A new organization for a new generation



The following is a speech from Gus Hall to the National Council of the Young Workers Liberation League on July 31, 1982, which was then updated and published in the January 1983 edition of Political Affairs as a contribution to the founding convention of the new Communist youth organization in May 1983.


It is a special honor and great pleasure to be here with you today. I bring the greetings of the Communist Party with congratulations on your splendid and timely decision to found a new Communist youth organization.


In its twelve years, the Young Workers Liberation League (YWLL) has made many contributions. It has been an important political force on the U.S. scene. It has helped to ignite and mold the movements, struggles and thought patterns of our young people.


During its lifespan, the YWLL reflected the conditions of youth and their movements for a better life, for change. But now there are new generations growing up who are being molded by new, very different objective surroundings. And they are reacting in their own unique way to the new conditions, new problems and challenges. Their list of priorities and values are not the same as past generations’.


In a constantly changing world each generation faces new problems. But the present-day young generation is confronted with a completely new ballgame and qualitatively different problems. This is so because the society that gives rise to the problems is qualitatively different. Most of the past generations’ problems were related to an expanding economy. The present generation is growing up in a period of economic decline and contraction, of generational unemployment, mass hunger, mass unemployment and depression. For the youth today there is not even a flicker of light at the end of the dark economic tunnel.


Who are today’s youth?


Especially in light of your initiative, I would like to talk about the kind of leadership that is needed in this new era to help mold and move the struggles and movements of youth.


In order to lead you must learn the unique fea. tures of the people with whom you want to work and to whom you want to give leadership. That is no simple task. Many ingredients go into developing the unique features of classes, peoples and generations. But to lead, one must study and get to know these ingredients.


There are some unique features that reflect the objective conditions every generation grows up under. In order to lead you must get to know how this generation thinks, feels and reacts to their conditions. You must get to know, intimately and precisely, their attitudes, thought patterns and moods. You must understand how they approach and deal with life, how they see the past and how they react to the new developments—how they see their futures.


It is no easy challenge to grasp the essence of thought patterns and attitudes of youth today because they are only now surfacing. Many are still hidden beneath the surface. You must begin to foresee the trends and recognize the signs before they explode into actions. This is necessary if you are going to master the art of leadership.


For instance, we talk about a youth front. You can help initiate, organize, shape and lead such a front only if you know who we are talking about bringing into the front. What are the unique features of the different components of the youth front?


The past generations


Let us look for a moment at who we are talking about. Today’s generations are vastly different not only from those of forty or fifty years ago, but they are also different from those of ten to fifteen years ago.


For example, past generations were molded by qualitatively different kinds of conditions, differ ent kinds of mass struggles and movements.


The developments that molded the youth of 50 years ago were the struggles of the unemployed, the organization of mass production industries, strikes and movements against fascism, against imperialist wars.


A later generation grew up in the midst of the anti-Communist, McCarthy-Smith Act hysteria.


The very positive features of the mass upsurge influencing the youth of ten to fifteen years ago were the majority movements against the U.S. war of aggression in Vietnam, Laos and Kampuchea. They were molded by and related to the movements of millions of Afro-Americans in the great struggles to break the grip of racism and discrimination. They were also molded by wage increases and increased fringe benefits and an increasing standard of living overall.


I need only mention words like “hippies,” “yippies,” “participatory democracy,” “counterculture” and the “Weathermen” to indicate the influences of the day. These features reflected some unique internal weaknesses within the trends of those generations. They were non working class influences. They were injected by some anti-working class, petty bourgeois elements.


These sectors of the upsurge talked about “alternatives” and the “establishment.” But they had no real understanding of what the alternative should or could be, nor a clear idea of what or who “the establishment” was.


Therefore, they tended to be unstable, inconsistent and indecisive. They went from one idea to another–kind of a mish-mash of movements and actions. For that sector of the upsurge the economic issue did not play the decisive and stabilizing role. It did not give them a class-struggle orientation. This in itself gave that generation and their movements different characteristics. Many of the organizations floundered and ended up in dead ends.


Looking back, the YWLL


In its earlier years, the YWLL was in a sense a reflection of those same problems. But because of its working-class and Marxist-Leninist base and orientation it moved in a positive direction.


In spite of this the League’s founding convention was one in which a number of differing political currents clashed. The underlying contention was over how to relate to the working class. In a sense it was a reflection of those generations. It was the only convention led by Communists in which I was actually booed.


