Young Communist League of Canada

Young Communist League of Canada

Infobox Political Youth Organization
name_english = Young Communist League
name_french = La ligue de la jeunesse communiste
colorcode = #E60019

founded = 1923/2007
headquarters = 290 Danforth Ave., Toronto, ON
mother_party = Communist Party
international = Current member of WFDY [YCL February 2008 bulletin:YCL accepted at WFDY General council meeting February 1-3 in Lisbon, Portugal] [] ; Former member of theYCI
other_affiliation = Canadian Network on Cuba
website = []

The Young Communist League of Canada (YCL-LJC) is a Marxist-Leninist youth organization which fights for socialism and acts as a youth and student movement across Canada.

According to their website, [link|1= [ website] from PCQ-PCC]

::"We are a multi-ethnic organization of youth, workers, women and men. We support democratic mass movements and struggles for peace, against racism, sexism, homophobia, national oppression, and environmental degradation."

::"We work in our unions and workplaces for better wages and work conditions, and in our schools for democratic education, accessible to all."


The Young Communist League of Canada was founded at a convention in Toronto in 1923 as the youth wing of the Communist Party of Canada. Since that time the YCL has been active to various degrees, in international solidarity as well as young workers and students rights.

The 1920s: A Dream Coming into Birth

The YCL was founded in 1923 as the Young Workers League. Leslie Morris was its first General Secretary, from 1923 to 1924. It soon became a member of the Young Communist International, part of numerous YCLs around the world, the most notable being the Komsomol in the USSR upon which all other Young Communist Leagues became modeled.

Despite conditions of illegality, the YCL grew in the 1920s. The League was founded as the Young Workers League because of the War Measures Act banning Communist and other radical organizations in Canada. In the words of one its early organizers, Dave Kashtan, the YCL "served as an educational organization for young workers and students, educating young people 'in the spirit of socialism'." [Kirk Niergarth, ed. Dave Kashtan "Fight For Life: Dave Kastan's Memories of Depression Era Youth Work." (Canada: Labour /Le Travail, Fall 2005), "Choices"] Its first organizing work was in Toronto and Montreal, especially among the youth of immigrant communities.

The interest of young people in the YCL reflected the times. The "Great October Socialist Revolution," and the actions of nineteen capitalist countries — including Canada — to intervene in Russia to smash it, had a galvanizing impact on Canadian workers. Although Canada's economy was in a boom, youth of the mid-to-late 20s could well remember post-war unemployment and misery. "When I look back," Dave Kashtan wrote, "I realize that the stories of the Great War, 1914–1918, had a profound influence on my outlook. Canadians remembered the Canadian Expeditionary Force of 475,000, the 230,000 casualties, and the death of 60,000 young people. Radicalism would grow from the legacy of those years." [Niergarth, ibid. "Choices"]

The YCL's purpose was to organize young workers and students to achieve better working conditions and enhance their quality of life, and while its constitution declared it to be an independent youth organization without party affiliations, it publicly supported the policies of the Communist Party of Canada. According to Kashtan, who became a YCL organizer at age 17, "The YCL program put forward an anti-militarist stance. We believed that socialism offered the only remedy for unemployment and poverty." [Niegarth, ibid. "Choices"]

By 1928 the Young Communists League apparently had 40 schools in Canada, with an attendance of 2,000 children. [The Quebec History Encyclopedia "Communist Party of Canada" 1948] YCL organizers in Montreal around that time included Fred Rose and Sam Carr, who would later become famous leaders of the Communist movement in Canada. [ [ Sam Carr ] ] Organizing was far from easy. Kashtan describes some of the work he did as an agitator and his arrest:

Lord Baden Powell of Gilwell, the Chief Scout of the British Boy Scout movement, announced that an international Boy Scout Jamboree would take place in Liverpool in 1929 and the youth of the Empire was called upon to participate. [The YCL] campaigned against cadet training in the high schools. We reacted against the Jamboree. We responded by distributing a circular debunking Baden Powell. While distributing this circular, I was arrested by two members of the anti-red squad, a branch of the City Police Department.

The circular did not attempt to undermine the positive values of general scouting. In Canada we knew of the naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton and his wondercraft principles. Although the Boy Scouts were seen to be a significant social movement, the true motive behind Baden Powell's leadership was veiled. There was more to his leadership than simply learning to tie knots, lighting a fire without a match and avoiding getting lost in the woods. He thought it was a good idea for the British Scout movement to cooperate with the Hitler Jugend. This was preached at a time when the violent, aggressive spirit of fascism was already a threat to peace.

My case came to trial in the Montreal Recorder's Court with Judge Thouin presiding. I was sixteen, this was my first arrest and court appearance, and I was without experienced counsel.

After reading the circular, Judge Thouin looked up and put the following question to me: "Do you believe in the Ten Commandments?" I was perplexed. I had been told that my arrest was simply due to a by-law infraction, but now I faced a judgement of my personal conscience. If there was any morality to consider, I thought it was militarism that led to killing. I hesitated, and the judge called out sternly, "Name them!"

