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The American Left consists of a broad range of individuals and groups that have sought fundamental egalitarian changes in the economic, political, and cultural institutions of the United States. Leftist activists in the United States have been credited with advancing social change on issues such as labor and civil rights, as well as providing critiques of capitalism.
The first European socialists to arrive in North America were a Christian sect known as Labadists, who founded the commune of Bohemia Manor in 1683, about 60 miles west of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Their communal way of life was based on the communal practices of the apostles and early Christians.
The first secular American socialists were German Marxist immigrants who arrived following the 1848 revolutions, also known as Forty-Eighters. Joseph Weydemeyer, a German colleague of Karl Marx who sought refuge in New York in 1851 following the 1848 revolutions, established the first Marxist journal in the U.S., called Die Revolution, but It folded after two issues. In 1852 he established the Proletarierbund, which would become the American Workers' League, the first Marxist organization in the U.S., but it too was short-lived, having failed to attract a native English-speaking membership.
In 1866, William H. Sylvis formed the National Labor Union (NLU). Frederich Albert Sorge, a German who had found refuge in New York following the 1848 revolutions, took Local No. 5 of the NLU into the First International as Section One in the U.S. By 1872, there were 22 sections, which were able to hold a convention in New York. The General Council of the International moved to New York with Sorge as General Secretary, but following internal conflict it dissolved in 1876.
A larger wave of German immigrants followed in the 1870s and 1880s, which included social democratic followers of Ferdinand Lasalle. Lasalle believed that state aid through political action was the road to revolution and was opposed to trade unionism which he saw as futile, believing that according to the Iron Law of Wages employers would only pay subsistence wages. The Lasalleans formed the Social Democratic Party of North America in 1874 and both Marxists and Lasalleans formed the Workingmen's Party of the United States in 1876. When the Lasalleans gained control in 1877, they changed the name to the Socialist Labor Party of North America (SLP). However many socialists abandoned political action altogether and moved to trade unionism. Two former socialists, Adolph Strasser and Samuel Gompers, formed the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1886.
Anarchists split from the Socialist Labor Party to form the Revolutionary Socialist Party in 1881. By 1885 they had 7,000 members, double the membership of the SLP. They were inspired by the International Anarchist Congress of 1881 in London. There were two federations in the United States that pledged adherence to the International. A convention of immigrant anarchists in Chicago formed the International Working People's Association (Black International), while a group of Native Americans in San Francisco formed the International Workingmen's Association (Red International). Following a violent demonstration at Haymarket in Chicago in 1886, public opinion turned against anarchism. While very little violence could be attributed to anarchists, the attempted murder of a financier by an anarchist in 1892 and the 1901 assassination of the American president, William McKinley, by a professed anarchist led to the ending of political asylum for anarchists in 1903. In 1919, following the Palmer raids, anarchists were imprisoned and many, including Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, were deported. Yet anarchism again reached great public notice with the trial of the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, who would be executed in 1927.
Daniel De Leon, who became leader of the SLP in 1890, took it in a Marxist direction. Eugene Debs, who had been an organizer for the American Railway Union formed the rival Social Democratic Party in 1898. Members of the SLP, led by Morris Hillquit and opposed to the De Leon's domineering personal rule and his anti-AFL trade union policy joined with the Social Democrats to form the Socialist Party of America (SPA).
In 1905 a convention of socialists, anarchists and trade unionists disenchanted with the bureaucracy and craft unionism of the AFL, founded the rival Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), led by such figures as William D. "Big Bill" Haywood, Helen Keller, De Leon and Debs.
The organizers of the IWW disagreed on whether electoral politics could be employed to liberate the working class. Debs left the IWW in 1906, and De Leon was expelled in 1908, forming a rival "Chicago IWW" that was closely linked to the SLP. The (Minneapolis) IWW's ideology evolved into anarcho-syndicalism, or "revolutionary industrial unionism", and avoided electoral political activity altogether. It was successful organizing unskilled migratory workers in the lumber, agriculture, and construction trades in the Western states and immigrant textile workers in the Eastern states and occasionally accepted violence as part of industrial action.
