The Old Communist League

For the past few weeks I’ve been sorting through and curating the contents of a huge ancient trunk that came down here from my mother’s house more than fifteen years ago, after she died and her house was put up for sale. The material in the trunk dates from 1965 to 1973, and includes memorabilia and school papers from my time in England. I hadn’t laid eyes on anything in the trunk since it was put in there in 1973, so this has been a real trip down memory lane.

Tucked inside one of the school notebooks was a flyer containing the “Manifesto for Secondary Schools” from the Young Communist League. I took my O-levels and A-levels at Harrogate High School in the West Riding of Yorkshire in the late ’60s, and was probably handed the flyer by some politically zealous schoolmate in about 1969, when I was in the sixth form. I was largely apolitical in those days, so I must have stuck the thing in a notebook and promptly forgot about it. The trunk in which it rested for five decades was all but airtight, so the flyer is in pristine condition.

Readers will find it interesting to look at the demands made by the YCL and assess to what extent they have been met in the fifty-one years since the manifesto was printed. The people who wrote it must have been a few years older than I was at the time, which would put them in their early seventies now. Is that Jeremy Corbyn’s cohort? Are they the men and women who now preside over the Labour Party?

A side-note: In their tract the revolutionaries made reference to “racialism” in British society. Back then I was bilingual — fluent in both British and American — and kept in my mind an extensive lexicon of differences between the two languages, so that I could speak and write properly in the context of my schoolwork. I considered “racialism” to be the British version of what Americans called “racism”. Evidently the Brits have since adopted the Americanism, because these days you almost always read “racism”.

[There has been extensive borrowing in both directions since the Digital Age dawned. For example, I’ve actually seen British writers refer to the “sidewalk” instead of the “pavement”. Horrors! But it works both ways — Americans say “early on” nowadays, but I had never heard the idiom before I moved to England, and considered it a Briticism while I lived there.]

Below is the full text of the manifesto from the Young Communist League, ca. 1969. All italics are in the original.

Young Communist


A spectre is haunting the citadels of power — the spectre of revolutionary youth.

Our generation is determined not to make the mistakes of the present holders of power. We are determined to end hunger, racialism, social injustice and war. And our struggle for a better world does not stop at the school gate. There is much to be done in our schools.

Soon 18-year-olds may be considered adults in the eyes of the law. Therefore, from the middle of the secondary school, we demand to be considered as young people rapidly approaching adulthood. Senior students should have full democratic rights, including participation in the government of the school.

We make these demands, not only in defence of our own rights, but also in order that the secondary schools — in which all young people spend at leas four years — shall fully carry out their function as the most important institutions for the education of the members of our society.

These are our demands, and we are prepared to take direct action to win them:

1.   Recognition of the right of the students of any school to form an autonomous School Council, which may discuss all matters affecting the school.
2.   Participation on an equal footing with the teachers, governors (who should be re-titled “lay advisers”), and parents in the government of the school.
3.   Abolition of corporal punishment and other Victorian methods of discipline.
4.   The immediate raising of the school-leaving age to 16, with all the necessary provision of buildings and additional teachers.
5.   The right to form political clubs and inter-school unions.
6.   The right of senior students not to wear school uniform.
7.   Abolition of military training units in schools.
8.   Complete revision of the examinations system, including the moving of the emphasis from examinations to continual assessment of course work. The content of G.C.E. courses and the methods of assessment must be under the control of the teachers and students, instead of being dictated by the universities.
9.   Grants for all remaining in full-time education after the age of 16.
10.   An end to religious instruction and assemblies in schools.
11.   Better opportunities on leaving school. The Youth Employment Service must be improved and there must be more university and college places.
12.   A new Education Act embodying the above demands, and providing for comprehensive schools for all, with the abolition of the grammar schools and public schools.
13.   Greater expenditure on education at all levels.

These demands can unite the majority of students. Out of this unity will come the strength to take action to turn this Manifesto into reality.

The Young Communist League will work with all who support some or all of the above demands. As revolutionary socialists we state two further aims:

1.   More money for education to come from slashing the massive £2,200 million annual arms bill, and by heavy taxation on big business and the rich.
2.   To take over private industry and the State, and establish a Socialist Britain.

[There follows the YCL recruitment form, which is shown as an image at the top of this post.]


My school had religious (Church of England) instruction and assemblies, as described in Demand #10. It also practiced (or practised) corporal punishment, as described in Demand #3. It happened very rarely, but on occasion an intractable miscreant would be caned by the headmaster.

