On the Question of Independent Youth Organizations

The question of whether it is reasonable to build up youth structures or a youth organization independent of a revolutionary organization, to better win young people for revolutionary positions, has a long tradition in the communist movement. In connection with the discussions in and around the LFI youth organization REVOLUTION we want to lay out our position in the following contribution for discussion, and show how the practical approach of the AGM (1) is integrated into this perspective.

The central task for communists is to build up a revolutionary organization as an instrument for the class struggle and the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. Which structures and which areas of work that are selected for this, is not a principled question; an organization can be structured according to areas of work (factory and school cells) or local criteria, front organizations in the trade unions or for women can be established and a revolutionary youth organization can be built up. The decision on these questions must be made based on objective and subjective criteria.

The purpose of a youth organization is that via such an organization, (working class) youth, who are more receptive to communist ideas and often show more enthusiasm in struggle than older layers, can be addressed on a wider scale (see the Comintern resolution of June 1920). Above all, specific youth structures can succeed in giving "young cadre a space in which the youth themselves can gain experience in building up an organization, and in this way responsibility is transferred to them. A youth structure is a suitable place to win new comrades and integrate them into the organization" (Theses of the AGM Youth (2)).

In moulding the relationship between party and youth organization, there can be different models: it is possible that the most experienced young cadre are members of both organizations; it is equally possible that there is a division by age, that comrades are in the youth organization up to a certain age (in the KPÖ (3) the limit was 21) and then automatically pass into the party and that the connection between the two organizations is established by mutual representation in the leadership bodies (such a model would presumably only be reasonable for very large organizations).

In the political sense, a revolutionary youth organization cannot be independent. We mean by this that party and youth organization must stand on the same programmatic foundation and thus the youth organization is bound in the basic political questions. Organizational independence means for us that within this common political framework the youth organization can make its own decisions, for example in the selection of concrete campaigns and actions. The influence of the party can only be based on advice and political authority, not on directives and orders.

We consider a kind of "factional discipline" of the party members in the youth organization to be wrong. Such discipline facing the outside is necessary and self-evident, at interventions, united fronts etc., but not in one's "own" youth organization, with which one shares a common political foundation. In the case that individual party members argue in important questions for disastrous positions, this is a problem of the party and unteachable members must be expelled. Minority positions, however, which are acceptable in the party, must also be openly expressed and discussed in a revolutionary youth organization. This can also help caderize the young revolutionaries. Everything else leads to paternalistic tutelage, which does not treat young people as complete.

In the case that young cadre are simultaneously members of both organizations, the aspired

goal should certainly be that party members do not have a majority in the leadership of the youth organization. This would guarantee that the influence of the party must be based on political authority. When an organization reaches the size where we would take the step to forming an independent youth organization, it is also realistically possible that the non-party-members make up a majority of the leadership.

What we definitely reject is calling a youth organization "independent" when in reality a bureaucratic domination exists. The precondition for the establishment of a self-governing youth organization is that such a model can be filled with life. If miniscule groups, in times of relative capitalist stability, proclaim an "independent youth organization", which is also a miniscule group (and in which a large part of the membership overlaps), then this precondition is not present – and the danger of bureaucratic tutelage is laid out.

The experiences of the LRCI/LFI show this problem very clearly. Back in the early 90s the independence of the ASt youth organization "Internationalistische Aktion" (4) (predecessor of REVOLUTION in Austria) was a chimera. Half of the intakt members were also ASt members; in the ASt leadership, even the most minor tactical decisions were made and implemented in the "independent" youth organization via factional discipline. The discussions in the youth organization were, in the last analysis, a farce.

The expectation of the ASt and LRCI leaderships, namely that activist youth politics combined with a low level for recruitment would lead to a rapid swell in the ranks of an "independent" youth organization, were of course in the early 90s already based on a euphoric perspective for the world situation. At the LRCI congress of 1994, the "analysis" was that in the next three years revolutionary situations would develop in Europe, and corresponding conclusions were drawn for building the LRCI. In light of the fact that there was an overwhelming majority in the LRCI for this orientation, a minority of the ASt (eventually supported by the large majority of the youth organization) no longer saw a perspective in a factional struggle, left the LRCI, and formed the AGM.