The SPA was divided between reformers who believed that socialism could be achieved through gradual reform of capitalism and revolutionaries who thought that socialism could only develop after capitalism was overthrown, but the party steered a center path between the two. The SPA achieved the peak of its success by 1912, when its presidential candidate received 5.9% of the popular vote. The first Socialist congressman, Victor Berger, had been elected in 1910. By the beginning of 1912, there were 1,039 Socialist officeholders, including 56 mayors, 305 aldermen and councilmen, 22 police officials, and some state legislators. Milwaukee, Berkeley, Butte, Schenectady, and Flint were run by Socialists. A Socialist challenger to Gompers took one third of the vote in a challenge for leadership of the AFL. The SPA had 5 English and 8 foreign-language daily newspapers, 262 English and 36 foreign-language weeklies, and 10 English and 2 foreign-language monthlies.
American entry into the First World War in 1917 led to a patriotic hysteria aimed against Germans, immigrants, African Americans, class-conscious workers, and Socialists, and the ensuing Espionage Act and Sedition Act were used against them. The government harassed Socialist newspapers, the post office denied the SP use of the mails, and antiwar militants were arrested. Soon Debs and more than sixty IWW leaders were charged under the acts.
In 1919, John Reed, Benjamin Gitlow and other Socialists formed the Communist Labor Party of America, while Socialist foreign sections led by Charles Ruthenberg formed the Communist Party. These two groups would be combined as the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA). The Communists organized the Trade Union Unity League to compete with the AFL and claimed to represent 50,000 workers.
In 1928, following divisions inside the Soviet Union, Jay Lovestone, who had replaced Ruthenberg as general secretary of the CPUSA following his death, joined with William Z. Foster to expel Foster's former allies, James P. Cannon and Max Shachtman, who were followers of Leon Trotsky. Following another Soviet factional dispute, Lovestone and Gitlow were expelled, and Earl Browder became party leader.
Cannon, Shachtman, and Martin Abern then set up the Trotskyist Communist League of America, and recruited members from the CPUSA. The League then merged with A. J. Muste's American Workers Party in 1934, forming the Workers Party. New members included James Burnham and Sidney Hook.
By the 1930s the Socialist Party was deeply divided between an Old Guard, led by Hillquit, and younger Militants, who were more sympathetic to the Soviet Union, led by Norman Thomas. The Old Guard left the party to form the Social Democratic Federation. Following talks between the Workers Party and the Socialists, members of the Workers Party joined the Socialists in 1936. Once inside they operated as a separate faction. The Trotskyists were expelled from the Socialist Party the following year, and set up the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the youth wing of the Socialists, the Young People's Socialist League (YPSL) joined them. Shachtman and others were expelled from the SWP in 1940 over their position on the Soviet Union and set up the Workers Party. Within months many members of the new party, including Burnham, had left. The Workers Party was renamed the Independent Socialist League (ISL) in 1949 and ceased being a political party.
Some members of the Socialist Party's Old Guard formed the American Labor Party (ALP) in New York State, with support from the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The right wing of this party broke away in 1944 to form the Liberal Party of New York. In the 1936, 1940 and 1944 elections the ALP received 274,000, 417,000, and 496,000 votes in New York State, while the Liberals received 329,000 votes in 1944.
In 1958 the Socialist Party welcomed former members of the Independent Socialist League, which before its 1956 dissolution had been led by Max Shachtman. Shachtman had developed a Marxist critique of Soviet communism as "bureaucratic collectivism", a new form of class society that was more oppressive than any form of capitalism. Shachtman's theory was similar to that of many dissidents and refugees from Communism, such as the theory of the "New Class" proposed by Yugoslavian dissident Milovan Đilas (Djilas). Shachtman's ISL had attracted youth like Irving Howe, Michael Harrington, Tom Kahn, and Rachelle Horowitz. The YPSL was dissolved, but the party formed a new youth group under the same name.
Kahn and Horowitz, along with Norman Hill, helped Bayard Rustin with the Civil Rights Movement. Rustin had helped to spread pacificism and non-violence to leaders of the civil rights movement, like Martin Luther King. Rustin's circle and A. Philip Randolph organized the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King delivered his I Have A Dream speech.
Michael Harrington soon became the most visible socialist in the United States when his The Other America became a best seller, following a long and laudatory New Yorker review by Dwight Macdonald. Harrington and other socialists were called to Washington, D.C., to assist the Kennedy Administration and then the Johnson Administration's War on Poverty and Great Society.
