Young Communist League (Great Britain)

Doi (identifier) Communist Party of Britain Communist Party of Great Britain
Young Communist League
ChairpersonRobin Talbot
Secretary GeneralJohnnie Hunter
Founded1921, 1991 (re-founded)
HeadquartersRuskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR2 0BN
MembershipIncrease 250[1]
Mother partyCommunist Party of Great Britain (1921–1988)
Communist Party of Britain (1991–)
International affiliationWFDY
Magazine Challenge

The Young Communist League (YCL) is the youth wing of the Communist Party of Great Britain from 1921 to 1988. Since 1991, the YCL has been the youth section of the Communist Party of Britain.

Youth section of the Communist Party of Great Britain (1921–1988)


In August 1921 two of Great Britain's leading radical youth organisations, the Young Workers' League and the International Communist Schools Movement, gathered at a special conference held at Birmingham.[2]:45 The assembled delegates to this Unity Conference passed a proposal calling for the two standing groups to merge under a new name, that of the Young Communist League.[2]:45 This proposal was taken to the rank-and-file of each group and the proposed unified constitution and organisational rules ratified in a referendum of branches held in October.[2]:45

Logo of the Young Communist League as it appeared in 1923.

The YCL was the youth wing of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), which exercised oversight over the group. The YCL modeled itself upon the adult party and, in the estimation of historian Thomas Linehan, "functioned as a younger version of it."[2]:45 In 1954, the YCL supported 'The Red Scout' Paul Garland who had been dismissed from his local Scout Group in Bristol following his dual membership – a controversy with wide media coverage and a debate in the House of Lords.[3] While formally independent, the group was always closely linked to the CPGB and its activities and fortunes broadly followed those of its parent organisation.[4] As with the adult party, the YCL saw itself as part of a unified world movement and took its ultimate direction from the Young Communist International (CYI), with headquarters in Moscow.[2]:45

The YCL was seen as a recruiting school for activists in the adult party, and the organisation's structure, internal relationships, and tactical activities closely paralleled and followed those of the CPGB.[2]:45-46 This was in turn a reflection of the structure and practise of the Russian Communist Party (later known as the Communist Party of the Soviet Union).[2]:46 Similarly the Young Communist International which formally stood at the head of the YCL's decision-making process was closely modeled upon the adult Communist International, which was shaped by Russian Communist Party practice.[2]:46

The fledgling YCL published its own official monthly periodical, known as The Young Communist.[2]:45

The 1960s and 1970s

A recruitment drive started in 1966 around the slogan "The Trend - Communism" associated the group with wider cultural trends in society.[4] Pete Townshend of The Who was a prominent but short-lived member and "The Trend" campaign emphasised the power of music in social change.[5] Throughout this period YCL membership grew to over 6,000 members and a generation of young members. led by Barney Davis (national secretary), George Bridges (London secretary) and others challenged the political approach of the parent party.[citation needed] The YCL took a lead in condemning what it defined as the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia[4] (the Party called it at the time an intervention) but the position was only adopted by a 60:40 vote. Some members who favoured a pro-Soviet line, including John Chamberlain (Jack Conrad), left the YCL to join the New Communist Party of Britain in 1977.[4] Chamberlain was to become head of the NCP's youth section but was shortly later to attempt to rejoin the CPGB.

The 1970s and 1980s

1968 proved the start of a long decline in membership, characterised by competition between different tendencies. The leadership tended to be eurocommunist, but opposition was stronger than in the CPGB. In 1979, its congress adopted a new programme, Our Future, which did not commit the group to Marxism and removed the policy of democratic centralism. The new programme exacerbated divisions in the group, and in 1983, with membership down to 510, democratic centralism was re-imposed. By 1987, the league had only fifty members.[4]

Youth section of the Communist Party of Britain (1991 to present)

After the split in the CPGB leading to the creation of the Communist Party of Britain in 1988 (and the dissolution of the CPGB in 1991), the YCL was re-established in 1991, based on the CPB Youth Section. The YCL is organisationally autonomous and decides its own activities and priorities, but is constitutionally committed to support for the CPB's programme, Britain's Road to Socialism.[6] The YCL is a member of the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY) and participates in international gatherings, such as the World Festival of Youth and Students.[7][8]

Communist Students is the student section of the Young Communist League. It was launched in 2005 in coordination with several overseas Communist parties and Young Communist organisations, with members studying in this country. This reflects the close relationship between the CPB and its fraternal parties that is developed in the Co-ordinating Committee of Communist Parties in Britain. the YCL holds an annual Summer Camp in Edale, to commemorate their involvement in the Mass trespass of Kinder Scout, and bring its members together to learn and organise.

