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Martin Abern

Foundations of a Communist Youth League

(May 1935)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 18, 5 May 1935, p. 3.
Copied with thanks from Trotskyist Youth Archives, a wesite that no longer exists.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Opportunity for building a revolutionary youth movement in the United States is at hand as never before. Nor are the difficulties for the development of a mass communist youth organization especially unusual. The Spartacus Youth Clubs already in existence in a number of cities in the United States are the groundwork on which to go forward with the task of mobilizing growing numbers of class conscious working and student youth in the daily class struggle and for Communism.

In this task the Stalinist youth organization, the Young Communist League, has grossly failed. The International-Communists, if there is to be realized the much-needed mass organization of youth, will have to fill the need.

From one source or another come confusing and false notions as to what a young communist organization should be. Yet, if one accepts the foundations on which the Young Communist International was founded and to which comrades Lenin and Trotsky gave so much assistance, it is not hard to outline what a young communist league needs to be and to do.

Like a communist party, the communist youth movement is a politically functioning organization. It accepts the political leadership of the adult organization, but remains organizationally independent within the spheres of youth functions. Its relations with the adult organization are developed on the basis of mutual exchange of representatives between the units of both organizations and through the greatest possible degree of collaboration in all fields of work.

The communist youth movement – Young Communist League or Spartacus Youth – is a broad organization of all the youth, young workers or students, who accept the principles and aims of the organization and are ready to participate in its work. But the communist youth organization does not make a demand upon the youth who wishes to join, that he be already a communist before he is accepted. What is required is a readiness to learn the principles, theory and practices of a communist organization and to carry out the tasks assigned. Membership is, hence, for the youth who want to learn to become communists. In this sense, together with the broader scope of activities than is the case with the adult organization or Party, the young communist organization is a broad movement, sufficiently so for any youth who accepts the class struggle and the necessity to participate in it, and who is ready to learn the problems and needs of the revolutionary movement. But while broad in these respects, it is not a loose, amorphous body open to consciously hostile political elements of the youth. Still, a genuine communist youth movement – not, it must be emphasized, the caricature of the ones the American YCL and YCI have been for so many year – is sufficiently broad – non-sectarian – to admit of all youth forces open to conviction. From this we have to observe that the political, industrial, educational, social, athletic and cultural activities of the communist youth movement have to be of a kind able to attract the completely raw, inexperienced but ready-to-learn youth of America.

The activities of the communist youth organization are varied. Insofar as possible, it participates in all phases of the class struggle: industrial, trade union work, united front, etc.., independently and in conjunction with the adult organization.

Youth and Militarism

A major task is anti-militarist activity and, self-evident, today as never before. So far as the industrial proletarian youth particularly is concerned (that is, the youth in industry or in proletarian families) they are extremely unlikely to be infected with the pacifist virus or attitude on the issues of war and capitalist militarism. Born into the era of world-wide military conflicts, observing daily the race for huge armaments by the capitalist powers in preparation for war, as well as noting the necessary building of the Soviet Red Army, the proletarian youth is not prone to kid himself with pacifist syrup about disarmament by capitalist banditry. What the working class youth, with greater or less consciousness of the problem of war and militarism, wants to know is what he can do about these most menacing of all dangers – involving his very life ... Here lies the task of the communist youth organization to present and act upon all phases of the communist position and program of war and militarism. This relates itself to propaganda, attitude toward and activity within the militarist and semi-militarist organizations of capitalism – the army, navy, national guards, C.M.T.C., etc., etc. These matters are not gone into here; they belong in an elaborated exposition of the communist point of view. What is declared here is that a communist youth organization which does no put the problem of anti-militarist propaganda and activity at all times as a foremost task, is no communist youth organization at all. This is a touch stone for the youth movement.

