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Series XVIII. Socialist Worker's Party (SWP)

Scope and Content Notes:

In 1928 the CPUSA expelled American Communists sympathetic to Leon Trotsky and his faction battling Joseph Stalin for control of the international Communist movement. They reconstituted themselves as the Communist League of America. Although a tiny group, estimated at perhaps 100 members, it included several prominent founders of American Communism (e.g. James Cannon) and some talented and energetic organizers. The group made contact with Trotsky sympathizers in other countries, established a journal, The Militant, and pursued an energetic propaganda campaign that led to modest expansion.

In 1934, the group entered the Socialist Party en masse, establishing a caucus within the SP. This strategy facilitated recruitment to the Trotskyist group but inevitably aggravated factionalism within the Socialist Party. In the summer of 1937, the SP began expelling Trotskyists. Those remaining left the SP and established the Socialist Workers Party in December 1937. While still a small group, they had expanded to more than 1000 members between 1928 and 1937, included a number of prominent intellectuals, and had somewhat more political prominence than might be expected from their numbers.

However the movement’s growth was repeatedly compromised by factional splits in which ideological disputes among the leadership promoted splits and formation of tiny rival organizations. In the most serious of these episodes, perhaps 40% of the SWP’s membership seceded to found the Worker’s Party lead by Max Shachtman.

By the 1960s, although the SWP still had not grown much larger than its peak membership before the Shachtmanite split it looked somewhat more significant. The collapse of the CPUSA after 1956 left the SWP as the most energetic and visible of the Old Left parties. Their endorsement of Malcolm X garnered some sympathy among Black radicals, and their support for the Cuban Revolution, such as their participation in the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, also earned support among the emerging New Left generation. They likewise played a prominent role in the anti-Vietnam War movement helping to organize some of the largest demonstrations in Washington, D.C. and other major cities.

In the long run, however, none of this activity resulted in permanent expansion of the organization beyond the modest levels that had characterized it throughout its history.


Box 11
Folder 87 "Vote for Socialism in 1956" Pamphlet, 1956
Folder 88 "Let the People Vote on War!" Pamphlet, ca. 1938
Folder 89 "A Public Forum for the Discussion of the Socialist Workers Party Program" Leaflet, October 15 1960
Folder 90 "The Voice of Socialism: Radio Speeches by the Socialist Workers Party Candidates in the 1948 Election" Pamphlet, August 1948
Folder 91 "Manifesto of the Fourth International on The Imperialist War and the Proletarian Revolution" Pamphlet, 1940
Folder 92 How to Fight War, By James Burnham, March, 1938
Folder 93 Union-Smashing in Sacramento, The Truth About the Criminal Syndicalism Trial, By Herbert Solow, August, 1935
Folder 94 The Stalinists on the Waterfront, By Art Preis April, 1947
Folder 95 "What Makes Latin America Explosive" Flyer
Folder 96 "A Worker for President, Vote Socialist Workers" Flyer
Folder 97 Desegregation! Labor's Stake in the Fight for Negro Equality, By Jean Simon, October, 1955
Folder 98 The United States and the Second World War, The European Revolution and Tasks of The Revolutionary Party, Resolutions of Eleventh Convention of the American Trotskyist Movement, March 1945
Folder 99 "The Truth About Jerry Brown" Pamphlet
Folder 100 War and the 4th International, July, 1934
Folder 101 Stop McCarthyism!, April 1954
Folder 102 "Build a Labor Party Now", By George Clarke, August, 1946
Folder 103 "Fight the Slave Labor Law!", July, 1947
Folder 104 Four Pamphlets from The Case for Socialism as Presented at the Famous Minneapolis Labor Trial Collection. Pamphlets Entitled "Socialism on Trial", "Why We are in Prison", "In Defense of Socialism" and "Who are the 18 Prisoners", March, 1944
Folder 105 The Case of the Legless Veteran, By James Kutcher
Folder 106 The Coming American Revolution, By James P. Cannon, April, 1947
Folder 107 The People's Front, The New Betrayal, by James Burnham, 1937
Folder 108 "Vote Socialist, Steve Bresler for A.S. President, Young Socialist Alliance" Flyer
Folder 109 Why We Defend the Soviet Union, by Albert Goldman
Folder 110 "For a Workers & Farmers Government Vote for Dobb for President, Carlson for Vice-President" Pamphlet
Folder 111 "For a Real Alternative Vote Socialist, Dobbs for President, Weiss for Vice-President, Students for Dobbs and Weiss" Sticker
Folder 112 American Workers Need a Labor Party, By Joseph Hansen, November, 1944
Folder 113 Flyer Advertising a "United Protest Memorial Meeting for Three Wayne State University Students"
Folder 114 Discussion Bulletin No. 1, "The Kremlin's Satellite States in Eastern Europe, Yugoslavia, Marxist Theory, and our Perspectives", By E.R. Frank, April, 1950
Folder 115 Discussion Bulletin No. 3, "The Class Nature of the Buffer Countries in Eastern Europe", By M. Stein, June, 1950
Folder 116 "Wherever death may surprise us, let it be welcome if our battle cry has reached even one receptive ear and another hand reaches out to take up our arms..." -Che
Folder 117 Ten Years: History and Principles of the Left Opposition, November 1933
Folder 118 "A Fighting Program For Labor: Jobs for All" Pamphlet, 1945

Section: Other Trotskyists

Scope and Content Notes:

Despite its small numbers—a peak combined membership of no more than 3,000 in all of its tendencies--the American Trotskyist movement suffered from factionalism and splits throughout its history. That was probably a function of the movement’s ideological heritage and structure. While Socialist and Social Democratic Parties in the US and elsewhere also experienced factional conflict, except in the years immediately following the Bolshevik Revolution, these did not generally produce organizational splits because the parties conceived of themselves as big tent electoral coalition parties, not unlike their bourgeois counterparts. The Trotskyists, in contrast, took from their Communist heritage Leninist notions of centralized and ideologically coherent parties that enforced correct line discipline on all members. But while the Communists had an institutional apparatus—the Comintern and its successors—to establish the terms and limits of orthodoxy, the Trotskyists had no such institutional counterpart. People who believed that establishing and adhering to a correct line was the sine qua non of worthwhile political activity thus had no alternative to splits when they decided that their parent organization had erred grievously in its ideological and strategic judgments.

The largest and most enduring American Trotskyist organization was the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Other Trotskyist groups represented in the American Left Ephemera Collection include the Workers Party (followers of Max Shachtman), the Spartacist League (an offshoot of the Shachtmanites), and the Workers World Party (followers of ex-CP and ex-SWP member Sam Marcy).


Box 11
Folder 119 The New International, A Symposium on The New Europe, July, 1949
Folder 120 "The Communist Party at the Crossroads: Toward Democratic Socialism or Back to Stalinism", By H.W. Benson
Folder 121 "No More Three Mile Islands! Jobs For All! Fight the Bosses and Their Government", March 28, 1981
Folder 122 3 Worker's World Party Pamphlets Stating "People's Needs, Yes! Profits and War, No!"
Folder 123 Next- A Labor Party!, By Jack Ranger, December, 1948
Folder 124 What is Revolutionary Leadership?
Folder 125 The Fight to Implement Busing for Labor/Black Defense to Stop Racist Attacks and to Smash Fascist Threats, 1974
Folder 126 Fourth International, The American Empire, August, 1949

Box 14
Folder 72 The New International, A Monthly Organ of Revolutionary Marxism, December, 1934
Folder 73 The New International, A Monthly Organ of Revolutionary Marxism, October, 1935