Click below to link to a Communist Youth archival site
Sam Eaton, once he got “religion” on the questions of war and peace after a close high school friend in Carver was killed in the jungles of Vietnam in 1968, and Ralph Morris, once he had served in Vietnam after having become totally disenchanted with the war effort and had been discharged back to Troy, New York in 1970 were both very interested in left-wing anti-war politics, in studying about how previous generations fought against the highly-charged war blood lust currents that periodically burned over the American landscape. Sam, exempt from the military draft since he was the sole support of his mother and four younger sisters after his father had passed away suddenly of a heart attack in 1965, who had been prior to his friend Jeff Mullin’s death been very political in a conventional way but somewhat indifferent to the war blazing all around him in this country as well as in Vietnam and Ralph who was as gung-ho as any naïve young soldier before the “shit hit the fan” (his expression) when he went into Vietnam had met down in Washington, D.C.
Had met under frankly odd circumstances, circumstances which kind of came with the times when people who ordinarily would not run into each other did so as they came to oppose the war in Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, home of the Washington Redskins football team after they had been arrested in different incidents during the May Day 1971 actions. The idea behind those actions by those like Sam and Ralph who were enraged by the continuation of the war was to attempt to close down the government if it did not close down the war. For their efforts, Sam trying to help close down Massachusetts Avenue a main thoroughfare and Ralph at an action at the White House (which his group never got close to), along with thousands of others were placed in the bastinado for several days without much food or shelter and without the quick release demanded by law for such minor infractions (they had actually just walked out of a side exit one day and nobody stopped them). They had met in some forlorn line when Ralph noticed that Sam had a Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) button on his lapel and had asked him whether he was a member. Sam told him why he was a supporter of VVAW after Ralph told him he was a member and had taken part in a couple of actions on the streets that made people freeze in their tracks when they saw the long lines of anti-war veterans, some on crutches and others in wheelchairs silently marching as was a tactic of the time. That meeting in any case formed a lifelong friendship as Ralph recently had mentioned to Sam when they met for one of their periodic Boston meetings when Ralph came to town.
That May Day event more than any other of the actions which they had participated in during those years was pivotal in bringing them to an understanding that if you were going to take on the government then you had better have more than a few thousand committed souls with you and better be better prepared, damn better, when the “shit hits the fan” (again Ralph’s expression). So they both started to hit the books, to read old time left-wing Socialist and Communist literature to get a fix on things that went wrong with May Day (although Ralph admitted he was not much of a reader of such materials he did plod through the stuff and still remembered a fair amount of it). They would talk about what they had read between themselves and even began to attend study classes provided by a collective in Cambridge (the Red Book collective if anybody is asking) where both young men were staying for the summer of 1972.
Sam and Ralph were especially intrigued by the work that left-wing political organizations did in recruiting young people to the cause, a task that would have made it far easier for them to get involved if such organizations had existed in their respective growing up towns of Carver, Massachusetts and Troy, New York. So for a while they were all abuzz with thoughts of the Socialist and Communist youth organizations, especially when they read about Spain the 1930s and the key role left-wing youth played there and on the battle fronts. Although both would slide away from 24/7 type politics that had driven them early in the decade later in the decade as the aura of 1960s confrontation faded back into “normalcy” and they began careers and families they for a time considered themselves “left-wing youth,” maybe even communist youth although that designation was a tough dollar to swallow given their backgrounds. During that period Sam, more of a writer than Ralph, wrote up some materials about their experiences. He more recently in the age of the Internet got involved with a blog, American Socialist History, which was accumulating stories about anything related to socialist youth in the 1960s and Sam had written another short piece for that publication. Here is what he had to say:
“One of the declared purposes of this blog is to draw the lessons of our left-wing past, spotty and incomplete as they may be, here in America and internationally, especially from the pro-socialist and communist wing. And particularly how to draw the young into the struggle. Historically these lessons would be centrally derived from the revolutions of 1848 in Europe, especially in France, the Paris Commune of 1871, and most vividly under the impact of the Lenin and Trotsky-led Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917, a world historic achievement for the international working class whose subsequent demise was of necessity a world-historic defeat for that same class. To that end I have made commentaries and provided some archival works in this space 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, and unfortunately given that same spotty and incomplete past the long haul is what appears to be the time frame that this old militant will have to concede that we need to think about, to help educate today’s youth in the struggle for our common socialist future. An education that masses of previous generations of youth undertook gladly but which now is reduced to a precious few. That is beside the question of numbers in any case no small or easy task given the differences of generations (the missing transmission generation problem between the generation of ’68 who tried unsuccessfully to turn the world upside down and failed, the missing “in between” generation raised on Reagan rations and today’s desperate youth in need of all kinds of help; differences of political milieus worked in (another missing link situation with the attenuation of the links to the old mass socialist and communist organizations decimated by the red scare Cold War 1950s night of the long knives through the new old New Left of the 1960s and little notable organizational connections since); differences of social structure to work around (the serious erosion of the industrial working class in America, the rise of the white collar service sector, the now organically chronically unemployed, and the rise of the technocrats); and, increasingly more important, the differences in appreciation of technological advances, and their uses (today’s computer, cellphone, and social networking savvy youth using those assets as tools for organizing).
