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Organizing youth for partisan politics in Britain, 1918--c.1932.

COMPARED TO OTHER European countries, and indeed to Britain after the Second World War, the political youth culture of the 1920s and early 1930s Britain has received remarkably little scholarly attention. (1) Yet, strenuous attempts were made to politically indoctrinate youth in the fifteen years after the First World War as a result of the establishment of a more democratic franchise in 1918, when almost all men over the age of twenty-one, and most propertied women over the age of thirty, became eligible to vote (the age and other restrictions on women were lifted in 1928). With a much larger electorate to fight over, all the political parties in Britain moved to attract new voters and energize their local organizations through the establishment of youth wings. This article examines the efforts and experience of two examples of this drive to politicize youth: that of the Conservative and the Communist parties. While the asymmetrical size and power of these two parties might, at first glance, make them seem poor subjects of comparison, they in fact shared many attributes and perspectives in their approach to youth organization. Indeed, despite their obviously different ideologies, their overarching vision toward youth of the mainstream Right and of the far Left, their youth wing recruitment practices, and their propaganda tactics and membership experiences, were all strikingly parallel; and these set them apart from other political youth movements. Furthermore, the Conservative youth groups were promoted by the Tory leadership as a means to counter the perceived communist indoctrination of youth, by providing a means to propagate some of their own views. (2) Similarly, the Communists organized their youth movements around countering the ideological messages of schools and mainstream youth groups like the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, as well as the more explicitly partisan Conservative Party youth organizations. Even before the deepening of political schisms and the change of political tactics by the Communist Party created by the growth of fascism and mobilization for the Spanish Civil War in the early to mid-1930s, a number of annual events (such as the Empire Day) and specific crises (such as the 1926 General Strike) in Britain were already contested rhetorical sites between the ideologically opposed youth movements. Significantly, both Conservatives and Communists quickly realized that their youth organizations depended on sociability and leisure activities to attract and keep members. Consequently, both Tories and Communists developed mixed-gender organizations--in striking contrast to the homosocial nature of Edwardian youth movements--although, despite their claims, both Tory and Communist movements sustained, to a large degree, popular mainstream gender stereotypes within their groups. Moreover, as both parties depended on recreational activities to recruit and sustain youth membership, deep fractures between a core of political-minded activists and less-politically motivated members tended to develop, which moderated and limited the political activism of these groups--a legacy that continued into the post-Second World War period. (3)

The political character of pre-First World War youth movements has been fiercely debated. The first mass youth organization in the United Kingdom was the Boys' Brigade, organized in 1883 by William Alexander Smith; he intended to improve discipline in his Sunday school classes by adding a militaristic ethos. (4) The Boys' Brigade was not rivaled until the Edwardian period when Boer War hero Robert Baden-Powell established the Boy Scouts, followed quickly thereafter by a number of other quasi military youth groups. Although promoted as nonpartisan, historians have questioned how apolitical such youth groups could be, pointing to the militarist and jingoist tone of many of their organizers and their close connection to social imperialists and nationalists. (5) The meaning of "militarism" and its political implications in these movements has been contested, however. (6) The scholarly consensus now holds that while the militarism of these movements may be debatable, cultural nationalism was undeniably central. Scouting emphasized physical fitness and practical skills with a sense of national history, tradition, and British identity, aiming to aid British imperial goals by strengthening the ideological commitment of its young people. (7)

The popularity and position of youth movements changed somewhat after the First World War. David Fowler has identified the interwar years in England as the first time a sizeable proportion of youth of all classes gained a larger degree of financial freedom, earning more disposable income, which went toward leisure activities, than they did before the war. (8) This newfound economic freedom came as a result of higher wages after the war, as well as of new social programs, which ensured that unemployed parents in the 1920s did not have to depend as heavily on the wages of their children as they had in the past. (9) The rise in attendance at dance halls and movie theaters--British attendance rates were higher than those in the United States (10)--was a product of the new money available to youth of all economic backgrounds for leisure, although participation in leisure activities still remained bound by class divisions. (11) The growing interest among teenagers in film and dancehalls tend to come at the expense of the old organized youth movements, which experienced a reduction in attendance. Many of the smaller character-building movements all but disappeared, with only the largest--such as the largely middle-class Scouts and Guides--maintaining a large following despite a loss of membership in some areas of Britain during the interwar years. (12)

To critics on the Left during and after the First World War, the Scouts and Guides were perceived as militaristic, jingoistic, and inherently aligned with the Conservatives. Progressive internationalists and pacifists tried to counter this bias by founding groups such as the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry (1916) and the Woodcraft Folk (1925) that, like the Scouts and Guides, stressed outdoor activities, but claimed to develop a sense of social camaraderie not based in militaristic values. These and even smaller movements such as the Kibbo Kift Kindred (1920), promoted non-Christian egalitarianism, socialist values, and/or idealized the Soviet Union. Even at their height, however, these groups never came close to challenging the popularity of the Scouts, the Guides, or even the Boys' Brigade. (13) While the political motives of these new interwar groups--positioning themselves in opposition to conservative and militarist values--have been scrutinized by scholars, far less attention has been directed at the youth wings of the major political parties that also developed after the First World War.

In fact, all of the major political parties tried to develop large-scale organizations for youth aged between fourteen and twenty-five in the aftermath of the First World War. The Liberals, Labour Party, and the affiliated Independent Labour Party (ILP), established youth branches all over Britain but as a whole, the influence of these groups was minor, primarily because their parent parties used them almost exclusively as a means to achieve greater electoral success. (14) Indeed, the Labour Party tend to view the Woodcraft Folk as a major element of its youth wing because of the persistent unpopularity of its Labour Party League of Youth (organized in 1924 and renamed in 1926). (15) Young Labour activists bridled under the paternalistic Party control of the Labour youth wing, (16) "which more or less ignored the views of the young," and led leftist activists in the mid-1930s to flout Party policy and associate with Communist groups, leading to their expulsion. (17) The ILP's Guild of Youth also suffered from a patronizing attitude on the part of the Party adults, which viewed the youth wing as "frivolous," and were opposed to any autonomy on the part of the young. (18) The Guild of Youth was internally divided: "[O]n the one hand was a more serious little group which tended to ape the superior airs and mannerisms of the adult political leadership; and on the other hand there were the rest of us, all emanating from Socialist homes and of Socialist inclinations, but young and wanting fun, dancing, rambles, games, socials, all the entertainments we could get, and rather looked down upon, if not scorned outright by the rest." (19)

The youth groups of the Conservative and the Communist parties shared many of the same patronizing attitudes toward youth and faced similar challenges in organizing them. Like the ILP and Labour, the Tories and the Communists tried to recruit members by offering nonpolitical activities. A consequence was that all political youth groups in the interwar years tend to be divided between a hard core of political activists and a larger group of social members, whose political involvement was at best spasmodic or minimal. The Conservatives and the Communists may have been more successful than their competitors in building a sense of corporate camaraderie within their movements based on ideological loyalties and rhetorical oppositions. The Conservatives had by far the largest of all the national interwar political youth movements, and the Communists had the smallest. We now turn to examining their organization and experiences. (20)

The Conservative Party developed its youth groups with the aim of building a conservative worldview rather than simply to win more seats in the Parliament, and was perhaps the most enthusiastic and flexible in its recruitment and organizing principles of all the interwar parties. The Tories developed two new large-scale youth groups in the first decades of the twentieth century: the Junior Imperial and Constitutional League established in 1906 (normally referred to as the Junior Imperial League [JIL]) and the Young Britons League (YBL) founded in 1925. The latter was intended for children and it directed them to the former group once they were teenagers. A survivor from the late nineteenth century, the Juvenile Branch of the Primrose League (Primrose Buds), was merged with the YBL after 1925. While dwarfed by the officially nonpartisan Boy Scouts and Girl Guides (which together boasted British membership of a million by 1930), these three youth groups were by far the most successful partisan youth groups of the interwar years. By 1929, the JIL had grown to over 200,000 members across 2,000 branches, and the YBL numbered some 470 branches and 49,000 members. Figures for the Primrose Buds are more difficult to ascertain, but they had some 260 branches and 65,000 members immediately prior to the First World War. (21) All three had largely middle-class and suburban memberships. (22)

The JIL had a threefold raison d'etre: propagation of conservative values and policies among the population, countering of a perceived threat to these values from youth movements on the Left, and mobilizing help in securing votes for the Conservative Party during elections. (23) It concentrated on mobilizing teenagers and young adults. The YBL more closely resembled its predecessor, the Primrose Buds, than the JIL, in that it was frequently called "an empire league for children," and was primarily concerned with imparting values deemed conservative by the Party: "Patriotism, love of empire, and good citizenship." (24) The first volume of the YBL journal, the Young Briton, claimed that the organization sought to "foster all that is best in the British character, to instil true love and service for our country, a belief in British Empire, a sense of duty, and a spirit of honour, sportsmanship and unselfishness." (25) Later, the YBL was described simply as a JIL for younger people and, after 1931, the apolitical pretense was dropped entirely. (26) For the parent party, these organizations were generally not about ascertaining or generating youth views on policy, or for generating a cadre of activists from which future leaders could be developed (although there was some effort in this direction); rather they were mainly about instilling a Conservative-friendly worldview into children and young adults.