Well, the law was the law. I started with the fifth commandment: "Honour thy father and thy mother. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife — "

"Enough," declared the judge. "Thirty days in jail or pay the fine and court costs." As I left the courtroom, I wondered whether the stern reaction of the judge had something to do with my recitation of the five commandments which related to man and his fellow man. My costs were paid by a representative from the Canadian Labour Defense League, an organization which played an important role in the defense of democratic rights. [Niegarth, ibid. "The Ten Commandments"]

Kastan's story captures the world the early YCL had to work in. "I was young, only seventeen. [...] I was encouraged to read and study. The people I came to know were working people of different national and cultural backgrounds. I was introduced to a world of books and the richness of different cultures. These newly formed relationships were intellectually stimulating. When one of the speakers quoted "for each age is a dream that is dying or coming into birth and in their interaction lies the secret of historical change," I began to more fully grasp the significance of the dream which we had." [Niegarth, ibid. "Choices"]

And in the 1930s, the struggle for that glowing dream would intensify.

Great Depression and the On to Ottawa Trek

The onset of the Great Depression inflicted tremendous suffering and hardship on working people. Factories closed, mass unemployment swept the country, farmers were evicted, and poverty conditions affected the lives of all toilers – in the cities and countryside alike. There was no unemployment insurance, and "relief" was doled out as charity under the most humiliating conditions. As the YCL noted in its seventh national convention, August, 1934, "A whole generation is growing up that has never had a chance to earn a living and has only unemployment, hunger and misery as its perspective." [Tim Buck: "Thirty Years - 1922-1952: The story of the Communist Movement in Canada"(Toronto: Progress Books, 1952), Chpt 9 ]

Still, the YCL rejected the claim its generation was the "lost generation," and instead helped win youth to fight for their rights. Although the total membership was never large, the YCL influence and activities in the youth movements during the Great Depression of the 1930s were quite substantial. [Maurice Rush, "We Have a Glowing Drew: Recollections of working-class and people's struggles in BC, 1935-1995," (Canada: Centre for Socialist Education, 1996), 30. ] YCLers were involved with unemployed movements, with peace and trade union activists, and among university students. "The Y.C.L. became the mobilizing force for widening circles of young workers in strike actions," according to then Communist Party leader Tim Buck. [Buck, Chpt 9]

This was an expression of the growing radicalization and revolt of young people. "In Stratford, Flin Flon, Noranda, Sault Ste. Marie, Fraser Mills, B.C., Timmins, Cochrane, Montreal, Winnipeg, etc., youth was in the forefront of the struggle. Leaders of the youth movement were frequently arrested and imprisoned. Many of them won national recognition as strike leaders."

Under the slogan 'better work, better wages,' YCLers organized the unemployed in relief camps across the country, not least in western Canada. "The leading preoccupation of the YCL when I became secretary," Maurice Rush says in his autobiography, "was to organize unemployed youth." [Rush, 31. ] Like many other observers, Rush (who was leader of the YCL in BC after 1935) says that the YCL was very active in the Relief Camp Worker's Unions (RCWU), mobilizing the On to Ottawa Trek.

The Trek began after youth marched out of the camps all over British Columbia and assembled in Vancouver. Through the work of progressives, including the YCL and Communist Party, thousands of working people opened their homes to the protestors, and fed them - sometimes sharing the family's relief rations. [Buck, Chpt. 9] Communist women in Vancouver issued a call for a solidarity action, and five thousand working-class women came out to a special "Mother's Day" demonstration on behalf of the camp workers and to demand the closing of the camps. [Buck, ibid]

Vancouver's Mayor told the strikers that the Municipal Council had limited powers and therefore could not do anything about their claims. [Historica - Peace and Conflict, The On To Ottawa Trek.] The BC YCL and CPC, together with the Camp Workers' Union, decided to undertake a great march believing that only action on a national scale could move the Bennett Conservative government. YCL Comrade Arthur (Slim) Evans, was elected leader for a great journey across the country to Ottawa, 'riding the rails' on the tops of trains:

When they left Vancouver 800-strong the capitalist class and its press sneered. They didn't believe the boys would stand tip to the bitter hardships of such an undertaking. "Wait until they feel the nip of frost up in the mountains" wrote one hack, "and they'll be glad to get back to camp." But he was wrong. The trekkers crossed the interior of British Columbia, crossed the Rocky Mountains, crossed most of the Prairies. They reached Regina in the third week of June. They had covered a thousand miles, half of their journey, and their numbers had doubled. They were completely confident of their ability to reach Ottawa and that their numbers would double again during the remainder of their journey.

In all the larger centres along their route reinforcements were gathering and preparing to join the trek. In Winnipeg alone there were hundreds waiting to join. The feeling was growing all over the country that this great national protest would compel the Tory government to close the slave camps.

