Youth, Class and Party

From RCY Newsletter, No. 9, October-November 1971

"Youth" in itself is neither revolutionary nor a class. The "youth" consists of young workers, future petty-bourgeois technocrats and administrators, members of the ruling class, as well as radical intellectuals and future communists. Hitler, Trotsky, Mao and Nixon were all young once. The currently popular notion of the "Red University" and all forms of youth vanguardism reflect a conscious adaptation to the theory that students (youth) are somehow a revolutionary social group. The youth conference held at Essen, West Germany over July 3-4, sponsored by groups affiliated to the International Committee of the Fourth International (IC), also reflected an adaptation to this idea of the undifferentiated youth as inherently revolutionary.

Youth and the Working Class

The present period of economic crisis and resulting heightened class militancy requires absolute clarity on the relation of youth to the revolutionary movement. First, one must differentiate "youth" into its social components. While they share certain generational problems affecting all youth, nevertheless young workers see their interests as primarily tied to those of the working class as a whole. Particularly in America, where there are only vestigial traces of an apprentice system such as the European one, young workers tend to be integrated directly into the working class. There are, however, specially oppressed layers. Black youth, for example, because of their extreme economic dislocation, which freezes many of them out of the labor movement, are an essential layer of American society which the communist youth movement strives to reach directly. In other circumstances, too, young workers may be open to direct recruitment as youth by the communist youth movement; for example, where a bureaucratic union freezes out young workers from its ranks, in tightly closed industries, or during periods of mass unemployment which strike particularly hard at young workers, forcing them outside the organized framework of the labor movement.

Youth Radicalism—What Direction?

However, the main arena for "youth radicalism" in America continues to be the campuses. Students overwhelmingly reflect petty-bourgeois aspirations and ideas. Despite a certain interpenetration of working class and petty-bourgeois youth in junior and community colleges, the higher education system is primarily a training ground for the future technocrats and administrators of the capitalist state, cultural and scientific institutions, and corporate bureaucracies. As Trotsky pointed out in his analysis of the rise of fascism, the petty bourgeoisie is not an independent class and thus cannot pursue its own class politics but is forced to choose between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Students, as the most volatile section of the petty bourgeoisie, will play an active role in all "radical" movements, whether of the left or right. The Nazis were vastly stronger in the German universities in the ‘30s than either the communists or social democrats. Moslem students in Indonesia butchered thousands of communist workers and peasants. Today one sees certain implications for the "worldwide radicalization of the youth" in the rise of the right-wing, repulsive phenomena of the "Jesus freaks" and the Jewish Defense League.

As Trotsky pointed out, "...under conditions of capitalist disintegration and of the impasse in the economic situation, the petty bourgeoisie strives, seeks, attempts to tear itself loose from the fetters of the old masters and rulers of society. It is quite capable of linking up its fate with the proletariat. For that, only one thing is needed: the petty bourgeoisie must acquire faith in the ability of the proletariat to lead society onto a new road." (The Only Road for Germany, 1932). The petty bourgeoisie can break from its origins and ally its interests to those of the proletariat. But for this, decisive leadership must be taken by the working class and its highest organized expression in struggle, the revolutionary vanguard party.

The radical intelligentsia, primarily campus-based in America, can play an essential and valuable role in the building of the revolutionary party, once broken from its class origins. Gramsci wrote: "One of the most important characteristics of every class which develops toward power is its struggle to assimilate and conquer ideologically the traditional intellectuals." It is to this struggle that the RCY is dedicated. We seek to develop young radicals into lifetime communist militants, through socialist education and struggle, and to organize and link them, through the vanguard party, to the working class. The European Young Communist Leagues of the early ‘20s, while struggling to become mass organizations of working-class youth, made their primary contribution in the full and all-sided training of young communist cadres. We follow in this tradition.

Youth and the Revolutionary Party

The RCY stands in the tradition of the first four Congresses of the Communist International, which worked out the full Leninist conception of youth-party relations. The leadership of the working class, the only class with the social power to smash the capitalist state, is decisive. The organized framework of proletarian struggle is that of the revolutionary vanguard party. Any conception of a youth movement as independent of this struggle is a capitulation to petty-bourgeois illusions.

The struggles of all oppressed sections of society, and all opposition to imperialism, must be linked to this driving force of revolution if they are to be successful. To cut the revolutionary youth movement off from the party, which embodies the historical experience of the revolutionary proletarian movement, is to cripple it and doom it to flounder in a classless swamp. But each generation comes to socialism in its own way, as Lenin said, and must work out its own ideas. For this an arena must be provided for the freest and fullest discussion of all political questions. Political education also involves the experiences of decision and action, so the revolutionary youth must have the organized means to carry out its program in practice.

These considerations--the need for young communists to explore the burning questions of the socialist movement and acquire the experiences of decision and action, and the need to link this struggle to the highest form of revolutionary organization, the vanguard party--resulted in the concept of the relation of the revolutionary youth movement to the party as "organizationally independent and politically subordinate." The revolutionary party as the vanguard of the working class is also the leadership of the revolutionary movement as a whole. Since we as a communist youth organization are also a part of this revolutionary movement, we must necessarily place ourselves under its common discipline, in order to achieve the necessary unity in action.

The Spartacist League

At our first national conference over Labor Day, the RCY voted to become the youth section of the Spartacist League. The Spartacist League is the nucleus of the revolutionary party in this country. The politics of the Spartacist League uniquely embody the communist program for working-class revolution—Trotskyism, the modern development of Marxism-Leninism. We base ourselves on the traditions of the early Communist International and on the experience of the American Trotskyist movement. Our development into a revolutionary youth organization has been made easier by the experiences and working out in practice of the Leninist conceptions of youth-party relations in the founding of the YSA. The degeneration of the YSA, after the expulsion of its original leadership, into a reformist front-group of the SWP was the result of a long process of political disintegration on the part of the SWP. The SWP lost faith in its ability to lead the working class, and substituted tailing after Third Worldism, youth radicalism, etc. This inability to struggle against revisionism led the SWP to organizationally strangle the youth, being unable to lead it politically.


Youth-Party relations have international implications, since the overriding task of the revolutionary movement in all countries is to struggle for the rebuilding of the Fourth International of Trotsky. Youth organizations would function essentially as auxiliaries to the particular national sections of the world party, the Fourth International. A youth international would reflect on an international scale the same relationship the national youth organization has to its national section of the world party. This conception has nothing in common with the "Revolutionary Youth International" proposed by the Essen conference, which is to be unaffiliated to any party formation and whose politics are to be explicitly "non-Trotskyist" so as not to alienate "radical" petty-bourgeois youth.

Crisis of Leadership

"The world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat." (Transitional Program, 1938) The task of communists is to build and develop this leadership. The historical choice posed before humanity is indeed that of socialism or barbarism. The RCY as the youth section of the revolutionary nucleus, the Spartacist League, will devote itself to preparing the cadres for the day when we can help lead the battle for world socialism

Posted: 18 June 2005