The YBL and JIL were thus promoted to parents as important prophylactics against the indoctrination of youth by the pernicious ideologies of the far Left. (27) From before the First World War, the Conservative Party consistently portrayed itself as the only political movement that could defend Britain from the advance of socialism. (28) After the fall of Tsarist Russia in 1917, the fear of socialism intensified and the concern over revolutionary communism turned into a more tangible threat with the rise of the Soviet Union. Given the international situation, continuing economic problems, and crises such as the 1926 General Strike, Tory fears of the communist threat were no doubt based on sincere conviction. In electoral terms, however, it was Britain's Labour Party that represented the largest threat from the Left, and conviction and expediency led the Conservatives to conflate socialist and communist ideologies and to use the latter's more militant pronouncements to frighten voters away from Labour and galvanize Tory supporters. (29) Tories portrayed socialist and communist ideologies as distinctly un-English and as threats to the minds of young British children. (30) In 1923, when the JIL was poised to expand in size and scope, the Annual Conference of the Conservative Party agreed to work toward "a wide extension of the operations of the Junior Imperial League as an effective method of counteracting the pernicious work of extremists among younger members of the community." (31) By 1925, the Young Communist League (YCL) was being singled out by the Conservative Attorney General, who warned that "the duties of the members of the Young Communist League" were "to corrupt the soldiers of the Imperialist States" and induce them to start a civil war. (32) In portraying each branch of the JIL as a community of patriotic children devoted to king and country, rank-and-file Conservatives endorsed the JIL as the antidote to international communism's campaign to indoctrinate youth through its agents in the YCL. (33) Similar arguments were made by JIL members themselves at their annual conference; (34) but Tories saw a communist threat to younger children as well. In 1924 a Tory pamphlet ominously questioned "Shall Bolshies Teach Our Boys and Girls?" and, after describing the horrors of the educational system and the treatment of children in the Soviet Union, suggested that only the Tories could successfully "keep the Bolshie Teachers out of Britain." (35) The next year the YBL was organized so that "the pernicious teachings of the Socialist and Communist Organizations to the young children of the country might best be counteracted." (36) The YBL would serve as "the most effective defense against the teaching of communist children's organizations" (37) and socialist Sunday schools. (38) Indeed, throughout the 1920s, Tory pamphlets and periodicals consistently warned of the communist threat to British youth, and reports about the activities of communist and socialist organizations and youth groups were distributed to members of the Conservative Party and its affiliated organizations so as to provide information as well as fundraising appeals and recruiting propaganda for the Party and the youth groups. (39)

The stated objective of the JIL was "to create practical interest in political work" among young Conservatives, advance imperial unity, and further the Tory cause. (40) Moribund during the First World War, the JIL was reinvigorated in the early 1920s by a more explicitly anticommunist mandate promoted by the Party. By the time of the 1925 JIL rally in Brighton, this mandate was being espoused regularly by individual members--usually referred to by their nickname, the "Imps"--and by the membership, as a whole, as a key motivation of the organization. (41) This sense, that the JIL was meant to counter communist indoctrination of youth, was reaffirmed by the membership in its organized meetings throughout the interwar years. (42) But the intense anticommunist focus also confused some of the JIL's membership. In an early issue of the new official organ, The Imp, one branch secretary inquired,
   There has been in our branch, ever since we started, a great deal
   of controversy as to whether the Imps is [sic] purely a
   Conservative movement or an anti-Socialist movement. Now the
   members who say that the Imps are anti-Socialist want to introduce
   young liberals on the grounds that they are anti-Socialist. Are
   they right in doing so?


The editor responded by stating that "the essential condition of membership is that applicants shall sign the regular declaration form." (43) As the declaration pledged support for the ten principles of the JIL--none of which mentioned the Conservative Party at all, but rather promoted such aims as the "unity and the commercial supremacy of the Empire" and of fighting "class warfare," and preventing the "ill-feeling between classes" (44)--this response was rather ambiguous. JIL members were, after all, expected to take part in electoral campaign canvassing for the Tories. (45) In a losing effort during the 1929 election, for instance, a large number of Imps worked as meeting stewards, secretaries to candidates, clerks, subagents, speakers, canvassers, leaflet distributors, messengers, and, in at least one locale, as "a personal bodyguard for their candidate and his wife." (46) For the ambitious few that viewed the League as a means to enter Conservative public life, the highlight of the JIL's political activities was the annual conference, to which local branches would send delegates, and at which motions for Conservative Party policy would take place. Although these motions and debates had no impact on Party policy, the meetings gave JIL members the opportunity to debate contentious issues of the day, as well as listen to, and ask questions of, the Party's national leadership, usually including the Party leader. (47) JIL activists might also be selected to attend the Conservative political schools: Stott College and, later, the Bonar Law College at Ashridge. (48)

Aside from elections and the annual conference, perhaps the period of the most intense and discussed political activism of the JIL was during the 1926 General Strike. Local branches proudly reported to The Imp the number of their members who served as "specials" (special constables) and volunteers to replace strikers during the nine-day crisis in May 1926. (49) The Imp also recorded that in the aftermath of the strike, many branches sponsored debates between JIL members and local socialists (usually ILP activists), with the JIL member always reported as winning, of course. (50) The JIL leadership also encouraged its members to heckle their opponents' meetings and to act as "Scouts forming an intelligence department" for the parent party (including taking notes of opponents' speeches and collecting their propaganda). (51)

In addition to political activities such as informal debates, rallies, arranging lectures from guest speakers, mock elections and parliaments, and local, regional and national public speaking contests, the JIL promoted recreational pastimes such as dances, garden parties, rambles in the country, and various sports. (52) Like the Scouts and Guides, the JIL created a sense of community through the use of regalia, such as lapel pins with the JIL motto--"for Empire"--and trophies with the League symbols, for which branches and individuals competed. (53) Social and sports activities were integral to the organization of the branches and the recruitment of new members; tactics include organizing parades and torchlight processions, flying JIL pennants on "your cycle or motor cycle or motor car," displaying "Join the 'Imps'" posters and streamers, and cinema and newspaper advertising. Members were encouraged to take advantage of the popularity of film among youth in Britain by organizing a "League Night" at movie theaters and encouraging the cinema to include JIL films at these evenings. (54) JIL leadership recognized and emphasized the importance of this social side of the movement in building up a Conservative worldview. (55)

Clearly, however, the political focus of the JIL was often in actual competition with the social functions that drew members, and these social functions were sometimes a source of concern for the parent party. Throughout the late 1920s and 1930s, editorials and letters to The Imp lamented the fact that branches were often more like social clubs than political organizations. (56) The newsletter of one JIL branch routinely parodied its own members for their lack of interest in political activities, while the editors raved against communism and the Labour Party. (57) Local debates about the right mix of social and political activities could get heated. One member of the Carshalton branch defended the dancing of the Charleston at branch socials by denying other members' claims that the new dance was "from the nigger swamp." (58) A former member of the Imps in Brighton, Ernie Trory, recalled that the JIL "appeared to have as its chief purpose the provision of social activity for young Conservatives. Political discussions were rare, and at one time I made myself unpopular by trying to introduce them more frequently, when the programme of the year was being drawn up." (59) Trory was so disgusted with the political inactivity of the JIL that he actually joined a Communist youth group. (60) The complaints of the politically active minority suggest that mixed-sex sociability was one of the key draws of the JIL. Branches attracted members by holding dances and mixers and apolitical fun debates (the so-called "hat nights"). As Conservative civic leader Horace Cutler, who joined the JIL in 1932 at age 20, later claimed: "I didn't join for the politics, I joined for the girls." (61) Of course, Cutler later became a Conservative politician, which indicates that the mix of leisure activities and political rhetoric and activities could be quite effective at attaining the League's objectives.

