LEARNING FROM OUR PAST
by David Hacker
Social Democrats, USA is the 110-year old organization, variously known as the Social Democratic Party of the United States of America from 1898-1901, the Socialist Party of America from 1901-1956, Socialist Party / Social Democratic Federation from 1956-1964, Socialist Party, U.S.A. from 1964-1972, and Socialist Party, U.S.A. / Democratic Socialist Federation of the U.S.A. in 1972. Social Democrats, USA is the direct successor of the Socialist Party, U.S.A., the party of Eugene V. Debs, Norman Thomas, A. Phillip Randolph, and other great socialists of the past. The Socialist Party U.S.A., at its national convention on December 30, 1972, by majority vote of the delegates, changed the name of the organization to Social Democrats, USA. The organization officially became the Social Democrats, USA with the adoption of a new constitution.
As a response to these changes two movements of party members seceded from the organization. One of these lead by Michael Harrington formed the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) which latter became the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). The other group was led by David McReynolds latter claimed the Socialist Party USA as its name. These two new political organizations differed from the Social Democrats USA on such issues as the Vietnam War. the stance to take in relation to the Labor movement as opposed to the New Social Movements, and regarding what the relationship that socialist should adopt toward the Democratic Party.
When all the controversies of 1972 settled the Social Democrats USA had developed a progressive program which it would hold for the next thirty years. This program was based on:
1. Social Democratic support for a strong American Labor movement. Working men and women organized in their trade unions are the most important force for progressive social change. The SD,USA continues to affirm that working class socialism is the only kind of socialism that can or will ever exist.
2. Social Democratic opposition to Communist totalitarianism, Right wing authoritarianism, and religious extremism arising in many religious traditions, with the current most dangerous now being in the Islamic world.
3. Social Democratic support for vigorous democracy here and abroad. Democratic Socialism can only exist in nations that have strong democratic institutions.
4. SD,USA support for the Socialist International.
5. Social Democratic support for the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish State. The Social Democrats opposed anti-semitism and anti-Zionism on both the political Right and Left.
6. A strategy , in general, to work within the Democratic Party, along with the labor movement and other progressive constituencies.
7. The SD,USA did not take a position on abortion. In 1991, the AFL-CIO considered a pro-choice resolution. Prior to that, the SD separated itself from other groups on the Left by maintaining that the abortion issues was divisive and would alienate Catholic workers in the labor movement. The revived SDUSA has decided to resume this position that was taken by our organization before 1991. It wants to provide a supportive environment for both sides to meet and work on developing social democratic economic programs which would result in alleviating the social and economic conditions of women that cause a large percentage of abortions.
8. It affirmed the heritage of the SDUSA and the SP before it as charter members of the civil rights movement and the battle for racial equality. It continued to reject the ideologies of oppression.
The current Social Democrats USA continues to maintain this progressive program of the historic party. Unfortunately in spite of these principles the Social Democrats USA declined in membership and political presence during the following three decades. No doubt part of the reason for this decline was the increasingly conservative change in the American political culture which adversely effected all of the political organizations of the democratic left. However the other primary reason for SDUSA decline was ideological. The long standing Social Democratic aversion to “Communism” led some Social Democratic leaders to leave the organization and become influential leaders of the newly developing Neo Conservative movement. Furthermore the party tended to adopt a knee jerk policy of support of most US foreign policy initiatives if these could be tied to its anti communist ethic. Unfortunately for the SDUSA this put the party at odds with the opposite tendency of most of the American left to give an opposing knee jerk opposition to almost all foreign policy initiative of the United States government.
The result of both the rightward movement of American political culture and the SD alienation from much of American left political culture cumulated in a near collapse of the Social Democratic USA after the turn of the century. As a result of this near collapse of the Social Democrats USA, a new leadership and has developed with a different perspective on many issues from that of the old leadership of the organization. These differences can be summed up in the following points:
1. We believe that it is not enough merely to state that “we support the American Labor Movement,” while the unions of the United States are in deep crisis. In the revived SDUSA, we will support an open and self-critical multi-racial labor movement. Moreover, we will be independent friends of Labor and also have a open and self-critical attitude toward the union movement in this country. We will develop a relationship with union officials, especially those labor leaders bringing innovative ideas to the advancement of the working class movement. But it will be an independent relationship and not the servile one of the old SDUSA leadership.
2. Our conception of the SDUSA will be completely in accord with an organization that espouses social and political democracy from the bottom up. We believe that a group cannot advocate democracy until it first practices it. Therefore, the revived SDUSA will be a decentralized organization, with the emphasis on the growth of local and state affiliates. Each State and Local organization will decide where to place its political priorities.
