Socialist Party USA
|A guide to|
|Hail to the Chief?|
|Persons of interest|
The Socialist Party USA (SP USA) is a political party in the United States that holds as its primary position the realization of democratic socialism (Not as in the politics akin to that of Bernie Sanders, as he is actually a social democrat but because they advocate for worker ownership of corporations for a decentralized economic plan, and even a maximum wage, making them a real leftist party). The party describes itself as "stand[ing] for the abolition of every form of domination and exploitation, whether based on social class, gender, race/ethnicity, age, education, sexual orientation, or other characteristics," and envisions socialism as, "a new social and economic order in which workers and community members will take responsibility for and control of their interpersonal relationships, their neighborhoods, their local government, and the production and distribution of all goods and services." SP USA is equally opposed to totalitarianism, where an oligarchy of superior powers determines what is the best for the people, maintaining that only the people can decide what is best for them and that even the most benevolent autocrat is a tyrant.
Socialist Party USA is a multi-tendency party. Since its formation in 1972, it has been formed of a moderate wing of reformists and social democrats and a more radical wing of socialist revolutionaries, communists, and anarchists. With the growth in popularity of alternatives to capitalism in more recent years, the party has seen some growth in its leftier parts as more younger folk join the party. Many of these younger members are more sympathetic to classical Marxist or Marxist-Leninist outlooks while retaining a respect for democratic decision making. As some of the old guard have opted to leave in recent years (e.g., former presidential candidate David McReynolds, who was censured by the party for racist comments), the party's moderates have lost power as the left-wing has grown. It remains to be seen if this will have any effect on the party's fortunes.
While SP USA runs candidates in its capacity as a political party, it is conceived and organized as a party of activists, rather than a party of bureaucrats. As 2016 Presidential candidate Mimi Soltysik said on CNBC, "We don't look to a presidential campaign to provide the solutions, we look to the people...if we're going to see a socialist revolution in the United States, it won't be because of a presidential candidate, it will be because the people lead that revolution."
The party is one of the largest socialist organizations in the United States, although that really isn't saying much. With approximately 1,500 members, it's in a distant third behind the approximately 5,000 in Communist Party USA and the 50,000 in Democratic Socialists of America (though DSA is, for all practical purposes, a movement and not a party).
It was initially formed as the Socialist Party of America in 1901 by the reformist 'kangaroos' such as Morris Hillquit of the Socialist Labor Party opposed to De Leon, who were forced to leave the SLP in 1899 after attempting a violent coup of the SLP, and then formed the right-wing of the Socialist Party of America by merging with Eugene V. Debs' Social Democratic Party. Debs, while starting out as a reformist, turned into a socialist after reading Marx's works, somewhere, ironically, along the lines of De Leonism.
Historically the Socialist Party of America was a notable third party with its heyday from the 1900s-1910s and again briefly in the 1930s, and had sporadic success electing politicians on its ballot line such as two U.S. Congressmen (Victor Berger and Meyer London) and the mayors of Milwaukee and Schenectady. Its strongest showings in U.S. presidential elections were Eugene Debs in 1912 and 1920 and Norman Thomas in 1932.
As with many other left groups at the time, it faced domestic repression due to its opposition to U.S. entry into World War I. Victor Berger was prosecuted under the Espionage Act and denied being seated for a second term in the U.S. Congress, and Eugene Debs was prosecuted for "sedition" for speaking at an anti-draft protest and imprisoned (for the second time; his first time being imprisoned was for his role in instigating a railroad workers' strike in 1894.)
Writers Upton Sinclair and Jack London were notable members. Upton Sinclair would later win the Democratic Party primary nomination for governor of California in 1934, sending the state's business establishment into headless chicken mode trying to stop him out of fear his E.P.I.C. (End Poverty In California) platform would turn California into a big socialist commune. Sinclair was defeated in the general election by Republican incumbent Frank Merriam, and many analysts date the origin of today's sophisticated media smear tactics to that election.
The SP's decline can be attributed to many reasons: domestic repression during World War I, losing some members to the Soviet style of communism following the success of the Bolshevik Revolution, the SP throwing its support behind the Progressive Party presidential candidacy of Robert LaFollette in 1924 rather than run their own candidate. At the same time, the party benefited from the weakening of support for Soviet Communism following the show trials of the late 1930s and the 1956 invasion of Hungary.
