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Newsletter (in English)


On September 1, 1915, the first issue of the internationalist youth magazine “Youth International” appeared. This small organ of propaganda and struggle was a central tool for founding the Communist Youth International in 1919. For young communists today, who recognize the need to build a revolutionary youth international, the first attempt, which dates back to 90 years ago, provides several important lessons. Wladek Flakin wrote…

September 1915. The war rocked Europe. The dreams of a “victory before Christmas” drowned in blood as the massacre entered its second year. On the Western front armies of millions huddled in trenches to keep each other in check. In the battle of Ypern the German Imperial Army used poison gas for the first time in history. On the Eastern front soldiers of the Osmanic Empire fought against the Czarist Army in the Caucasus and the British Army in Mesopotamia.

At this time a small paper appeared in Zurich with the title “Jugend-Internationale” (Youth International), published by the “Secretariat of the International Alliance of Socialist Youth Organizations.”

With drawings of rebelling workers or Greek gods, and appeals “to our class brothers”, this sheet didn’t look much different than dozens of other socialist youth magazines. But while the socialist press was published legally in almost all warring countries, the “Youth International” was constantly suppressed. Because this paper, in contrast to the overwhelming majority of the social-democratic movement, wanted to end the war with a revolution.

The Socialist Press

The mass socialist parties had called for a “sacred truce” (“Burgfrieden” in German, “Union Sacrée” in French, meaning a pause in the class struggle) for the duration of the war. Even as they swore their opposition to the capitalist system and the war that it had caused, they wanted to prevent “worse things” during the war: the French Socialists defended their “democratic” fatherland against “German militarism”, the German Social Democrats defended their “civilized” fatherland against “Russian absolutism”, etc

Their central slogan for the working class was “Hold Out!” First beat the reactionaries in the neighboring country, and then, sometime, topple the ruling class at home.

Today it is quite normal to see Social Democrats supporting or even leading imperialist wars: Tony Blair in Iraq, Gerhard Schröder in Afghanistan, etc. But back then, the parties of the Socialist International hat an antimilitarist programme: they had committed themselves, at least in official documents, to the proletarian revolution. At a congress of the International in 1907 in Stuttgart, a resolution was passed that said: “In case war should break out anyway, it is [the social democrats’] duty to intervene for its speedy termination and to strive all their power to utilize the economic and political crisis created by the war to rouse the masses and thereby hasten the downfall of capitalist class rule.” The French Socialist Hervé said it this way: there should be “rather an insurrection than a war.”

This position had a long tradition in the worker’s movement. In The Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels made clear that the working class has no fatherland. Naturally they have no interest in a victory of “their own” country (i.e. the country in which they are exploited). With the famous slogan “Proletarians of all countries, unite!”, internationalism became a basic principle of the socialist movement.

But as the German army invaded Belgium on August 4, 1914, and Germany, Austria, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and many other countries sent declarations of war around the world, most internationalists turned into patriots. The German Emperor Wilhelm made peace with his arch-enemies, the Social-Democrats, and said: “I see no parties any more, I see only Germans.”

The Minorities

In every socialist party revolutionary tendencies formed, tendencies which didn’t just hope for an end to the war, but wanted to end it with class struggle. The Reichstag deputy Karl Liebknecht called on the German working class to fight against their own government with the flyer “The main enemy is at home!”

The Socialist International, which only recently seemed unshakable, was shattered. As the social patriots in the warring countries were trying to enthuse the workers for the mass slaughter, it was of course impossible to hold an international congress. Only minority tendencies like the Russian Bolsheviki, the German group Internationale, sections of the Socialist Party of Italy and others realised the necessity that the workers of all countries fight together for an end of the war.

But the youth organisations of the socialist parties could in their majority be won for this internationalist perspective. At Easter 1915 socialist youth organisations from nine countries, with a total of fifty thousand members, met in Bern, Switzerland to set up a new alliance. They founded an office in Zurich and decided to organize days of action against the war and publish the paper “Jugend-Internationale”.


This paper stood in clear opposition to the imperialist war and its “socialist” defenders. In every issue it argued “to end the most terrible of all wars by resuming the class struggle.” The young workers of all countries should see each other not as enemies on the battlefield but as friends in the class struggle. To increase feelings of solidarity on both sides of the front, the paper regularly reported on actions against the war in all countries.

The “Jugend-Internationale” was published in a German, Italian and Swedish edition. By the end of the war, this was expanded to English, Russian, Hungarian, Norwegian, Danish, and Jiddisch. The legal print run was 50,000, and this was distributed in neutral countries like Switzerland or in Scandanavia. In Germany, Italy and other countries tens of thousands of issues were copied illegally.

The first issue contained articles by Balabanoff, Bernstein, Kollontai, Radek, Rühle and other revolutionaries who are still known today. Later came contributions by Lenin, Trotsky, Zionviev and countless young correspondents from all of Europe and North America.

Karl Liebknecht appeared particularly often in the “Jugend-Internationale”, as the author of letters from the prison where he was trapped because of his antimilitarist agitation, or as the object of calls for solidarity and donations.

