Young Communist League (UK)
The Young Communist League (YCL), established in 1921 and disbanded in 1988, was the name of the youth wing of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), itself disbanded in 1988.
An organization reprising the name Young Communist League (YCL) was established in 1991. It serves as the current youth wing of the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), an organisation that sees itself as the organizational successor to the Communist Party of Great Britain.
Youth section of the Communist Party of Great Britain (1921-1988)
In August 1921 two of Great Britain's leading radical youth organisations, the Young Workers' League and the International Communist Schools Movement, gathered at a special conference held at Birmingham. The assembled delegates to this Unity Conference passed a proposal calling for the two standing groups to merge under a new name, that of the Young Communist League. This proposal was taken to the rank-and-file of each group and the proposed unified constitution and organisational rules ratified in a referendum of branches held in October.
The YCL was the youth wing of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), which exercised oversight over the group. The YCL modeled itself upon the adult party and, in the estimation of historian Thomas Linehan, "functioned as a younger version of it." While formally independent, the group was always closely linked to the CPGB and its activities and fortunes broadly followed those of its parent organisation. As with the adult party, the YCL saw itself as part of a unified world movement and took its ultimate direction from the Young Communist International (CYI), with headquarters in Moscow.
The YCL was seen as a recruiting school for activists in the adult party, and the organisation's structure, internal relationships, and tactical activities closely paralleled and followed those of the CPGB. This was in turn a reflection of the structure and practise of the Russian Communist Party (later known as the Communist Party of the Soviet Union). Similarly the Young Communist International which formally stood at the head of the YCL's decision-making process was closely modeled upon the adult Communist International, which was shaped by Russian Communist Party practise.
The fledgling YCL published its own official monthly periodical, known as The Young Communist.
Decades of the 1960s and 1970s
A recruitment drive started in 1966 around the slogan "The Trend - Communism" associated the group with wider cultural trends in society. Pete Townshend of The Who was a prominent but short-lived member and the "The Trend" campaign emphasised the power of music in social change. Throughout this period YCL membership grew to over 6,000 members and a generation of young members - led by Barney Davis (national secretary), George Bridges (London secretary) and others challenged the political approach of the parent party. The YCL took a lead in condemning what it defined as the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia (the Party called it at the time an intervention) but the position was only adopted by a 60:40 vote. Some members who favoured a pro-Soviet line, including John Chamberlain (Jack Conrad), left the YCL to join the New Communist Party of Britain in 1977. Chamberlain was to become head of the NCP's youth section but was shortly later to attempt to rejoin the CPGB.
According to some historians[who?] of the CPGB's history, the YCL was fundamental in reshaping the parent party's attitudes (and thus had influence on the wider left). In particular, from 1975, the YCL emphasised the importance of cultural politics as distinct from class politics. YCL leaders linked with Communist students such as party organiser Dave Cook - and feminists such as Beatrix Campbell, Sarah Benton and intellectuals Martin Jacques and later played important roles in the parent party: all of them opposing the then dominant strain of trade union, working class-orientated politics in the party.
Final years (1979-1988)
1968 proved the start of a long decline in membership, characterised by competition between different tendencies. The leadership tended to be eurocommunist, but opposition was stronger than in the CPGB. In 1979, its congress adopted a new programme, Our Future, which did not commit the group to Marxism and removed the policy of democratic centralism. The new programme exacerbated divisions in the group, and in 1983, with membership down to 510, democratic centralism was re-imposed. By 1987, the league had only fifty members.
Youth section of the Communist Party of Britain (1991-date)
After the founding of the Communist Party of Britain in 1988 (and the dissolution of the CPGB), the YCL was re-established in 1991, based on the CPB Youth Section. The YCL is organisationally autonomous and decides its own activities and priorities, but is constitutionally tied to support for the CPB's programme, Britain's Road to Socialism.
By following Britain's Road to Socialism, the goals of the YCL are almost identical to the CPB's, but with particular emphasis on various topics. For example, the slogan of the CPB is Peace and Socialism, whilst the slogan of the YCL is Peace, Jobs and Socialism. The YCL is particularly concerned with issues specific to young people such as the inequalities between the minimum wage categories and student tuition fees.
In their own words:
- "The YCL is a revolutionary youth organisation committed to achieving a socialist society based on public ownership and democratic control. Based on the principles of Marxism-Leninism the YCL aims to develop and encourage the political consciousness of young people and to increase their involvement in the class struggle at a local, national and international level.
- The YCL works to build and strengthen the unity of the progressive youth movement and calls upon young people to work together to defend their rights, at work and in education, and to struggle for peace, jobs and socialism".
The YCL organises in the Student movement under the name of Communist Students.
The YCL publishes a bimonthly magazine, called Challenge, recalling the historic name used since the early 1930s. The journal consists of contributions from YCL members and sympathisers, and succeeded the title Young Communist as the chief organ of the organisation some years ago.
The YCL is a member organisation of the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY).
Communist Students is the student section of the Young Communist League. It was launched in 2005 in coordination with several overseas Communist parties and Young Communist organisations, with members studying in this country. This reflects the close relationship between the Communist party and its Fraternal parties that is developed in the Co-ordinating Committee of Communist Parties in Britain.
Communist Students aims to build a united Communist front within the student movement and to work with other sections of the left to fight for left policies within the National Union of Students and on campus. It works for peace, within the Stop the War Coalition and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. It struggles for socialism, by working with the Communist party of Britain and members of domiciled Communist Parties to unite the labour movement around a left-wing programme.
Student Unity is the newsletter of Communist Students, which is distributed at events and each day at the NUS annual conference.
National Secretaries (General Secretaries)
YCL of the CPGB
- 1923: William Rust
- 1920s: Wally Tapsell
- 1935: John Gollan
- 1946?: Bill Brooks
- 1950?: John Moss
- 1958: Jimmy Reid
- 1964: Barney Davis
- 1970: Tom Bell
- 1979: Nina Temple
- 1983: Douglas Chalmers
- 1985: Mark Ashton
YCL of the CPB
- 2001: Jim Gledhill
- 2003: Gawain Little
- 2006: Ben Stevenson
- 2012: George Waterhouse
Present: Mick Carty
- Thomas Linehan, Communism in Britain, 1920-39: From the Cradle to the Grave. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007; pg. 45.
- Peter Barberis, John McHugh, and Mike Tyldesley, Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005; pg.172
- Linehan, Communism in Britain, 1920-39, pp. 45-46.
- Linehan, Communism in Britain, 1920-39, pg. 46.
- Young Communist League official website, www.ycl.org.uk/
- Communist Party of Britain official website, www.communist-party.org.uk/
- World Federation of Democratic Youth official website, www.wfdy.org/
- Graham Stevenson's UK radical history site, www.grahamstevenson.me.uk/