The Impotence of the Socialist Movement

The compulsion to outline the central problems of the Socialist movement has brewed inside me for years. Having been witness to several events, and a member of several organizations of the modern movement, I have come to see its sad state. Great upheaval was and still is possible given the Great Recession, but our struggle, especially compared to the movement just fifty years after the publication of The Communist Manifesto, fails to meet even the most basic of proper institutions to constitute a truly realized Party. Membership is low, public profile and opinion is basically non-existent, and words like “Communist” and “Socialist” are used as pejoratives terms and completely devoid of their reasonable content when used by pundits and politicians.

The following essay will be divided into three sections. Section I comprises a brief history of the American Socialist movement outlining is main currents, disunion through infighting, ideological rigidity and infiltration both by the strong arm of American bourgeois as well as the forces of Stalinism. This will show that, like many other groups, the American Marxist movement has been plagued by a terrible instinct to expel disagreeable members and to create “factions” or “opposition” coalitions which only serve to divide the movement as a whole and leave it open to disintegration. This, in some was because of but when also combined with the infiltration of the CPUSA and other organizations by the FBI, NSA and Comintern, this history has led to a demoralization of those comrades who still cling to the righteous principles of Marxism. Childish infighting and inexcusable meddling in the affairs of these groups has led to the expulsion or resignation of countless members and has dismayed potential ones.

In section II, I will review the status of the movement as it stands today and explain what its main drawbacks are. In short these include, a lack of unity and cohesiveness (obviously related to Section I), a complete lack of systematic and coordinated community relationships (formerly conducted by newspaper circulation and local and national meetings and conventions which are widely publicized) which results in the inability to reach wider audiences, and, despite minor involvements by the Socialist Workers Party, a lack of coordinated involvement within the labor movement. The general blame for this can be laid at the hands of the failure of genuine leadership to unite and harmonize the various voice of our struggle.

Section III will comprise my proposal to correct the failures of the past. Fortunately, this program can be instituted rather quickly. What can be dubbed, “The Unity Program” involves a new revival in a United Socialist Movement or a new United Front, which can bring together all fractured groups into a single cohesive unit. Following the lead of SYRIZA in Greece, the program entails calling all factions to set aside their differences and attend a united convention tasked with adopting a united constitution and create a forum for printed discussion of principles, theory, and strategy (in the form of a single news outlet). A consequence of the divided nature of the movement is the inability to capture the numerical strength of the cause. Uniting together into a single membership pool will help to show the great numbers which I am sure we compromise. An important factor necessary as part of the programs set forth in at this convention combined with the utilization of the increased membership, there needs to be an infiltration and radicalization inside both the student and labor movements. This increased organizational structure will allow the new party to focus on, and  engaging in, political activity including coordinating  strikes, organizing protests and establishing a community presence to provide necessary services – all of which will lead to increased membership and notoriety. This new party would need to establish real local branches which can coordinate local, regional and national activities, but remain focused on providing services to, and education for, the working class.

 

Section I – The Degenerate History of U.S. Marxism – Factions, Fragments, Fighting and Foistation

The history of American Marxism is scarred by a series of fragmentations and infiltrations. From the very beginning, leaders of the struggle, charismatic and unwavering, could be potent in times of revolution, but could also inhibit even the most simple of compromises. The numerous splits and opposition organizations – combined with the permeation of the FBI and Stalinist Comintern – have demoralization and paralyzed the movement. With scars so recent, it has been difficult to shake off this past and, unfortunately for us, the only way to begin mending scars, is to open them again.

The first organization of the Socialist kind in America was The Socialist Labor Party of America (SLP), established in 1876 and known as the Workingmen’s Party. Almost immediately after its founding, the SLP divided over tactics, chiefly between Anarchists and Social Democrats. By 1890 the party was severely at odds not only on its tactics, but between the differing nationalities and the influence of their respective parties back home. However, when the SLP came under the direction of Daniel DeLeon it began mobilizing towards electoral politics and tried to combine that effort with with trade unionism. The result was a great rise in numbers and popularity. However, the micro-schism of the past eventually splintered it in two, with many of the members being pressed into the Socialist Party of he famous Eugene Debs.

The Socialist Party of the United States gained significant notoriety through its coordination with many different groups, including trade unionists, progressive social reformers and populist farmers. In 1912 and 1920 emblematic leader, Eugene V. Debs, twice won over 900,000 votes. However, the opposition of the draft and to the First World War meant that Socialists and Anarchists were targeted and silenced. The party, therefore, waned during the war years. Eventually the Russian Revolution acted as a crowbar for the party, splitting between more liberal members (dubbed the “Left-Wing Section) and more traditional Marxists on how to respond.

In early 1919, Lenin, as the undisputed vanguard leader of the Worldwide Communist movement, invited the left wing of the Socialist Party of America to join Comintern as the Communist Party of America. A referendum, held in the spring of 1919 passed with nearly 90% support, but the leadership of the SPA, fearing its power threatened, suppressed the results. The elections would have meant that 12 out of the 15 open positions for the party’s National Executive Committee would be occupied by Pro-Russian leftists. Interparty divisions over the issue led to an overall decrease in membership, namely through expulsion and discontent resulting from the election. Eventually the party would lose two-thirds of its members.

