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“For reasons of timing, as much as anything else, CCYM activities were
shaped to an extraordinary extent by the Communist Party. The CCF had been founded during the ‘‘third period,’’ and the CPC dutifully
denounced the new political formation in hyperbolic terms as ‘‘social
fascist.’’ A couple of years later, the CCYM’s emergence coincided with
the beginnings of the CPC’s turn to the People’s Front policy. This
affected the CCYM in several important ways. Both the CCYM and the
YCL were rivals for the support of young workers, but with the Popular
Front policy, the decline of Communist sectarianism, and increasing
willingness to engage with liberals, church-goers, and the middle class
more generally (along with, of course, the traditional constituency of
workers), the Communists’ broadened gaze increasingly coincided with
the CCYM’s. The CCF was famously suspicious of working with the Communist
Party, at least officially, yet CCF leaders recognized the danger

of their perceived abstention and often allowed members to participate
in ‘‘immediate struggles’’ with the Communist Party. Among the most
successful of all the Popular Front movements were those specifically
comprising youth. The Youth Congress against War and Fascism, and
subsequently the Canadian Youth Congress, was extraordinarily successful
in mobilizing young people from a range of organizations
and political viewpoints.

The declared aim of the Popular Front was to fight the twin threats
of war and fascism, issues that appealed to young people who felt
particularly vulnerable. An initiative of the YCL, the Youth Congress
against War and Fascism attracted members of the YMCA, Jewish,
Catholic, and Protestant organizations, as well as farm and labour
groups. It also attracted the CCYM. T.C. Douglas, a national figure in
the CCYM, accepted an invitation to address the 275 delegates at Youth
Congress against War and Fascism in Toronto in early August 1934. Not surprisingly, given the CCF’s troubled history with the cpc, the
parent organization very quickly challenged this relationship. The ccf
leadership felt that the youth had to toe the line, although cracks
emerged within the adult organization, with many older labour socialists
open to the idea of a working-class alliance.

CCYM units had diverse reasons to be wary of collaboration with the
Communist Party. For many, the compromises of the Communists’
Popular Front strategy conflicted with their Marxism. They saw Stalinists’
appeal to pacifism, reflected in the language of the League against
War and Fascism, as a dangerous concession to liberals who did not
understand the full threat of fascism and the importance of socialism
as an alternative to the capitalist crisis that had bred both militarism
and right-wing movements. This was particularly true of the BC CCYM.
who felt themselves to have, ‘‘perhaps,’’ a ‘‘more revolutionary outlook,
even a keener discipline than some other provincial units,’’ but they
were able to point to CCYM groups in North Toronto, Winnipeg, Moose
Jaw, and Regina whose ‘‘positions on all issues has been consistent
and Marxist.’’ Other CCYMers criticized the CCF leadership for organizational
sectarianism toward the Communists, for placing the interests
of the federation ahead of broader struggles. Given the diversity of the
CCF and its youth movement, a variety of responses to the broadening
movements of the mid-1930s would emerge from the CCYM.

This was apparent in the emerging Canadian Youth Congress,
which came to replace the youth section of the League against War
and Fascism. While CCYM participation in the League against War
and Fascism was uneven and episodic, they found themselves pulled
much further into the workings of the CYC. The CYC was the most successful
Popular Front initiative undertaken by the Communists both
in size and breadth. The first Youth Congress, held in Toronto in
May 1935, represented 162,000 young people in ‘‘all’’ political parties,
church groups, athletic clubs, and social organizations; the 500 delegates
at the 1936 Congress represented ‘‘well over’’ 750,000. These
astounding figures are explained by the composition of the movement.
The first congress was addressed not only by Communist leader
Tim Buck and by James Woodsworth, but by Liberal and Conservative
politicians as well. The executive of the Winnipeg CYC (Canadian
Youth Council, as local branches of the congress were known) included
future CCF Member of Parliament Alistair Stewart and future Manitoba
Communist leader Bill Ross, but also the future Conservative premier
of Manitoba, Duff Roblin. The Saskatchewan CYC was, if anything,
even more socially diverse, with representatives from the regular political,
labour, farm, and church groups, as well as Doukhobors, Metis,
and the Jewish ‘‘Young Judaeans.’’

What was remarkable and reflective of the initiative gained by the
left broadly conceived was that, in spite of its size and breadth, the
CYC was clearly an organization of the left. With only eight dissenting
votes (largely Social Crediters), the 1935 Congress passed resolutions
condemning capitalism as well as tracing war and unemployment to
the functioning of the capitalist system. What made all of this possible
was the CPC’s turn. Ontario CCYMer Murray Cotterill articulated succinctly
the role of the YCL:  

Where two years ago, [the Communists] would have ‘‘ruled or broken,’’
now they seem to have laid down with the lion of capitalism. Standing rigidly
erect for God Save the King, modestly refusing to allow more than one Y.C.L.
delegate to stand for office, although allowing the usual profusion of Workers’
Unity League, Unemployed Youth Councils, etc., who, of course are ‘‘nonpolitical’’
and even voting for a place on the Continuation Committee for
Young Conservatives, the Commies seem to have adopted every one of the
alleged vices with which the C.C. F. was contaminated a few years ago, and to
have added a considerable amount of class collaboration to boot. It is some
zig-zag that the Third International has just taken.

The strengths and weaknesses of the Communists’ Popular Front
strategy were apparent to most CCYMers. Vastly more young people
were mobilized than either the YCL or the CCYM would have been able
to engage on their own; this was the rationale behind the CCF acceptance
of the participation in a Communist-associated movement. The
problem of the CYC was that it engaged huge numbers of young people
but, arguably, was incapable of offering them any useful direction.

