Internationalist Youth Founded
Internationalist contingent at New York City May Day 2015 march.
The following document is the founding declaration of the
Internationalist Group’s newly-formed youth section, the
Revolutionary Internationalist Youth, adopted at its
founding meeting on 13 August 2017. The RIY will serve as a
transitional organization for radical youth eager to fight
for socialist revolution in the process of becoming Marxist
cadre. Genuinely revolutionary youth organizations, going
back to Karl Liebknecht’s International Union of Socialist
Youth, have served as training grounds for tomorrow’s
revolutionary leadership, providing a means for youth to
develop their organizational and political skills. As part
of the IG/LFI’s fight to reforge the Fourth International,
the founding of the RIY represents a significant step
forward. Along with Class Struggle Education Workers, Class
Struggle Workers – Portland and Trabajadores Internacionales
Clasistas (Class Struggle International Workers), the RIY
will develop a new layer of Marxist fighters that will
strengthen the common movement for socialist revolution, of
which the IG/LFI seeks to be the vanguard party.
Founding Declaration of the Revolutionary Internationalist Youth
We are founding the Revolutionary Internationalist Youth as the youth section of the Internationalist Group, U.S. section of the League for the Fourth International. One hundred years after the 1917 October Revolution, the RIY will be a training ground for young revolutionaries, as part of the common movement of the IG/LFI, to carry through to victory the genuine communist program of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky. To resolve the crisis of revolutionary leadership described in Trotsky’s Transitional Program, it is crucial to win youth to the fight to reforge the Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution.
The 1989-1992 counterrevolutionary destruction of the bureaucratically degenerated Soviet workers state and East European deformed workers states reestablished capitalist rule throughout the region and was a world-historic defeat for the working class. The so-called “New World Order,” declared by president George H.W. Bush in 1990 on behalf of the U.S. bourgeoisie, was an assertion of imperialist might that led to the First and Second Gulf Wars, the bombing of Yugoslavia and Iraq (by Democrat Bill Clinton), and the wars and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq by Bush II, and continued under Barack Obama. This imperialist offensive has been mirrored on the domestic front with a dramatic escalation of repressive measures. The police and other repressive forces of the bourgeois state murder black and Latino people with impunity, terrorize immigrant workers with deportations (over 5.5 million under Democrat Obama), and herd scabs against striking workers.
An entire generation of youth has grown up witnessing the continual wars and ongoing economic crisis of the capitalist order. After the Democrats paved the way for President Donald Trump, he has even further ramped up anti-immigrant migra arrests and now threatens to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea. Large numbers of youth express disillusionment with the state of U.S. society and are seeking an alternative. With numerous youth organizations that claim to be leftist channeling radical-minded youth back into bourgeois politics, there is an urgent need for an authentic Leninist-Trotskyist youth organization, based on the program of world socialist revolution. The Revolutionary Internationalist Youth seeks to carry out this task and become a training ground for future revolutionary cadre.
Many young people active today were galvanized by the election of Barack Obama in 2008, having bought into the illusion of “Hope and Change” that he campaigned on. At the time of his inauguration, the Internationalist Group correctly characterized his presidency as U.S. imperialism undergoing a cosmetic change:
“For the African American Obama to take office in the highest elected position...reflected a considerable social change in this country founded on chattel slavery, where Jim Crow segregation continued into the 1960s – and where in the 21st century blacks and Latinos have still been prevented from voting. But this has not changed the system of imperialist capitalism one iota: with Obama at the helm, the U.S. is bombing Iraq and Afghanistan to hell, marauding in Pakistan, supplying the weaponry for Israeli slaughter in Gaza, throwing millions out of work in the U.S. while enslaving workers with starvation wages around the planet.”
–“Obama Presidency: U.S. Imperialism Tries a Makeover,” The Internationalist No. 28, March-April 2009
Instead of “Hope and Change” there was unrelenting war, privation and racist terror under Wall Street’s hand-picked Democrats. The high-profile murders of Oscar Grant by Oakland cops, Trayvon Martin by racist vigilante George Zimmerman, Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri, Freddie Gray by the Baltimore PD, Eric Garner by the NYPD, and countless others highlighted that the system is racist to its very core, including with a black president at its helm.
The world capitalist economic crisis of 2008 that continues today flung millions of people into desperate conditions. Young people, many with college degrees, struggle to make ends meet by working multiple part-time, low-paying jobs and saddled with unpayable college debt. Meanwhile the capitalist government spared no expense in keeping the parasitic financial institutions responsible for the crisis afloat – to the tune of trillions of dollars. As the working class and poor took the brunt of the damage, the glorified thieves on Wall Street got golden parachute severance packages and millions of dollars in bonuses and raises.
