Socialism in the united states

Template:American socialism

Socialism in the United States began with utopian communities in the early 19th century such as the Shakers. Those generally died out. Labor activists, usually British, German or Jewish immigrants, in 1876 founded the Socialist Labor Party and formed the Socialist Party of America in 1901. The two parties were influenced by revolutionary European thinking, especially Marxism. The Socialist Party managed to successfully run hundreds of candidates for local offices in industrial and mining centers in the late 19th and early 20th century. Under Eugene V. Debs, its opposition to World War I led to government repression. It declined in the 1920s, but it often ran Norman Thomas for president. The Socialist Labor Party was much smaller than the Socialist Party was much smaller and survived until the late 20th century.

Utopian communities

Utopian socialism was the US's first Socialist movement. Utopians attempted to develop model socialist societies to demonstrate the virtues of their brand of beliefs. Most Utopian socialist ideas originated in Europe, but the US was most often the site for the experiments themselves. Many Utopian experiments occurred in the 19th century as part of this movement, including:

Robert Owen, a wealthy Welsh industrialist, turned to social reform and socialism and in 1825 founded a communitarian colony called New Harmony in southwestern Indiana. The group fell apart in 1829, mostly due to conflict between Utopian ideologues and non-ideological pioneers.

In 1841 transcendentalist utopians founded Brook Farm, a community based on Frenchman Charles Fourier's brand of socialism. Both Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson were members of the short-lived community. The group had trouble reaching financial stability, and many members left as their leader, George Ripley turned more and more to Fourier's doctrine. All hope for its survival was lost when the expensive, Fourier-inspired main building burnt down while under construction. The community dissolved in 1847.

Fourierists also attempted to establish a community in Monmouth County, New Jersey. The North American Phalanx community built a Phalanstère - Fourier's concept of a communal-living structure - out of two farmhouses and an addition that linked the two. The community lasted from 1844 to 1856, when a fire destroyed the community's flour- and saw-mills and several workshops. The community had already begun to decline after an ideological schism in 1853.

French socialist, Étienne Cabet, frustrated in Europe, sought to use his his Icarian movement to replace capitalist production with workers cooperatives. He became the most popular socialist advocate of his day, with a special appeal to English artisans were being undercut by factories. In the 1840s Cabet led groups of emigrants to found utopian communities in Texas and Illinois. However his work was undercut by his many feuds with his own followers.[1]

Utopian socialism reached the national level, fictionally, in Edward Bellamy's 1888 novel Looking Backward, a Utopian depiction of a socialist United States in the year 2000. The book sold millions of copies and became one of the best-selling American books of the nineteenth century. By one estimation, only Uncle Tom's Cabin surpassed it in sales.[2] The book sparked a following of "Bellamy Clubs" and influenced socialist and labor leaders including Eugene V. Debs.[3]

Josiah Warren is widely regarded as the first American anarchist,[4] and the four-page weekly paper he edited during 1833, The Peaceful Revolutionist, was the first anarchist periodical published.[5] Warren, a follower of Robert Owen, joined Owen's community at New Harmony, Indiana. He coined the phrase "Cost the limit of price", with "cost" here referring not to monetary price paid but the labor one exerted to produce an item.[6] Therefore, "[h]e proposed a system to pay people with certificates indicating how many hours of work they did. They could exchange the notes at local time stores for goods that took the same amount of time to produce.".[4] He put his theories to the test by establishing an experimental "labor for labor store" called the Cincinnati Time Store where trade was facilitated by notes backed by a promise to perform labor. The store proved successful and operated for three years, after which it was closed so that Warren could pursue establishing colonies based on mutualism. These included "Utopia" and "Modern Times." Warren said that Stephen Pearl Andrews' The Science of Society, published in 1852, was the most lucid and complete exposition of Warren's own theories.[7] For American anarchist historian Eunice Minette Schuster "It is apparent ... that Proudhonian Anarchism was to be found in the United States at least as early as 1848 and that it was not conscious of its affinity to the Individualist Anarchism of Josiah Warren and Stephen Pearl Andrews ... William B. Greene presented this Proudhonian Mutualism in its purest and most systematic form.".[8]

For American anarchist Benjamin Tucker, writing in Individual Liberty:


Early American Socialism and its leaders

The Socialist Labor Party was officially founded in 1876 at a convention in Newark, New Jersey. The party was made up overwhelmingly of German immigrants, who had brought Marxist ideals with them to North America. So strong was the heritage, that the official party language was German for the first three years. In its nascent years the party encompassed a broad range of various socialist philosophies, with differing concepts of how to achieve their goals. Nevertheless, there was a militia, the Lehr und Wehr Verein affiliated to the party. When the SLP reorganised as a Marxist party in 1890, their philosophy became solidified and their influence quickly grew, and by around the start of the 20th century the SLP was the foremost American socialist party.