The LRCI/LFI intensified the course they had struck out on at the beginning of the 90s – all the way up to the demand to transform the WSF/ESF into the Fifth International. This orientation also had its effect on the LFI's concept of youth work, namely towards increasingly voluntaristic activism, spreading unrealistic and irresponsible hopes (which lead to rapid disappointments and a speedy turnover of activists) and a neglect of political education and empowerment to independent decision-making. As has happened so often in the history of the left, this is the basis for an increasingly bureaucratic mode of operation.

For the AGM, with the forces that are available to us today, we do not see the basis for the formation of a self-governing youth organization; it would only be a formal independence. But we see advantages for building up our organization when young comrades can gain their own experience and take on responsibility; therefore we decided several years ago to form a youth group as an AGM substructure in Vienna, which has partial autonomy. Concretly, non-members who politically sympathize with the AGM, make a financial contribution and commit themselves to regular work, can participate in the decisions of the substructure. They can do this in questions for which there are no instructions or guidelines from the full organization, and these exist only for basic questions of orientation. In other questions, AGM members and non-members discuss and decide openly. In this way, the AGM substructure "AGM Youth" has more elements of independence than the "independent" youth organizations of the LFI.

We believe that it is more honest to say that framework decisions are made by the full organization (rather than trying to pass this for independence), and this also gives young comrades a motivation to become members of the AGM. With this concept, which is realistic for us today, we have had good experience recruiting comrades and training cadre. We have a similar concept of "partial autonomy" in Vienna with "AGM Factory". Recently, in connection with our increasingly close collaboration with AL (5), we have reorganized our substructures with two local groups in Vienna and a university group. The young university students thus have a similarly "partially autonomous" structure, like the structure all the youth together used to have, and can cover their area of intervention in a focussed way. The individual school students are currently integrated in the local groups, but we deal with these questions in a flexible and pragmatic way and can imagine a proper school students' group in the future.

Also in youth work it is important for us to place the focus on training cadre and not on mass work (perhaps combined with euphoric illusions of a "breakthrough"). We are especially concerned with "addressing young people who are interested in societal questions, who are open for contact with the revolutionary left, and convincing them of the necessity of a long-term political revolutionary organization" (Theses of the AGM Youth). Our current concept is, in our opinion, a realistic step towards the goal which is formulated in the theses: "building up a revolutionary youth organization".

We believe that young cadre must first and foremost contribute to building up a revolutionary organization. Where no revolutionary organization exists, rather only a youth group or organization, this can – as is formulated in the Comintern resolution for the period of the First World War – take over the functions of a revolutionary party and become a politically independent organization. However, his kind of self-reliant existence as a youth organization can only be a short phase. If the formation of a full revolutionary organization is not foreseeable, it would be wrong for an existing youth organization to permanently limit itself to its youth-identity (waiting for an unspecified amount of time to join an "adult organization" which will somehow later come into being). Such a youth organization would in the long-term objectively have the function of a revolutionary organization. The task of its cadres would be to form a full revolutionary organization not based solely on youth, even if at the beginning it is made up largely or solely of young people and primarily intervenes amongst young people. But the concept and the direction must be focussed on a full revolutionary organization.

Translation: Wladek F (REVOLUTION Berlin)


(1) AGM = Arbeitsgruppe Marxismus = Working Group Marxism = Trotskyist group in Austria which split from the ASt/LRCI in 1994

(2) original in German: http://www.agmarxismus.net/stellungnahmen/Jugru_Thesen.htm

(3) KPÖ = Communist Party of Austria

(4) Internationalistische Aktion = internationalist action

(5) AL = Antifaschistische Linke = Antifascist Left = Trotskyist group in Austria which split from the SLP/CWI in 1998 and works very closely with the AGM