In response the party called for an emergency convention of The Socialist Party to tackle the subject. At the meeting on August 30, 1919 the party’s Left Wing Caucus, bolstered by the success of the election held earlier that year, made plans to regain control of the party, sending delegations previously expelled to the convention to demand recognition. Although many of the Opposition members elected to refrain from “crashing the convention”, a small group lead by John Reed (famous Author of “The Ten Days That Shook The Earth” and subject of the Warren Beatty movie “Reds”) and Benjamin Gitlow went ahead with the plan. The leadership of the convention was informed of this attempt beforehand and had the crashers forcibly removed. As a result of this brutish act, many of allied leftist delegates who remained in the Party walked out and united together with the expelled members formed the Communist Labor Party. However, divisions within this faction which was led by C.E. Ruthenberg and Louis C. Fraina, turned away from that effort and formed their own party, the Communist Party of America, at a separate convention on September 1, 1919.

After the establishment of the Second Communist International in 1919, the Comintern dispatched an order, its main source of international power, demanding that the two Communist Parties, to unite under the banner of the United Communist Party. Consisting of around 12,000 members, this party apparatus was design for nearly one purpose: follow the bolshevik line. Divisions regarding the heavy hand of Moscow and the over the actions of the Party led to fissures between Charles Ruthenberg with Jay Lovestone and Nicholas I. Hourwich along with Alexander Bittelman. In response to this, the Comintern under Bukharin issued yet another order in May of 1921 ordering the merger of the two factions. It appeared that only the hard line of Moscow’s directives could keep American Communists together.

Even from the beginning, the Communist Party’s history is one of division and ruthlessness, at a time workers of the world were being sent to the battlefields of France and Poland, or to colonies abroad, which could have been led by a unified party. Instead of utilizing this oppression of workers and the tailwind of the Russian Revolution to organize the workers of America and enroll more members, the parties continued to split and divide. Only at the advent of Stalinism, the next great sin of American Communism, would they be united.

First Red Scare  

Brought on by fears of revolutionary activity in the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation set its sights on destroying and/or discrediting the Communist Party USA. In 1919, the Department of Justice, headed by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, acting under the Sedition Act of 1918, began raiding local Party offices and personal homes of notable party members, arresting thousands. Many of those arrested were foreign nationals and were later deported in what has since been called the “Palmer Raids.” All but outlawed, the Communist Party, with no help from the Comintern or allied left-wing groups such as the fledgling Socialist Party (Debs was himself incarcerated), was forced underground.

For nearly three years the party was nearly destroyed, forced to meet secretly and keep its members hidden. Finally in 1921, as the Palmer program, a near perfect success in political suppression, began to wane the organization attempted begin legally functioning as the “Workers Party of America.”

Continued Factionalism (1923–1929)

Based on the subjugation by Comintern directives and governmental suppression, the Communist Party was forced to adopt the thesis of the Fifth World Congress held in 1925. This dictum held that the revolutionary period of 1917 through 1924 would be followed by a period of stabilization of Capitalism. Therefore, the Comintern would no longer support foreign Parties outside the Soviet Bloc. This was direct result of Stalin’s new thesis of ‘Socialism in One Country” and was, in reality, a mere ideological cover for the ever-increasing Russification and Stalinization of the Soviet Union. As a result, the Comintern ordered the CPUSA to continue to involve itself in the American working class through union and labor organizations, although these organizations were increasingly anti-Communist.

Understanding that these policies were in contradiction to the facts on the ground in the U.S., the Party again became embroiled in division. CPUSA’s Executive Secretary, C.E. Ruthenberg, and his colleague Jay Lovestone advocated the maintenance the Comintern and Stalinist line, blindly following the orders of Moscow. Opposed to this policy was the Foster-Cannon faction, headed by William Z. Foster and James P. Cannon who headed the Party’s Trade Union Educational League, and the International Labor Defense (ILD) organizations respectfully.

Based on the blind loyalty of the Ruthenberg faction, in 1925 the Comintern again ordered the Foster-Cannon faction (which held the majority) to surrender control to Ruthenberg. Although Foster eventually complied, this capitulation led to continued factional infighting within the CPUSA. This division pulled the Communists away from their ultimate goal, providing leadership to the working class. The lost International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union strike of 1926 is only one example of how these fractions did nothing to promote the cause of the CPUSA.

Ruthenberg died in 1927 and like in Russia, his Stalinst lackey Lovestone succeeded him as party secretary. Hoping to revive his faction after the abdication of Foster, James P. Cannon attended the Sixth Congress of the Comintern in 1928 with the goal of convincing the leadership of his righteous position. Having set forth many connections to important players in the Comintern Cannon hoped to garner favor with the Stalinist leadership. While attending the congress, Cannon was given a copy of “Critique of the Draft Program of the Comintern” by Leon Trotsky.

This single event, a mere accident of history, was to shape the significant division led by Cannon. Together with Max Shachtman and Martin Abern, they began to organize support for Trotsky’s thesis and what would eventually be called the “Left Opposition.” As the rumors of this program came to light, the “Three Generals without an Army” were expelled from the party in Stalin-like fashion. Their Crime? Trotskyism. In response, Cannon and his followers organized the Communist League of America, and, no longer entangled with the Comintern, were instrumental in the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike and eventually formed the Socialist Workers Party and became members of the Fourth International.