The trekkers' amazing demonstration of discipline, no less than the unprecedented support that they received from the citizenry in every town that they passed through, provided conclusive evidence that the slave camps had to go. The Bennett government stopped the trek by the bloody massacre at Regina on Dominion Day, 1935, but they could not undo, what the young camp workers' trek had accomplished. Bennett's slave camps were discredited. The camp workers had marched out of Vancouver under the slogan "Abolish the Slave Camps." Not another camp was opened after the Regina massacre and within a few months not one remained in operation anywhere in Canada. [Buck, ibid.]

For those most threatened by the Treker's demands like the Bennett government, the failure of the "On to Ottawa" Trek was a tough blow. Bennett was widely criticized for his handling of the situation. [Historica, ibid.] However, for the unemployed young workers, the strike was a tremendous gain. It was a Communist-led struggle, and an historic struggle. Later that year, the hated federal government was disbanded in an election, and major imputus was given to the movements for public health care, education, unemployment insurance and other social safety-net reforms. [Jesse McLean, "89 Rebellions" This Magazine]

Through such work, the YCL grew in force. A "Pioneers" movement of young children with Communist Parents or sympathisers, organized in the 1920s, extended its membership of more than 6,000. [Buck, Chpt. 9] Under the leadership of the YCL, the Pioneers published its own magazine with a circulation of more than 4,000. [Buck, Ibid]
The YCL's interests were not just limited to the plight of unemployed youth. In 1935, an official Communist club was established at the University of Toronto. As BC YCL leader Maurice Rush noted, "The members realized that the struggle for a decent life for the young generation of the Thirties required broad, united public action by all sections of young people. We worked tirelessly to build that unity, with considerable success. [Rush, 31.]

Together with changing conditions domestically and internationally with the rise of Fascism, this led to a new conception of the YCL and its role in the struggle.

The Rise of Fascism and the Canadian Youth Congress

At the same time the "class struggle" was intensifying in Canada, the menace of fascism was growing in Europe, Asia, and in North America itself. Starting with the Japanese imperialist invasion of Manchuria in 1931, and fascist Italy's invasion of Ethiopia, Canadian Communists joined those sounding an early alert to Canadians of the growing danger.

YCLers and Communist Party members at the time saw Fascism's influence first-hand in Canada. In Montreal, YCL organizer Dave Kashtan wrote, "the newspaper Le Devoir worked in alliance with key members of the Catholic hierarchy, [promoting] the ideology of Mussolini's Italian fascist government. Between 1932 and 1938, numerous articles and editorials in Le Devoir provided a platform for the fascist-influenced youth organization, Les Jeunes Canada." [Niergarth, ibid "Youth Against Fascism"]

Many of the YCLs members had Jewish ancestry. Kashtan recalls right-wing students at the University of Montreal who were encouraged to organize demonstrations against the YCL and all local opponents of fascism. "They resorted to violence when three representatives from the democratic Spanish republican government came to address the students at McGill. McGill students stationed on the entrance stairs of the Students' Union building where meetings were held had bricks hurled in their direction." [Niergarth, ibid. "Youth Against Fascism"]
At the same time, Kashtan wrote, "the Mayor of Montreal banned protest meetings supported by labour organizations. The Quebec Board of Censors was hailed by corporatist supporters when it refused permission to screen the film The Life of Émile Zola starring Paul Muni. Confronted by the growing fascist corporatist campaign, the development of the anti-fascist youth movement among young Canadians became a compelling necessity." [Niergarth, ibid. "Youth Against Fascism"]

In November 1935, at the ninth plenum of the Communist Party, November, 1935, Dave Kashtan's brother Bill Kashtan, then secretary of the YCL, reported on the gains made through the On To Ottawa Trek, but he emphasized the fact that, encouraging though they were, this progress lagged far behind the rising temper and the extending militancy of the Canadian youth. [Buck, ibid]

According to Tim Buck, Kashtan reiterated that "the youth movement is the heart of the movement for social emancipation," and called upon the party and the YCL to raise their sights and measure up to the needs of the youth. Kashtan advocated simultaneously a reorganization of the Y.C.L. along the lines of a more flexible educational youth organization, and also charged it with the task of leading the masses of students, young workers and intellectuals, in an independent united front organization to defend the immediate interests of the youth:

In general, I think we can work along the lines of building up a federation of youth organizations, on a platform of struggle for the immediate economic and political needs of the youth, against war and fascism, for socialism. Essentially such a federation would unite all youth prepared to stand on a working-class program, to work for the transformation of society. Such a federation could draw into its ranks the youth organizations which already exist in the working-class movement, unemployed youth organizations, student organizations, sports clubs, the Y.C.L. and probably also the Cooperative Commonwealth Youth Movement. [Buck, ibid. Quoting from Reports and Resolutions, Ninth Plenum C. P. of C., p. 98.]

Together with the Communist Party, the YCL began outreaching to youth organizations in all parts of the country with a view to such united youth action. A joint youth council sprang up in Winnipeg and was followed by others in various parts of the country. On May 23-25, 1936, the Canadian Youth Congress was founded at a national conference at Ottawa, called to prepare delegates for the World Youth Congress held in Geneva later that summer and discuss major youth concerns: peace, employment and education. [McMaster University, Canadian Youth Congress Fonds Website] .

