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Newsletter (in English)


The first socialist youth organizations were founded at the end of the 19th century. The left wing of the workers movement recognized them as an important force for the socialist struggle, while right-wing party and trade union bureaucrats feared the independent youth movement as dangerous competition. The socialist youth had to fight for recognition, supported by the left wing. Karl Liebknecht wrote…

The proletarian youth movement is a necessary element of the modern workers’ movement. The proletarian youth is the spirit and the legs of the working class. The free youth organizations have never seen another purpose in their work than to serve the workers’ movement, to be a school for the fighting organizations of the workers. The youth organizations – like any new movement – had to fight for recognition from the working class. In the end: they succeeded. On September 29 in the year 1906, the working class adopted at its congress in Mannheim1 this declaration of support, with all in favor and none opposed:

“The awakening of the proletarian youth to independent organizational activity, which is constantly progressing, is welcomed. The party comrades are called on to encourage the foundation and development of youth organizations, everywhere that the law on associations permits.”

To motivate these sentences, a speaker (Dr. Karl Liebknecht) said: “But also in places where the youth organizations aren’t political, the party should explain that it has a friendly attitude towards them. It is the duty of the party congress to call out, also to the young people in North Germany: ‘We agree with your activity!’ ”

These declarations were met with the lively applause of the party congress. Afterwards the youth and the working class worked harder than before to build up the youth organizations. Their blossoming development seemed guaranteed. But: Dis aliter visum! (The council of the gods decided differently!)

Just nine weeks after the party congress in Mannheim, representatives of the leading bodies of the central unions spoke out against special youth organizations at a conference in Berlin on November 26 and 27, 1906:

“The general commission considers a special central organization of the youth inexpedient; it is advantageous neither for the representation of economic interests nor on the terrain of the upbringing of the youth, but rather disadvantageous. The task on which the party and the trade unions should concentrate in equal amounts is not the creation of a youth organization but an adequate organization for the upbringing of the youth. The organization of young workers must be a greater concern of the trade unions. The individual trade union leaderships and union congresses should deal exhaustively with the question of how to better draw young people to the unions and keep them inside. Then, the next trade union general congress should deal especially with the question of young workers and apprentices, for which the next leadership conference could submit appropriate proposals. The conference subscribed to these views.”

Despite this statement from the trade union leaders, in September of the following year (1907), as the imperial law on associations, which was meant to strangle the youth organizations, was already in view, the congress of the working class of Germany in Essen2 decided:

“To carry out the creation of youth organizations more intensively than before … Simultaneously to prompt the party comrades to work in an enlightening way to this end.”

The imperial law on associations presented the trade union leaders with the welcome opportunity to go public with their opinion and their plan. They tried to read things in the text of the law which weren’t written there. We have already shown that our organizations remain untouched by the law. The one change that the law brought for the question of the youth organization was this: expansion of the hitherto North German youth organizations to South Germany. The diplomacy of the trade union leaders was able to convince the South German youth to dissolve their Mannheim association, which is a seldom occurrence in the workers’ movement and is already bitterly regretted by the South German youth.

The right was reserved for the trade union general congress, meeting from June 22 to 27 in Hamburg, to speak the death sentence for the remaining youth organizations in existence.

How was it possible for the trade union general congress to decide against the youth organizations despite the decisions from Mannheim and Essen? Let us recall how the decisions came about. Robert Schmidt3 was mandated to give a report about “The organization for the upbringing of the youth”. The working class did not suspect that the report would be a diatribe against the youth organizations, in order to demolish them. The working class could not assume this, because for them the question of the youth organizations had already been decided (Mannheim, Essen).

At the congress itself there was no one who could block the unjustified attacks against the youth organizations. Schmidt’s sorties were directed against the political youth organizations. Since these have ceased to exist, Schmidt’s remarks had the effect of belittling the existing youth organizations in public. But Schmidt knew that they had a completely unpolitical activity. On May 2, he expressed acknowledgement to a leading member of our organization about the activities of the Berlin association. In Hamburg, Robert Schmidt was completely silent about our organization – to judge by the reports in the press. Since no one objected to Schmidt, the delegates believed him. And when he claimed that his resolution was based on an agreement, he won them over completely. After the dissolution of the Mannheim association, the delegates apparently assumed that the representatives of the youth organization also worked on this “agreement”. Thus for the delegates everything appeared to be in perfect order, caringly prepared – they raised their hands for the death sentence.

An even graver accusation is directed against the speaker. He knew that the existing youth organizations resist the dissolution and did not participate in the agreement. Schmidt should have known that the delegates of the youth organization movement were paying even less attention than he was. Thus he should have said to himself: Adiatur et altera pars! (May the other party be heard as well!) Instead of this, the “state attorney” Schmidt advised to behead the accused, without giving him the chance to defend himself. Sic volo, sic jubeo; sit pro ratione voluntas! (Thus I want, thus I order, my will instead of a reason!)

As is shown by the development of the decision and the consideration of the question at the congress, it is not an expression of the will of the unionized workers, but only the work of a few trade union leaders who see the youth organizations as a competing undertaking which could be dangerous to the unions, which proves their total lack of knowledge about the youth organizations. The decision contradicts not only the decisions made in Mannheim and Essen on the question of the youth organizations – his explanatory remarks are a slap in the face to the principles which the working class has defended up till now in the question of the upbringing of the youth.