Shachtman, Michael Harrington, Kahn, and Rustin argued advocated a political strategy called "realignment," that prioritized strengthening labor unions and other progressive organizations that were already active in the Democratic Party. Contributing to the day-to-day struggles of the civil-rights movement and labor unions had gained socialists credibility and influence, and had helped to push politicians in the Democratic Party towards "social-liberal" or social-democratic positions, at least on civil rights and the War on Poverty.
Harrington, Kahn, and Horowitz were officers and staff-persons of the League for Industrial Democracy (LID), which helped to start the New Left Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The three LID officers clashed with the less experienced activists of SDS, like Tom Hayden, when the latter's Port Huron Statement criticized socialist and liberal opposition to communism and criticized the labor movement while promoting students as agents of social change. LID and SDS split in 1965, when SDS voted to remove from its constitution the "exclusion clause" that prohibited membership by communists: The SDS exclusion clause had barred "advocates of or apologists for" "totalitarianism". The clause's removal effectively invited "disciplined cadre" to attempt to "take over or paralyze" SDS, as had occurred to mass organizations in the thirties. Afterwards, Marxism Leninism, particularly the Progressive Labor Party, helped to write "the death sentence" for SDS, which nonetheless had over 100 thousand members at its peak.
In 1972, the Socialist Party voted to rename itself as Social Democrats, USA (SDUSA) by a vote of 73 to 34 at its December Convention; its National Chairmen were Bayard Rustin, a peace and civil-rights leader, and Charles S. Zimmerman, an officer of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). In 1973, Michael Harrington resigned from SDUSA and founded the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC), which attracted many of his followers from the former Socialist Party. The same year, David McReynolds and others from the pacifist and immediate-withdrawal wing of the former Socialist Party formed the Socialist Party, USA.
When the SPA became SDUSA, the majority had 22 of 33 votes on the (January 1973) national committee of SDUSA. Two minority caucuses of SDUSA became associated with two other socialist organizations, each of which was founded later in 1973. Many members of Michael Harrington's ("Coalition") caucus, with 8 of 33 seats on the 1973 SDUSA national committee, joined Harrington's DSOC. Many members of the Debs caucus, with 2 of 33 seats on SDUSA's 1973 national committee, joined the Socialist Party of the United States (SPUSA).
From 1979–1989, SDUSA members like Tom Kahn organized the AFL–CIO's fundraising of 300 thousand dollars, which bought printing presses and other supplies requested by Solidarnosc (Solidarity), the independent labor-union of Poland. SDUSA members helped form a bipartisan coalition (of the Democratic and Republican parties) to support the founding of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), whose first President was Carl Gershman. The NED publicly allocated US$4 million of public aid to Solidarity through 1989.
In the 1990s, anarchists attempted to organize across North America around Love and Rage, which drew several hundred activists. By 1997 anarchist organizations began to proliferate. One successful anarchist movement was Food not Bombs, that distributed free vegetarian meals. Anarchists received significant media coverage for their disruption of the 1999 World Trade Organization conference, called the Battle in Seattle, where the Direct Action Network was organized. Most organizations were short-lived and anarchism went into decline following a reaction by the authorities that was increased after the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who runs as an independent, won his first election as mayor of Burlington, Vermont in 1981 and was re-elected for three additional terms. He then represented Vermont in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1991 until 2007, and was subsequently elected U.S. Senator for Vermont in 2007, a position which he still holds. He lost the 2016 Democratic Party presidential nomination to Hillary Clinton but won the fifth highest number of primary votes of any candidate in a nomination race, Democratic or Republican.
Filmmaker Michael Moore directed a series of popular movies examining the United States and its government policy from a left perspective, including Bowling for Columbine, Sicko, Capitalism: A Love Story and Fahrenheit 9/11, which was the top grossing documentary film of all time.
In 2011, Occupy Wall Street protests demanding accountability for the financial crisis of 2007–2008 and against inequality started in Manhattan, New York and soon spread to other cities around the country, becoming known more broadly as the Occupy Movement.
