Social Democrats, USA

Social Democrats, USA
ChairpersonPatty Friend (CA)
Secretary-TreasurerRichard D'Loss (PA)
Vice ChairMichael Mottern (NY)
David Hacker (NY)
Honorary ChairCraig Miller (NJ)
FoundedDecember 30, 1972 (46 years ago) (1972-12-30)
Preceded bySocialist Party of America
HeadquartersP.O. Box 16161
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15242
NewspaperNew America
Youth wingYoung Social Democrats
IdeologySocial democracy
Political positionCenter-left
International affiliationSocialist International (1973–2005)

Social Democrats, USA (SDUSA) is an American association of social democrats founded in 1972. The Socialist Party of America (SPA) had stopped running independent candidates for President and consequently the word Party in the SPA's name had confused the public. Replacing Socialist with Social Democrats, SDUSA clarified its vision to Americans who confused social democracy with Soviet Communism which SDUSA opposed.[1]

In response, former SPA Co-Chairman Michael Harrington resigned from SDUSA in 1973 and founded the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC), which criticized SDUSA's anti-communism and welcomed the New Politics movement associated with George McGovern and the New Left.[2] SDUSA members opposed McGovern's politics and a few of them helped to start the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (CDM) and such members have been called "Scoop" Jackson Democrats or neoconservatives (or both). SDUSA's members had been active in the civil rights movement, which had been led since the 1940s by A. Philip Randolph. SDUSA's leaders had organized the 1963 March on Washington, during which Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. Under the leadership of Randolph and Bayard Rustin, SDUSA championed Rustin's emphasis on economic inequality as the most important issue facing African Americans after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. SDUSA's efforts to reduce economic inequality led to a focus on labor unions and economic policy and SDUSA members were active in the AFL–CIO confederation as well as in individual unions, especially the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

SDUSA's electoral strategy ("realignment") intended to organize labor unions, civil rights organizations and other constituencies into a coalition that would transform the Democratic Party into a social democratic party. The realignment strategy emphasized working with unions and especially the AFL–CIO, putting an emphasis on economic issues that would unite working class voters. SDUSA opposed the New Politics of Senator McGovern, which had lost all states other than Massachusetts to Richard Nixon at the 1972 presidential election, when Americans voted for a Democratic House of Representatives in the House elections. While SDUSA had endorsed McGovern, it had adopted resolutions criticizing the New Politics for having made criticisms of labor unions and working class Americans and for its advocacy of an immediate and unconditional withdrawal from Vietnam.

SDUSA's organizational activities included sponsoring discussions and issuing position papers—it was known mainly because of its members' activities in other organizations. It included civil rights activists and leaders of labor unions, such as Bayard Rustin, Norman Hill and Tom Kahn of the AFL–CIO as well as Sandra Feldman and Rachelle Horowitz of the AFT. Tom Kahn organized the AFL–CIO's support of Solidarity, an independent labor union that challenged Communist Poland.[3] Penn Kemble and Carl Gershman cooperated with Republican and Democratic administrations on democracy promotion, beginning with the Reagan administration. Other members included the philosopher Sidney Hook. SDUSA ceased operations in 2005 following the death of Penn Kemble. In 2008–2009, two small organizations emerged, each proclaiming itself to be the successor to SDUSA.

SDUSA's politics were criticized by former SPA Chairman Michael Harrington, who in 1972 announced that he favored an immediate pull-out of American forces from Vietnam (without requiring any guarantees). After losing all votes at the 1972 convention that changed the SPA to SDUSA, Harrington resigned in 1973 and formed his Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC), which welcomed the New Politics and middle-class leadership.[2][4] The 1972 changing of the name of the SPA to SDUSA and the 1973 formation of DSOC represented a split in the American socialist movement. Some SDUSA members have been called "right-wing social-democrats",[5] a taunt according to Ben Wattenberg.[6] These SDUSA members supported Solidarity, with Kahn working for AFL–CIO and later Gershman working for the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).[7][8][9][10] Their support of Solidarity was criticized by the Carter administration, the Soviet Union and other supporters of détente. SDUSA members (like the AFL–CIO and at Solidarity's request) supported using economic aid to Poland's Communist government as a bargaining chip to help Solidarity while neoconservatives and "hard-line" conservatives opposed such aid in 1981.[11][12][13] SDUSA leaders Penn Kemble and Bayard Rustin and former SDUSA member Joshua Muravchik were called "second-generation neoconservatives" by Justin Vaïsse.[5] Along with Kahn, Horowitz and Gersham, these leaders are also regarded as Shachtmanites by most other scholars.[14][15][16] SDUSA leader Penn Kemble rejected the neoconservative label and called himself a social democrat (even while dying in 2005).[17] Joshua Muravchik disputed the Shachtmanite label for his generation[18] and has called himself a neoconservative,[19] much to the disappointment of his SDUSA associates who continue to identify with social democracy and to disagree with neoconservatism.[20][21][22]