While Cannon became acquainted with Trotsky’ critique, Lovestone had impressed the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as a strong supporter of Nikolai Bukharin. As Bukharin was eventually purged in Stalin’s consolidation of power, this involvement was to have unfortunate consequences for Lovestone as a Comintern delegation sent to the United States demanded that he resign as party secretary. Although Foster, having given up his opposition pursuant to earlier Comintern orders, enjoyed little support in the CPUSA, to become its leader.

Upon returning to the U.S., Foster, having new authority from Moscow, expelled Lovestone who, along with longtime ally Benjamin Gitlow, formed yet another opposition group. dubbed the “Communist Party (Opposition)”, however, contrary to Lovestone’s expectations, he was only able to persuade several hundred CPUSA members to join him and his group dissolved in 1941.

The Self-Degradation of the CPUSA and further Splits in the CLA (1928–1935)

In response to Stalin’s disconnection with socialist and Social-Democratic parties, condemned by the Bolsheviks as “social fascists,” combined with the new Left Opposition of Cannon, membership in the CPUSA dropped from 24,000 members in 1928 to 6,000 in 1932.

By 1930, the party, now officially the Communist Party of the USA, abandoned the hitherto efforts to organize the working class within the American Federation of Labor, brandishing the slogan of “the united-front from below”. The Party devoted much of its efforts on organizing the masses of unemployed workers during the Great Depression with general success in organizing African-American workers.

In 1932, William Z. Foster, published a book entitled Toward Soviet America, a grand vision of the coming revolution and the building of a new socialist society in the United States based on the model of Soviet Russia. This book, which served as mandatory readings for CPUSA members, helped solidify a Stalinist cult of personality characterized by the writing in The Daily World during this period. With the emergence of Earl Browder as General Secretary of the Party, this only continued to become engrained in the CPUSA. Browder was obsessed with the “Great Game” of espionage and continued to move the party into lockstep with the USSR and helped facilitate its covert activities in the U.S. making the CP a cog in the machinery which facilitated the competition between the USA and USSR. Much of the articles of the time in People’s Daily World were merely regurgitation of Pravda propaganda. This obsession with foreign policy again hindered the efforts of organization of the working class.

The crippling force of Stalinism in the CPUSA was counteracted by Cannon and the new Communist League of America. This small group (in 1929 the CLA did not have more than 100 adherents) was only kept alive by the charisma of Cannon and Shachtman and benefited greatly from the previously discussed degradation and Stalinization of the CPUSA. Cannon famously helped led the 1934 Teamsters strike in Minneapolis, and benefited greatly from the press regarding his subsequent trial based on the Smith Act which forbid promotion of the overthrow of the U.S. Government.

In 1934, the Communist League of America merged with the American Workers Party led by A.J. Muste, forming the Workers Party of the United States. Even with this combined force, the group remained small and split over the issue of “entryism” called for by the “French Turn” promoted by Trotsky. Bitter debate and division again engulfed the organization and ultimately, the majority faction of Cannon, Shachtman, and James Burnham prevailed, promoting the entry of the Workers Party into the Socialist Party of America Whilst still a small minority faction headed by Hugo Oehler refused to accept this turn and yet another splinter group was formed. Negotiations commenced with the Socialist Party leadership, with the admissions of CLA and WPA members ultimately made on the basis of individual applications for membership rather than admission of the Workers Party as a whole and its approximately 2,000 members as a group.On June 6, 1936, the Workers Party’s weekly newspaper, The New Militant, published its last issue and announced “Workers Party Calls All Revolutionary Workers to Join Socialist Party.”

As is characterized by the history of American Marxism, The Socialist Party in January of 1936 was itself beset with factional disagreements. The SP’s left wing “Militant” faction sought to expand the organization into an “all-inclusive party” — inviting in members of the Lovestone and Trotskyist opposition movements as well as radical individuals as the first step towards making the SP a mass party. This rhetoric flies in the face of the actions of the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party as it was simultaneously expelling the Old Guard for their factional organization and alleged “violation of party discipline.”

The Socialist Party, still focused on electoral victories like its reformist counterparts in Europe, only attracted around 188,000 votes in his 1936 elections, a far cry from Debs 900,000 just 15 years before. At the same time, Roosevelt’s New Deal policies (themselves a product of the success of labor organizing and agitation of the 1930s) and its popularity among leftist, as well as continued party fractionalization, resulted in significant party membership decline in similar amounts as the CPUSA had seen. All of this while capitalism was in a state of crisis in the form of the Great Depression, not far removed from the current situation of the late 2000s. The best the party could do would be to lobby for New Deal saeguards, but stopped short of revolution.

The Popular Front (1935–1939)

In 1935, the Seventh Congress of the Comintern declared the need for a popular front to oppose Fascism. Like clockwork, the CPUSA abandoned its opposition to the New Deal and provided many of the organizers for the Congress of Industrial Organizations, a competitor of the AFL. Characteristic of the Popular Front, the CPUSA pursued a policy of representing the Democratic Party as the lesser evil in elections, not dissimilar from the current CPUSA under Webb.