The Obama administration oversaw the continued U.S. military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, an increase in “death-from-above” drone strike executions in Pakistan and Yemen, and the toppling and lynching of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, leaving the country in the throes of a bloody civil war. Meanwhile, Obama earned the nickname “Deporter-in-Chief” by deporting over 5 million immigrant workers over the course of his two terms (over 7 million if those caught at the border are included) – more than any president in U.S. history. To accomplish this, Obama drastically increased the budget of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which surpassed that of all other federal police agencies combined (FBI, DEA, ATF and the Secret Service). He bolstered the state’s repressive apparatus at the local level as well, providing “law enforcement” across the country with military-grade weaponry,and stood by them time and again as they carried out racist killings and used violent repression against demonstrators. The last eight years have taught large numbers of youth – the hard way – that racial oppression is bred in the bone of U.S. capitalism.
The economic crisis in particular has contributed to significant shifts in a country where virulent anti-communism was once the norm and even “socialism” was long considered a dirty word. A 2016 Harvard Institute of Politics poll found that 51% of people aged 18-29 now say they “do not support” capitalism, and 33% say they “support socialism.” While what this means is doubtless ill-defined for most, these figures do represent a growing desire among youth for an alternative to the chaos, violence and increasing destructiveness of capitalism in the age of imperialist decay.
Development of Internationalist Youth Work
After the Internationalist Group’s foundation in 1996, it won an important layer of immigrant worker activists, but initial efforts at systematic youth work faced many obstacles. This began to change with the largely successful Internationalist-initiated campaign in Fall 2001 to defeat the “war purge” undertaken by the administration of the City University of New York, which sought to drive thousands of undocumented students out of CUNY by massively increasing their tuition, as part of the “post-9/11” anti-immigrant witch hunt and preparation for the Afghanistan war. (See Internationalist pamphlet Defend Immigrant Students! Stop CUNY’s “War Purge”! .) The CUNY Internationalist Clubs were born from this campaign, largely as a result of which this attempt to charge discriminatory tuition was rolled back. Having helped build the campaign against the anti-immigrant war purge, in 2003 the Revolutionary Reconstruction Club at Bronx Community College became part of the CUNY Internationalist Clubs, which in September 2003 began publishing their newspaper, Revolution – which will now be the political organ of both the Internationalist Clubs and the RIY.
Through much of the 1990s and early 2000s, CUNY student activism was dominated by groups like the Student Liberation Action Movement (SLAM), which used “Third Worldist” and “student-vanguardist” rhetoric to form a layer of ambitious bureaucrats that moved on to bigger pursuits when SLAM lost student government elections and university funding. Rejecting the “movementist” and deeply opportunist outlook of such outfits, the Internationalist Clubs undertook the task of educating students and youth drawn to radical politics in the program, theory and history of revolutionary Marxism. Together with Revolution, the IG’s newspaper The Internationalist, and the press of other sections of the LFI, this included public talks on a wide range of issues as well as the weekly Marxist study groups that have been crucial to our development.
U.S. imperialism’s bloody occupation of Afghanistan and onslaught against Iraq – prepared with one of the imperialists’ classic government/media Big Lie campaigns, claiming its invasion was against mythical “weapons of mass destruction” – defined the political context for the following period. In one way or another, virtually all the “left” used revulsion against Bush to ally with rather than break from U.S. imperialism’s Democratic Party, paving the way for their wholesale capitulation to, and promotion of, illusions in Barack Obama. Swimming against the stream, Internationalist youth activists combated any support to the Democrats, the party of Hiroshima, the Bay of Pigs and the Vietnam war; and fought for the Leninist principle of defeat of “one’s own” imperialist ruling class and defense of the semi-colonial countries oppressed by imperialism. This included promoting the IG’s call for workers strikes against the war; dismissed by the opportunist left at the time, it proved key to the May Day 2008 longshore workers strike that shut down all 29 West Coast ports in protest against the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
The fight to put the revolutionary-internationalist program into practice meant intensive political struggle against a panoply of social-patriotic and popular-front groups pushing class collaboration with hoped-for “antiwar” sectors of the bourgeoisie. This included the various “antiwar” fronts promoted by the International Socialist Organization (ISO), Workers World Party and its split the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Bob Avakian’s cultish Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party, Socialist Action, and many others. Key to the development of Internationalist recruits in this period was the struggle against the rightward-moving centrist politics of the Spartacist League, which, demoralized by the destruction of the USSR, had abandoned Trotskyism and now raged hysterically against the Internationalist Group for upholding the call to defeat U.S. imperialism and carry out workers strikes against the war.
