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Irving Howe

YPSL Speaker Blasts AYC Line

Stalinist Conference Proves Big Flop

(February 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 7, 17 February 1942, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

WASHINGTON. – Despite every Stalinist attempt to stifle it. the voice of the revolutionary Socialist youth managed to make itself heard at the American Youth Congress “Town Meeting” held here last week end. During the discussion on the war question, Milton Miller, of the Young Peoples Socialist League, got the floor and presented the point of view of the working class opposition to both sides in the imperialist war.

Charging that Stalinists were actuated in their “opposition” to Roosevelt’s war plans solely by the interests of the Kremlin bureaucrats now allied with Hitler, Miller demanded that they answer this question: “If your proposal for a ‘Moscow-Chunking-Washington Axis’ becomes a reality, will you again. shift your allegiance lo Roosevelt, will you again jump on the war bandwagon?”

The speaker for the Young Communist League. John Gates, failed to answer this question, restricting himself instead to a eulogy of Stalin’s “peace-loving” character It way no cinch for Miller to get the floor. For two days, members of the Young Peoples Socialist League had vainly been attempting to get the floor. In all the previous sessions, the Stalinist floor leaders and chairmen had prevented the voice of left-wing opponents from being heard. The Stalinist floor leaders and chairmen were able to spot left-wing opponents by the undemocratic procedure: delegates who wanted to speak had lo hand up a slip of paper with the name and “specific topic” listed. The Stalinists who ran the convention were thus able to weed out “undesirable” speakers.

Despite the more than 3,000 delegates, the conference was a failure from the Stalinist point of view. Most of the delegates were either imported YCLers from New York or local Stalinists from Washington. To make up for the absence of genuine youth organizations, the Stalinists allowed any “youth” (and there were plenty who have grown old just attending these Stalinist youth conferences) who was willing to pay a dollar registration fee to attend. They were thus spared the necessity of finding organizations to “represent.”

Those few genuine youth organizations that were represented were mainly anti-Stalinist. The Stalinists were extremely anxious to placate these organizations even those which were actively pro-war and for aid to England – and as a result they became surprisingly “democratic” and “tolerant.” MacMichael, the chairman, made a plea for tolerance after a couple of sour incidents, and other Stalinist floor leaders did likewise.

This factor, plus the dread of a bad press, led the Stalinists to “relax” their vigilance against opponents. Sitting near the platform, I could see the constant pressure which a number of non-Stalinist delegates were putting on the Stalinists to allow dissident points of view to be expressed.

FDR’s Boy Friday

As a result, one of the most spotlighted characters at the convention was Joe Lash, once the chief Stalinist “front man” among the Youth, and now the unofficial youth spokesman of the Roosevelt Administration. Lash made no serious attempt to organize the 150 or 175 delegates who agreed with him in favoring support of the imperialist war, but he succeeded in focusing a lot of attention on himself.

The Stalinists tried to lump all opposition in one pro-imperialist basket. Thus, the Daily Workers, in reporting the AYC meeting, declares that support of the Lend-Lease Bill came from two sources: the Lash group and ... the YPSL. This, despite the fact that the first sentence from the mouth of the YPSL speaker was an attack on the Lend-Lease Bill.

The small but articulate bloc of delegates who supported the anti-imperialist war point of view of the YPSL kept hammering away all through the conference. A large number of the current issue of the Challenge of Youth, YPSL paper, which carried articles on both the Youth Congress and the Lash group, were sold to the delegates. The few unaffiliated delegates bought our papers almost without exception, although the Stalinists tried to cajole them into not reading it. Numerous discussions were held with non-Stalinist delegates and future contact with them was arranged.

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