Founding Conference of the 4th International: "Resolution on Youth"

Introduction from Revolutionary Communist Youth Newsletter, No. 17, May-June 1973

Trotsky was always keenly aware of what he called the problem of generations. He began the New Course (1923), his opening shot in the struggle against the bureaucratic degeneration of the Russian Revolution, with a discussion of the "question of the party generations," and in the most important document among the founding resolutions of the Fourth International (FI), The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International: The Transitional Program, Trotsky stated the problem of generations in the following way:

"When a program or organization wears out, the generation which carried it on its shoulders wears out with it. The movement is revitalized by the youth who are free of responsibility for the past… Only the fresh enthusiasm and aggressive spirit of the youth can guarantee the preliminary successes in the struggle; only these successes can return the best elements of the older generation to the road of revolution."
—p. 45, Pathfinder Press edition

Trotsky had not forgotten the lesson of the collapse of the Second International and the building of the Third. When the leading parties of the Second International capitulated to the national chauvinism of WWI, it was the militants primarily concentrated in the Socialist youth and women’s groups (representing a more oppressed stratum of the working class than the privileged labor aristocracy—the most influential component of the Western European Socialist parties) who carried the banner of internationalism against the tide of national chauvinism. It was these militants who, under the impact of the Russian October, provided the precious founding cadre for the new Communist International (CI), With the destruction of the CI as a world revolutionary party under the heavy blows of the failure of the German Revolution, the bureaucratic degeneration of the Bolshevik Revolution, the rise of fascism and the impending renewal of imperialist world war, the tasks of creating a new international were placed on the agenda. Trotsky, one of the creators of the CI who had authored its founding manifesto, turned to the generation of young workers, unscarred by the defeats and betrayals of the past. Hence, the founding manifesto of the FI ends with a clarion call to "Open the Road to the Woman Worker! Open the Road to the Youth!"

The seriousness with which Trotskyists undertook this necessary historical exhortation to find the road to the next generation of revolutionaries was displayed by the fact that—though the founding of the FI took place under the most difficult conditions requiring careful preparation and secrecy, at a time when the Trotskyists had meager resources and were being hounded throughout the world by the police and agents of all wings of the bourgeoisie from the fascists to the most "democratic" and, with special vehemence, by Stalin’s secret police—nonetheless the Founding Conference was followed one week later by the "World Youth Conference of the Fourth International." Both Conferences were held in September 1938; the former was attended by 21 delegates representing 11 countries, while the Youth Conference was attended by 19 delegates from 7 countries (Poland, Austria, Belgium, Holland, England, the U.S. and France). There was a considerable overlap in delegations and, in addition, the International Bureau of the FI, elected at the party Conference, sent three delegates to the Youth Conference. Besides adopting the "Resolution on the Youth," the World Youth Conference endorsed the Transitional Program and voted to affiliate as the official youth section of the FI.

As Nathan Gould, the youth delegate from the U.S., reported in the weekly organ of the then-revolutionary Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Appeal (22 October 1938):

"The resolution on relations between the youth and adult Internationals accepted the classical Leninist concept of these relations. The Youth International, which accepts the proletarian revolutionary international leadership of its adult body is to be politically subordinate to and organizationally autonomous of the Fourth International."

Gould then stated that all decisions and resolutions of the Youth Conference, including the "Resolution on the Youth" flow "from and are subordinated to the demands of the theses on The Death Agony of Capitalism." Indeed, the capitalist death agony developed with such rapidity and acuteness that the "youth question" was soon superceded by the "military question." The principal concerns of working-class youth in civilian life under capitalism—the lack of jobs, education and social equality, problems with which the "Resolution on the Youth" were mainly concerned—were soon to be transcended as imperialist war gave these youth the "jobs," "education" and "social equality" of the barracks. Within the context of universal militarism, the Trotskyists conducted themselves with exemplary valor, e.g., building revolutionary cells within the German Army. But the objective conditions forced the FI to temporarily abandon the tasks set out in the "Resolution on the Youth" and the struggle for a Trotskyist youth international.

