Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘young socialists’

“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.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

“ A number of youth groups were present at the CCF’s Regina Convention
in 1933, although they reflected the geographically skewed
character of the convention itself. Prairie groups were overrepresented;
very few came from east of Winnipeg. The Junior Section of the United
Farmers of Canada (Saskatchewan Section) and the Regina Young
People’s Socialist League represented the host province. Young labourist
groups came from Winnipeg and Edmonton. The Junior Section of
the United Farmers of Alberta attended, as did the Young Socialist
League of BC and, from Ontario, a short-lived entity called the ‘‘Junior
Canadian Commonwealth League.’’ According to Ontario Socialist
Party member A.H. Downs Jr, the last had been formed by ‘‘the most
reactionary elements’’ of the CCF Clubs (‘‘youths, mind you’’) and it
‘‘withered and died, very shortly after birth.’’

At the Regina Convention, this small coterie decided to build a pan-Canadian
organization despite, interestingly, the ‘‘heated opposition’’
of Laura Cotton. Cotton was the associate secretary of the Ontario
Association of CCF Clubs and very soon would become a member of
the Ontario CCF Council following the purge of the left-wing labour
socialists (and particularly Socialist Party of Canada members). There
is at least reason to suspect that her concern was rooted in a fear – not
entirely unfounded, as it would turn out – that the youth movement
might challenge the ‘‘adult’’ organization’s narrowing view of politics,
which was becoming increasingly focused on electoral success. In the
United States, the leadership of the Socialist Party of America often
expressed a ‘‘‘flimsily concealed’ antagonism’’ toward the YPSL, their
youth affiliate, viewing them as ‘‘potential hotheads.’’ Both European
and American socialist parties had seen a revolt of youth during
the First World War, as the ‘‘adult’’ parties mobilized inadequately
against the war. The Socialist International decried the ‘‘undisciplined

radicalism’’ of youth in several European sections, and despite the
American party’s anti-war stance, the majority of youth abandoned
the YPSL in favour of the new Communist movement.

For the most part, however, CCFers were keen to harness the energy
of youth and prevent them from falling into the grips of their political
opponents. Modern notions of child development saw such activities
as beneficial, not just for the movement, but for young people themselves.
Some were acutely aware of these ideas. The general secretary
of the CCF Clubs in Ontario, Donat LeBourdais, had spent much of the
previous decade as education director of the Canadian Committee on
Mental Hygiene, which focused on shaping the social development of
the nation’s children. Others, such as CCF National Secretary Norman
Priestley, noted the growing interest in youth organization generally,
and more particularly quasi-political groups like Protestant youth
groups, including the Student Christian Movement, and the upstart
New Canada Movement that quickly grouped tens of thousands of
young people in rural Ontario. Although non-partisan, many such
groups intersected politically with the CCF. The New Canada Movement,
for instance, was potentially open to CCF ideas, although, in
J.S. Woodsworth’s evaluation, ‘‘naive.’’ Priestley told the secretary of
the ‘‘Nyacs,’’ the National Youth Association of Canada, an early incarnation
of the CCYM in Toronto, that their work ‘‘would save the C.C.F.
from becoming a movement of elderly people.’’

Young farmers’ organizations affiliated to the new youth movement
although, outside of Saskatchewan and Alberta, the agrarian wings of
the CCF soon slipped away. In the latter province, despite the existence
of a Junior Labour Group in Edmonton, the larger youth organization
affiliated with the CCYM was the Junior United Farmers of Alberta (UFA).
The UFA’s relationship to the CCF was always tenuous and CCYM activists
perceived the Junior UFA as rivals even before the farmers’ organization

departed the CCF in 1938. Even less promising were universities, in
contrast to the relative successes of the YPSL and the Student League
for Industrial Democracy in the United States. Despite the presence
of some left-wing students who had been active in the Student Christian
Movement, and the role played by some university professors
in the League for Social Reconstruction and the CCF, only a limited
number of campus CCYM clubs were organized, and the national
movement was not closely associated with students. Perhaps only
in Quebec where the CCYM was, like the CCF, small, anglophone, and
confined to Montreal, was it closely associated with the academy. Its
connection with the League for Social Reconstruction in that province,
and its presumed role as a school for the adult organization, was
reflected in the fact that their main activity in the late 1930s seems to
have been the development of a leadership course under Professor
Leonard Marsh. Such training in ‘‘leadership’’ and organization
reflected the CCF’s increasingly electoral focus; generally the CCYM focused much less on such organizational matters, seeking to educate
itself in political theory and international events instead. 