After the New Deal, World War II, and the second Red Scare of McCarthyism, the left changed again with the emergence of a social-democratic, anti-Communist, and pro-labor union and civil rights tendency aligned with the Democratic Party. However, there was tension between socially conservative labor unions and more socially liberal anti-war, gay rights, and feminist campaigners. Notable among the new strain of Socialists were writer Michael Harrington and former Trotskyist turned social democrat Max Schactman, who, while remaining within the SP, argued that they should work within the Democratic Party instead of running their own candidates.
Disputes over closer ties to the Democratic Party and over the Vietnam War caused the SP to split into Social Democrats USA, the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (today they are known as Democratic Socialists of America), and the Socialist Party USA after its 1972 convention. The first two groups supported working within the Democratic Party and divided over their response to the Vietnam War (SDUSA, the most conservative of the three and the most closely aligned with AFL-CIO leadership, endorsing the status quo and a negotiated settlement in Vietnam, putting it to the right of Democratic nominee George McGovern on that issue; DSOC supporting an immediate ceasefire and U.S. withdrawal). SPUSA, the furthest left of the three, split from DSOC in 1973 and sought to organize as Socialists instead of working with the Democrats. The current name Socialist Party USA dates from that time.
Their presidential candidate for the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election was Stewart Alexander.
For the 2016 presidential election, Emidio "Mimi" Soltysik and Angela Nicole Walker were nominated for the candidacy. They did pretty bad, even for fringe left-wing party standards: the Party for Socialism and Liberation trumped them by a factor of 28. They did notably do good in Guam, as being the only third-party who bothered to get ballot access gave them 4% of Guam's popular vote, all despite Emidio "Solysk" not getting his name spelled right on the ballot.
This shows some of the mergers and splits that constituted the Socialist Party of America and Socialist Party USA.
- 1897 Social Democracy of America formed from American Railway Union (president: Eugene Debs), with Debs chairman of the Executive Board.
- 1898 Social Democratic Party of America (Chicago) founded by Victor L Berger from part of Social Democracy of America.
- 1899 Social Democratic Party of America (Rochester/Springfield) splits from the Socialist Labor Party (the oldest Socialist organization in the US), changing their name to indicate an intention to join the Chicago SDP.
- 1901 Socialist Party of America forms from a merger of Chicago and Rochester/Springfield SDP. Prominent members include Eugene Debs, Victor L Berger.
- 1919 Left Wing Section of the Socialist Party splits from SPA, later helping to form Communist Party of America and Communist Labour Party of America.
- 1921 Finnish Socialist Federation splits from SPA.
- 1934 Upton Sinclair was expelled from SPA when he runs as Democrat.
- 1936 "Old Guard" (less militant members) expelled from SPA; they form the Social Democratic Federation.
- 1936 Workers Party of the United States (a Trotskyist group) disbands and urges its members to join the SPA; half do.
- 1937 Trotskyist "Socialist Appeal" faction expelled from SPA.
- 1937 Stalin's show trials and events in Spain destroy any prospect of an alliance between SPA and Communist Party.
- 1956 Numbers are bolstered by ex-communists following Soviet invasion of Hungary.
- 1957 SPA merges with most of Social Democratic Federation to form the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation; a rump of SDF members establish Democratic Socialist Federation.
- 1958 Party is joined by Independent Socialist League (led by Max Shachtman).
- 1972 Socialist Party changes its name to Social Democrats, USA intending to work more closely with the Democrat Party; its left-wing leaves and forms the Union for Democratic Socialism.
- 1973 Union for Democratic Socialism becomes the Socialist Party of the USA.
- 1973 Michael Harrington resigns and forms Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee.
- 1975 The Socialist Human Rights Party merges with the Michigan branch of the SPUSA.
- 1984 The DSOC merges with New American Movement to form Democratic Socialists of America.
- Democratic Socialists of America
- Social democracy, a system often advocated by the right-wing of SPUSA.
- Schenck v. United States, a Supreme Court case involving them.