A Brief History of Youth Leagues in the American Communist Movement

The split of the Socialist Party of America in 1919 affected its youth section, the Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL), as well. A segment of the organization departed its ranks amidst the controversy, while the organization attempted to steer to a position of neutrality between the warring factions of American Communism, the Communist Party of America and the Communist Labor Party of America. While both of those organizations approved the operation of a youth section in principle, in practice they had other pressing concerns and did nothing along that line. Loyalists to the SPA attempted to regain the organization for the mother organization, and amidst factional rancor and financial poverty, the national organization dissolved, as did most of the local units of the organization.
It was not until the 2nd Convention of the United Communist Party [Kingston, NY, Jan. 1921] that a serious effort was made to establish a Young Communist League of America. The convention resolution may be downloaded here. “H. Edwards” was appointed national organizer by the party, provisional rules and first leaflets were drawn up, and organizational work was begun in all the major cities in which the UCP had a presence. By April of 1921, the YCLA claimed that “about 20 groups” were “definitely organized.”
[fn. “H. Edwards,” Report to the 2nd World Congress of the YCi,” NARA M-1085, reel 939, doc. 122.]

1. Founding Convention YCLA — Bethel, CT — April 20, 1922.
It was not until April of 1922 — after the United Communist Party had joined the Communist Party of America to form the unified “Communist Party of America, Section of the Communist International” — that a convention was held for the YCLA. The underground gathering was held in Bethel, Connnecticut on April 20, 1922. The underground YCL remained in existence throughout 1922 and into 1923, duplicating the role of the underground CPA vis-a-vis its legal arm, the Workers Party of America.
[fn. Theodore Draper, The Roots of American Communism (NY: Viking, 1957), pg. 344.]


1. First National Convention YWLA — Brooklyn, NY — May 13-15, 1922.
The Founding Convention of the Young Workers League of America approved a manifesto, program, a set of resolutions, and a constitution for the organization. Membership in the organization was open to “all proletarians” between the ages of 14 and 30. There were originally no constitutional links between the YWL and the Workers Party of America — ostensibly its parent organization.
The YWL was to hold annual conventions, governed in between these events by a National Executive Committee of 7, of whom at least 5 were to be residents of the city in which headquarters were located. Five alternates were also chosen, to be filled into the NEC as vacancies arose according to the order of votes received for each alternate. Chicago was chosen as the headquarters city by the founding convention and the group maintained its first headquarters at 1145 Blue Island Avenue, Room 9, Chicago, IL.
The 1st Convention elected the following officers:
National Secretary: Martin Abern.
National Executive Committee: ??? (x 7).
NEC Alternates: ??? (x 5).
The YWL published The Young Worker as its official organ. It also had a “Junior Section” for children between the ages of 8 and 14, for whom a small monthly magazine called The Young Comrade was published.

2. 2nd National Convention YWLA — Chicago, IL — May 20-22, 1923.
The 2nd Convention of the YWLA approved a set of resolutions on International Relations, the Economic Demands of Youth, Education, Miliatarism, Sports, Press, Foreign Language Sections, and the Relationship of the YWL to the Workers Party of America. It also adopted a “Thesis on the Organization of Shop Nuclei,” faulting the territorial form of organization for a failure to make connection with the masses of youth and calling for a restructuring of the organization on a shop basis.
The 2nd Convention elected the following officers:
National Secretary: John Williamson.
National Executive Committee: ??? (x 7).
NEC Alternates: ??? (x 5).

At the end of 1923, the YWL claimed (rather optimistically, it would seem) a membership of about 4,000, organized in 150 branches spread across 100 cities. A membership for the Junior Section of 2,000 in about 30 cities was also asserted. Both of these extremely round figures are to be regarded with suspicion until documentary evidence as to the actual size of the dues-paying membership comes to light.
At the end of 1924, the YWL claimed a membership of between 3,500 and 4,000 in 150 branches. The above caution as to the veracity of this number applies.

