- Youth wing of the Communist Party USA
- Anti-capitalism, anti-American
- Aims to “abolish capitalism and establish a socialist society based on common ownership and democratic control, drawing on the ideas of Marx, Engels, [and] Lenin.”
The Young Communist League (YCL) was founded in 1922 as the Young Workers League. Initially the organization recruited thousands of urban, mostly second-generation ethnic radicals who were either children of socialists, or friends of socialists’ children. As of 1925, the League claimed a membership of about 4,000. By the early years of the Great Depression, the figure had reached about 10,000. In 1929 the group changed its name to the Young Communist League. Though it serves as the youth wing of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), YCL is organizationally independent of the latter and determines its own agendas and activities.
In 1943, YCL and CPUSA were temporarily dissolved because then-CPUSA chairman Earl Browder was confident that the wartime unity between the United States and the Soviet Union would continue indefinitely. CPUSA reestablished itself two years later, but YCL did not reemerge until 1984. In the interim, such groups as American Youth for Democracy, the Labor Youth League, and the Young Workers Liberation League filled the void left by YCL.
Today YCL defines itself as a “mass public organization of young people in the United States … dedicated to the revolutionary cause of the working class of our country, the transformation of the United States through mass democratic struggle into a socialist society.” Seeking “to abolish capitalism” and establish an economy “based on common ownership and democratic control,” the League “draw[s] on the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and others as well as on the experience of socialist countries since 1917.” Its priorities are:
- to “defend and strengthen public services, the welfare state and [socialized medicine]”;
- to promote the idea “that everyone has the right to free and inclusive secular education including nursery care, schools, universities, community colleges and adult education centers”; and
- to unite “the struggle for socialism” with “the struggle to protect the natural environment, which is being willfully damaged by corporations and capitalist governments in their drive for short-term profit.”
The Preamble to YCL’s Constitution articulates its members’ commitment to “become Communists” who “learn to struggle through studying Marxism-Leninism,” a process that equips them to help “eliminat[e] capitalism and the evils that grow out of it—racism, discrimination, sexism, class exploitation, poverty and war.” Charging that “capitalists gain their wealth from the labor of others—not from their own work,” YCL contends that “the workers who actually create the wealth … should get a fair share” of it. Toward that end, the League aims to “lea[d] the people against big business to socialism.”
YCL defines socialism as “the step between capitalism and communism”—a step “that will pave the way for a communist society by setting a foundation of co-operation and sharing of all things in common.” Embracing the premise that “fairness is a function of how wealth is distributed,” YCL explains: “Under capitalism, workers receive only a small percentage of the wealth that they create. Under socialism, workers receive a larger share. Under communism, workers (all people) will receive everything.” Putting it yet another way, YCL states that “socialism is ‘from each according to their ability and to each according to their DEEDS,’” whereas “communism is ‘from each according to their ability and to each according to their NEEDS.’” (Emphasis in original.)
By YCL’s reckoning, the fall of the Soviet Union (which the organization says was a socialist, not communist, entity) occurred because “capitalist countries were able to spend more on the Cold War.” “Overall it is very hard for a socialist country to survive with imperial powers breathing down their necks,” says YCL.
Describing the regime of Cuba’s longtime former president Fidel Castro as a “strong central government” but not a dictatorship, YCL says that “relatively few” Cubans sought to leave their island nation during Castro’s rule, and that most of their hardships were a result of America’s longstanding “blockade.”
YCL has staked out an active role in the American political process, aligning itself with the Democratic Party. In the summer of 2004, for instance, League representatives organized a “YCL Election Summer Program,” traveling to swing states in the American Midwest to urge students to vote for the John Kerry–John Edwards presidential ticket. Also in 2004, many YCL members actively helped elect Barack Obama to the U.S. Senate. Four years later, the League was a strong backer of Obama’s presidential campaign.
A 2007 report by then-YCL National Coordinator Erica Smiley said: “[E]ven though the ultra-right is in retreat … they still haven’t been defeated. As Communists, we have to finish the task of isolating the ultra-right and completely removing them from power—using the Democrats to finish the job.”
In 2011, YCL supported the agendas of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
For additional information on YCL, click here.
 Mari Jo Buhle et al., Encyclopedia of the American Left (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992), pp. 872-3.
 Ibid., pp. 874-5.