport House, with a young, but appointed, editor, the first issues of this monthly were tailored to the needs of the NEC’s prototype young socialist. They sniped at the Young Conservatives; published inspiring statements and messages from the leadership – Gaitskell, Crossman, Greenwood; gave space to ‘ votes at 18’ (headline, The Great Controversy Rages in the Pages of New Advance), blew cool with Miles Davis and undressed with Sophia Loren. A series of historical sketches began with Owen and Karl Marx (‘a bit of a meglomaniac’), etc. That few cared about the Young Conservatives; that Gaitskell and Crossman do not inspire; that the Great Vote Controversy raged only in their columns; and that Melody Maker and Reveille were much more informative on jazz and bras did not seem to have occurred to the NEC. This diet was not calculated to energize activists as was soon apparent from the sales, for by the April National Conference of the Young Socialists in 1961, after six issues, the circulation was only 4,000, with only a small fraction paid for.

Keep Left

It was against this backdrop of inadequacy and insensitivity to needs that support grew for the unofficial youth paper Keep Left. This journal started as a duplicated branch paper in Middlesex in 1951, it grew until the end of the post-war League by which time, although its main strength was in London, it was circulating nationally. It was still a duplicated paper. In 1958 it changed into a four-page printed paper.

With the founding of the Young Socialists it was in a favourable position to expand and recruit supporters. Distrust of Transport House, the need for something to organise around, their newness to organized politics and their staunch leftism led many young socialists to the Keep Left fold. There was little competition since the potentially most powerful influence – Tribune – made absolutely no attempt to win support from the youth ; it kept strictly out of the Young Socialist arena, seldom reporting or commenting on the movement in their columns. Rebel, another independent paper centred on London and started in July 1960, and Rally [10], centred on Merseyside and later Nottingham, were the only nationally-circulated papers challenging Keep Left’s pre-eminence on the left, but they then lacked the national contacts with which to do this effectively.

Since Keep Left was the sole threat to the NEC’s control of the Young Socialists, it soon became the target of menaces and ‘ exposures’ in New Advance. In the 4th issue, February 1961, melodramatic and ludicrously misinformed warnings appeared about Trotskyists lurking at the bottom of the Young Socialist garden.

‘They have nothing but contempt for the Soviet Union which they say is State Capitalist,’ declared New Advance. ‘They believe in a world wide revolution of the proletariat and dictatorial communist world government. They have turned their attention to the YS movement because they are dismayed to see such a brilliant organ of democratic socialism. They want to SMASH IT in its early stages and take away many of its members.’

The following issue accused Keep Left of opposing the basic principles of social democracy and alleged that it was controlled by the Socialist Labour League (an organisation proscribed by the Labour Party). The NEC demanded (early in 1961) that the two main supporting branches, Hendon North and Wembley South cease sponsoring the paper. The assault ended, as had been shown, with the first Young Socialists conference passing a resolution by 201 to 116 expressing ‘concern at the activities of the unofficial Keep Left movement’ and maintaining that its ‘supporters were acting in a manner calculated to disrupt the Young Socialists.’ Another resolution demanding that no ban be placed on Keep Left was defeated by 172 to 148. It was at this conference that the editor of New Advance issued his statement on NEC censorship and started on the road to the editorial chair of Keep Left.

Keep Left then was the first rallying point on the left. Although its support derived mainly from London and the North of England and its sponsoring branches numbered only 46 in summer 1961 (Keep Left figures) from a national total of 726 branches (Transport House figures) its supporters were ubiquitous, untroubled by national left competition and with what seemed then to be a great advantage but later turned out to be a weakness – a hard, inflexible line. Politically, Keep Left’s analysis of the current situation is compounded of a belief in the imminence of slump and an impending revolutionary situation in the west, and the existence of a series of degenerated workers’ states in the East. Recent issues have warned that ‘All Young Socialists must expect hard times ahead, growing unemployment, low wages and conditions ... there are signs that these boom days are drawing to a close’ (KL July 1962); we have been told to expect ‘ the greatest wave of strike action since the 1926 General Strike’ (KL February 1962); and told that ‘ the Soviet Union, the countries of Eastern Europe and China ... are workers’ states governed by bureaucracies’ (KL October 1961).

