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Youth Movements


YOUTH MOVEMENTS, as the organized expression of viewpoints held autonomously by a large number of young people, have been rare in the United States. Not until the 1960s did an autonomous youth movement in the sense familiar to people in many other nations achieve a full growth in America. Yet, throughout much of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, young people on college campuses have taken conspicuous part in social causes of various kinds.

The largest manifestations of student activism in the period before World War I involved settlement-house work and Christian missionary endeavors. From the 1910s through the 1930s, some college students in the Young Women's Christian Organization forged ties with working-class women to try to improve their working conditions, rather than to proselytize. The Intercollegiate Socialist Society (ISS), founded in 1905 and later renamed the League for Industrial Democracy, had about 1,300 undergraduate members in seventy campus chapters at its peak before World War I. During the 1920s, an independent student voice on public issues began to be heard. The National Student Forum (1921–1929), a clearly liberal organization, was important chiefly because of its weekly newspaper, the New Student, which combined intercollegiate news with liberal commentary.

Campuses first became prominent centers of radical activity in the 1930s, with the main focus on foreign policy. Communist Party members and sympathizers played an important role, especially through the American Student Union (1935–1940), a merger of the Communist-led National Student League (1932–1936) and the student affiliate of the social-democratic League for Industrial Democracy. Antiwar sentiment spread far and wide, as an estimated 500,000 students took part in demonstrations or rallies against war in 1936, the third year of such demonstrations. An undetermined but large number of students took the Oxford Pledge, promising refusal to fight in a war if the United States became involved. For the most part the 1930s student movement focused on off-campus issues, except threats to campus freedom of expression.

The 1930s student movement was overshadowed by World War II, and a national climate of intense anticommunism stifled a brief radical political revival in the late 1940s. The federal government and some everyday Americans treated dissenting political ideas as suspect, and left-leaning teachers and students were subjected to various forms of harassment, including loss of jobs. In this atmosphere the only visible "student" group in the 1950s was the National Student Association (NSA) established in 1946, which soon came to depend on covert funding from the Central Intelligence Agency for its survival; the subsidies were given in the belief that the NSA, which took fairly liberal stands on many issues, could be a credible front for the U.S. government in dealing with foreign student groups.

It was the civil rights movement that broke this long period of quietude. Beginning in 1960, students at black colleges in the South held sit-ins at whites-only lunch counters demanding the right to equal service, and student protest groups across the South founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Sympathetic students on predominantly white northern campuses joined SNCC's efforts, and SNCC became an organization of full-time field-workers risking their lives by challenging racial discrimination in some of the most firmly segregationist areas of the Deep South. Student participation in civil rights activity continued, most notably in the Mississippi Summer Project of 1964, in which northern volunteers shared the work and dangers of the civil rights organizers.

The 1960s saw numerous other campus movements. During the early 1960s, an antinuclear movement arose. The Student Peace Union (founded 1959) reached its peak of activity in 1961–1962, with about 2,000 members. In the free speech movement at the University of California, Berkeley, in the fall of 1964, participants criticized the modern state university as being factorylike in its operation and purposes.

By the mid-1960s, the campus-based movement known as the New Left had emerged. Growing out of the civil rights movement and the free speech movement (along with smaller but similar protest movements at a number of schools), it was greatly stimulated by the escalation of the Vietnam War in 1965. The New Left, whose main organizational vehicle was the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)—although it was much broader than SDS—was the only American radical movement that centered on young people rather than being an adult movement with a following among youth. SDS broke off its nominal affiliation with the social-democratic League for Industrial Democracy in 1965 and did not affiliate with any other political group. The New Left focused on racial oppression at home and American imperialism abroad, rather than on class issues. Offering a rebellious youth culture and cogent criticism of the way of life that America offered to its young people, the movement brought in hundreds of thousands of sympathizers. Even though SDS disintegrated in 1969, spontaneous campus protest remained strong through the 1969–1970 school year. The American invasion of Cambodia in 1970, coupled with the killing of four Kent State University students by the Ohio National Guard, touched off the greatest wave of campus protests in American history, and hundreds of colleges were closed by protesting students or worried administrators. This was the last major thrust of the student revolt of the 1960s, however. Campuses became quieter over the next several years, partly from cynicism over the benefits of protest and partly from the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam in 1973.

In the 1980s, despite increasing conservativism overall, student activism revived around the issue of racial apartheid in South Africa. Students at campuses across the nation pitched tents in campus "shantytowns" and conducted other protest activities to draw attention to the sordid conditions under which most black South Africans were forced to live. The antiapartheid movement pressured college and university administrations to divest of their holdings in companies that did business in or with South Africa.

In the 1990s and the early twenty-first century, students at a number of major universities launched protests against the use of sweatshops by the manufacturers of college-logo clothing. At the same time, a new, more liberal leadership in the AFL-CIO, the nation's major labor organization, showed increasing interest in organizing previously unorganized groups (such as low-wage chicken processing jobs). The organization began holding "Union Summers," programs in which college students spent a summer learning how to do labor organizing. On many campuses, students and hourly workers joined in "Living Wage" campaigns, seeking to raise wages above the federally mandated minimum. As the twenty-first century opened, political youth movements appeared to be growing again and forging ties beyond campus.


