the first Young Socialist Conference, this Easter, can give only limited encouragement to those who hope for a movement of young people carrying into broader socialist terms the activity and idealism of CND. The Conference was dominated by a violent confrontation of left and right wingers, over the Bomb, Gaitskell’s leadership, the paper “Keep Left”, and the “guiding” role of Transport House in the Young Socialists’ development.
Transport House itself was heavily represented in the proceedings. The Chairman, George Brinham, presided with a kindly, but fumbling incompetence—at times like Canute, waving hopelessly at the storm of hostility. Supporting Mr. Brinham was the Assistant National Agent, Reg. Underhill, smoothly effective, skilful enough to argue the shouting delegates into silence on several points of legality. Regional Youth Officers stewarded the meeting. Massed together, they looked like chuckers-out—which, at one point, they were.
Two major speeches were made from the platform for the National Executive. Ray Gunter, posing as an ordinary member of the Labour Party, neither right, left, nor centre, denounced Keep Left, and probably swung the narrow vote supporting the Transport House ban. He spoke with accomplished eloquence, evoking loyalty to the Party, Nye Bevan, and all the rest of it, to condemn the “Trotskyists”. They have every right of free speech, he said, but no right to be in our Party. The hurt, angry faces of the many delegates who supportered Keep Left, but who think of themselves firstly as Young Socialists, showed one what Gunter was doing. Mr. Crossman spoke to the Conference, of the need for Protest and Power, and was uncertainly received.
Faced with this obstructive pressure from the Platform, the Young Socialists obviously had a difficult job to set any direction of their own. The 350-odd delegates (from 726 nominal branches) had relatively little contact beforehand, and if there were natural spokesmen for the majority present in the hall, they rarely reached the platform. But the first session was promising, with an important procedural battle fought and won by the delegates, in relatively good humour.
The second session, held in secret, concerned New Advance, the official Young Socialist paper run from Transport House; the right of the movement to discuss politics at Federation level, and choose its delegates and motions independent of constituency parties; and Keep Left. The debate on New Advance looked at one point as though it might break up the Conference. A large majority of delegates obviously opposed Transport House control, and a circulated statement by the editor, denouncing the restrictions imposed on him, made support for Transport House difficult. The Platform’s refusal to let the Editor speak caused pandemonium, and though tempers rapidly subsided, the effect of the outbursts was serious. The heckling and shouting had been led by relatively small groups in the hall, and even delegates who voted with the left, became impatient with the concerted interruptions.
In the debate on Keep Left the divisions were even more apparent. Keep Left is obviously disliked by more than right-wingers, and the demagogic attacks on it were received with surprising enthusiasm. Keep Left’s response to this was concerted heckling, and a key speech from the editorial board, which made matters worse. The bitter, sectarian tone of the speech, echoed in the Keep Left Conference Special (“After what happened in the Congo, support for the United Nations comes easily from those who oppose the Scarborough decisions. The murder of Lumumba was prepared by the United Nations in collaboration with Belgian imperialism”), probably settled the issue against the paper even before Mr. Gunter’s intervention. Only one speaker, John Palmer, adequately defended Keep Left on the issue of principle: that magazines should be free to publish, whether one agreed with their politics or not. It was for lack of more detached and reasonable speeches like his that the ban was upheld by Conference, by 172 votes to 148, and the debate had the effect coming between two ballots, of seriously reducing the left-wing vote in the National Committee elections.
The second day was devoted to the major political resolutions. The best debate of the Conference was on defence, and the seriousness of the argument, and some good speeches, were very encouraging. The CND motion, followed by one of three demands at the Conference for Mr. Gaitskell’s resignation, was carried by 222 votes to 97, and the debate was free of most of the sectarian bitterness of the previous day.