Elsewhere, particularly in British Columbia and Ontario, the CCYM attracted considerable numbers of newly radicalizing youth. The dynamism
of the British Columbia organization generally was reflected
in its youth wing(s). Just as the BC movement was initially bifurcated
between its SPC and Club wings, two youth organizations emerged:
the Young Socialist League (YSL) and the Co-operative Commonwealth
Youth (CCY), although neither was formally affiliated to an ‘‘adult’’ organization,
apparently as a declaration of their own independence. Interestingly, the more left-wing SPC was either more wary about heavy-handed proselytizing among youth, or considered young people
as pre-political, prompting the YSL to assure the adult organization
that it was ‘‘non-political, being wholly for study and recreation.’’ Consequently, they attended the Vancouver Symphony, played tennis,
and, of course, educated themselves. Beginning in 1933 they held
weekly Sunday night public meetings at the Colonial Theatre, boasting
that no speaker was over twenty-five years of age. The CCY was
critical of this character of the YSL, declaring that ‘‘The only fault of
the Y.S.L. appears to be their aversion to action – well action is half
of the C.C.Y. program.’’ Nonetheless, the rivalry was mainly friendly,
and the increased activism and radicalization of both organizations
put the issue of their fusion on the table. 

They shared growing hopes for a revolutionary transformation of
society. As the CCY told the YSL’s January 1935 Convention, they were
interested in the creation of ‘‘class-conscious youth’’ in BC through a
combination of socialist study and action, and they hoped to work
with the YSL to build ‘‘a movement of revolutionary communist youth
as shall in the approaching crisis, be capable of losing our chains and
gaining a new world.’’ They each published a newspaper: the YSL’s
Spark preceded the CCY’s Amoeba. The boundaries between organizations
were vague. Members of both organizations regularly attended
SPC leader Wallis Lefeaux’s weekly lectures on Marx’s Capital and read
about the materialist conception of history in the Amoeba. There was
little sense that youth had a set of interests of their own; as the CCY banner proclaimed, ‘‘Abolish the Wage System. No Compromise.’’ The activism and non-sectarianism of the youth was reflected in their
choice for the editor of a combined Amoeba/Spark newspaper at the
end of 1935. Besides being the CCY provincial organizer, editor Lefty
(R.E.) Morgan was also a member of YSL and the Industrial Workers
of the World at the time of his brutal beating by police at Ballantyne
Pier during the 1935 longshoremen’s strike.

The Ontario CCYM was similar in its enthusiasm, talent, and, for
the most part, its Marxism. The core leadership came out of the earlier
‘‘Nyacs,’’ which Spencer Cheshire remembered as particularly engaged
and dynamic, compared to the broader and more diverse CCYM.  Despite a career that placed her at the forefront of some of the major
struggles in Canadian labour history, Eileen Tallman (later Sufrin) felt
that ‘‘the years in the Ontario CCYM were the most stimulating in my
life.’’ Its diversity spoke to the breadth of the new CCYM’s appeal.
Some, despite their age, had considerable experience. Twenty-one year-old
Felix Lazarus had been a socialist for six years, worked as
a YPSL organizer in the United States, participated in the important
Toledo Auto-Lite strike, and became active in Ontario Labour Party
circles. Irish-born Eamon Park had working-class roots and found
work in the meatpacking industry, while twenty-three-year-old Bill
Grant was a second-year law student at Toronto’s Osgoode Hall. 

The initial CCYM adopted some of the characteristics of earlier socialists,
particularly around the importance of political education. ‘‘Pretty
stiff ’’ classes and tests were developed; as the CCYM provincial executive
commented, ‘‘Only in the hands of a highly trained nuclei can be
placed the duty of building a mass organization of Socialist Youth in
Ontario.’’ Eileen Sufrin remembers that one of her first assignments
in the CCYM was a talk on the life of Lenin: ‘‘From the start, the study
of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and the various European influences formed
a background which we felt impelled to explore and to use in measuring
the ideological worth of the new left-wing political movements in
Canada.’’ CCYMers compared themselves favourably in this regard to
the adult organization, which they considered ‘‘lax’’ in studying the
‘‘fundamentals of socialism.’’ The lack of confidence, in fact, went
both directions. Graham Spry expressly opined that ‘‘elders agreed’’
that youth were ‘‘inclined to be impatient and impulsive’’ and expressed
relief that the age limit of the CCYM was set at thirty-five, allowing for

sufficient ‘‘level-headedness … to keep the impetuosity of the younger
iconoclasts at an even keel.’’