The policies that flow from their analysis are such as to set them apart from the mainstream of Young Socialist interests and LoYalties. A workers’ state, even a degenerated one, is, in their view, justified in defending itself with every weapon to hand, including nuclear ones. Hence their support of the Russian ‘ workers’ bomb’ – a weapon different, by some subtle alchemy, from the western ‘capitalist bomb.’ Although Keep Left tends to underplay this gulf separating them from the mass of their readers – and they have scarcely discussed the issue openly since they began printing in 1958, there have been occasions when no alternative existed. [11] Thus when Russia resumed testing in Autumn 1961, not only did Keep Left refuse to condemn the move for the cynical, immoral and anti-socialist act it was, but complained plaintively that ‘Whatever may be their military value, they can only weaken the Soviet Union because they confuse many young people who would otherwise be friendly’ (Dave Powell in KL, November 1961). They chastened such members of the Young Communist League who participated in the protest sit-down outside the Russian Embassy by suggesting that ‘ instead of marching on the Soviet Embassy, all demonstrations should be directed against the capitalists in Britain and their allies, the United States imperialists’ (ibid.). One of their two supporters on the first Young Socialist National Committee voted against (the other abstaining) a motion to send a letter of protest to the Russian Embassy although they supported a similar letter being sent to the American Embassy on hearing of the proposed resumption of US tests. They have not gone so far as to condemn CND as a ‘petty bourgeois deviation’ as some have done, but they have been suspicious of it, have not worked in or with it or shown enthusiasm for it. They have attended the more important marches, but concentrated on selling their journal, showing the Keep Left flag and occasionally show ‘leadership’ in chanting slogans. Sit-downs have not been their line of country. Other aspects of their policy have been as unbending and unrealistic. Together with the perspective of imminent crisis in western capitalism, and a conspiratorial view of history, goes a fanatical stress on organization, LoYalty to their organization and all it stands for. Anyone, particularly on the left, not in agreement with their every nuance, is liable to savage attacks. The worst motives are imputed to ‘left-centrists’. Thus, reporting on a Young Socialist rally at Skegness, Keep Left announced that ‘Tony Greenwood made a subtle attack on everything Gaitskell had said. Staunchly admitting he was a unilateralist, he attacked the evils of capitalism in this country and came out strongly for international socialism. Greenwood was making a bid for power. Still young, he no doubt thinks he can wait for the Young Socialists to rise to powerful positions in the party and carry him forward to the leadership’ (KL, July/August 1961). Marxists who might differ on any part of theory or policy are singled out for ‘ exposure’ treatment. ‘State Capitalism’ a theory which conceives of the Russo-Chinese bloc as a class system, and sustains a policy of equal opposition to East and West on a socialist basis, has been attacked ferociously at young socialist schools and Federation meetings, sometimes to the exclusion of a concerted attack on the right. Since they feel there is not time to influence the mass, they make attempts to use them in the coming struggle for power, and so get involved in political dishonesty, double-book-keeping and cynicism. One classic example is the ‘ turn to socials’ last year. A correspondent tells the story rather neatly:

‘In 1961 Keep Left decided there was an imminent threat of fascism with the approaching crisis of capitalism. The threat of proscription by the NEC still hung over their heads and only a huge Young Socialists could intimidate them into withdrawing it. Overnight the line changed and “mass movement” became the cliché of the day. To build this one had to run rock dances and record hops. Training of cadres became less important as the “young workers” danced to rock and twist, and heard “Maryland” finish the night. The logic behind this came from the belief that when fascism marched through the streets the kids from the dance clubs would follow its Keep Left leaders into battle, then twist us all to socialism. This policy, although a welcome change from the usual Marxist tactic of educating through tedious discourses had inherent difficulties. Most important is the competition from a society geared to satisfying youth. Secondly the lack of control often led to violence and hooliganism which frightened off adult support. Another difficulty is that working class youth, though accepting to some extent the facilities offered, is just as contemptuous of young socialist paternalism as of the vicar’s and these dance clubs could only be successful in places like Wigan where they are run for workers by workers. But the majority of young socialists are not working class in the sense of belonging to the local “team” and this, irrespective of their job, their outlook, sets them up as something “apart.” The strain of this social work with its disillusionment, added to the intensive political activity, makes for a large turnover of Keep Left supporters and this trend showed the real weakness of the “mass twist,” for when the activists left the large social branches they left nothing behind. Within a few weeks the artificial pressure in the young socialist barometer escaped and when the true level was reached only the few politically conscious comrades remained, back where they started. So that except in a very few cases of successful “social” branches, most branches sponsoring Keep Left on the eve of proscription were relatively small.’

