The basic concept of socialism as found in the 1820’s still remains and illuminates a dark world. That concept is of a world of commonwealths cooperating with each other for the betterment of all peoples.
History of the Socialist Party
The Unity Convention
On July 29, 1901 at the Indianapolis Masonic Hall, a momentous event occurred in the history of the United States. A convention of socialists of various persuasions met which before its proceedings were concluded created the ‘Socialist Party of America.’ This is the party of which the present Socialist Party, USA is the direct continuation and sole representative today in the United States. Other movements in the nation can trace some connection to this event, but none are political parties.
This Indianapolis ‘Unity Convention’ was the result of the coming together of socialists of varying tendencies and emphasis. Thus for example at the convention were a group of socialists from Springfield, Massachusetts-’the Springfield group.’ Another group were persons who had been in the Socialist Labor Party. Still another group came from Chicago and Milwaukee and were in the Social Democracy Party which had been formed in 1898.
The persons at the convention represented socialist groups which had before their unity convention nevertheless worked together in a 1900 campaign in which Eugene Victor Debs, former head of the American Railway Union, and Job Harriman, a leader in the Socialist Labor Party, constituted a Presidential ticket for Socialists. Various elements of American socialism at the time had worked together to place these candidates on the slate in various states and then to solicit votes. The candidates surprisingly received a total of 94,777 votes recorded and no doubt many more which were not recorded. The success in the election of getting this vote total gave heart to the groups which had worked for the candidates and led to the calling of the convention in Indianapolis for July, 1901.
The persons at the convention had diverse backgrounds. Harriman and Morlis Hillquit had been in the Socialist Labor Party. Others at the convention came to socialism from reading Edward Bellamy’s book, LOOKING BACKWARD, a best selling utopian novel of the time. Still others came with backgrounds in the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor. Some delegates came with a Christian socialist background. It was the Rev. George Herron of Grinnell, Iowa, who opened the convention. Others came from the Jewish labor movement in New York. The Plains States and the West Coast States were also represented. Still others had agrarian backgrounds, but most were what might be considered as the intellectuals of the time.
Among the more influential delegates were Morris Hillquit of NewYork, Victor Berger, Frederic Heath and Emil Seidel of Milwaukee, Seymour Stedman, Margaret Haile and Corrine Brown of Chicago, and G. A. Hoehn of Springfield, Massachusetts. Three African American delegates were present and took part in the debate.
At the convention, delegates debated whether the new party should have a program of immediate demands or try to achieve socialism in one movement through election without spelling out specific demands. Some delegates thought the achieving of immediate demands would make capitalism more palatable. The convention finally did include immediate demands for the following: (1) public ownership of transportation, communications, utilities, monopolies and trusts,(2) reduced hours and increased wages for labor, (3) workman’s compensation and insurance in case of accident, unemployment, sickness or want in old age, (4) a system of public industries,(5) education of all children up to age 18 with aid for books, clothing and food, (6) equal civil and political rights for all men and women, (7) more widespread use of proportional representation, initiative, referendum, and recall. From the vantage point of1991 it is apparent that many of the demands of the Unity convention have been widely accepted but not public ownership.
The Meaning of and Concept Behind Socialism.
What the delegates at the time conceived ‘socialism’ to be is hard to determine exactly. According to George Lichtheim, author of A SHORT HISTORY OF SOCIALISM, the term ‘socialist’ first appeared in the Cooperative Magazine of November, 1827 in England, where the term was applied to efforts of Robert Owen and others to develop co-operative societies of people who would produce goods for the common benefit, as compared to the production of goods for private benefit of the owners. The term ‘social’ was to signify ‘cooperation’ as in social ownership of capital. This basic concept still exists in dictionary definitions which describe socialism as a theory of the collective or government ownership of the means of production and distribution with democratic management thereof.
Common ownership of the means of production and distribution is related to the concept of a communal or collective society. Such societies preceded the socialist movement of the 19th century and were found among religious and ethnic groups, including the earliest Christians as reported in the Book of Acts. Owen, the Welsh mill owner, sought to create such a society at New Harmony, Indiana in 1825 on foundations laid by a group of communal Christians, the Rappites.