In fact, young men and women were encouraged to participate in all areas of club life, including the administration of branches. (62) A guide to starting a League branch recommended that it was "essential" that both men and women "be fairly represented," (63) and a young woman rose to be one of four JIL representatives on the Central Council of the Conservative Party in as early as 1923. (64) Although the JIL remained dominated by men, women were also included in the political role of the League, including the canvassing for elections, with instructions specifically prepared on the expected behavior for Imps engaging in this important political task. (65) Both male and female members of the League also participated in the most common political activities outside of electioneering: the sponsored speaking contests. In the League's 1931 national competition, 20 out of the 48 speakers were female; in the 1937 contest, 18 of 48 finalists were women, and one of the two winners was a female Imp. (66)

Recruitment and participation of women within JIL branches, however, does not by itself suggest gender equality within the organization. By and large, the Conservative youth groups, particularly the JIL, endorsed the gender ideology of their parent party. (67) In the 1920s the Tories molded a new stereotype of the woman who blended domesticity and political activism. This idealized woman embodied the values of good citizenship, support for the current economic and political order, and was a committed opponent of communism. (68) One female JIL member wrote to The Imp about the particular place young women held in the organization: "Girls are not born into politics, as boys are and have been for many generations. It is only quite recently that they have begun to realise the need for thoroughly understanding the duty which every woman will be called upon to perform at the age of thirty, as an intelligent and responsible citizen." Then, after railing against communist and socialist indoctrination of the young, the "Girl Member" concluded that the communist ideal threatened to "tear the fabric of society to shreds" and "to abolish everything which signifies Home and Empire," whereas the JIL stood for the "heritage of the great men and women of the past." (69) The rhetoric and enthusiasm of the "Girl Member" matched exactly the JIL propaganda that reminded readers that it had been the Conservative Party that first entrusted women with the vote. (70) After 1928, the Conservative Party's interest in young women intensified and they became frequent targets in their campaign literature. (71) Still, in the JIL as with Tory gender ideology, young women were most often employed in the "traditional" work of women in activist organizations reminiscent of the Victorian era: organizing socials, sewing for fundraising, or most significantly, working with children in the YBL. (72)

The atmosphere and tone of the YBL was even more didactic than that of the JIL. The YBL magazine The Young Briton, regularly expounded on British history, martial heroes, the constitution, and the empire. Every issue of the magazine included snippets of history--the first issue drew on the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar with "Stories of Empire: How Nelson Saved England" (73)--and explanations of cherished institutions, such as the "The Story of Parliament." (74) The imperialist framework and the Conservative politics of the magazine were rarely subtle. A feature in the second issue answered the question, "what is a patriot?" with the following imperialist advocacy:
   A Patriot is a man who loves his country. Our country is not just
   Great Britain. It is the British Empire. The late Lord Milner loved
   the Empire, and served it all his life. He said:--'I feel myself a
   citizen of the Empire. I feel that Canada is my country, Australia
   my country, New Zealand my country, South Africa my country, just
   as much as Surrey or Yorkshire.' Somebody wants these words of Lord
   Milner's posted up in our schools so that all British boys and
   girls should learn that it is a fine thing to be proud of their
   country. Don't you think this is a good idea? (75)


A cartoon feature, the "Adventures of Betty and Billy" presented a travelogue of the Empire, as the two young protagonists of the strip were shown visiting all the major dominions and marveling at their industries and cultures. (76) Once Betty and Billy had toured the entire Empire, they were replaced with "Peter's Adventures in Historyland," in which the main character travels through time to witness the evolution of British history, starting with cavemen, the Celts, and Julius Caesar. (77)

The didacticism of the YBL magazine was matched by the YBL's free pamphlets--probably designed as much to convince parents to enroll their children as to appeal to children themselves--including its Who Knows? series which concentrated on promoting law and order, extolling the virtues of the British state and British accomplishments, and proclaiming the utility and significance of the Empire, all with a distinctly Conservative spin. (78) The 1930 Who Knows? leaflet on the Parliament, for example, asked children "which party stands for King and Country and Empire and helps our Young Britons Movement?" The answer was, of course, "the Conservative Party." As with the JIL, the YBL encouraged the recruitment of both girls and boys and trumpeted the Conservative Party's embracing of women as voters and as Members of Parliament. (79) Moreover, children in the YBL were especially involved in Empire Day celebrations; local branches and the national executive organized parades, rallies, military drills,

tableaux, and pageants for YBL members around the day. (80) In this they consciously set worship of the empire as a socially uniting force against the internationalism of the Left--particularly that of the newly founded Communist Party and its youth groups. (81)

The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) emerged in 1920 out of a number of left-wing parties, and was to be a prominent fixture in British politics in the interwar years. Recent scholarship suggests that despite their lack of electoral success, the Party was able to exert more influence over labor movements and partisan politics than their small membership numbers would otherwise indicate. (82) During the 1920s the Communists tried to work through a policy of affiliation with the mainstream socialist Labour Party, but were marginalized and eventually totally expelled from the Labour's ranks. (83) The CPGB's fortunes reached a nadir from 1928 until the early 1930s, during which it adopted the "class against class" platform that isolated it from more moderate socialist movements. (84) Despite striving to organize mass numbers of working-class supporters, including those who did not yet have the vote, by 1930 the CPGB membership stood at only 2,555--only half of what it had been a decade before. (85) The numbers rebounded during the 1930s, peaking at 18,000 by 1939, largely in response to the rise of fascism in Europe (and Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts at home) and the CPGB's stand on the Spanish Civil War. However, the interwar British Left's perception of the CPGB's slavish adherence to the policies emanating from Moscow, and the regionally uneven British experience of economic dislocation, prevented the Party from attaining the mass membership that the French and German Communist parties were able to achieve in the 1920s and early 1930s. (86) Nonetheless, the CPGB focused considerable amounts of attention on young working people and organized youth groups that, in turn, became a powerful spur to Conservative Party fears.

The YCL of Great Britain was founded in October of 1921, as part of the international communist effort to mobilize youth, and during the interwar years it had periods of both limited success and abysmal failure; both durations of relative peace and intervals of feuds with the adult party. By August of 1922, the YCL had numerous branches in major industrial cities in Great Britain including Glasgow, London, Manchester, and Liverpool. (87) To a large degree, this mirrored the CPGB's geographic areas of support: namely, east London, lowland Scotland, Lancashire, and South Wales. But even a quintessentially provincial southern English town such as Brighton could have a small but active Communist youth movement. (88) Occupationally, membership was concentrated among young laborers, miners, a few lower-middle-class occupations, and the unemployed, (89) although Andrew Thorpe argues that toward the end of the interwar years, CPGB (and therefore presumably the YCL) membership became more representative of British society as a whole. (90) The League attempted to bolster its membership through events such as their celebration of Children's Week in June 1923, but while the League's membership spiked immediately after the 1926 General Strike, within a year the membership had leveled off at 1,500. (91) In 1930, the Youth Communist International lamented that the British YCL was failing to maintain a sufficient support base, and most of those who did join or remain in the organization were not the heavy industry workers whom they ideally had hoped to enlist. (92)

The political activities of the YCL were diverse and, in times of crisis, subject to state suppression. Joe Jacobs, a former member, recalled their political activities included "open air meetings, canvassing, leaflet distributing and selling ... publications, and always there were demonstrations to prepare and support." (93) During the General Strike, the YCL was especially active among young miners. Tens of thousands of leaflets were distributed and a paper, The Young Striker, was prepared daily "calling for youth representation on every council of action." (94) The acting secretary of the YCL, D. F. Springhall, was in fact arrested and sentenced to two months imprisonment for publishing the Young Striker, and three YCL members in Yorkshire, five in Manchester, and an unspecified number in London were all arrested and imprisoned for distributing the paper. (95)

As with the Conservative youth organizations, the political raison d'etre of the Young Communists often ran into the realities of trying to organize teens and preteens. William Campbell--stepson of John Campbell, the first editor of a communist paper in Britain (the Glasgow Worker)--was elected secretary of the first branch of the YCL in Glasgow. He remembered the comic situation of the group's first meeting: "Of the seven founder members, six had not yet reached their teens." He recalled,
   Mother had by this time become a keen communist and it was on her
   initiative that an enthusiastic seventeen-year old youth, Davy
   Ferguson, was commissioned to organize the revolutionary youth of
   Anderston [a district in Glasgow]. Davy thought he had a profound
   knowledge of politics, and to demonstrate his superiority he
   smoked a pipe. Our inaugural meeting was held in a cellar beneath
   a bookshop owned by a communist sympathizer. The young members of
   the Communist League soon began a game of hide and seek among the
   piles of books and boxes, and it was with difficulty that Davy
   managed to call us to order. His opening speech was full of
   expressions like the 'proletariat' and the 'bright horizon of
   communism.' (96)


Not only was Campbell elected secretary but also his sister Sally Ann was made head of the girls' section, even though she was the only girl. Evidently, the meeting did not end well, as the bookseller, in spite of his communist sympathies, grew tired of the noisy group and threw them out.

The YCL, like other youth groups across the political spectrum, tended to have a small core group of political activists and a wider membership more interested primarily in social activities among youth of similar attitudes. The descriptions by former members of the divisions within the Labour League of Youth, the ILP Guild of Youth, YCL, and JCL groups are all strikingly similar. Indeed, politically active Labour League and Guild of Youth members such as McCarthy and Ted Willis were courted by, and sometimes joined or supported the YCL, precisely because they perceived that their own youth groups were too interested in recreation, were politically insignificant, and lacked autonomy from their parent parties. (97) Certainly, the YCL appealed to the ILP's Guild of Youth to join the Communists in specific campaigns before the "class against class" campaign soured relations between them, and throughout the interwar years young Communists tried to influence the Labour's youth movements by joining them, just as Communist adults tried to enter and influence trade unions and the Labour Party itself. (98) After 1934, when the fascist threat caused the move toward a popular front of the Left, the YCL again encouraged labor movements to join with them, and when possible tried to infiltrate labor organizations as well. (99)

The Communist Party quickly embraced the principle that children were never too young to be politically indoctrinated. Consequently, like the Conservatives and their YBL, the CPGB tried to draw in children through the Young Pioneers, which was formed in 1925 (the same year as the founding of the YBL) for children who were not yet old enough to enlist as full members of the YCL. (100) The Daily Worker described the pioneers as "working-class kids who understand that the only way to stop the bosses pinching all the good things of life (which are made by the workers and so should really belong to them) is by fighting them every inch of the way." (101)

But despite their attempts to emulate mainstream youth and children's groups, especially by using sports and games as recruitment tools, (102) the Pioneers were no more successful than the YCL in attracting children to their ranks.

