Socialist Workers Party
Socialist Workers Party was formed in 1928 as the Communist League of America, founded by members of the Communist Party USA who were expelled for supporting Russian Communist leader Leon Trotsky against Joseph Stalin. In the 1940s, the organization split nearly in half, with a new entity created, the Workers Party. The candidate for President in 1968, Fred Halstead, visited American GIs in Vietnam. The party entered presidential candidates in the races for president.
Even though the SWP is presently a small group it is well organized and an important part of the fragmented and largely demoralized radical movement in this country. It compares favorably with other radical groups, including social democrats and Stalinists. It may not be exactly correct to call the SWP a party any more because the leadership does not strive to project the image of a party. But as an organized political group it retains some revolutionary force largely because of its Trotskyist heritage.
Socialist Workers Party members are disciples of Leon Trotsky. Whereas the theory and program of the Communist Party have been based on the teachings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin as interpreted by Stalin and his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, the Socialist Workers Party declares itself bound by the ideas of Marx, Engels, and Lenin as subsequently expounded by Trotsky.
Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) has been described as ranking second only to Lenin in organizing and leading the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia in November 1917. To Trotsky, Stalin's dictatorship was not a true "dictatorship of the proletariat" but a degenerate kind of bureaucracy more barbaric in the abuse of power than the Czarist regimes.
Trotsky's continued fulminations against Stalin as a betrayer of Lenin's principles and perverter of world socialist revolution led to the formation of pro-Trotsky factions within many Communist parties throughout the world and, eventually, separate Communist parties loyal to Trotsky. James P. Cannon, present national chairman of the Socialist Workers Party, is considered the founder of the American Trotskyist movement. Cannon became acquainted with Trotsky's views when as a leader of the Communist Party, USA, Cannon traveled to Moscow in the summer of 1928 as a delegate to the Sixth World Congress of the Communist International. Cannon served on the Comintern's Program Commission, the only body permitted to see copies of a document Trotsky had sent to the Congress to support what proved to be an unsuccessful appeal for reinstatement in the Communist Party.
Cannon was converted to Trotsky's views, smuggled a copy of the Trotsky document back to the United States, and soon created a pro-Trotsky faction within the Communist Party, USA. When the Stalinist-oriented leaders of the CPUSA discovered this activity, Cannon and his handful of followers were expelled from the party on October 27, 1928. These Trotskyists brought out the first issue of their organ, The Militant, on November 15, 1928, and on May 17-19, 1929, convened to organize the Communist League of America (Opposition), first in a series of organizational efforts which culminated in the formation of the present-day Socialist Workers Party on January 1, 1938.
In 1934, Trotskyists gave up their efforts to effect a change of policy by the Communist International and supported a movement for the formation of a new international which would lead the "world working class" to the ultimate victory of "socialism." Under Trotsky's guidance, the so-called IV International was formed in Switzerland in September 1938 by factions from 11 countries. The Socialist Workers Party of the United States has stated that it played a "key role" in founding the IV International and that it remained a member until passage of the Voorhis Act in October 1940, which regulated organizations subject to foreign control.
After passage of the Smith Act in June 1940, the Socialist Workers Party also played down references to force and violence in its agitation for the overthrow of our present system of government. In appealing their convictions under the Smith Act, SWP leaders called attention to their special convention in December 1940, at which the party's founding "Declaration of Principles" had been suspended and withdrawn. The appellate court, in sustaining the convictions, declared that the main purpose of that action was to escape registration under the Voorhis Act.
Organizationally, the Socialist Workers Party, like the Communist Party, professed to adhere to Lenin's concept of a party — which actually provided for a paramilitary, conspiratorial organization with a virtual absence of democratic procedures. National Chairman Cannon in 1947 referred to the Trotskyists' "long struggle to build a homogeneous combat party" and their "stubborn and irreconcilable fight for a single program uniting the party as a whole; for a democratic and centralized and disciplined party with a professional leadership * * *." He also pointed up the party's concentration on "trade union work" and declared:
"In short, we have worked and struggled to build a party fit to lead a revolution in the United States. At the bottom of all our conceptions was the basic conception that the proletarian revolution is a realistic proposition in this country, and not merely a far-off "ultimate goal," to be referred to on ceremonial occasions."
For 25 years, the relationship between the Communist Party, USA, and organized Trotskyist movements was one of intense hatred and violent opposition. Although leaders of the Communist Party, USA, had obediently sent cables to Moscow denouncing Trotsky as early as December 1924, Communists in the early 1930's were so aroused against the Trotskyists that they used violence to break up Trotskyist meetings and assemblies. After one such incident in New York City in August 1932, some 20,000 Communists marched through the streets shouting "Death to the Trotskyites. Death to all Renegades."