American Socialism was based on an ideology known today as "democratic socialism." The eventual goal of the movement was to give control of the means of production to the working class, and, in particular, to transfer ownership of major industries to their respective employees, relinquishing "capital to those who create it." Democratic socialists wish to achieve their goals by winning elections (rather than organizing a revolution or a general strike, as other socialists wish to do). Thus the Socialist Party strongly advocated universal suffrage, in order to politically empower the [oppressed] working class, or "proletariat."

Bringing to light the resemblance of the American party’s politics to those of Lassalle, Daniel De Leon emerged as an early leader of the Socialist Labor Party. He was also an adamant supporter of unions, but critical of the collective bargaining movement within America at the time, favoring a slightly different approach.[9] The resulting disagreement between De Leon’s supporters and detractors within the party led to an early schism. De Leon's opponents, led by Morris Hillquit, left the Socialist Labor Party in 1901 and fused with Eugene V. Debs's Social Democratic Party and formed the Socialist Party of America.

Eugene V. Debs, as the new leader of the Socialist movement, quickly gained national recognition as a charismatic orator. He was often inflammatory and controversial, but also strikingly modest and inspiring. He once said, "I am not a Labor Leader; I do not want you to follow me or anyone else… You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition." Debs lent a great and powerful air to the revolution with his speaking. “There was almost a religious fervor to the movement, as in the eloquence of Debs".[10]

The Socialist movement became coherent and energized under Debs. It included "scores of former Populists, militant miners, and blacklisted railroad workers, who were… inspired by occasional visits from national figures like Eugene V. Debs".[11]

Socialism's ties to Labor

The Party formed strong alliances with a number of labor organizations, because of their similar goals. In an attempt to rebel against the abuses of corporations, workers had found a solution–or so they thought–in a technique known as collective bargaining. By banding together into "unions" and refusing to work, or “striking,” workers would halt production at a plant or in a mine, forcing management to meet their demands. From Daniel De Leon’s early proposal to organize unions with a Socialist purpose, the two movements became closely tied. One major ideal they had in common was the spirit of collectivism: both in the Socialist platform and in the idea of collective bargaining.

The most prominent unions of the time were the American Federation of Labor, the Knights of Labor, and the Industrial Workers of the World. Uriah S. Stephens founded the Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor around secrecy and a semireligious aura to "create a sense of solidarity".[12] The Knights was, in essence, “one big union of all workers.[13] In 1886, a convention of delegates from twenty separate unions formed the American Federation of Labor, with Samuel Gompers as its head. It peaked at 4 million members. The Industrial Workers of the World (or "Wobblies") was formed along the same lines as the Knights, to become one big union. The IWW found early supporters in De Leon and Debs.

The Socialist movement was able to gain strength from its ties to labor. "The [economic] panic of 1907, as well as the growing strength of the Socialists, Wobblies, and trade unions, speeded up the process of reform."[14] However, corporations sought to protect their profits, and took steps against unions and strikers. They hired strikebreakers and pressured the government to call in the national militia when workers refused to do their jobs. A number of strikes dissolved into violent confrontations.

In May 1886, the Knights of Labor were demonstrating in the Haymarket Square in Chicago, demanding an eight-hour day in all trades. When police arrived, an unknown person threw a bomb into the crowd, killing one person and injuring several others. “In a trial marked by prejudice and hysteria,” seven anarchists, six of them German speaking, were sentenced to death with no evidence linking them to the bomb.[15]

Strikes also took place that same month (May 1886) in other cities, including Milwaukee, where seven people were killed when Wisconsin Governor Jeremiah M. Rusk ordered state militia troops to fire upon thousands of striking workers who had marched to the Milwaukee Iron Works Rolling Mill in Bay View, on Milwaukeee's south side.

In early 1894, a dispute broke out between George Pullman and his employees. Debs, then-leader of the American Railway Union, organized a strike. United States Attorney General Olney and President Grover Cleveland took the matter to court and were granted several injunctions preventing railroad workers from “interfering with interstate commerce and the mails”.[16] The judiciary of the time denied the legitimacy of strikers. Said one judge, "[neither] the weapon of the insurrectionist, nor the inflamed tongue of him who incites fire and sword is the instrument to bring about reforms".[16] This was the first sign of a clash between the government and Socialist ideals.

In 1914, one of the worst labor conflicts in American history took place at a mining colony in Colorado called Ludlow. After workers struck with grievances ranging from requests for an eight-hour day to allegations of subjugation, the National Guard was called in by Colorado governor Elias Ammons. That winter, Guardsmen made 172 arrests.[17][18]

The strikers began to fight back, killing four mine guards and firing into a separate camp where strikebreakers lived. When the body of a strikebreaker was found nearby, the National Guard’s General Chase ordered the tent colony destroyed in retaliation.[18]

"On Monday morning, April 20, two dynamite bombs were exploded, in the hills above Ludlow... a signal for operations to begin. At 9 am a machine gun began firing into the tents [where strikers were living], and then others joined."[18] One eyewitness reported, “The soldiers and mine guards tried to kill everybody; anything they saw move".[18] That night, the National Guard rode down from the hills surrounding Ludlow and set fire to the tents. Twenty-six people, including two women and eleven children, were killed.[19]

Union members were now afraid to strike. The military, which saw strikers as dangerous insurgents, intimidated and threatened them. This compounded with a public backlash against anarchists and radicals. As public opinion of strikes and unions was soured, the Socialists often appeared guilty by association. They were lumped together with strikers and anarchists under a blanket of public distrust.

