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Socialist Appeal, October 1935, Volume 2 No. 1, Pages 4-6
Transcribed, Edited and Formatted by Damon Maxwell in 2009 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

This Question Of The YPSL

By Ben Fischer

AMONG PARTY comrades, not much effort has been made to evaluate the role, the function and the prospects of the Young People’s Socialist League. But much attention has been given to the conflict in New York between the League and Party. Intelligent consideration of that dispute can be given only upon the basis of an understanding of the YPSL.

The YPSL has two, and only two tasks:

1. To help the Party become the political guide for the working class revolution.

2. To win over the youth for active support of that revolution.


How is the YPSL to help the Party become the political guide for the working class revolution? There are five ways:

1. By preparing its members for effective Party membership. This necessarily means to make them much more capable then even most of the Party leaders are today.

2. By being a constant source of criticism and examination of party policy and tactics. Just as trade unionists must do this; just as branches, locals, state organizations, the NEC and the National Conventions must do this; – so also the Yipsels must reach into their background, their problems and the lessons of their Socialist experience to contribute their voice to the many voices which blend themselves into Party policy and decisions.

Yipsels are the socialists of the rising generation. They are reflections of and reactions to new conditions. They bring into the movement a new vigor, and a new attitude which to a considerable extent is typical of the rising generation. Our Party, which must always adapt itself to new conditions and new attitudes, should realize the importance of the point of view and the criticisms of the younger elements. Just as stability and experience are vital to the movement, so also youth and the attitude of the rising generation are vital to the movement.

3. By bringing people with whom they come into contact in the course of their work on the various fields’ of youth activity into the Party. Where these persons are above 30 years of age, they are brought directly into the Party. Where they are below thirty, they are brought into the Yipsels and then into the Party. Yipsels above 21 who have been in the YPSL for 6 months or more, MUST apply for membership to the Party.

4. By opposing all efforts to frustrate the Party by converting it into an organization whose main orientation is towards municipal socialism and enthusiastic acquiescence to every word and gesture of trade union officials.

5. By resisting every effort to expel loyal Party members whose only “crime” is adherence to revolutionary Socialist principles and policies.

Why are these things function? of the YPSL? Shouldn’t the YPSL keep out of Party affairs? These questions are constantly posed.

Young people who are giving their lives to the movement will not keep out of Party affairs. The Party is our Party. It is the Party we live and fight for. It is the Party which is our hope and our source of courage. When it is endangered from the, outside, we fight for its welfare. When it is endangered as an effective revolutionary instrument from within, we fight just as strenuously to preserve it for revolutionary Socialism.

But why “use” the YPSL, we are asked. Because it is our organization; it is where we find ourselves. People strive to achieve a purpose through organization of like-minded persons. By and large, we in the YPSL are like-minded. Therefore, being together in our organization, we act together through our organization.

But why not act through Party membership? Because then the YPSL would be removed from the realities of the work and interests of its membership. How can we come to YPSL meetings and close our ears to the vital nature of the Party controversy? Branches and local? have tried that and fallen apart. YPSL circles would react no differently from Party branches.

Then does this mean that the YPSL must participate in every controversy? No, but when our Party is in danger of degenerating or when it is being destroyed by attempts to expel left-wing elements, then the YPSL is concerned. It would be treachery for the members of the League – most of whom are left-wing – not to fight for the Party and the principles to which they are devoted.


How is the YPSL to win over the youth for Socialism?

1. By our members going to the youth wherever they are – in unions, in student groups, in settlement houses, in churches, in Y’s. We must go to them because economic forces will not bring them to us through the trade unions – as we had once thought. Millions of young people will never have the opportunity to join trade unions.

2. By developing ourselves to become able workers in youth groups and unions and able exponents of our program and policies.

3. By developing through education and experience a membership which can create correct policies.

4. By developing effective methods of working with students, young trade unionists and the other elements to whom we can possibly appeal.

5. By dramatizing and systematizing our work.

6. By meeting rival youth groups squarely. It does the YPSL no good to bury its head and not recognize the existence of the Young Communist League and even of the minor groups in the radical movement. The YCL has great influence among the youth, probably as great or even greater than we have. We must present our program in contradistinction to theirs to young people.

Can we do all these things? Certainly – if our membership develops; if Party comrades aid our work; if more mature elements can be attracted to the League in larger numbers.