Despite its initial success Keep Left did not tune in to the right wavelength. Their ‘workers’ bomb’ politics were bound to alienate the mass of young socialists; their shrillness with regard to home developments deafened new entrants into the movement; even the fact that they stressed a distinct Keep Left identity, apart from that of the Young Socialists, was bound to cool Young Socialist recruits. Inevitably, in the same way as they grew on the rebound of mahy young socialists from Transport House, the rebound from Keep Left swelled the ranks of a new journal, Young Guard.

Young Guard first appeared in September 1961. It was conceived during the first Young Socialist conference at the Beaver Hall, London, where many left delegates were experiencing the frustration of watching jousts between Transport House and Keep Left, their self-appointed leader. Initially it consisted of a fusion of two independent papers, London-based Rebel, and the Merseyside-Nottingham Rally, and a well-knit group of young socialists who had played an important part in the apprentices’ strike of 1960, mainly from Glasgow. Other Young Socialists associated with the launching of the paper included supporters of the New Left Review, Tribune and Labour’s Northern Voice. Young Guard grew rapidly. Although inferior technically to both New Advance and Keep Left, by the second Young Socialist conference, after only seven issues, it had reached a circulation of 3,000 copies.

It has managed to avoid many of the defects of Keep Left. It is a democratic paper. Delegates to its quarterly National Editorial Board meetings are elected at open readers’ meetings held monthly in London, Glasgow, Nottingham, Liverpool, Swansea, etc. The number of delegates is proportional to area sales. This NEB elects a working editorial board which, for technical reasons, is centred on London. Its columns straddle the whole range of the Young Socialist left, from Christian Socialists to syndicalists. There is no question of unanimity ; debates have taken place on the Common Market, Cuba, Russia, religion and many other topics.

This is not to say that there are no agreed principles on which the paper is based. On the contrary, each issue features a program, backed editorially, advocating unilateralism, the return of a Labour Government, coloured freedom, workers’ internationalism, etc. [12]

Although Young Guard has managed to avoid many pitfalls, it is far from being the journal of political education it should be. Quite rightly it has never attempted to substitute itself for the Young Socialists but it has also not attempted to offer a political perspective for Young Socialists who, for one reason or another, usually age, retire from the youth movement. More important, it has studiously avoided Certain political topics – the workers’ bomb, the nature of Russia, economic perspectives of capitalism, the nature of political leadership, the United Nations, the colonial revolution, and so on, a discussion of which is essential if the unilateralism of the Young Socialists is to develop into full Socialist maturity.

There are a number of reasons for this ambivalence to hard Socialist theory. One, certainly, is the identification of Young Guard with the Young Socialists and the fact that the former owes no allegiance to any outside body. Since most Young Socialists are young politically there is little spontaneous pressure on the editorial board to raise relatively abstruse theoretical issues. More important by far, however, is the conscious avoidance of disputed issues and territory by the political ‘evolues’ on the Young Guard editorial board lest the unity achieved among all strands of opinion within Young Guard be endangered. Since these disputes drive deep, it is feared that the bitterness of a clash would burst the journal asunder.

This is an unfortunate view. Not only is unity not worth having if it cannot bear the strain of ideological conflict, where these bear on the major questions of the age, but unless the issues at present ignored in Young Guard are raised, the paper will fail in its educative functions in the Young Socialists, and leave the movement ideologically weak. Finally, unless Young Guard explore the implications of unilateralism seriously – and some of the embargoed issues are central to such an explanation – it will ultimately bore its Young Socialist readers into retirement.