However, the main impetus to development of socialist concepts of society came because of the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of industrial capitalism which first appeared in England about1775 and about fifty years later in the United States. This capitalism brought workers into bad factory conditions where they toiled long hours under miserable and dangerous conditions for less than subsistence wages. The profits often went to owners who were hard, cruel and grasping. Thoughtful people viewing the misery of workers-men, women and children-thought of a better organization of society. They identified the cause of the misery with the desire of the owner of capital to maximize profit. Collective, communal or cooperative societies were one type of answer of the time. A later answer was the organizing of laboring people into unions. This difficult and dangerous effort brought much misery and legal punishment on those engaged in it.
Evolution of the Concepts About Socialism
The concept of socialism underwent an evolution in France in the 1830’s with the ideas of Charles Fourier and Claude Henri de Rouvroy, Comte de Saint Simon. Fourier sought to organize society into co-operative groups called ‘phalanxes’, of which several were founded in the United States. Saint Simon considered that all production should be owned by the state and the workers would get their just share. This was a form of an engineered and planned society. Owen, Fourier and Saint Simon have been called ‘Utopian’ socialists.
Two concepts in economic literature at the time deserve notice here. One came from Adam Smith in his 1776 book, THE WEALTH OFNATIONS. It is that all wealth in a finished product is derived from the worker who produces the product. The other concept was that of David Ricardo, an English banker, who expressed the idea about 1817 that the capitalists would not pay any more wages than that which was necessary to barely sustain the worker. This is the so-called Iron Law of Wages.
These concepts were further developed in Germany and the Low Countries. Here it was held that all society is composed of only two classes, the capitalists (or bourgeoisie) and the workers (or proletariat).This concept when linked with the Iron Law of Wages stirred some organized working groups to great anger. Such groups decided that only by force could the capitalists be made to stop their exploitation. Still further, in a future society there would be only one class doing the ruling, namely the proletariat. Some of the working groups with these ideas considered themselves as ‘Communists’-meaning those who propose to share ownership and benefits of production communally. Communists in the 1840’s tended to differentiate themselves from ‘socialists’ by an implied greater willingness to use force to get rid of capitalism.
Their ideas were given voice in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, produced in 1848 by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, two German expatriates. Marx and Engels later claimed that their ideas constituted ‘scientific socialism’ as compared to the unscientific utopian socialists.
In Germany as elsewhere in Europe workers harassed by terrible exploitation organized into associations. A major leader in this development was a lawyer, Ferdinand Lassalle. He was strongly influenced by the concept of the Iron Law of Wages, but sought to make things better for workers through legal and governmental processes, including elections. In 1863 Lassalle helped form the General German Workers’ Association and was its first head. This movement later had impact on American labor and the socialist movement through emigration of workers from Germany. The movement also led to the formation of the Social Democratic Party of Germany(SPD). The SPD was able by political activity to force from the Bismarck-controlled government of Prussia and Germany laws giving major protection to workers. Proposals to enact similar laws later appeared in the socialist movement in the United States and somewhere adopted here in the era of the New Deal.
Also in the 19th century, particularly in Great Britain, some Christian leaders, observing the degradation of workers and their families, came to the general concepts of socialism based on Christian theology. This had its impact on Christian leaders in the United States and affected the formation of the Socialist Party. The Social Gospel concepts of the Methodists also influenced many socialists.
Impact in the United States of the European Developments.
A special impact was felt after the failure of the Liberal Revolution of 1848 in the German states when many persons with socialist ideas escaped to the United States. Here they became a principal factor in organizing trade unions and agitating for improved conditions of the workers. Many of these German socialists were also strongly anti-clerical on the grounds that the organized churches were part and parcel of the capitalist system of exploitation. Some of the German workers were Free Thinkers. Thus in the minds of many American Christians the idea arose that socialism was the enemy of organized religion and had to be fought.
Another antecedent to the emergence of the Socialist Party was the formation of an International Workingmen’s Association in London in 1864, now known as the ‘First International’. It had affiliated organizations in the United States. The organization however was driven by disputes between Marx and some anarchists. It lasted until 1876 with its last office being in Philadelphia. A Second International, formed in 1889, lasted until 1920, but fell apart as a result of the First World War. A new Socialist International was formed in 1951, but for reasons described later the Socialist Party of the USA is not a member of this group.
Socialist and Other Movements in the United States.
Prior to the formation of the Socialist Party of America in 1901 there were movements calling for socialist colonization, particularly in the Western states. Other movements organized labor and made immediate demands, such as for the 8hour day. Still other movements sought general amelioration of the condition of the working class. These movements were the Christian and early social movements. Some groups sought the overthrow of capitalism by force. Other movements proposed legal and electoral means to get socialist control of government and curb the capitalists. An important movement of this type was the Populist movement.