3. We are unconditional advocates of Israel’s right to exist, but we are sometimes critical of its governmental policies. We support Israeli democratic ideals and those who work for them. Whenever those ideals are compromised, we will vigorously protest, because we are pro-Israel. Our slogan is Israel is here to stay and also Israel must be saved. Sometimes, Israel must be saved from itself, if it is engaged in some governmental policy or action detrimental to establishing a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, etc. Moreover, our support for Israel’s sovereignty does not mean that we are anti-Palestinian. We support a just resolution for the Palestinians that does not fatally compromise the legitimate security concerns of the Jewish State.
4. We believe that the suspicious attitude of the former leadership of the SD toward environmentalists is obsolete in this era of growing danger, esp. the effects of global warming. Both the environmental and labor movements have come to realize that they need one another and must work in harmony. Therefore we affirm that, in the 21st Century, we will also be a green movement dedicated to preserving the fragile environment of this planet. In other word, we are Ecosocialists.
5. We are open to supporting independent socialist / social democratic party campaigns by our state and local organizations, if they are for local public office and there is a better than even chance of winning. The SDUSA is willing to experiment with different democratic processes on the local level. Both sides of the old political strategy debate of the 1960s can reunite in harmony in the revived SDUSA, free to pursue separate tactics, while working toward the common goal of building a stronger democratic socialist / social democratic movement in the United States.
6. We no longer consider DSA a rival organization. We view DSA as our sister organization, sharing much of the same heritage and goals, differing on strategy and public policy positions. We want to establish close and comradely relations with DSA and wish to put the hostile relationship of the past to the dustbin of history and begin anew. We welcome dual membership between our two organizations.
7. We reject the lurch toward neo-conservatism and militarism of the old SDUSA. We lament the decent into democratic centralist, ultra-leftism of the SP of the USA. We are sad to see DSA abandon very successful efforts to get its members elected to public office. The new SDUSA is ready to work with members of the DSA, the SP of the USA, and other social democratic organizations such as the Labor Party and Americans for Democratic Action, as well as all individuals who are committed to progressive, anti-totalitarian change in this nation. We will work to see our members elected to local government in the tradition of Socialist Party as exemplified in the past by Congressmen Victor Berger and Meyer London, and in the present by Mayor Ron Dellums and Senator Bernie Sanders.
8. While concentrating on developing social democratic programs for the here and now, we have not given up our vision of the new socialist society that incremental change would eventually bring. We are still committed to the vibrant democratic socialist movement of the near future and our socialist vision of the far future beyond our lifetime and our children’s lifetime.
This is then is the revived and revised SDUSA. We stand for Social Democracy and embrace our entire history. We fight for the extension of democracy into all aspects of society. We view the terms “social democracy” and “democratic socialism” as being interchangeable. We do not support a government-dominated social system. We support a democratic, non-sexist, un-racist, welfare state with a mixed economy in which the people and democratically-responsible representatives will have maximum feasible influence in setting economic priorities.
We fully embrace our history. We welcome a wide range of the Social Democratic / Democratic Socialists, from Third Way to Third Camp.
William O’ Neill, in the conclusion of his book, A Better World: The Great Schism: Stalinism and the American Intellectuals, pages 383-384, published by Simon & Schuster in 1982, writes the following: “A left rooted in anti-Americanism and dedicated to the interest of foreign countries, which is what we had for most of the last half century or so, benefits no one, not even itself. An ethical left that regarded the well-being of the United States as a legitimate concern would be valuable as a counter to the right – always more powerful in this country than its opposite. – and as a way of making responsible dissent effective. Had there been a genuinely independent and democratic left of consequence in the 1960s, the worst national misadventures might have been avoided, or at leased scaled down. That the Michael Harringtons and Irving Howes are so few is a problem that has defied the best efforts of socialists since World War I. But whatever the solution, experience makes clear that going the other way, as both the old and new lefts did, is not it. A Strong Left, if there is to be one, will have to be an American Left, democratic, loyal, and with no compulsion to admire or emulate foreign tyrannies. Anything less would be flawed and, the record indicates, futile.”
This is the American Left we want to build. One that proudly flies the American Flag with the Red. We are patriotic and love our country to such an extent that we labor to make it truly a shining city on the hill. We are Social Democrats / Democratic Socialists because we are committed to the future of the United States and the American people. We may be not for everybody, especially those who want to continue the domination of the country by corporate elites and those who adhere to both the political Right and the authoritarian Left. On the other hand, we represent the hard working, middle income, low income, and unemployed majority of the United States of America.
The S. D. Manifesto: A short history of the Social Democrats USA and manifesto (2010)
David Hacker, Vice President of the SDUSA , archivist, and historian initially wrote
the S. D. Manifesto in 2008 and revised it in 2010. The Manifesto combines both history of the SDUSA and an annunciation of the ideas, principles, and strategies that motivate the revived SD USA. The ideas presented in the Manifesto are not SD dogma. However they are important enough that the SDUSA recognizes many of the ideas and much of the analysis of the document as being of very high value to the organization.
Note. The revised document is a work in progress. Keep that in mind when reading it.