Johnnie Hunter was elected General Secretary of the YCL following the League’s 49th Congress in November 2018
It brings me great pleasure to bring you New Year’s greetings as we usher in 2019 on behalf of the Young Communist League as your new General Secretary.
Having first joined the League in 2010 at the age of sixteen, I consider being elected to this position a great honour. It is often said in the British Labour Movement that “we walk on the shoulders of giants”. This is especially true of the previous general secretaries of the YCL, heroes such as William Rust, Walter Tapsell, John Gollan, Jimmy Reid and Mark Ashton.
While I will never emulate these titans of our movement, I promise to do my utmost in my time in office to work to build the League and support for Communism and the Communist Party amongst young workers and students in Britain. I pledge to do my utmost to lead our membership in the fight for peace, democracy and socialism. I trust that I can rely on every YCLer to do the same.
In passing I would like to give special thanks to our recent previous general secretaries Owain Holland, who will continue to serve on the League’s Executive Committee as Industrial Officer, and Zoe Hennessy. In their time both Zoe and Owain have served the League diligently and with great determination. Their contribution is evidenced in the progress which the YCL has made over the period.
The last two years have been important and promising for the League. Our membership has grown. New branches have been established across the country. Our level of organisation has increased. Our ability to mobilise has been strengthened. Most importantly our ability to communicate communist policies and politics to young workers and students in Britain has advanced markedly.
However there is so much left to be done. We remain far from where we need to be as an organisation. The task before us is a significant one. This fact was acknowledged in no uncertain terms at out 49th Congress in November.
Yet this is no reason to lament. And we do not. Not for a single moment. Our recent Congress was our most successful since refoundation. It was characterised by optimism and growing confidence. Congress has given the new Executive Committee and the entire membership a clear line of march for the next two years.
The tasks for the YCL in 2019 are clear. Recruitment and increasing the membership of the League remains the utmost priority. There is no reason why our membership cannot be doubled – or more – in short order. Initiatives and new materials at a national level for 2019 are being prepared with this in mind. Recruitment however remains the responsibility of each and every member and each and every branch. Identify who in your school, college, university, workplace or community can be brought into our ranks. Drawing in the best of our class and the most militant activists is essential.
Hand in hand with this task is the necessity of strengthening our existing branches and building new branches in areas where we currently lack an organised presence. The new Executive Committee has identified priority areas for 2019 but all members are expected to take the initiative and work to build a branch in their area where there is not one already. If not you, who? If not now, when?
The organised branch is the basic democratic unit of the League. Where branches are strong, we are strong. This is true both in terms of recruitment and influence. While we continue to work hard to incorporate new forms of organisation, propaganda and agitation, there remains no substitute for ground level, daily activism in communities, campuses and workplaces.
These organisational tasks of the League do not exist in isolation to our political priorities and our duty to Britain’s working class. Indeed, they are inseparably intertwined.
Our ability to fulfil that duty and the difficulties we face will be determined by our success, or failure, in building the League and the Communist Party. The British working class is assailed on all sides by challenges and a ruling class determined to maintain its position at all costs. Chief among these obstacles is the absence of a mass Communist movement in Britain. Until the Party and the YCL are able to provide leadership and exert mass influence among Britain’s workers any meaningful and long-term political advance will remain impossible.
What then are the political tasks and priorities of 2019? The removal of Theresa May’s unelected and inept Conservative Government on the one hand and leaving the European Union on the terms of a People’s Brexit on the other. Again, the success of one depends upon the success of the other.
The Tories have now had a relatively freehand to implement devastating austerity policies across Britain since 2010. While the Labour Movement has won victories here and there, some minor, some significant, the Tories have been able to attack working people largely unhindered. Over the same period the wealth of the richest 1,000 people in Britain has increased from £258 billion to £724 billion, or by over 280%. All the while wages have been stagnant. Benefits have been cut or withdrawn. Public services have been slashed. Productive industries have been ditched by vulture funds.
These developments have not occurred in isolation. The almost 3x increase in the wealth of this tiny portion of the population has been at the direct expense of working people. It represents nothing less than robbery. We have all seen the human costs of this in our own communities. 14 million people living in poverty including 4.5 million children. Opportunities for education, training and jobs cut to the bone. Our generation thrown on the scrapheap.
Theresa May’s Government is now teetering. But it won’t fall without a push. That push must be on delivering Brexit.
