From The Archives-The Struggle To Win The Youth To The Fight For Our Communist Future-From The Pen Of Leon Trotsky-“Young People, Study Politics!”
Markin comment on this series:
One of the declared purposes of this space is to draw the lessons of our left-wing past here in America and internationally, especially from the pro-communist wing. To that end I have made commentaries and provided archival works in order to help draw those lessons for today’s left-wing activists to learn, or at least ponder over. More importantly, for the long haul, to help educate today’s youth in the struggle for our common communist future. That is no small task or easy task given the differences of generations; differences of political milieus worked in; differences of social structure to work around; and, increasingly more important, the differences in appreciation of technological advances, and their uses.
There is no question that back in my youth I could have used, desperately used, many of the archival materials available today. When I developed political consciousness very early on, albeit liberal political consciousness, I could have used this material as I knew, I knew deep inside my heart and mind, that a junior Cold War liberal of the American For Democratic Action (ADA) stripe was not the end of my leftward political trajectory. More importantly, I could have used a socialist or communist youth organization to help me articulate the doubts I had about the virtues of liberal capitalism and be recruited to a more left-wing world view. As it was I spent far too long in the throes of the left-liberal/soft social-democratic milieu where I was dying politically. A group like the Young Communist League (W.E.B. Dubois Clubs in those days), the Young People’s Socialist League, or the Young Socialist Alliance representing the youth organizations of the American Communist Party, American Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (U.S.) respectively would have saved much wasted time and energy. I knew they were around but not in my area.
The archival material to be used in this series is weighted heavily toward the youth movements of the early American Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (U.S). For more recent material I have relied on material from the Spartacus Youth Clubs, the youth group of the Spartacist League (U.S.), both because they are more readily available to me and because, and this should give cause for pause, there are not many other non-CP, non-SWP youth groups around. As I gather more material from other youth sources I will place them in this series.
Finally I would like to finish up with the preamble to the Spartacist Youth Club’s What We Fight For statement of purpose:
"The Spartacus Youth Clubs intervene into social struggles armed with the revolutionary internationalist program of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. We work to mobilize youth in struggle as partisans of the working class, championing the liberation of black people, women and all the oppressed. The SYCs fight to win youth to the perspective of building the Leninist vanguard party that will lead the working class in socialist revolution, laying the basis for a world free of capitalist exploitation and imperialist slaughter."
This seems to me be somewhere in the right direction for what a Bolshevik youth group should be doing these days; a proving ground to become professional revolutionaries with enough wiggle room to learn from their mistakes, and successes. More later.
Workers Vanguard No. 1001
27 April 2012
From the Archives of Marxism
“Young People, Study Politics!”
From May Day Speech by Leon Trotsky
Below is an excerpt from a 1924 speech on the eve of May Day delivered to young Communist workers and Red Army veterans by Leon Trotsky, co-leader with V.I. Lenin of the October Revolution of 1917. May Day originated in the 1880s in the U.S. with the struggle for the eight-hour day and was soon adopted by the Second (Socialist) International as an annual workers celebration. However, the Second International would go on to definitively betray the interests of the working class when its parties (with the notable exceptions of the Russian Bolsheviks, Serbian Social Democrats and the Bulgarian “Narrow” Socialists) supported their “own” bourgeois rulers in the interimperialist World War I. To this day, the struggle for the eight-hour day remains a vital task of the labor movement in the U.S. and elsewhere, as workers are increasingly driven by the capitalists to risk life and limb by working eleven- and twelve-hour days or taking multiple jobs to make ends meet.
Trotsky’s speech addressed the need for political and technical training of young workers and soldiers in the Soviet workers state, which throughout its existence faced imperialist powers intent on its destruction. Trotsky was Soviet Commissar of War at the time, but he would soon be driven from that position by the developing bureaucracy under J.V. Stalin. The speech appears in Trotsky’s Problems of Everyday Life (Monad Press, 1973).