Violet Anderson reported on the 1936 Congress in Toronto's "Saturday Night" Magazine:

Delegates from all over Canada came to this Congress, representing religious, political, occupational, cultural and recreational organizations ... the United Church delegation was the largest group representing any single organization. Other religious bodies were represented, among them the Anglican Young People, the Unitarians, Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers, and Jews. The two main political parties had delegates there, though a larger representation came from the Canadian Cooperative Youth Movement and the Young Communist League. There was a delegation of fifty from the various Ys. Eighteen French-Canadian organizations were represented, sixteen Youth Councils, and twenty-three cultural and recreational organizations. The interests of the League of Nations Society, of unions, farmers, unemployed, cooperatives, and even of children, all had their exponents. [Niergarth, ibid. Quoted in Endnote #8]

One of the aims of the Congress was to act as a lobby group on questions of peace, education, and unemployment. Out of the Ottawa meeting came the Declaration of Rights of Canadian Youth, resolutions on Canadian youth and world peace, and the proposed Canadian Youth Act. The YCL played a leading role in the fight for the Youth Bill: prepared by the Youth Congress, submitted to the cabinet and made a subject of public discussion by committing members of parliament to support of it. RCMP security bulletins show leading members of the YCL to have been enthusiastic proponents of the CYC and key organizers. [Niergarth, ibid. "Introduction"] As the menace of war became increasingly acute, the fight to mobilize the youth of Canada for peace took front rank along with the fight for the Youth Bill, economic protection of the youth and repeal of the Military Service Act. Along with the Communist Party, the Youth Congress movement became one of the fighters for a policy of national reconstruction. As its national secretary, Kenneth Woodsworth pointed out in his booklet, "Canada's Youth Comes of Age":

Four or five years ago, it could have been said with truth that youth, by and large, was apathetic. The force of the depression had not served at that time to stimulate youth to action. Young men and women still lived and acted in the pre-depression ways: enjoyed sports, dances, movies, etc.; and were not interested in 'serious' questions like economics, and social and political issues. As more and more left school or graduated from colleges and there was no work and no immediate prospect of security, youth began to waken up. There was a hardening that was healthy. Pessimism is giving way to calmer, more deliberate study of the situation and planning of action. Youth is becoming serious-minded as it faces more frankly and honestly the world in which it has to live, the world it has to change. Youth is realizing that its own future is at stake. Youth is assuming responsibility for decision and action. Quickly youth is training for citizenship and administration. Perspective is being regained. The certainty of our natural wealth and the calibre of our people are great encouragement for young Canadians; the pioneer past is remembered; the future is for us to build. [Buck, Ibid. Quoting: Canada's Youth Comes of Age, Kenneth Woodsworth, p. 16.]

The Congress rejected the claim that they were part of a 'lost generation' -- instead, as it said, Canada's youth are 'walking up.'

At its peak, the CYC had a constituent membership of over 400,000 and its annual national conferences were attended by over 700 young people. [Ruth Lata, They Tried: the story of the Canadian Youth Congress,] . The second Canadian Youth Congress in Montreal in May 1937 saw a drive to broaden the scope of the movement and to involve participation from French-Canadian youth. Youth in British Columbia organized their own BC Youth Congress, which was initiated by the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) working with the YCL. [Rush, ibid. 32] Annual conferences were held from 1936 to 1940. CYC members continued to speak out against the rising tide of fascism and to work for Canadian youth until 1942.

Antifascism became a major position of the Congress, and Congress representatives became involved in activities that supported Loyalist Spain, a cause the YCL strongly championed.

The Spanish Civil War and cultural work

The first major battle against the fascist threat in Europe itself arose in Spain, when Franco's troops, with the direct aid of Mussolini and Hitler, turned on the democratically-elected government and launched the Spanish Civil War. Internationalist assistance to the beleaguered democratic forces in Spain came from around the world, including Canada.

Throughout the Spanish Civil War, the YCL joined with other progressive organizations and played an important role in organizing the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion in which many YCL members fought on the Republican side.

With the assistance of the CPC, 1,200 young Canadians made their way to Spain to form the MacKenzie-Papineau Battalion of the International Brigades. Many perished on its blood-soaked battlefields, the first to fall in the struggle against fascism, and for the cause of democracy and freedom. These "pre-mature anti-fascists" – as they were wrongly dubbed by the Canadian establishment – were true selfless heroes whose sacrifices and contribution to Canadian history must never be forgotten.