Both this enthusiasm for knowledge and a measure of adult suspicion
were apparent in the Manitoba CCYM as well. Declaring, ‘‘Youth
today is in grave danger of moral corruption through the inherent
evils of our present state of society’’ and pointing to the difficulties of
even contemplating marriage under existing conditions, leading to ‘‘a
perversion of the fundamental laws of nature,’’ the CCYM put a leftist
spin on broader social panics about the condition of the nation’s
youth. The solution for the CCF youth was to ‘‘‘do our part’ to equip
ourselves mentally and physically to take an intelligent part in the
new co-operative society.’’

From the outset, then, CCYM activities revolved around education
and recreation. Annual summer schools emerged across the country,
combining study and healthy relaxation in equal measure. A week of
the well-established, decade-old summer school (originally in Summerland
but, under the auspices of the CCF since 1934, moved to Salt
Spring Island), was dedicated specifically for the youth. The Winnipeg
CCYM held their summer school just west of the city in Headingley;
the cost was seventy-five cents for the week. Although they appealed
to a youth increasingly familiar with summer camps, their experience
would not be a putative escape from modernism, but an indulgence in
the modernist pursuits of politics and organized sport. In Toronto,
the CCYM organized athletic and health clubs as well as bowling, and
played baseball and hockey. In Hamilton, as elsewhere, they produced
radical plays. The Edmonton CCYM orchestra was a staple at CCF rallies. In a few cases, as in North Toronto, CCYM branches sought to
build community centres ‘‘in which young people can make themselves
at home, have the use of a library, organize their own social
affairs, attend education and study classes conducted by persons
versed on various subjects of current importance [and] take part in
cultural activities such as Art and Dramatics.’’ A significant consequence
of the focus on education and recreation in the CCYM is,
perhaps, a less clearly demarcated gender division of labour. Within
the CCF itself, as Joan Sangster notes, these were areas of growing
women’s activity and, one might add, ones of declining importance as
the federation became more focused on electoral activity. But education
and related activities were the lifeblood of the CCYM and involved
all members, although we know little about the ways in which organizational
tasks may have, or may not have, been shared. 

Across the country, debate and discussion rang through CCYM halls.
New members quickly fell into a world where the nature of the Soviet
Union, the threat of fascism in Canada, whether FDR’s New Deal posed
promises or dangers to workers, how to respond to events in Spain,
and many other issues were hotly contested. These were exciting and
challenging issues that required understanding from every activist.
Through the fall of 1935, the Ontario CCYM debated ‘‘the inevitability
of Socialism’’ in the pages of the New Commonwealth. The topic may
appear sophomoric and even contrived, but it was a means by which
CCYM leaders could raise the issue of the importance of organization
and socialist action. The debate reflected several characteristics of
the young CCYM. For instance, all of the contributors claimed Marxist
credentials, insisting that their ideas were materialist, and scientific.
Those on the ‘‘yes’’ side, including Lloyd Harrington and Eileen Tallman,
argued that wage slavery had served its historic purpose and
that not even fascism was capable of destroying accumulated human
knowledge. Those on the ‘‘no’’ side essentially agreed. Spencer Cheshire
pointed out that economic laws and increasing human control over the
natural environment made socialism possible. What was potentially

missing, as another contributor pointed out, were ‘‘agents of socialism.’’
The task, underlined by Murray Cotterill, was to build a mass movement.
Saving the last word for himself, the editor of the CCYM column
cited Marx: ‘‘The struggle between the two forces ends in a victory for
the new class, or they both tumble into chaos.’’ The debate reflected
features of 1930s Marxism that was shared by labour socialists in the
CCF and by Communists, particularly the belief in economic laws, the
power of the economic base to drive society and culture forward, and
historical materialist modes of argument. At the same time, there was
a tendency away from what could be perceived to be the scholasticism
of the pre–First World War socialist tradition. The key to socialist
success was not just education, but engagement with the masses.
The crisis of capitalism and rise of fascism had, in an important
sense, posed the question of action much more clearly than in the
past. What kind of action? This short debate did not lend itself to
specifics, but it is noteworthy that, despite the fact that this debate
took place during the 1935 federal election, none of the contributors
made note of that fact. While there was no specific critique of electoralism,
CCYM attentions were directed more widely. There would be
no singular fixation with the ballot box.”

  

– 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. 60-67  

Read Full Post »