Democratic Socialists of America member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, sometimes referred to as AOC, defeated 10 term incumbent Joe Crowley in the NY-14 U.S house primary and went on to win her general election. She is the youngest woman ever elected to congress, and ran on a democratic socialist platform.
Broadly, the modern American Left is characterized by organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America, the largest socialist organization in the US with over 55,000 members. The DSA has seen a huge resurgence in growth with the election of Donald Trump, and continues to grow despite having had a membership of around 5,000 members only a decade ago. The most widely circulated socialist publication in the US, the Jacobin (magazine), along with leftist publications like Dissent and Monthly Review, have all become increasingly popular with the resurgence of Socialism post Bernie Sanders and AOC.
Academic scholars have long studied the reasons why no viable socialist parties have emerged in the United States. Some writers ascribe this to the failures of socialist organization and leadership, some to the incompatibility of socialism and American values, and others to the limitations imposed by the American Constitution. Lenin and Trotsky were particularly concerned because it challenged core Marxist beliefs, that the most advanced industrial country would provide a model for the future of less developed nations. If socialism represented the future, then it should be strongest in the United States.
Although branches of the Working Men's Party were founded in the 1820s and 1830s in the United States, they advocated equality of opportunity, universal education and improved working conditions, not socialism, collective ownership or equality of outcome, and disappeared after their goals were taken up by Jacksonian democracy. Gompers, the leader of the AFL thought that workers must rely on themselves because any rights provided by government could be revoked. Economic unrest in the 1890s was represented by populism. Although it used anti-capitalist rhetoric, it represented the views of small farmers who wanted to protect their own private property, not a call for collectivism, socialism, or communism. Progressives in the early 20th century criticized the way capitalism had developed but were essentially middle class and reformist. However both populism and progressivism steered some people to left-wing politics. Many popular writers of the progressive period were in fact left-wing. But even the New Left relied on radical democratic traditions rather than left-wing ideology.
Engels thought that the lack of a feudal past was the reason for the American working class holding middle-class values. Writing at a time when American industry was developing quickly towards the mass-production system known as Fordism, Max Weber and Antonio Gramsci saw individualism and laissez-faire liberalism as core shared American beliefs. According to the historian David DeLeon, American radicalism, unlike social democracy, Fabianism, and communism, was rooted in libertarianism and syndicalism and opposed to centralized power and collectivism.
Political repression has also contributed to the weakness of the left in the United States. Many cities had red squads to monitor and disrupt leftist groups in response to labor unrest such as the Haymarket Riot. During World War II, the Smith Act made membership in revolutionary groups illegal. After the war, Senator Joseph McCarthy used the Smith Act to launch a crusade to purge communists from government and the media. In the 1960s the Federal Bureau of Investigation's COINTELPRO program monitored, infiltrated, disrupted and discredited radical groups in the U.S. In 2008, Maryland police were revealed to have added the names and personal information of death penalty opponents and anti-war protesters to a database which was intended to be used for tracking terrorists. Terry Turchie, a former deputy assistant director of the FBI's Counter-terrorism Division, admitted that "one of the missions of the FBI in its counterintelligence efforts was to try to keep these people (progressives and self-described socialists) out of office".
American Marxist groups have differed according to their visions of communism and their strategies for achieving socialism.
Established in 1919, the Communist Party USA (CP) claimed a membership of 100,000 in 1939 and maintained a membership over 50,000 until the 1950s. However, the 1956 invasion of Hungary, McCarthyism and investigations by the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC) contributed to its steady decline despite a brief increase in membership from the mid-1960s. Its estimated membership in 1996 was between 4,000 and 5,000. From the 1940s, the FBI attempted to disrupt the CP, including through its Counter‐Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO).
Several Communist front organizations founded in the 1950s continued to operate at least into the 1990s, notably the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the American Committee for the Protection of Foreign Born, the Labor Research Association, the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship, and the U.S. Peace Council. Other groups with less direct links to the CP include the National Lawyers Guild, the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, and the Center for Constitutional Rights. Many leading members of the New Left, including some members of the Weather Underground and the May 19th Communist Organization were members of the National Lawyers Guild. However, CP attempts to influence the New Left were mostly unsuccessful. The CP attracted media attention in the 1970s with the membership of the high-profile activist, Angela Davis.