At the same time, Browder’s CPUSA supported Stalin’s ridiculous show trials and followed the Party Line. Browder and People’s World uncritically supported Stalin. Bowder himself likened Trotsky to “cholera germs,” calling the great purges, which all but destroyed the original revolutionaries of the 1917 Russian Revolution, “a signal service to the cause of progressive humanity.” Needless to say, this increased factionalist tension, and led to yet another decrease in membership as many could not stomach the atrocity, let alone have it praised by the leadership in the Party newspaper.

At the same time, in December 1937, delegates gathered in Chicago for a convention of the newly formed Socialist Workers Party, Shachtman, tasked with reporting to the group on the situation in American labor, declared that the impending war with Germany would lead to a massive shift in labor towards militarization, while Cannon further supported the merger of the AFL and CIO, which has thus far been competing for union membership.

The Popular Front (1939–1947)

The CPUSA, helped by its staunch opposition to the rise of Fascism saw membership increased to about 75,000 in 1938. However, as Stalin signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany on August 24, 1939, thousands of disaffected members resigned in protest. Soon thereafter, rifts began to emerge and after the after Hitler’s Invasion of Poland September of 1939 this rifts opened. Eventually, by November 1939, the CPUSA, bolstered by its love-affair with Stalin, considered Russian security sufficient justification to support the Nazi invasion. After receiving orders to foregoe criticism of Hitler, Browder, Stalin’s lap dog, began attacking Roosevelt. The Daily World moved from reporting on events in the USSR and the Comintern to focuseing on criticizing the Roosevelt Administration and even went so far as to praise Nazi Germany! In August 1940, after the assassination of Leon Trotsky, Browder continued to perpetuate the myth that the assassin was a disillusioned follower of Trotsky. He was, in fact, a NKVD agent hired by Stalin himself.

During the War, the CPUSA continued its rhetoric of militant trade unionism, but abided by the Popular Front principle of opposing strike actions. The leadership of the CPUSA became, after the invasion of the Soviet Union by the Nazis, outrageously pro-war and simultaneously supported the prosecution of leaders of the Socialist Workers Party under the newly enacted Smith Act.

Earl Browder expected the wartime coalition between the Soviet Union and the west to bring about a prolonged period of social harmony after the war. In order better to integrate the communist movement into American life, the party was officially dissolved in 1944 and replaced by a “Communist Political Association”.

That harmony proved elusive, however, and the international Communist movement swung to the left after the war ended. Browder found himself isolated when a critical letter regarding Bowder’s policies from Jacques Duclos, leader of the French Communist Party, received wide circulation and support. As a result of this, in 1945 he retired and was replaced by former leader and now Stalinist puppet, William Z. Foster, who would remain General Secretary until his own retirement in 1958. His first actions as secretary was to expel many members, including Bowder.

While being persecuted by American authorities for “attempting to overthrow the U.S. Government” in violation of the Smith Act, the SWP became embroiled in a ideological debate and again, divided. Having united and helped organize the United Mine Workers of America strike during the war along with facilitating protests by GIs, the SWP saw a brief period of rapid growth immediately after the war.

The majority faction, led by Cannon, supported Trotsky’s position that the USSR remained a “degenerate workers’ state” and should be supported in any war with capitalist states, despite their opposition to the government headed by Joseph Stalin. The minority faction, led by Shachtman, a former ally of Cannon in the split with the CPUSA and Socialist Party, held that the USSR should not be supported in its war with Finland due to its authoritarian and brutal policies.

Sadly, Cannon, who had been a revolutionary leader in the pre-war years and after spending time in prison, began to set in place the principles which his opposition called “bureaucratic and conservative.” The minority faction led by Shachtman eventually split away with almost 40% of the SWP membership as well as its youth organization, the Young People’s Socialist League, forming the Workers Party which would eventually reintegrate itself with the revisionist Socialist Party and would lead to the founding of the International Socialist league.

Second Red Scare (1947–1958)

Following the war, as the SWP split, the CPUSA became the target of persecution once again. The Truman administration’s instituted a loyalty oath program in 1947, which set forth the widely held position of rampant Communist infiltration and subversion within government. The creation of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, for whom most remember Senator McCarthy asking repeatedly, “Are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” A positive answer to this question would certainly poise economic and financial ruin through blacklisting by both public and private organizations for those brought before it. At the same time, a purge of radicals from the labor movement followed the hearings. At the same time, CPUSA decided to back Henry Wallace’s campaign for president, which is completely unconscionable given his segregationist racism.

The SWP continued to fracture during this period. One such split was that of Sam Marcy‘s Global Class War faction. Like the CPUSA, it called for the support of Henry Wallace‘s Progressive Party Presidential run in 1948 within the SWP which conflicted with the leaderships position. Further disagreements surrounding the SWP’s support for the Hungarian Uprising of 1956  led this group to leave the party and form the Workers World Party. While still around, the WWP is a small fringe group which is very poorly organized.

Throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s, the membership of the SWP shrank from its highest point in 1948. However, the Cuban Revolution revitalized the SWP and the party threw its support behind Castro through the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. Utilizing this fervor, the SWP was able to enroll younger members of the party, leading to a significant change through the new leadership of Farrell Dobbs.