It is obvious that the present generations are in many ways quite different. They have different characteristics. They are being molded and motivated by a different objective reality. They are ideologically different. I would say these differences are mainly based on the new economic reality, the economic issues which have emerged as the sharpest of all.


Today’s generations, more than any others, face the most serious of all questions—life threatening issues like having enough food to sustain life. Because of this they are in one way or another more directly influenced by class struggle questions. Its problems are related more closely to the class struggle. That is a very fundamental difference in the thought patterns between generations. Hence, if we are going to work closely with this generation and play a leadership role, we first have to understand this basic fact.


What’s shaping today’s youth


If anyone is waiting nostalgically for the days of 50, or even 15 years ago, they will wait in vain. Today’s mass upsurge is qualitatively different because its causes and features are different.


Everything I am now saying argues for the change to a new Communist youth organization, because in our work we must now reflect today’s generations, not the generations of yesteryear.


For instance, there is a process of accelerating radicalization taking place. This process takes place in stages. It reflects the flareups, the struggles and experiences of each stage. In essence, in each generation the process of radicalization is always unique.


It is very important that we understand the difference between what motivates and activates the process of radicalization now as compared to past periods. Because today’s youth are now molded by different objective circumstances we must have a clear picture of what these specific circumstances are. There is a panorama of factors shaping the thinking of today’s youth.


The clear and present danger of life coming to a horrible nuclear end casts an ominous pall over our young people. This pall leaves its terrifying imprint and influence on how the young view the present and especially the future.


There is the continuous deadly flow and penetration of racism from which generations of our youth can not escape. They are being poisoned by


As I said earlier, the most important factor molding the new generations are the economic issues. The economic issues have become the most decisive issues in shaping the present generations.


Therefore, I think it is important to reflect on how both the short-term and long-term economic developments are impacting on the thought patterns, the mood and forms of struggle of the youth. We really can’t take our leading position in the line of march without giving due consideration to the effects those longer-range developments are having on the young generations.


The decline and contraction of capitalism


We have to understand that U.S. capitalism has passed its peak-has crossed its Rubicon. It will never return to periods of new peaks of development. Capitalism in the U.S. is on the declining side of its history. It is in a phase where the boundaries of world capitalism will continue to con- tract. This especially affects the United States, the center of world capitalism. It is a period of decline and contraction, and Reaganomics and the Reagan policies—worldwide-add to the deterioration process.


I want to point out here that even at the point where we elect a government that will move in the opposite direction from Reaganomics into a Keynesian-type pump-priming economics, it will have an effect, but it will not fundamentally change the decaying process and direction of U.S. capitalism. Returning to Keynesian economics will have some effect on jobs and other areas of life. But basically, the process of decay, decline and contraction will continue unabated.


The future: economic downhill


In other words, the present and future generations will be generations of economic decline-a moving down in the quality of life. The question of jobs for those who have never worked in industry who have no seniority, will become a chronic problem. In that sense it is a generation of economic downhill. You don’t have to think long to see that during the expansion era of capitalism the youth of the USA faced very different problems, a totally different reality. Therefore, their thought patterns, their mood, perspectives, their responses were quite different. There were, of course, problems. But there was always hope. Now hope is turning cruelly and brutally into hopelessness and pessimism.


Recently, on TV I heard a new and appropriate label for today: “We’re in the throes of a massive economic gridlock.” It fits because today there are so many interlocking negative processes that you move one and it negatively affects everything. Therefore, we can say our youth are the “gridlock-era generation.”


It won’t do to try to deal with attitudes and thinking in a slip-shod way. We have to understand, be sensitive to and deal with the new questions, or we will not be able to lead. We have to respond to the specific, unique features of the present generation. Actually, there is a similar problem with all movements, including working class movements. It is an absolute necessity to know the unique features of the class at every given moment in order to give leadership.


New communist youth corresponds to new era


It is most important to fully understand that your decision to organize a new organization of Communist youth is a response to their objective environment, a response to the unique problems characteristic of the present generation of youth. The new Communist youth organization is a response to the specific temper, traits and makeup of the process of youth radicalization, including the idiosyncrasies of today’s youth.


The objective developments not only determine the need for a new organization of Communist youth, but they must be also taken into account when determining how the new organization will function, its lifestyle and the nature of its leading cadre.


