Socialist Workers Party (US)

From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Join the party!
Icon communism.svg
Opiates for the masses
From each
To each
Warning icon orange.svg This page contains too many unsourced statements and needs to be improved.

Socialist Workers Party (US) could use some help. Please research the article's assertions. Whatever is credible should be sourced, and what is not should be removed.

The Socialist Workers Party in the U.S. party is historically Trotskyist but these days is better described as Castroist. Their party-affiliated book publisher, Pathfinder Press, publishes several titles by Malcolm X, who spoke at some SWP forums after his break from the Nation of Islam. They also publish English translations of many books by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, as well as their newsletter The Militant.

Currently, the organization supports several contradictory positions from across the political spectrum, including the left's traditional support of Cuba and trade unions, but also several positions traditionally associated with the center and right such as supporting Zionism and Israel[1] and opposing Black Lives Matter.[2]


The U.S. Socialist Workers Party is historically rooted in the split in the international communist movement between Stalin and Trotsky, when the Communist Party USA expelled about 100 suspected Trotsky sympathizers in 1928, who formed a group called the Communist League of America under the leadership of James P. CannonWikipedia. CLA's main activity consisted of publishing and distributing The Militant newspaper. The slow growth and isolation of the movement induced its adherents to fuse with the American Workers' Party in 1934 and the Socialist Party in 1935. CLA members were instrumental in organizing the Minneapolis general strike of 1934Wikipedia and grew to be a significant tendency within the Socialist Party through their militant brand of labor organizing. After its adherents split from the Socialist Party in 1937, the Socialist Workers Party was founded with about 2000 members. Trotsky recognized the SWP as the American affiliate of the Fourth International, founded in 1938. It would remain so through the Fourth International's various factional struggles until it formally broke with Trotskyism in 1983.

The Stalin-Hitler Pact in 1939 presented the SWP with its first crisis leading to a party split. A large minority led by Max Schachtman regarded the Soviet Union as no longer being a "workers' state" worthy of defense. Simultaneously, the majority kept the doctrine that it was a "deformed workers' state" to be defended but reformed. The breakaway faction itself split into several groups, the largest of which became the International Socialists. Others from the split coalesced around the City University of New York, forming the core of the "New York Intellectuals" who became influential in the postwar era's social-democratic and neoconservative movements. The US's entry into World War II saw the leadership of the SWP jailed for their opposition to US entry into the war. Ranks were thinned by the military draft and a doctrine towards the war that proved unworkable.


The early postwar years saw the ranks of the SWP swell to their largest numbers ever on a wave of labor militancy, before the purges of leftists from labor leadership that were soon to follow. The Cochrane faction left the SWP in 1953 over the viability of revolutionary strategy based on a Leninist vanguard party, concurrent with a doctrinal crisis within the Fourth International over related issues of party strategy. The Workers World Party followed Sam Marcy out of the SWP in 1959 over the SWP leadership's opposition to Maoism in China and to the Soviet invasion of Hungary, both of which Marcy and his followers supported.

The 1960s saw a renaissance of the SWP through their role in the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, participation in the Civil Rights Movement, and significant role in organizing protests against the US intervention in Vietnam. However, doctrinal issues surrounding support for Cuba, and later over the party's stance towards movements based on ethnicity and gender, led to factionalism. A faction led by James Robertson disagreed with the party leadership over whether the Castro government was sufficiently pure to warrant defense. Robertson was expelled from the SWP in early 1964 and found the Spartacist League. Two Robertson followers, Tim WohlforthWikipedia and Lyndon LaRouche (Lyn Marcus), attempted to stay in the SWP but were expelled later that same year. Larouche went on to teach Free University courses on Marxist theory at Columbia University, form the Labor Committee of the Columbia University student strike in 1968 (later a faction of SDS), and achieve fame as a megalomaniac conspiracy theorist. Wohlforth founded the Workers' League, which spent much of its energy sniping at the domestic and international strategy of the SWP, then rejoined the SWP briefly during the 1970s before retiring from Marxist agitation altogether to become a writer. Wohlforth eventually wrote a book titled "The Prophet's Children," a retrospective of the Trotskyist experience in which he attempted to digest its lessons, "separating the Marxist kernel from the Leninist husk." The SWP was an early supporter of the black nationalism of Malcolm X, who was a speaker at the SWP's Militant Forum in New York. Party doctrine viewed black nationalism as akin to anti-colonial nationalism in the Third World; dissidents saw the movement as divisive and reactionary. Students' central role in 1960s activism caused cultural and doctrinal drift within the SWP that alienated members who saw labor issues as central to SWP's strategy. To opponents of the SWP's student-centered approach, the party was growing "opportunist," "petty bourgeois" and "diversionist" over its support for student-based black and Hispanic nationalist (and for a brief while the Black Panther Party), feminist, and gay-rights advocacy. To the SWP leadership, these Old Left traditionalists were "workerist" and "sectarian." Large numbers attending antiwar protests from 1968 to 1971 lent credence to the party doctrine that student-based protest movements would have a catalytic role in mobilizing the broader community, but it was not to be. During the same period, self-righteousness and nuttiness within the student left were alienating much of the public. An exodus of more labor-oriented members followed the rejection of proposals "For a Proletarian Orientation" at the SWP convention of 1970. The campus-based community mobilization strategy died during the early 1970s, as the student activist milieu was becoming more self-absorbed and more isolated.

The SWP's attempt to graft New Left identity politics onto Old Left Marxist doctrine did not serve them well. It was seen by black and Hispanic nationalists as a white organization with a program diverging from their primary interest, while racial-essentialist approaches were failing to gain popularity among mainstream minority communities and alienating the American public at large. There was some success recruiting feminist and gay-rights activists; however, many of those cadres were in turn recruited out of the ranks of the SWP to radical gay and feminist ideologies seeing gender as the crux of a social revolution. The Freedom Socialist Party split in 1966 was a successful recruitment in of the Seattle branch to a "socialist feminism" ideology, which saw a nexus of black and feminist politics as the fundamental revolutionary force in the US. By the mid-1970s, the ranks of the SWP were waning while radical feminist and radical gay ideologies were nearing their peak, and the main arena for racial issues moved away from the realm of political protest towards legal advocacy and bureaucracy. David ThorstadWikipedia, a former member of SWP who was dissatisfied with SWP's failure to assign gay politics a central role in revolutionary strategy, went on to found the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) in 1978.

The SWP made one last attempt to return to its labor roots with a "turn to industry" in 1978, with an imperative for members to find industrial jobs and organize at the workplace. The attendant personal disruption alienated members, and the SWP suffered a further decline in membership. That was the SWP's last attempt to implement a strategy of organizing and action. It has since then been mainly concerned with internal functions, publications, and issues of doctrine. After years of status as the largest and most active Trotskyist organization in the US, the SWP formally ended its adherence to Trotskyist ideology in favor of Castroist ideology in 1983.

See also[edit]