One important division came from the Workers Party, which had by this time become part of the larger Socialist Party. Hal Draper, seeing the rightward and revisionist direction of the SP, sought to reconnect students in Berkeley, California with the movement and created the International Socialist club. This organization would eventually splinter and develop the International Socialist Organization in 1976, which exists and is well organized today.

Illegalization and Infiltration of the CPUSA

After Congress outlawed the CPUSA in the Communist Control Act of 1954, membership of CPUSA had slumped from 80,000 in 1944 to a desperately low 5,000; 1,500 of which were FBI informants as part of the emerging COINTEL program. This infiltration continued to cripple the organization, and by 1956, upon the death of Stalin, the party was in complete disarray.

CPUSA in crisis and rise of Gus Hall (1956–1989)

After Khrushchev’s Secret Speech, the Stalinized majority of the CPUSA was discredited. With the loss of the Daily Worker, through decreased readership, membership further plummeted to a new low in 1958. The post-1956, CPUSA saw the rise of Gus Hall, as leader. Hall, an ultra-orthodox Stalinist, continued to demoralize the party by expelling all members who expressed any voice of discontent. The CPUSA under Gus Hall would tow the party line, supporting the Breshnev attempt at reinvigorating the cult of personality, until he was replaced upon his death by Sam Webb in 2000, who passed i t John Batchtell recently.

SWP Actions during the CPUSA Decline

The SWP has had, as described, a fascination with splits and divides. In the early 1960’s a the position of the SWP regarding Cuba brought them closer to the International Secretariat of the Fourth International, of which the SWP had left in 1953 citing ideological differences. This includes divisions which created the Freedom Socialist Party in Seattle Washington.

The SWP, avoiding the directed persecution suffered by the CPUSA and able to avoid the heavy hand of the Soviet Union, turned their efforts towards the civil rights movement and the Black nationalist movement, praising Malcolm X, who spoke at some SWP functions. Capitalizing on social discontent in the 1960’s, specifically on the issue of the War in Vietnam, SWP membership grew and it experienced a particularly brisk growth in the first years of the 1970s. This began the Socialist tendency for its obsession with the anti-war movement which continues today, focused on organizing large, legal demonstrations.

The SWP set up a two pronged approach as Jack Barnes became leader; first, absolute support of the Cuban Revolution, and second, absolute anti-war rhetoric. At the same time, the Pathfinder Press was created to publish the works of Trotsky, Cannon, Dobbs, and Barnes and to help fund the SWP.

In 1978, the SWP leadership, under Barnes, developed the program known as the “Turn to Industry.” This policy mandated the entrance of party members into blue collar industries particularly in meat packing and mine working as they were seen as the forefront of working class agitation. As a result, many members were asked to move and change jobs, often out of established careers and into low-paying jobs in small towns, disconnected from comrades and family. Many of the older members with experience in trade unions resisted this ‘colonization program’, which upset their established routine in the unions, as did some of the younger members who sought to educate themselves, something still seen a suspect in the SWP today.

Yet another Split in the SWP

Opposition to the “turn to industry” developed within the SWP and even within this fracture, there developed significant differences. On top of this, party leaders Jack Barnes and Mary-Alice Waters sought to move away from the “Trotskyist” label and from the Fourth International. In 1982, Barnes gave a speech, which was later published as, Their Trotsky and Ours: Communist continuity today in which he rejected Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution. In reality, this split relates to the SWP obsession with the revolutions of Latin America and its irreconcilable position with the theory of Permanent Revolution.

The opposition factions continued to support the Trotskyism, and its label and correctly anticipated the SWP leaderships reassessing its place in the Fourth International. While declaring their support to the Cuban and the Nicaraguan Sandinista governments, the opposition remained critical of the actions by Castro and Sandinistas towards Stalinism. Additionally, they continued to oppose the “turn to industry”. Again, the party fractured around this change in position by Barnes. One group followed the Weinsteins on the West Coast, eventually becoming the Socialist Workers Organization and a second group gathered around George Breitman and Frank Lovell to create Socialist Action, which is still active today.

As we have seen, the only cohesive trend in American Marxism is towards division and infiltration. Both of these resulted in a demoralization of Marxists and the general impotence the movement suffers today. Only through a revitalization of the movement can these scars be healed and for the movement to come together again to strive for the emancipation of the working class form their capitalist exploiters. The question remains, where does the movement stand today?

Section II – The Current Structure

The status of the movement today is fractured, but fairly set. Due to lack of membership, and to collapse of nearly all Communist governments, the parties still surviving have remained generally stagnate, and new leaders have attempted to shake up their organizations. However, there are some general aspects which span ideological an historical divides. Briefly these include, a lack of unity and cohesiveness resulting from the fragmentation and infiltration described above, a complete lack of systematic and coordinated public relations, namely due to the lack of readership of newspapers and the inefficient use of social media and awareness-raising events including local and national meetings and conventions which are widely publicized and open to all, as well as large scale demonstration organized by Socialist groups. And finally, despite SWP’s turn to industry, which has been nearly completely ineffective, a lack of coordinated involvement within the labor movement. As stated in the introduction, the general blame for this can be laid at the hands of the failure of genuine leadership to unite and harmonize the various voice of our struggle.

