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



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


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



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