3. 3rd National Convention YWLA — Chicago, IL — Oct. 4-6, 1925.
The 3rd Convention of the YWL was marked by a severe factional split between supporters of William Z. Foster and of C.E. Ruthenberg that paralleled the split in the adult party. The report of the credientials committee seating a majority of the Ruthenberg groups delegates was approved by a margin of 29-20. In the debate on the report, Jack Stachel of the Ruthenberg group declared that the YWL had a membership estimated at between 1800 and 1900 and claimed majority support for his faction.
James P. Cannon spoke to the convention about his differences with Foster. William Z. Foster also addressed the gathering, concluding his speech with the words “I am for the Comikntern from start to finish… and if the Comintern finds itself cris-cross with my opinions, there is only one thing to do and that is to change my opinions to fit the policy of the Comintern.” Max Bedacht reported for the Ruthenberg majority group, which was the majority faction of the CEC of the WPA.
The 3rd Convention elected a 20 member National Executive Committee consisting of 10 members from each faction. The officers were as follows:
National Secretary: Samuel Darcy.
National Executive Committee:
Joseph Angelo, Samuel Darcy, Samuel Don, John Harvey, William Herberg, Nat Kaplan, Valeria Metz, George Papcun, H.V. Phillips, Max Salzman, Al Schaap, Max Shachtman, Peter Shapiro, Morris Schindler, William Schneiderman, Jack Stachel, Patrick Toohey, John Williamson, Sam Winocur, Herbert Zam.
During 1925 the Young Pioneers’ League of America was established for children under 14 years of age, replacing the Junior Section of the YWL. The YPLA’s magazine was a monthly entitled The Young Comrade.


Youth Conference — Bellaire, OH — Feb. 28, 1926.

Youth Conference — New York, NY — March 5, 1926.

Pioneer Camps and YWL Summer Schools
The Workers Party’s first youth summer school was held in 1925 at Waino, Wisconsin. About 50 students attended and the program lasted for four weeks.
The Finnish Federation, the largest in the WPA, adopted the summer schools as an important task. During the summer of 1926 the YWL ran a national school in Chicago, with 16 students, as well as three district schools, based in Waino, WI; Waukegan, IL; and Winchedon, MA. These schools conducted full-time 5 week program of courses at Waino, 4 weeks at the other schools. Approximately 140 youngsters attended.
The Young Pioneers, the junior section of the YWL, held three summer camps in 1926, in Chicago, New York City, and Boston, attended by 700 to 800 children.

During the summer of 1927 there were four district schools held — Boston, Ohio, Waino, WI, and Winlock, WA. The Wisconsin and Washington schools conducted an ambitious 6 week program, while the other two schools conducted a 5 week program. Approximately 160 young communists took part. As you may discern from the photos of Waino (above) and Winlock (below), the average age of participants varied substantially between specific summer schools. In an essay which he wrote for the 1927 Yearbook of the Winlock School, Director Oliver Carlson advocated a rather older rather than younger average age, stating that “the boy or girl of 14, 15, or 16 years who is still in school has not as yet been forced to shift for himself, to make his own living, and to feel the pressure of the class struggle. To such a one the class war and all other theories relating to it cannot be duly appreciated.”

The Pacific Northwest school was held at Winlock, WA from July 10 to Aug. 20, 1927 and was attended by 42 students — 24 girls and 18 boys. Age of participants ranged from 14 to 23, with the great bulk between 15 and 18. The students followed the following topics: Sociology, American Social and Labor History, Marxian Economics, Class Struggle History and Theory, Imperialism, Problems of Socialist Reconstruction, Cooperation, Current Events, Public Speaking, and Theory and Practice of Young Workers’ Organization. 28 of the students came from 15 towns in Washington state and 13 students came from 6 towns in Oregon. In addition, there was one participant from Rock Springs, WY. Of the participants, 23 were members of the YWL, 1 was a member of the W(C)PA, and 19 were non-party. As funding for the camp was raised through the pages of the Astoria, OR communist newspaper Toveri, it should come as no surprise that nearly of the participants had clearly Finnish surnames. Director of the Winlock school was Oliver Carlson, who had been involved in earlier party youth schools in New York, Chicago, and Wisconsin.

