On August 24 – 27, 1907, a meeting of 20 youth representatives from 13 countries met in the German city of Stuttgart and founded the Socialist Youth International (SYI) as the youth organization of the Second International. During these early years, the organization concentrated on working together on three main topics:
The Struggle agains militarism and war
The pressing social question of labour and the fight for better working conditions and better life
Improving opportunities for youth education
Their international office was located in Vienna and it has remained there to this day except for a few brief extraordinary periods. The socialist youth organizations, just like their mother parties, were confronted by the growing influence of nationalism and militarism in Europe. When the First World War broke out in 1914, even though the vast majority of the socialist parties openly supported their country’s war efforts, the Socialist Youth International remained steadfast in their principled opposition to war and militarism. The organization had to move its offices to Zurich and from there it published its journal, Youth International, calling for peace, which had to be distributed illegally given the circumstances. The struggle for peace subsequently became a hallmark of the socialist youth organization. The formation of the Communist International in Moscow in 1919 officially split the worker’s and youth movement into three camps – the communist, socialist and social-democratic. After initially being split into separate organizations, the socialists and social-democrats came together in 1923 to reconstitute the Socialist Youth International.
BETWEEN THE WARS
In 1925, in the wake of the fascist takeover of Italy, the youth organization from the country was forced to stop participating in the work of the International. This marked the beginning of the organization’s struggle against the fascist menace. In Vienna in 1929, 50,000 young people gathered to exchange ideas and experiences with the central theme being a demand that war must never again erupt.
In 1933 following the Nazi takeover, the Berlin office was evacuated to Prague.
In the mid-1930s, the socialist youth movement was divided about how to approach the fascist threat. Some member organizations, especially the French and those from Latin America, advocated working closely with the communist youth against fascism, while the English and Scandinavian sections, where neither fascism nor communism had much popular support, failed to recognize the need for a popular front against fascism. At the SYI Congress, held in Copenhagen in August 1935, the decision was passed that there would be no cooperation with the communists at the international level, but the individual member organizations were allowed to define their own policies in the national framework. This decision weakened the growing impetus favouring of a united democratic front to confront fascism, which was increasingly being seen as a threat to world peace. The blame for the failure to stop fascism before it was too late must rest on both sides; the socialists and the left liberals whose anti-communism prevented them from grasping the true nature of the fascist threat as well as the communists whose rigid positions prevented them from compromising with the rest of the democratic forces.
After the Second World War, the hope of re-establishment, kept during the war, did not remain an unfulfilled longing. On September 30, 1946, at the congress in Paris, the organization formally became known as the International Union of Socialist Youth. It began to accept a growing number of youth organizations from outside of Europe and by the beginning of the 1950s IUSY included 73 member organizations from 50 countries. Since that time, the organization has more than doubled. Following the Paris Congress and up through the 1960s, IUSY focused on supporting decolonisation efforts and struggles for independence, especially in Africa and Asia. At the 3rd IUSY Congress in 1951, the delegates adopted a resolution calling for the social, political and economic liberation of all nations in colonial and underdeveloped territories. In 1954, IUSY elected its first non-European president, Nath Pai from India.
Internationalism had become a major focal point of IUSY’s activities because of the need to bring together different groups and peoples to create dialogue and peaceful resolutions to conflicts.
The Vietnam War was the major event of that decade that changed the thinking of many left-wing groups. The previously confrontational approach that many member organizations had towards the Eastern Bloc was changed because of the aggressive policies of the United States in Vietnam and this event brought together many people and groups throughout the world to fight for a common cause. The common enemy became not one country or one bloc, but poverty, injustice, inequality, disease, and illiteracy.
STRUGGLE FOR PEACE AND DEMOCRACY
In the 1970’s the organization was most active in drawing attention to the human rights violations by military governments in South America, especially against Pinochet in Chile and Somoza in Nicaragua. IUSY welcomed refugees and political activists from these countries and help them to get their message heard about what was occurring in their countries, thereby helping to build a solidarity network against these regimes. IUSY was able to restart the tradition of Summer Camps in 1974. These camps brought together young activists and leaders from all over the world to exchange views and ideas and also to learn from each other by attending seminars, workshops, and holding rallies. IUSY was cautiously supportive of the democratization process in Eastern Europe because the organization wanted these changes to benefit the general population, not just a tiny elite. Although the nuclear arms race ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the transition from authoritarian regimes has brought about new conflicts in these regions. Human trafficking and refugees, resulting from civil conflicts, became the new focus of efforts on the part of IUSY. IUSY formed the Balkan Roundtable and Black Sea Area Committees to facilitate dialogue and cooperation among the different countries.
The 1990s were an era of profound change and great expectations.
The downfall of dictatorships in many places brought a new wave of optimism to the socialist youth movement, but also many challenges. IUSY fought for and still continues to fight to ensure that the process of globalisation benefits all of the people throughout the world, not simply the countries that are already rich. In 2006, IUSY joined with the International and European Federation of Trade Unions, Solidar (European Union of Social Associations) and the Global Progressive Forum for the campaign “Decent Work,” which aims to push for the improvement of working conditions worldwide. Also, the new conflicts in the Middle East called to attention problems in that region. IUSY pushes for a two-state solution on the question of Palestine and, on this basis, opened up mutual dialogue between the youth representatives of progressive Israeli and Palestinian political groups.
INTO THE FUTURE
In 2007, IUSY celebrated a full 100 years since its inception under the motto “100 years of struggle for peace and equality.” Looking towards the future, there remains much work to be done. Around the world, there are 12.3 million people who work under conditions similar to slavery, 2.2 million people die each year because of accidents at work or from the consequences of poor working conditions, two-thirds of the world’s poor are women and 200 million children under the age of 14 are working instead of going to school.
A central challenge for every new IUSY generation is the debate on the issues of poverty, gender equality and youth education and the development of strategies for the breakthrough of these issues.
The financial crisis has highlighted the basic economic inequality that exists throughout the world and drawn attention to the struggle for social justice and equality. The current global economic system has proven that it is neither self-regulating nor sustainable, and a fundamental change of capitalism is urgent. We need reforms and regulations to get the global economy working, not for the profit of a few but for the benefit of the people.
IUSY remains committed to fighting against youth unemployment and discrimination in order to bring about significant changes that will make the world more peaceful, democratic, and just.
The struggle for advancement and equal access demands the organization of an international solidarity network whereby the individual member organizations gain strength by counting on the support of the international progressive movement. The advancement of individual human rights and liberties in many places is a special concern. Today, discrimination against immigrants and religious minorities, social and economic restrictions for women, growing inequality are some of the general problems that affect people throughout the world. IUSY is taking the lead in helping to combat these problems by working with the member organizations and facilitating an international progressive campaign against these common enemies of progress and development. More and more people are becoming drawn to the struggle for democratic socialism and IUSY is dedicated to working with the youth to help bring about change.
FOR PEACE AND EQUALITY IN THE WORLD!
ALL OVER THE WORLD TO CHANGE IT!