Of all other tasks, some of the outstanding ones are outlined. The widest degree of activity of the youth in the class struggles of the day is imperative, it goes without saying. Nevertheless, it would be a decidedly short-sighted and opportunistic approach if the communist youth movement allowed itself to be involved, under pressure or pretexts of all sorts, ina all kinds of routine activity, and to be made into a wagging or running tail of other bodies, political, trade union, etc. in order to achieve a name for ”activities”. There are some, perhaps, who believe that this very routine work, doing some of the distasteful work for the adult comrades, is the task of the youth. But it is in the communist youth organization that the youth (young worker or student) must make their major opportunity to learn thoroughly the fundamental principles and theory of the communist movement, its history, etc. in order really to be prepared for intelligent participation and leadership, at a later period, in the adult organization, the Party. It has to be said plainly that in the adult organization, the opportunities are often too limited for serious and necessary study by the ranks. Lack of time and the need to carry through numberless concrete tasks after working hours are the main reasons therefore. The adult members have to place a great reliance, perhaps too much, on experience and the theoretical back-ground can or should to a large degree be obtained by the youth in the years they are apart of the communist youth organization. This knowledge, coupled with their activities otherwise, will serve as a strong safeguard against opportunism and adventurism.

In the above sense, the slogan of Clarity and Action sums up the attitude of the communist youth. While stressing education and class struggle activity, a youth movement, communist or otherwise, cannot live by these alone, especially so if the communist youth organization is to attract the wider strata of the youth to its own banner or around its bona-fide sympathetic auxiliary bodies. Social, sport, and cultural activities need to be systematically developed. The youth movement needs to build its dramatic and musical groups and like mediums which attract the youth. It can be done; who says otherwise needlessly narrows the possibilities for rallying youth elements to the communist cause through diverse methods. Particularly must the communist youth foster a broad workers’ sport movement of which it must be a guiding participant. The insidious and malevolent influence of the bourgeois sport movements, both professional and amateur is immense, and systematic efforts are required to counter-act this influence on the mass of American youth. A general social and cultural life, in addition to the basic tasks outlined before, will tend to attract young workers and students around us. If the new forces are approached sympathetically, made to realize our genuineness, they will either join the communist youth organization, or at least remain sympathetic, even if not ready to accept the entire outlook of communism. Numerous other tasks for the youth can be posed, but space forbids.

A final, but basic point, and this in reply to the false concepts cultivated and practiced by the Stalinists and others. There is no need of another so-called broader or peripheral youth political organization, whatever this organization may be called, besides the communist youth organization itself. If the communist youth organization – Spartacus Youth – is properly directed and functions along the path given here, it is the organizational expression sufficient to attract to its banner the widest possible strata of youth forces ready to participate organizationally in the class struggle. These were the concepts of the communist youth organization in the days of the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky; these were the views that in the best years of the Young Workers League of America gave it vigor, intelligence, activity and growth. There is no need to revise these concepts for a genuine communist youth organization in the United States and in the new international communist youth movement that must again be built. What is needed is for the Spartacus Youth to build on these bases.

Special Note by Trotskyist Youth Archive

This document, written by Martin Abern in the 1930s, was part of a discussion that took place within the Spartacus Youth Clubs, the youth group of the Communist League of America (the organization of the Trotskyists expelled from the American Communist Party in 1928, and a predecessor of Socialist Action).

It is reprinted here in its totality, with only minor editing for spelling and the confusing capitalization of the word “communist” which makes it difficult to distinguish the actual Communist Party and its affiliates, from the generic use of the word.

Also, for better understanding of their uses in the above article, below is a small glossary of terms and abbreviations:

Young Communist League (YCL): youth group of the American Communist Party (at one point known as and referred to in the above article as the Young Workers League).

Young Communist International (YCI): youth counterpart of the Communist International (also known as the Third International), which like its adult counterpart, degenerated into a Stalinist instrument in the late 1920s.

Spartacus Youth Clubs (SYC): youth group of the Communist League of America, not to be confused with the current organization of that name affiliated to the Spartacist League/US.

Internationalist-Communists: another term for Trotskyists emphasizing our internationalist perspective as opposed to the Stalinist concept of “socialism in one country”.

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