Youth Conscription and the Drive Against Academic Freedom

Submitted by AWL on 10 July, 2013 - 9:46

Youth Can Show the Way to Fight War

(Article from Labor Action's annual May special issue, 1951)

Youth has always been the age for freedom and strength, 
for growth and creativity, for dreaming and doing. It is a 
time for flexing one's muscles and holding up one's head,
 for walking in the sunshine and for looking at the stars, 
for expansion and soaring. It has always been this way in 
literature and in art, in dream and in myth - and justly so.

But it has not always been so in reality, and it is less so
 today than ever.

Young people have never demanded too much - just what 
is really due them, them and all mankind: The right and
 the means to live in peace and without fear. The ability to 
go to school and to learn, to search among the stores of
 knowledge and wisdom, and to add to those stores. The
 chance to do useful and productive labor and to enjoy its
 fruits. They want to live in good houses and to eat well and 
to wear nice clothes. They desire adequate time for leisure
 and recreation and access to the cultural treasures of man
kind. They want love and security.

They want those material things, and the institutional
 framework and the free atmosphere under which, and only 
under which, the dreamed of potentialities of youth can be
 realized, when the full and free flowering of each human 
personality can take place.

May Day 1951 finds the world in a state about which
 there is little to celebrate, little to rejoice. The continued decline of world capitalism and with it the decline of world
 culture spiral ever downward, dragging mankind to the
 edge of barbarism - with youth as the first sacrifice. The
 specter of the third imperialist world slaughter hovers over
 the peoples of the world, threatening the atomization of
 whole countries and their populations. The only force which can prevent the coming holo
caust by putting an end to 
the two reactionary social
 systems which breed it - the
 masses everywhere led by 
the international working 
class and the colonial peoples
 - are divided among the two
 war camps, the camps of
 Stalinist barbarism and cap
italist imperialism.

War always takes its toll 
first from the youth. They are the ones who are taken out of 
the factory and out of school and 
put into the barracks. Their lives 
are disrupted; they are taken 
away from family and friends and
 their ordinary pursuits and activi
ties are ended. They are called 
upon to learn to kill and be killed, 
to give up their lives on the battle
fields, to become another statistic 
in a casualty list.

Class and race discrimination,
 bred into the very fabric of Amer
ican capitalist society, generally 
operate in this sphere too, where
 the results can be so much more 


Under the announced plans on 
deferments and exemptions for 
students, going to college can be 
the key to survival. And in our 
society the sons of workers by and 
large are unable to go to college. 
Being deprived of an education 
because of lack of money is one
 of the reactionary consequences 
of capitalism. When this becomes 
a possible factor of life or death 
during wartime, it points up even 
more glaringly the reactionary 
nature of an undemocratic class 
system. The Negro youth has to 
serve in a Jim Crow army in 
which he will be given the most 
menial and unpleasant tasks to 

The imperialist world war
 looms, but it is not yet here. Instead, this is the period of the 
"cold war" and the so-called "po
lice action" or "limited war" in
Korea. This is the time when both 
camps prepare for the struggle.
 It involves building armies and
 armaments, the piling up of the 
means of destruction. Greater 
and greater proportions of the
 national budget and of produc
tion go into the preparations for 
the war. The draft is instituted 
and Universal Military Training is being planned.

In addition to the mobilization of resources and the productive
 forces of the nation, it is neces
sary to mobilize the minds of the 
people and of the youth. The area
 of democracy, of civil liberties
 and of academic freedom shrinks
 with each passing day.


Among the youth this reflects itself on the campuses in increasing restriction on academic freedom.
 These restrictions become necessary in view of the fact that the 
Korean war is an unpopular one 
among people generally and
 among students. The unpopularity
 of the war expresses itself not in
 terms of organized opposition but
 in terms of apathy and cynicism.
 The witch-hunt and subversive lists
 instituted in the national government by Truman have their counterpart in the college community.

The first targets of the witch-
hunters in the schools are the 
Stalinists and their front organizations. On campus after campus
 Stalinist youth groups are banned, and various stratagems
 (such as arbitrary speaker rules)
 are invoked to prevent Stalinists
 from addressing students who
 may wish to hear them.

The reactionary Stalinists are 
the primary targets today but the 
ultimate ramifications are already clear. The final aim of the
 anti-academic-freedom campaign 
is the complete silencing of all 
independent thought on the cam
pus, both among the students and 
the faculty.

The witch-hunting drive sets for 
itself the task of muzzling all 
criticism of the war and of the
 way it is being conducted, and of
 gagging all opposition to capitalism and its evils. This requires 
the elimination of all political life
 in particular and the sterilization
 of all intellectual life in general.


Examples galore of this ten
dency can be cited. There was the 
recent struggle by the faculty of
 the University of California 
against the imposition of a loyalty oath on it by the Board of 
Regents; there were the recent 
events at Brooklyn College.

The totalitarian drive at the
 latter school began with the outlawing of the Stalinist Labor
 Youth League, went through a
 phase in which the Gideonse administration banned the student
 newspaper (which had been critical of the regime) and replaced 
it by another one which does not 
represent the students but acts as 
a house organ for the college re
gime. Latest developments include the assumption of authority 
by the administration to ban any 
student group which is "subversive of the nation or the college"
for any "reason which it sees fit."