This approach depends on the conception that we are not a group unto ourselves which is to grow only from within. We are an organization which must reach out and bring the youth to our movement. We must train ourselves and gear our organization in such a way as to make it possible for the Yipsels to become a corps of active fighters and organizers for Socialism. Each of us must live for the movement. Each of us must fearlessly go to the gathering places of young people, to the scenes of the struggles of youth, to imbue youth with our doctrines and impress them with the need for organizing for Socialist triumph. To educate youth is important. But in addition to education, we must be the most active and clear-headed participants and leaders in the struggles of the unemployed youth, the" trade union youth, the anti-war movement and every field in which youth fights for progressive aims and better conditions.


There is a different approach from the one outlined above. It is the approach of the right wing. It says that the YPSL has as its tasks aiding the Party, growing in size, preparing people for Party membership and affording young Socialists with cultural, sports and general educational opportunities.

This approach reminds one of the Young Circle League, the youth section of the Workmen’s Circle. Substitute “Workmen’s Circle” for “Party” in the above paragraph and you have outlined the tasks of the Young Circle League as proposed by the right wing for the YPSL.

The YPSL should aid the Party; but to the right wing that phrase means one thing only – the Yipsels should be the leaflet distributors and errand boys for the Party, because in so many places, many Party members don’t like to do the Jimmy Higgins work of the movement.

The YPSL should grow in size; but what about developing its members, building mass organizations for young people not yet ready to become affiliated with a political youth organization? What about the Yipsel’s growing in influence and ability and experience. Growing in size if not qualified, can only mean growing into a loose cultural vaguely Socialist organization. We do not want this.


Preparing people for Party membership is fine. But we want Yipsels to be intelligent, capable Party members – not just one more in the army of dues-payers. Affording sports and cultural activities is the task not of the YPSL, but of the Workers’ Sport League, Rebel Arts, the Young Circle League and similar groups.

Affording educational opportunities? The Band School when it was alive attracted many New York Yipsels. The right wingers thought that education meant bawling out Yipsels for being young, for being critical of an older generation of Socialists who had left no great marks of success though fine marks of courage and loyalty. Students became disgusted or embittered. They came for knowledge and received sermons from the Mount of 30 years of Experience which were not to be questioned or doubted but merely accepted.

The right wing has done a miserable job in the field of education. The YPSL itself, with its feeble resources and facilities has even done better.

*  *  *  *

These two approaches towards the YPSL are before us now The Yipsels have declared their preference in many ways. The right wing has summed up its preference very simply August 14th. the Local New York Executive Committee provided that as conditions of reinstatement of the New York Yipsels the latter must accept the following – “That all decisions of the Local are binding and will be obeyed by the YPSL, and that the YPSL in NYC may not adopt any resolution, declaration or statement on questions of socialist principles, policies or tactics, and in the same decision, “All activities of the YPSL except that of Education shall be under the direct control of the Committee on Youth Activities of Local New York and all committees must operate through the Committee on Youth Activities. The Educational work of the YPSL shall be under the direct control and supervision of the Committee on Education of Local New York and the Committee on Youth Activities to have a representative on the Committee on Education.”

Here it is in so many words, the right wing has expressed its point of view.

If the New York Yipels must accept the Local New York terms, then the Old Guard point of view wins out The chance of developing a political youth organization for Socialism dies, unless the fight for a real YPSL can win.

Socialism needs the youth. The Socialist Party itself CANNOT win the youth. It does not have machinery to do that and it is not an organization of youth. Only Youth Can Win Over the Youth. Let this be very clear!

The YPSL as a political organization can bring into reality what has been said so often by so many Socialists – “The Youth are the hope of Socialism.” But the YPSL as a cultural group, firmly under the thumb of the Party Locals, stripped of inner-democracy, its national organization made unnecessary, its officers bound by every Party whim, but its membership only vaguely sympathetic to Socialism to our Party – such a YPSL will be an excuse for youth work. It will not be able to compete with the Communists, the liberals, the conservatives, the reactionaries. The others will have more life and vigor and be more sensitive to the political tendencies and groupings of the young men and women of America.

Our movement is in danger!

The right wing wants to destroy the YPSL as a political youth organization, because the YPSL is a protector of the Left-wing a force for the development of our Party into a clear revolutionary Party; and a source of new leadership and material trained and tried for the left wing Party forces.

“KILL IT BEPORE IT KILLS US” is the cry of the right wing. If allowed to grow and flourish it will contribute to the change of our Party from a groping hodge-podge to a clear force for Socialism in Our Time. Of course, those who will seek to destroy every advance by disruption and slander, must be eliminated from the ranks of the organized Socialist movement.

Socialists who take their movement seriously must come to the support of the Yipsels. The question is clear – a political youth organization which will be a constant source of energy, freshness, vigor and courage; or a YPSL which will afford cultural, recreational and educational opportunities for its members, errand boys for the Party and will refrain from “interfering” with the Party which some people look upon as their personal property.

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