Classes began at 9 am and carried through until 2:50 pm, with an hour for lunch. Students had additional less formally directed activity, which included research, recreation, songs, and athletics until 4:30 pm. Monday Evenings were spent in YWL nuclei meetings, Friday evenings featured lectures, and plays and entertainment took place on other evenings.
The students elected a six member discipline committee, which set rules for the school, times that students were to be in their quarters, and so on. A chart headed “Roll of Dishonor” was posted to note rulebreakers and thereby maintain discipline.
Five Young Pioneers summer camps were held in 1927, located in the Boston, New York, Ohio, Detroit, and Chicago districts.
Information about 1928 is less complete. At a minimum, there was once again a party summer school held in Woodland, Washington attended by 54 students — 30 girls and 24 boys. The School was held from June 24 through August 4, 1928. The composition was rather older than the 1927 Pacific Northwest school, with 11 students between the ages of 25 and 34. Washington remained the home of the greatest percentage of students (21 of the 54), closely followed by a contingent of 20 from California (11 from Los Angeles, 9 from Northern California). An additional 12 students were from Oregon and 1 hailed from Vancouver, British Columbia. It seems that in contrast to 1927, almost all participants were members of the YW(C)L or the Workers (Communist) Party (35 and 15, respectively). Only a minority of participants had Finnish surnames, again in contrast to the 1927 school.
In addition to director Oliver Carlson, a cook and a technical manager, three instructors joined the faculty: Marion Gray (Agitprop Director of District 12), Al Schaap (District 12 Organizer), and Frank Waldron [Eugene Dennis] (Subdistrict Agitprop Director in District 13). Student committees were formed for athletics, entertainment, photography, library, publicity, wall newspaper, student annual, and discipline.
On the 4th of July, students were transported by truck to the opening of Tualatin Park, 8 miles south of Portland. Revolutionary songs were sung and public speeches were delivered by Henry Routtu (on the YWL), Fred Walker (on Workers Education), and Rose Rubin (on the significance of July 4th to the working class). The students also took a field trip to a non-union lumber mill in Longview, Washington on July 11th. A group of students also agitated against militarism at Vancouver, Washington that same day at a Citizens Military Training Camp.
Plans were set in motion to establish a similar school in California the following summer.

According to the 1930 edition of The American Labor Yearbook, the Young Communist League “based on dues payments” had a membership of about 500 in 1926, 700 in 1927, and 1,860 for the first ten months of 1928. As this is a hostile source, these numbers should be regarded with caution until verifcation with internal documents is possible.

4. 4th National Convention YW(C)L USA — New York, NY — October 30-XX, 1927.
A partial list of delegates published in The Young Worker issue of Nov. 1, 1927 included:
D1 (Boston): Kay, Shohan, Kangas. D2 (New York): Plot, J. Harrison, Miller, Rubenstein. D3 (Philadelphia): Bender, Feldman, Carroll. D5 (Pittsburgh): Minerich, Jaffe. D7 (Detroit): Joe Roberts. D8 (Chicago): Lurye, Glotzer, Green, Novack. D9 (Superior/Twin Cities): Tenhunen, Boverky, Bernick, Sankary. WPA: Bedacht, Wolfe, Stachel, Weinstone, Bittelman.

5. 5th National Convention YW(C)L USA — New York, NY — April 26-XX, 1929.
The 5th National Convention changed the name of the organization to “Communist Youth League of USA.” The change was short-lived, as by the 6th Convention the name of the organization had changed yet again, to “Young Communist League of USA.”
The main report was delivered by Herbert Zam, who spoke on “The Report of the NEC, the Struggle Against the Right Danger, the Position of the Young Workers, and the Tasks of the League.” An organizational report was also delivered by Sam Darcy.


6. 6th National Convention YCL USA — New York, NY — July 4-XX, 1931.
The 6th National Convention was attended by 63 delegates, 16 alternates, 17 members of the National Executive Committee, and 17 fraternal delegates. According to statistics published in The Young Worker, this group was said to include 69 members who were 22 years old or younger and to be comprised of 61 native-born whites, 10 native-born blacks, and 18 foreign-born.

“July Plenum” — New York, NY? — July XX-XX, 1933.

7. 7th National Convention YCL USA — New York City? — June 22-27, 1934.

8. 8th National Convention YCL USA — New York City — May 2-5, 1937.

9. 9th National Convention YCL USA — New York City — May 11-15, 1939.

sources: American Labor Year Book. (NY: Rand School of Social Science, various dates), 1923-24: pp. 166-167. 1925: pp. 165-166. 1926: pp. 254-256. 1927: pp. 135-136. 1930: pg. 142. 1932: pp. 116-117. The Young Worker (1927-1929), passim. Red Dawn: Commencement Annual of the Northwest Young Workers Summer School. (Astoria, OR: Pacific Development Society, 1927). Red Student: Commencement Annual of the Pacific Coast Workers Summer School. (Astoria, OR: Pacific Development Society, 1928).