Part of the rationale for the creation of the Pioneers was the CPGB's assessment of the strength of the enemy: namely, the multitude of both explicitly political groups on the Right such as the JIL and YBL, and the implicitly political organizations such as the Scouts and Guides. (103) For instance, in YCL literature, the Boy Scouts were routinely singled out as a semi-militarist organization that was effectively a tool of employers. (104) The role of the Pioneers in countering other youth movements was brought to the attention of the 1925 National Congress of the Communist Party, when the "Greenock Young Pioneers" demanded that the Pioneers be permitted to march in the streets, as noncommunist youth groups like the Boy Scouts and Boys' Brigade were "allowed this privilege." (105) One YCL member by the name of Feder was summoned under a London County Council bylaw and sentenced a fine of five pounds or one-month imprisonment for distributing anti-Scout and anti-imperialist leaflets to Scouts assembled at Clissold Park, Stoke Newington. (106) Young military recruits were also targets of the YCL: Norman Bigwood was fined for distributing YCL leaflets to soldiers in April 1933. (107)

Just like the Conservatives, the CPGB was keen to court women to its cause, arguing that women in Britain should seek the same gains that women in the newly formed Soviet Union had attained. (108) However, the CPGB had problems attracting women already employed in industry and domestic work, (109) and the leadership suggested this was caused by Conservative youth groups taking "advantage of the political inexperience of a large number of them." (110) But the CPGB more likely failed to attract women because of its focus on recruitment from heavy industry unions, which had few female members. (111) The YCL redoubled its efforts to recruit young women by focusing on the poor working conditions young women faced, rhetorically placing this issue within the larger theme of the exploitation of the working class. (112) It was argued by members of the YCL that women needed to learn what awaited them in the working world while still at school, and examples of "The Bolshie Schoolgirls" who had been converted to the cause were featured in party newspapers soon after its founding. (113) Clearly, as with the Tory groups, at least some YCL members joined or continued to stay in the group because of their interest in the opposite sex. Emanuel Litvinoff, for instance, remembered how he redoubled his efforts in YCL activities in an attempt to attract the attention of a young female member of the group, and was then berated by the head of his YCL troop for going astray with his bourgeois romantic ideas when he succeeded in acquiring her interest. (114)

Like the Tory youth groups, the YCL emphasized sports and recreation to build up their youth membership. (115) By 1925, the YCL manual was proclaiming that sports were an integral part of the group's activities. (116) Sport was also drawn into the political agenda of the YCL, particularly that working-class youth should be given better access to sports facilities. (117) And like the Scouts and YBL, the Pioneers used uniforms--a red beret and neckerchief--and regalia to build a sense of community and comradeship. (118) In addition, the CPGB journal The Communist Review suggested in 1930 that a YCL rally could be an appropriate event for dances as well as athletics. (119) Another source of appeal was through the avenue of popular culture. Given the popularity of boys' story papers and comics in the interwar years, (120) and the difficulty of publishing a leftist version of the generally conservative comic genre (George Orwell even suggested that a leftist story paper was an ideological impossibility), (121) the CPGB tried to appeal to youth through the medium of a regular comic strip in the Party's main paper, The Daily Worker. From January 1930, the "Micky Mongrel" series narrated the adventures of a "working-class" dog and his friends Tim and Tom Tyke, all members of the Pioneers, in their struggles against business, religion, and the school system (all represented by dogs). Micky Mongrel was part of an attempt by the CPGB during the "class against class" period to create an all-encompassing communist society, where individuals and their children would not have to look outside of the communist world for their entertainment. (122) This comic strip was basically a highly politicized copy of the "Bobby Bear" cartoon that was a long-running feature of the Labour Party's Daily Herald throughout the 1920s and 1930s. The Daily Herald comic, a feature of "juvenile corner," was essentially apolitical. But The Daily Worker's Micky was clearly meant as a role model for young Communists: He showed no respect for figures of authority, and always outwitted them, taking apart their ideologies, doctrines, and lessons. In one series, Micky played football with his friends on a Sunday and mocked the religious arguments of the cleric who tried to chastise them; one of Micky's pals then kicked a football at the pastor, causing him to fall into the mud, cursing. (123) Micky also encouraged children to participate in May Day and Anti-Empire Day rallies. (124) In direct contrast to the "Billy and Betty" cartoon produced by the Conservative Party, Micky Mongrel and his friends challenged the love of empire and social hierarchy.

Cartoons like Micky Mongrel were used to encourage children to raise money for the CPGB and join the pioneers, promote essay-writing contests in order to spark youth interest in communism, and get readers to write letters to The Daily Worker. (125) When the Micky Mongrel series concluded on 31 December 1931, with Micky, Tim, and Tom waving goodbye from a ship as they sailed to Russia, (126) The Daily Worker replaced it with "Pioneers All." (127) "Pioneers All" featured Young Pioneers Mike and Mary, rather than animals, and the change was probably made in order to better deal with the issues of ethnicity and gender and to better promote the Pioneers as an organization. Mike, for instance, was "Irish and proud of it," and in the first strip of the new series, makes anti-Semitic remarks to Sam Silver, a Jewish boy, who Mike presumes to be wealthy. Mike later sees Sam at a labor march collecting money for strikers and learns that Sam's father is a worker who is currently unemployed. The boys resolve their differences, learning the lesson that "workers' kids should stand together, just as their fathers and mothers should, no matter what their colour or nationality." (128) While the switch from Micky to Mike may have helped the comic's creator formulate relevant propaganda more easily, not all readers of the strip welcomed the change. Eight-year-old Pauline Potter wrote in, complaining, that "Mike and Mary are too tame" when compared to the feisty Micky. (129) And over no specific issue was "Micky Mongrel" more feisty and active in encouraging young readers to confront authority than in the annual campaign in opposition to Empire Day. (130)

Empire Day, celebrated on 24 May--Queen Victoria's birthday--had been initiated during the Edwardian period by Reginald Brabazon, the Seventh Earl of Meath, as a celebratory ritual that took place mainly in schools. (131) The day often became a centrepiece of a week of special instruction in schools about the empire, and the actual celebration revolved around the ritual celebration of the flag accompanied by patriotic songs, dance, tableaux, and lectures. (132) The event was accorded official status in 1916. In the interwar years, Empire Day was also observed at a ceremony at the Cenotaph (the national memorial to the Empire's First World War dead) hosted by the British Legion. (133) Generally, for the Conservatives, the Empire was so fundamental to British identity that it was portrayed as above party politics. Because of the alleged pernicious ideologues of the far Left, however, it was perceived necessary to instill a reverence for the institution of the Empire in the young. In addition to pushing for Empire Day observance in schools, the Conservatives placed great emphasis on the Empire in the propaganda for, and activities of, its youth organizations. Debate over the future of the Empire featured prominently in the JIL's speech contests and in debates at the League's national convention throughout the interwar years. The first issue of The Imp was published in May 1925 with Empire Day observance particularly in mind: "Every branch will, I presume, do something on Empire Day" which while officially nonpartisan, was the especial preserve of the JIL, as the Imps "know how to lift the conception of Empire high above party." (134) The JIL was also active in promoting Empire Day observance locally, often arranging ceremonies at civic war memorials. (135)

The Communist Party viewed the celebration of Empire Day in schools as a threat to the minds of British youth. An early 1920 appeal to create a youth wing cited Empire Day as an important justification for such an organization. (136) However, Communist opposition to Empire Day was most intense between 1926 and 1934. The communist Teacher Labour League submitted a resolution to the Labour Party Conference in 1926, asking for the condemnation of Empire Day activities and the elimination of "anti-working class" points of view from the school books in use. (137) This resolution was passed by the Conference, but was not enacted by Labour when it returned to power in 1929. Labour's reluctance to change Empire Day played into the CPGB's decision to follow the new policy line advocated by the Moscow-dominated Communist International (Comintern) of "class against class," thereby repudiating alliances with other "sham left" political groups. (138) Although adhering to Comintern directives, the CPGB had actually begun a more militant "left turn" after the failure of the 1926 General Strike. As a consequence, from 1927 until 1935 the CPGB pursued their own anti-imperialist crusade, attacking Labour as well as the Conservatives for supporting imperialism, (139) and calling on their youth organizations for collective action around Empire Day.