Early American Anarchism

Benjamin Tucker, was an American anarchist who focused on economics calling them "Anarchistic-Socialism"[20] and adhering to the mutualist economics of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Josiah Warren while publishing his eclectic influential publication Liberty. Lysander Spooner besides his individualist anarchist activism was also an important anti-slavery activist and became a member of the First International.[21] Two individualist anarchists who wrote in Benjamin Tucker´s Liberty were also important labor organizers of the time. Joseph Labadie was an American labor organizer, individualist anarchist, social activist, printer, publisher, essayist, and poet. Without the oppression of the state, Labadie believed, humans would choose to harmonize with "the great natural laws...without robbing [their] fellows through interest, profit, rent and taxes." However, he supported community cooperation, as he supported community control of water utilities, streets, and railroads.[22] Although he did not support the militant anarchism of the Haymarket anarchists, he fought for the clemency of the accused because he did not believe they were the perpetators. In 1888, Labadie organized the Michigan Federation of Labor, became its first president, and forged an alliance with Samuel Gompers.[22] Dyer Lum was a 19th-century American individualist anarchist labor activist and poet.[23] A leading anarcho-syndicalist and a prominent left-wing intellectual of the 1880s,[24] he is remembered as the lover and mentor of early anarcha-feminist Voltairine de Cleyre.[25] Lum was a prolific writer who wrote a number of key anarchist texts, and contributed to publications including Mother Earth, Twentieth Century, Liberty (Benjamin Tucker's individualist anarchist journal), The Alarm (the journal of the International Working People's Association) and The Open Court among others. He developed a "mutualist" theory of unions and as such was active within the Knights of Labor and later promoted anti-political strategies in the American Federation of Labor. Frustration with abolitionism, spiritualism, and labor reform caused Lum to embrace anarchism and radicalize workers, as he came to believe that revolution would inevitably involve a violent struggle between the working class and the employing class.[25] Convinced of the necessity of violence to enact social change he volunteered to fight in the American Civil War, hoping thereby to bring about the end of slavery.[25]

By the 1880s anarcho-communism was already present in the United States as can be seen in the publication of the journal Freedom: A Revolutionary Anarchist-Communist Monthly by Lucy Parsons and Lizzy Holmes.[26] Lucy Parsons debated in her time in the US with fellow anarcha-communist Emma Goldman over issues of free love and feminism.[26] Another anarcho-communist journal later appeared in the US called The Firebrand. Most anarchist publications in the US were in Yiddish, German, or Russian, but Free Society was published in English, permitting the dissemination of anarchist communist thought to English-speaking populations in the US.[27] Around that time these American anarcho-communist sectors entered in debate with the individualist anarchist group around Benjamin Tucker.[28] In February 1888 Berkman left for the United States from his native Russia.[29] Soon after his arrival in New York City, Berkman became an anarchist through his involvement with groups that had formed to campaign to free the men convicted of the 1886 Haymarket bombing.[30] He, as well as Emma Goldman, soon came under the influence of Johann Most, the best-known anarchist in the United States, and an advocate of propaganda of the deedattentat, or violence carried out to encourage the masses to revolt.[31][32] Berkman became a typesetter for Most's newspaper Freiheit.[30]

Opposition to the World War

The Socialists met harsh political opposition when they opposed American entry into World war I and tried to interfere with the conscription laws that required all younger men, including Socialists, to register for the draft. On April 7, 1917, the day after Congress declared war on Germany, an emergency convention of the Socialist party was held in St. Louis. It declared the war “a crime against the people of the United States"[33] and began holding anti-war rallies. Socialist anti-draft demonstrations drew as many as 20,000.[34]

In June 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Espionage Act,[35] which included a clause providing prison sentences for up to twenty years for “Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty… or willfully obstruct the recruiting or enlistment of service of the United States”.[34] The Socialists, with their talk of draft dodging and war-opposition, found themselves the target of federal prosecutors. Scores were convicted and jailed.

After visiting three Socialists imprisoned in Canton, Ohio, Eugene V. Debs crossed the street and made a two-hour speech to a crowd in which he condemned the war. "Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder… The master class has always declared the war and the subject class has always fought the battles," Debs told the crowd.[36] He was immediately arrested and soon convicted under the Espionage Act. During his trial, he did not take the stand, nor call a witness in his defense. However, before the trial began, and after his sentencing, he made speeches to the jury: "I have been accused of obstructing the war. I admit it. Gentlemen, I abhor war… I have sympathy with the suffering, struggling people everywhere…" He also uttered what would become his most famous words: "While there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free." Debs was sentenced to ten years in prison,[37] stripped of his citizenship, and disenfranchised for life.