But help came in all forms. For example, YCLers active in the Workers Sports Association helped organize support:

The majority of the members [of the Workers Sports Association] were young needle trades union members. The combination of sports and interest in international current affairs enhanced the quality of the club's program. [...] The integration of the WSA soccer team in the City soccer league was greeted with enthusiasm by soccer fans. The blue and white uniforms with the Red Star logo had a significant meaning for our team's followers. Collections taken at the games on Fletcher's Field were often donated to the Montreal Council of Unemployed Organizations. The largest crowd ever at the games in Fletcher's Field took place at a soccer game between the Toronto and Montreal WSA clubs in support of Dr. Norman Bethune's Blood Unit in Spain. Many thousands of Montrealers rallied to give their support to the struggle to "Save Democracy in Spain." [Niergarth, Ibid. "Workers Sports"]

Actions like this earned the WSA the attention of the police. In cities like Lachine, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver, WSA clubs were under police surveillance. "A boxing event was arbitrarily cancelled. In Toronto, hall owners were warned that their hall licences would be cancelled should the premises be rented for WSA functions. A police raid of the Vancouver WSA club led to the confiscation of its membership lists and the club's equipment." [Niergarth, ibid.] In BC, YCLers organize Girls Brigades to raise aid for Spain, a solidarity effort which won world-wide attention.

After the Spanish Civil War the YCL was involved in various anti-fascist activities, union organizing, and work in youth cultural associations such as baseball teams. It also published a newspaper, The Young Worker. However, the YCL was banned along with the Communist Party in 1941 . Canadian Communists organized themselves as the Labour-Progressive Party while the YCL was transformed into the National Federation of Labour Youth.

Initially, the NFLY was not an explicitly Marxist-oriented organization, but rather formed along the concept of the 'popular front.' In some instances it merged with chapters of the Co-operative Commonwealth Youth Movement, the youth wing of the social democratic Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. This policy was contrary to that of the CCF, the main left force which a popular front would have been formed, and resulted in the expulsion of numerous Communists from the social democratic party. While the new NFLY grew rapidly, the Federation reconsidered this approach after the war and re-oriented itself as a communist youth organization. In November 1945, the NFLY was a founding member of the World Federation of Democratic Youth.

Post World War II, Korea and the Cold War

At the end of the Second World War, the Communists were at a high point. The NFLY and the Labour Progressive Party had both seen their membership grow, while support for the Soviet Union, policies of peace, and progressive ideas in general were widely held by Canadian people. The effect of the Cold War, however, was to change all this.

The NFLY began the post-War era on an optimistic note, organizing for the first World Youth Festival, which was held at Prague, Czechoslovaki, in 1947 under the banner of "Youth Unite, Forward for Lasting Peace" and attended by 17,000 participants. [ [ World Federation of Democratic Youth ] ] One of the delegates was long-time Metis fisherman and trade unionist, Homer Stevens. In his oral autobiography, "Homer Stevens: A Life in Fishing", Stevens recounts organizing for the youth festival: "You might figure that with everything I'd been involved in, going to a World Youth Festival would seem a little juvenile... In fact, it turned out to be one of the most important experiences in my life." [Rolf Knight, Homer Stevens: A Life In Fishing, (Canada: Harbour Publishing, 1992), pg. 79]

Raising funds through voluntary donations from fishing families, Homer helped put together a delegation from BC comprised mostly of young working people who were politically active. "There were ten of us from British Columbia in the Canadian delegation of some ninety-odd people, thirty of whom were students from McGill University, which included people from a wide range of political inclinations." [Knight, 79 ] Delegates had to raise at least $500, and most were not communists. This gives a good impression of the NFLYs organizing ability.

On return from the festival, Stevens writes,

The Canadian delegation as a whole gathered in Toronto to give our report before we scattered to our homes. The cold war atmosphere was emerging prior to our departure but all of us noticed how strong it had become on our return. Everybody had the impression that a major change had taken place just in the four months that we'd been away. We had been out of touch with what had been appearing in the Canadian press during that period and then to step into this barrage of cold war propaganda -- the view that we had been behind the Iron Curtain and that either we were a bunch of dupes or agents of a foreign country. All that kind of thing coming down on our heads. [Knight, 81]

The NFLY, along with the LPP and the left in general faced serious repression during the Cold War. The NFLY attempted to fight growing anti-Communist sentiment and isolation through efforts in the peace movement, campaigning in solidarity with the Korea peoples during the Korean War. Still, the NFLY continued working on issues effecting youth. One of the most exciting stories is of the 8-cent candy-bar strike.

The price of a candy bar in 1947 was 5 cents, exactly one Nickel. [LadySmith Historical Society:] But when the war ended controls were removed from prices. Protests were when the price of chocolate bars rose by 60 per cent on April 25 1947, officially to do with the increase in the price of Coca beans. According to CBC news, "Young people informally affiliated with the National Federation of Labour Youth flood [ed] the streets bearing placards protesting the 3-cent candy bar price hike." [CBC News:] Young people across Vancouver Island protested outside confectionery shops, and demonstrations were not limited to big cities. One such action was in Ladysmith:

The Wigwam in Ladysmith raised the price from 5 cents to 8 cents, a 62% price increase! Sixteen year old Parker Williams and his school chums were outraged. That increase represented a significant cost increase when the average allowance for a teenager was less than a dollar. Signs were painted, Parker actually decorated his old car, a 1923 McLaughlin. A parade was staged, and it was so successful they actually turned around and went back up the street. [LadySmith Historical Society, Ibid.]