Factions

Although hard to pin-down and diluted by the advance of the internet, the wide variety of socialist organizations found online suggests that the total number of socialists is actually quite large, but its numbers nearly impossible to quantify. The most comprehensive list of organizations is as follows:

–    Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS) – an online organization found at http://www.cc-ds.org/;

–    Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA) – previously discussed and below

–    Communist Voice Organization – A small left-communist organization critical of Trotskyism, Stalinism, and Maoism

–    Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) – Revisionist party focused on the ideology of Michel Harrington and pro-Democratic party

–    Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) splinter SWP group- very Small

–    International Socialist Organization (ISO) – Discussed herein and below

–    League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP); Trotskyist organization founded by a faction of the now defunct Revolutionary Socialist League in 1976. The RSL had in turn split from the International Socialists in 1973

–    Progressive Labor Party (PLP), Faction of CPUSA that split in 1961;

–    Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) Maoist group formed from the SDS organization in the 1960s;

–    Social Democrats USA (SDUSA) – described herein and below

–    Socialist Action – described herein and below

–    Socialist Alternative – described herein and below

–    Socialist Equality Party (SEP); splinter group of SWP which attempts to raise awareness by running candidates for office

–    Socialist Labor Party (SLP) – oldest party, was combined and split with groups into the Socialist Part, no online in paper only

–    Socialist Organizer – Splinter group of Socialist Action

–    Socialist Party USA – Discusssed herein and below;

–    Socialist Workers Organization (SWO) – Splinter group of Socialist Action;

–    Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) – discussed herein and below;

–    Workers World Party (WWP) – discussed herein;

–    Working Families Party; new party organized from local Unions, only state organizations and small

–    World Socialist Party of the United States (WSPUS) – Fringe group of the World Socialist Organization

COMMUNIST PARTY of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA – CPUSA

Although most likely the largest Socialist Party, it has suffered significant transformation in recent years under the leadership of Sam Webb. With the loss of economic support by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1991, the party was forced to re-evaluate itself, ultimately causing a total overhaul of its structure CPUSA and activities. A much less Stalinized organization, the CPUSA Constitution calls for free universal health care, elimination of the federal income tax on people earning under $60,000 a year, free college education, drastic cuts in military spending, “massive” public works programs, the outlawing of “scabs and union busting,” abolition of corporate monopolies, public ownership of energy and basic industries, huge tax hikes for corporations and the wealthy, and various other programs designed to “beat the power of the capitalist class … [and promote] anti-imperialist freedom struggles around the world.”

Under Webb’s leadership, the CPUSA now touts a platform of true democratic socialism and trade unionism, while encouraging votes for Democratic candidates as a pragmatic electoral tactic to defeat conservatives. Other official CPUSA websites include the People’s World party newspaper, Political Affairs monthly party magazine, and the Young Communists League youth organization. The main issues surrounding the CPUSA is it degredated membership and its complete lack of public relations. Given the tattered image of the CPUSA through its sorted history described herein, Webb has done little or nothing (as most of the rejuvenating force has come through the YCL) at presenting a new image of the CPUSA. Although it has undergone significant changes in structure and allegiances, it is still remembered and is often categorized by its Stalinist past. No effort has been made to publically distance itself from this and its web presence remains little, disorganized and unappealing.

Furthermore, the party has not encouraged renewed emphasis on Marxist theory and evaluating the current state of Capitalism. Instead it has resigned itself to anti-war activities and mere commentary on events. It has no agitation wing, and it members are, notwithstanding its most dedicated, unable to contribute their full wherewithal to raising its profile, organizing its members, and engaging in political activities.

SOCIAL DEMOCRATS, USA – SD-USA

The SD-USA has focused on fielding candidates for local offices, and has only done a small amount of it since the 1980s. A small organization, especially compared to CPUSA, it is a revisionist organization, ideologically centrist, staunchly anti-CPUSA who, like the CPUSA under Webb, support Democratic candidates for office. The SD-USA claims to be the heirs to the party of Eugene Debs. Stripped of its membership in the Socialist International the SD-USA is all but defunct. The SD-USA remnant still functions asa mere shell of what it once was several decades ago. It has a web presence at its blog: Socialist Currents.

SOCIALIST PARTY USA – SPUSA

Another Revisionist organization, SPUSA has been all but inactive since its significant decline, and relationship to the Progressive Caucus of the Democratic party. While advocating electoral change, it is against revolutions as proposed by Communists. While running some local candidate, the party does not have a central organization and leaves its regional members to conduct business. It is in dire need of reorganization and does little or nothing, outside progressive activist Brian Moore of Florida, SPUSA nominee for President, who engages in protests and advocates the principles of Reformist Socialism. SPUSA maintains a website called Socialist National Committee/VoteSocialist.org and The Socialist WebZine which lacks content and is not often updated.

SOCIALIST ACTION

Socialist Action is a Trotskyist political party of “revolutionary socialists” originally founded by expelled members of the Socialist Workers Party. While the SA shares the SWP’s pro-Castro views, the SA still tries to retain its Trotskyist ideological roots. The SA states that they “oppose the Democrats and Republicans, all capitalist political parties, and all capitalist governments and their representatives everywhere … [and] Stalinist and neo-Stalinist regimes from the ex-Soviet Union to China.” This communist party has fielded some local political candidates in the San Francisco Bay and Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota over the years, and ran its first congressional candidate in 2010 (in Connecticut). The young wing, Youth for Socialist Action, is more active, organizing Camp Class Struggle each year in Superior Wisconsin. Adam Ritcher is the organizations shinning light. They maintain and outdated web presence at Socialist Action Newspaper, Youth for Socialist Action and VoteSocialistAction.