At the Second Annual YCL Congress at Blackfriars in June 1927, it was agreed to continue the "counterdemonstrations to Empire Day ceremonies in the elementary schools" that had been started the previous year. The Chair of the Congress "urged the members to form 'school groups,' so that they would be able to combat bourgeois children's organizations, such as the Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, and the Young Britons' League." It was also suggested that the educational methods in the schools could be modified by the threat of a school strike, and gave "an example where such a threat had been sufficient to compel a hesitant body to accept its responsibility and give the children their elementary rights." (140) Collective action rather than personal protest on Empire Day was deemed important for Communist youth, partly because of fear of individual children being victimized by head teachers or by other students, (141) partly because of the communal nature of the Communist movement itself, and partly because of the need to publicly confront the meaning of Empire Day rather than merely abstain from its celebrations. (142) The idea that Communist youth should protest Empire Day observance by staying home from school was the cause of some debate. As Nell Samwell wrote in a letter to The Daily Worker in May 1931, "Whilst it is understandable that parents want to protect their children from any petty tyranny which might result from a refusal to salute the bloodstained rag 'on which the sun never sets' it should be understood that this idea of 'staying away' gives rise to false pacifist ideas and does not teach the children to fight their own battles." (143) Protests by Pioneers in schools were actually preferred. (144) The entire Carleton Pioneer troop wore their Pioneer uniforms to school and refused to salute the flag in 1932, causing such a commotion that the schoolmaster later disciplined the children and forbade the wearing of the uniforms to school again. (145)

A variety of other extracurricular group activities were also organized by communist youth groups during the early 1930s to protest Empire Day celebrations. Pioneer "chalking squads" were sent out on the night before the events to plaster slogans in chalk across the streets that Empire Day processions would travel. (146) Posters were hung and The Daily Worker sellers set up outside factories and labor exchanges and at the sites of Empire Day celebrations. (147) An "Anti-Empire Day of Youth" was organized by the YCL for 17 May 1931, (148) at which some 200 YCL workers and 50 Pioneers demonstrated in the East End of London. Other parades and demonstrations were reported around the country, but as no numbers were disclosed we must assume they were equally small scale. (149) The following year the YCL organized several, somewhat larger, protest meetings in London and initiated an anti--Empire Day leaflet campaign. (150) The Daily Worker also ran a regular feature running up to Empire Day in its "Children's Corner" on the evils of the Empire for which Pioneers and YCL members were encouraged to submit letters and essays. (151) A Stepney Pioneer wrote in to explain why he refused to salute the Union Jack. (152) Communist youth thus were encouraged to protest Empire Day, but such protests were mild and rarely turned violent, especially compared to the contested commemorative events in Germany in the same period that quickly became pitched battles. (153) The potential for political violence was greater, however, when Oswald Mosley developed his British Union of Fascists (BUF). From 1932, violent confrontations between the Left--often including members of the YCL but also the moderate Labour and ILP and their youth--and the BUF did occur, particularly in east London. (154) Empire Day observance, however, did not seem to have played a part in sparking these altercations.

After the dissolution of the Empire Marketing Board in 1933--which had played a major role in stimulating Empire Day celebrations--the CPGB as a whole, and the Communist youth organizations in particular, seem to have lost interest in organizing major demonstrations against Empire Day. At the London County Council in 1934, the Labour Party's Herbert Morrison was instrumental for London schools in getting the name of Empire Day changed to Commonwealth Day, along with eliminating cadet training at schools and banning organized school visits to military displays. (155) Although Morrison argued that these measures were to prevent the inculcation of militarism, jingoism, and ideas about racial superiority in the young, this decision did not satisfy the communist Teacher Labour League, which concluded that Commonwealth Day disguised an essentially unchanged Empire Day celebration using deceptively benign language. (156) Nonetheless, while The Daily Worker continued to print articles about the evils of imperialism, British Communists were increasingly more concerned with the threat from fascism, at home and abroad and, after 1936, with the Spanish Civil War, than they were about Empire Day.

The fifteen-year period after the Great War was a liminal moment in the development of politicized youth culture in Britain. Youth were increasingly recognized as important strata of the population that needed political organizing, but mainly for the purpose of political indoctrination rather than as a distinct group to be consulted about policy or from which new policy ideas might be developed, or activist politics or violent protest might emerge. The latter view and practice of youth politics would not develop until after the Second World War. (157) In the immediate postwar period, all the political parties moved to organize young adults already, or about to be, enfranchised. From 1925, both Conservatives and Communists also tried to organize children from a much younger age. These latter two parties, unlike most of their competitors, did not recruit youth exclusively for the purpose of electioneering, but also tried to indoctrinate children with their wider worldviews. In contrast to traditional youth movements in Britain (and to the rise of extremist youth groups of the far Right) the Conservative groups in the interwar years rejected gender segregation. By the mid-1920s, the JIL and the YBL had joined the YCL and the Pioneers in their efforts to recruit both boys and girls to their cause. This did not mean that there was gender equality within any of these groups--far from it. Still, the move to include both sexes within the same organization represented an acknowledgment of the new political realities of mass democracy and of the specific recruitment tactics--especially the need for social and athletic activities--of all the major political youth movements.

Moreover, with some notable exceptions, such as participation in the clashes between Communist and Labour supporters with the BUF in London and other cities in the mid-1930s, (158) British political youth movements did not become a vehicle for organized political violence in Britain during the interwar years, as they did in other European countries. Only during the 1926 General Strike was the JIL truly active in its opposition to the perceived threat to the established order. Once the Red Scare dimmed somewhat after 1926, many of the members of Tory groups joined solely for social and recreational reasons, which seem to have retarded the political activism of the organization. A small, hard-core group continued to join for the politics, and some went on to receive political training at the Conservative Party colleges; but the majority joined because of the social and recreational activities offered, or, in the case of younger children in the YBL, because their parents thought it was the respectable thing to do. This seemed to suit the ideas of the parent party, which evidently saw the role of its youth movements as mainly promoting the ethics of citizenship and service--of a decidedly conservative slant--to the nation, (159) and thereby helping ensure future generations of Tory voters. This did not prevent violent rhetoric about the threat posed from communism emerging from JIL leadership itself, but rarely did this develop into violent action or activism, precisely because--as their activities around Empire Day demonstrated--these groups tend to promote the status quo through the organs of established state authority, which for most of the period were in Conservative hands. The fact that most of the young Tory membership was suburban, suffered only slightly during the depression, and had relatively little contact with actual Communists, perpetuated their status quo views. A caveat to this conclusion, however, concerns the relationship between Tory youth and British fascism. Martin Pugh has observed that too little is known about the relationship between Conservatives and the development of the radical Right after 1932. He suggests that the BUF was less reviled by mainstream Conservatives, even after the notorious 1934 Olympia Rally, than is commonly supposed, and it could be that the most vigorous anticommunists in the Tory youth groups tacitly supported or even joined Mosley's Blackshirts in areas where they were organized. Some working-class recollections support this possibility. (160) Jon Lawrence, however, disputes Pugh's argument, suggesting that the violence at Olympia turned many Conservatives against Mosley in particular and turned both the Right and Left against the use of violence in general. (161) Detailed local research into the activities and opinions of JIL members on the Blackshirts might help resolve this debate.

Until the rise of fascism galvanized support in the mid-1930s, it seems that Communist youth groups were too small and vulnerable to persecution by the state to engage in any more rigorous political activism than chalking anti-imperial slogans on the street, holding demonstrations, and reading The Daily Worker. Indeed, the promise of the early 1920s was dashed by the collapse of the General Strike, in which many young Communists participated, and by the change to the "class against class" line in the late 1920s. Just as with the Tory youth groups, the YCL and the Pioneers were populated with a mixture of young political activists, hangers-on, the sons and daughters of adult Communists, and fellow travelers whose primary reason for membership was ultimately familial and social rather than political. Communist youth did manage to penetrate Labour and other leftist organizations in the interwar years, but because these groups were themselves small and weak this seems to have had little significant lasting impact. (162) While the rise of antifascist sentiment after 1932 reinvigorated the CPGB, the public revulsion toward violence associated with the BUF convinced CPGB leaders that ultimately more violent protest against the radical Right was counterproductive to the Communist cause. (163) Only in London districts such as Bethnal Green and Stepney, where the BUF's anti-Semitism motivated Jews to join the CPGB and its youth wings, did Communists pursue violence as a means to advance their politics. (164) Home Office records indicate the police believed Communists were responsible for violent disorder at Fascist meetings in just 14 percent of the recorded incidents (unfortunately their figures did not break down youth from adult wings). Meanwhile, the BUF targeted both CPGB and YCL meetings and processions in London regularly, but the BUF's use of violence seems to have been no more prevalent or worse than those used against it by noncommunist antifascist groups and individuals. (165) Further detailed analysis of specific violent incidents is necessary to reveal the role that the YCL, rather than the adult CPGB, played in these conflicts. In general, however, while a few districts such as Bethnal Green most certainly did record a significant upsurge in political violence in the 1930s, the same cannot be said for the rest of the country.