The CP publishes the People's World and Political Affairs. Beginning 1988, the CP stopped running candidates for President of the United States. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, it was found that the Soviet Union had provided funding to the CP throughout its history. The CP had always supported the positions of the Soviet Union.
Because of the continued slip into an ideology of social democracy that began after the death of CPUSA National Chair Gus Hall, dissident groups began to form around the country that were opposed to the increased pro-capitalist policies of the CPUSA National Committee. There was a fear among members that the CP was on the road to liquidation as a political party. There were several telltale signs that this was happening. The new National Chairman of the CP, Sam Webb began exploring ways to fund the party which suffered a great loss of financial assistance when Mikail Gorbachev assumed leadership of the CP of the Soviet Union. The party began to invest in real estate around the country and used party funds to refurbish its headquarters in New York. The CP leased out several floors of their headquarters to local businesses such as Wix, a website design company. They also leased out the first floor to an art supply company, closing the bookshop of International Publishers, the CP publishing company. Currently, there are no CP bookstores around the country. The CP then made the decision not to print its weekly newspaper, the People's Weekly World. The paper is only available online. The party's online theoretical journal, Political Affairs, was also discontinued. Currently the CP does not have an organizing department. Dues books have been continued. No attempt has been made to establish ties with the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) which is the largest socialist-communist trade union federation in the world.
Founded in 1876, the Socialist Labor Party (SLP) was a reformist party but adopted the theories of Karl Marx and Daniel De Leon in 1900, leading to the defection of reformers to the new Socialist Party of America (SPA). It contested elections, including every election for President of the United States from 1892 to 1976. Some of its prominent members included Jack London and James Connolly. By 2009 it had lost its premises and ceased publishing its newspaper, The People.
In 1970, a group of dissidents left the SLP to form Socialist Reconstruction. Socialist Reconstruction then expelled some of its dissidents, who formed the Socialist Forum Group.
The American Party of Labor was founded in 2008 and adheres to Hoxhaism. It has its origins in the activities of the American communist Jack Shulman, former secretary of Communist Party USA leader William Z. Foster; and the British Marxist-Leninist Bill Bland. Members of the American Party of Labor had previously been active in Alliance Marxist-Leninist and International Struggle Marxist-Leninist, two organizations founded by Shulman and Bland. The present day APL sees itself as upholding and continuing the work of Shulman and Bland. Although not a formal member of the International Conference of Marxist–Leninist Parties and Organizations (Unity & Struggle), the APL is generally supportive of its line and maintains friendly relations with a number of foreign communist parties including the Chilean Communist Party (Proletarian Action), the Turkish Labour Party (EMEP), the Labour Party of Iran, and the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist–Leninist).
It has been involved in a number of events, such as a 2013 protest against the Golden Dawn in Chicago, a 2014 meeting on the Ukraine and a protest against Donald Trump at the 2016 Republican National Convention. A significant program of the American Party of Labor is "Red Aid: Service to the People", which involves providing food, clothing and other assistance to the poor and homeless in impoverished communities, and has been established in multiple US cities.
Its current organ, The Red Phoenix, carries articles concerning contemporary political issues and theoretical and historical questions.
The Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO) was founded in 1985 through the mergers of Maoist and Marxist–Leninist organizations active near the end of the New Communist Movement. The FRSO grew out of an initial merger of the Proletarian Unity League and the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters. Some years later, the Organization for Revolutionary Unity and the Amilcar Cabral/Paul Robeson Collective merged into the FRSO.
In 1999, the FRSO split into two organizations, both of which retain the FRSO name to this day. The split primarily concerned the organization's continued adherence to Marxism–Leninism, with one side of the FRSO upholding Marxism–Leninism and the other side preferring to pursue a strategy of regrouping and rebuilding the Left in the United States. These organizations are commonly identified through their publications, which are Fight Back! News and Freedom Road, and their websites, (frso.org) and (freedomroad.org), respectively.
In 2010, members of the FRSO (frso.org) and other anti-war and international solidarity activists were raided by the FBI. Secret documents left by the FBI revealed that agents planned to question activists about their involvement in the FRSO (frso.org) and their international solidarity work related to Colombia and Palestine. The FRSO (frso.org) works in the Committee to Stop FBI Repression.
