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AUSTRALIAN
MARXIST
REVIEW

Journal of the Communist Party of Australia

ISSUE 68September 2018

Party building and the role of the youth

AMR Volume 6, Issue 3, April 1978

Editorial note: A recent poll by the Centre for Independent Studies showed that 58% of Millennials – those born between 1980 and 1996 – favour socialism. However, that same study showed that only 26 per cent of those polled knew who Vladimir Lenin was. Marxist-Leninists should be concerned by these results but should also view them as an opportunity. We should be concerned because these results represent a clear victory on behalf of capital’s “left” ideologues to dilute the revolutionary character of socialism, to deny its scientific nature. Nonetheless, we should still see these results as an opportunity because it is a clear indication that young people are not happy with the status quo, with capitalism, and that they are increasingly willing to turn to radical alternatives. This is understandable, given the reality of youth unemployment and underemployment, increasing workplace casualisation and a rising cost of living.

It is imperative that the Communist Party of Australia strengthen its work among youth and students.

As Pat Gorman correctly identifies in this article – painfully relevant even forty years on – the most effective way to do this is through the creation of a young socialist league; a league that would function as a “reliable helper and reserve of the Party” and not a “Communist Party of the youth”.

We must be careful not to get our hopes up and presume that the proliferation of young socialists will naturally lead to a proliferation of Party membership applications being filed. We must actively wage an ideological battle against this warped socialism, expose it for the liberal illusion that it is. However, this must be done in the most respectful, non-sectarian way possible. It must, and can only, be done under the guise of a young socialist league with a Leninist leadership. Only then can we become the masters of the united front of youth and turn the confused socialists of today into the revolutionaries of tomorrow.

A basic feature and responsibility of the on-going work of a Marxist Leninist Party is its ability to continually replenish and develop its revolutionary cadre force.

On this question Karl Marx in 1867 wrote: “The most advanced workers fully realise that the future of their class and consequently of all mankind wholly depends on the education of the rising generation of workers.” [1]

Lenin recognised this when in 1905 he wrote: “All we have to do is to recruit young people more widely and boldly, more boldly and widely again more widely and again more boldly, without fearing them ... .The Youth, the students and still more so the young workers will decide the issue of the whole struggle.” [2]

These two quotes from Marx and Lenin clearly illustrate the importance that the founders of scientific socialism placed on the winning of youth to the vanguard of revolution. However it should be clearly understood that they in no way attempted to represent youth as the most advanced or leading force in social revolution, as revisionist and bourgeois ideologists endeavour to do.

While recognising the tremendous importance of winning youth to the struggle for socialism we must see them as a component of the overall struggle based, not on the generation syndrome perpetrated by revisionist and bourgeois ideologists, but on the Marxist-Leninist principle of the leading role of the working class.

Historically, the international communist movement has always placed particular importance on the development and extension of its work amongst the youth, particularly young workers.

Recent years have seen even more attention being paid by our fraternal communist parties to the struggles of young people particularly after the massive youth struggles of the late 1960s.

The increased social and political activity of youth against a background of the deepening of the general crisis of capitalism reflected itself in more revolutionary demands.

However, because of the spontaneous nature of this struggle and given the diverse class composition of youth, particularly the strong petty-bourgeois influence in the student movement, the Communist parties found that they did not command any great influence in the youth struggles.

This was and remains today, an important objective problem for without the leadership of the vanguard party the essential class nature of youth’s struggles continues to be submerged beneath the superficial social character of their struggles.

Recognising the immediate need to win these new forces, who were objectively fighting against the many manifestations of the contradictions inherent within the capitalist system, Communist parties throughout the world began to re-analyse their approach to youth.

An international seminar on work amongst youth was held in Moscow in 1972. It was found that of the 75 fraternal communist and workers parties in the non-socialist world who attended, 71 had produced programmes on activities amongst youth.

Of these 71, 45 parties had developed special documents on various aspects of work amongst youth.

The Socialist Party of Australia, however, is one Marxist-Leninist party that does not have policy of work amongst youth. The coming 3rd Congress of the Party provides the opportunity for this to be rectified by the adoption at Congress of a comprehensive policy of work amongst youth Australians, as an important and integral part of our overall party programme.