Thus, despite the atmosphere of recurrent social and political crisis in the first decade and a half after the end of the First World War--most particularly in the postwar riots and recession during 1919-21, the 1926 General Strike, and the mass unemployment of the depression after 1930--and the polarized rhetoric of ideological crisis used by both Left and Right, British political youth groups were neither particularly reactionary/radicalized nor particularly activist, and they certainly did not fuel the kind of political confrontation evident among youth in other parts of Europe. We should be careful not to ascribe this contrast to

(1.) By youth we mean the same elastic definition used by contemporaries. All the major parties indicated that their youth wings were intended for fourteen- to twenty-five-year-olds, although some also developed organizations for children as young as eight as well. For British interwar youth groups see Tammy Proctor, "On My Honour": Guides and Scouts in Interwar Britain (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2002) and David Fowler, The First Teenagers: The Lifestyle of Young Wage-Earners in Interwar Britain (London: Woburn, 1995). Neither of these works addresses the partisan politicization of youth directly, although Fowler does spend some time on the efforts of the Communists. In contrast, see for Italy, Tracy H. Koon, Believe, Obey, Fight: Political Socialization of Youth in Fascist Italy, 1922-1943 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985) and Edward R. Tannenbaum, The Fascist Experience: Italian Society and Culture, 1922-1945 (New York: Basic Books, 1972). For Germany, see Peter D. Stachura, The German Youth Movement, 1900-1945: An Interpretive and Documentary History (London: Macmillan, 1981); Mark Roseman, ed., Generations in Conflict: Youth Revolt and Generation Formation in Germany, 1770-1968 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Peter Stachura, Nazi Youth in the Weimar Republic (Santa Barbara, Cal.: Clio Books, 1975); Claudia Koonz, Mothers in the Fatherland: Women, the Family, and Nazi Politics (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987); Konrad H. Jarausch and Larry Eugene Jones, eds., In Search of a Liberal Germany: Studies in the History of German Liberalism from 1789 to the Present (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990); Donna Harsch, German Social Democracy and the Rise of Nazism (Chapel Hill: North Carolina Press, 1993); Eric D. Weitz, Creating German Communism, 1890-1990: From Popular Protests to Socialist State (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997); Pamela Swett, Neighbors and Enemies: The Culture of Radicalism in Berlin, 1929-1933 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

(2.) Alan Ball, British Political Parties: The Emergence of a Modern Party System, 2d ed. (Hong Kong: Macmillian, 1987), 94; Martin Pugh, The Tories and the People (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985), 178-79.

(3.) For post-Second World War political youth culture in Britain, see Margaret Bone, The Youth Service and Similar Provision for Young People: An Enquiry Carried Out on Behalf of the Department of Education and Science (London: Her Majesty's Stationary Office, 1972); Sidney Bunt and Ron Gargrave, The Politics of Youth Clubs (Leicester: National Youth Bureau, 1980), 77-91; Emma Latham, "The Liverpool Boys' Association and the Liverpool Union of Youth Clubs: Youth Organizations and Gender, 1940-1970," Journal of Contemporary History 35.3 (2000): 423-37; Catherine Ellis, "The Younger Generation: The Labour Party and the 1959 Youth Commission," Journal of British Studies 41.2 (2002): 199-231; and Ellis, "No Hammock for the Idle: Young Conservatives and the Welfare State in the 1960s," Historical Journal 16.4 (2005): 441-70.

(4.) John Springhall, Brian Fraser and Michael Hoare, Sure and Steadfast: A History of the Boys" Brigade 1883-1983 (London: Collins, 1983).

(5.) Paul Wilkinson, "English Youth Movements, 1908-1930," Journal of Contemporary History 4.2 (1969): 3-23; J. O. Spring, hall, "The Boy Scouts, Class and Militarism in Relation to British Youth Movements 1908-1930," International Review of Social History 16.2 (1971): 125-58; and Springhall, Youth, Empire, and Society: British Youth Movements, 1883-1940 (London: Croom Helm, 1977); Michael Rosenthal, "Knights and Retainers: The Earliest Version of Baden-Powell's Boy Scout Scheme," Journal of Contemporary History 15.4 (1980): 603-17; and Rosenthal, The Character Factory: Baden-Powell's Boy Scouts and the Imperatives of Empire (New York, 1986); Anne Summers, "Militarism in Britain before the Great War," History Workshop Journal 2 (1976): 104-23; and Summers, "The Character of Edwardian Nationalism: Three Popular Leagues" in Nationalist and Racialist Movements, eds. Paul Kennedy and A. Nicholls (London: Macmillan, 1981), 68-87; Michael Blanch, "Imperialism, Nationalism and Organized Youth," in Working-Class Culture, eds. John Clarke, C. Critcher, and Richard Johnson (London: St. Martin's Press, 1979), 103-20; G. R. Searle, "The 'Revolt for the Right' in Edwardian Britain," in Nationalist and Racialist Movements, 21-39; J. M. Mackenzie, Propaganda and Empire (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984); and Mackenzie, ed., Imperialism and Popular Culture (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986); Frans Coetzee, For Party or Country: Nationalism and the Dilemmas of Popular Conservatism in Edwardian England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990).

(6.) Allen Warren, "Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the Scout Movement and Citizen Training in Great Britain," English Historical Review 101.399 (1986): 376-98; Martin Dedman, "Baden-Powell, Militarism, and the 'Invisible Contributors' to the Boy Scout Scheme, 1904-1920," Twentieth Century British History 4.3 (1993): 201-23.

(7.) Sam Pryke, "The Popularity of Nationalism in the Early British Boy Scout Movement," Social History 23.3 (1998): 309-24.

(8.) Fowler, The First Teenagers, 169; Andrew Davies, Leisure, Gender and Poverty: Working-Class Culture in Salford and Manchester, 1900-I 939 (Buckingham: Open University Press, 1992): 82-108; Claire Langhamer, Women's Leisure in England: 1920-1960 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000): 49-112.

(9.) Fowler, The First Teenagers, 169.

(10.) Ross McKibbin, Classes and Cultures: 1918-1951 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 419.

(11.) Langhamer, Women's Leisure in England: 1920-1960, 60-61.

(12.) Fowler, First Teenagers, 138-66; Tammy M. Proctor, "(Uni)Forming Youth: Girl Guides and Boy Scouts in Britain, 1908-39," History Workshop Journal 45 (1998): 103-34.

(13.) Springhall, Youth, Empire, and Society, 110-20; David Prynn, "The Woodcraft Folk and the Labour Movement 1925-70," Journal of Contemporary History 18.1 (1983): 79-95.

(14.) Minutes of the Organisation Sub-Committee of the Labour Party, 21 June 1926, indicates that the Labour League of Youth had more than 180 branches across the country. No membership figures are provided in the minutes.

(15.) Zig Layton-Henry, "Labour's Lost Youth," Journal of Contemporary History 11.2/3 (1976): 275-308; Prynn, "The Woodcraft Folk"; Labour Party: Organisation of Youth, Labour Party Pamphlet, 24/112 (London 1924).

(16.) On its organization and interwar travails, see Arthur Peacock, Yours Fraternally (London: Pendulum Publications, 1945), 18-26. Peacock served on the League's National Advisory Committee from its inception in 1924 until 1936.

(17.) Ted Willis, Whatever Happened to Tom Mix? (London: Cassell, 1970), 155-65.

(18.) Margaret McCarthy, Generation in Revolt (London: Heinemann, 1953), 70.

(19.) Ibid., 64.

(20.) Anthony Seldon and Stuart Ball's lengthy compilation, Conservative Century: the Conservative Party since 1900 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), for instance, spends almost no time on the youth movements in the Conservative Party, and Pugh's The Tories and the People mentions them only in passing references. The only historian to pay any attention to the Junior Imperial League (hereafter JIL) and the Young Britons League (hereafter YBL) has been Neal McCrillis, who provides a chapter on the organizational politics of these groups in his book The British Conservative Party in the Age of Popular Suffrage: Popular Conservatism, 1918-1929 (Columbus: Ohio University Press, 1998). The British Communist youth groups also await their own historian.

(21.) McCrillis, British Conservative Party, 83; Springhall, Youth, Empire and Society, 134. For the founding of the Tory groups, see Pugh, Tories and People, 40-41.

(22.) McCrillis, British Conservative Party, 95. Only about two dozen local branch records of the JIL and a small handful for the YBL seem to have survived. These records amount mostly to some minute and account books, and occasionally some correspondence; membership records no longer seem to exist. None of the records for three branches (Chisledon, Chippenham, Calne) or those of the Devizes divisional council of the JIL for the late 1920s and 1930s, for instance, provide any indication of the social composition of the branches. See Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office Record, 2305/118 JIL Devizes Divisional Council, minute book 1928-31; 2305/122 JIL Chisledon branch, minute book, 1928-1929; 2436 JIL Chippenham branch, minute book, 1929-37, and JIL Calne and district branch, minutes and accounts 1931-1955.

(23.) The Junior Imperial and Constitutional League: Hints on Canvassing for Unionist Workers, National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations (hereafter NUCUA), pamphlet 1924/69 (Westminster, 1924); see also National Union Party Executive Minutes, 9 June 1925, 155.

(24.) Pugh, Tories and People, 40; Young Britons NUCUA pamphlets 1927/38 and 1927/39 (Westminster, 1927); Citizens of To-morrow, NUCUA pamphlet 1927/42 (Westminster, 1927).

(25.) The Young Briton 1.1 (October 1925): 2.

(26.) How to Start a Branch of the Junior Imperial League Youth, JIL pamphlet 1927/28 (Westminster, 1928) 2.

(27.) National Unionist Party Executive Minutes, 9 June 1925, 155; Citizens of To-morrow, pamphlet 1927/42, 3.

(28.) "Conservative Manifesto 1910 (December)" in British General Election Manifestos: 1900-1974. ed. F. W. S. Craig (London: Macmillian, 1975), 24; Coetzee, For Party or Country, 156-57; Matthew Fforde, Conservatism and Collectivism, 1886-1914 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1990), 30-32.