Rise of Pabloism

After WWII, the Trotskyist movement, decimated by fascism and Stalinism, tried to regroup and reorient itself. However, the destruction of a whole generation of Trotskyist cadre, including Trotsky himself, left the FI theoretically unarmed and isolated from the working class. The untested and inexperienced cadre that rose to the leadership of the FI, personified by Michel Pablo, were overtaken by the post-war pre-revolutionary upheavals whose course their weak forces could not significantly influence. These cadre were further disoriented by the apparent stabilization of capitalism on the one hand, and the growth of Stalinism and social democracy on the other (see "Genesis of Pabloism," Spartacist No. 21). Pabloism meant the abandonment of the struggle to build independent Trotskyist parties and the liquidation of Trotskyist cadre into the existing Stalinist and social-democratic formations which were seen as playing an eventual revolutionary role under the impact of the "objective process." The corollary for Trotskyist youth was the command that they should bury themselves in the Stalinist and social-democratic youth groups and wait for the "objective process" to unfold.

Thus the "Resolution on the Youth" and the prospects for a Trotskyist youth international were abandoned when the FI succumbed to Pabloism. Although many of the specific demands and slogans of the "Resolution on the Youth" are clearly dated, the resolution possesses more than just historical interest. The document, especially section 14 entitled "The Revolutionary Program," is a valuable reaffirmation of the programmatic criteria governing youth work as Lenin, Trotsky and the early CI and FI conceived it. Such a reaffirmation is particularly important today when so many political tendencies claiming to be Trotskyist display the most elementary confusion on this question. The early CI and Young Communist International, and the Founding Conference of the FI and corresponding Youth Conference were explicit and insistent that the Leninist-Trotskyist youth group must be a section of the vanguard party which embodies the continuity, tested political leadership and developed programmatic clarity of the revolutionary movement. The program of the youth section must be developed within the framework of the party’s program, as the "Youth Resolution" states: "It is within the framework of the transitional programme of the Fourth International that the present programme should be developed and applied." "Youth" is not a class, there is no "youth program" as such. The program which addresses itself to the objective needs and special oppression of youth is part and parcel of the program for proletarian power. "The struggle for these demands cannot be separated from the struggle for the demands of workers as a whole, both employed and unemployed" ["Youth Resolution"].

Youth Vanguardism From the SWP to the WL

The various pretenders to the banner of Trotskyism all reject Trotsky’s class approach to the youth question—namely, that the question of special oppression and needs of youth must be subordinated to and integrated into the revolutionary program for the working class, the Transitional Program. Modern Pabloism, embodied in organizations like the SWP, the International Marxist Group in England, the Ligue Communiste in France, and personified by "theoreticians" like Ernest Mandel and "activists" like Tariq Ali, after years of self-internment in reformist organizations, have recoiled from entrism and have tried, in their various ways, to jump on the bandwagon of the "international youth radicalisation." Starting from the proposition that we live not in the era of capitalist decay but in the era of "neo-capitalism," i.e., capitalist crises stabilized by state intervention into the economy (e.g., debt expansion), they come to the conclusion that therefore the "epicenter" of world revolution has shifted from the industrial to the colonial countries, or from the industrial working class to more peripheral "sectors" of the work force such as white-collar workers and white-collar "apprentices" (i.e., students). They see the industrial working class as hopelessly bureaucratized and bourgeoisified, only approachable from the "peripheries" of guerrilla warfare in the colonial countries and youth and petty-bourgeois vanguardism in the industrial countries. The SWP has surpassed Pabloism in adopting a non-proletarian ideology. It has lifted the "cultural autonomy" slogan from the Austro-Marxists and applied it to the present by having each oppressed "sector" of the population independently "self-determine" itself, into that pure realm of freedom which is, of course, obtainable only on the gilded comfort of the college campus. Each "sector" of society (students, blacks, Chicanos, women and yes, even the working class) is provided by the revisionists with its very own "transitional" program.

