American Youth Congress
American Youth Congress (AYC) was a coalition of youth organizations, especially college student governments, formed in 1934. Organizations belonged to it (not individuals) and it was under Communist control. Its main activity was a national convention—one year it notably met on the lawn of the White House. When leaders were summoned before a hostile Congressional committee in 1940, they made a rowdy display of defiance. In terms of issues, the AYC tried to prevent a draft law. When one was passed in 1940, they opposed it because it might be used against Russia's ally at the time, Nazi Germany. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was a vocal supporter of the AYC until it turned against her husband and attacked the New Deal in 1939-40.
On July 4, 1936, the AYC issued a Declaration of the Rights of American Youth, which addressed several issues, mainly inalienable rights issues that affected youth, and the economic issues. Most people dismissed the AYC as a puppet of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA); it was one of the Comintern's most successful front organizations.
By 1939 the movement claimed 4,697,915 members in 513 affiliated organizations nationwide. The same year the Dies Committee subpoenaed leaders of the AYC, consisting of a core from the Young Communist League. Eleanor Roosevelt was in attendance at the hearings and afterwards invited the subpoenaed witnesses to board at the White House during their stay in Washington D.C. The First Lady went so far as to lobby the Committee to not brand the AYC as a Communist front organization.
Joseph P. Lash, who later married Trude Lash, was among AYC's leadership. Lash, who described his defection in 1937 from the Socialist Party in the Communist weekly, New Masses, was one of the boarders at the White House during the hearings. Another officer, Abbott Simon, staff member of the CPUSA publication, Champion, slept for two weeks in Lincoln's bed during the hearings.
After August 1939, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were allies, and American Communists moved to support Germany and prevent American intervention in the war against Germany. Joseph Lash was a founder and executive secretary of the American Student Union which played a major role in the AYC. Led by Lash, many non-Communist students condemned the Soviet betrayal of their anti-fascist ideals. Although Communists were a minority of the membership if the ASU, by late 1939 they held a majority of the leadership positions and exerted powerful control over the organization’s national board. Communist ASU officers condemned Lash for his views, organized a successful campaign to vote him out of office, and adopted a communist, anti–New Deal, isolationist position. Most members then quit the ASU and many joined the new anti-communist International Student Service (ISS) which Lash headed. Meanwhile, the Communists used their control of the ASU to take control of the AYC. Lash became a close ally of Eleanor Roosevelt, and a strong supporter of President Roosevelt.
Delegates to an American Youth Congress convention assembled on the south lawn of the White House in February, 1940 to hear a speech by the President. FDR referred to a resolution, passed by one of the Youth Congress, against the granting American aid to Finland on the ground that such action was "an attempt to force America into the imperialistic war." Roosevelt said,
|“|| In the early days of Communism, I recognized that many leaders in Russia were bringing education and better health and, above all, better opportunity to millions ... I disliked the regimentation ...I abhorred the indiscriminate killings of thousands of innocent victims ....
I heartily deprecated the banishment of religion - though I knew that some day Russia would return to religion for the simple reason that four or five thousand years of recorded history have proven that mankind has always believed in God in spite of many abortive attempts to exile God.
The Soviet Union, as everybody who has the courage to face the fact knows, is run by a dictatorship as absolute as any other dictatorship in the world. It has allied itself with another dictatorship, and it has invaded a neighbor so infinitesimally small that it could do no conceivable possible harm to the Soviet Union, a neighbor which seeks only to live at peace as a democracy, and a liberal, forwardlooking democracy at that.
...As Americans you have a legal and constitutional right to call yourselves Communists...and openly to advocate certain ideals of theoretical Communism; but as Americans you have not only a right but a sacred duty to confine your advocacy of changes in law to the methods prescribed by the Constitution of the United States - and you have no American right, by act or deed of any kind, to subvert the Government and the Constitution of this Nation.
It was one of the rare occasions when Roosevelt was booed and hissed to his face by an audience of Americans. Soon afterwards, many of the same youth picketed the White House as representatives of the American Peace Mobilization. Among them was Joseph Cadden, one of the overnight guests.
In 1940, despite Eleanor Roosevelt's publication of reasons called Why I still believe in the Youth Congress, the American Youth Congress was disbanded. Mrs. Roosevelt sponsored a new organization called the International Students Service. Joe Lash returned under her sponsorship as the secretary of that organization at $4200 a year.
- Young Communist League
- Subversive Activities Control Board
- Attorney General's List
- List of Americans in the Venona papers
- House Committee on Un-American Activities, 1940-41.
- American Youth Congress, Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, Hyde Park New York.
- See "Education: Pink to Red" TIME Jan. 8 1940
- Robert E. Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History, (1948), pp 138-9 pdf.
- California Legislature, Joint Fact Finding Committee, Fourth Report, Un-American Activities in California, 1948: Communist Front Organizations; (Sacramento, CA, 1948) p. 180.
- John T. Flynn, The Roosevelt Myth, (New York: Devin-Adair, 1948)
- Eleanor Roosevelt, Why I Still Believe in the Youth Congress
- The Student Movement of the 1930s, Joseph P. Lash, Interview.