As the general crisis of capitalism continues to deepen more and more young people are coming to realise that this society cannot satisfy or fulfil their ambitions and aspirations. Australia now has the second highest rate of youth unemployment in the western world. For over 200,000 young unemployed it is apparent that this system denies them the most fundamental of all human rights – the right to work, is a system without a future yet the future belongs to youth.

Today the younger generation lives in an epoch of fundamental social change, an epoch of transition from capitalism to socialism on a world wide scale. The balance of forces in society has changed in favour of peace, democracy and socialism. Imperialism is forced to adapt to the new international situation.

The historic confrontation of the two systems, capitalism and socialism is taking place in conditions of the scientific and technological revolution, mounting political consciousness of the masses and an atmosphere of acute ideological struggle.

As the contrast of life in the socialist world to the capitalist world becomes more apparent the forces of imperialism resort to every method to divert the people away from class struggle.

Imperialism has concentrated its main ideological attack on the youth in an effort to divert their attention from the inability of this system to offer them any future. With more than 50% of the world’s population under 25 years of age this battle for the minds of youth takes on additional significance.

Imperialism promotes all types of fads and crazes amongst youth, but it cannot obliterate the objective reality of the antagonistic contradictions in the capitalist system it creates.

The material base to bridge the gap between present consciousness and objective reality of the struggles of youth exists today.

However, the very important subjective factor of the role of the Marxist-Leninist party to effectively and concretely guide and lead the youth needs to be made a majorly and urgent priority in Australia.

The problem we face in extending our influence amongst young people with a view to building our Party is not without parallel.

At the 17th Convention of the Communist Party of the USA, the average age of party members was the oldest of any party in the international communist movement. However, recognising the importance of winning new young forces to the party, that Convention instructed its members to give priority to developing work amongst the youth.[3]

At the18th Convention Gus Hall happily reported that 25 percent of the party membership was under 23 years of age. Shortly afterwards, with the assistance of the CPUSA, the Young Workers’ Liberation League (YWLL) was established. The YWLL late last year held its fourth Convention and nearly 800 young people from all over the USA participated. The CPUSA continues to extend its influence amongst the young and recognises this as an essential component in developing the revolutionary movement.[4]

Communist parties throughout the world are finding that their increased support is coming mainly from the youth. In Italy the proportion of communists in parliament is higher than in the Senate.

Explaining the reason for this the Communist Party of Italy pointed out that the voting age for the Senate is 25 while for Parliament it is 18.

It is worth noting that the Australian voting trends in the last Federal election showed that the section of voters in the 18 to 25 group strongly favoured Labor.[5]

Indeed recognising the importance of winning the youth to its ranks, the Queensland State Executive of the Alp last January decided to launch a recruiting campaign aimed mainly at young people. As part of this move it was decided to revitalise the Queensland Yong Labor Organisation. Commenting on this decision the Queensland secretary of the ALP, Gerry Jones said: “New blood into the party means new ideas and thoughts and gives us a broader base.” [6]

How best to win more Australian youth into the Socialist Party of Australia? I would like to put forward two considerations:

Firstly, the more politically developed and conscientious youth can and should be attracted directly to the Party. But before this can be done they must have an understanding of our party’s attitude towards their struggles. This can only be so if we have a party programme which explains our position on the vital and important issues facing the youth of Australia today.

In this, the year of our 3rd Congress, the party has a tremendous opportunity to develop concretely its own work amongst youth, through wide party discussion on the most effective way to consolidate our influence amongst the struggling youth of Australia. To be effective, this work should culminate in the adoption by the 3rd Congress of a concrete and comprehensive program of work amongst youth.

Secondly, young people can also and must be won to the party through the Young Socialist League of Australia. Emphasising the importance of winning youth to the Party and the role of the YSL the Party Program adopted at the 2nd Congress states:

“The Socialist Party fully supports young people in their many struggles, and has a most important responsibility to propagate the ideas of scientific socialism, counteracting both the outright ideology of the ruling class and the false theories which parade under a revolutionary cloak.

