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Ernest Erber

The YIPSEL Convention

(August-September 1935)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol.1 No.5 August-September 1935 pp.16-18.
Transcribed and Marked up by Damon Maxwell for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Eighth National Convention of the Young People’s Socialist League will be remembered, less for what it accomplished than for what it failed to do.

It is true that much of the failure is due to the technical arrangements, chiefly the lack of time. The technical arrangements, however, were themselves a reflection of the political condition of the League. I do not here mean the political view of those who planned the convention. I mean the prevalent attitude of the majority of the most active and leading comrades.

Before the League can feel prepared adequately to fulfill the tasks before it, it must give its members a much more intensive education in Revolutionary Socialism than they have had until now it must train the membership to understand and help develop an organizational structure more suited for the type of work the League must carry on, and must plan campaigns that will involve the whole membership in activity and through such activity aid the political and organizational development of the League. The work of advancing the League on these lines should have begun with a pre-convention discussion of these problems lasting at least three months. The basis of such discussion should have been supplied by the NEC in the form of an analysis of the work of the League since the last convention and a program, both theoretical and organizational, submitted as the basis of activity for the next two years.

Without such preparation the convention seemed of little importance to the membership. They looked upon it as necessary to fulfill the obligations of the constitution which called for a convention every second year. A large number seemed to have come to meet old friends or merely for a weekend vacation. That this attitude was not more prevalent, in view of the lack of preparation for the convention, speaks well for the bulk of our membership. This lack of preparation was also responsible to the vast majority of the delegates coming to the convention without any knowledge of what the important questions to be decided were. Most of them received such information when it was whispered to them upon their arrival that some group is preparing to have the convention adopt some proposal or other. This made it difficult for any group to organize a caucus on important issues. As a result caucuses were organized on vague tendencies and on personalities.

The first session, held on the morning of the 20th, was taken up with routine matters, mostly with the election of eight or nine committees. So many of the delegates were involved in committee work that it was impossible to hold committee meetings during sessions . The committees therefore had barely time to organize their work before the afternoon session began. The afternoon session lasted until after 6 pm. The delegates hastily ate and scattered to the different caucuses, feeling that it was there that a frank discussion of the important problems they were interested in would take place. This resulted in having important committees meet hastily before the Sunday morning session to prepare their reports. One can well imagine the report of a resolutions committee meeting under these circumstances and preparing a Statement of Principles, resolutions on the International Situation, the Soviet Union, the Road to Power, Fascism, as well as on a number of current questions such as the Herndon case. An organisation that determines its political position charts its course of action in this way cannot be considered prepared to face the tasks involved in winning the youth of the nation for Socialism.

To leave the preparation of committee reports to such a haphazard method is bad enough. Worse was the distinction this convention achieved in adjourning without the adoption of a single resolution. And worst at all is the attitude of those “radical” comrades who cynically regard this as an achievement to be proud of. Here indeed is a example of near-sightedness an example for practicality. These “practical” people give adequate testimony to their political ignorance when they refer to the resolutions committee as the “hot-air” committee. Were it not for the high positions such comrades hold there would be no need of taking them seriously. The fact that they old these positions is a good indication of the distance the membership must travel on the road of political development.

The two matters that caused the most debate wore a majority and minority report on the right of members to issue statements and periodicals referred to the convention by the NEC, and a change in the constitution to raise the age limit to 50 years. The apparent similarity of the minority and majority on the matter of statements confused many delegates. The discussion revolved around whether it was more democratic to limit discussion of inner-League affairs to official channels or to permit members the right of issuing material of their own. The adoption of the latter caused the minority of the delegates to initiate a referendum.

The discussion of the age limit proposal was veiled in all sorts of arguments that evaded the core of the matter. Despite this the majority of the delegates looked upon it as a move to make the League the type of vanguard organization the left wing desired and to strengthen the influence of the League in shaping the policies of the Socialist movement to the left. Those who voted against raising the age limit were skeptical about the vanguard plan and looked upon the idea of the League’s influencing the political development of the movement as using “sing the League as a political football.” This matter has also been put to a referendum after its adoption by a narrow majority.

What the political composition of the new NEC is, is difficult to say. Just as in the party the definition of a left-winger is not very clear. It will be necessary to wait for a decisive issue, comparable to the question the last NEC was faced with on what support it should give the New York Yipsels in their fight with the Old Guard over the New Leader resolution, before getting an accurate picture of who’s who. The opposition to the candidacy of Winston Dancis for re-election as National Secretary was based chiefly upon the position he took on the NEC during the above mentioned fight. The left wing succeeded in electing Ben Fischer by a majority of nine votes.

Despite all the shortcomings of the convention, the fine spirit of the delegates and. their realization of the need of improving the structure of the League and their determination to concentrate on this work gives one much to feel hopeful for. With the final desertion of basic Marxist fundamentals by the Communist International the need for a revolutionary youth organization grows. The Y.P.S.L. must become a banner bearer of Revolutionary Socialism penetrating every youth organization with its message and mobilizing youth against war and fascism and for mighty campaigns for the economic demands of young people. As such an organization it can stop the progress of the Young Communist League and dislodge it from positions it acquired during the years of socialist inactivity. It will be prepared to cope with the fascist gangs that will inevitably appear on the American scene and will play a leading role in fighting them. With the development of a mass influence it will lead the youth of the nation in opposition to the war plans of American Imperialism.

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