Youth and Communism in the 1930s
The struggles of the 1930s led many people to question the social and political conventions of the past and to seek radical change. As more students were forced to leave school and enter the workforce due to the depression, they began to take an interest in social problems and new political ideas. Created to be a training ground for the future leaders of the Communist Party, the Young Communist League, or YCL, provided youths with an introduction to politics and community organizing.

 

 Mollie Joins the YCL
Young Communist League book001
This small book was given to Mollie when she visited the Soviet Union as a delegate for the Young Communist League in 1945.

Mollie became familiar with the Young Communist League while in high school, likely through recruitment taking place in her school or neighborhood. She became a member of the Communist Party in 1935, the same year she graduated high school. A group of young Communists in Mollie’s West Side neighborhood formed a branch of the Chicago YCL, holding meetings at the Jewish People’s Institute.

Because the traditional views of the Institute would not approve of the radical group, Mollie and her comrades called themselves a current events club. The group gathered to discuss politics, local social issues, and labor activity. It was with this “Current Events Club” that Mollie experienced some of her most influential moments and learned of the difficulties faced by activists.

With the YCL, Mollie attended rallies and events to support a variety of political and social issues.

 

In 1943, the YCL dissolved and formed a new organization not officially associated with the Communist Party. The American Youth for Democracy (AYD) continued the work of the YCL, with a focus on uniting all youth in the fight against fascism. Mollie played a part in the forming of the new organization and was elected to the Chicago District Committee in 1945.

 

 

 

 

 

Organizing AYD 1944001
The YCL and AYD supported President Franklin Roosevelt and his re-election campaign. This photo appeared in an AYD publication, on October 8, 1944 with this caption: “Pre-election huddle brings together Mollie Lieber, AYD, Barney Ross, national chairman of ‘Young Americans for FDR,’ and Lillian Frost, Chicago president of the latter group, as they map youth strategy to insure November victory on the home front.”

 

Youth Lobby booklet001
Like the YCL, the AYD continued to support the needs of youth and workers,  collaborating with other groups to lobby for changes in legislation. Mollie West used this booklet for guidance while on a trip to lobby Illinois officials in 1947.
Youth Lobby booklet page 1947002
The first page of the Youth Lobby book, listing the youth organizations participating in the trip and some of the goals of the trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learn More: The Young Communist League in Chicago
In YCL chapters all over Chicago, members discussed the ideals of Communism and planned protests and rallies supporting social issues. Like any youth club, the YCL held frequent dances, sports events, and social activities.
Between 1934 and 1938, YCL membership in Chicago grew from 325 to over 2,000 members. The YCL had organizations supporting local unions, often proving themselves helpful to the Communist Party and labor unions. Without much guidance from party leaders, young organizers pursued their own goals, which often aligned more with local concerns than party policies. Chicago’s YCL became known especially for defying normal party procedures to support social causes.

 

Header image: Mollie at Political Prisoners Rally

 

 

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Next: The Little Steel Strike and the Transformation of Unions

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