Wednesday, February 3, 2010

We Are Back!

Who Are Those Guys

Social Democrats, U.S.A-Socialist Party, USA is the only direct successor of the Socialist Party, of Eugene V. Debs, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, Helen Keller, Morris Hillquit, Victor Berger, Meyer London, Norman Thomas, Max Shachtman, Darlington Hoopes, Asa Phillip Randolph, Michael Harrington, Tom Kahn, Penn Kemble, Robert Tucker, Bayard Rustin, Frank Zeidler, and Donald F. Busky.

The Social Democrats ,U.S.A-Socialist Party, USA  has a 110 year legacy. That heritage was born as the directly political out growth of the communalist Social Democracy of America. The organization was known as the Social Democratic Party of America from 1898-1901. After a merger the organization became the Socialist Party of America and used that name from 1901-1956. After another merger the group was called the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation from 1956-1962. The group changed its name to the Socialist Party, U.S.A and used that name from 1962-1972. After still another merger the group became Socialist Party,U.S.A.-Democratic Socialist Federation of the U.S.A and used that name from April until December 1972, In December 1972, a majority of delegates to  the national convention voted to change the name to the Social Democrats, USA. The group kept the Socialist Party name as a part of its constitution.

When our organization changed its name to Social Democrats, USA many dissented. The Debs Caucus felt that the move away from a political party betrayed the heritage of Debs and Thomas. The state Socialist parties Illinois, Pennsylvania, California,Washington, and Wisconsin, along with many locals in other stat disaffiliated from the Social Democrats, USA. On May, 26, 1973 the Debs Caucus, the above named state Socialist parties, and the Union for Democratic Socialism "reconstituted" the Socialist Party, USA. The "reconstituted SP" elected Frank Zeidler, former Mayor of Milwaukee and the last person to be elected as major of a major city by the Socialist Party as its chairperson. The Party opened an office in Milwaukee where there was a tradition that dated back to 1898. In 1974, this group amended its constitution to rename the Party the Socialist Party of the United States of America. I will hereafter refer to this group as he SP of the USA for clarity

The Social Democrats, USA threatened legal action in 1973. They had retained in their constitution a clause stating that "The Socialist Party, by that name shall continue in association with the Social Democrats, USA". The SDUSA could have at anytime revived the Socialist Party, USA but chose not to do so. Instead the group concentrated on anti-Communism and its alliance with the leadership of the AFL-CIO. The SD did a major service to working people within the Soviet empire by being the only national organization to raise money for Solidarity, the Polish free trade union. Less celebrated, but no less important was the SD's support of the Nicaragua's democratic resistance to the Sandinistas. During their first try at government the Sandinistas smashed all trade unions that were not part of their labor front, oppressed the Jewish, Roman Catholic, Moravian Christian, and Native American populations of Nicaragua. While the general left celebrated the Sandinistas the SD brought representatives of the democratic resistance, religious, political, Indigenous peoples, and labor leaders to speak in the U S. Now of course, the Sandinistas govern by democratic election and are a member party of the Socialist International.

There was a third group that grew out of the split in in the Socialist Party USA. It was called the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee. After a merger with the New American Movement a group that came from the New Left, this organization became the Democratic Socialists of America. Michael Harrington formerly the chair of the original Socialist Party, USA was this organization's charismatic leader. Founded in October 1973 by 200 stalwarts the group grew to have 12,000 members. In 1989. The Democratic Agenda, a front group for DSOC, openly and effectively challenged the policies of a President Jimmy Carter at the mid-term Democratic Convention in 1978. Harrington gathered a galaxy of star leftist like feminist, Gloria Steinem and Machinist Union president, William Winpisinger to be recruiting icons, Unfortunately, because everything that DSA did focused on national policy, when Harrington died in 1989, "his" organization drifted until it now has less members than DSOC did in 1982.

DSA raised money two years ago for the successful Senatorial campaign of Rep, Bernie Sanders( I VT) This was probably DSA's best showing in a decade. The leadership. DSA failed to learn the obvious lesson. Sanders had built a political vehicle by running for mayor of Burlington, then Congress, the Governor before being elected to the Senate. No effort was put toward supporting the"next Sanders". The SP of the USA actually ran a candidate against Sanders, despite the fact that Sanders had been the key note speaker at the the SP of the USA's 1983 convention.

So Why Revive The Social Democrats, USA--Socialist Party, USA ?

The first reason is because it is doable. The old leadership has skipped town. Some of us, who remained members for years, decided we wanted our organization back. We do not want to be Neoconservatives, nor Labor or State Department puppets. We like the old SD's stance totalitarian ideologies. The Soviet Union is gone. However, it was replaced by a non-ideological state capitalism in Russia. In China and Cuba the economy is being liberalized but the government is as repressive as ever to political, social, or religious dissent. Violence in the name of Islam threatens the peace of the entire world. It would require more space than this essay allows to examine the political economic, and social nature of radical Islam, but as the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone pointed out attacks on transportation systems are pointedly anti-worker. Who uses mass transit? Not the social elites.

So what is to done? Or, perhaps importantly what can be done? We have the capacity to run candidates in municipal elections. We already have a mayoral and school board candidate running in PA. It is time to discard the old arguments about the Democratic Party. We know it will never be a social democratic party and we know that many Americans still see it as their Party. To them it is the Party of the New Deal and Civil Rights. We need not lose the "down home" Democrats or become DP apparatchiks. We can run fusion campaigns or third party campaigns, or openly Socialist campaigns in the Democratic Party as the local situation dictates.

I held a minor public office which I won running as a Socialist and then hold as a Social Democrat. That does not stop me from being actively involved in local liberal Democratic politics. The states like New York have laws that make this kind of inside and outside the Democratic Party politics easier, but it is possible anywhere. It simply requires commitment. This is a commitment that neither DSA nor the SP of the USA has shown, nor given their structures, are they likely to show such a commitment in the future.

Being the only anti-totalitarian and anti-capitalist Left organization with a real inside outside strategy to the Democratic Party could make us a very lonely group. That is accept for the fact that we are in the same place as most Americans. We can put forward a democratic socialist / social democratic analysis in the places where it counts, i.e. our houses of worship, our unions and our communities. We can build a Social Democratic movement from the bottom up, if we have the will.

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