Social Democratic Party of America
|Founded||June 11, 1898|
|Dissolved||July 28, 1901|
Following the defeat of the 1894
In this same summer, smarting from a failed effort at establishing a socialist community near
The convention which gave birth to the new organization actually began as a final conclave of the ARU, which opened Tuesday morning June 15, 1897 in Handel Hall, Chicago. Director William E. Burns called the meeting to order and A.B. Adair of the Typographical Union presided. President of the ARU Eugene V. Debs delivered an address to the assembled delegates. The first three days of the convention were occupied with hearing reports of officers and of committees and closing up the affairs of the ARU.
On Friday June 18, the organization formally changed its name to the
The Social Democracy of America initially did not have an official head—its executive powers were vested in an Executive Board, with a chairman (Eugene V. Debs) merely presiding over the activities of that body. The unit of organization of the Social Democracy was the local branch of at least 5 members. On the first Tuesday in April, each of these local branches was to elect a single representative to the state union, the state-level governing body. On the first Tuesday in May, all the state unions were to assemble and elect one representative each to the National Council, which was in turn to meet on the first Tuesday in May and elect a 5-member Executive Board, which was to hold office for a term of one year. An initiation fee of 25 cents was set and monthly dues pegged at 15 cents per month. Office of the organization was established at 504 Trude Building, Corner of Randolph and Wabash Aves., Chicago.
The Social Democracy of America proved to be a short lived and disparate group of
In addition to the "colonizationists", who favored concentration of their efforts on building a model economic unit and gaining the achievement of socialism through the power of example there emerged a "
The colonization scheme failed to materialize by the time of the second convention of the SDA, held in Chicago from June 7–11, 1898 and attended by some 70 delegates. Frederic Heath, the first historian of the movement, recounted the gathering in a 1900 book:
Chairman Debs presided. Outwardly the meeting presented the picture of a pleasing and harmonious gathering, creditable to the Socialist movement. Under the surface, however, there was a hostility that meant almost certain rupture. The presence of such well-known Anarchists as Mrs. Lucy Parsons, wife of one of the victims of the outrageous Haymarket trial, Emma Goldman, common-law wife of Berkman, who shot Manager Frick at the time of the Homestead strike, and others, all enlisted under the colonization wing, the members of which were now using the phrases of the Anarchists at sneering at political action, showed that a parting of the ways must come. It rapidly developed that the colonization forces had organized to get control of the convention and had even gone to the length of organizing local 'branches on paper' within three days before the convention, in order to increase its list of delegates and make its control a certainty. These branches had been organized by William Burns and the other members of the national board, with the exception of Messrs. Debs and Keliher.
In his speech to the convention delivered June 8, Debs outlined his ideas on the goal of the Social Democracy and the tactics which the organization had best follow:
The mission of Social Democracy is to awaken the producer to a consciousness that he is a Socialist and to give him courage by changing his conditions. I have not changed in regard to our procedure. Give me 10,000 men, aye, 1,000 in a western state, with access to the sources of production, and we will change the economic conditions and we will convince the people of that state, win their hearts and their intelligence. We will lay hold upon the reins of government, and plant the flag of Socialism on the state house.
The Colonization Committee delivered a lengthy report, detailing the proposed purchase of a Colorado gold mine and the establishment of a colony around that operation. This imaginative (or hallucinatory) plan fanned the sentiments of the party's political actionists (who called themselves the "antis"), who found themselves more anxious than ever to disentangle themselves from what they perceived as an unsavory stock-selling scheme. A caucus was held of the "anti" faction on the 3rd evening of the convention at which the group determined to fight the colonization program without compromise.
During the fourth day of the proceedings on Friday June 10, things turned increasingly bitter when James Hogan of Utah delivered a 2-hour report as Vice Chairman of the National Executive Board and Treasurer, during the course of which he directly attacked Secretary Sylvester Keliher (a political actionist), alleging incompetence or dishonesty. The day was absorbed by a bitter debate over the program of the organization, with the main object of division a minority report put forward by John F. Lloyd on behalf of the colonizationists (disparagingly called the "goldbrick" faction by the "antis"). The arguments went on all day Friday June 10, finishing at 2:30 am with a vote in which the colonization minority plank was carried by a vote of 53 to 37. The meeting was adjourned and many delegates straggled off to bed, the anti-colonization faction already having decided to depart the organization and to establish a political party of their own in the aftermath of defeat on the colonization issue. The "anti" faction gathered in Parlor A of the hotel across the street where most of them were staying and in hushed tones continued their discussion until 4 am.