Will there be problems? Of course. No matter how well you plan and work there will be problems. But you have to weigh what the positives are compared to the negatives. I think the positives, the advantages and benefits of the new Com munist youth organization far outweigh the inevitable problems.


Concept of the new communist youth organization


The formation of the new Communist youth organization will be a big step forward. I strongly urge that you do not think of the new organization as being more narrow, more restricted. This would be a reflection of a wrong estimate of the thought patterns and attitudes of this generation. It would be an underestimation of where young people are.


Any concepts that the new organization will narrow down the work is a fundamentally wrong estimate of the times, of where people in general are at-especially the youth.


Will organizing a Communist youth organization bring more problems than the YWLL had? I don’t think so.


Will there be more problems relating to redbait ing? I don’t think so.


As a matter of fact, I think the new organization will have it easier handling these problems.


In relation to this let me draw on my talk-show experiences. Many times people call and say, “I don’t agree with you on many things, but I admire you. You put it all on the table. You believe what you say and I respect you for that.”


And, besides, the fact is that redbaiting doesn’t have the same edge now it once had. On talk shows, when people use the same epithets and lingo that reactionary propagandists do, the words don’t have the same meaning. They sometimes use the stereotyped slanders, but they really want to know what we think. There is a very important change in how people view words like “Communist” and “socialism.”


All doors are open


The fact is that you must be determined not to let anyone push you into sectarian corners. There will be efforts to do just that. You must not permit any self-redbaiting or narrowness. You must not permit the new organization to accept any closed doors. All doors must be opened wide.


We must not accept or adopt the concept that because we are Communists that therefore, automatically, there are closed doors. Today, the doors are open and we must not hesitate to walk through them.


For instance, the open door to advocate socialism. The reactionary forces try to put us into a box where we feel we haven’t the right to talk about socialism because it is a foreign idea and we are foreign agents. When that comes up on my radio and TV programs I reject it by responding: “I have as much right to advocate socialism as any one else has to advocate capitalism. The historic truth is that capitalism is not a domestic idea. It is a foreign import. It was brought here from England, Germany and other countries. So within the his toric framework if you are advocating capitalism you are really advocating an idea that was brought here by immigrants from foreign shores.”


Who will the new organization attract?


Now, what kind of youth will the new organization attract? This is an important question. Obviously, the angry and the rebellious. All the young people who are looking for a way out, a way to fight back. Those who have an adventurous spirit.


Who are you going to sign up as members? Basically, non-Communists, non-Marxists. You are going to sign up youth who are to one extent or another even influenced by the big lie of anti Sovietism. Youth who are still under the influence of racism. Also, some young people who have anti-working class and male supremacist ideas.


If you are going to look for youth who do not have these ideological weaknesses, well then, I don’t think you will sign up large numbers. You will not be a mass youth organization.


And if you adopt an approach like the old Pennsylvania Dutch, that “everybody is crazy but thee and me. And sometimes I have questions about thee,” you will sign up very few.


You are not going to find young people who are ideologically pure or politically mature. If that were the case we would not be thinking about new members’ classes. The purpose of new members’ classes is to mold Communists, to mold Marxist-Leninists, to start the process of burning racist, male supremacist, anti-Soviet and anti-working class influences out of their consciousness.


Creating and organizing educational programs and materials is difficult for a youth organization. For youth you must master the art of education that is popular.


With an eye on youthfulness


Because you are organizing a Communist youth organization there will be temptations to model yourselves after the Communist Party in organization and style.


Clubs, units, branches or whatever you decide to call them must not function like clubs of the Communist Party. The organization and functioning of clubs will not work for young people. In fact, the Communist Party is now working to make some changes because some of our clubs don’t even fit older folks.


Many of you already know about the bigger-than-ever Party building process we have undertaken. We’re building a new, mass party, in a totally new way. I wish I had time to go into some of the wonderful and rich experiences. But one of the big things that came out of the experiences so far is that comrades around the country are raising the question of Party lifestyle. In too many areas workers consider Communists odd-balls. They feel Communists don’t act and live like ordinary people. I think there’s some truth in this. People who are always at meetings, or who always talk as if they are at meetings, and who can’t talk about anything but politics, will appear as oddballs to workers in a plant. But for a youth organization this kind of image can be the “kiss of death.” You must have sports events, picnics, dances and other social activities.


The communist essence


What should the political and ideological content, the Communist essence, of the young communist organization be?


