"Fighting for a Better Life"
Struggles of Young Communist League of Canada, 1923-2003
The Young Communist League of Canada was formed in 1923. Over the years, the YCL struggled through varying condition which often forced it to assume different forms of organization and different tactics of struggle, including underground organizations. Yet, for the most part, the YCL has remained a part of Canadian political life since its formation.
The Young Communist League of Canada was one of the many Communist youth groups around the world that were formed in the years immediately following the formation of the world’s first socialist state, the USSR. In the 1920’s one of the great campaigns for Communists, young and old alike, was winning support for the right of socialism to exist in the world, as a social system and as a state.
As you probably know, there was a great deal of opposition to the existence of the Soviet Union from the ruling classes of the capitalist countries, in the form of economic and political isolation and outright military intervention from day one. For example, Canadian ‘volunteers’ recruited from the ranks of the RCMP and the old Dominion Police Force fought in the civil war alongside the White Army.
The YCL was part of the movement for ending the political, military and economic harassment of the world’s first socialist state. At home, the YCL was an important force in organizing young workers into trade unions, in agitating for the development of social consciousness among young workers, in convincing people of the power of socialism.
The first years of the YCL were years of inexperience and growth, and by the end of the 1920’s, the YCL was established as an important part of the youth movement in Canada.
The economic crisis (or rather crash) of 1929, meant incredible hardships for millions of young people, and the YCL promptly began campaigning for the rights of that generation. The YCL was instrumental in organizing the many organizations of the unemployed that played such an important part in the political life of Canada during that decade. YCL members were amongst the organizers of the massive demonstrations for relief, for unemployment insurance, for jobs, such as the ‘On To Ottawa Trek’, the Vancouver Post Office Sitdown and many others. For those YCL’ers who were lucky enough to have jobs, their task of helping in the organization of trade unions, leading strikes and generally being fully involved in the struggles of working people was made extremely difficult in the economic conditions which prevailed, but still, many successful strikes and struggles, involving YCL members took place during this period.
One of the most heroic chapters in the history of our organization also took place during this decade in the form of the creation of the Mackenzie Papineau
Battalion of the International Brigades which fought against fascism in Spain. In all, 1200 young Canadians volunteered to serve in Spain in the fight against Spanish, Italian and German fascism. Many of these far sighted volunteers were members of the YCL, and tragically, of the 1,200 who went overseas, only 600 returned. The Spanish Civil War, and the defense of democracy, involved the entire membership of the YCL as well as hundreds of thousands of other progressive young Canadians. Not only was there an active volunteer recruiting campaign, but there were also massive solidarity and fund raising campaigns to provide medical and other relief of Spain, to send Canadian volunteers overseas, and to win the support of working people in Canada for the Spanish Republic. Through these, and other actions, the YCL grew significantly during the 1930’s and with the outbreak of World War 2, the YCL was one of the strongest youth organizations in Canada. The anti-fascist mobilization of the YCL during the 1930’s helped to pave the way for considerably for the full scale Canadian participation in the war against fascism in Europe. Thousands of YCL members, some of them veterans of the Spanish Civil War, were amongst the first volunteer in the fight against the Nazi forces.
At home, the YCL was extremely active in organizing a full scale production effort to defeat fascism, as well as continually agitating for the improvement of the situation of the young generation in Canada. As in the 1930’s, this period of time was also a period of great growth in the strength and influence of the entire Communist movement in Canada, including the YCL.
However, with the end of World War II, the Cold War developed, and the YCL, as part of the Communist movement in Canada was under full scale attack from within the country. Spy scares, or rater, spy hoaxes, intimidations, police harassments and so on became almost routine for members of the National Federation of Labor Youth (the organization of young communists in Canada). Of course, such continual harassment and intimidation took its toll, and there was a decline in membership in the organization.
But all was not gloom and doom during this period. On a world scale, the NFLY (YCL) was a founding member of a new youth organization, the World Federation of Democratic Youth, which united hundreds of millions of young people from around the world into an anti-fascist, anti-imperialist youth organizations. Of even greater importance, in the long term, was the emergence of a world system of socialist states after the war which led directly to a new upsurge in national liberations, anti-imperialist, anti-colonial struggles, struggles which are still taking place even today and higher and higher levels.
In Canada, despite the harassment and provocations, the NFLY did not roll over and disappear. Rather it fought back. Members of the NFLY were prominent in the organization of the massive defense campaigns to free Ethel and Julius Rosenberg who were framed by the United States government as atomic spies, in the campaign to end the testing and construction of nuclear weapons, in the fight to have Canadian troops withdrawn from Korea. Some of the issues which today are widely recognized as being sound such as the fight for Canadian independence, the right to self determination for Quebec, the development of energy resources in Canada for Canadians, were first championed by Communists, including the NFLY in the early and mid 1950’s.
In the middle of the fifties, the NFLY changed its name to the Socialist Youth League of Canada and then finally once again to the Young Communist League. In the early 1960’s the YCL was a leading force in the organization of the opposition to the US war in Vietnam, was an active participant and supporter of the civil rights movement, of the peace movement generally. Since 1970, a new dimension has been added to the work of the YCL, the focus on youth rights in Canada as part of the development of anti-imperialist unity.
Since the end of World War II, the YCL has been an active participant in many major campaigns and international events, including World Festivals of the Youth and Students, several major international meetings and conventions as well as campaigns such as the one to free Angela Davis.
The Young Communist League of Canada was liquidated in the crisis in the Communist movement in the 1990’s. This left young Canadians without a voice in the Communist movement. An attempt was made in 1994 to reunite the Young Communist League, which unfortunately failed. Now once again we are ready to fight and as hungry as ever. We’re proud of our history, and we keep adding to it every day. As you find your way through the YCL and meet many of the leaders of the trade union, peace and Communist movements, we’re sure that you’ll be surprised at the number of people who had their start as members of the YCL. You can too! Join the YCL today and become a part of the youth movement for change! The youth are the future! The future is socialism!