The protest gained steam and spread across the country. On April 30 1947, approximately 200 children stormed the Victoria legislature demanding action. A day later in Toronto, students from three different secondary schools staged a mass protest. In Fredericton, children combined their sugar rations to make large masses of homemade fudge. There was a demonstration in every major city. "The kids' national boycott of more expensive candy was no laughing matter for stunned proprietors who watched their sales fall eighty percent overnight. Child pickets besieged storeowners with whistles, armbands and placards bearing slogans like 'Don't be a Sucker! Don't Buy 8 Cent Bars!'" [The Five Cent War, Travesty Productions:]

A cross-country protest was planned for May 3. The protest was quelled, however, by the Toronto Telegram's accusations that the National Federation of Labour Youth was a communist front determined to "plant a few of the seeds of Marxism." [CBC News]

In a widely circulated attack, the sour-grapes Toronto Telegram blasted the youthful dissidents as stooges of Moscow. The paper labeled candy strikers "another instrument in the Communist grand strategy of the creation of chaos," and charged that "Communist youth organizers have been instructed to use every possible means of developing and encouraging the chocolate bar agitation." Cheaper candy, some thought, was just the first step on the path to communist tyranny.

Such cold war paranoia defused public support for the children. Cowed by allegations of communist involvement, grown-ups worked to short-circuit the drive for the nickel bar. In Vancouver, the 2,500 member Sat-Teen Club caved in to pressure from priests, parents, teachers and city officials to terminate the group's involvement with the candy boycott, glumly declaring that "mob demonstrations and strikes are not consistent with the ideals of the club." [ [ Travesty Productions ] ]

workers, campaigning against rising prices, organizing a nation-wide '10 cent candy bar' strike of youth. It also published a monthly newspaper for youth.

The Federation also launched a campaign in support of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and worked with organizations like the Student Christian Movement to bring youth to the World Festival of Youth and Students in Prague (1947), Budapest (1949), Berlin (1951), Bucharest (1953), Warsaw (1955), and Moscow (1957).

The End of the Cold War and the Socialist Youth League

By the mid-to-late 1950s conditions had again changed in Canada and internationally. For the Communists, the Cold war had begun with the major threat of another world war -- as well as a renewed attack on both socialism, and the anti-colonial struggles across the world. To be sure, the capitalist economy had grown in the west. But now, it looked like the danger of World War III had been narrowly averted. With the Chinese and Cuban revolutions as well as events in Africa and Asia, it was clear that the socialist and national liberation forces had not 'surrendered to imperialism.'

The Communist Parties recognized, however, that they had sustained heavy and damaging blows. Both leftist sectarian approaches, failing to see what was new, and right-opportunist capitulation aggravated anti-Communism. In 1958, the Labour-Progressive Party essentially split at its congress, following the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, Nikita Khrushchev's Secret Speech and allegations by J.B. Salsberg about anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union under Stalin and Khrushchev. As the Party re-named itself the Communist Party, after the law banning the Communist Party was finally lifted, the Communists faced a challenge of broadening connections with people's movements, analysing what was new, and adapting to those changes.

Among the young Communists changes were also afoot. The NFLY been weakened by the cold war, and was now re-organized as the Socialist Youth League of Canada. It began publishing a newspaper called "Scan." And while the Communists faced internal challenges, youth struggle was growing. After over a decade Cold-war attitudes were changing.

"Young people [are reacting] quickly to events and are unhampered by prejudices built up through the years," [Rae Murphy, "Where do young people Go? What do they do?" (Toronto: Marxist Review, May-June 1960), 39 ] Rae Murphy, a leader of the SYL wrote heading into the SYL's second National Convention in May 1960. By 1964, then General Secretary of the Communist Party, Leslie Morris, could say that "this [younger] generation is interested in socialism and the Communist viewpoint, and is not as conservative and prejudiced towards new ideas as its parents often are. Most of our public meetings -- and the most active public debates -- are now marked by the attendance and participation of young people." < ref>Leslie Morris, "Challenge of the '60s: A Three-Point Programme for Canada" (Toronto: Progress Books, 1964), 24]

Changing attitudes were part of the times -- and troubles of youth. At its 1960 convention the SYL could point to many problems facing student, worker and farm youth that seemed. About "70% of all high-school students leave school before completing grade 12"; while in Quebec "47% of the population between the ages of 14 and 17 are not in school at all," Murphy wrote, adding that the vast majority of Quebec highschool girls dropped out for financial reasons according to recent surveys. On farms, more and more youth are leaving to the cities for jobs, while less than 50% of students in Universities come from working-class homes, cut out by rising tuition fees. [Murphy, ibid.]

But resistance was also growing. "The peace demonstrations that have begun to sweep the universities, and the student demonstrations against the savagery of South African government, are signs of a health change and reflect the democratic instincts of young Canadians," Murphy noted. Four years down the road, Morris would note that "Young Canadians are slowly winning the vote at 18 [...] they are full of protest and challenge, full of their own special forms of rebellion, and the contribution they have made to the cause of peace is outstanding."