Several socialist groups had a concept which was a mixture of Marxian and Lassallean ideas. They held that there were two classes, the capitalists and the workers, that the capitalists were exploiters incapable of reforming, and therefore needed to have their holdings socialized. These ideas were essentially Marxian. However, the way to do this was not by force but by electoral action in which organized labor exercised its power at the ballot box. Further, labor would be educated to the values of socialism by achievement of immediate demands such as reducing working hours, providing workers’ compensation, obtaining a clean work place and getting a safe neighborhood. This was essentially Lassallean.
The Socialist Labor Party
An important group of this type was a group called the Socialist Labor Party, sections of which exist today. This party was formed in 1877 out of components of German worker organizations in the United States. This party after 1892 came under the almost absolute control of Daniel DeLeon, a person described as ‘domineering’. In the later 1890’s persons who were disaffected by DeLeon’s personality and policies broke away and helped form the Socialist Party of America.
General public disgust with the trusts, monopolies, and corporations and with the iron, steel, coal, railroad and mining barons in United States capitalism was no doubt a factor why the party shortly after its formation grew so rapidly.
Developments Following the Unity Convention
At the Unity convention for reasons of a kind of neutrality between the Eastern delegates and the Chicago group, the first party office was placed in St Louis with Leon Greenbaum of that city as first national secretary. The party by 1903 reported no less that 15,975 members and in the period up to 1912 it reported 118,045 members. ‘Locals’, ‘branches’, state parties and foreign language sections were formed in considerable number and in many places. By 1904 socialist movements such as in Milwaukee began electing public officials in local government. By 1912 the party reported that 1039 dues paying members wherein public office, including 56 mayors and over 300 aldermen.
The party was helped tremendously byte presence in its membership of Eugene Victor Debs of TerreHaute, one time Democratic member of the Indiana legislature, founder of the American Railway Union and before that a member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen. As a labor organizer he was aware of the hardships that labor endured, especially on the railroads with their many crippling and deadly accidents. Debs as a speaker had a powerful appeal to his audiences because of his command of the language, his sincerity and his deep humanity.
Debs had been convinced of the need for a socialist response to the ills of society after he was imprisoned in a jail in Woodstock, Illinois in 1894 for his role in the Pullman strike of that year: There he was visited by labor leaders and socialists, including Berger and Heath of Milwaukee whom tradition has it brought the conversion of Debs from a Democratic party member to a socialist.
In the 1904 election Debs, running as President with Ben Hanford, a labor activist, as Vice President, polled 402,400 votes. In1908 Debs again ran for President with Hanford as his running mate and polled 420,820 votes. This campaign featured a special railroad train, the ‘Red Special’ for Debs and his entourage.
The Surge Toward Socialism Early in the Twentieth Century
During the end of the first decade of the 20th century there was a surge in the number of people ready to vote Socialist. Socialist public officials were elected in many cities.
In 1910 the Socialists in Milwaukee running under the old label of Social Democratic Party elected their first mayor in that city, Emil Seidel, a woodworker who had participated in the Indianapolis convention. This electoral success was based on a strong movement among workers of Polish and German extraction with good ward organizations and a weekly paper. In the same election in the spring of 1910Daniel Webster Hoan, a labor lawyer, was elected city attorney. Seidel was defeated in 1912 by a fusion of the Republican and Democratic party opposition, but Hoan was re-elected and again in 1914.
It is necessary to make a few observations about Dan Hoan-as he was familiarly known. In 1916 Hoan was elected mayor of Milwaukee and served in office until 1940 when he was defeated for re-election by Carl F Zeidler, a youthful non-partisan. Hoan and the Socialists cleaned up a corrupt city government. Their fellow members on the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors and in the Milwaukee School Board introduced many progressive measures. Hoan thus became a principal figure by which socialism was identified as being capable of the best government in the United States. Because of their passion for clean government and concern for the living conditions of ordinary workers, Milwaukee socialists were described by some, including other socialists (somewhat in contempt), as’ Sewer Socialists.’
Also in 1910 Victor L. Berger was elected to the Congress from a Milwaukee congressional district. He was the first Socialist member of the U. S. House of Representatives.
