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R. Fahan

Youth: Capitalist Society Offers Them What?

(February 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 7, 15 February 1943, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Total warfare affects the totality of human existence. There is nothing in our present social experience which is not corrupted and debased as a result of this total war. Some effects are obvious enough: millions die on battlefields; other millions starve behind the battlefields. But there are effects that are less immediately glaring but which in the long run can prove just as harmful.

We speak of such things as the psychological effects of the war on the young, the generations of tomorrow: those who are still in their childhood and those who are ready to enter mature life, only to find themselves on a one-way street to the battlefield. Of all the horrors of this war (and how easy it is to forget them, to gloss over them!) is there one more horrible than the report from England that some children there who experienced the air blitz must now be taught to SMILE again?

Here in America one can see a gradual loosening of moral standards, an increase of psychopathic excesses, a development of what is politely known as “juvenile delinquency” among the nation’s youth. Reports from, many states indicate an increased amount of so-called sex crimes. New York City is set agog by reports of the inability of teachers to maintain discipline in their classrooms, in which youngsters have even gone so far as to beat teachers. Boston reports a large number of teen-age girls seeking illicit relations with soldiers as a means of getting some excitement.

It is very easy to get upon one’s high horse of morality – provided you have it – and righteously. denounce those involved in such affairs. But doing that achieves nothing except add heat where light is needed.

Incidents Are Social in Origin

It is our opinion that most of these incidents are social in origin, that is, they are individual, psychological maladjustments which often lead to serious eruptions and which are caused, directly or indirectly, by the corrosive effects of a decadent and iniquitous society on its human victims. Often, as in the case of the sex crimes, it may be difficult to see immediately the social origin of the act. But a moment’s thought should indicate that the mental and emotional disturbances which lead to sex crimes – unless they are the direct products of physical diseases, such as syphilis, in which case they require not prison but medical treatment – are often the result of the inability of the individual to adjust himself to the society in which he lives.

But the social origin can be seen much more clearly in another example of the loosening of moral standards: the increase in “juvenile delinquency.” Take the case of the Boston girls. Who can deny that when they seek the company of soldiers from nearby camps that they are thereby trying to meet somehow the tragic fact that tomorrow millions of their would-be husbands will be rotting in graves all over the world? They feel the sense of desperation, of urgency, almost as much as the soldier before he enters battle; they, too, in their pathetically distorted way desire to taste a little bit of the pleasures of life, even if it be only in some shabby room with a soldier met a few hours ago. And they, too, just as their temporary companions, are paying the terrible price of imperialist warfare and the social system producing it.

Or, take the outbreak of violence in the New York schools. One does not approve the hooliganism perpetrated by some of these youngsters against their teachers, but it is necessary to understand why they act as they do. They are the victims of a society which has no place for them other than the battlefield; they see no future; they are emotionally disturbed by the tremendous and conflicting social pressures which are exerted on them; they are not allowed to live a normal and peaceful adolescence. If, then, they erupt in violent ways, is it enough merely to get righteously indignant?

Or, most obvious of all, take the case of Harlem youth. Born into poverty and discrimination, doomed under our present social setting to die in poverty and discrimination, doomed even to give their lives for an army which Jim Crows them unto the very grave – is it any wonder that criminal tendencies sometimes develop among Negro youth? (And that is purposely exaggerated in extent and degree by the capitalist press.) Is it any wonder that some of them – the Bigger Thomases – are trapped by society into doing things they would never dream of doing if they were given half a chance?

Capitalist Society Can Offer Nothing

Yes, the moral standards of our society, such as they are, are loosening; values become suspect and cynicism and violence uppermost. Little wonder. Capitalist society has nothing to offer these people; when they degenerate into criminals or delinquents they are merely aping in their personal behavior the social patterns of capitalism.

To build a society where children do not have to be TAUGHT to smile, where young people can find happiness in full, secure and peaceful living is the aim of socialists. The more we see of what present-day society does to people the more convinced we become of the necessity for building a new one. It is, after all, in these “little things” of which we have briefly written in this column that capitalism most graphically illustrates its rottenness.

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