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 tragic.
THE DRAFT'S BIAS
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 perform.
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 this.
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 them.
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 and LABOR ACTION, the SYL 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 campus.
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.