Marxists and the British Labour Party
The 'Open Turn' debate
[From The Marxist, Issue no.4, October 1991]
A history of our youth work
This article aims to give comrades an idea of what we have achieved through our youth work over the past 20 to 25 years in order to give direction to our work today.
It should be read in conjunction with the article on Youth Perspectives that will appear in the next issue of the theoretical journal. In the space allowed some questions are dealt with briefly (and some not at all ).
We hope to cover some aspects in more detail in future issues of this bulletin and look forward to reader's comments.
"We need young forces... The people in Russia are legion; all we have to do is to recruit young people more boldly and widely, more boldly and widely, and again more widely and again more boldly, without fearing them...The youth, the students and still more so the young workers will decide the issue of the whole struggle".
Lenin's approach (see above quote) during the 1905 Revolution epitomises the approach of a revolutionary organisation to the question where will the forces we seek for the revolution come from? Such an approach involves revolutionaries paying special attention, and where appropriate taking special measures, to get their ideas and organisation to young people, especially young workers. It has been the success of our organisation in doing this that has laid the basis for all that we have achieved so far.
Our intervention and subsequent use of Labour's Youth Organisation, the Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS) shows our approach in action. The LPYS approached the end of the 1960s in a very poor state. We do not have the space here to go into all the reasons for this. The Healyites of the Socialist Labour League had taken a majority in 1963 but held the perspective there would be socialism or fascism within a year. So the prospect of a Wilson Labour Government in 1964 lead them to abandon the LPYS to the bureaucracy. The NEC took full advantage in restricting the scope of the LPYS.
Not long after them went the International Socialists (forerunner of the Socialist Workers Party). They too had itchy feet at being inside the LPYS with Wilson in power. They saw in the movement around Vietnam and the mood in the colleges the chance to declare a "mass" independent revolutionary party.
Our forces were tiny (indeed at that stage the International Socialists were probably 5 times bigger!) but we had a quite different perspective. Previously grouped around a journal called Rally and for a brief period a joint publication Young Guard [with the International Socialists – Editor] , we put forward a programme to defend and build the LPYS. Even from 1964 when we launched a paper in our own name [the Militant - Editor] we worked to develop the "Defend the LPYS Campaign". Now with the sects gone and Tribune putting in little effort we had a big chance.
What was our method? Where we got a foothold in a single branch we would painstakingly put forward our programme for building that branch, transforming the LPYS nationally and for society as a whole. Where we won majority support the entire local of our organisation would use that branch to show in practice how we could build. Comrades from that local could then speak at a branch where we had nothing.
At this stage our organisation was inconspicuous. We easily tapped sympathy in the Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) for youth work. By 1968 we had won our first NC member and the right for the LPYS to have a paper. By 1969 a founding National Conference was conceded for 1970. 
Our First Turn - To The Workplaces
Crucially in building we took the approach that every local of ours would immediately orientate to a workplace. This would make gains far more solid. Where possible we used the links we had earlier built up during the apprentice strikes of the early 1960's.
So when we won a majority at the 1970 Conference it was natural for us to print up our Young Workers Charter. It became our "bible", and along with regional industrial conferences and local young worker schools played a major part in securing us a good working-class base.
Turning The Labour Party Young Socialists Outwards.
Unlike all previous left leaderships of the LPYS we consciously avoided getting bogged down in constitutional wrangles. Yes, we were going to fight for reforms, but we would need to build amongst youth to win them.
Another crucial difference is how the LPYS became a backbone for the left in Britain and internationally. Indeed a scandal had just broken in the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY) over involvement with the CIA of some of its leaders. The General Secretary had resigned and the President of the Norwegian section committed suicide. Our comrades were able to argue for lefts not to disaffiliate but fight with us on a socialist programme.
Significantly our early international campaigns, on Spain, Ireland etc had the very same purpose. Many of the contacts/organisations we came across became the start of the sections within our International. In Britain many youth were inspired by our international work and joined the organisation because of it.
In Britain our Campaign for Socialist Action and the rallies we had to push it, provided an important platform to explain our programme for workers control. Our resolution from Shipley, calling for the nationalisation of the top 250 firms, was passed at the 1972 LP Conference.
Winning Reforms For The LPYS
This patient work paid off.
With a shift left on the NEC we were able in 1972 to win the right to elect someone onto the NEC, for a Regional Committee member to go to any other branch ( which we used further to spread our ideas to new people) and editorial control of our own youth paper. 
By the 1980s we had won a budget of some £30,000.
The Youth Work Was Our "Spinal Column"
The first rule of every Campaign was "take it to the workplace".
This we did in the latter half of the 1970's with the YCAU. But this work was not just our main way to recruit young workers, it provided the base for the bulk of our work.
Whether it was the successful Black and Asian rallies or demonstrations, our work amongst school students or young women, all of it could be built around the youth organisation.
Every Local A Youth Branch
Within 5 to 6 years of taking control of the LPYS we had doubled the number of LPYS branches (and won every place on the NC into the bargain). Within the organisation was raised the idea that every local should have a youth branch, i.e. in order to be a healthy local you should aim to have a LPYS campaigning in your area that can attract a pool of young contacts. There they can come across our programme and be trained in our ideas and methods.
It was in this way the bulk of the current leaders of the organisation were recruited and trained. It was in this way the organisation grew and prepared for the miner's strike, for Liverpool, for work in the Parliamentary field etc. In fact by the time of the 1985 National Youth Conference we were able to attract 2,000 to it and recruit more than 100 to the organisation. 
Of course as our success grew in the early part of the 1980s we became far from inconspicuous.
The bureaucracy were terrified, and from about 1981, when the right regained the NEC, began to move against our base in the LPYS.