Departing from Trotskyism and proletarian revolution on another road, a road akin to "third-period" Stalinism, is the Socialist Labour League, its gang in the U.S., the Workers League, and their corresponding youth groups, both called "Young Socialist." Starting from a radical perspective—that capitalist productive forces can no longer grow and, therefore, capitalism can no longer grant long-lasting reforms—they draw a reformist conclusion, i.e., that the struggle for such reforms is inherently revolutionary. In fact, this is simply inverted social democracy—that socialism can be won through piecemeal reform struggles. The Transitional Program on the other hand, raises demands that flow from the real objective needs of the proletariat, but also prepare and mobilize the workers for the revolutionary struggle for proletarian power.

The WL’s treatment of the youth question is completely opportunist: Ignoring the heterogeneous social composition of youth, the WL calls upon youth (all youth) to pressure union bureaucrats to build a labor party, and presents transitional demands for youth, as an undifferentiated mass, to carry out. The WL’s line embodies classless youth vanguardism. The irony of the WL’s constant exhortations to the "youth" to build a labor party, create general strikes, etc., is that in the WL’s propaganda to the working class (e.g., in their auto program for 1973, Bulletin, 12 February, p. 18) it often "forgets" to mention the labor party as well as other key transitional demands like nationalization of industry under workers control. Its youth group, furthermore, has no internal political life but is a front group manipulated by the WL.

The Revolutionary Communist Youth, as the youth section of the Spartacist League, continues the traditions of the early CI and FI, the traditions of Lenin and Trotsky, that the youth section must be programmatically linked and united to the vanguard party ("politically subordinate and organizationally autonomous"), that the special demands which address themselves to the problems of the youth must flow from the Transitional Program and must link the struggles of youth to the struggle of the proletariat for power.

—RCYN Editorial Board


The Capitalist Impasse

(1.) Capitalism, whether it be authoritarian or liberal, admits the inability to bring the slightest relief to the misery and suffering of working-class youth. The young want a trade, and when (rarely enough!) it consents to give them one, it is only to chain them the better to a machine which tomorrow will stop and let them starve beside the very riches they have produced. The young want to work, to produce with their hands, to use their strength, and capitalism offers them the perspective of unemployment or of "the execution of work in conditions other than the normal conditions of production," according to the excellent hypocritical definition of labor-camps by the League of Nations, or of armament production, which engenders destruction rather than improvement. The young want to learn, and the way to culture is barred to them. The young want to live, and the only future offered them is that of dying of hunger or of rotting on the barbed wire of a new imperialist war. The young want to create a new world, and they are permitted only to maintain or to consolidate a rotting world that is falling to pieces. The young want to know what tomorrow will be, and capitalism’s only reply to them is: "Today you’ve got to tighten your belt another notch; tomorrow, we’ll see.… In any case, perhaps you’re not going to have any tomorrow."

Give Youth a Future—Give the World a Future

(2.) That is why youth will rally under the flag of those who bring it a future. Only the Fourth International, because it represents the historical interests of the only class which can reorganize the world upon new bases, only the Bolshevik-Leninists can promise youth a future in which it can put its abilities to full use. Only they can say to the youth: "Together with you, we want to make a new world!, where everyone works and is proud to work well, to know his job down to the smallest details; a world where everyone will eat according to his hunger, for production will be regulated according to the needs of the workers and not those of profit; a world where one must constantly learn, in order the better to subordinate the forces of nature to the will of man; a world where, by ceaselessly extending the domain of the application of science, humanity’s theoretic knowledge will be daily increased; a new world; a new man who can make real all the hopes and powers he bears within him." It is under the ensign of a new world and a new humanity that the Fourth International and its youth organizations must go on to win the working-class youth; it is under that ensign that they will win that youth.

The Struggle for a Future—The Struggle for Bread

(3.) The promise of a better future would be only demagogy if the Bolshevik-Leninists were not fighting for an immediate improvement in the situation of working-class youth, if they were not formulating youth’s immediate demands, if they were not spreading word of the necessity for working-class youth to fight by class-struggle methods for the satisfaction of these demands, and if, through this struggle and on the basis of the experience gained therein, they were not demonstrating to exploited youth that its demands could be finally satisfied only by establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat, that the struggle for these demands must be transformed into a struggle for power by means of a struggle for the control and management of the economic system.