During the war, about half the Socialists supported the war, most famously Walter Lippmann. The other half were under attack for obstructing the draft; the Courts held they went beyond the bounds of free speech when they encouraged young men to break the law and not register for the draft. Howard Zinn, historian on the left, says, "The patriotic fervor of war [was] invoked. The courts and jails [were] used to reinforce the idea that certain ideas, certain kinds of resistance, could not be tolerated".[38]

The government crackdown on dissenting radicalism paralleled public outrage towards opponents of the war. Several groups were formed on the local and national levels to stop the Socialists from undermining the draft laws. The American Vigilante Patrol, a subdivision of the American Defense Society, was formed with the purpose “to put an end to seditious street oratory".[39] The American Protective League was a new private group that kept track of cases of “disloyalty.” It eventually claimed it had found 3,000,000 such cases.[39] "Even if these figures are exaggerated, the very size and scope of the League gives a clue to the amount of ‘disloyalty'."[39]

The press was also instrumental in spreading feelings of hatred against dissenters:


IWW and labor issues

Meanwhile, corporations pressured the government to deal with strikes and other disruptions from disgruntled workers. The government felt especially pressured to keep war-related industries running. "As worker discontent and strikes… intensified in the summer of 1917, demands grew for prompt federal action… The anti-labor forces concentrated their venom on the IWW."[40] Soon, “the halls of Congress rang with denunciations of the IWW" and the government sided with industry; "federal attorneys viewed strikes not as the behavior of discontented workers but as the outcome of subversive and even German influences".[40]

On September 5, 1917, at the request of President Wilson, the Justice Department conducted a raid on the Industrial Workers of the World. They stormed every one of the 48 IWW headquarters in the country. "By month’s end, a federal grand jury had indicted nearly two hundred IWW leaders on charges of sedition and espionage" under the Espionage Act.[41] Their sentences ranged from a few months to ten years in prison. An ally of the Socialist party had been practically destroyed.

However, Wilson did recognize a problem with the state of labor in America. In 1918, working closely with Samuel Gompers of the American Federation of Labor, he created the National War Labor Board in an attempt to reform labor practices. The Board included an equal number of members from labor and business, and included leaders of the AFL. The War Labor Board was able to “institute the eight-hour day in many industries… to raise wages for transit workers… [and] to demand equal pay for women…"[42] It also required employers to bargain collectively, effectively making unions legal.

Communists split off

But the next year, internal strife would cause a schism. After Vladimir Lenin’s successful revolution in Russia, he invited the Socialist Party to join the Communist Third International. The debate over whether to align with Lenin caused a major rift in the party. A referendum to join Lenin’s "Comintern" passed with 90% approval, but the moderates who were in charge of the Party expelled the extreme leftists before this could take place. The expelled members formed the Communist Labor Party and the Communist Party of America. The Socialist Party ended up, with only moderates left, at one third of its original size.[43]

Anarchists had bombed Wall Street and sent a number of mail-bombs to prominent businessmen and government leaders. The public lumped together the entire far left as terrorists. A wave of fear swept the country, giving support for the Justice Department to deport with thousands of non-citizens active in the far left. Emma Goldman was the most famous. This was known as the first Red Scare or the "Palmer Raids".[44]

Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, a Wilsonian Democrat, had a bomb explode outside his house. He set out to stop the “Communist conspiracy” that he believed was operating inside the United States. He created inside the Justice Department a new division the General Intelligence Division, led by young J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover soon amassed a card-catalogue system with information on 60,000 "radically inclined" individuals and many leftist groups and publications.[45] Palmer and Hoover both published press releases and circulated anti-Communist propaganda. Then, on January 2, 1920, the Palmer Raids under began, with Hoover in charge.

On that single day in 1920, Hoover's agents rounded up 6,000 people. Many were deported but the Labor Department ended the raids with a ruling that the incarcerations and deportations were illegal.[46]

"Socialism" in Conservative rhetoric

Since the late 19th century conservatives have used the term "socialism" (or "creeping socialism") as a means of dismissing spending on public welfare programs which could potentially enlarge the role of the federal government, or lead to higher tax rates. In this sense it has little to do with government ownership of the means of production, or the various Socialist parties. Thus William Allen White attacked presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan in 1896 by warning that, "The election will sustain Americanism or it will plant Socialism."[47][48] Barry Goldwater in 1960 called for Republican unity against John F. Kennedy and the "blueprint for socialism presented by the Democrats."[49] Ronald Reagan often quoted Norman Thomas, the perennial Socialist nominee for president in the New Deal era, as saying, "The American people would never knowingly vote for Socialism, but that under the name of liberalism, they would adopt every fragment of the socialist program."