It is testimony to the way that we fought that not only did it take 8/9 years for them to effectively close the LPYS but we had some of our biggest successes during this period.
Our response to the attacks was "Build A Mass LPYS". This gained us much support from the sizable layer of activists who were in the Party and the unions at that time. But early on in the struggle it was not possible to work solely through the official structures. Since 1982 we have only been able to get out one document in the name of the LPYS (and this was as a fait accompli!)
Since the mid 1980s every leaflet and every campaign proposed by us has been blocked by the NEC. Since 1986/7 the LPYS has not spent a single penny on campaigns!
To get round this we set up campaign such as Youth Trade Union Rights Campaign (YTURC), Further Education Labour Students (FELS), Chile Socialist Defence Campaign (CSDC), SSU and later the Defend the LPYS Campaign. The NEC could not stop any of these producing the leaflets and running the campaigns they wanted. And they would have a hard battle to police LPYS branches from supporting them.
Moreover we achieved widespread support. If YTURC had not been set up when it was, or if we had not launched the school student strike (which the NEC banned) then we would not have been able to win support, for example at 1983 and 84 LP Conferences. We would have stagnated and the LPYS would have been closed much sooner.
Exposing The Right Wing
At each stage we were able to explain that the right wing were attacking the LPYS for political reasons.
Our response to the "consultation" was to launch a campaign to win the 6.2 million new voters to Labour.
We won respect amongst those lefts in the Party. 85% of replies opposed the attacks.
They closed the LPYS monthly paper for an "improved" youthful magazine. Over 2 years only 2 issues came out before it folded with £7,000 debts.
We had taken the LPYS to 573 branches, 12,000 plus members and a 2,000 strong conference.
The right said the changes were needed because the "size of this youth movement is nothing short of a disaster, an embarrassment". Today the LPYS has 24 branches, around 200 members and less than 100 at its conference.
Dismantling Of The LPYS Did Damage Us
When the LPYS Conference was closed (end of 1987) we immediately organised one in the name of YTURC. 500 attended in 1988 and over 400 in 1989.
In some areas we set up YTURC branches and began to establish a membership.
However, for a couple of years or more we were falling between two stools. On the one hand we could no longer build a mass LPYS. There was nothing to take people to, no leaflets, no campaigns.
The number of branches we had fell to 18 and they were increasingly isolated. On the other hand, YTURC was a campaign name, primarily on a single issue.
The slogan we were still using of "every local a youth branch" was something locals agreed with but could see little prospect of achieving. A new turn was needed.
Launching Our Own Youth Organisation
Most comrades now would say we let the deteriorating position in our youth work go on too long. However at the time this "mistake" was done for the best of reasons. Correctly we attempted to hold on to what we had built, almost no matter what. Correctly, we also understood, and still do, the importance a youth organisation inside the Labour Party will play.
It is true that by the launch of our Youth Organisation we had a long way to climb back to have an organisation we could use. However, from its launch, the improvement has been massive.
With about 80 branches and 1,300 members we are in a position where any local of the organisation can know it has a youth group it can build.
One young comrade, or one comrade prepared to do youth work can produce a leaflet with our ideas, or take people to our camp or conference or have a meeting on our Jobs and Homes Campaign.
The way we could use our Youth Organisation during the Gulf War alone showed how we are in a much better position with our youth work than 2 or 3 years ago.
Retaining Our Orientation To Labour Movement
Of course from its inception our youth organisation has retained its orientation to the Labour Party and the Trade Unions. Primarily it is a temporary measure to build a massive base amongst youth while mass work through the official LPYS is denied us.
The key to a lot of the our agitation at the moment is for a Labour victory to defeat the Tories in the General Election, and an explanation of what such a Government should do for youth.
Moreover we have not surrendered a single position in the official LPYS.
The right wing organised a secret meeting of three of their NC members to depose our comrade as chairperson and now won't call another NC! But all such measures will be futile.
In the long run whatever youth organisation there is in the Party our ideas will be there. There will be no mass base for right wing ideas amongst the youth.
A recent survey showed 41% of youth thought socialist policies were the way to solve Britain's economic difficulties.
Considering developments in the Stalinist countries and the ditching of the pretence of socialism by the leaders of the movement in Britain that is a massive constituency for us and our youth campaign.
With our reputation on the poll tax, with the fact that 60% of our Youth Organisation is made up of young workers then we can every confidence to build our Jobs and Homes Campaign and out of it our organisation.
We should, as in the past, target in every region which youth branches we think should have public meetings on this. Of course we should set targets for the turnout on the 20th November. We should set targets for those locals of the organisation which should establish a youth branch and youth recruits out of it.
We should say once again: EVERY LOCAL A YOUTH BRANCH. It is now realistic and building our Youth Organisation today is the best way of ensuring we will build out of all future youth movements, inside and outside the Labour Party.
By 1968 Militant had one member on the LPYS National Committee (NC) and the LPYS had won the right to have its own paper, edited by a LPYS member; the LPYS National Conference to discuss resolutions from LPYS branches on any subject and for the LPYS NC to be elected once again, although this time by LPYS Regional Conferences. [Back]
The LPYS representative on the Labour Party NEC was elected by the LPYS National Conference. The LPYS had editorial control of its paper, then called Left, from its inception in 1968 (see note 1). [Back]
The 1976 LPYS Conference was the first to be attended by nearly 2,000 young people. Since 1976 LPYS conferences regularly drew a remarkable attendance close to 2000 young people, but as the article makes clear, the 1984-85 miners' strike, together with the 1983-87 Liverpool struggle, took the attendance at the 1985 conference to a new record. [Back]