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Irving Howe

Y.C.L.ers Whoop It Up
for Country ... and War

Convention Features Jitterbug Contest
and Patriotic Baiting of Revolutionists

(May 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 37, 30 May 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

NEW YORK – The Young Communist League ended its Ninth National Convention last week by writing into its constitution a provision for the automatic expulsion of any Y.C.L.’er who advocates the overthrow of the American government by “force or violence.” This act typified the spirit in which the convention was held: utter capitulation to boss-rule and frantic toadying to capitalist youth organizations, no matter how reactionary they may be. All this was done in the name of “supporting democracy.”

Concretely, however, they demonstrated their conception of democracy by touring their goon squads around Madison Square Garden on the night the convention opened with a mass meeting, with orders to pick off members of the Y.P.S.L. (4th International) who were distributing a printed appeal to the Y.C.L.’ers urging them to break with Stalinism and to join the revolutionary movement. In most cases the sight of determined Yipsels ready to prevent provocation prevented them from doing their dirty work, but in one instance they pounced on a Yipsel and slashed him on the forehead so severely that hospital treatment was necessary.

On the last day of their convention, May 15, a group of at least 35 Y.C.L.’ers rushed 6 Yipsels who were distributing resignation statements of two former Y.C.L. members, Ruth Powell and Lillian Brown, and beat them so severely that one Yipsel was left dazed on the sidewalk for several minutes, unable to move. The statement being distributed declared that the signers, formerly active members of the Y.C.L. did not want to accept “Earl Browder’s invitation to collective suicide in the next imperialist; war” and urged the Y.C.L. members to “join with us in the only real anti-war force – the revolutionary movement of the Fourth International.”

No Discussion

The convention itself was marked by the usual Stalinist unanimity. Every speech, report, resolution and nomination was “enthusiastically received” and accepted. There was very little discussion from the rank and file delegates and that little was in the organizational sessions, not during the political sessions.

The political sessions were run in the form of reports from the C.P. and Y.C.L. leaders which laid down the line with out any discussion or any opportunity for other viewpoints to be expressed.

The major speech, by Earl Browder, came out for a third term for Roosevelt. The political significance of this has already been analyzed in the Socialist Appeal He also made a “collective suicide” appeal to youth to be ready to die in the coming imperialist war. This section of his speech set the tone for the major note of the convention: pumping the rank and file delegates full of propaganda for supporting capitalist wars.

Patriotic Americans

The main youth report, delivered by Carl Ross, Y.C.L. National Secretary, again played on the jingo note. Ross declared that “We (the Y.C.L.) are patriotic Americans guided by a desire to defend our country.” He also raised the slogan of giving youth “the right to work.” But his inability to go beyond mere platitudes about “old age for leisure and youth for work” stands in sharp contrast with the specific 3-point program for unemployed youth proposed by the Y.P.S.L.

By the third day of the convention, it was felt by the leadership of the Y.C.L. that the convention was definitely lagging in spirit. The delegates had been given lengthy reports on “democracy” by the C.P. leadership and swing exhibitions by Y.C.L. delegations and they were getting bored with both. In order, therefore, to liven up the convention the Y.C.L. leaders suddenly presented William Z. Foster as a surprise speaker. The fact that Foster represents, in the eyes of the Y.C.L., the old spirit of militancy and revolutionary politics and the additional fact that Foster gave a “leftist” speech, actually declaring that socialism was the goal of the Stalinist movement, led to the delegates giving Foster a tremendous ovation, much more enthusiastic than that given to any other speaker at the convention.

This ovation for Foster’s “radical” speech showed quite clearly that, despite the fact that they would later with mechanical unanimity pass the by-law against overthrow of the American government the rank and file delegates still retain vague hopes for socialism, even if they don’t yet realize that the Y.C.L. is the last place in the world to help achieve it.

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Last updated: 16 January 2016