Both FRSO groups continue to uphold the right of national self-determination for African-Americans and Chicanos. The FRSO (frso.org) works in the labor movement, the student movement, and the oppressed nationalities movement.
The Party for Socialism and Liberation was formed in 2004 as a result of a split in the Workers World Party. The San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. branches left almost in their entirety and the party has grown significantly since then. The new party took control of the Worker's World Party front organization Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (A.N.S.W.E.R.) at the time of the split.
Following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, A.N.S.W.E.R. organized the "Seize BP" campaign, which organized demonstrations calling for the U.S. federal government to seize BP's assets and place them in trust to pay for damages.
The Progressive Labor Party (PL) was formed as the Progressive Labor Movement in 1962 by a group of former members of the Communist Party USA, most of whom had quit or been expelled for supporting China in the Sino-Soviet split. To them, the Soviet Union was imperialist. They competed with the CP and SWP for influence in the anti-war movement and the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), forming the May 2 Movement as its anti-war front organization. Its major publications are Progressive Labor and the Marxist–Leninist Quarterly. They later abandoned Maoism, refusing to follow the line of any foreign country and formed the front group, the International Committee Against Racism (InCAR), in 1973. Much of their activity included violent confrontations against far right groups, such as Nazis and Klansmen. While membership in 1978 was about 1,500, by 1996 it had fallen below 500.
Formed in 1969 as the Bay Area Revolutionary Union (BARU), the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) had almost one thousand members in twenty-five states by 1975. Its main founder and long time leader, Bob Avakian, a Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) organizer had fought off attempts for control of the SDS by the Progressive Labor Party. The party has been unwaveringly Maoist. Working through the U.S.-China Peoples Friendship Association, the party arranged for visits by Americans to China. Their newspaper, Revolutionary Worker has featured articles supportive of Albania and North Korea, while the party, unusually for the Left, has been hostile to school busing, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and gay rights. The party fell out of favour with the Chinese government after the death of Mao Zedong, partly because of the personality cult of the RCP leader. By the mid-1990s the party numbered fewer than 500 members.
The Workers World Party (WWP) was formed in 1958 by fewer than one hundred people who left the Socialist Workers Party after the SWP supported socialists in New York State elections. Their publication is Workers World. The party's position has developed from Trotskyism to independent Marxism–Leninism, supporting all Marxist states. They have been active in organizing protests against far right groups. They were also notable for being the main US supporter of the former Ethiopian communist government. In the 1990s their membership was estimated at about 200.
Their front group, Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (A.N.S.W.E.R.) organized the early protests against the war in Iraq, which brought hundreds of thousands of protesters to Washington, D.C. before the war had even begun. However, following a split in the party in 2004, some members left to form the Party for Socialism and Liberation, taking leadership of A.N.S.W.E.R. with them. The Workers World Party then formed the Troops Out Now Coalition.
Many US Trotskyist parties and organizations exist that advocate communism. These groups are distinct from Marxist–Leninist groups in that they generally adhere to the theory and writings of Leon Trotsky. Many owe their organizational heritage to the Socialist Workers Party, which emerged as a split-off from the CP.
The Freedom Socialist Party began in 1966 as the Seattle branch of the Socialist Workers Party that had split from the party and joined with others who had not belonged to the SWP. They differed with the SWP on the role of African Americans, whom they saw as being the future vanguard of the revolution, and of women, emphasizing their rights, which they called "socialist feminism". Clara Fraser came to lead the party and was to form the group Radical Women.
The International Socialist Organization (ISO) was a group founded in 1977 as a section of the International Socialist Tendency (IST). The organization held Leninist positions on imperialism and considered itself a vanguard party, preparing the ground for a revolutionary party to hypothetically succeed it. The organization held a Trotskyist critique of nominally socialist states, which it considered class societies. In contrast to this, the ISO advocated the tradition of "socialism from below". It was strongly influenced by the perspectives of Hal Draper and Tony Cliff. It broke from the IST in 2001, but continued to exist as an independent organization for the next eighteen years.