SOCIALIST EQUALITY PARTY – SEP

The Socialist Equality Party (SEP) was originally named the Workers League (WL). Founded in 1966 as a Trotskyist communist group closely associated with the electoral campaigns of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), they maintain links to Trotskyism. When the SWP drifted away from Trotskyism in the early 1980s, the WL broke with the SWP and began fielding its own candidates. This has remained the goal of the organization understanding the up-hill battle faced. The campaigns are utilized to promote Socialism as a public relations tool. In 1994 the WL renamed itself as the Socialist Equality Party. The SEP’s shining light is its news site — the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) – which is updated daily with articles, analysis, history, etc., written with an Trotskyist international perspective.

SOCIALIST WORKERS PARTY – SWP

After its shedding of Trotskysim, the SWP has moved towards “Castrismo” espoused by Fidel Castro’s calling Cuba “a shining example for all workers.” Like the CPUSA the Online Presence of the SWP is horrid, only to be found through its newspaper (which is still in print) The Militant. However, the militant lacks the inquisitive and theoretical gusto it had under Cannon and Dobbs, and is now, with the Pathfinder Press bookstore, the central marketing tool for the SWP. Recently, they have engaged in much activity around Hugo Chavez and Venezuela, although little in the way of theoretical work has been done on the subject. They are, for the most part, fairly well organized, but committed to the SWP and still reeling over the divisions discussed above. There is also a fair amount of Party Fetishism in the SWP and this has left a sour taste in the mouth of many prospective members. Party Secretary Barnes is also quite old, and obsessed with the history of this small organization and committed to the promotion of it and it alone.

INTERNATIONAL SOCIALIST ORGANIZATION

The International Socialist Organization (ISO) is committed to building an organization that participates in the struggles they are fairly decentralized with local branches across the country whose members are involved in helping to build a number of struggles. A Trotskyist organization, they tie themselves back to Debs, Cannon, Dobbs, as well as Rosa Luxembourg and Lenin. A fairly new organization that does not run candidates, their focused is on Marxist Theory and Socialist oriented news. The newspaper, Socialist Worker.org is a great resource, as well as their bimonthly magazine International Socialist Review, and their Haymarket Bookstore and the Center for Economic Research and Social Change, which runs the Website, Wearemany.org. In July of each Year they hold a conference simply Titled Socialism, which is the groundwork for the larger United Convention outlined in Section III. They seek to “build an independent socialist organization with members organizing in our workplaces, our schools and our neighborhoods to bring socialist ideas to the struggles we are involved in today, and the vision of a socialist world in the future.”

Socialist Alternative

Socialist Alternative (SA) is a Trotskyist democratic socialist most notably for its electoral success in the election of  Seattle City Councillor Kshama Sawant who was elected in November 2013.

Socialist Alternative was originally formed as Labor Militant in 1986 by members of the Committee for a Workers International who had moved to the United States. After a split and factionalism in the US Labor Party, Labor Militant changed its name to Socialist Alternative and in the late 1990s was heavily involved in the anti WTo protests in Seattle and around the world. In the run up to the Iraq invasion SA was highly involved in the anti-war movement, though was unable to garner it into more action. Electorally until 2013 the SA had supported thri party candidats like Ralph Nader during the 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 presidential elections.

Since her election Sawant has been active in organizing the party around the 15 now campaign. That campaign is still very much active.

Anti-War Issue and Poor Leadership

In general all of these groups have suffered from a lack of focus. Distracted by the gains of the Anti-War movement during the 1960s and 70s, all of these groups have attempted to mobilize, with little success, around the unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and recently the engagement in Libya. This is usually a knee-jerk reaction and is supported with old platitudes regarding American Imperialism and engaged in with very little inquiry into the nature of each conflict. In this sense, they have marginalized themselves and ignored the larger struggle for which they have their ideological base. In many ways, the anti-war element of these groups has continued to led to their decline.

Furthermore, the lack of organization, and failure of leadership of centralized parties, specifically around the Economic Crisis of 2008 and the Arab Spring of 2011, has further marginalized these groups. They compete for attention of discontented workers, and do not seek to organize laborers into unions or other organizations. There is no effort to penetrate and radicalize the labor movement and most have appeared to resign themselves to positions of mere inquiry.

Section III – What Is To Be Done?

In 1901, Vladimir Lenin sought to expose his understanding of the state of revolutionary politics at the turn of the twentieth century. Seeing the growing influence of the Social Democrats, Lenin proposed a program by which the fractured and disorganized groups could come together to fight against mere trade Unionism and Social Democracy. At the time the landscape of revolutionary organizations looked much the same as our does, fracture, poorly organized, and theoretical defunct.

