To live life with purpose: 100 years of the Young Communist League

Very few political organisations in Britain can trace their story back over the course of a full century. But what does 100 years of history mean for Britain’s young communists in 2021?
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Very few political organisations in Britain can trace their story back over the course of a full century. But what does 100 years of history mean for Britain’s young communists in 2021?

For the disinterested, this might be noteworthy in a passing sense: a small seam in the tapestry of Britain’s modern social and political history.

For anti-communists, it’s another confirmation of their proclamation, as rabid as it is unconvincing, that ours is an outdated and dying ideology — the communists have limped on, merely delaying the inevitable.

But we’re not limping. We’re walking taller than at any time in living memory.

Millions of young people are exploring socialist and communist politics. More and more of them are applying to join the YCL and the Communist Party.

For Britain’s young communists our history is fundamentally important but we’re not simply custodians of an exciting but bygone era. It’s a living legacy, the struggles of our past strengthen those of our present and inform our future. And there isn’t another youth organisation in Britain which can lay claim to such an inspirational past.

100 years ago, young communists from across Britain met in Birmingham to found a youth organisation of a new type. Those young workers and students didn’t just agree to condemn the ills and excesses of capitalism — they shared the realisation that a different world is possible, a new, superior form of society, free from the exploitation of human by human: socialism.

They were united by a determination to give the best years of their lives, their hope, their energy and their enthusiasm to do everything in their power to advance that world historic struggle.

100 years on, this is the same pact — the same commitment to live life with a purpose — that unites the hundreds of young communists around Britain today.

This is the same pact that unites us with the comrades that have gone before us this past century, some of them long passed on, many of them in our mother party today, but all of them with us still, in our hearts and in the struggle we carry on.

This isn’t just rhetoric or warm words. Their impact and that living link can be seen in every aspect of the work of the YCL in 2021, our centenary year.

Our link with the youth wings of the Third International are maintained to this day by strong ties to youth organisations across the world. Over this last century we have never faltered in our solidarity with our comrades on the front line of the struggle for socialism and to win a better understanding of the socialist camp among young people in Britain.

We have never shied from the realities of working-class state power and have championed the achievements of socialism against the full efforts of the British state and the monopoly media.

Through the World Federation of Democratic Youth, today we stand shoulder to shoulder with young anti-imperialists on every continent on the planet.

In 1921, our forebears set themselves the task of accelerating the dismantling of the imperialist British empire and supporting national liberation movements across the globe. Today we continue to hold the struggle against British imperialism as our foremost duty.

Britain’s young communists have always recognised that their most fundamental task and the most tangible solidarity we can offer the world communist movement and oppressed peoples everywhere, is to build the struggle for peace, democracy and socialism in our own country.

Inspired by the icons, countless struggles and lessons of our past, in 2021 YCLers are addressing this task with a renewed vigour.

Communists have always worked to build the trade union movement as a leading force in the fight for socialist change, recognising it contains the most advanced and organised elements of the working class.

Our labour movement faces new challenges, not least a dearth of young people. Young communists are working as an organic part of that movement, pouring in our own energies and working to put class politics back on the agenda in the face of collaborationist and partnership ideology.

Britain’s student movement too has changed and fluctuated over these past 100 years, but young communists have always been clear about the revolutionary role and potential of students, proved a thousand times in instances of individual and collective bravery and sacrifice in Britain and the world over.

Here the left faces an ideological counter-attack of a different nature — apathy, nihilism and demobilising postmodernism. Here again, for 100 years, the YCL is still fighting to play its historically essential role of putting class politics to the fore.

For 100 years, young communists have put community work at the heart of our strategy for building the struggle for socialism. The resurgence of tenants’ movements and other campaigning organisations have been a bright beacon in this decade of ruling-class offensive.

YCLers have thrown themselves into these struggles with selflessness and determination. Last weekend scores of YCLers and allies from across Britain met for a Young Organisers School, embodying this legacy of struggle, building for the future of Britain’s youth and working people.

During this pandemic we’ve seen that it is working people who save working people. In the same way history has shown us that working people are the authors of our own liberation — of history itself. The YCL have played a vibrant role in this story in Britain so far and our part is far from over. We have a historically essential role to fulfil — and we’re determined to do so.

A lot has changed in our first century. For the YCL it has been a long road, a difficult road, a road with many turns — but it has always been a certain road.

100 years on, we continue to be Britain’s youth organisation of a new type: determined to make no accommodation with capitalism or the ruling class, relentless in our dedication to socialism and bound by a simple pact — live life with a purpose.

Johnnie Hunter
General Secretary
Young Communist League

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