The content must be advanced politically and ideologically, but it must also be action-oriented. A Communist youth organization must always be a beehive of activity. Its work must be based on and rooted in the concept of united front—the struggle for youth unity. That goal must remain top priority


A Communist youth organization must be anti imperialist. It must be antiracist. It must be antimonopoly.


But that’s not enough. All the work must move in the direction of developing class consciousness among young people. This is not a spontaneous process. You can be involved in sharp struggle for weeks and months. But the participants will not necessarily develop class consciousness. That’s an ideological and political concept that must be inte. grated into everything you do, into all actions and everyday activities. And socialist consciousness, too (talking about and advocating socialism), must be integrated into all our work.


In the Party we are emphasizing that the very best mass work in the world will not, by itself, build the Party. The Party’s growing prestige, influence and world status will not, by itself, build the Party. And, you can have all the friends in the world, but that will not build the Party. You can be the most popular person on the job, but that will not build the Party.


All these elements, as important as they are, won’t result in building the Party, unless you blend in another ingredient. It’s like making steel. If you don’t put in the alloys you are not going to produce good steel. Same for the Party. And I believe the same applies to the new Communist youth. What’s going to bring people into the League—what will attract them and consolidate them-is that very special ingredient that you must integrate into all your work with young people.


Class struggle and working class


In other words, young folks have to feel they are being molded, shaped into young Communists. The new organization must have this perspective. It will have some special, unique sources and strength it can draw upon.


First of all, the science of Marxism-Leninism, the world revolutionary process and the working class.


You must also learn the most beneficial ways to draw upon the strength and experience of the working class and the trade union movement.


That will be one of your main tasks and challenges—how the new youth organization will relate to the class struggle and working class. How will you learn from workers? In this sense, you’ll find it easier than the ’70s generation. And, more specifically, how to learn from the more class conscious workers. How to develop the slow, stubborn, burning hatred of the system of exploitation the workers carry with them every day. How to adopt and develop the lifestyle and approach to life of working people.


The future


Your initiative to found a Communist youth organization demonstrates you have grasped an important element of Marxism-Leninism. You had your fingers on the pulse of our young people. You studied their everyday reality. You drew the right conclusions. This is the time for a Communist youth organization.


You are going to give birth to a truly revolutionary force. Your commitment will be measured by the quality of your Marxism-Leninism applied to the new youth organization. Your mettle will be tested in the new struggles of our day.


You will be ready for the revolutionary events of tomorrow if you are an active force, as Communist youth, in the struggles of today. You must give direction, guidance, class and socialist content to all movements and struggles. You must mold and shape a generation of Communist youth.


You will bring into the youth movement a revolutionary Communist spirit. You must be the frontline “activators, the energizers, the crystallizers, the very best organizers” within the youth movement.


In today’s reality, a Communist youth organization can and must be a mass organization. Don’t be selfish-don’t keep it to yourselves. Share it with the millions who are out there searching, probing and waiting for a militant, mature, exciting, confident and enthusiastic Communist youth organization.


You will become part of the revolutionary process. You will become the link between the U.S. youth and the world’s youth. You will be the young advocates of the socialist future.


Now, finally, a few words about the founding convention. As I said, I’m not for change in name only. I’m for a truly new organization. I’m sure your founding convention will demonstrate the new quality. I think the first weekend in May for the founding convention is a good time. What could be a better season than spring time and a better weekend than May Day?


I would suggest that it be a combination founding convention and coming-out party, a youth festival, a festive week of celebration all over the country. I mean in the fullest sense of “festival.” Big, spectacular, exciting, lively and colorful.


In other words, this founding convention/festival should become an event that will live in everyone’s memory as one of the great events of his or her lifetime.


Your May Day weekend founding convention will signal the establishment of the youth shock troops for the upsurge—the mounting fightback movements. Especially during today’s explosive moments our country needs such youth. Our young people today provide the boldness, the freshness, the militancy and enthusiasm-the revolutionary spirit.


But like all sectors, they need leadership—revolutionary leadership, Communist leadership—with advanced ideas, tactics and a working-class science to guide them.


You are about to establish that advanced leadership. Your new Communist youth organization will bring together working-class men and women, Black, white, Chicano, Puerto Rican and all oppressed peoples, into one, mighty, unified force.


Best wishes for a successful organizing drive and a festive, exciting founding convention.