As Revolutionary Internationalist Youth comrades learned in our study of the history of Marxist youth organizations, from their inception the struggle against imperialist militarism has been a crucial part of their work. This was reflected in the formative years of the CUNY Internationalist Clubs, which waged a successful campaign to drive military recruiters out of Bronx Community College where they sought to prey on the predominantly immigrant, black and Latino student population. Our successful campaign to spike a sinister “Homeland Security” course at CUNY’s Borough of Manhattan Community College further cemented the Clubs’ reputation as effective Marxist organizers, as did the intensive defense campaign for Hostos Community College student leader Miguel Malo, who was brutally arrested and subjected to a frame-up trial for holding up a sign protesting cuts and fee hikes in bilingual and English as a Second Language courses.
As imperialist war abroad brought stepped-up repression and witch hunts against “enemies within,” youth comrades were active in many other protests against attempts to revive McCarthyism at CUNY and elsewhere. They also learned much from their work, together with the cadre of immigrant worker Trotskyists the IG has been unique in developing, in innumerable union organizing and immigrant-rights campaigns, and in protests defending Muslim and South Asian victims of “war on terror” round-ups, immigrant taxi workers, the 10-month strike at Mexico’s National University (UNAM), striking Oaxaca teachers, the 43 “disappeared” students of Ayotzinapa, and people of Haitian descent targeted by a racist onslaught in the Dominican Republic – to mention just a few examples. In contrast with the patronizing liberalism of most of the left, Internationalists brought the program of revolutionary class struggle into these protests, highlighting their indissoluble connection with the fight against black oppression – key to workers revolution in this country founded on chattel slavery – and against every form of bigotry, prejudice and backwardness bred by capitalist society.
This accumulated experience proved invaluable when Internationalist youth activists faced the challenge of organizing protests against the CUNY administration’s provocative political decision to hire former general David Petraeus, ex-commander of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars and former CIA chief, to teach an “honors” course (on ethics!) in the Fall of 2013. The Internationalist Clubs launched a campaign of protest and exposure that led to the establishment of the united-front Ad Hoc Committee Against the Militarization of CUNY, which carried out protests demanding “War Criminal Petraeus, Out of CUNY Now!” Throughout the course of this struggle, which faced brutal police repression, activists attracted to the Internationalist Clubs learned valuable lessons about state repression and the nature of academic institutions as training grounds for future state and corporate functionaries.
Most of the “left” (notably including the ISO) essentially boycotted the campaign against war-criminal Petraeus. However, the now-defunct Maoist Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee (RSCC) was part of the Ad Hoc Committee Against the Militarization of CUNY and a number of its supporters were on the receiving end of police and university repression. Internationalist comrades vigorously defend RSCC against this, including by gaining support from the faculty-staff union for defense efforts. At the same time, it was repeatedly necessary to reassert the principled basis for united-front actions and resist attempts to replace this with a “propaganda bloc” for populist nostrums about “CUNY for the people” pushed by the Maoists. The experience was an important opportunity for new comrades to deepen their understanding of key differences between revolutionary Marxism (Trotskyism) and Stalinism, including in its Maoist variant.
Thus comrades found themselves polemicizing on the counterposition between the Bolshevik program of world socialist revolution and Stalin’s nationalist dogma of “socialism in one country,” which in 1972 provided ideological cover for Mao’s alliance with Nixon; Trotsky’s permanent revolution vs. the Stalin/Mao program of “two-stage” collaboration with the “national bourgeoisie”; Lenin’s State and Revolution vs. Mao’s ultra-revisionist theory of “New Democracy”; and the ways in which “radical” populist phrases and student vanguardism are used today to cut against revolutionary class politics. In a polemic that RSCC proved incapable of answering, we stated:
“Under capitalism, ‘the people’ doesn’t exist. The starting point for a Marxist understanding of the world is that society is divided into classes whose interests are irreconcilably counterposed. It is not enough to lay claim to this understanding or pay lip service to it: for any Marxist, this fact [is] the foundation of your political program which must be applied concretely in every aspect of political work. And the conclusion is that only a proletarian revolution can end imperialism and its wars, or make it possible to eliminate racism and racial oppression, or the oppression of women, by undertaking the construction of a socialist society in which for the first time social equality and the emancipation of all can be possible.”
