December 18, 2018

95th Anniversary of the YCL-LJC celebrated by the World Federation of Democratic Youth

Special to RY

This article was published in the Bulletin of the Commission of Europe and North America of the World Federation of Democratic youth. The bulletin can be found here. In addition to this article on the 95th Anniversary of the YCL-LJC Canada, you can read articles about the 100th Anniversary of the November Revolution in Germany, the rise of repression against popular movements in Spain, a well-informed picture of the situation of the youth in Russia and many other topics related to the youth struggles written by anti-imperialist and communist youth organizations of Europe and North America. 

This year, as we celebrate the 95th anniversary of the Young Communist League, it is important to outline the relevance of this organization. The YCL-LJC is a unique organization that aims to convince the young generation of the urgent need to fight for a better world, a socialist world. Today, we can say that it is the first time since 1945 that youth face a more precarious future than their parents, and all this is to say why we need to organize youth as an entity of its own. Lenin said “frequently the middle aged and the aged do not know how to approach youth in the proper way. Youth must come to socialism in different ways by other paths, in other forms under other circumstances than their parents.”

In 1923, the YCL Canada was formed, under the name Young Workers League of Canada. In 1924, the war measures act had been lifted and the YWL officially changed its name to the young communist league of canada. By this point, the YCL already had 25 branches and 1000 members, most of them being young immigrant workers. One of the first tasks of the YCL was the publication of its own paper, which was first called the Young Workers.

The YCL also helped lead the young pioneers, which was the childres organization, and also had its own paper called young comrade, and its successor Always ready. DUring the late 20s, the major task of the YCL was to grow its organization. As such, in 1927, YCL secretary, Oscar Ryan undertook a six month tour, visiting 75 towns across the country, which was incredibly successful as there were 19 new YCl clubs, 5 pioneer clubs, 200 subscriptions for the young worker and 135 subscriptions for young comrade.

At this time, The YCL mainly focused on recruiting young industrial workers. For instance, In 1929, a number of YCL members in Montreal joined the building trades, and succeeded in forming a plumber apprentice union of 200 members. YCL members also assisted workers on strike, such as the striking coal miners of Drumheller Alberta.

Another important focus of YCL activity was anti war propaganda, particularly as the devastating impacts of the first world war was prevalent amongst Canadians. For instance in 1928, The YCL was active in a campaign that stood against the launching of two new battleships — and as a result of all this, the YCL continued to grow.

After the 1929 market crash and the beginnings of the great depression, the YCL tackled the task of organizing the unemployed and unorganized. They organized meetings of unemployed youth in Montreal, sometimes as many as 50 unemployed would join the YCL from one meeting alone. The YCL also worked on Workers Unity League campaigns to organize thousands of unorganized workers, and conducted the largest proportion of successful strikes during the Great Depression era.

The largest and most famous unemployed struggles was both the ‘On to Ottawa’ Trek and the BC Relief Camps workers strike. In Vancouver during the spring of 1935, there were many activities organized by Relief Camp workers and unemployed youth. During May Day that year, 35 000 people rallied at Stanley Park, Vancouver. Amongst these marchers 4000 high school students participated, who were mobilized by the YCL. So we can see how influential their role was in the young workers and youth movement.

The YCL was also active in the farming community, as they helped organize a contingent of young farmers in a 90 mile farmers hunger march to winnipeg in 1932, and as a result was growing in the rural areas. In northern Alberta alone, the YCL had 500 members in 1932, and during this period 18 YCL branches were formed in saskatchewan.

During this period, the YCL was also involved in the fight for the right to free speech, in which communists challenged the attacks of the police who sought to prevent open air meetings and street demonstrations, and all this related to the larger struggled for democracy and against the rise of fascism which highlighted the 1930s.

In 1931, the YCL actively supported the mass campaigns led by the Canadian Labour Defense League to free the eight imprisoned communist leaders and to remove the law that outlawed and banned the party from the criminal code. Over half a million people signed the CLDLs petitions, and hundreds of rallies, meetings and demonstrations were held to protest government repression.

