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Socialist Appeal, August-September 1935, Volume 1 No. 05, Page pp.12-15
Transcribed and Marked Up by Damon Maxwell in 2009 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

Militancy Comes Of Age In The Young People’s Socialist League

By Melos Most

“Left Tendency Dominates Socialist Youth Congress” was headline used in the Socialist Call to describe the Pittsburgh convention of the Young People’s Socialist League. This was surprising to many. Most socialists had considered the YPSL as a left Socialist organization for many years; those who knew better still wondered why a change in control should be so candidly headlined.

The answer to both lies in the history of the League. In its 1933 convention at Reading the YPSL elected an administration of known Militant sympathies and organizational ability. But at Reading, much as at Detroit, the issues were not clearly defined. The new officers, Dancis and MacDowell, ran the League on the basis of a confused type of “left” philosophy rampant in – and peculiar to – the American Socialist movement. Their two years in office revealed the following:

1. Despite the fact that they regarded both themselves and the membership as left wing, they considered the organization as something apart from its members, and did not want it to be “left” as such within the movement.

When a group of left wing Socialist youth movements affiliated to the Socialist Youth International hold an informal conference to discuss their problems, one would have expected the YPSL administration here to be at least sympathetic. Instead, they even went so far as to send A COMMUNIQUE TO THE SYI EXPRESSING THEIR DISAPPROVAL OF THE CONFAB.

When Local Bridgeport of the Socialist party expelled the YPSL of that city – two circles naive enough to believe that one should sing the Internationale at socialist meetings – did the Yipsel NEC give them the encouragement they so badly needed at the time? Far from it; to show that it was “absolutely fair” the N.E.C SUSPENDED THE BRIDGEPORT YPSL FOR HAVING VIOLATED SOME TECHNICALITY IN ITS DIFFICULTIES WITH THE PARTY.

And finally, when the New York League was “locked out” for its courageous stand in defense of the movement’s national integrity Dancis and MacDowell fought this time with the entire NEC against them – to qualify the League’s support of its New York section. In the face of the New York party’s unscrupulous tactics they opposed a statement that the city League had acted in accord with Socialist, law and ethics. In the face of an Old Guard that has fought since Eighteen-Something-Or-Other against a party-controlled press – and is doing so even now in New Jersey – but which came out in defense of the sanctity of party organs when it hit home, Dancis claimed that the New York League had a right to criticize but NOT TO WITHDRAW SUPPORT FROM THE NEW LEADER, a claim the Old Guard did not even slake. And when the membership of the New York League was informed and allowed to express its feelings on what was going on in the NEC. MacDowell – who has never protested about the party’s making concession’s to its strong local sections – was so indignant that membership pressure had been brought to bear that he wanted to resign as national chairman.

2. Elected by a leftward-groping membership in search of leadership, they regarded this groping and search as no particular concern of the administration.

Very little effort was made to give the League a real training in the “revolutionary Socialism” that both leaders and rank-and-file so fondly talked about. The result was indescribable ideological confusion, in which some elements found their way out of the League and very few found their way in.

Even the “left” moves that were made, were made purely as organizational, never as educational stops. The problem of the obstructionist right wing elements in New York (now in the Young Socialist Alliance) was dealt with only in private communications to the city executive secretary. The McLevy case was to be handled simply by having the top leadership lodge charges against him with the Party NEC. Questions such as these were never made the basis for educational drives among the members, to teach them to understand for themselves the issues involved.

3. They had no confidence in Militant Socialism as a means of building the movement. Whatever they believed of left wing theory they regarded it as fit for internal consumption only.

They adopted the attitude that, as Kantorovitch so aptly put it, “we may discuss capitalism but we must not go into Socialism”. The “Challenge” our official organ, had, been the perfect centrist paper. In the name of being a “propaganda organ” it has withheld from the outside leftward-moving masses of youth precisely the information they want most and ask first about the Socialist youth movement. It has not even dealt with a question like Communism in its news columns, a question which does, and should, arouse the curiosity of every newcomer to the radical movement.

The philosophy underlying this has been expressed in the Young Socialist Review: “How can we expect workers and farmers to fight for Socialism when they won’t for our program and candidates? His solution to this all too easily posed question was that our emphasis should be almost solely on organization as opposed to theory.

But Dancis forgot that unlike the early days of the social democratic movements in Europe when the workers had nowhere else to turn – workers and farmers, particularly young workers and farmers, may not want to follow a movement unless they know where they are following it to.

As a result the League has not been in a position to recruit properly among the awakened youth, nor to prevent them from going Communist or even fascist. It has made no showing to speak of against the Young Communist League, all rationalizations to the contrary not withstanding.

4. The administration did not apply its Militant principles organizationally, just as it did not apply them to anything else. League policy was extremely unventuresome.

Militancy does not only involve a theoretical outlook, it must also mean an organization that is alive and kicking. Dancis was a crack organizational routine man, but he went no further than that.

The League did not expand in scope, reorganize its weak features, conduct campaigns that involved the membership, or increase its morale by internal propaganda. There was little real leadership. The one drive that was undertaken, a national membership drive, was inadequately pushed. Financial policy was characterized, by conservative cautiousness.

Not all of this can be blamed on actual policy, but a good deal of it can.

The fact remains that, with Dancis doing enough work for three people in the national office, THE MEMBERSHIP OF THE LEAGUE DECREASED BY AMOST 25%. Certainly the convention, which should be a test of strength, was poorly organized.

All of this can be put very neatly – in retrospect. The members of the Young People’s Socialist League, whether vaguely or articulately, do realize these things, but they have only come to realize then very recently. Even in the New York League, which has been much more self-consciously Militant, we have ourselves been guilty of not a few of the mistakes listed above.

The realization of past mistakes had been growing tor the past year. But it came to the surface with a bang after the Party NEC meeting in New York the week before the convention, when the NEC’s policy of “Militancy in abstract” reached its logical climax: capitulation.

The delegates at Pittsburgh did not want to repeat the mistake of the Party at Detroit.

First, they wanted a Militant leadership which would make no bones about taking a position on the questions confronting the movement.

Was this because they wanted a “factional administration” which would, insure mechanical majority domination within the League? Emphatically not; the election of the new NEC has shown that every effort will be made to insure minority viewpoints of representation.

But the Party NEC proved that by a policy of “not taking sides” a body of honest Socialists was brought to a point where it could tolerate and compromise with elements which have violated the integrity of the movement.


Second, they wanted a left wing organization which would be left wing AS an organisation.

Was this to make the League an organization which would help build the left wing in the movement as a whole? Partially, but that was not uppermost in the minds of the delegates.

With the Party NEC meeting had come the first full realization that the Party was not under a really left wing leadership, and might not be even after the Party’s next convention.

These young people represented the most active elements in the movement, those who have been out “organizing, educating, and propagandizing” for Socialism. They, more than other Socialists, have come in contact with the masses that are becoming radicalized, particularly the youth, among whom the Communist influence and the fascist danger are greatest, and they have come to understand that Socialism without Militant theory and policy to back it is sterile.

They wanted a left wing organization not simply to build the left wing in the Socialist movement, but TO BUILD THE MOVEMENT ITSELF, AND DESTROY THE EXTERNAL ENEMIES OF THE MOVEMENT.

Individual resolutions, individual personalities, were subordinated to this great purpose. The YPSL has elected a left wing leadership as a left wing leadership. It has chosen to be a left wing organization and to be left wing as an organization.

That is why we could openly, in fact proudly, say, to the outside workers, as well as to our comrades: “Left Tendency Dominates Socialist Youth Congress.”

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