Throughout its eighty-year history, the Communist youth movement has taken many forms. In each period, young Communists have taken part in and led some of the most important social struggles for working class youth - against poverty and unemployment, racism and for multi-racial unity. It has fought for socialism in each generation, drawing on the traditions of the working class movement and carrying them to young people, and learning from each new generation of youth the concerns and analyses which would enrich that tradition.
The first organizations of young communists in the US were The Young Workers League (YWL), the youth section of the Workers party, and the Young Communist League, USA (YCL). Both were founded 1922. The YWL campaigned against child labor, organized young workers into trade unions, and engaged in solidarity campaigns against the U.S. intervention in Nicaragua. The YWL emphasized the growth of the new urban black proletariat and its working class leadership as a movement that was revolutionary itself. Special attention was also given to the 9 million African-Americans who still remained in the South, facing the daily possibility of being legally lynched. The YCL had a similar program, but was an underground organization.
In 1929, on the eve of the Great Depression, the YWL merged under the name of the Young Communist League, USA as a result of the reorganization of the Workers Party into the Communist Party. As the Depression deepened the YCL fought against youth unemployment and for free school lunches for the children of the unemployed. It further developed the struggle against racism by participating in the struggle to free the Scottsboro defendants from legal lynching in Alabama.
Working with the Communist-led Trade Union Unity League (TUUL) the YCL began to organize industrial unions- which would later in the decades become part of the massive CIO organizing drives in the auto, steel and rubber factories as well as other industries.
Young Communists members were active organizers and participants in the Passaic, NJ textile strike of 1926, the Gastonia, NC textile strike of 1929, the National Miners Union strikes of 1928 and 29, and the San Francisco waterfront general strike of 1934. Harry Sims, a nineteen year old YCL member was assassinated in 1932 during the efforts to organize the coal mines in rural Kentucky. The 1930s marked the largest growth of the YCL. The efforts to organize the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in mass production industries was a central activity for YCL members.
As the danger of fascism became more apparent, the YCL turned its attention there. When the fascists began to overthrow the democratic government of Spain, YCL members made up a large number of the 3,000 members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade volunteers who went to try to stop fascism before WWII broke out. Hundreds of YCL members volunteered and risked or gave their lives in the fight to defeat fascism.
The YCL engaged the revolutionary youth culture of this time. The YCL was one of the first organizations to fight against the exclusion of Black players from professional baseball. And the YCL organized inter-racial dances and promoted jazz as an authentic working class voice, rooted in the African American experience. The YCL held a swing concert, attended by 10,000 people, in Madison Square Garden in the 30s.
In the years before the second World War, the Young Communist League played an essential role in the democratic and political life of the young people in the United States, helping shape the labor and community struggles of the time. J