The decline of popular socialism

"When the twenties began… the IWW was destroyed, the Socialist party falling apart. The strikes were beaten down by force, and the economy was doing just well enough for just enough people to prevent mass rebellion".[50] Thus the decline of the Socialist movement during the early 20th century was the result of a number of constrictions and attacks from several directions:

The Socialists had lost a major ally in the Wobblies, and their free speech had been restricted, if not denied. Immigrants, a major base of the Socialist movement, were discriminated against and looked down upon. Eugene V. Debs—the charismatic leader of the Socialists—was in prison, along with hundreds of fellow dissenters. Wilson’s National War Labor Board and a number of legislative acts had ameliorated the plight of the workers.[51] Now, the Socialists were regarded as being "unnecessary", the “lunatic fringe,” and a group of untrustworthy radicals. The press, courts, and other establishment structures exhibited prejudice against them . After crippling schisms within the party and a change in public opinion due to the Palmer Raids, a general negative perception of the far left, and attribution to it of terrorist incidents such as the Wall Street Bombing, the Socialist party found itself unable to gather popular support.

At one time, it boasted 33 city mayors, many seats in state legislatures, and two members of the US House of Representatives.[52] The Party reached its peak in 1912 when Debs won 6% of the popular vote.

German sociologist Werner Sombart asked why there was "no socialism in America." He concluded that socialism had failed to make a widespread impact on America because of the higher standard of living that Americans had compared to their European counterparts, arguing that socialism in America had foundered upon the shoals of “roast beef and apple pie.”[53]


In 1919, John Reed, Benjamin Gitlow and other Socialists formed the Communist Labor Party, 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).[54] The Communists organized the Trade Union Unity League to compete with the AFL and claimed to represent 50,000 workers.[55]

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.[56]

Cannon, Shachtman, and Martin Abern then set up the Trotskyist Communist League of America, and recruited members from the CPUSA.[57] 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.[58]

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.[59] Following talks between the Workers Party and the Socialists, members of the Workers Party joined the Socialists in 1936.[60] Once inside they operated as a separate faction.[61] 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.[62] 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.[63] The Workers Party was renamed the Independent Socialist League (ISL) in 1949 and ceased being a political party.[64]

Some members of the 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.[65] 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.[66]

The Popular Front (1935–1939)

The ideological rigidity of the third period began to crack, however, with two events: the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as president of the United States in 1932 and Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany in 1933. Roosevelt's election and the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933 sparked a tremendous upsurge in union organizing in 1933 and 1934. While the party line still favored creation of autonomous revolutionary unions, party activists chose to fold up those organizations and follow the mass of workers into the AFL unions they had been attacking.

The Seventh Congress of the Comintern made the change in line official in 1935, when it declared the need for a popular front of all groups opposed to fascism. The CPUSA abandoned its opposition to the New Deal, provided many of the organizers for the Congress of Industrial Organizations and began supporting African-American civil rights. The party also sought unity with forces to its right. Earl Russell Browder offered to run as Norman Thomas' running mate on a joint Socialist Party-Communist Party ticket in the 1936 presidential election but Thomas rejected this overture. The gesture did not mean that much in practical terms, since the CPUSA was, by 1936, effectively supporting Roosevelt in much of his trade union work. While continuing to run its own candidates for office, the CPUSA pursued a policy of representing the Democratic Party as the lesser evil in elections. Party members also rallied to the defense of the Spanish Republic during this period after a Nationalist military uprising moved to overthrow it, resulting in the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939). The CPUSA, along with leftists throughout the world, raised funds for medical relief while many of its members made their way to Spain with the aid of the party to join the Lincoln Brigade, one of the International Brigades. Among its other achievements, the Lincoln Brigade was the first American military force to include blacks and whites integrated on an equal basis.

Intellectually, the Popular Front period saw the development of a strong communist influence in intellectual and artistic life. This was often through various organizations influenced or controlled by the Party or, as they were pejoratively known, "fronts." The CPUSA under Browder supported Stalin's show trials in the Soviet Union, called the Moscow Trials.[67] Therein, between August 1936 and mid-1938 the Soviet government indicted, tried, and shot virtually all of the remaining Old Bolsheviks.[67] Beyond the show trials lay a broader purge, the Great Purge, that killed millions.[67] Browder uncritically supported Stalin, likening Trotskyism to "cholera germs" and calling the purge "a signal service to the cause of progressive humanity."[68] He compared the show trial defendants to domestic traitors Benedict Arnold, Aaron Burr, disloyal War of 1812 Federalists, and Confederate secessionists, while likening persons who "smeared" Stalin's name to those who had slandered Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.[68]

