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The American Youth Congress –
A Masquerade

It Was Packed with Dubious “Organizations”
to Make Up an Imposing Body of “Delegates”

(17 February 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 7, 17 February 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Here are a few of the pertinent facts and highlights of the February 9–12 “National Citizenship Institute” of the American Youth Congress:

1. REPRESENTATION: Some 4,600 “delegates” registered who, the AYC leaders claimed; represented over four million young people. About a thousand or so were delegates from various bona-fide national and local organizations in which members of the Young Communist League are active. Among these organizations were Stalinist-dominated AFL and CIO locals, Industrial Girls Clubs and Business and Professional Women’s Clubs of the Young Women’s Christian Association. Then there were delegates from the Stalinist peripheral organizations: American Student Union, youth sections of the Workers Alliance, the International Workers Order, the International Labor Defense, the Finnish Workers Federation, Armenian Workers Federation, etc. Then came delegates from hundreds of organizations with dubious names like the Modern Youth Group, the Williamsburg Youth Center, the Streamlined Dance Group, etc. In a word, the vast majority of the “delegates” were members or sympathizers of the Young Communist League;

2. PROCEDURE: The entire two-day “Institute” was controlled by the top leadership of the AYC with a firm hand. Neither speakers nor resolutions were permitted from the floor. “Discussion” was organized by having delegates submit a slip of paper with their name and organization to the platform. A “Trotskyite” delegate had as much chance of getting by the committee on the platform as a snowball in hell. Ushers and police took care of anyone attempting to speak from the floor.

3. PRESIDENT’S SPEECH: The delegates, paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue in a drizzling rain on Saturday morning, displaying banners with all the slogans which the Stalinists are currently stressing, “The Yanks Ain’t Coming,” “For the American Youth Act,” “Not a Dime for Mannerheim,” “Keep America Out of the Imperialist War,” and so on.

The parade ended on the White House lawn; where arrangements had been made for an address by the President. The delegates waited for a half hour in a rain that had become a downpour to listen to Roosevelt denounce the Soviet Union as a dictatorship in no way different than any other and call for American support to Finland. The speech brought slight response from the delegates. At one point the crowd began to boo, and the radio operators were forced to cut out all microphones except those into which the President was speaking directly.

The thousands of YCLers were a sorry sight as they trudged back, wet, cold and miserable after Roosevelt’s tongue-lashing.

4. THE LEWIS SPEECH: John L. Lewis decided to address the Congress only on the day before he spoke. Speaking to the delegates only some three hours after the President, Lewis’ speech was greeted with thunderous ovations. The bitter sarcasm he poured upon the President’s remarks appeared as vindication to the delegates for the abuse they had suffered in the morning.

5. TREATMENT OF AUBREY WILLIAMS: Coming right after Lewis’ eventful speech, the speech of Aubrey Williams, director of the National Youth Administration, received scant attention from the press. Williams devoted the first part of his speech to the economic needs of youth and surpassed any of the invited speakers in the “radicalism” of his demands. He referred to the $500,000,000 appropriation requested in the American Youth Act as “insufficient” and called for billions of dollars to finance a program to “rehouse America” and “put youth to work at useful occupations.” However; when, at the close of his remarks, he sought to justify his action of turning over the NYA lists to the Army Recruiting Office, he was greeted with such a storm of boos, and hisses that it became impossible to continue his speech. He explained that he had nothing against militarism as such but that “militarism must be subordinated to democracy.” This brought forth renewed booing from the young Stalinists, who, only a half year ago, printed articles in the Young Communist Review on the advantages of life in the U.S. Army.

6. MRS. ROOSEVELT’S SPEECH: Visibly nervous and tense, Mrs. Roosevelt answered a series of questions at the session on The International Scene on Sunday night. Her remarks were the climax to participation in the previous sessions and an active support to practical arrangements. Over a hundred delegates were put up at the White House, in addition to other hundreds that she provided with accommodations at the homes of Mrs. Cordell Hull and other wives of government officials, at army barracks and a girls school, and through negotiations with the hotel managers association to lower rates.

Mrs. Roosevelt grimly sat on the platform through speeches by Frederick “Blackie” Myers, Communist Party whip in the National Maritime Union, an Indian “nationalist” named Luis Perez of the “Brotherhood of Cuban Youth,” and other speakers who followed the political form of the current Daily Worker attacks upon Roosevelt. After the first speaker of what the chairman announced would be a panel of five youths on the subject of How the War Affects Me had concluded with a continuation of the attacks upon Roosevelt as a war-monger, Mrs. Roosevelt, without waiting to be introduced, strode to the rostrum and prepared to speak. The chairman solved the situation by simply announcing, “I present, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt.”

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