The Tories have never wanted to honour the result of the Brexit referendum. We should be very clear that the Conservatives would prefer to stay in the EU in one form or another with some tinkering around the arrangement (other than bizarre individuals on their far right such as Jacob Rees-Mogg who dream of turning Britain into an off-shore tax haven come sweatshop). This would be a direct assault on what little democracy we have in this country. This should give pause for thought for those on the left still advocating that Britain remain in the EU.
The Brexit vote was unambiguous. The Communist Party and the YCL have always been clear on this. The peoples of Britain voted for a break with the EU and its Single Market, Customs Union and Court of Justice anti-trade union rulings which have driven down wages and conditions and allowed big business to do what it wants, including the super-exploitation of migrant workers. A break with these institutions is exactly what is meant by a People’s Brexit. Nothing more and certainly nothing less than fully implementing the democratic will expressed in the referendum.
It should be remembered that a People’s Brexit would not just be a blow for workers and youth in Britain. It is the common view of the Communist Youth across Europe that the EU is anti-democratic, anti-worker and unreformable. Brexit could be the first mortal blow against the EU and an act of solidarity to workers across Europe.
Some have commented that at present working people seem powerless to intervene in this political pantomime. Despite the scandals and infighting the Tories have held on for eight years now. The so-called Brexit ‘debate’ has deliberately been conducted only between the politicians of ruling class parties. Negotiations have been held in great secrecy, behind closed doors. How can working people seize the initiative and resolve this crisis in our interests?
As Communists we know that, with people’s power, with an organised working class, we are never powerless. This is not tired, ultra-left sloganeering. This a reminder that we cannot accept political struggle within the confines which the ruling class have made for us both in terms of removing the Tory Government and achieving a People’s Brexit. Both these objectives are entirely possible and now, as we enter 2019, there has never been a greater opportunity to seize them. Recent events in France are a timely reminder of just how fragile the control of the ruling class can be.
The Government’s Brexit deal is apparently doomed to failure. The left must be prepared for the eventuality that this could produce a general election. If the Government is able to cling on, the left and the Labour Movement must make it impossible for them to implement any short of a People’s Brexit. In these circumstances the Government would be forced to call a general election. How can we achieve this with our small numbers? Mobilise in your branch, have discussions in your communities, campuses, workplaces and union branches, use the new materials published by the CP and YCL.
In the immediate term, only the Labour Party is in a position to defeat the Tories and form a government. They will only do this if they commit to a People’s Brexit and respect the result of the referendum. While Communists will work to achieve this our priority everywhere and always remains building the Communist movement and the organised working class, including our own electoral base. A left Labour Government under Corbyn or otherwise will be doomed to betray, defeat or internal sabotage in the absence of a strong Communist movement and a militant trade union movement.
As we begin a new year I am filled with optimism for the League and for our class.
Some on the left lament. It is easy to lament. Some comment that no progress has been made in Britain by the Labour Movement in many years. They are wrong. The wheels of history never stop. The working class has been adapting but it has never accepted defeat. The period of stagnation and decline in Britain is over.
For Communists it is a dereliction of duty to succumb to despair. While we always set out to evaluate the concrete position of the struggle and act on that basis, we carry with us an optimism in the very best of humanity and in the historical role of the working class.
While much hangs in the balance, 2019 can be the year in which we finally rid ourselves of this Tory Government and break the shackles of the EU Bosses Club.
2019 should also be a turning point for our organisation. We should aim to massively increase our membership and our ability to organise. The only limit on our ability to achieve this is our own will to win.
As Communists we have a proud history in Britain and across the planet. If history has one lesson it is that spirt of working people is truly indomitable. This fact is an endless source of strength – both as we begin the new year and later, as we throw ourselves into struggles the year promises to bring.
Communism is not about historical navel gazing or endlessly obsessing over developments in other countries. Young Communists must work to make Communist politics relevant to the struggles and daily lives of the British youth and workers. Begin with the local and day to day issues and the national and the international will follow. The best tribute you can pay to our historical forebearers and the best act of solidarity to comrades around the world is to build a strong and disciplined Young Communist League in Britain.
As ever comrades, you must be the change you want to see.
If I could humbly make a recommendation for your New Year’s resolution. For YCLers, rededicate yourself to the struggle in 2019 and do your utmost to build the League. For those yet to join Britain’s Communist movement, join the Party, join the League, join the struggle for socialism in our lifetime!
Long live the International Communist Youth!
For peace, jobs and socialism!
Young Communist League
1 January 2019