Nature of the YCL

Nature of the YCL


This piece is a contribution to the Pre-Convention Discussion for our 32nd National Convention. During Pre-Convention Discussion, all aspects of the party’s program, strategy, and tactics are up for consideration and debate. The ideas presented here are those of the author or authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Communist Party USA, its membership, or their elected leadership bodies. — Editors

The Young Communist League (YCL) is a mass work organization a hundred years in the making. Originating as the Young People’s Communist League, a group of young comrades in the United Communist Party (UCP), a precursor to the CPUSA, delivered a report on the state of the youth movement at the second UCP convention. They reported, “the lot of the young people is an especially hard one on account of their defenseless position during the critical years of physical and mental development,” thus formally announcing the creation of a youth wing of communist organizing, named the Young Communist League (YCL).

Throughout the 21st century, the YCL has evolved and grown in its capacity.  As a mass organization, recruiting from a broad base, there is no requirement to join the Communist Party USA (Party) in order to participate in the YCL. However, through the Party, YCLers are exposed to a variety of opportunities to engage with working class coalitions and advance community goals while developing their understanding of Marxism-Leninism. This low barrier to entry is critical to the success of the YCL, making the organization more approachable to young individuals who may have critiques of capitalism, but have not fully developed an interest in joining the party. Through providing a space to learn the principles of Marxism and apply them to the community organization and advocacy that YCL participates in, these individuals are primed to join the party as educated, productive members.

The work of the YCL as a mass outreach organization is particularly important now, both due to the proliferance of socialist and leftist organizations across the country and the rise of the post-left among young Americans. In many cities, CPUSA is not the only organization present. Groups like the Party for Socialism and Liberation, The Socialist Alternative, or Socialist Revolution, which often organize protests but fail to turn street action into increased political power for working people, continue to draw the interest of left leaning individuals. Those who may not be familiar with Party politics or the larger landscape and history of communist organizing may quickly become burnt out from an unsustainable approach towards action that is disconnected from a working class perspective.

The YCL provides an essential means through which the goals of the Communist Party can be communicated, developed, and executed on a local level in a way that is self-sustainable, combating the propensity to burnout and nihilism that permeates many leftist spaces. This sense of defeatism is in part contributed to by well-intentioned participation in socialist organizing groups that have made no significant progress towards empowering the proletariat– this is what has led to the rise of the post-left. The post-left movement presents a significant challenge to the Communist Party in the modern day, characterized through the rise of regressive politics among youth, often hidden under a veneer of irony. To combat this rising sense of nihilism, it is more important than ever to demonstrate the success of the youth movement in advancing Marxism-Leninism and working class power nationwide.

The question remains: What is the role of the YCL in organizing for a socialist future? Often, the YCL has been discussed by the CPUSA as responsible for organizing primarily based on college campuses. However, we believe relegating the YCL to college campuses significantly obstructs the ability of the YCL to pursue mass organization. The makeup of college campuses has changed dramatically in the past forty years, with the average price of tuition rising 180%. Higher education is no longer attainable for many members of the working class. Relegating YCL to campus-centric activities would direct their outreach and activation to locations that exclude many young working class individuals, not to mention remote or commuting students (who make up 85% of all college students), for whom a campus may not be a relevant site of organization. The YCL should strive to meet the community where it is, where young working class people spend their time and energy, and not limit itself to organizing primarily among college students, who often do not represent the true socioeconomic diversity of their locations.

In order for the YCL to contribute to the goal of mass organization, we must expand our thinking on the role of young communists, in CPUSA and in their communities. Young communists have key advantages in conducting outreach to their peers, through a shared identity that contributes to youth understanding of dialectical and historical materialism. Those entering the workforce now are those who came of age in an era marked by 9/11 and the subsequent rise of the surveillance state, the 2008 recession, widespread civil uprisings, the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, the needs of this generation of young workers are unique to their positionality in history, as was true for each generation that came before. Across the country, the YCL has led critical efforts to organize youth against some of the most pressing threats to equity, finding success through engaging the broader community of working class people. The YCL of Philadelphia was a key organizer, alongside ACT UP Philadelphia and other community coalitions, in the days-long demonstrations against Moms for Liberty, bringing hundreds of Philadelphians together to condemn their convention. The Philadelphia YCL has also engaged in critical work for local electoral campaigns and union advocacy.  The YCL provides a space for young people to gather, on the basis of shared culture, understanding, and struggle, and it is essential that the YCL nationally utilizes its full potential in activating the working class youth.

A hundred years since its conception, we must once again assess the role of the Young Communist League in the fight for the working class. This is a question that must be shared between the CPUSA and the YCL. But as the parent organization, CPUSA has a responsibility to undertake and thoroughly develop the youth question. The YCL will make up a significant portion of the Party’s future membership. Its radical potential lies in the ability to act as a pipeline, through which politically activated youth participants can develop their understanding of Marxism-Leninism and become future agents of change within the party. To invest in the future of the movement, it is critical to invest in the development of the YCL.


Related Articles

For democracy. For equality. For socialism. For a sustainable future and a world that puts people before profits. Join the Communist Party USA today.

Join Now

We are a political party of the working class, for the working class, with no corporate sponsors or billionaire backers. Join the generations of workers whose generosity and solidarity sustains the fight for justice.

Donate Now

CPUSA Mailbag

If you have any questions related to CPUSA, you can ask our experts
  • QHow does the CPUSA feel about the current American foreign...
  • AThanks for a great question, Conlan.  CPUSA stands for peace and international solidarity, and has a long history of involvement...
Read More
Ask a question
See all Answer