The ISO emphasized educational work on the socialist tradition. Branches also took part in activism against the Iraq War, against police brutality, against the death penalty, and in labor strikes, among other social movements. At its peak in 2013, the group had as many as 1500 members. The organization argued that it was the largest revolutionary socialist group in the United States at that time. The ISO found itself in crisis early 2019, largely stemming from a scandal over the leadership's response to a 2013 sexual misconduct case. The ISO voted to dissolve itself in March 2019.
Socialist Action was formed in 1983 by members, almost all of whom had been expelled from the Socialist Workers Party. Its members remained loyal to Trotskyist principles, including "permanent revolution", that they claimed the SWP had abandoned. Strongly critical of authoritarian regimes, including the Soviet Union and Iran, it championed socialist revolution in third world countries. It was an active participant in the Cleveland Emergency National Conference in September 1984, set up to challenge American policy in Central America, and played a major role in organizing demonstrations against American action against the Sandanista rebels in Nicaragua.
Although Socialist Alternative has sometimes pursued a democratic socialist strategy, most notably in Seattle where Kshama Sawant was elected to the Seattle City Council as an openly socialist candidate in 2013., it identifies as a Trotskyist political organization. Socialist Alternative is the U.S. affiliate of the Committee for a Workers' International, which is a London-based international of Trotskyist political parties.
The Socialist Equality Party (SEP) is a political party that formed after a 1995 ideological rupture with Workers World Party over the issue of their support of the Fidel Castro government in Cuba, The SEP are composed of Trotskyists and are affiliated with the World Socialist Web Site.
With fewer than one thousand members in 1996, the Socialist Worker's Party (SWP) was the second largest Marxist–Leninist party in the United States. Formed by supporters of Leon Trotsky, they believed that the Soviet Union and other Communist states remained "worker's states" and should be defended against reactionary forces, although their leadership had sold out the workers. They became members of the Trotskyist Fourth International. Their publications include The Militant and a theoretical journal, the International Socialist Review. Two groups that broke with the SWP in the 1960s were the Spartacist League and the Workers League (which would later evolve into the Socialist Equality Party). The SWP has been involved in numerous violent scuffles. In 1970 the party successfully sued the FBI for COINTELPRO, where the FBI opened and copied mail, planted informants, wiretapped members' homes, bugged conventions, and broke into party offices. The party fields candidates for President of the United States.
Solidarity is a socialist organization associated with the journal Against the Current. Solidarity is an organizational descendant of International Socialists, a Trotskyist organization based on the proposition that the Soviet Union was not a "degenerate workers' state" (as in orthodox Trotskyism) but rather "bureaucratic collectivism", a new and especially repressive class society.
The Spartacist League was formed in 1966 by members of the Socialist Workers Party who had been expelled two years earlier after accusing the SWP of adopting "petty bourgeois ideology". Beginning with a membership of around 75, their numbers dropped to 40 by 1969 although they grew to several hundred in the early 1970s, with Maoists disillusioned with China's new foreign policy joining the group.
The League saw the Soviet Union as a "deformed workers' state", and supported it over some policies. It is committed to Trotskyist "permanent revolution", rejecting Mao's peasant guerilla warfare model. The group's publication is Workers Vanguard. Much of the group's activity has involved stopping Ku Klux Klan and Nazi rallies.
The US Section of the International Marxist Tendency is an American Trotskyist organization formed in 2002. The IMT is inspired by the theories of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, and Leon Trotsky, as well as British Trotskyist Ted Grant, and publishes a regular newspaper called Socialist Revolution (formerly Socialist Appeal). It also supports a publishing house called Marxist Books. The organization argues for a break with the Democrats and Republicans, and the formation of a mass working class party with a socialist program.
The Socialist Party of America was founded in 1901. Eugene Debs ran as the party's presidential candidate five times and received 6% of the popular vote in 1912. The party suffered political repression during World War I due to its pacifist stance and broke into factions over whether or not to support the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and whether or not to join the Comintern. The Socialist Party was re-formed in the mid-1920s but stopped running candidates after 1956, having been undercut by Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and the resulting leftward movement of the Democratic Party to its right, and by the Communist Party on its left. In the early 1970s the party split into tiny factions.
After 1960 the Socialist Party also functioned "as an educational organization". Members of the Debs–Thomas Socialist Party helped to develop leaders of social-movement organizations, including the civil-rights movement and the New Left. Similarly, contemporary social-democratic and democratic-socialist organizations are known because of their members' activities in other organizations.