Cannon, national chairman of the Socialist Workers Party, explained his party's views in a speech in Los Angeles, Calif., on June 15, 1956, as follows:
" We Trotskyists regard the Russian Revolution of 1917 as the great dividing line in human history. Ascending world capitalism came to a halt there, met with its first defeat, and entered into its decline. * * *
We Trotskyists * * * have always regarded the Russian Revolution not as an end in itself, but as the starting point of the worldwide socialist revolution. For that reason, from that socialist internationalist standpoint, we have been partisans and defenders of the Soviet Union and the Russian Revolution which brought it into existence, ever since 1917.
* * * Everything we have said and done, either in praise or in criticism, in all the intervening time, has been governed by the single criterion: What is good for the Revolution, for the defence of the Soviet Union, for the extension of the revolution throughout the world?"
The U.S. Attorney General identified the Socialist Workers Party as a subversive Communist organization which seeks to alter the form of government of the United States by unconstitutional means (Letters to Loyalty Review Board released December 4, 1947 and September 21, 1948).
The death of Joseph Stalin on March 5, 1953, paved the way to revised relations between the Communists and Trotskyists. Khrushchev's speech in February 1956, denouncing Stalin as a ruthless tyrant who unjustifiably sent thousands of Communists to their death or prisons during the purges of the 1930's, was another important step toward an alteration in traditional Commiinist-Trotskyist relations. The pattern of the revised relationship was set by Khrushchev's announcement that same month of the necessity for Communists to form a "united front" (i.e., cooperative action in behalf of immediate goals) with all forces willing to enter into such a relationship.
For its part, the Socialist Workers Party continued to refer to the present leadership of the USSR, China, and other Communist nations as "Stalinist bureaucrats," who would eventually be overthrown by internal revolution. The Socialist Workers Party expressed preference for Chinese Communist militancy over Khrushchev's excessive emphasis on "peaceful coexistence" propaganda. The Socialist Workers Party said the Khrushchev line tended to undermine the continued "development of the class struggle," discourage the extension of the Soviet system into capitalist areas of the world, and rendered orthodox Communist parties (including the CPUSA) "utterly incapable of revolutionary action."
The Socialist Workers Party expressed preference for Chinese Communist militancy over Khrushchev's excessive emphasis on "peaceful coexistence" propaganda. The Socialist Workers Party said the Khrushchev line tended to undermine the continued "development of the class struggle," discourage the extension of the Soviet system into capitalist areas of the world, and rendered orthodox Communist parties (including the CPUSA) "utterly incapable of revolutionary action." Newest "proof" offered by the Trotskyists for these charges was the Cuban Communist Party's acknowledged mistake in refusing to support the Castro insurgency until months before Castro's final victory.
The SWP's own publications, however, had been critical of the "nationalist" Castro throughout most of his first year in power, and It was not until January 1960 that The Militant announced an all-out "Hands Off Cuba" propaganda campaign. At this time, The Militant expressed enthusiasm over the "leftward turn" of the Cuban revolutionary regime and began finding In Cuban events a confirmation of Trotsky's theory of "permanent" (i.e., continuous) revolution.
The Trotskyist organization agreed with the Communists that conquests of the Sino-Soviet bloc must be defended against "the predatory foreign aims of Wall Street and Washington." As a result of its agreement to defend the Soviet Union (albeit not the Soviet leaders), the Socialist Workers Party propaganda lino coincides with that of the Communist Party in calling for withdrawal of all American troops from foreign soil, removal of American military bases abroad, a halt to nuclear weapons testing, recognition of the Chinese Communist government, support of the Cuban revolution, etc.
The Socialist Workers Party, however, credits its increased following to the desire of many Communists and former Communists for a more militant line and more independent electoral activity than the Communist Party offered. The Trotskyist organization has stated that the 1956 Khrushchev revelations regarding Stalin and other developments, which resulted in the defection of a great many Communist Party members in the late 1950's, served to boost the membership of the Socialist Workers Party.
The Young Socialist Alliance held a founding convention in Philadelphia in April 1960, at which it dedicated itself to bringing "Marxian socialism to American youth." The organization's Founding Declaration also stated the convention was "the result of a political process which began in 1956" and of a growth in supporters to the point where "a national organization of a revolutionary youth movement" could be formed. The Young Socialist Alliance declared it would operate as an "independent organization" but would have "political solidarity" with the Socialist Workers Party.
The youth group referred to the SWP as follows: "The Young Socialist Alliance and the Socialist Workers Party are the only revolutionary socialist groups in the United States today. The YSA recognizes that only the SWF of all existing political parties is capable of providing the working class with political leadership Oq class struggle principles. As a result of its three-year development the supporters of the Young Socialist have come into basic political solidarity, on the principles of revolutionary socialism, with the SWP." When its Second National Convention was held during New Year's weekend of 1962, the Young Socialist Alliance claimed delegates from more than 20 college campuses and announced that the regular circulation of the Young Socialist Alliance's monthly paper, The Young Socialist, had reached 5,000.