It is "not we 'against the world,' but we with all who want changes" [Morris, ibid.] the Party declared -- but putting that into practice was not easy. "Today in Canada we can see the beginnings of a of a change," Murphy wrote, but added:

Sections of young people are rebelling against the deluge of 'rock and roll' which has been offending the ears and insulting the the intelligence. This shows itself in many ways -- the rebirth of folk song in a mass way, the rise of the 'folkniks' coffee clubs (although this has many phony and 'arty' connections it is a healthy thing), the 'Angry Young Men' we hear so much about... [Murphy, 40]

While this was very true -- there was a resurgence of folk with musicians like Bob Dylan and the Seekers -- today's readers can chuckle about Murphy's 'offending rock and roll.' What the Cold war had effectively attacked was the Communists organic ties with the masses. Like the YCL and NFLY before it, SYL expressed a sincere revolutionary concern with the future of young Canadians and put forward a program of resistance to big business. But turning that humanist, revolutionary and Communist commitment into a fight for a better future for youth was hard.

At the SYL's convention these issues were front and centre. The main question facing the League was "How to get into the fight? How do we develop the broadest and most diversified approach to young Canadians and yet maintain our character and identity?" [Murphy, 40] Concretely, the young Communists would deal with this question when organizing the Canadian youth delegation to the 1962 Youth festival in Helsinki. What about other struggles? In general, Murphy argued, the SYL must "by example [...] move young people into action around the issues of the day." [Murphy, 40] Easily said -- but at the same time those problems facing youth seem "almost insurmountable," he noted elsewhere. [Murphy, 39]

Throughout the early to mid-1960s, Communist youth wrestled with these questions, and experimented with a variety of organizing models, including some along the lines of the New Left. By 1964 they were again working generally under the name of the Young Communist League. But it wasn't until the late 1960s that the YCL would really begin re-organizing into a more structured pan-Canadian body, having gained momentum from new youth struggles inspired events like the Cuban Revolution, and what they say as the heroic resistance of the Vietnamese people.

By the end of the decade, Murphy's comment in 1960 that the SYL must not underestimate the "possibilities and the role the youth movement can play," turned out to be prescient.

The Cuban Revolution, The Vietnam War and the YCL

1968, the Communist Party of Canada (the name the LPP readopted in 1959) restarted its communist youth organization, again calling it the Young Communist League.

The re-founded YCL was active in campaigns such as support for the Cuban Revolution, opposition to the Vietnam War, and solidarity with the people of Chile and South Africa which was build again through the World Youth Festivals in Berlin (1973) and Havana.

The YCL again began publishing "The Young Worker", and then "New Horizons." It also staged campaigns for lower transit rates and picketed a the few white-only restaurants operating in Canada. Unlike the older YCL, the new YCL contained a nationally autonomous unit within itself for Quebec.

Unlike the NFLY, the new YCL was largely sidelined by more radical youth groups aligned with the New Left. This was especially true in the student movement, and was unable to play an effective role in preventing the dissolution of the Canadian Student's Union in the late 1960s. Although not leading the movement, the YCL was still part of the youth radicalization of the 1960s and 1970s and it did succeed in attracting many new youth into social movements, the labour movement, and some into the Communist Party.


In the 1980s, the YCL saw somewhat of an upsurge with the developments in the anti-war movement and anti-nuclear movements. The League changed the name of its publication to "Rebel Youth," following the Cuban revolutionary youth group by that name. The League in Quebec also began publishing its own French language magazine for youth.

In international solidarity, the YCL supported the developments in El Salvador and Nicaragua, sending a delegation to help with the 1989 Nicaraguan coffee harvest. The YCL also sent a member on a fact-finding mission to Palestine about the situation in the Gaza strip. Several members also toured the Soviet Union, and the YCL organized for the 1985 and 1989 youth festivals in Moscow and Pyongyang, respectively.

At the time of the 1989 festival, the YCL claimed to have re-built contacts across the country, including the North West Territories, and its magazine had apparently a readership of several thousand. The pages of its magazine also document the YCL's active role in the student movement, especially around helping organizing the Canadian Federation of Students. The political focus of the YCLs domestic campaigns was centered on the concept of a "Charter of Youth Rights," and by the late 1980s the YCL was beginning to help construct a broad coalition of groups to fight the Brian Mulroney Tories with this document as a basis of unity.

Collapse of the USSR and Crises in the Party

The YCL was liquidated around 1991 due to a deep crisis in the CPC that followed the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. The Communist Party split, with a group nominally lead by George Hewison forming the Cecil-Ross Society. The Party office, within which the YCL office was held, the Party's printing press, and much of the Party's savings went with the Cecil-Ross Society. A few YCLers and Party members joined the short-lived Cecil-Ross group, while most dropped out of communist politics altogether.

The Young Communist Press

Working on a Leninist principle of organization, the YCL almost always published a newspaper or magazine. While the name and frequency of publication changed, the press was an important YCL activity.