There is no question that back in my youth in the 1960s I could have used, desperately used, many of the archival materials available on-line at the press of a button today. When I developed political consciousness very early on in my youth, albeit a 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 worrying more about a possible cushy career on the backstairs of politics. 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 vaguely knew they were around from my readings but not in my area. In any case the aura of the red scare was still around so it is a toss-up if I had known about those that I would have contacted them.
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 on-line 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 left-wing youth group should be doing these days; a proving ground to become radicals with enough wiggle room to learn from their mistakes, and successes. More later.
Third Congress of the Communist International
The Communist International and the Communist Youth Movement
Source: Theses Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congress of the Third International, translated by Alix Holt and Barbara Holland. Ink Links 1980;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.
12 July 1921
1 The young socialist movement came into existence as a result of the steadily increasing capitalist exploitation of young workers and also of the growth of bourgeois militarism. The movement was a reaction against attempts to poison the minds of young workers with bourgeois nationalist ideology and against the tendency of most of the social-democratic parties and the trade unions to neglect the economic, political and cultural demands of young workers.
In most countries the social-democratic parties and the unions, which were growing increasingly opportunist and revisionist, took no part in establishing young socialist organisations, and in certain countries they even opposed the creation of a youth movement. The reformist social-democratic parties and trade unions saw the independent revolutionary socialist youth organisations as a serious threat to their opportunist policies. They sought to introduce a bureaucratic control over the youth organisations and destroy their independence, thus stifling the movement, changing its character and adapting it to social-democratic politics.
2 As a result of the imperialist war and the positions taken towards it by social democracy almost everywhere, the contradictions between the social-democratic parties and the international revolutionary organisations inevitably grew and eventually led to open conflict. The living conditions of young workers sharply deteriorated; there was mobilisation and military service on the one hand, and, on the other, the increasing exploitation in the munitions industries and militarisation of civilian life. The most class-conscious young socialists opposed the war and the nationalist propaganda. They dissociated themselves from the social-democratic parties and undertook independent political activity (the International Youth Conferences at Berne in 1915 and Jena in 1916).
In their struggle against the war, the young socialist organisations were supported by the most dedicated revolutionary groups and became an important focus for the revolutionary forces. In most countries no revolutionary parties existed and the youth organisations took over their role; they became independent political organisations and acted as the vanguard in the revolutionary struggle.
3 With the establishment of the Communist International and, in some countries, of Communist Parties, the role of the revolutionary youth organisations changes. Young workers, because of their economic position and because of their psychological make-up, are more easily won to Communist ideas and are quicker to show enthusiasm for revolutionary struggle than adult workers. Nevertheless, the youth movement relinquishes to the Communist Parties its vanguard role of organising independent activity and providing political leadership. The further existence of Young Communist organisations as politically independent and leading organisations would mean that two Communist Parties existed, in competition with one another and differing only in the age of their membership.
4 At the present time the role of the Young Communist movement is to organise the mass of young workers, educate them in the ideas of Communism, and draw them into the struggle for the Communist revolution.