– “The Struggle at CUNY: A Trotskyist View,” Revolution No. 10, October 2013
CUNY’s violent repression against Petraeus protests followed the notorious police attack on students protesting tuition hikes in 2011. Together with the administration’s attempts to ram through an “expressive conduct” policy to stop student protest, this highlighted the importance of our demands to abolish the administration and Board of Trustees and establish democratically elected student-teacher-worker committees to run the schools, which are linked to our call for open admissions with no tuition and living stipends so students from working-class and poor families can afford to study. For these demands to be met, the power of the multiracial working class must be brought into the fight, together with massive mobilization by students, faculty and campus workers and immigrant, African American and other key sectors with a vital interest in defending public education for their daughters and sons, from kindergarten through college. Public education is a crossroads of class and race in capitalist America; here too the fight to unchain workers power from all bourgeois parties, and build a revolutionary workers party that can champion the cause of all the oppressed, is key to the Trotskyist program.
Marxism vs. the Opportunist Left
As discussed below, Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign set off a frenzied race by the opportunist left to determine who would be the best at building illusions in this bourgeois politician, whom they claimed as a fellow “socialist,” while hailing his “political revolution” to revitalize the Democratic Party. With a sliding scale of opportunism, Socialist Alternative (best known for its entirely reformist “socialist city councilperson” in Seattle) openly built the Sanders campaign; the ISO hailed Sanders as a “socialist” while urging him to run as an independent; and numerous smaller groups tailed along.
However, it was the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) that came out ahead, going from a marginal force to claiming 25,000 members as a result of the Sanders campaign and Trump’s election. Having operated as part of the Democratic Party since its inception in the Max Shachtman-Michael Harrington “Realignment Caucus” of Norman Thomas’ State Department Socialist Party, the DSA exemplifies the counterrevolutionary politics of social democracy, and exults in calling the cops on communists. Given the large number of raw youth drawn to the group, it is necessary to explain these long-established facts to those who mistakenly believe joining the DSA or its youth affiliate may have something to do with socialism.
Dwarfed by its brethren in the DSA but still a significant opponent of revolutionary Marxism is the ISO, whose lineage goes back to Tony Cliff’s “state capitalist” tendency in Britain. This is a variant of the “Third Camp” social democracy pioneered by Max Shachtman, who renounced the Fourth International’s defense of the gains of October and – despite its bureaucratic degeneration under Stalin – of the Soviet workers state, moving inexorably to openly embrace “democratic” imperialism.
At CUNY as elsewhere, the ISO has done its best to siphon off students interested in struggling against the capitalist system into tailing after Democratic liberalism via the social-movement-of-the-month. Far from Trotsky’s principle of telling the truth to the masses, the ISO can be counted on to embody the most shameless forms of opportunism. After building student support for anti-immigrant bourgeois politician Ralph Nader, the ISO repeatedly declared Barack Obama a “breath of fresh air” during and after his 2008 campaign. Like Workers World and many other opportunist groups, the ISO giddily celebrated Obama’s election, hoping to cash in on widespread illusions in his presidency. (At Hunter College this included plastering the campus with posters using Obama’s “Yes We Can” campaign motto.) Thus its enthusing over the Sanders campaign was a repeat performance, while it formally supported the bourgeois Green Party’s candidate Jill Stein, who, after the election, launched a campaign for a recount in three states with the intention of getting war hawk Hillary Clinton into office. In line with its “Third Camp” pro-imperialist heritage the ISO hailed the destruction of the USSR, claims the remaining bureaucratically deformed workers states (China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam) are capitalist, and complains that U.S. imperialism is not giving enough support to “democratic” forces in Syria (cut-throat jihadists) and Ukraine (outright fascists).
Smaller opportunist groups pursue their particular variations on the theme of tailing and pressuring the Democrats, asking Sanders to head up a new party of the “99%,” etc. One eccentric variant that we encounter in our work is the semi-Maoist Progressive Labor Party, distinguished for combining low-level reformism, integration into the pro-Democratic Party union bureaucracy (including its decades-long role in the ruling caucus of the CUNY faculty-staff union), and its trademark “theory” that Marx and Lenin didn’t understand that with enough willpower you could supposedly go straight to a communist society. PL’s absurd contradictions were shown in its newspaper simultaneously denouncing Obama as a “fascist” and retailing anecdotes of its members campaigning for him in order to be with the masses.
Proletarian Revolution and the Struggle Against Special Oppression
With the murder of Michael Brown and Eric Garner by police in the summer of 2014, a wave of protests, led primarily by the Black Lives Matter movement, swept the country. A series of militant speak-outs at Hunter College led by the Internationalist Clubs, together with vibrant Internationalist contingents in the demonstrations that fall and the following spring, attracted a new layer of activists, many of whom now form the founding membership of the RIY. Our slogan “Only Revolution Can Bring Justice” was often taken up by others during these demonstrations, and was sharply counterposed to pseudo-leftists’ calls for “justice” through the bourgeois courts and illusory recipes to reform the armed first of the bourgeois state. Our forthright communist position on these burning questions attracted students who subjectively wanted to end racist oppression, but had up until that point only encountered the various reformist outfits.