CYC congresses, both national and provincial, were valuable venues
for debate and discussion. Developing a common program and plan
for action, however, would potentially demonstrate how fragile the
organization was. Certainly the Communists argued for the broadest
basis of unity possible (even including delegates from the Canadian
Union of Fascists, at one point). In response, in 1935 CCF trade unionist
Al Desser tried and failed to get the congress to explicitly oppose
fascism, and the following year the Trotskyist Revolutionary Youth
League, along with some unionists, resigned in protest against their
continued attendance. In 1937 the challenges of inclusivity emerged
in another way. The annual congress was held in Montreal, and the
Quebec delegation, comprising mostly Catholic youth organizations,
put forward a list of conservative demands as a precondition to their
participation. The CYC was to condemn all ‘‘subversive doctrines,’’

affirm the existence of God, declare the right of individuals to private
property, and seek social peace between social classes. For the first
time the YCL and the CCYM delegates met together in caucus to determine
a response and concluded that they had little option but to
accede. The Communists’ Daily Clarion celebrated the spirit of unity,
arguing that ‘‘the congress, with such diverse views present, was not
the place to present the case for socialism.’’ The Montreal Star lauded
the ‘‘true statesmen’’ for their response to the ‘‘ultra-nationalistic’’
French-Canadian groups. The trajectory was clear. Immediately afterwards,
the Thunder Bay Youth Council opted not to condemn the
Padlock Law (generally seen by the CCF as emblematic of the threat of
domestic fascism) in order not to alienate Catholics.

Such concessions were rooted in the logic of the Popular Front,
which placed unity ahead of a political program. Violet Anderson, a
delegate of the Youth Unit of the League of Nations Society, gave great
credit to the Communists for steering the CYC away from its explicit
critique of capitalism in 1936 (while admitting that the chair was
‘‘somewhat tyrannical’’ in prohibiting any discussion of the question). CCYMers, not surprisingly, were of various minds. Some, like CYC co-chair Kenneth Woodsworth, Student Christian Movement activist
and nephew of J.S. Woodsworth, were entirely onside. Surveying the
movement at the end of the decade, he argued that youth, at least
in the CYC, exercised a greater pragmatism than their parents. ‘‘The
Youth Congress ‘platform’ is not an attempt to provide any panacea
for our economic ills. Proposals for extension of educational opportunities,
technical training, employment projects, recreation, etc… .
seem to many older people to be disappointingly mild. Where is the
much vaunted radicalism of our modern youth? It would be hard
to find.’’ At least, one could add, in the CYC.

In general, however, CCYMers were more interested in winning
the CYC to a more explicitly socialist program. While a vaguely anticapitalist
statement was passed at the Toronto Youth Congress 1936,

for instance, a CCYM resolution calling for social planning, the socialization
of industry and finance, and the encouragement of co-operatives
as alternatives to capitalism were defeated.68 ccymers were at odds
over how to proceed. In the Calgary Youth Council, for instance, a very
public debate emerged between CCYMers. Alberta CCYM Vice-President
Tom Roberts felt that the CYC should be more explicitly socialist, while
CCYMers in the Alberta CYC leadership disagreed. Gertrude Gillander,
the secretary of the Alberta CYC, having recently played a role in
cementing Junior United Farmers of Alberta support for the congress,
wanted to distance the CYC from its initial reputation as a ‘‘red
breeding ground.’’ And provincial CYC President Margaret Archibald
defended the concessions to the Quebec delegates in front of William
Irvine and J.S. Woodsworth, who ‘‘both expressed their disapproval
of ‘our’ attitude towards the French Canadians. They both say that all
socialistic minded youth sacrificed all they stood for in order to get the
French Canadians interested.’’

No doubt many CCYMers felt the same and questioned the purpose
of building the CYC as it seemed to bring Canadian youth no closer to
an understanding of socialism. Tom Roberts, for instance, was far
from isolated; he was chosen Western Canadian officer for the CCYM by the 1938 National CCYM convention. Most CCYMers do not seem
to have bought Kenneth Woodsworth’s or Margaret Archibald’s Popular
Frontism and either abandoned CYC activities or struggled valiantly
to politicize CYC gatherings. This was particularly the case as the Communists’
growing support for collective security contrasted with the
CCYM’s refusal to support, or participate in, ‘‘another imperialist war,’’
and, indeed, willingness to take advantage of a ‘‘revolutionary situation’’
that a war could provoke. Those CCYMers who continued to take part
in the CYC were, according to David Lewis, perceived as ‘‘cantankerous
and doctrinaire’’ by church groups and other CYC participants whom
the CCYM was presumably trying to attract.”

– James Naylor, “Socialism for a New Generation: CCF Youth in the Popular Front Era.” The Canadian Historical Review, Volume 94, Number 1, March 2013, pp. 67-72

Pamphlet cover is from the Canadian Youth Congress, 1936. Source.

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“Hail, or Flail, Hitler!” Toronto Telegram. July 6, 1934. Page 15.

“[sic]…chancellor while his attention was distracted by the odd domestic rebellion, the Young Communist League came from behind in an attempt to picket with placards the North-German Lloyd offices at Bay and Richmond streets to-day. Because they were obstructing the sidewalk, they were told by police to go and flail no more. And the police took the cards.”

Signs read, from left to right: ‘Thalmann Torgler and All Anti-Fascist Fighters Must Be Saved!’; ‘Bloody Hitler Shall Not Be Allowed to Murder

Thälmann!’; ‘Free Ernest

Thälmann!’

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