We Demand the Right to Work

(4.) For the young workers engaged in production the Bolshevik-Leninists put forward slogans with the aim of (a.) measuring the work done by the young not according to the desire to drag as much profit as possible out of it, but on the contrary according to their degree of physical development; (b.) assuring them of a standard of living equal to that of adults, by that very fact assuring them of economic independence; (c.) raising their technical qualifications as far as possible; (d.) against the equal opportunity for young and old to be exploited by capitalism, setting up their equal rights.

For the young under 20, they also formulate the following demands:

Reduced working week, with schedules allowing young workers to engage in sports in the open air;

At least one month’s paid vacation per year;

The organizing, by factories or groups of factories, of training courses, at the bosses’ expense and under workers’ control;

Hours of craft training taken out of the working week, and paid for at regular rates;

Application of the principle "for equal work, equal pay," under workers control;

The fixing of a minimum living wage for young workers; fixing of the wages of young workers under the control of all the workers taken as a whole;

Prohibition of night-work, of over-laborious, unhealthy, or unwholesome tasks; workers’ control over the use of young labor.

Equality for Youth in Social Legislation—All Together for the Struggle!

(5.) In order to take the defense of their demands into their own hands, the young workers should have the right to choose their own delegates, whose task is above all to draw the attention of the adult delegates and of the workers in general to youth’s specific demands, to tie up the struggle for these particular demands with the struggle for the general demands of the working class. In the same way, in all branches of trade-union organizations, these must be created, and imposed upon the trade-union bureaucracy, union youth commissions, whose task shall be to. study the demands of the youth, and to recruit and educate young workers. The task of the Bolshevik-Leninists is to take the lead in the organization of such commissions.

In order to throw trade-union doors wide open to exploited youth, the Bolshevik-Leninists demand the establishment of reduced dues for young workers.

We Want a Trade!

(6.) In the fight against unemployment the slogans, raise the school age, organize apprenticeship, make sense only to the extent that the weight of this must be borne, not by the working-class, but by the big capitalists. Hence the Bolshevik-Leninists owe it to themselves to formulate the demands of working-class youth in this field, as follows:

Prolongation of the school age to 16, with a grant for family support in working-class and small farmer families.

Reorganization of the school in cooperation with the factory: the school should prepare children for life and work; it should weld the youth to the older generations; hence the demand for control by workers’ organizations over technical education.

Reduction of the period of apprenticeship to a maximum of two years.

Forbidding of all work not connected with the actual apprenticeship.

The setting up, at the expense of the bosses, in connection with every business or group of businesses engaged in manufacturing, mining, or trade, of apprentice schools, with an attendance of at least 3% of the personnel employed in the business or group of businesses.

Choosing of the instructors by the labor unions.

Control of these schools by a mixed commission of workers’ delegates and delegates of the apprentices themselves.

We Demand Our Right to Live!

(7.) The task of saving the unemployed youth from misery, despair, and fascist demagogy, of working them back into production and thereby binding them closely to the working class is a vital task for the future of the pro1etariat. Revolutionaries must struggle to force capitalism (a.) to undertake to work the unemployed youth back into production through the organization of technical education and guidance; (b.) to put the unemployed youth back immediately into productive activity; (c.) to organize such work not according to semi-military methods but on the basis of regular wages: Down with labor-camps, either voluntary or obligatory!; (d.) to furnish youth, which it is throwing into misery, the wherewithal to live. Hence the Bolshevik-Leninists put forward the following demands:

Unemployment benefits on the adult scale for all young unemployed, manual or intellectual, immediately upon their finishing school;

Forcing the big bosses to open technical re-education centers under workers’ control;

Technical re-education organized according to the needs of production, under the general control of the trade unions and the congresses of workers’ delegates;

Reopening of the shut-down factories;

Commencement of large-scale public works (hospitals, schools, low-cost housing projects, sports fields, stadia, swimming-pools, electric power-stations), paid at trade-union scales and under workers’ control from top to bottom.

For Our Brothers on the Farms!

(8.) The misery of the farm youth is no less than that of the industrial youth. For farm youth the Bolshevik-Leninists formulate the following general demands:

Strict application of all the above-named laws and social measures in the country just as in the city;

Suppression of the domestic exploitation of young children;

Particularly strict application of the principle: "For equal work, equal pay."