After a resurge in popularity from 2017, the Young Communist League focuses on community, tenants and trade union work and has seen fast growth, particularly in Scotland. The YCL sees itself as a centre for political education for young people with an organiser describing themselves as "arming young communists with the tools to build themselves up in as many fields as we can".[9]

Coppice Camp

Following the Fifth YCL Congress in 1928, the league began actively organising cultural events for young people. Regular political work was accompanied by film showings, football games, dances, recreational excursions, as well as a series of summer camps.[10][11] These summer camps would become a regular feature of life in the league. In the 1930s, Carl Cullen bought a plot of land near the village of Kelvedon Hatch, which came to be used by the YCL as a campsite.[12] This plot would later be named 'Coppice Camp', and it was donated to the Communist Party shortly before Cullen passed away in 1966.[13] As well as summer camps for the YCL, the party made use of the campsite as a venue for weekend schools.[14]

The land for Coppice Camp was sold during the dissolution of the old CPGB, however the present-day YCL continues to hold summer camps every year.


Year Secretary
1921 Harry Gilbert
1923 William Rust
1929 (?) Wally Tapsell
1935 John Gollan
1941 Ted Willis
1946 (?) Bill Brooks
1950 John Moss
1958 Jimmy Reid
1964 Barney Davis
1970 Tom Bell
1979 Nina Temple
1983 Doug Chalmers
1985 Mark Ashton
Refounded YCL
1991-2003 ?
2003 Gawain Little
2006 Ben Stevenson
2010 Mick Carty
2012 George Waterhouse
2014 Zoe Hennessey
2016 Owain Holland
2018 Johnnie Hunter


  1. ^ Hunter, Johnnie (31 December 2019). "General Secretary's 2020 New Year's Address". Young Communist League.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Linehan, Thomas (October 2010). Communism in Britain, 1920–39: From the cradle to the grave. Manchester University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctt1vwmdq7. ISBN 978-0-7190-7140-9.
  3. ^ Mills, Sarah (2011). "Be Prepared: Communism and the Politics of Scouting in 1950s Britain". Contemporary British History. 25 (3): 429–450. doi:10.1080/13619462.2011.597552.
  4. ^ a b c d e Peter Barberis, John McHugh, and Mike Tyldesley, Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005; pg.172
  5. ^ Worley, Matthew (January 2020). "Punk, Politics and British Fanzines (1976–1984)". In Guerra, Paula; Quintela, Pedro (eds.). Punk, Fanzines and DIY Cultures in a Global World. Palgrave Studies in the History of Subcultures and Popular Music. p. 25. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-28876-1. ISBN 978-3-030-28875-4.
  6. ^ Stuart, Moir (2019). How Did Young Left Wing Political Activists Learn to Become Active and Critical Citizens? (PhD). University of Edinburgh. p. 97. doi:10.7488/era/413.
  7. ^ Ball, Tom (23 October 2018). "Meet the British millennial communists defending North Korea". New Statesman.
  8. ^ Ball, Tom (20 January 2018). "What do proper communists really think of Corbyn?". The Spectator.
  9. ^ "From Scotland to London, Young Communists get organised". Morning Star. 15 February 2019.
  10. ^ Linehan, Thomas (2007). Communism in Britain, 1920–39. Manchester University Press. pp. 55–56. ISBN 9781526130440.
  11. ^ Dee, David (January 2015). "A Means of Escape? British Jewry, Communism, and Sport, 1920–1950". Labour History Review. 80 (2): 169–194. doi:10.3828/lhr.2015.7.
  12. ^ Frost, Peter (3 February 2014). "Coppice Camp - The 1930's". Frostys ramblings.
  13. ^ Stevenson, Graham (January 2013). "Dr C K Cullen". Encyclopedia of Communist Biographies.
  14. ^ Aaranovich, David (2016). Party Animals: My Family and Other Communists. Random House. p. 78. ISBN 9780224074711.