Youth Can Make the Change We Need

Editor's note: The following is the text of a speech delivered to the closing session of the Young Communist League's national school (August 2009).

It’s been a long nine days in the YCL School. We held classes on Marxist Methodology, Socialism, Strategy and Tactics, the fight against racism and more. It has been a lot and I hope speaking dialectically that each of us is a different person than we first started. It’s all about the negation of the negation and everything is dialectical!     Every year we talk about how important the YCL School is and how it fits into a major struggle we face. Last year and this year the schools take on a new, more significant role because of the time that we face. Last August we were in the massive struggle to elect Barack Obama. People came to school and were able gain valuable insights and lessons on the political moment they were able to take back with them and apply to the election struggles they were in engaged in. 

With the election of Obama we are seeking to find our new footing. We need to be able to grasp and apply Marxism in new and creative ways that help to define and understand our role as Young Communists in this political moment. In some part the school plays an important and vital role in that process. We can come together, take a step back from the daily struggles we are engaged in or are wanting to engage in, and have a broad view and understanding of where we are and how are going to move forward. 

And we don’t have a lot of time to sit in our hands as events are constantly changing and becoming more complex as time goes on. We are in some of the sharpest and contentious battles for reform we have seen in a long time. We find ourselves in a heated and vicious struggle for healthcare reform that, win or lose, will determine the tempo and process for change for sometime to come. This struggle is bringing forward all of the contradictions that we face. On one side is an angry and rabid right wing struggling to reassert themselves after the defeat of 2008 with Limbaugh and Glenn Beck their new spokesmen spewing racism and hatred. On another side is the Obama administration who is trying to put forward progressive reforms and is being besieged and attacked at every twist and turn. We also have a progressive movement whose scope does not match the need of what is required today. It needs to be bigger, broader and more flexible in order to carry out the reforms of the Obama administration and to struggle in a progressive direction on all questions. 

The YCL National School provides the space for young people to explore all of these features of today through the very unique lens of Marxism. We live in confusing times and it’s hard to understand the right way forward. The lies, racism, and apathy that capitalism breeds run deep and we are coming out of 30 years of having the wool, at least tried, to be pulled over our eyes. Marxism, if we study it and learn to grasp it and apply it in creative and flexible ways, leaving behind dogmatism and rigidity, can help to pull that wool out of our eyes and to really see and understand the world around us. 

It can be, if we let it, a liberating experience to grasp and understand the forces at work so that we can all be agents of change. That is the beauty of Marxism when understood right – it can be a source of freedom. It helps us to be conscious agents of change because we know the problems and sources of those problems and how to go about changing them. This, to me, is what freedom and free will is.  

For some of us, coming out of the school, that process maybe taking place now. For others, it maybe five or 10 years down the road and there will be some moment that what was said and discussed here falls into place. And that’s ok. It is through the right mixture of experience and struggle that Marxism is made clear and it is a lifetime process to constantly study, update and expand our understanding of Marxism and the world.  

It’s not an easy task that we set for ourselves, today, as Young Communists. We stand on the shoulders of a proud history of struggle and countless comrades who gave their lives, both figuratively and literally, for the cause of peace, democracy and socialism in the USA. So that the ideas of equality and freedom enshrined in the founding documents of this country could be fulfilled for everyone, not just those who could afford it.  

While it has never has been easy in our nearly 90 years of history, it has always been exciting. September 1st marks the 90th Anniversary of the Communist Party, USA. In those 90 years of struggle our comrades and particularly the young people have been called forward to take up challenging and daunting tasks. It was the YCL and the Party who helped to organize the Abraham Lincoln Brigades to fight fascism in Spain. It was the YCL and the Party who played a large role in organizing the CIO and industrial unions. It was the YCL and the Party who helped lead the struggle in the deep South against racism and lynching and for equality of African Americans in the 1930’s and onwards. It was the Party and the YCL who helped lead the demonstrations and protests to free Angela Davis and against apartheid in South Africa in the 1970’s and 1980’s. 

These struggles have been carried forward to now when the Party and the YCL helped to elect the first African American president and are now actively engaged in the struggle for deep, radical democratic change. And I think about our comrades that have gone before – the ones who gave their lives in the fight against racism in the South, who put their lives on the line so that workers could have the right form a union or who spent years in prison for their belief in a better world – what they would say and think about an African American president in the United States and the struggles that we face today. I would venture to think that they would be as proud as we are of electing Obama and excited about the new opportunities for struggle and building the Party and YCL.  

That tasks that we have set for ourselves are not less daunting, challenging and exciting – to strengthen and build the movement for radical change among youth and students. To win this, though, will take a mixture of the right politics, the right tactics and the right thinking. We cannot be rigid, we cannot be narrow and we cannot pursue a course of going it alone. We must appreciate and understand what is new, what is different and what is possible. 

For if we win in this, to build a massive movement for democratic change, the possibilities of what is possible are great and profound. No less profound than the New Deal in the 1930’s or of the many other struggles we have been apart of. For the countless other democratic struggles that we have been apart of were necessary to get us to where we are today. And it’s our task to build on them and fulfill them and create a new era of peace and justice.   

I want to congratulate and thank all of you, both presenters and participants, for making the 2009 YCL National School a major success.