June 11, 1898 marked the conclusion of the convention of the Social Democracy of America as well as the day that 33 delegates bolted to hold a meeting establishing themselves as the Social Democratic Party of America.
The political action wing of the Social Democracy bolted the final day of the June 1898 Convention of the Social Democracy of America and instead held their own gathering at Hull House on South Halsted Street in Chicago. Since the gathering was held by a bolting faction of a Convention formally called by the Social Democracy of America, subsequent party histories do not regard this first organizational meeting as a formal Convention—although the party organ established at the same time, the Social Democratic Herald, did consider it as such.
The fledgling group issued its organizational platform in the form of a Statement of Principles on June 11, 1898. In this document, the group categorized socialism as "the collective ownership of the means of production for the common good and welfare" and called upon "the wage-workers and all those in sympathy with their historical mission to realize a higher civilization" to sever ties with existing conservative capitalist and reformist political parties and to instead work for "the establishment of a system of cooperative production and distribution".
The split of the Social Democracy in America into a colonization organization on the one hand and the electorally-oriented Social Democratic Party of America on the other demoralized many American socialists. According to founding member
A political-action faction led by
The colonizationists had taken the Social Democracy of Americans periodical (Social Democrat) so the Social Democratic Party started a new national publication (Social Democratic Herold) during the negotiations for the unity of the Socialist Party of America, when it was decided that the party would not publish an official national publication so the newspaper was sold to the Milwaukee Social Democrats led by Victor Berger.
Membership data on the organization is scarce. In his official report to the 1900 convention of the party, National Secretary-Treasurer
Theodore Debs indicated that as of March 1, 1900, the dues-paying membership of the party was 4,536, participating in 226 active local branches. Of these, the younger Debs brother indicated that 985 members and 53 branches had been established during the previous 60 days, implying a significantly lower membership for the years 1898 and 1899. In the
In addition to the Chicago-based Social Democratic Party of America mentioned above, there was a second Social Democratic Party of America based in
The organization was deeply split between two hostile groups. On one side was a so-called "administration faction", represented by the party's national officials, such as
The latter group was particularly hostile to the trade union policy adopted at the 1896 Convention, believing it to have alienated erstwhile allies in the existing labor movement and thus marginalized the party. It also resented the rigid party discipline practiced by the National Executive Committee, which included the expulsions of dissidents and the suspension of entire sections. This festering split erupted in open conflict in July 1899 over the election of a new General Committee (akin to a City Committee) of Section New York, a group to which the 1896 party convention purportedly delegated the power to elect the committee for the national organization. This new committee was to in turn have the power of selecting editors of the party's printed organs. Section New York, narrowly controlled by the dissident faction, elected such a General Committee, which met for the first time on July 8, 1899.
This gathering quickly dissolved in acrimony and a second meeting was hastily scheduled to be held two nights later by the dissident faction. This second session, elected
This action of the dissident general committee was not recognized by the sitting National Executive Committee, the meeting held to be illegally constitute and the committee and the official press continued to conduct their regular operations. The dissidents declared themselves the rightful owners of the Socialist Labor Party's name, logo and press and established themselves as such. Two parallel organizations, each designating itself the Socialist Labor Party and issuing a publication called The People, thus emerged in 1899, naming competing full slates of candidates for the elections of 1899. The matter was taken to the "capitalist" courts. The dissidents were derisively referred to in polemics as the "Kangaroos" by the Regulars—the analogy being drawn between the dissidents' free-and-loose interpretation of party legality in the calling and conduct of their reorganizational meetings and the
The dissident faction was bolstered by the support of allies in Chicago, centered on an English language newspaper called The Workers' Call, edited by
An Emergency National Convention was called by the pro-AFL/anti-DeLeon "Kangaroo" dissidents. This gathering was held in Rochester, New York, attended by 59 delegates and proclaimed itself as the official 10th National Convention of the Socialist Labor Party. Henry L. Slobodin was formally elected Executive Secretary of the Rochester organization, which tentatively continued to call itself the Socialist Labor Party and to issue its own English language newspaper under the name of The People. The convention repudiated the
When the New York courts ruled decisively in favor of the claim of DeLeon, Kuhn and the Regulars in the matter of the ownership of the name logo and publication of the Socialist Labor Party against the claim of the dissidents, the Rochester group changed the name of their organization to Social Democratic Party of America, anticipating a rapid merger with Berger, Debs and the Midwestern organization of the same name. The Eastern group established party headquarters in
According to the report of National Secretary William Butscher made to the July 1901 convention that established the Socialist Party of America, the Springfield SDP had a paid membership of 5,310 in the continental United States, with another 1,080 members in