(29.) Ross McKibbin, "Class and Conventional Wisdom: The Conservative party and the 'Public' in Inter-War Britain," in McKibbin, The Ideologies of Class: Social Relations in Britain, 1880-1950 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 259-93.

(30.) Matthew Hendley, "Anti-Alienism and the Primrose League: The Externalization of the Post-War Crisis in Great Britain 1918-32," Albion 33.2 (2001): 243-69.

(31.) National Unionist Party Executive Minutes, 6 February 1923, 34.

(32.) Glasgow Herald, 17 November 1925, 13.

(33.) The Times, 4 February 1924, 8.

(34.) Manchester Guardian, 8 May 1933, 14.

(35.) Shall Bolshies Teach our Boys and Girls?, NUCUA pamphlet 1924/78 (Westminster, 1924), 1-4.

(36.) National Unionist Party Executive Minutes, 6 February 1923, 34. The quotation is from National Unionist Party Executive Minutes, 9 June 1925, 135.

(37.) Young Britons, pamphlet 1927/38, 1 and 1927/39, 1.

(38.) Socialist and Other Sunday Schools, NUCUA pamphlet 1925/7 (Westminster, 1925), 4. Socialist Sunday schools had in fact been preaching theistic and Christian socialist values since the 1890s, see F. Reid, "Socialist Sunday Schools in Britain: 1892-1939," International Review of Social History 11.1 (1966): 47. After the war these schools were joined by their Communist counterparts, which, while remaining in the very small minority, were viewed with even greater alarm by the Tories (and indeed by many moderate socialists), see The Communist, 3 September 1920, 12; Gleanings and Memoranda (May 1922): 423.

(39.) This was the core information in the Conservative Party's Gleanings and Memoranda throughout the interwar years.

(40.) The Junior Imperial and Constitutional League, JIL pamphlet 1927/31 (Westminster, 1927), 1.

(41.) The Imp 1.7 (November 1925): 4.

(42.) The Times, 4 February 1924, 8; Manchester Guardian, 8 May 1933, 14.

(43.) The Imp 1.3 (July 1925): 3.

(44.) JIL pamphlet 1927/31, 3.

(45.) NUCUA pamphlet 1924/69.

(46.) The Imp 2.50 (June 1929): 6.

(47.) Examples of the coverage of the annual conferences can be found in The Times, 4 November 1929, 9; Glasgow Herald, 4 November 1929, 7; Manchester Guardian, 8 May 1933, 14; The Times, 8 May 1933, 8.

(48.) The Imp 2.53 (September 1929): 8.

(49.) The Imp 2.14 (June 1926): 11-16, and 2.15 (July 1926): 13-20.

(50.) Ibid.

(51.) How to Sustain a Branch of the Junior Imperial and Constitutional League, NUCUA pamphlet 1927/33 (Westminster, 1927), 3.

(52.) McCrillis, British Conservative Party, 95-98; How to Sustain a Branch, pamphlet 1927/33.

(53.) Gleanings and Memoranda (July 1926): 6.

(54.) Imps: The Centre of Attraction? Hints on Organising a Recruting Campaign, JIL pamphlet 1928/99 (Westminster, 1928), 1-7.

(55.) How to Sustain a Branch, pamphlet 1927/33.

(56.) From the many examples, see, The Imp 2.15 (July 1926): 12 and 2.22 (February 1927): 4.

(57.) The Three Tons (Magazine of the Wallington, Beddington, and Carshalton Branch of the JIL) 2.8 (September 1928): 2.

(58.) The Three Tons 1.4 (June 1927): 3. Presumably, this was a reference to the American Jazz that accompanied the dancing.

(59.) Ernie Trory, Between the Wars; Recollections of a Communist Organizer (Brighton: Crabtree Press, 1974), 21.

(60.) Ibid., 21-36. Trory even attended the Conservative summer school at Bonar Law College at Ashridge, where his questioning of Party doctrine was duly noted and condemned. Trory was far from the only individual to move directly from the Tories to the Communist youth. See also, Frank Tilsley, We Live and Learn (London: Labour Book Service, 1939), 22-30, and Ralph Finn, No Tears in Aldgate (London: R. Hale, 1963), 76.

(61.) John Davis, "Cutler, Sir Horace Walter (1912-1997)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Blackwell online, 2004). Available at: http://www.oxforddnb.com.libaccess.lib.mcmaster.ca/view/article /65252?docPos=2. Accessed on 15 October 2004.

(62.) JIL pamphlet 1927/31, 3; One Year, JIL pamphlet 1930/7 (Westminster, 1930); McCrillis, British Conservative Party, 86.

(63.) JIL pamphlet 1927/28, 3.

(64.) Gleanings and Memoranda (May 1923): 409.

(65.) NUCUA pamphlet 1924/69.

(66.) The Times, 30 November 1931, 19; The Times, 8 March 1937, 9.

(67.) McCrillis, British Conservative Party, 88.

(68.) David Jarvis, "Mrs Maggs and Betty: The Conservative Appeal to Women in the 1920s" Twentieth Century British History 5.2 (1994): 134-37.

(69.) The Imp 1.1 (May 1925): 2-3.

(70.) The Torch of Progress: A Call To Youth, NUCUA pamphlet 1928/22 (Westminster, 1928), 1.

(71.) A Word to the Young Voter, NUCUA pamphlet 1928/29 (Westminster, 1928); Making History: Mrs Baldwin's Faith in Women, NUCUA pamphlet 1929/148 (Westminster, 1929).

(72.) McCrillis, British Conservative Party, 88.

(73.) The Young Briton 1.1 (October 1925): 1.

(74.) Ibid., 3.

(75.) The Young Briton 1.2 (November 1925): 3.

(76.) The Young Briton 1.1 (October 1925): 2-3. The first port of call was New Zealand, followed in successive issues by Australia (November 1925) and Canada (December 1925).

(77.) These were the themes of the first three of the Peter strips, starting in October 1926.

(78.) Topics in the NUCUA Who Knows? series included: The Policeman (1926/23); The Penny (1926/24); The Empire (1926/25); and Aeroplanes and Airmen (1930/29).

(79.) Young Britons: Who Knows? No. 7. Parliament and its Work, NUCUA pamphlet 1930/42 (Westminster, 1930), 1.

(80.) "Empire Day" Pamphlets and Leaflets, 1925/55; Conservative Party Archive, Bodleian Library, Oxford, CCO 506/71, Handbook on the Young Britons (1931), 13, 19. See also the report on the YBL Annual Meeting in Home and Politics, July 1927.

(81.) The Young Briton 1.3 (December 1925): 3.

(82.) James Eaden and David Renton, The Communist Party of Great Britain since 1920 (Houndmills: Palgrave, 2002).

(83.) Paul Ward, Red Flag and Union Jack: England, Patriotism and the British Left, 1881-1924 (Woodbridge: Royal Historical Society & Boydell Press, 1998), 179-80.

(84.) Keith Laybourn and Dylan Murphy, Under the Red Flag (Stroud: Sutton, 1999), 58-72.

(85.) Henry Pelling, The British Communist Party: A Historical Profile (London: A & C Black, 1958), 192.

(86.) Pelling, The British Communist Party, 53-4; Andrew Williams, Labour and Russia: The Attitude of the Labour Party to the USSR, 1924-34 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989); Laybourn and Murphy, Under the Red Flag, xix, 37-75. On the debate among historians of the CPGB about the degree to which the British Party followed the Soviet line fed to it from the Communist International (Comintern), see John McLlroy and Alan Campbell, "Histories of the British Communist Party: A User's Guide," Labour History Review 68.1 (2003): 33-58. On the diverse impact of the depression, see John Stevenson and Christ Cook, The Slump (London: Quartet Books, 1979).

(87.) James Klugmann, History of The Communist Party of Great Britain: Volume I: Formation and Early Years: 1919-1924 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1968), 223-24.

(88.) See Trory, Between the Wars.

(89.) On the communist-led National Unemployed Workers Movement, see Wal Hannington, Unemployed Struggles, 1919-1936: My Life and Struggles Amongst the Unemployed (New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1973) and idem, Never on our Knees (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1967); Peter Kingsford, The Hunger Marchers in Britain, 1920-1939 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1982); Sam Davies, "The Membership of the National Unemployed Workers' Movement, 1923-1938," Labour History Review 57.1 (1992): 29-36; Matthew Worley, "Left Turn: A Reassessment of the Communist Party of Great Britain in the Third Period, 1928-33," Twentieth Century British History 11.4 (2000): 353-78.

(90.) Andrew Thorpe "The Membership of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1920-1945," The Historical Journal 43 (2000): 783.

(91.) Klugmann, History of The Communist Party of Great Britain, I: 224; L. J. MacFarlane, The British Communist Party: Its Origin and Development until 1929 (London & Worcester: MacGibbon & Kee, 1966), 173; The Ninth Congress of the Communist Party of Great Britain: Report, Theses and Resolutions, Communist Party of Great Britain (hereafter CPGB) pamphlet 122 (London, 1927), 34.

(92.) International of Youth (United States Printing), April-May 1930, 26.

(93.) Joe Jacobs, Out of the Ghetto: My Youth in the East End; Communism and Fascism, 1913-1939 (London: Janet Simon, 1978), 44.