On the other hand throughout 1935 the Trotskyist Workers Party of the United States was deeply divided over the "entryism" tactic called for by the "French Turn," and a bitter debate swept the organization. Ultimately, the majority faction of Jim Cannon, Max Shachtman, and James Burnham won the day and the Workers Party determined to enter the Socialist Party of America; a minority faction headed by Hugo Oehler refused to accept this result and split from the organization. The Trotskyists retained a common orientation with the radicalized SP in their opposition to the European war, their preference for industrial unionism and the CIO over the trade unionism of the American Federation of Labor, a commitment to trade union activism, the defense of the Soviet Union as the first workers' state while at the same time maintaining an antipathy toward the Stalin government, and in their general aims in the 1936 election.[69]

Norman Thomas attracted nearly 188,000 votes in his 1936 Socialist Party run for President but performed poorly in historic strongholds of the party. Moreover, the party's membership had begun to decline.[70] The organization was deeply factionalized, with the Militant faction split into right ("Altmanite"), center ("Clarity") and left ("Appeal") factions, in addition to the radical pacifists around Norman Thomas. A special convention was planned for the last week of March 1937 to set the party's future policy, initially intended as an unprecedented "secret" gathering.[71]

Constance Myers indicates that three factors led to the expulsion of the Trotskyists from the Socialist Party in 1937: the divergence between the official Socialists and the Trotskyist faction on the issues, the determination of Altman's wing of the Militants to oust the Trotskyists, and Trotsky's own decision to move towards a break with the party.[72] Recognizing that the Clarity faction had chosen to stand with the Altmanites and the group around Thomas, Trotsky recommended that the Appeal group focus on disagreements over Spain to provoke a split. At the same time, Thomas, freshly returned from Spain, had come to the conclusion that the Trotskyists had joined the SP not to make it stronger, but to capture the organization for their own purposes.[73] The 1,000 or so Trotskyists who entered the SP in 1936 exited in the summer of 1937 with their ranks swelled by another 1,000.[74] On December 31, 1937, representatives of this faction gathered in Chicago to establish a new political organization — the Socialist Workers Party.


An American anarcho-pacifist current developed in this period as well as a related christian anarchist one. Anarcho-pacifism is a tendency within the anarchist movement which rejects the use of violence in the struggle for social change.[75][76] The main early influences were the thought of Henry David Thoreau[76] and Leo Tolstoy while later the ideas of Mohandas Gandhi gained importance.[75][76] It developed "mostly in Holland, Britain, and the United States, before and during the Second World War".[77] Dorothy Day, (November 8, 1897 – November 29, 1980) was an American journalist, social activist and devout Catholic convert; she advocated the Catholic economic theory of distributism. She was also considered to be an anarchist,[78][79][80] and did not hesitate to use the term.[81] In the 1930s, Day worked closely with fellow activist Peter Maurin to establish the Catholic Worker movement, a nonviolent, pacifist movement that continues to combine direct aid for the poor and homeless with nonviolent direct action on their behalf. The cause for Day's canonization is open in the Catholic Church. Ammon Hennacy (July 24, 1893 – January 14, 1970) was an American pacifist, Christian anarchist, vegetarian, social activist, member of the Catholic Worker Movement and a Wobbly. He established the "Joe Hill House of Hospitality" in Salt Lake City, Utah and practiced tax resistance.

Socialists and Independent Socialist League

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,[82] Tom Kahn, and Rachelle Horowitz.[83][84][85] The YPSL was dissolved, but the party formed a new youth group under the same name.[86]

Bayard Rustin and the Civil Rights Movement

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.[87][88][89][90]

Michael Harrington

Main article: Michael Harrington

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.[91] 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.[92]

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.[93][94]

New Left and SDS

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).[95] 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.[96][97] LID and SDS split in 1965, when SDS voted to remove from its constitution the "exclusion clause" that prohibited membership by communists:[98] The SDS exclusion clause had barred "advocates of or apologists for" "totalitarianism".[99] 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.[100] Afterwords, Marxism Leninism, particularly the Progressive Labor Party, helped to write "the death sentence" for SDS,[101][102][103][104] which nonetheless had over 100 thousand members at its peak.

In the 1960s there was a renewed interest in anarchism, and some anarchist and other left-wing groups developed out of the New Left[105][106][107] and anarchists actively participated in the late sixties students and workers revolts.[108] Anarchists began using direct action, organizing through affinity groups during anti-nuclear campaigns in the 1970s. The New Left in the United States also included anarchist, countercultural and hippie-related radical groups such as the Yippies who were led by Abbie Hoffman, The Diggers[109] and Black Mask/Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers. By late 1966, the Diggers opened free stores which simply gave away their stock, provided free food, distributed free drugs, gave away money, organized free music concerts, and performed works of political art.[110] The Diggers took their name from the original English Diggers led by Gerrard Winstanley[111] and sought to create a mini-society free of money and capitalism.[112] On the other hand the Yippies employed theatrical gestures, such as advancing a pig ("Pigasus the Immortal") as a candidate for President in 1968, to mock the social status quo.[113] They have been described as a highly theatrical, anti-authoritarian and anarchist[114] youth movement of "symbolic politics".[115] Since they were well known for street theater and politically themed pranks, many of the "old school" political left either ignored or denounced them. According to ABC News, "The group was known for street theater pranks and was once referred to as the 'Groucho Marxists'."[116] By the 1960s, christian anarchist Dorothy Day earned the praise of counterculture leaders such as Abbie Hoffman, who characterized her as the first hippie,[117] a description of which Day approved.[117]


