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Leon Trotsky19381210 A Revolutionary Name for a Revolutionary Youth Group

Leon Trotsky: A Revolutionary Name for a Revolutionary Youth Group

December 10, 1938

[Writings of Leon Trotsky, Vol 11, 1938-1938, New York ²1974, p. 150-152]

Dear Friends:

I am told that the proposition of naming the youth organization the "Legion of the Socialist Revolution" met with opposition from the point of view that the American worker does not "like" anything that smacks of revolution, illegal action, hostility to democracy, etc. These arguments are incomparably more important than the question of the name itself.

It is an old historic experience that one who does not find it opportune to carry his political name openly does not possess the courage necessary to defend his ideas openly, for the name is not an accidental thing but is a condensation of the ideas. It was for that reason that Marx and Engels called themselves Communists and never liked the name Social Democrats. It was for the same reason that Lenin changed the dirty shirt of Social Democracy and adopted the name Communist, as more intransigent and militant. Now we must again throw off the names that have been compromised and choose a new one. We must find this name not through adaptation to the prejudices of the masses, but on the contrary, we most oppose these prejudices by a name adequate to the new historic tasks.

The above-mentioned argument is incorrect in its theoretical, political, and psychological aspects. The conservative mentality of a large stratum of workers is an inheritance of the past and an integral part of "Americanism" (of Hoover's as well as of Roosevelt's pattern). The new economic situation is in absolute opposition to this mentality. Which should we consider decisive: traditional stupidity or the objective revolutionary facts? Look at Mr. Hague on the other side of the barricades. He is not afraid to trample the traditional "democracy" underfoot. He proclaims, "I am the law." From the traditional point of view it seems to be very imprudent, provocative, unreasonable; but no, it is absolutely correct from the point of view of the capitalist class. Only by this procedure can a militant, reactionary party be formed which will be adequate for the objective situation..

Do we not have at least as much courage as those on the other side of the barricades?

The crisis of American capitalism has a very rapid tempo. People who are frightened by the militant name today will understand its meaning tomorrow. The political name is not for a day or a year, but for a historic period.

Our youth organization has only 700 members. In the States there are certainly tens and hundreds of thousands of young boys and girls who are thoroughly disgusted by the society which deprives them of the possibility of working. If our name is not understandable or "agreeable" to the backward millions, it can become very attractive to tens of thousands of active elements. We are a vanguard party. During the time in which we are assimilating the thousands and tens of thousands, the millions will learn the real meaning of the name from the economic blows to which they are subjected.

A colorless name passes unremarked and this is the worst thing in politics, particularly for revolutionists. The political atmosphere is now extremely confused. In a public meeting, when everybody is speaking and no one can hear the other, the chairman should bring his gavel down on the desk with a heavy blow. The name of the party should now resound with such a blow on the desk.

The youth organization can and should have auxiliary organizations with various purposes and different names, but the leading political body should have a definite and open revolutionary character and a corresponding banner and name.

From the first information it also seems to me that the danger does not lie in the fact that the youth wishes to be a second party, but rather in the fact that the first party dominates the youth too directly and too firmly by organizational means. The party cadres in the youth naturally make a high level of discussion in the conventions and in the National Committee, but this high level is an expression of the negative side of the situation. How can you educate the youth without a certain amount of confusion, errors, and internal fights which have not been infiltrated by the "old gentlemen," but arise from the natural development of the youth themselves. I now have the impression that well-educated party members inside the youth organization think, speak, discuss, and decide in the name of the youth, and this might be one of the reasons for our having lost people in the last year. The youth does not have the right to be too wise or too mature, or better, it has the right to be youth. This side of the question is much more important than that of colors, rituals, etc. The worst thing that could happen to us would be to establish a division of labor within the youth organization: the young rank and file play with colors and trumpets and the selected cadres attend to the politics.

Comradely yours,

Joe Hansen [Trotsky]