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The Young Communist League, USA (YCL-USA) is the fraternal youth organization of the Communist Party, USA. Although the name of the group has changed a number of times over the years, it dates its lineage back to 1920, shortly after the establishment of the first communist parties in America.

Contents

History

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Early years

The 1919 split of the Socialist Party of America affected its youth section as well, the Young People's Socialist League (YPSL). The YPSL declared itself an independent organization in the fall of 1919, sympathetic to the left wing which had been expelled or left the party. A portion of this "Independent Young People's Socialist League" organization dropped out from activity during this period, while the group's officials, including in the first place Executive Secretary Oliver Carlson, attempted to steer the group to a position of neutrality between the two warring factions of American communism, the Communist Party of America and the Communist Labor Party.

The underground period

As early as 1920, a skeleton of a "Young People's Communist League" was in existence. This minuscule, largely paper organization sent a fraternal delegate to the 2nd Convention of the United Communist Party, held at Kingston, New York from December 24, 1920 to January 2, 1921. A report was delivered by this delegate on the youth situation in America and the convention at this time first decided to establish a serious youth section, to be called the Young Communist League. The resolution passed by the convention pledged the UCP would provide its youth section assistance by helping to produce and distribute its literature, by helping to gain control of existing units of the Independent YPSL and organizing them into communist groups, by helping to organize new units, by providing it financial assistance, by lending it speakers and teachers, and by alloting it space in the official party periodicals.[1] The establishment of a parallel "aboveground" to the technically illegal YCL was called for.

Owing to government pressure from the Palmer Raids of the first red scare, the entire communist movement in America had operated a clandestine model of organization, akin to that of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party prior to the Russian Revolution. The YCL was no different, its leaders and members making use of pseudonyms and holding their meetings in secret.

This did not mean that there was no national convention of the organization. The founding convention of the YCL was held early in May 1922, apparently in Bethel, Connecticut. It was a small and low key gathering, including just 14 delegates from 4 of the Communist Party's 12 national districts. The gathering heard a report from Max Bedacht of the adult party dealing with the discussions and decisions of the 3rd World Congress of the Communist International and its February 1922 special conference. The convention adopted a constitution and a program for the YCL, as well as a resolution delineating the relationship of the youth league with the adult party. A governing National Executive Committee of 5 was elected. The initiation fee to join the YCL was 50 cents and dues were 25 cents per month, receipted with stamps issued by the National Office. The basic unit of organization was the "group" consisting, ideally, of from 5 to 10 members and meeting at least every other week. Groups elected their own captains to coordinate their activities with the center. Multiple groups were parts of a "section" of up to 5 groups, multiple sections were part of a "sub-district," which was in turn a subdivision of the regular geographic "districts" of the Communist Party.[2]

The underground form of organization made it very difficult to attract and hold quality recruits — recruiting had to be by word of mouth, literature distribution surreptitious, advertising of meetings non-existent. Accordingly, very little progress was made in building the size and effectiveness of the organization. This underground YCL continued in existence until early 1923, when it was terminated together with the underground adult Communist Party, leaving the "overground" youth and adult groups as the only remaining organizations.

Establishment of the "overground" organization

Logo of the YWL, established in 1922.

For the young communist youth, this organization was the Young Workers League of America (YWL), established in 1922. As was the case with the corresponding adult organization, the "legal" YWL had a much easier time establishing itself. At the small cost of eliminating a few ill considered ultra-revolutionary phrases from its literature, the YWL was able to meet in the open, to advertise its events, and to distribute its newspapers, leaflets, and pamphlets with only minimal interference from the legal authorities. Consequently, it was able to attract a steady stream of new devotees to the cause — although, as was the case with the adult party, retention of its new recruits always remained problematic. The YWL was also bolstered, as was its adult counterpart, by the addition of a new mass of members coming into the organization from the Finnish Socialist Federation — the largest foreign language federation of the Socialist Party, which had been biding its time as an independent organization since 1921, waiting for an end to the ineffectual underground form of organization. In the middle 1920s, the Workers Party of America was approximately 40% Finnish-American — and its youth section was no exception to this trend.

The founding convention of the YWL was held in Brooklyn, New York from May 13 to 15, 1922, held appropriately enough at Finnish Socialist Hall. Oliver Carlson delivered the keynote speech to the 30 regular and 5 fraternal delegates. Carlson claimed a presence for the nascent YWL in 46 cities and a membership of "at the very least," 2200.[3] The convention approved a manifesto, program, constitution, and various resolutions. Membership in the organization was said to be open to "all proletarians" between the ages of 14 and 30. The basic unit of organization of the YWL was the "branch," consisting of not less than 5 nor more than 150 members. Two or more branches in a single large city were to form a "City Central Committee" to coordinate their activities, and all units were to be part of the regular array of districts used by the adult party. The initiation fee was 25 cents and dues 25 cents per month, with all initiation fees and 10 cents of every month's dues going to support the National Office.[4]

The organization was governed by a National Executive Committee of 7, of whom at least 5 were to live in a single locale. Chicago was set as the headquarters city for the organization, a change from the group's provisional base of operations in New York. Martin Abern was elected as National Secretary of the organization, Oliver Carlson was named as editor, and the pair were joined on the NEC by business manager Harry Gannes, treasurer Gus Schulenberg, and future fixture of the 1930s American radical movement Herbert Zam.

The name of the youth league ultimately followed the name of the adult party, becoming the Young Workers (Communist) League in 1926 when the Workers Party became the "Workers (Communist) Party" and to the Young Communist League, USA in 1929 when the adult party became the "Communist Party, USA."

The depression decade and after

The turn toward the Popular Front initiated a period of the YCL's greatest growth and it may have had as many as 12,000 members in New York City alone by 1939.

In 1944 the YCL followed the CPUSA into dissolution, reconstituting itself as Youth for Democracy. It retained that name even after the CPUSA reformed in 1946, until contributing toward the youth organization of the Progressive Party, the Young Progressives of America. The CPUSA reestablished a youth organization in 1949 as the Labor Youth League, which dissolved in the dissention following the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the 20th Congress of the CPSU. In 1965, After a period of mainly local activity, the DuBois Clubs were formed and later renamed the Young Workers Liberation League before reaffirming the original name Young Communist League in 1984.[5]

The YCL today

According to its constitution, "the YCL is devoted to the interests of all young people and is dedicated to the revolutionary cause of the working class of our country, the transformation of the United States through mass democratic struggle into a socialist society."

Footnotes

  1. ^ Department of Justice/Bureau of Investigation Investigative Files, NARA collection M-1085, reel 940, document 679. Available as a downloadable pdf at http://www.marxisthistory.org/history/usa/parties/cpusa/1921/01/0100-ucp-yclaresolution.pdf
  2. ^ Comintern Archive, RGASPI, f. 515, op. 1, d. 152, ll. 10, 12.
  3. ^ Oliver Carlson, "The Road Before Us," The Young Worker, v. 1, no. 4 (June-July 1922), pp. 18-19. Available as a downloadable pdf at http://www.marxisthistory.org/history/usa/parties/ycl/1922/0513-carlson-roadbeforeus.pdf
  4. ^ Oliver Carlson, "Our First Convention," The Young Worker, v. 1, no. 4 (June-July 1922), pg. 20.
  5. ^ "Young Communist League". Leftist Encyclopedia of the United States (second ed.). Oxford University Press. 1998. pp. 920–923. ISBN 0-19-512088-4.  

See also

External links


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