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).[118][119] 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.[120] The same year, David McReynolds and others from the pacifist and immediate-withdrawal wing of the former Socialist Party formed the Socialist Party, USA.[121]

Bayard Rustin was the national chairperson of SDUSA during the 1970s. SDUSA sponsored a biannual conference[122] that featured discussions, for which SDUSA invited outside academic, political, and labor-union leaders. These meetings also functioned as reunions for political activists and intellectuals, some of whom worked together for decades.[123] SDUSA also published position papers.

1980s and 1990s

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.[124][125][126] 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 4 million USD of public aid to Solidarity through 1989.[127][128]

Because of their service in government, Gershman and other SDUSA members were called "State Department socialists" by Massing (1987), who wrote that the foreign policy of the Reagan administration was being run by Trotskyists, a claim that was called a "myth" by Lipset (1988, p. 34).[129] This "Trotskyist" charge has been repeated and even widened by journalist Michael Lind in 2003 to assert a takeover of the foreign policy of the George W. Bush administration by former Trotskyists;[130] Lind's "amalgamation of the defense intellectuals with the traditions and theories of 'the largely Jewish-American Trotskyist movement' [in Lind's words]" was criticized in 2003 by University of Michigan professor Alan M. Wald, who had written a history of "the New York intellectuals" that discussed Trotskyism and neoconservatism.[131] SDUSA and allegations that "Trotskyists" subverted the foreign policy of the G. W. Bush have been mentioned by "self-styled" paleoconservatives (conservative opponents of neoconservatism).[132][133]

Contemporary social-democratic and socialist groups

After 1960 the Socialist Party also functioned "as an educational organization".[134] Members of the Debs–Thomas Socialist Party helped to develop leaders of social-movement organizations, including the civil-rights movement and the New Left.[135][136] Similarly, contemporary social-democratic and democratic-socialist organizations are known because of their members' activities in other organizations.

Social Democrats, USA (SDUSA)

Main article: Social Democrats, USA

Social Democrats, USA has a history dating back to Debs. SDUSA sponsored a biannual conference[122] 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.[123] SDUSA also published a newsletter and occasional position papers.

As of 2011, SDUSA is essentially inactive. In 2008, a group centered around Pennsylvania members of SDUSA emerged, determined to re-launch the organization. A re-founding convention was held in May 2009, at which a National Executive Committee was elected. Owing to factional disagreements, the Pennsylvania-based group and the newly elected NEC parted company, with the former styling itself as the "Social Democrats USA – Socialist Party, USA" and the latter as "Social Democrats, USA."

Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)

Main article: Democratic Socialists of America
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.[137] Even before the December 1972 convention, Michael Harrington had resigned as an Honorary Chairperson of the Socialist Party.[118][119] 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.[138]

DSOC became a member of the Socialist International. DSOC supported progressive Democrats, including DSOC member Congressman Ron Dellums,[139] and worked to help network activists in the Democratic Party and in labor unions.[140] With roughly six 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.[141] Its high-profile members included Congressman Major Owens and William Winpisinger, President of the International Association of Machinists.

Socialist Party USA (SPUSA)

Main article: Socialist Party USA

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 continued to run local and national candidates. In 1972 they supported the presidential campaign of Benjamin Spock of the People's Party. Their 2000 candidate for president was David McReynolds.[142] In 2000 SPUSA stated that it had 1,000 members.

World Socialist Party of the United States (WSPUS)

The "Socialist Party of the United States" (SPUS) — its name inspired by co-thinkers in the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB) and the Socialist Party of Canada (SPC) — was established on July 7, 1916 by 42 defecting members of Local Detroit of the Socialist Party of America (SPA). The WSPUS applauded the Bolshevik's withdraw from the first World War, but felt that the new Soviet regime could only be state capitalist and hence should not be supported. In 1947 the party's name was changed to the present World Socialist Party of the United States, companion party of World Socialist Movement. It has stood against all wars fought since its inception on the grounds that they always represent the economic interests of the owning class, and never those of the working class. Unlike much of the left, it does not take sides in wars, e.g. not calling for a victory for the Vietnamese against America.