The planned committees carry the seeds of death within themselves, assuming they go down the road marked out by Robert Schmidt. Endeavors to collect the youth, to educate them are nothing new. But they have never gotten past mere attempts. Of course here and there these educational institutions have sent forth individual educated workers. But they have never had a greater importance. This is explainable.

There are two points that guarantee the success of the attempts to organize the youth: independence of the youth and the protection of young people’s rights. Only the free youth organizations, which emerged from the youth themselves, have provided for these needs of the youth. These needs emerge from the modern position of youth in economic life. Modern capitalism has elevated the young person to independence. The young worker in the factory is equal to the adults. The ancient patriarchal relationship between master and apprentice has been essentially abolished. This economic position of youth gives them the right to independent organizations. The changes in the economic relationships have also changed the psychology of youth. They grow up in different circumstances than before. This, and the intellectual tendencies in the cities, make the young person mature earlier. He is drawn into the great struggles of intellect. Simply following the compulsion of circumstances, the young person strives for independence, for independent activity, now as never before. This drive of the young people cannot be suppressed by force. Whoever attempted this would commit a sin against the proletarian youth. It is precisely independence which makes man unique. The task of a rational upbringing is to develop personalities in the young people.

The young worker, especially the apprentice, perceives nothing as more oppressive than his current material situation. This oppression is strengthened by his lack of knowledge about the modern social order in general. In any case the young person desires his economic liberation more than the adult worker. Endeavors which address the young person’s most deep-seated interests, his economic interests, attract the large mass of young people. The task of all endeavors to educate the youth must be: to raise the intellectual level of the mass, not to allow individual, especially gifted youths advancement.

Only the fact that the free youth organizations have sufficiently provided for these most immediate needs of the youth is the explanation of their success. Considering that the successes of the youth organizations were made by their own initiative, despite dangerous struggles with obscurantists, employers, police and the justice system, they deserve to be mentioned. The paper “Arbeitende Jugend” (Working Youth) has a minimum print run of 10.000 copies. The “Junge Garde” (Young Guard) has the same strong run, so in total there are 20.000 readers of the youth papers in Germany! When have the endeavors for educating the youth ever reached these numbers? If Legien4 can create a facility whose costs and labor are provided by the youth alone and which reaches 20.000 young people, then he can call the free youth organizations a failed project!

We should recall the mood amongst young people which was created when the free youth organization in Berlin was founded (October 1904). Not the foundation itself – how often associations are founded in Berlin! – but the practical protection of young people’s rights and the independence of the association were the things that struck the public and especially the youth like lightning. The youth flocked to this, their own organization. And immediately even our opponents recognized the value of the self-management of the youth. “Das Reich” (The Empire, organ of the christian-social party) wrote after the association had existed for half a year:

“Mr. Liz. Mumm (that is a leader of the “christian” youth association. D.V.) already admitted at an earlier assembly that sins are committed in many youth associations in regards to independence of the members. That is the good thing we can learn from the new movement…”

The protection of young people’s rights simultaneously creates the basis for a systematic intellectual enlightenment. Starting with the material situation of the youth, one can explain the composition of modern society to young people in a comprehensible way and demonstrate the way towards the liberation of the working class from capitalism. The youth learn to recognize at the same time how important intellectual education is for the workers, in order to lead the struggle for the liberation of the working class successfully.

The independence of the organizations and the protection of young people’s rights by the youth themselves are also means of education. The first task educates practical functionaries of sound character for the workers’ organizations, the latter task arouses a consciousness of rights in the youth. The young person who is enlightened about his rights learns to defend them. Even the young proletarian must know, as an inveterate principle, to never renounce a right without the greatest necessity.

The practical protection of young people’s rights by the youth organizations must of course be carried out in connection with the trade unions. But the youth must take part in this work in a preeminent way. Youth organizations replacing the activity of the trade unions is totally excluded. The independence of the youth organization does not mean that the youth, left to themselves, vegetate. The more the organization swells, the more older advisors are necessary. But in the youth organization democracy must reign. The youth must elect their leaders and advisors themselves; these must enjoy the trust of the youth. People who have no understanding for the psychology of the young person are naturally not suited to be advisors to the youth.

We would regret the resolution from Hamburg being implemented in practice. A pity for the personal and financial sacrifices for this work. They will soon be proven useless. In any case the working class should not destroy the existing youth organizations before provenly better institutions have been put in their place. Let us beware of carelessly demolishing the tedious work of the youth, done by great personal sacrifices, and to force upon them them other institutions whose value they might not be willing to recognize. Under no circumstances can the proletarian youth be made discontent, so that the enemies of the working class triumph over the youth! May the working class show itself obliging to the just desires of the youth for the independence of its organizations. The young person of today is the adult of tomorrow.



1. Party congress of the Social-Democratic Party of Germany in Mannheim, September 23 to 29, 1906
2. Party congress of the SPD in Essen, September 15 to 21, 1907
3. Robert Schmidt – right-wing SPD politician
4. Carl Legien – right-wing trade union leader and SPD member


First published: Arbeitende Jugend, Nr. 8 vom 1. August 1908
Copied from: Karl Liebknecht, Gesammelte Schriften und Reden, Volume II
Translation: Wladek Flakin

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