Socialist Party of America

By the early 1970s, the Socialist Party of America (SPA) was publicly associated with A. Philip Randolph, the civil rights and labor union leader; and with Michael Harrington, the author of The Other America. Even before the 1972 convention, Harrington had resigned as an Honorary Chairperson of the SPA[1] "because he was upset about the group’s failure to enthusiastically support George McGovern and because of its views on the Vietnam War".[23]

In its 1972 Convention, the SPA had two Co-Chairmen, Bayard Rustin and Charles S. Zimmerman of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU);[24] and a First National Vice Chairman, James S. Glaser, who were re-elected by acclamation.[1] In his opening speech to the Convention, Co-Chairman Bayard Rustin called for SDUSA to organize against the "reactionary policies of the Nixon Administration" and Rustin also criticized the "irresponsibility and élitism of the 'New Politics' liberals".[1]

The party changed its name to Social Democrats, USA by a vote of 73 to 34.[1] Changing the name of the Socialist Party of America to Social Democrats, USA was intended to be "realistic" as the intention was to respond to the end of the running of actual SPA candidates for office and to respond to the confusions of Americans. The New York Times observed that the Socialist Party had last sponsored Darlington Hoopes as candidate for President in 1956 and who received only 2,121 votes, which were cast in only six states. Because the SPA no longer sponsored party candidates in elections, continued use of the name "party" was "misleading" and hindered the recruiting of activists who participated in the Democratic Party according to the majority report. The name "Socialist" was replaced by "Social Democrats" because many American associated the word "socialism" with Soviet Communism.[1] Moreover, the organization sought to distinguish itself from two small Marxist parties, the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Labor Party.[25]

During the 1972 Convention, the majority (Unity Caucus) won every vote by a ratio of two to one. The Convention elected a national committee of 33 members, with 22 seats for the majority caucus, eight seats for the Coalition Caucus of Harrington, two for the left-wing Debs Caucus and one for the independent Samuel H. Friedman.[26] Friedman and the minority caucuses had opposed the name change.[1]

The convention voted on and adopted proposals for its program by a two-one vote. On foreign policy, the program called for "firmness toward Communist aggression". However, on the Vietnam War the program opposed "any efforts to bomb Hanoi into submission" and instead it endorsed negotiating a peace agreement, which should protect communist political cadres in South Vietnam from further military or police reprisals. Harrington's proposal for a ceasefire and immediate withdrawal of American forces was defeated.[26] Harrington complained that after its convention the SPA had endorsed George McGovern only with a statement loaded with "constructive criticism" and that it had not mobilized enough support for McGovern. The majority caucus's Arch Puddington replied that the California branch was especially active in supporting McGovern while the New York branch were focusing on a congressional race.[25]

When the SPA changed its name to SDUSA, Bayard Rustin became its public spokesman. According to Rustin, SDUSA aimed to transform the Democratic Party into a social democratic party. A strategy of re-alignment was particularly associated with Max Shachtman.[27]

Some months after the convention, Harrington resigned his membership in SDUSA and he and some of his supporters from the Coalition Caucus soon formed the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC).[28] Many members of the Debs Caucus resigned from SDUSA and some of them formed the Socialist Party USA.[29] The changing of the name of the SPA to SDUSA and the 1973 formation of DSOC and the SPUSA represented a split in the American socialist movement.