As radicalizing young people sought to identify the roots of racist repression, the Marxist program for black liberation through socialist revolution has been front and center in our work. Students attending their first demonstrations, seeing with their own eyes how the police were “serving and protecting” racist capitalism under the first African American president, would often go straight from the protests to our 16-session “Marxism and Black Liberation” study group. The experiences of the day helped illustrate the Marxist program to mobilize workers power in the revolutionary fight to uproot the material basis of oppression. This was a good example of the motto “Clarity and Action,” raised by our forebears in the first U.S. Trotskyist youth group, the Spartacus Youth League of the 1930s.
We uphold the perspective proclaimed by the Internationalist Group in the main document adopted by the IG’s first National Conference:
“Black oppression has been key to U.S. society since its foundation through the expropriation and genocide against native peoples and the rooting of capitalist development in chattel slavery. On this basis there arose the characteristic American system of racial oppression, producing the poisonous ideology of ‘race’ and racism central to dividing the working class and holding back its consciousness. For the Internationalist Group, the understanding that the struggle against black oppression is key to socialist revolution here ‘in the belly of the imperialist beast’ has been not only a central tenet of our program but a central part of politically winning and training activists recruited amongst deeply exploited immigrant workers and a new generation of youth.”
- “The Trotskyist Struggle for International Socialist Revolution,” The Internationalist No. 40, Summer 2015 ,
Mobilizing youth to protest racist police terror; organizing forums and study series on the Marxist program for women’s liberation through socialist revolution; holding a speak-out honoring Sandra Bland and others murdered by the racist police and protesting the killings of transgender women (predominantly African-American and Latina) throughout the U.S.; bringing students to the picket lines of immigrant workers at the Hot and Crusty bakery and supporting the organizing drive at B&H Photo – through these and other struggles our revolutionary working-class politics have contrasted sharply with reformist “identity politics” which serve as a glue for “unity” with Democratic Party politicians.
CUNY Internationalist Clubs have been actively involved in the struggle of immigrant workers to unionize in New York City. Above: Protest against union-busting at B&H Photo, February 2017.
This form of bourgeois ideology feigns a fight against oppression through “check-your-privilege” liberal idealism and is systematically imbued among university students, including many of those who see themselves as radical. It is used to deepen the wedge between different sectors of the workers and oppressed, claiming to unite those who share a sectorally defined identity, including members of the exploiting class. The long-standing feminist slogan “Sisterhood is Powerful” is a classic example, as if Hillary Clinton or former First Lady Michelle Obama could be the “sisters” of women workers in the Clintons’ Haitian sweatshops, immigrants deported by Barack Obama, mothers whose children were killed by his drones, or strikers targeted by the anti-labor laws the bourgeois politicians enforce. Ostensibly radical versions (including the phantasmagorical “proletarian feminism” some Maoists go on about) give left cover to this bourgeois ideology rather than forthrightly explaining how it can never be a program for actually winning liberation.
The liberal/reformist program of class collaboration is manifested both in the form of “color-blind” Sanders-style populism and in the form that undercuts real struggle against oppression by presenting it as a matter of atomized identities. Both are diametrically opposed to the Marxist program, integral to proletarian revolution, to unite the exploited and oppressed in revolutionary class struggle to uproot every form of “special” or double (and triple) oppression. As Lenin stressed in What Is To be Done? (1902), the workers party can be genuinely revolutionary only if it serves as the “tribune” or champion of all the oppressed, carrying out special work to combat special oppression, and making the fight against it the cause of the entire proletariat – the class whose “radical chains” can only be destroyed through emancipation of all the oppressed. This communist vision of internationalist proletarian struggle is viscerally hated by all manner of aspiring bourgeois politicians and careerists practicing variants of the old Democratic Party recipe (traditionally called “pork-barrel” politics) of divvying up favors and resources between interest-group constituencies.
One of the strongest points of the Internationalist Clubs has been the development of a multiracial core of young communist women activists. This is partly the product of our many activities centered on the Marxist program for women’s liberation, including intensive study group series and forums, presenting the historical materialist analysis of women’s subjugation in the family. This can be overcome only by creating social institutions freeing women from age-old domestic servitude, a key aspect of the overall program of socialism going back even before Marx and Engels. To carry out this task requires overthrowing the capitalist system and building a society based on human needs, not profit.