In the 1930s the official organ of the YCL was "The Young Worker." A monthly publication, it was under the editorial guide of Stanley Ryerson in 1932 [Gregory Kealy, Workers and Canadian History (Montreal: McGill University Press, 1995), 52] and then John Boyd [ [ Socialist History Project ] ] ).

During Boyd's time as editor the paper changed into a new weekly called "Advance" which was not to be an explicitly Communist publication. [Steve Hewitt Spying 101: The RCMP's Secret Activities at Canadian Universities (Toronto: University of Toronto Press),53] Over-optimistically, the YCL tried to transform the Young Worker from an official organ of the YCL to a broader publication, working with the CCYM (Canadian Commonwealth Youth Movement – the CCF's youth wing. John Boyd recounts working with Murray Cotterill, the CCYM's representative:

He played along with the idea of getting together with the Communists to put out a left-wing magazine, but that didn't last long. The truth is he didn't trust us and we didn't trust him. It was a somewhat artificial effort to carry through the Comintern's Seventh Congress line of building a united front. But I think it was a tongue-in-cheek exercise for both sides. I only met Cotterill twice while we were planning the magazine we called Advance. We produced only two issues of it and then it fizzled out. [ [ Socialist History Project ] ]

Advance was quickly replaced by New Advance, edited by Robert Laxer, and then a more successful magazine, Challenge, was launched "and it made a serious effort to broaden its appeal to young people." [ [ Socialist History Project ] ]

Challenge stayed on as the NFLY's publication, until the dissolution of that organization. The communist Youth organizations of the early 60s were replaced by Scan, and then another broadsheet called The Young Worker took its place as the YCL re-constituted itself in the late 1960s.

The Young Worker was replaced by New Horizons, later Horizons, and then Rebel Youth Magazine in the 1980s. When the YCL began re-organizing in 2003, it took up the name Rebel Youth for the YCL press again.

The New YCL in Canada

An attempt was made to refound the YCL in 1994 but was unsuccessful, as was a subsequent attempt, around 2000. Instead a youth group called the Red Star Youth Collective was formed in Toronto. It soon renamed itself Young Left and after differences emerged, it split with the Party.

In fall of 2003 a conference in Vancouver was held which formed a Young Communist League Preparatory Committee. When interest was expressed by youth across the country, the YCL expanded to Ontario. In 2004-2005, the YCL was among many groups, including Young Left, who organized a delegation to the 16th World Youth Festival in Caracas.

Rebuilding Convention

In March 2007, the Young Communist League of Canada held a three-day refounding convention in Toronto (this was the 24th Central Convention of the YCL, and is the first since the YCL was split up in 1989). The convention was delegated at a one to three ratio, with close to forty guests and delegates over the course of the weekend attending. Delegates came from British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes. The convention heard from international guests representing the Portuguese Communist Youth, the Young Communist League, USA, the KNE (Greek YCL), the Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas (Communist Youth Union of Cuba), as well as the President of the World Federation of Democratic Youth.

The convention approved a political report, action plan, Declaration of Unity and Resistance, and Constitution. The main direction of these documents are largely encapulated in the conventions slogans: Youth and Students, Join the Fight -- Defeat the Harper Ultra-Right, and: Build the Fightback, Rebel Youth and the YCL -- Organizationally, Politically, and Ideologically. (The documents for the convention can be found on the League's website.)

The convention adopted a Constitution, Declaration of Unity and Resistance, Political Report, and an Action Plan. A Central Committee of ten was elected, consisting of two members from British Columbia, one from Alberta, one from Manitoba, three from Ontario, two from the national constituency of Quebec, and one from the Atlantic region. The Committee also elected a Central Executive of two women and two men, including one member from Quebec. Ontario YCL organizer Johan Boyden was elected General Secretary, and BC YCL organizer Stephen Von Sychowski was elected Central Organizer. [ [ Ycl-Ljc: Ycl-Ljc Central Committee Begins Work On Action Plan ] ]

Current Policies

At its 2007 Convention, the YCL laid-out a 12-point agenda in its "Declaration of Unity and Resistance" stating that its short-term goal was to help build youth resistance, and its long-term goal was to build socialism. The 12 immediate points of resistance are:

1.Peace!2. Jobs! 3. Free, Accessible, Quality Education! 4. Equality!5. A Democratic Solution to the National Question!6. Organize Young Workers!7. Internationalism and Solidarity!8. Freedom and Democracy!9. Stop Privatization! Protect and Expand Social Services! 10. Defend Canada’s Sovereignty!11. Culture and Leisure! 12. Environmental Sustainability!

In its political report, the YCL stated that "The most urgent challenge facing our League is to help mobilize and strengthen resistance on the broadest possible basis, and forge together a united combative fight back of youth and students, together with the working class and the people, against the current offensive of the ruling class and its governments, beginning with the Harper Tories."

Since that time, the YCL has released statements that expand this critique of the Harper Tories.

See also

* Youth activism
* Youth rights
* Youth voice

External links

* [ Young Communist League of Canada]
* [ La ligue de la jeunesse communiste du Quèbec]


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