Bloom, Alexander, ed. Long Time Gone: Sixties America Then and Now. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Brax, Ralph S. The First Student Movement: Student Activism in the United States during the 1930s. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1981.

James P.O'Brien/d. b.

See alsoAntiwar Movements ; Civil Rights Movement ; Coeducation Movement .

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Youth Movements


Social and political groupings and organizations formed for Middle Eastern adolescents and young adults.

Youth movements have played an important role in Middle Eastern politics and society. Until the late nineteenth century, the defense of neighborhoods was frequently ensured by futuwwa and other informal associations of young men operating as local militias. These "gangs" provided internal order and protection against outside threats and were often engaged in welfare and charitable activities; however, they sometimes preyed on the people instead.

Although in the twentieth century most of these groups disbanded, new kinds of youth movements developed that transcended residential loyalties. Between the two world wars, scouting and Young Men's Muslim associations made their appearance in many Middle Eastern countries. These nonpolitical youth groups frequently provided the nucleus from which full-fledged political movements developed. Initially, for example, the Muslim Brotherhood relied heavily on the scouting movement to spread its religious message.

In the 1930s, several Middle Eastern countries spawned right-wing paramilitary youth associations and sporting clubs that were inspired by Hitler's Germany, Mussolini's Italy, and Franco's Spain. These intensely nationalistic groups recruited primarily among newly educated middle-class students disillusioned with Western-style liberal democracy. They drew their appeal from an admiration of fascist discipline, unity, militancy, organization, and powerand from the hope that Germany and Italy might eliminate Franco-British influence in the Middle East. Members of these groups wore uniforms and followed rituals patterned after those of the Hitler Youth and Franco's Falange. The Phalange party (al-Kata'ib) and the Helpers (al-Najjada), in Lebanon, and Young Egypt (Misr al-Fatat) developed out of such paramilitary groups. The youth groups called Betar, which played an influential role in the development of revisionist Zionism in Europe and in Palestine under the British mandate, were also influenced in their organization and methods by the fascist youth movements.

In Palestine, from 1922 until the early years of the State of Israel, youth movements affiliated with the major Zionist political parties, the National Religious party (NRP) and the Histadrut (Israeli Federation of Labor Unions), played key roles as vehicles of socialization and integration into the Zionist polity and as agents of elite recruitment. Ha-Halutz (The Pioneer), a Zionist farming organization, trained young European Jews to join the agricultural movement in Palestine. The role of the youth branches of Israel's major political parties declined after the mid-1950s, except for B'nei Akivah, the NRP's youth branch, whose regular expansion since 1960 has contributed to the growth of religious nationalism in Israel.

In other Middle Eastern countries, governments have tried to prevent the development of autonomous youth movements. In one-party regimes, the ruling party usually has its own youth section. The most developed example of this is probably the Federation of Iraqi Youth, attached to the Iraqi Baʿth party. Under the auspices of athletic and cultural activities, the federation (which is itself divided into several programs catering to specific age groups) tries to diffuse the party's views among Iraq's younger generation.

Throughout the region, youth movements fueled by rapid population growth have played a leading role in antiregime activities. Student activism was a recurrent feature of political life in the 1970s and 1980s in countries as different as Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Turkey, Sudan, and Tunisia, where student associations sometimes joined forces with other social groups to participate in riots against the government. In particular, through a variety of Marxist and Islamic-leftist organizations, young people were actively involved in the 1979 downfall of the shah of Iran. More generally, the Islamic resurgence of the 1970s and 1980s has been primarily a movement of disaffected youth (particularly high school and university students of provincial origins and middle- and lower-middle-class backgrounds) who have organized themselves through informal religious associations.

Youth associations also contributed to the turmoil of the 1970s in Turkey, where the ultranationalist far-right National Action party used youth groups to spread its message and carry out its actions. Similarly, some of the organizational roots of the Intifada, the uprising of Palestinians that broke out in December 1987 in the Israeli-occupied territories, can be found in youth clubs formed in the 1970s and 1980s. These groups were initially created for cultural, social, and athletic activities, but they rapidly developed into a political movement of resistance to Israel's administration. Youth associations enabled a new generationoften the youth of Palestinian refugee camps, who had known only Israeli rule but who, unlike their elders, could no longer bear to live under such control and felt they had little to loseto vent its anger, frustration, and hatred.

Middle Eastern youth movements also include scouting and Young Men's/Women's Christian associations in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Israeli-ruled territories. In Israel, a Young Men's/Women's Hebrew Association is similar. In the 1970s, a Young Men's and a Young Women's Muslim Association were formed in the West Bank. Like scouting, these associations are concerned with organizing social, cultural, self-help, charitable, skill-training, and athletic activities.

see also futuwwa; muslim brotherhood; phalange; young egypt.


Mardin, Serif. "Youth and Violence in Turkey." European Journal of Sociology 19 (1978): 229254.

El-Messiri, Sawsan. Ibn al-Balad: A Concept of Egyptian Identity. Leiden: Brill, 1978.

Munson, Henry. Islam and Revolution in the Middle East. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988.

Peretz, Don. Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1990.

guilain p. denoeux

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