Our recent forum on women and the Russian Revolution featured the launch of an extensive new Internationalist pamphlet, Marxism and Women’s Liberation, which supplements one of the most popular items on our literature tables: Bolsheviks and the Emancipation of Women. The importance of explaining the counterposition between the Marxist program for women’s liberation and the bourgeois ideology of “sisterhood” called feminism came to the fore as Wall Street militarist Hillary Clinton enlisted massive feminist support for her election campaign for Clinton-Obama Democratic continuity. With eight years of Democratic rule opening the door to the ranting misogynist, racist and Muslim-basher Trump, Democrats’ early vows to work with the new imperialist chief gave way to “Women’s Marches” in which “resistance” was depicted as wearing pink hats and waving “Stronger Together” Hillary Clinton signs.
As Trump sought to impose his vile anti-Muslim and anti-refugee ban, and anti-immigrant attacks multiplied, our youth comrades were heavily involved in the massive airport protests and street demonstrations, putting forward the Internationalist call to mobilize the working class while warning that “you can’t fight Trump with Democrats.” At CUNY and elsewhere this work included initiating committees in defense of immigrants and Muslims; holding speak-outs and organizing meetings on this issue; and helping build and publicize crucial mobilizations like Portland Labor Against the Fascists in June 2017 and class-struggle contingents in other protests against the escalating racist and white-supremacist provocations.
Revolutionary Class Independence Key
Both in the period leading up to, and after the 2016 election, the political experience we gained as young communists was crucial to our ability to expose the bourgeois politician Bernie Sanders and his opportunist cheerleaders. Sanders’ presidential campaign cynically played on the desperation felt by many, channeling youth back into the Democratic Party in support of Hillary Clinton when he lost the nomination. The same youth who took part in Occupy Wall Street in 2011, demonstrated against the racist police murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray, and again against the police occupation of Ferguson and Baltimore, were played by this capitalist politician spouting populist rhetoric about “the 99%.” Throughout, the CUNY Internationalist Clubs unmasked “Bernie” as a capitalist politician shepherding people back into the Democratic Party, when breaking with the Democrats and all capitalist politicians and parties (including minor-league ones like the Greens) is the urgent task of the working class and oppressed.
Explaining the bedrock Marxist principle of the political independence of the working class, we underlined Karl Marx’s declaration in a September 1871 speech to the First International: “Our politics must be working-class politics. The workers’ party must never be the tagtail of any bourgeois party; it must be independent and have its own policy.” The following year, he and Friedrich Engels wrote: “Against the collective power of the propertied classes the working class cannot act, as a class, except by constituting itself into a political party, distinct from, and opposed to, all old parties formed by the propertied classes” (“Resolution on the Establishment of Working-Class Parties,” September 1872)
In the age of imperialism the revolutionary political independence of the working class requires the construction of a revolutionary vanguard party like Lenin’s Bolsheviks. The rise of opportunist “socialism” nourished by the pro-imperialist labor aristocracy and bureaucracy exploded in chauvinist support to “their own” fatherlands by the main parties of the Second (Socialist) International in WWI. The principles of the Third (Communist) International, embodied in its early congresses, were defended by Trotsky’s Left Opposition and the Fourth International against the Stalinist program of popular-front class collaboration, the corollary to “socialism in one country.”
Founding the RIY
The time to found the Revolutionary Internationalist Youth is now. On the basis of the struggles and experience of the preceding years, which cohered a nucleus of Marxist revolutionaries in training who are dedicated to fighting for socialist revolution, we began systematic preparations in Fall 2016. The founding comrades have carried out a systematic study of the history and important documents of past Marxist youth groups. This has included the pre-WWI international socialist youth movement and the emergence from it of the early Communist youth movement; how Stalinization turned youth groups attached to the Communist Party into popular-frontist auxiliaries to the Democratic Party; Trotskyist youth work in the 1930s; the origins and development in the late 1950s and early ‘60s of the Young Socialist Alliance, out of which the founding cadre of the once-revolutionary Spartacist League (SL) emerged; and key aspects of the SL’s own youth work in the period when it still upheld the Trotskyist program.
The history of the socialist youth movement goes back to Karl Liebknecht, who recognized that to struggle against the patriotism and militarism being whipped up by the ruling class in preparation for World War I, it was necessary to win over young workers to the cause of socialism. He also saw the importance of organizing the youth in independent organizations in political solidarity with the adult party, but run independently by the youth themselves. His work among German youth led to the foundation of the International Union of Socialist Youth. Later the Young Communist International, founded in 1919 (after the historic betrayal of the Second International), based itself on the tradition of Liebknecht. The YCL renounced the social democracy’s tactic of keeping the youth occupied with routine educational and social activities and out of real political struggle, instead asserting the Leninist principle of combining theory with action.