* * *
Who inaugurated the celebration of May Day thirty-five years ago? The Social Democrats. Who is at the head of the German Republic? The Social Democrat Ebert. What is the point? The point is that the new revolutionary generation of the working class in Europe is growing more and more thoroughly filled with hatred for the rule of the bourgeoisie, and that over there in Europe, democratic Menshevism is the last instrument the bourgeoisie has for keeping the working masses down.
And we see that those very governments that reproached us communists for openly saying that only the transfer of power into the hands of the working people could abolish the rule of capital, those very same governments that belong to the parties that inaugurated the May Day celebrations, are forbidding the workers to go into the streets with the slogans of international brotherhood and the eight-hour working day. And the same telegrams report that the German Young Communists, the young people of Germany and those of France, too, are nevertheless doing all they can to be able to go out into the streets of their cities with slogans of protest and struggle.
What are these slogans? The slogan laid down for May Day thirty-five years ago—the eight-hour working day—was achieved almost everywhere in Europe after the war; but in recent years the working day has been lengthened. If there were a country that had the right, if there were a working class that had the right to demand of itself and of its sons a working day longer than eight hours, then it would be our country, exhausted and devastated, working not for the bourgeoisie but for itself—and yet in our country the eight-hour working day remains a precondition, based on the laws of the republic, for the moral and spiritual advance and development of the working masses.
And on May Day we hurl this fact in the face of Europe’s capitalist, lying, thoroughly hypocritical bourgeois democracy. What sort of democracy is it for the working people if they are merely promised the eight-hour working day? And what of the fraternity of the peoples, respect for the working people of other nationalities, who speak other languages, fraternal feelings which we must absorb from our earliest years, because national chauvinism and national hatred are the poison with which the bourgeoisie pollutes the minds of the working people? I demand to know where this slogan of the May Day celebration has been put into effect more fully than in our country. I have been in Caucasia, that backward region. There are three main republics there and dozens of backward nationalities. That region was bled white by wars. But now the young generation there is learning to work and to create culture on the basis of cooperation among all the different nationalities. Have not we, the workers’ republic, the right to contrast, with justified pride, this backward Caucasia, which has been restored and given new life by the Soviet power, to any of the cultured countries of Europe, where on every frontier there is hatred, enmity, and danger of new armed conflicts?
And the third slogan by which the Social Democrats swore thirty-five years ago, the slogan of struggle against militarism? Now in power in Britain is the Menshevik Labour Government of MacDonald. What is it spending on arms? It is spending 1,150 million gold rubles a year. That is four or five times as much as we spend. Britain has 40 million people, we have 130 million. MacDonald may say that we are the poorer country and so, of course, we spend less. But, Comrades, if we are the poorer, that means that we are threatened by greater danger, for throughout history it has always happened that rich peoples, led by their rich ruling classes, have conquered and subjected poorer and more backward ones. China will not fall upon Britain and the United States, but the wealthy United States and Britain may crush China.
If we did not have Soviet power—the power of the workers and peasants, of the Communist Party boldly marching onward to battle—our country, weakened and exhausted by the imperialist war, would long ago have been torn to pieces by the barbarians of world imperialism. And when those very same Mensheviks reproach us for giving military training to our young people, for building the Red Army, when they tell us: “You, too, are militarists,” then it is sufficient for us to contrast the states that surround us with the first republic of labor in the world, surrounded for the last seven years by irreconcilable and ruthless foes.
If they are recognizing us now, and if we are carrying on negotiations in London today, it must not be supposed that the world bourgeoisie has become better disposed towards the republic of workers and peasants. A change of tactics does not do away with the hatred felt by the bourgeoisie of all countries for the republic where the rising generation of working people is growing up in a new atmosphere, with new ideals—for we are overthrowing the old ideals in so far as we are teaching the young generation to have confidence in the power of the world working class. The world bourgeoisie will never reconcile itself to this.