Socialism today

An April 2009 Rasmussen Reports poll, conducted during the Financial crisis of 2007–2010 (which many believe resulted due to lack of regulation in the financial markets) suggested that there had been a growth of support for socialism in the United States. The poll results stated that 53% of American adults thought capitalism was better than socialism, and that "Adults under 30 are essentially evenly divided: 37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided".[143] In a 2011 Pew poll, young Americans between the ages of 18-29 favored socialism to capitalism by 49% to 43%; but Americans overall had a negative view of socialism, with 60% opposing.[144] Bernie Sanders, current U.S. Senator from Vermont, has described himself as a democratic socialist. Sanders served as the at-large representative for the state of Vermont before being elected to the senate in 2006.[145] In a 2013 interview with Politico, radio host Thom Hartmann, whose nationally syndicated radio show draws 2.75 million listeners a week, described himself as a Democratic socialist.[146]

See also


  1. Branch, Taylor. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954–63 (New York: Touchstone, 1989).
  2. D’Emilio, John. Lost Prophet: Bayard Rustin and the Quest for Peace and Justice in America (New York: The Free Press, 2003).
  3. D'Emilio, John. Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004). ISBN
  4. Sumner, Gregory D. (1996) Dwight Macdonald and the Politics Circle: The Challenge of Cosmopolitan Democracy
  5. Whitfield , Stephen J. (1984) A Critical American: The Politics of Dwight Macdonald
  6. Wreszin, Michael (1994) A Rebel in Defense of Tradition: The Life and Politics of Dwight MacDonald


  • ALB (2009–10) "The SLP of America: a premature obituary?" Socialist Standard. Retrieved May 11, 2010.[2]
  • Alexander, Robert J. International Trotskyism, 1929–1985: a documented analysis of the movement. United States of America: Duke University Press, 1991. ISBN 0-8223-0975-0
  • Amster, Randall. Contemporary anarchist studies: an introductory anthology of anarchy in the academy. Oxford, UK: Taylor & Francis, 2009 ISBN 0-415-47402-7
  • Bérubé, Michael. The Left at war. New York: New York University Press, 2009 ISBN 0-8147-9984-1
  • Buhle, Mari Jo; Buhle, Paul and Georgakas, Dan. Encyclopedia of the American left (Second edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-19-512088-4
  • Busky, Donald F. Democratic Socialism: A Global Survey. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2000. ISBN 02759688
  • Coleman, Stephen. Daniel De Leon. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1990 ISBN 0-7190-2190-1
  • Draper, Theodore. The roots of American Communism. New York: Viking Press, 1957. ISBN 0-7658-0513-8
  • Dubofsky, Melvyn. (1994). The state and labor in modern America. University of North Carolina Press.
  • George, John and Wilcox, Laird. American Extremists: Militias, Supremacists, Klansmen, Communists & Others. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1996. ISBN 1-57392-058-4
  • Graeber, David. "The rebirth of anarchism in North America, 1957–2007" in Contemporary history online, No. 21, (Winter, 2010)
  • Isserman, Maurice. The other American: the life of Michael Harrington. New York: Public Affairs, 2000. ISBN 1-58648-036-7
  • Klehr, Harvey. Far Left of Center: The American Radical Left Today. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1988. ISBN 0-88738-875-2
  • Lingeman, Richard. The Nation Guide to the Nation. New York: Vintage Books, 2009. ISBN 0-307-38728-3
  • Lipset, Seymour Martin and Marks, Gary. It didn't happen here: why socialism failed in the United States. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2001. ISBN 0-393-04098-4
  • Nordhoff, Charles. (1875). THE COMMUNISTIC SOCIETIES OF THE UNITED STATES: From Personal Visit and Observation. Harper & Brothers, Publishers (Reprinted edition 1966) Dover Publications, Inc. ISBN 0-486-21580-6. LICN 66-11429
  • Reuters. "U.S. protests shrink while antiwar sentiment grows". 3 Oct 2007 12:30:17 GMT Retrieved September 20, 2010.[3]
  • Ryan, James G. Earl Browder: the failure of American Communism. Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1997. ISBN 0-8173-0843-1
  • Sherman, Amy. "Demonstrators to gather in Fort Lauderdale to rail against oil giant BP", The Miami Herald. May 12, 2010 Retrieved from September 22, 2010.[4]
  • Stedman,Susan W. and Stedman Jr. Murray Salisbury. Discontent at the polls: a study of farmer and labor parties, 1827–1948. New York: Columbia University Press. 1950.
  • Tindall, George Brown and Shi, David E. (1984). America: a Narrative History. (Six ed., in two volumes). W. W. Norton and Company.
  • Woodcock, George, Anarchism: a history of libertarian ideas and movements. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004. ISBN 1-55111-629-4
  • Zinn, Howard (1980). A People's History of the United States. Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-014803-9

Further reading

  • Noyes, John Humphrey. History of American Socialisms By John Humphrey Noyes (1870)
  • Hillquit, Morris. History of socialism in the United States (1906).

External links

  • Early Marxists in North America (Marxist Internet Archive)
  • American Socialist Voter (an open educational project for socialism)
  • The Christian Science Monitor, July 1, 2010
  • The "O" in Socialism by Betsy Reed, The Nation, June 12, 2009
  • Truthdig, December 29, 2008
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