Under this recently adopted 
ruling the school is considering
 the banning of the Young Progressives of America (CP front
group) and of an independent
 but somewhat pro-Stalinist peace
 club. The administration is also
 considering the banning of all
 political clubs on campus regard
less of the nature of their politics,
 and several intermediary steps in
 that direction.

In step with the foregoing is 
the increasing militarization of 
the campus as well as of national
 life generally.

ROTC is instituted on campus
 after campus, including those
 which heretofore had resisted
 such a development. Prominent
 military men are increasingly
 taking administrative positions
 with colleges, including the position of president.

But more than this is the total
 mobilization of college life for the
 military which is in the offing. The 
college will more and more become the training and recruiting 
ground of the technicians and 
other specialized personnel needed 
by the military establishment.
 Other aspects of academic life
 will be strictly subordinated to 

It would be gratifying if it
 could be reported that the mass
 of students have been reacting to
 these events with struggle 
against them. Such unfortunately 
is not the case. The pressures of
the war drive have had their effects on students.

One of the main results is demoralization, which in turn produces feelings of hopelessness and

passivity. The students do not see
 much use in continuing to pay
 attention to their studies nor in 
attempting to fight back. Fur
thermore, the reactionary slogans
 which are thrown at the student
 from all sides, from the daily
 press and in the classrooms, has 
its effects. Many students tend to
 feel that it is well-nigh impossible 
to resist the anti-democratic temper of the times.

The struggle for democracy on 
the campus cannot be divorced
 from other political struggles
 these days. This is one of the con
ditions which hamper the tradi
tional attitudes of the liberal stu
dents and student organizations 
toward civil liberties and the
 fight to maintain and extend 
them. To defend the capitalist
 camp in the war, and to oppose 
the inevitable restrictions on democracy which flow from the war,
 presents extreme difficulties for 
these tendencies. Nevertheless,
 these groups, despite the contradictions that are involved for 
them, do try to put up some sort
 of fight. It is necessary to foster
 such elements and to work with 


However, there are more direct 
roads to pit one's strength
 against the looming war and the 
two social systems which are 
bringing it upon the world. This, 
of course, is involved in the con
cept of the "Third Camp," which 
is discussed more thoroughly in 
other articles in this issue. Across 
the nation youth and student 
groups have been organized
 which are specifically pledged to 
the construction of such a world-
wide force. For the youth of the 
nation there are areas in which 
to work, struggles in which to 
take part. There are still oppor
tunities for the youth to "flex 
their muscles," and to do so in a
 socially meaningful way.

A fine example of such an organization is the New York Stu
dent Federation Against War,
 which incidentally is two years 
old this May Day. Composed of 
nine New York socialist clubs, 
the Federation has devoted most 
of its energies, in the past year, 
to the publication and distribution of Anvil, an anti-war quar
terly which has, to the surprise 
of many, received a fine reception
 on university campuses all over the
 country. Anvil, which last year
 was merged with the publication 
of the University of Chicago
 Politics Club Student Partisan,
 has continued to gain larger and 
larger audiences during the year.

Other centers of Third Camp
 organization revolve around vari
ous SYL (Socialist Youth League)
 chapters across the country. Par
ticularly active are the organisa
tions at the Universities of Cali
fornia and Chicago and in New
 York. Maintained by an energetic 
membership, these groups have 
sustained a year-round program
 which keeps socialist ideas in front
 of the student body.

Aside from circulating Anvil 
groups often publish small bi-
weekly pamphlets of their own
 with commentary on the local and 
international scene. Socialist
 ideas have a dynamic of their 
own which it is becoming difficult 
to overlook, and for the first time 
since the 1930s anti-war senti
ment is being channeled and 
voiced in an organized and co
herent fashion, on the American


The vacuum of political activity on the American campus and
 among youth in general may well
 be filled in the near future. The
 Third Camp movement has broad 
grounds in which to develop. Stal
inist front organizations have
 been discredited well-nigh beyond
 recall; all but a few students
 have seen the hypocrisy and sinister quality of groups such as
 the Young Progressives and the 
Labor Youth League.

But the slogan of "Peace" still finds many ears. And, for this
 reason, organizations such as the 
Students for Democratic Action, 
the student branch of Americans 
for Democratic Action, have scarcely grown in the recent pe
riod. For the SDA, while inclined
 to be more radical than its parent,
 the ADA, proposes no real solution to the present crisis. It criti
cizes some of the more blatant 
aspects of American war policy,
 but overlooks the nature of the 
forces behind that policy which 
make any serious alteration in it 
out of the question.

The SYL poses a route which,
 though not the easiest one to follow in the present tensions and 
pressures, can lead to the destruction of Stalinism and the building 
of a better world, without the ne
cessity of a reactionary war. The
 SYL insists that the heritage of the
 struggle of the oppressed need not
 be abandoned in order to fight 
Stalinism. Instead, it calls for a
 resurgence of that heritage as the
 only effective and democratic 
means of combating Stalinism. ...

For large numbers of students 
this program has a powerful ap
peal. Again and again SYL organizers and speakers have dis
covered huge untapped human resources for the struggle. Students 
sit up and listen; they ask questions; they want to know more. 
And for those of us for whom the 
heritage of the struggle of freedom is meaningful, it is our job
 to tell them more.

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