The Days of Action

The “Jugend-Internationale” was no mere propaganda organ. The paper’s goal was to organize mass actions against the war and lay the foundations for a new international. The first issue was focussed on the International Youth Day on October 3rd, 1915, which was proclaimed by the conference in Bern. On this day there were rallies in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the USA, Germany (where they were disguised as “Hindenburg celebrations”), Holland and Switzerland. The young anti-war activists distributed hundreds of thousands of flyers and sold tens of thousands of copies of the “Jugend-Internationale”.

The paper was constantly explaining that the war was caused by the contradictions of the imperialist world order. Evil or incompetent diplomats were not responsible for the war – and certainly not “the barbarians from the other side”. The cause was the necessity of economic expansion, the struggle for spheres of influence, colonies, and new markets, which is the basis of every imperialist state. For this reason pacifist projects like “peace conferences” or “appeals for disarmament” was pure dreaming: the war could only be stopped by the workers smashing capitalism.

The role of young people in the struggle against capitalism was a central theme. Millions of young men were dying to protect the profits of “their” capitalists. Young women were forced to accept the double burden of “normal” domestic work and child care, and then perform hard labour for the armaments industry – all this as they starved in the cities.

Young workers were the backbone of strikes that broke out in Italy and Russia at the beginning of the war, in Germany and France towards the end.

Young people were generally more ready to risk their freedom for antimilitarist actions. They felt less loyalty to the social democratic leaders, who called on their followers to serve “the fatherland”. For this reason the “Jugend-Internationale” argued for independent youth organizations, separate from the party bureaucracies that wanted nothing more than passive and apolitical associations for recruiting future bureaucrats. Instead, young people should organize themselves and fight for their own interests – for an end to the war!

The Youth International

In this way the Alliance of Socialist Youth Organizations was built up during the war. By the end it had over 200,000 members.

The importance of the “Jugend-Internationale” was recognized not just by revolutionary-minded youth, but also by the state. From the first publication, the paper was banned in all warring countries. Young socialists had to pay for their political work with long prison sentences – leading members of the Socialist Youth of Italy were condemned to 22 years of prison for organizing the first Youth Day. In the spring of 1918 the Swiss authorities also prohibited the paper. The publisher, Willi Münzenberg, a German citizen who had refused military service, was deported. Once again the paper organized a campaign for a comrade’s release from prison (luckily not with the title “Free Willi”!).

After the war, during the insurrections of the year 1919, the new Communist International was founded in Moscow. Just after that, the Alliance of Socialist Youth Organizations decided at a conference in Berlin to rename itself the “Communist Youth International”. The youth organizations attached themselves to the respective communist parties. But the Communist Youth International was independent: in contrast to the youth associations of the social democracy, the communist youth organizations had their own structures, congresses, publications, etc. That was important to enable young people to learn to organize themselves, without orders from adults. This principle of independence won a number of socialist youth organizations with a critical attitude to their “mother party” for the new Comintern.

The Lessons

The tone of the “Jugend-Internationale”, the unshakable faith in the socialist future, is obviously not in fashion these days. But even during the unprecedented massacres of the First World War, this faith was justified: before the paper was finally suppressed in the spring of 1918, the workers and peasants of Russia had topped capitalism and replaced the bourgeois government with workers’ councils.

Every crisis of capitalism holds the seeds of its overcoming. The arming of the Russian peasants in the Czarist army and the concentration of the industrial workers for armaments production – measures which were meant to fight the Germans – eventually helped the struggle against the Russian government. And the support the German general staff gave to Russian revolutionaries, which was supposed to destabilize the government in St. Petersburg, could be transformed into the November Revolution in Berlin and the toppling of Kaiser Wilhelm.

The International Youth Days, which were organized by the “Jugend-Internationale”, remind one of the international days of action in recent years, for example when hundreds of thousands of school students across the world struck against the Iraq War. Such actions create not only feelings of international solidarity, but also networks that cross borders and raise the struggle against war and capitalism to higher level.

If we want to beat the capitalists in our own country and internationally, we have to assimilate the experiences of young people and workers in other countries. That is why we, as REVOLUTION, organize across national borders. With our paper we always try to report about protests in other countries, and our manifesto reflects the experience of communist youth from multiple continents.

In the last years we have witnessed the birth of a worldwide anti-capitalist movement, with protests against the G8, the IMF, the WTO, as well as world, continental, and national social forums. The increasing aggressions of imperialism – not just the USA in Iraq, also German imperialism in Afghanistan, French imperialism in Africa – require that we organize ourselves better. The young people fighting in Bolivia against privatisation, in Iraq against the occupation, in Germany against fascism, must unite in a general struggle against the capitalist system.

To be brief: the time is ripe for a new Youth International! We call on all youth organizations, who want to do something against the system, to build up a global revolutionary organisation!

The words of the Russian revolutionary Alexandra Kollontai (from Jugend-Internationale #1) are today as relevant as ever:

“The correct, the solid foundation for the new International can only be formed by the socialist youth. The youth, the bearers of the future; the youth, who are not dependent on the past, who expect everything from the future … the youth, whose hearts are not corrupted with petty-bourgeois feelings and whose thoughts cannot be led astray with the ideology of a past age … The fresh, brave, revolutionary, self-sacrificing working-class youth, who push forward, always forward!”



First published: REVOLUTION, #11, November 2005, Berlin
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