The Green Party of the United States is a left of center party whose platform emphasizes environmentalism, non-hierarchical participatory democracy, social justice, respect for diversity, peace, and nonviolence. At their 2016 party convention in Houston, the party changed its platform to support a decentralized form of eco-socialism based on workplace democracy.
In the 2016 election, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and running mate Ajamu Baraka qualified to be on the ballot in 44 states and the District of Columbia, with 3 additional states allowing write-in votes.
The Greens/Green Party USA is a much smaller group focusing on education and local, grassroots organizing.
Michael Harrington resigned from Social Democrats, USA early in 1973. He rejected the SDUSA (majority Socialist Party) position on the Vietnam War, which demanded an end to bombings and a negotiated peace settlement. Harrington called rather for an immediate cease fire and immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam. Even before the December 1972 convention, Michael Harrington had resigned as an Honorary Chairperson of the Socialist Party. In the early spring of 1973, he resigned his membership in SDUSA. That same year, Harrington and his supporters formed the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC). At its start, DSOC had 840 members, of which 2 percent served on its national board; approximately 200 had been members of Social Democrats, USA or its predecessors whose membership was then 1,800, according to a 1973 profile of Harrington.
DSOC became a member of the Socialist International. DSOC supported progressive Democrats, including DSOC member Congressman Ron Dellums, and worked to help network activists in the Democratic Party and in labor unions. With roughly fifty thousand members, it is the largest contemporary democratic-socialist or social-democratic organization in the United States.
In 1982 DSOC established the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) upon merging with the New American Movement, an organization of democratic socialists mostly from the New Left. Its high-profile members included Congressman Major Owens and William Winpisinger, President of the International Association of Machinists.
The Socialist Party of America changed its name to Social Democrats, USA (SDUSA) in 1972. In electoral politics, SDUSA's National Co-Chairman Bayard Rustin stated that its goal was to transform the Democratic Party into a social-democratic party. SDUSA sponsored a conferences that featured discussions and debates over proposed resolutions, some of which were adopted as organizational statements. For these conferences, SDUSA invited a range of academic, political, and labor-union leaders. These meetings also functioned as reunions for political activists and intellectuals, some of whom worked together for decades.
Many SDUSA members served as organizational leaders, especially in labor unions. Rustin served as President of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, and was succeeded by Norman Hill. Tom Kahn served as Director of International Affairs for the AFL–CIO. Sandra Feldman served as President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Rachelle Horowitz served as Political Director for the AFT and serves on the board for the National Democratic Institute. Other members of SDUSA specialized in international politics. Penn Kemble served as the Acting Director of the U.S. Information Agency in the Presidency of Bill Clinton. After having served as the U.S. Representative to the U.N.'s Committee on human rights during the first Reagan Administration, Carl Gershman has served as the President of the National Endowment for Democracy.
In the Socialist Party before 1973, members of the Debs Caucus opposed endorsing or otherwise supporting Democratic Party candidates. They began working outside the Socialist Party with antiwar groups such as the Students for a Democratic Society. Some locals voted to disaffiliate with SDUSA and more members resigned; they re-organized as the Socialist Party USA (SPUSA), while continuing to operate the old Debs Caucus paper, the Socialist Tribune, later renamed The Socialist. The SPUSA continues to run local and national candidates, including Dan La Botz' 2010 campaign for US Senate in Ohio that won over 25,000 votes and Pat Noble's successful election onto the Red Bank Regional High School Board of Education in 2012 and subsequent re-election in 2015. The SPUSA has run or endorsed a presidential ticket in every election since its founding, most recently nominating former SPUSA co-chair Mimi Soltysik and labor activist Angela Nicole Walker in the 2016 presidential election.
Anarchism in the United States was originally individualistic and free-thinking, as typified by the work of Henry David Thoreau, but was overshadowed by a mass, cosmopolitan, anti-hierarchical, working class movement between the 1880s and 1940s, whose members were mostly recent immigrants. The anarchist movement achieved notoriety due to violent clashes with police and assassinations, but most anarchist activity took place in the realm of agitation and labor organizing among immigrant workers, with the exception of the Industrial Workers of the World, whose members were mostly native-born Americans.
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