Harrogate High School was a grammar school, as described in Demand #12. A few years after I sat my A-levels it was merged with the secondary modern school next door, and the whole complex became a comprehensive school. As far as I know, the grammar schools have all but disappeared. But there are still public schools — after all, the aristocracy and the nouveau riche have to educate their children somewhere away from the common ruck.

I notice the impeccable English prose used in the manifesto. It was written by the last generation to be educated properly in what had up until that time been the best system of state-funded schools in the world — an education that those Young (now Old) Communists declined to provide for subsequent generations.

12 thoughts on “The Old Communist League

  1. Baron there is a subtle difference between “sidewalk” and “pavement”.
    The first word refers to a stretch of land a few meters wide adjacent to buildings lining the streets exclusively being used by pedestrians. A pedestrian lane or right of way if you will.
    The second word refers to the covering of this lane (if any), may it be brick, tile or even wooden boards.
    Both words may seem to mean the same but they don’t.
    That Americans developed a penchant for the word “sidewalk” while the Brits stuck to their “pavement” is a discussion for another time.

    • When I lived in England, no Brit referred to the stone or concrete walking space beside the street as a sidewalk. They always said pavement. I learned to say the word, the same way I learned not to call trousers “pants”. Mockery is a good teacher.

    • In Philadelphia, the sidewalk is often called the pavement–pronounced “payment”. And in some parts of Pennsylvania the pavement is anything used for paving, including the blacktop on streets. It’s a local thing.

  2. Racialism is the belief in biological differences in races eg. Africans have a higher muscle to fat ratio than Chinese. This has nothing to do with racism, despite the sloppy laziness around us which would have us believe the words are synonymous.

  3. I recall reading- I forget where- that when the US won its independence from Britain (a grave mistake, imho!) there was a movement to adopt a language other than English.

    Fortunately this didn’t happen (well, only a bit) but when Noah Webster compiled his dictionary, he changed some spellings to differentiate the US version, eg color rather than colour.

  4. Hmm … I can’t see anything blatantly “communist” in those 13 demands. Apart from calling themselves “communists” or “revolutionary socialists” (appalling per se of course) they seem to be just misled, naive youth revolting against the society of their parents, professors, whatever.

    Again – comparing this manifesto to what was transpiring at the same time on the other side of the Iron Curtain (and what their peers had to go through in pandering “their” Communist party, having to be the Socialist Youth etc. etc.) – nothing-burger.

    The two further (cl)aims are more serious, though. THAT is on par with the pernicious goals of Marxism …

    • You have no idea how disgusting this excessive politicization was to us. These are forced choirs with patriotic songs. I stood on a ceremonial ruler and reinterpreted words and rhymes in all nonsense.

      Although … Maybe this is the matter in me. I would always be against the tide and always alone. If I were brought up in a religious society, I would also invent all kinds of blasphemy during worship.

  5. Yes, Baron I have noticed the same thing vis a vis BritSpeak/AmericanSpeak. In recent years – most probably due to the media there has been quite a bit of exchange in language. As an American who spent most of her life in the UK (from about the same era as you, and on) I have been surprised by this. But there are still quite a few words that draw a blank. – For example I said to some friends that a certain individual would be perceived as an ‘oik’ and they had no idea what I meant. They giggled though when I explained. Also a person who is American but had British parents thought it hilarious when I called myself a ‘techno-twit’ because only in her family was the word ‘twit’ used.

    • I am suprised your British friends did not know the word ‘oik’
      ‘Oik’ truly is a British word.

      “from the Oxford English Dictionary: oick, oik (OIk). slang. Etym. obscure. Depreciatory schoolboy word for a member of another school; an unpopular or disliked fellow-pupil. Also gen., an obnoxious or unpleasant person; in weakened senses, a ‘nit-wit’, a ‘clot’. Hence ‘oikish a., unpleasant, crude; ‘oickman”

      The origin of the word is not known. It seemed to pop up on both sides of the ocean in the early 1920’s.

      • No my American friends didn’t know the word ‘oik’ – I had assumed it was ‘international’ but it is one of those words still not ‘translated’ into American-speak, or gone out of use. Thus much giggling and delight at learning this word.

  6. I used visit speakers corner hyde park london, in good old days of lord soaper,

    The muslim vermin are now terrorising that sacred area, and have benn since the 1990s!

    The game is now over for commies, the cat is out of the bag,

    Deport, imprison, expel, ostracise leftists, commies, feminist
    [obscenity redacted] nazis,
    [obscenity redacted] brighton deviants, get armed now 9mm. Is better for these killers.

  7. I’ve noticed a lot of British speech on US TV, like ‘gob-smacked’ even ‘turd burglar’ (on South Park).

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