the proposals for a new socialist youth organisation outlined in the Guardian of November 16 came as no surprise to those who have seen the changing mood of the Labour Party in its attitude to youth accelerated since the result of the general election. (What would have happened had we accidentally won?) Some of the probable changes were, until recently, regarded as unobtainable even by the extreme left of the Labour Youth Movement. Nevertheless, the prejudices aired by Quair in the Labour Organiser after Dennis Potter’s letter to the Times, cannot stand up against the social changes implicit in the welfare-state-cum-H-bomb age which gave rise to the New Left.
The immediate success of the Manchester Left Club must have its lessons, particularly in an area where the few surviving Youth Sections are ineffectual shadows of their former selves. The image of our ageing body of veterans, shedding 75,000 supporters each year, and carrying high slogans which are becoming increasingly irrelevant to those who were born since the thirties, is reflected in the mirrors of the Labour Committee Rooms. The appeal to the mind rather than to the stomach is regrettable to some comrades, but it is the only appeal which is meeting with any success today, in terms of active participation in politics.
The first venture of the Manchester Left Club into pamphleteering was on the essential question of Labour and the Youth Sections. This pamphlet was drawn from the findings of Club members and members of North Western Youth Sections, inhaling some of the fresh winds of the New Left. It offers ten points for the future development of the Youth Sections into a genuine socialist youth organisation. A number of copies have even been purchased on behalf of the NEC of the Labour Party and the Sub-Committee on Youth Organisation (copies are still obtainable, price sixpence, from 73 Downham Crescent, Prestwich, Lanes.)
It now appears that, “the Labour Party is to sweep away the whole present structure of its Youth Organisation”; the intention being to set up a movement with a national autonomous status and an annual conference, thus embodying the two principal proposals set out in the Manchester Left Club pamphlet. This autonomy, together with freedom to express opinions and pass resolutions, is, of course, the essential feature of the success of the Left Clubs. The proposals that members under twenty-one shall not be compelled to join the Labour Party is a useful compromise with our proposal that a status similar to that of the National Association of Labour Student Organisations might be considered. One cannot expect young people to accept automatically the dogmas handed down by a previous generation.
The delegation of special responsibilities for work among young people to Assistant Regional Organisers is nothing new—at least not in the North West—where, incidentally, a sub-committee on youth was set up some time before the National Party considered the question. The real need is a full-time Regional Youth Organiser, who will not be burdened with organising postal votes, settling disputes, and stimulating municipal by-election campaigns, but who will be responsible to the Youth Movement rather than to Transport House. If, of course, the establishment of a youth department in Transport House means that it will be watched, petted and vetted by the Party, then nothing whatever will have been gained.
There is no mention of finance in the Guardian report. This is, of course, fundamental to the provision of adequate social facilities, although local Party branches could be of much greater assistance in providing rooms for meetings and in donating an annual grant. Nor is there any reference to that essential of any serious political organisation of the left—a journal which provides the focal point of activity. The Universities and Left Review and New Reasoner experience is the most recent example of this. The tallents at present expended on Keep Left, Clarion, Rally etc., must be channelled into one all-embracing magazine fol socialist youth. Meanwhile, if this is not forthcoming, Tribune or The Voice could allocate a page to youth in each edition. The extreme sense of isolation felt by the present Youth Sections is, in part, due to the absence of any such national coordination.
Those of us who have been pressing for a serious approach to the problem of youth organisation, have never divorced the cultural, sporting and recreational activities from the political ones. Indeed, the merging of these is one of the most important aspects of the problem,