The FBI's operations under its Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) were conducted from 1956 until its exposure in 1971. COINTELPRO was aimed at five major social and political protest groups: The Communist party, the Socialist Workers party, the Ku Klux Klan, black nationalist hate groups, and the New Left movement. Under COINTELPRO policies, the FBI expanded its domestic surveillance programs and increasingly used questionable, even unlawful, methods in an effort to disrupt virtually the entire social and political protest process.
Violations of citizens' constitutional rights were rampant, and the secret operations even resulted in a number of deaths. The secrecy of the program and the way in which it operated outside the checks and balances designed to prevent such abuses of power show how such practices are conducted without the knowledge of the media, the public, and governmental agencies intended to counter such rights violations.
FBI investigative activities between 1941 and 1976 included the extensive use of informants to gather information on SWP activities and on the personal lives of SWP members, warrantless electronic surveillance, surreptitious entry of SWP offices, other disruptive activities including attempts to embarrass SWP candidates and to foment strife within the SWP and between the SWP and others, and frequent interviews of employers and landlords of SWP members.
Following the 1981 SWP convention, two oppositional currents formed in the party's National Committee. One was represented by Frank Lovell and Steve Bloom, the other by Nat Weinstein and Lynn Henderson. Both opposed the challenge that the Barnes leadership was posing — through its uncritical adaptation to the weaknesses of Castroism — to the revolutionary Marxist program which had guided the party from the time of its founding.
In particular, the Barnes leadership had adopted untenable positions against Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution as well as in regard to events in Iran (failing to oppose the reactionary Khomeini regime) and Poland (opposing acts of revolutionary solidarity with the Polish workers against the Jaruzelski dictatorship). Both NC oppositional tendencies also criticized the sectarian and abstentionist trend of the Barnes leadership in regard to the labor movement and social struggles in the United States. And both opposed the Barnes group's gross violations of party democracy.
The composition of the party changed numerically, from 1,250 members in 1981 to 780 in 1985, a 38 percent decline. When the 1987 national education conference was held the party leadership announced that the membership decline had finally been halted, that new recruits about equaled dropouts. But it was obvious that the party was smaller, and at this conference transfer arrangements were made to relocate a large part of the party membership. This had often been done in the past, but this time eight branches were abandoned: Albany, Dallas, Louisville, New Orleans, Denver, Cincinnati, Tidewater, Toledo.
The Socialist Workers Party candidates present a working-class alternative to the Democrats, Republicans, and other capitalist parties. "Workers face an unrelenting offensive by the employers, who—driven by the need to reverse the decline in their profit rates—are intensifying speedup, lengthening work hours, eroding job safety, cutting pensions and health-care, and seeking to undermine Social Security and break down class solidarity. The imperialist wars abroad by Washington and its allies, from Iraq and Afghanistan to others they are preparing, including threats against Iran and north Korea, are an extension of the war on workers and farmers at home... "
Despite proffering a presidential candidate in every election since 1948 and numerous other candidates for Federal, State and local offices, no SWP candidate has ever been elected to public office in a partisan election. Data from elections in 2009-2012 show very low vote totals for SWP presidential and other Federal candidates. The information presented, as well as publicly available information, shows that no SWP candidate has come close to winning a Federal election. SWP candidates for President received only 10,791 votes in 2004, 9,827 votes (not including write-ins) in 2008, and 3,509 votes in 2012. Further, in 2010 and 2011, none of the three SWP candidates on the ballot for U.S House of Representatives received more than 6,300 votes.
The SWP was first granted a partial reporting exemption in a consent decree that resolved Socialist Workers 1974 National Campaign Committee v. Federal Election Commission, Civil Action No. 74-1338 (D.D.C. 1979). In that case, the SWP alleged that certain disclosure provisions of the Act deprived the SWP and its supporters of their First Amendment rights because of the likelihood of harassment resulting from mandatory disclosure of contributors. Additionally, the SWP alleged that the governmental interest in obtaining identifying information of contributors and recipients of expenditures was diminished because, as a minor party, the possibility of an SWP candidate winning or influencing an election was remote.
Although some of the alleged incidents of harassment may seem minor or subject to differing interpretations, there are a number of examples, such as firings and instances of workplace intimidation, as well as verbal threats and harassment, that legitimately raise concern by those associated with the SWP, particularly when such examples are taken together. There is a history over decades of violent attacks against the Socialist Workers Party offices in Los Angeles, including firebombings, physical assaults and vandalism. For example, in 2005 the campaign headquarters had the front window attacked, sending shattered glass flying 30 feet inside.
On April 20, 2017, the Federal Election Commission considered the Socialist Workers Party’s (SWP) request to extend its partial exemption from the Federal Election Campaign Act’s disclosure requirements, but was unable to approve a response by the required four affirmative votes. Due to the threat of harassment of those who contribute to SWP and those vendors to whom SWP makes disbursements, the Commission has granted several partial disclosure exemptions in the past. In AO 2012-38, the Commission granted a partial reporting exemption to SWP to cover activity through December 31, 2016. As the Commission was unable to approve an opinion by the required four affirmative votes, it concluded its consideration of the request.
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