On a general sense, The YCL still struggled with the the issue of being a so called “Junior Party”, meaning that it tended to be an organization of communists who were young, attempting to play the same role as the communist party, among youth, rather than a fully developed communist youth organization. By the sixth international of the Young Communist International, there was a new orientation for the communist youth movement, which was to transform the YCL into a mass organization, with the task of forging unity with progressive, socialist youth, and helping unite all youth against reaction and war— and for social progress. The YCL Canada did this through the formation of the Canadian Youth Congress led by the YCL General Secretary William Kashtan (who eventually became leader of the Communist Party).

The YCL was also setting up Labour youth colleges where 400 students were taking courses on marxism-leninism and other topics. During this time we were also mobilizing youth against fascism and war, using the tactic of the united front endorsed by Dimitrov and the International Communist Movement. For instance, many YCL members joined the Mackenzie-Papineau battalion to fight against fascism in Spain. Along with the 1600 Canadians who fought to defend the Republic in Spain, the YCL was also active on the grounds at home to collect money and organise the logistics to coordinate this massive enrollment campaign. These hard efforts made it possible for Canada, without any help from official authorities and despite opposition from some official authorities such as the nationalist Dupplessis government in Qu├ębec which had ties with Franco’s troops, to become the country that sent the largest amount of brigadistas after France.

The emphasis to transform the YCL into a mass organization extended to its press as well, so the young worker became the advance and later the new advance, which was able to circulate 20 000 papers and was a broad magazine which included input from other progressive youth as well.

By 1940, the government used the war measures act to declare the party, YCL and other progressive organizations illegal, and so the communist movement was driven underground. Despite many members forced into hiding or in internment camps, the YCL continued to function during this period. For instance, they published an illegal paper, the Beacon. By then, the YCL changed its name into the National Federation of Labour Youth and organised around defeating fascism and solidarity with the Soviet Union.

After the Second World War, the YCL Canada was one of the founding members of the World Federation of Democratic Youth, which we are still members of today. And through its involvement of this organization, the YCL has engaged in campaigns for peace and solidarity, aiming at showing the youth of canada that there is no such thing as the iron curtain, which would eventually lead to the YCLs strong commitment to the anti-imperialist struggle. And we can see this in their actions against the war in Vietnam, as they got involved all across the country.

There was a brief period in the 60s were the YCL was disorganized and an eventual collapse occurred. By the 70s the YCL was re-founded, and continued to focus on building the peace and solidarity movement. In the 1980s, the YCL was involved in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and in solidarity with Palestine. We were also involved with movements against the neoliberal agenda and free trade agreements.

In the late 80s the YCL focused on producing a newspaper, Rebel Youth, which gained a certain amount of success, and launched a campaign unifying Canada’s youth around the demand for a Charter of Youth Rights. In 1990, the YCL was liquidated a result of opportunist views that saw the liquidation of the Communist Youth as a path towards the liquidation of the Communist Party and the communist movement as a whole in Canada.

In 2007 the YCL-LJC was re-founded, and ten years after its re-foundation, the YCL-LJC’s activity has contributed to strengthen the communist movement in Canada. It also contributed to strengthening progressive movements such as the student movement, the feminist, anti-racist, peace and anti-imperialist movements. Since the re-founding of the YCL-LJC, our organisation has known a steady growth, showing that even in Canada, from the ‘belly of the beast’, there is a place for a communist youth organisation.

Although our strength is far from the one we could count on at a certain stage of our history, we know for a fact that the youth is an important factor for social change. No revolution nor social struggle can happen without the active support of the younger generation. This is why, in these difficult times where the danger of a 3rd World War is not a simple rhetorical threat, where the rise of ultra-right organisations and the trivialization of their speech are a reminiscence of the darkest times of the past century, we need, now more than ever, convince our generation that it is now time to organise, unite and fight for a new world, a world free of wars, exploitation and crisis, a socialist world.

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