District organization of technical education at the expense of the big finance-capital farm-owners;

Healthy food and lodging for young farm workers living in their bosses’ houses;

Cheap credit for small-scale farmers, and especially for small-scale farmers with family responsibilities.

For Our Countryside

(9.) The industrial and farm youth are the most exploited part of all working-class youth. The youth organizations of the Fourth International must draw particular attention to the following demands:

Strict application of principle: "For equal work, equal pay!";

An extra day off per month;

The right to voluntary maternity;

A 6-months’ leave-of-absence for maternity;

Maternity grants for girl-mothers.

Open the Schools and Universities!

(10.) One of the necessary conditions for the progress of humanity is that large sections of working-class youth should have access to culture and science. The Bolshevik-Leninists put forward the following slogans:

Open the schools and universities to all the young who are willing to study.

Free education and support for workers’ and farmers’ sons and daughters.

Bread, Books, and Civil Rights for Coolies!

(11.) In colonial and semi-colonial countries, laboring youth is the victim of a double exploitation—capitalist and patriarchal. In these and in imperialist countries the defense of the demands of the young colonial workers and peasants is the first duty in the fight against imperialism. This fight is carried on around the general slogan: The same rights for colonial youth as for the youth of the imperialist capital-city.

Organization of hygiene and similar care in all villages.

Organization of homes for young workers, peasants, and coolies, under the control of labor and nationalist organizations.

Schools for native children; teaching in the native language.

Open the government administration to native language.

Open the government administration to native intellectuals.

Take the necessary financial credits from the war and police budgets and imperialist privileges.

12) The bourgeoisie recognizes working youth’s right to be exploited; but refuses it the right to have anything to say about that exploitation, and deprives it of all political rights; in certain countries it even forbids youth under 18 to have any political activity whatever. The working class replies to these measures by saying: Whoever has the right to be exploited has also the right to struggle against the system which exploits him. Full political rights to young workers and peasants!

The right to vote beginning at 18, just as much in legislative and municipal elections as in the election of delegates.

Abolition of special laws forbidding youth to engage in political activity.

We Demand Our Right to Happiness!

(13.) Working-class youth’s need for relaxation is utilized by the bourgeoisie either to stupefy it or to make it submit to an even tighter discipline. The duty of the working class is to help create a youth that is strong and capable of throwing all its physical and mental strength into the fight against capitalism; to aid it in using what leisure capitalism gives it to learn to understand the world better, in order to be better able to change it. Hence the Bolshevik-Leninists demand:

Free access to all sports fields, stadia, museums, libraries, theatres, and cinemas, for all young workers and unemployed;

The ordering of their leisure by the young unemployed themselves;

The using of young unemployed intellectuals for the organization of lectures and discussions, etc. on physics, chemistry, mechanics, mathematics, political economy, history of the labor movement, art, literature, etc.;

The establishment of homes open to the working and unemployed youth, where the young will not only have the opportunity to be amused and instructed, but can also study out for themselves the social problems with which they are faced; these homes to be managed by working-class youth itself under the supervision of the local trade-union organizations.

The Revolutionary Program

(14.) The struggle for these demands cannot be separated from the struggle for the demands of workers as a whole, both employed and unemployed. The final disappearance of unemployment among the youth is closely linked to the disappearance of general unemployment. The struggle for raising the school age and for compulsory technical re-education is closely linked with the struggle for the sliding scale in wages and in working hours. The struggle to drag out of capitalism those reforms which aim at developing the class-consciousness of working youth is closely linked with the struggle for workers’ control of industry and factory committees. The struggle for public works is closely linked with the fight for the expropriation of monopolies, for the nationalization of credit, banks, and key industries. The struggle to smash back all efforts to militarize is closely linked to the struggle against the development of authoritarian state tendencies and against fascism, the struggle for the organization of workers’ militias. It is within the framework of the transitional programme of the Fourth International that the present programme should be developed and applied. It is under the ensign of the proletariat fighting for power that the Fourth International will win the demands of exploited youth.

Lausanne, 11 September 1938

Posted: 18 June 2005