The Communist youth organisations can no longer limit themselves to working in small propaganda circles. They must win the broad masses of workers by conducting a permanent campaign of agitation, using the newest methods. In conjunction with the Communist Parties and the trade unions, they must organise the economic struggle.
The new tasks of the Communist youth organisations require that their educational work be extended and intensified. The members of the youth movement receive their Communist education on the one hand through active participation in all revolutionary struggles and on the other through a study of Marxist theory.
Another important task facing the Young Communist organisations in the immediate future is to break the hold of centrist and social-patriotic ideas on young workers and free the movement from the influences of the social-democratic officials and youth leaders. At the same time, the Young Communist organisations must do everything they can to ‘rejuvenate’ the Communist Parties by parting with their older members, who then join the adult Parties.
The Young Communist organisations participate in the discussion of all political questions, help build the Communist Parties and take part in all revolutionary activity and struggle. This is the main difference between them and the youth sections of the centrist and socialist unions.
5 The relations between the Young Communist organisations and the Communist Party are fundamentally different from those between the revolutionary young socialist organisations and the social-democratic parties. In the common struggle to hasten the proletarian revolution, the greatest unity and strictest centralisation are essential. Political leadership at the international level must belong to the Communist International and at the national level to the respective national sections.
It is the duty of the Young Communist organisations to follow this political leadership (its programme, tactics and political directives) and merge with the general revolutionary front. The Communist Parties are at different stages of development and therefore the Executive Committee of the Communist International and the Executive Committee of the Communist Youth International should apply this principle in accordance with the circumstances obtaining in each particular case.
The Young Communist movement has begun to organise its members according to the principle of strict centralisation and in its relations with the Communist International – the leader and bearer of the proletarian revolution – it will be governed by an iron discipline. All political and tactical questions are discussed in the ranks of the Communist youth organisation, which then takes a position and works in the Communist Party of its country in accordance with the resolutions passed by the Party, in no circumstance working against them.
If the Communist youth organisation has serious differences with the Communist Party, it has the right to appeal to the Executive Committee of the Communist International.
Loss of political independence in no way implies loss of the organisational independence which is so essential for political education.
Strong centralisation and effective unity are essential for the successful advancement of the revolutionary struggle, and therefore, in those countries where historical development has left the youth dependent upon the Party, the dependence should be preserved; differences between the two bodies are decided by the EC of the Communist International and the Executive Committee of the Communist Youth International.
6 One of the most immediate and most important tasks of the Young Communist organisations is to fight the belief in political independence inherited from the period when the youth organisations enjoyed absolute autonomy, and which is still subscribed to by some members. The press and organisational apparatus of the Young Communist movement must be used to educate young workers to be responsible and active members of a united Communist Party.
At the present time the Communist youth organisations are beginning to attract increasing numbers of young workers and are developing into mass organisations; it is therefore important that they give the greatest possible time and effort to education.
7 Close co-operation between the Young Communist organisations and the Communist Parties in political work must be reflected in close organisational links. It is essential that each organisation should at all times be represented at all levels of the other organisation (from the central Party organs and district, regional and local organisations down to the cells of Communist groups and the trade unions) and particularly at all conferences and congresses.
In this way the Communist Parties will be able to exert a permanent influence on the movement and encourage political activity, while the youth organisations, in their turn, can influence the Party.
8 The relations established between the Communist Youth International and the Communist International are even closer than those between the individual Parties and their youth organisations. The Communist Youth International has to provide the Communist youth movement with a centralised leadership, offer moral and material support to individual unions, form Young Communist organisations where none has existed and publicise the Communist youth movement and its programme. The Communist Youth International is a section of the Communist International and, as such, is bound by the decisions of its congresses and its Central Committee. The Communist Youth International conducts its work within the framework of these decisions and thus passes on the political line of the Communist International to all its sections. A well-developed system of reciprocal representation and close and constant co-operation guarantees that the Communist Youth International will make gains in all the spheres of its activity (leadership, agitation, organisation and the work of strengthening and supporting the Communist youth organisations).