(94.) McCarthy, Generation in Revolt, 76.

(95.) Young Worker, 29 May 1926, 1.

(96.) William Campbell, Villi the Clown (London: Faber and Faber, 1981), 16-17.

(97.) McCarthy, Generation in Revolt, 70-75; Willis, Whatever Happened to Tom Mix, 155-71.

(98.) "Appeal to the ILP Guild of Youth," Young Worker (YCL of Great Britain's official paper), 16 April 1927 and 23 April 1927.

(99.) Frank Chapple, Sparks Fly! A Trade Union Life (London: M. Joseph, 1984), provides details of both Labour League--YCL cooperation and YCL infiltration techniques, see especially pages 27-28.

(100.) James Klugmann, History of The Communist Party of Great Britain: Volume II: 1925-1927: The General Strike (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1969), 355.

(101.) The Daily Worker, 23 August 1931, 5.

(102.) The Communist, 13 January, 1921, 7; William Rust, What the Young Communist League Stands For, CPGB pamphlet 73 (London, 1925), 20.

(103.) Report of the Seventh National Congress: May 30-June 1 1925, CPGB pamphlet 80 (London, 1925), 22.

(104.) Rust, What the Young Communist League Stands For, 19.

(105.) Report of the Seventh National Congress, 21-22: The Workers Weekly, 24 April 1925.

(106.) The Times, 29 July 1930, 11.

(107.) The Times, 20 April 1933, 7.

(108.) The Communist, 4 November 1920, 5; Peggy Rothwell, Wake up Mrs Worker: Are You Satisfied? A Woman's Word to Women, CPGB pamphlet 46 (London, 1923).

(109.) Klugmann, History of The Communist Party of Great Britain, I: 338; Noreen Branson, History of the Communist Party of Great Britain: 1927-1941 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1985), 195.

(110.) The New Line: Documents of the 10th Congress of the Communist Party, CPGB pamphlet 143 (London, 1929), 123.

(111.) Karen Hunt and Matthew Worley, "Rethinking British Communist Party Women in the 1920s" Twentieth Century British History 15.1 (2004): 3-4.

(112.) Rust, What the Young Communist League Stands For, 1-10.

(113.) The Communist, 26 November 1921, 2.

(114.) Emanuel Litvinoff, Journey Through a Small Planet (London: Joseph, 1972), 110-17.

(115.) The Communist, 13 January 1921, 7.

(116.) Rust, What the Young Communist League Stands For, 20.

(117.) Young Workers and the General Election: Young Workers Vote Communist! CPGB pamphlet 153 (London, 1929), 21.

(118.) The Daily Worker, 31 May 1932, 6.

(119.) The Communist Review 2.4 (April 1930): 153.

(120.) Kelly Boyd, Manliness and the Boys Story Paper in Britain: A Cultural History, 1855-1940 (New York, 2003), 178.

(121.) George Orwell, "Boys' Weeklies" (1939) in A Collection of Essays (San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1981), 306.

(122.) Alun Howkins, "Class Against Class: The Culture of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1930-1935," in Class, Culture and Social Change: A New View of the 1930s, ed. Frank Gloversmith (Sussex: Harvester, 1980), 248.

(123.) The Daily Worker, 16 February 1931, 3.

(124.) The Daily Worker, 8 May 1931, 4.

(125.) The Daily Worker, 29 April 1931, 2; 10 June 1931, 3; 11 June 1931, 7.

(126.) The Daily Worker, 31 December 1931, 5.

(127.) The Daily Worker, 1 January 1931, 5.

(128.) The Daily Worker, 19 January 1932, 6.

(129.) The Daily Worker, 1 February 1932, 5.

(130.) The Daily Worker, 8 May 1931, 4; 20 May 1931, 3; 21 May 1931, 3. See also The Daily Worker articles directed at educating youth about Empire Day: 12 May 1932, 4; 13 May 1932, 4; 16 May 1932, 4.

(131.) John Springhall, "Lord Meath, Youth and Empire," The Journal of Contemporary History 5 (1970): 97-111; Robin Betts, "A Campaign for Patriotism on the Elementary School Curriculum: Lord Meath, 1892-1916," History of Education Society Bulletin 46 (1990): 38-45.

(132.) Stephen Heathorn, For Home, Country and Race: Constructing Gender, Class, and Englishness in the Elementary School, 1880-1914 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000), 185-87; Anne Bloomfield, "Drill and Dance as Symbols of Imperialism" in Making Imperial Mentalities, ed. J. A. Mangan (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988), 81.

(133.) The Times, 23 May 1931, 13.

(134.) The Imp 1.1 (1925): 2.

(135.) The Imp 1.3 (1925): 3.

(136.) The Communist, 30 September 1920, 4.

(137.) The Educational Worker 1.7 (May 1927): 4.

(138.) Worley, "Left Turn: A Reassessment of the Communist Party of Great Britain in the Third Period, 1928-33." For more on the internal CPGB debates over the "new line" see Worley, Class Against Class: The Communist Party in Britain between the Wars (London: I. B. Tauris, 2002).

(139.) See the 1929 election pamphlet, Young Workers and the General Election, 14-16.

(140.) The Times, 13 June 1927, 11. The Times article declined to give details of the school strike example, but a number of school strikes, usually over specific student grievances, were reported in the Times over the course of the 1920s. See The Times, 27 February 1920, 11; 2 March 1920, 13; 30 October 1920, 7; 25 September 1922, 7; 23 November 1926, 17. On British school strikes in general, see Stephen Humphries, Hooligans or Rebels? An Oral History of Working Class Childhood and Youth, 1889-1939 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1981).

(141.) The Educational Worker 2.19 (June 1928): 9.

(142.) The Daily Worker, 16 May 1932, 4.

(143.) The Daily Worker, 14 May 1931, 6. There are no details in the article as to the size of the troop.

(144.) The Daily Worker, 19 May 1933, 2.

(145.) The Daily Worker, 31 May 1932, 6.

(146.) The Daily Worker, 23 May 1932, 1; 26 May 1934, 2.

(147.) The Daily Worker, 23 May 1930, 3.

(148.) The Daily Worker, 7 May 1931, 2.

(149.) The Daily Worker, 19 May 1931, 2.

(150.) The Educational Worker 5.48 (June 1932): 10.

(151.) The Daily Worker, 12 May 1932, 4; 17 May 1933, 6; 23 May 1933, 2.

(152.) The Daily Worker, 20 May 1933, 3.

(153.) See Swett, Neighbors and Enemies; Ben Fowkes, Communism in Germany under the Weimar Republic (London: Macmillan, 1984); Eve Rosenhaft, Beating the Fascists? The German Communists and Political Violence, 1929-1933 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).

(154.) Arthur Mallard, Oh Yus, It's Arthur Mallard (London: Everest Books, 1977), 7, 29; Willis, Whatever Happened to Tom Mix? 151; Trory, Between the Wars, 44.

(155.) Bernard Donoughue and G. W. Jones, Hebert Morrison: Portrait of a Politician (London: Phoenix Press, 2001), 202.

(156.) The Educational Worker 6.9 (June 1934): 5.

(157.) See Arthur Marwick, "Youth in Britain, 1920-1960: Detachment and Commitment," Journal of Contemporary History 5.1 (1970): 37-51.

(158.) Richard Thurlow, "The Straw that Broke the Camel's Back: Public Order, Civil Liberties and the Battle of Cable Street," Jewish Culture and History 1.2 (1998): 74-94; Stephen M. Cullen, "Political Violence: The Case of The British Union of Fascists," Journal of Contemporary History 28.2 (1993): 245-67.

(159.) See Matthew Hendley's discussion of the refashioning of the older Primrose League in the 1920s, "Constructing the Citizen: The Primrose League and the Definition of Citizenship in the Age of Mass Democracy in Britain, 1918-1928," Journal of the Canadian Historical Association 7 (1996): 125-51.

(160.) Mallard, Oh Yus, It's Arthur Mallard, 7; Chapple, Sparks Fly!, 25.

(161.) Martin Pugh, "The British Union of Fascists and the Olympia Debate," The Historical Journal 41.2 (1998): 529-42; Jon Lawrence, "Fascist Violence and the Politics of Public Order in Inter-War Britain: The Olympia Debate Revisited," Historical Research 76.192 (2003): 238-67.

(162.) Layton-Henry, "Labour's Lost Youth," 278-83.

(163.) Lawrence, "Fascist Violence and the Politics of Public Order"; John Hope, "Blackshirts, Knuckle-Dusters and Lawyers: Documentary Essay on the Mosley Versus Marchbanks Papers," Labour History Review 65.1 (2000): 41-58.

(164.) Phil Piratin, Our Flag Stays Red (London: Thames Publications, 1948); D. Hyde, I Believed (London: Heinemaim, 1951), 187.

(165.) Cullen, "Political Violence," 250-53.

Stephen Heathorn is an associate professor of history at McMaster University. David Greenspoon is a history graduate student at Pennsylvania State University. The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers and the editor for their helpful comments, and Wes Ferris for assistance with research, and acknowledge the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada for funding, which aided in the preparation of this article.
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Date:Mar 22, 2006
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