Whatever their weaknesses, Keep Left and Young Guard have played a traditional, but important, part in knitting the young socialists into a national organization, by raising issues, focussing activity, making socialists and even by constituting issues in themselves. Some of these have been important. such as the control of New Advance or the right to publish freely; others – the demand for political discussion at Federation level, for the publication of National Committee minutes – are peripheral and serve more as a focus for anti-Transport House frustrations than anything else. But important or not there is no doubt that without them, the Young Socialists would scarcely have lifted off the ground.

V. Conclusions

There are two dangers facing the Young Socialists to-day. Transport House might continue destroying its natural Left leadership in an attempt to make the youth safe for Gaitskell. It has already proscribed Keep Left; it might yet proscribe Young Guard. In both cases it will have destroyed, or at least weakened, these journals at the cost of destroying Labour’s youth movement. The second danger is that the Young Socialists might not grow and the Left might then turn in on itself, ruining the movement by doing so. This is not the place to weigh these possibilities, but what seems to us necessary is to put forward, for discussion, a suggestion which might make either perspective less likely, namely that the Left sponsor the demand for an autonomous Young Socialists, affiliated to the Labour Party, supported by the Labour Party, but run as a separate organization. Although the battle with Reformism will remain, many of the organizational squabbles with Transport House will disappear; the political issues will be there, but many of the marginal themes and alliances will go; the Young Socialists would be able to play a more effective part in Labour Party politics, even locally, but without disintegrating into the fragments characteristic of the parent party; above all, as an autonomous body, the Young Socialists will be able to unite traditional party activities and organization with the new and important ones such as CND; and will be able to involve its members in larger organizations – trade unions and Labour Party – without which they would expire politically.

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1. Labour Party, Annual Conference Report, 1960. p.25.

2. ‘If we have a Youth Movement, and it is worth having, it will not be polite and respectful but will pass resolutions of no confidence in everybody on the platform and inform us how we can have the Socialist revolution in the next 24 hours. If they did not do these things they would not be any good to this movement anyway.’ Dick Marsh, MP for Greenwich – Blackpool Conference 1959, NEC Youth Report.

‘If you are not going to be tolerant, if you are going to be repressive towards them, then the Young Socialists will fail – and we have got to make sure that the Young Socialists succeed.’ Anthony Greenwood – Scarborough Conference 1960.

3. Conference Report, 1960.

4. May Day this year was the scene of two noisy and violent demonstrations against the Labour Party leadership by unilateralist Labour supporters many of whom were Young Socialists. Gaitskell, invited by the Glasgow City Labour Party to speak at the rally on Labour’s policy on Polaris missiles (Conference having gone on record against having them in British waters), proceeded to speak on education. A number of people including Young Socialists spontaneously walked out of the meeting after loudly protesting. In London George Brown was forcibly deprived of his microphone after being barracked over his attitude on nuclear testing. He had come to support American tests shortly after moving the 1961 Conference motion opposing all tests.

5. It has since been established that no action is to be taken against the journal providing Young Guard agrees not to hold schools or advertise the subject to be discussed at readers’ meetings. Because, the NEC alleges, these give the impression of a separate organization.

6. Keith Blundel and Philip Williams, Political Quarterly, Summer 1962.

7. Of which the most well known are Ernie Roberts at Horsham, Walter Wolfgang at Richmond, and Iltyd Harrington at Dover.

8. Report and Agenda of the 1951 LoY Conference, page 4.

9. Report and Agenda of the 1954 LoY Conference, page 12.

10. Rally, founded in 1949 quickly became the leading advocate of national status for the post-war League. It built a national structure around this issue and until the League was destroyed in 1955 was far more important than Keep Left. Subsequently its support dwindled and by 1960 it had real local roots only in the two areas mentioned in the text with the possible addition of South Wales.

11. Notably in the issues dated October and November, 1961.

12. The full program is:

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