In response, Lenin proposed a new organization which would have a few essential functions. First, invigorate a small group of professional revolutionaries who can propose and outline the revolutionary theory which would guide the organization and the working class. Under the leadership of these professionals it would create a centralized political party which would serve as the vanguard, providing not only a theoretical basis for revolutionary actions, but the know-how and courage to enact those programs. Second, create an all-Russian Newspaper which can help to make ties with like-minded people as well as assert the revolutionary agenda in a uniform fashion. This Unity Newspaper would the organ of a united party, who single goal, is not the mere squabble regarding this-or-that current oppressive action or war. Instead, the single goal of this organization would be nothing else but the revolution itself!

I propose that this is exactly what is needed for our movement. The fractured state outlined above is the single greatest threat, especially given the current degeneration of Capitalism and the absolute lack of response from Socialists, to the continuous missed-opportunities of our struggle. Therefore, I implore all of the groups so dedicated to the principles of Socialism, to shed your pre-convinced notions, let go of your disgruntled histories, and clasp hands with your so-called rivals to come together for nothing less than the Proletarian revolution itself.

This, I do recognize, is no easy task. The scars run deep, the animosity strong, and faces the great power of the Capitalists who dominate over mass media (with the exception of the internet- which can be our greatest weapon). This power has never been stronger, while recently has been concealed in populist rhetoric – think only of our beloved Tea Party. If you see, as I do the necessity to reinvent ourselves or continue to be crushed by the screaming heads of Bourgeois ideology, then the goal has never been clearer and its necessity never more timely.

The means by which we can come together is rather simple. In the age of social media, one may be inclined to envision some grand Facebook chat, or e-mail correspondence, but alas, our divisions stem from our personal interactions and passion for our cause. Therefore, the only way in which to mend the wounds of the by-gone past is to come together again, as a grand movement, in a single location and air our dirty laundry.

 The Unity Program

Therefore, I propose that a grand United Socialist Movement convention be held, which can bring together all elements of the Socialist movement fragmented and lost in the sea of mediocrity and poor leadership. This does mean that each group will be forced, however painful, to cast aside their differences on minor issues which has thus far been the catalyst of division, and attend this united convention with open minds. The task of the convention shall be to adopt an agreeable united constitution, to elect, through democratic means, the leadership of this United Congress and create a forum (i.e. an All-American Newspaper) which, unlike the papers of the past – can and ought to be used for printed discussion of principles, theory, and strategy.

The other important aspect of this unity will be to, for the first time since the 19th century, allow us to count ourselves and provide the world with our great numbers, and by virtue of our new-found unity, our great strength! Creating a centralized membership pool will facilitate the coordination efforts of the professionals in carrying out the tasks before it. With the great numbers, coordinated and subject to the professional revolutionaries, we can, as Lenin cited, “ensure the flexibility required of a militant Social-Democratic organization, viz., the ability to adapt itself immediately to the most diverse and rapidly changing conditions of struggle, the ability, on the one hand, to avoid an open battle against an overwhelming enemy, when the enemy has concentrated all his forces at one spot and yet, on the other, to take advantage of his unwieldiness and to attack him when and where he least expects it. We must always conduct our everyday work and always be prepared for every situation, because very frequently it is almost impossible to foresee when a period of outbreak will give way to a period of calm.” As was needed in Russia, we need a central organization which can contribute to the most important work, namely “political agitation…illuminating all aspects of life, and conducted among the broadest possible strata of the masses.”

Like in Russia at the time, at present, no single American party can put itself fully towards these actions and expect to be successful. Instead the new United Socialist Movement “which will form round this newspaper, the organization of its collaborators (in the broad sense of the word, i.e., all those working for it), will be ready for everything, from upholding the honor, the prestige, and the continuity of the Party in periods of acute revolutionary ‘depression’ to preparing for, appointing the time for, and carrying out the nation-wide armed uprising.” So often Lenin is quoted for the purposes of a dogmatic expose of ideological and theoretical positions, but in this case, we have been given the program needed to resurrect ourselves, and the historical evidence of its success clearly before us.

Therefore, I beseech all Comrades, united by the vision of a greater tomorrow for all humanity; of a world free of the entanglements of excess and oppression; where each any every person can be free to live to their greatest potential, UNITE together and become the great organization which can lead the populace out of the darkness of exploitation and oppression and into the light of freedom and democracy. We cannot do this alone, for it is only through our great strength, ushered forth by the proletarian masses, that we can begin the great struggle to free ourselves and our comrades from the rancid conditions of our menial today and into the great possibilities of tomorrow.

I will end as does the Manifesto, “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”

Workers of the World, Unite!

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2 thoughts on “The Impotence of the Socialist Movement

  1. You spend more time and effort discussing Trotskyist hairsplitting than examining the CP USA and its contradictions which is rather odd since the former never had more than maybe 2,000 adherents while the CP at its height in the WW2-era was something like 60,000 members, 50% of them workers and 10% of them in the armed forces, not to mention the fact that the CP and its cadres built the CIO while the Trotskyists led a strike here or there if they got lucky.

    My point here is that the CP transformed itself from being a sect into being a (small but influential) mass party and then degenerated back into a sect while the Trotskyists never got beyond the sect form.

    For whatever reason, you also skip the RCP and various pro-Mao sects of the 1960s and 1970s; sure, none of them had close to 60,000 members, but they were by and large much bigger than the Trotskyist sects and unlike the Trotskyists had real influence over the only mass radical student organization of that time, Students for a Democratic Society.

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