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Irving Howe

Stalinists Continue to Run the AYC

Use Youth Anti-War Sentiment to Promote Their Own Ends

(July 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 14, 15 July 1940, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The 6th Annual Convention of the American Youth Congress ended this weekend with the question of its Stalinist control unchanged.

As in all previous Conventions of the AYC, the Young Communist League established decisive control by two methods: 1) electing large numbers of packed delegations from their paper “front” organizations who follow the “party line” on all crucial questions, and 2) by having their stooges in genuine youth organizations elected as delegates. In this manner, the Stalinists succeeded in giving the Congress a certain coloring of genuine youth representation, despite the numerous groups, such as Young Judea, which have withdrawn from the AYC.

Tunney Farce

This pose as the genuine spokesmen of American youth was made considerably easier by red-baiting attacks of Gene Tunney and his youth stooge, Murray Plavner, which were eagerly seized upon by the press. Many of the non-Stalinist delegates at this Congress were brought under Stalinist influence because they correctly resented the red-baiting of Tunney’s boys. And the Stalinists cleverly utilized this fact by inviting Tunney to speak and then mocking his refusal.

They thus succeeded in partially obscuring the ‘fact’ that they had steadily, since the organization of the AYC, acted in the most undemocratic manner towards delegates who opposed them from a progressive, anti-war point of view.

The decisive control established by the Stalinists can be clearly seen in the actions which the Congress took on the war question. The Convention held a year ago had taken the then Stalinist attitude on war: support of the capitalist democracies and endorsement of President Roosevelt’s “defense plans.” This, of course, was before the Hitler-Stalin pact. At this convention, the delegates swung sharply to the present Stalinist position: opposition to Roosevelt and the Allies, as a result of the Hitler-Stalin pact.

In view of the fact that whatever genuine anti-war spokesmen were at the convention were unable to gain the floor in order to expose the hypocrisy of the Stalinists, many non-Stalinist delegates voted for their resolutions because they believed them to be motivated by real anti-war sentiment.

Further evidence of Stalinist control was seen in the defeat of a resolution which directly labeled the Soviet Union a dictatorship.

No Change in Line

Considerable excitement was created when Mac Weiss, leader of the Young Communist League, made a speech urging, an American-Soviet alliance to defeat Hitlerism. This was interpreted as a possible “change in line” by the Stalinists on the part of many delegates. Actually however, it was merely a clever statement of the present line of the Stalinists. They have always been in favor of an American-Soviet alliance and they were now merely stating it in such a manner as to try to show that they were not really pro-Hitler as charged.

The fervid anti-Hitler sentiment of the American people which was mirrored at the convention forced Weiss to toss in a few attacks to try to whitewash the present essentially pro-Hitler position of the Stalinists. On the issue of conscription the Congress took a wishy-washy position. It voted against military conscription, but prefaced the resolution by declaring itself ready to fight “for the defense of American democracy.” In view of the fact that any war America may conduct will be described as a war for democracy, the resolution is open to numerous pro-war interpretations.

There was only a small pro-Allied and pro-Roosevelt bloc at the Congress. This was led by Joe Lash, former Secretary of the American Student Union and formerly a Stalinist stooge in the student movement. Lash has shifted to the role of unofficial spokesman for the war administration of Washington inside the youth movement.

Despite the reactionary use to which it was put by the Stalinists, there was considerable genuine anti-war sentiment among the unaffiliated delegates. The organization as a whole, however, remains firmly in the hands of the Young Communist League which will attempt to use it as a front for its reactionary position.

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