Karl Liebknecht speaking at mass meeting in Berlin’s Tiergarten, December 1918. One month later he was murdered on orders of the Social Democratic government.
The first U.S. Trotskyist youth organization was the Spartacus Youth League of the 1930s, which mainly oriented toward recruiting CP youth to the Left Opposition and then the movement for the Fourth International. However, it wasn't until the temporary entry of the Trotskyists into the Socialist parties, seeking to win over new forces in the turbulent mid-1930s, that a large section of leftist youth began to be won over to Trotskyism. In 1938, when the Trotskyists were expelled from the SP, the majority of the Young People’s Socialist League (the SP’s youth group) formed the YPSL (Fourth Internationalist), becoming the youth section of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) led by Trotsky’s close associate James P. Cannon.
However, the 1940 split in the SWP had unfortunate consequences for this budding youth movement. Shachtman’s “petty-bourgeois opposition” took most of the youth with it when it departed the Trotskyist movement in its trajectory toward outright “State Department socialism.” The SWP then essentially gave up on the task of creating a revolutionary youth movement for seventeen years.
In 1953, the Shactmanite youth fused with the former SP youth to form the Young Socialist League under the leadership of the infamous Michael Harrington. Reacting against the Shachtmanites’ drive to merge into Norman Thomas’ Socialist Party, and under the impact of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution (which demonstrated that the Stalinist bureaucracy was a brittle parasitic caste, not a new ruling class as Shachtman claimed), an opposition arose within the YSL led by Tim Wohlforth, Shane Mage and James Robertson, who eventually formed the Left Wing Caucus. They attempted to lead the YSL in a revolutionary direction, began to work closely with the SWP, and after Shachtman and his lieutenant Harrington initiated a purge against them, established the Young Socialist newspaper.
This involved important work in the fight against Jim Crow segregation as the Civil Rights movement took off, emphasizing that capitalism and racist oppression were “two sides of the same coin,” and taking on a leading role in Woolworth’s sit-ins. Polemics against reformism and the Shachtmanites’ embrace of the social-democratic theory of an “all-inclusive party” were also important in educating members. This work was vital to gaining supporters and laying the groundwork for the Young Socialist Alliance, which, founded in April 1960, became the youth group of the SWP.
By this time, however, the SWP was feeling the effects of the long isolation produced by the McCarthyite red purge in Cold War America. While late and partial, Cannon had waged a fight to resist “Pabloism,” the revisionist current that organizationally destroyed the Fourth International in 1951-53 as it adapted to Stalinist, social-democratic and bourgeois nationalist leaderships and liquidated the fight to build Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard parties in every country. By the early 1960s, the SWP was embracing the same methodology in its uncritical adulation of Fidel Castro and refusal to bring Trotskyist politics into the burgeoning black freedom struggles in the U.S.
Facing criticism from founding YSA leaders who formed a minority, which was to become the Revolutionary Tendency of the SWP, the SWP leadership moved to bureaucratize the youth organization. Party members within the youth group were now expected to stick to the party majority line in internal discussions within the youth group, as they would in an outside organization – a policy which explicitly overturned the long-established Leninist conception of youth-party relations.
The Leninist conception, an important topic of study in the period leading to foundation of the RIY, has been summed up as follows: “This position, in brief, is that a youth organization should be autonomously related to the party, being organizationally independent, but ultimately politically subordinate.”
“The distinct character of the revolutionary socialist youth movement is necessary but is subordinate to its place as a section of the international revolutionary movement. The Marxist revolutionary party embodies the historical experience of the working class and is alone capable of leading the struggle for socialism.”
– Preface and 1961 “Resolution on Party-Youth Relations,” in Marxist Bulletin No. 7, The Leninist Position on Youth-Party Relations
The leaders of the Revolutionary Tendency were expelled from the SWP in 1963, and went on to found the Spartacist League. The SL youth group, the Revolutionary Communist Youth (whose name was later changed to Spartacus Youth league), was established in 1970 as the break-up of the 1960s New Left led new layers to be won to Trotskyism, which the SL represented at that time. Codifying key aspects of the political tradition of Trotskyism, the RCY’s founding documents, published in the pamphlet Youth Class and Party (1971), provide an important basis for the program and organizational practice of the RIY.