The Socialist Party is fully aware of the importance of young people in a political organisation and aims to win wide support amongst young people, to enrol many of them into the Party and to encourage their active participation in the work of the Party and its leadership.

The Socialist Party highly esteems and assists the Young Socialist League of Australia. While the SPA and the YSL are organisationaly independent of each other, they have fraternal ties based on the ideology of Marxism-Leninism.

The YSL has a special task of working among young people for their needs and interests and winning them to Marxism-Leninism.

The SPA regards the YSL as a reliable helper and reserve of the Party”. [7]

But whereas the YSL serves as a reserve for the Party it should not substitute for the Party and objectively play the role of a young communist party. Unfortunately in the absence of a developed party youth policy there remains complete reliance on the YSL programme to implement party policy amongst the youth.

To best serve as an effective reserve for the party the League needs to be a mass youth organisation capable of attracting all progressive and democratic youth. It must at all times avoid being sectarian.

In 1935 Georgi Dimitrov warned of the dangers of sectarianism to the youth leagues. He said:

Our Young Communist Leagues, in a numer of capitalist countries, are still mainly sectarian organisations divorced from the masses. Their fundamental weakness is that they still try to copy the Communist Parties, to copy their forms and methods of work, forgetting the YCL is not a Communist Party of the youth (Dimitrov’s emphasis). They do not take sufficient account of the fact that it is an organisation with its own special tasks. Its methods and forms of work, education and struggle, must be adapted to the actual level and needs of the youth.[8]

Comrade Dimitrov’s words are as true today as they were in 1935. The YSL, in my opnion, still has two main obstacles to overcome before it can become an effective vanguard of progressive youth in Australia and serve as a reliable reserve for the party.

We must overcome our sectarianisms and tendency to function like a CP of youth. We must learn to master the united front method of mobilising and leading young people.

The YSL if it is to play a mass role must, as Comrade Dimitrov emphasised, be attuned in its methods and forms of work, education and struggle to the actual level and needs of youth.

The YSL must actively recruit youth who are in most instances unfamiliar with the principles of Marxism-Leninism and are just coming to the struggle itself.

Gus Hall emphasised this point in his address to the 4th Congress of YWLL. He said: “Are you less Marxist-Leninist because you permit and try to recruit young people ot join the YWLL who are not Marxist-Leninist? Of course not! Mass work does not dilute one’s Marxism-Leninism. It enriches it. For those of you who are communists and Marxist-Leninists the test of your Marxism-Leninism is to be able to lead an organisation in which most likely the majority are not Marxist-Leninists.” [9]

The work of the YSL amongst youth needs to reflect its revolutionary character and spirit. The League is studying more novel and militant styles of work designed to catch the imagination and attract the attention of the youth. The recent National Council meeting of the YSL analysed our present activities and concretely determined our perspectives for the future development of the League.

However, there remains an urgent need not only for the YSL in its own right to analyse its work amongst youth, but also for the party to have a full and comprehensive analysis of its direct work amongst young Australians.

International experience has shown that the forces of Marxism-Leninism can attract masses of energetic and enthusiastic young people to its ranks. I believe our party can also. But before we do, much discussion needs to be entered into to ensure that we do it in the best and most effective way – the way which will help build our party now and strengthen it in the future.

To work amongst youth is to work for the future. The present generation of youth is the base of the party of the future. Without full attention of its needs and development, therefore, the party jeopardizes its very existence.


[1]World Marxist Review, Vol16 (6),1973, p. 26.

[2]Collected Works, Lenin. VoI8, 1962. p. 146.

[3]American Youth Today, Brychkov. 1973, p. 202.

[4]Political Affairs, Journal of Marxist Thought. Ristorucci. 1977. Vol. 56 (12) pp. 12-15.

[5]National Times, 23 to 28 January, 1978.

[6] Australian, 23 January, 1978

[7]Socialist Program of the Socialist Party of Australia, as adopted by the SPA Second Congress, Sydney June 13-16, 1975. pp. 37-38.

[8]The United Front, The struggle against Fascism and War. (1938) Dimitrov. p.65.

[9]Political Affairs, Journal of Marxist Thought. Hall. 1977, Vol 56 (12) p. 11.

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