For nearly three decades, the Spartacist tendency upheld the legacy of revolutionary Trotskyism. This was expressed on a very wide range of burning issues – among them the struggle against popular-front class collaboration; the central role of the Leninist party in the fight against “special oppression,” upholding the centrality of black liberation to the fight for proletarian revolution in the U.S. and specifically Richard Fraser’s program of “revolutionary integrationism”; defending the degenerated and deformed workers states against the anti-Soviet war drive of Carter and Reagan; and insisting, against the federated blocs of myriad pseudo-Trotskyists, that revolutionary internationalism required forging a democratic-centralist world party of socialist revolution. A key test came in the struggle against the capitalist reunification of Germany, in which it uniquely fought against the counterrevolutionary destruction of the DDR (East German deformed workers state), followed by the fight against capitalist counterrevolution in the USSR itself.
Having fought to put Trotsky’s program into practice, the SL and the International Communist League it led were profoundly demoralized and disoriented when the imperialists succeeded in destroying the Soviet bloc, triumphally proclaimed a “New World Order” and declared the “death of communism.” Having lost faith in the working class’s ability to make a revolution, the SL bought into the imperialists’ propaganda offensive and has adapted itself to life under capitalism. They turned their back on the historic work in Germany, adopting the Shachtman-like line that the Stalinist bureaucracy itself “led the counterrevolution”; vilely accused the IG of “anti-Americanism” for upholding the Leninist position to defeat U.S. imperialism; renounced the elementary Leninist call for the independence of Puerto Rico and all colonies; supported the U.S. imperialist invasion of Haiti in 2011 (later renouncing this as an admittedly social-patriotic betrayal while refusing to discuss its origins in their other capitulations to their “own” imperialist rulers); and now refuse to call for rights of asylum for Syrian refugees trying to enter Europe (or the U.S.). The Spartacist League is now a shadow of its former self, having abandoned the revolutionary perspective over two decades ago.
We recognize “the youth” do not form a distinct class, and therefore do not possess independent social power. The principal division of society is the class division, and young people may align with one of the two principal classes – proletarian or bourgeois. As Marxists, we understand that in capitalist society only the working class has the power to uproot the causes of exploitation and oppression by taking power through a socialist revolution, and such a revolution can only be led by the revolutionary vanguard party – the Leninist-Trotskyist party. As the U.S. section of the League for the Fourth International, the Internationalist Group (IG) seeks to build the nucleus of that party here in the “belly of the imperialist beast.”
Society’s middle layers, the petty bourgeoisie, largely find themselves ground into desperate conditions, leading to large-scale discontent, which expresses itself in both left-leaning and rightist forms. Insofar as students are engaged in their university education, they often represent the most volatile layer of the petty bourgeoisie – some of which is prone to influence by radical ideas and can be won to the cause of the exploited and oppressed.
A disaffected, debt-ridden and significantly impoverished layer has emerged with few prospects of a “stable” life and time to ruminate on the causes of their discontent. This layer can be the source of what the Marxist movement has historically called “declassed intellectuals” who can be won to devoting their skills and energy to the cause of socialist revolution. For them to do so effectively, they need training and experience in revolutionary program, organization and discipline within the framework of a youth organization that does not seek to substitute for the revolutionary party, but instead to provide an organic link for young people ready to come over to the side of the proletariat and commit themselves to the revolutionary cause, but in many cases not yet ready to be fully-fledged members of the party.
The organizationally independent but politically subordinate nature of the RIY means it will be organizationally distinct from the IG and other “transitional organizations” aligned with our common movement (such as the Class Struggle Education Workers, Class Struggle International Workers, etc.). It will have a separate executive body, treasury, local committees, etc., and its own newspaper, Revolution, published together with the CUNY Internationalist Clubs. Debating and deciding on its tasks and perspectives through the best practices of the revolutionary movement, the RIY’s members will be responsible for carrying them out in a disciplined way as the youth section of our common movement.
Thus the RIY is hereby established on the basis of the founding program of Trotsky’s Fourth International (The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International, known as the Transitional Program ); the founding declarations of the Internationalist Group (1997) and League for the Fourth International (1998); Marxist Bulletin No. 7 on youth-party relations (1967), as well as the basic programmatic and organizational conceptions and guidelines put forward in Youth, Class and Party (1971); “The Trotskyist Struggle for International Socialist Revolution,” adopted by the First National Conference of the Internationalist Group (2015); and “International Perspectives of the League for the Fourth International” (2015).
The founding of the Revolutionary Internationalist Youth is an exciting and important step forward at a time when capitalism’s threat to humanity’s very survival confronts millions of young people with the need to take their place in the fight for international socialist revolution. Our task of recruiting and training young people to be life-long revolutionary Marxist cadres is a vital part of this fight to win lasting victory over capitalist barbarism, for the working class and all the oppressed throughout the world to open the road to a society without war, oppression or poverty, the classless society of the communist future.■