The movement in Milwaukee had been helped by national radical independent socialist papers of the time. Among the most famous of these were The Coming Nation and The Appeal to Reason, both published by Julius Wayland. The Appeal to Reason by 1910 had a circulation of 50,000. In the 1930’s a paper with a powerful message was Oscar Ameriger’s American Guardian, published in Oklahoma.
Socialists exerted enormous influence on the culture of pre-World War I in America. Jack London wrote pro-socialist articles and stories, and Upton Sinclair’s influential novel about the meatpacking industry, THE JUNGLE, was written for a socialist magazine. Poets Carl Sandburg and Vachel Lindsay were both socialist organizers. Walter Lippmann was the first head of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society. Margaret Sanger first advocated birth control in socialist publications. A. Philip Randolph published The Messenger, a socialist magazine for blacks. Painter John Sloan was art editor of The Masses, a socialist magazine which published articles by John Reed and pioneer feminist Crystal Eastman. Huge socialist encampments in states like Kansas and Oklahoma listened to popular orators like Kate Richard O’Hare. Helen Keller, advocate of the disabled, spoke frequently for socialist causes.
As an example of local socialist publications, Berger and Frederic Heath published a weekly, The Social Democratic Herald, in the first decade of this century. After the 1910 success of the Socialists in Milwaukee, Berger with socialist support began publishing a daily, The Milwaukee Leader. This daily, which was published until 1938, was for a time the only socialist daily in the nation. It had a hectic existence, but was extremely important in its influence.
Second Decade of the Party
On the national scene in 1912, although there were personal disputes between Socialist leaders, the party put up a Presidential slate of Debs and Seidel. This ticket received 897,011 recorded votes, about 6% of the total vote that year.
Between 1905 and 1913, the socialist movement found itself in some difficult relations with the existence of an organization, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which exists to the present. This organization, founded in 1905, included as original signers Debs, William D. (Big Bill) Haywood and other Socialist Party members. The organization was based on the concept that there was an irrepressible conflict between the working class and the capitalist class and that the working class must defend itself if necessary through force. Government action also was eschewed as a means of changing society and no political party should be supported. The platform denounced craft unionism and favored industrial unionism. Debs resigned in 1906 because of the belief that the group was advocating violence, but other members continued to be active with Haywood serving on the national committee of the SPUSA.
In 1911 Haywood had made a speech in which he expressed impatience with evolutionary socialism and supported direct action. Matters came to a head in 1913 when Haywood was removed from the national committee by a mail vote. Followers of Haywood and his philosophy left the party at the time.
The electoral momentum toward socialism continued in various parts of the nation. In 1914 a highly qualified member of the party, Meyer London, was elected to the Congress from a district in New York. London was reelected in 1916, lost in 1918 because of the First World War, but was reelected in 1920.
The First World War
After 1912, the clouds of war formed in Europe and by 1914 the storm of the worst war that the world had experienced up to that time broke out. European socialist parties had long held that wars were the result of capitalists’ rivalries and therefore working people should not be killing each other for the benefit of capitalists. Within the American socialist movement there had always been people attracted to the movement by pacifism, but there was also a group who would favor war if it was to overthrow capitalism. Debs belonged to the latter group.
American socialists were profoundly distressed by the failure of European socialist parties to rise up in opposition to the war and call for a general strike against it. Rather for the most part the parties succumbed to the fierce internal pressures of nationalism in each country. Persons in the Socialist Party of America felt some of the same pressures against pacifism, pressures arising from ethnic, national and cultural loyalties or heritage. The official position of the party at first was neutrality in the conflict. Hillquit however formulated a series of proposals in 1915 to end the war. It was thought that these proposals later were adapted by President Wilson to become his famous Fourteen Points.
In the 1916 Presidential campaign, Debs declined to be the standard-bearer. Berger and Debs no doubt were encouraged by the experience of Meyer London in being elected to Congress recently. They may also have counted on the anti-war sentiment to help in a race for the House of Representatives. Berger and Debs both lost, though London as noted above was re-elected.
For presidential candidates, the party put up a slate of Alan T. Benson, a writer, and George R. Kirpatrick, a former college teacher and opponent of war. This slate received 585,113 votes, an indication of a good support of the party even when figures less prominent than Debs represented the party.
War fever continued to rise in the United States. President Wilson, despite a 1916 campaign pledge to keep the nation out of war, went over to the war advocates partly because of the strength of British propaganda and partly because of the ruthless war at sea conducted by the Germans.
When the United States entered the war in 1917, the Socialist Party, meeting in convention in St. Louis, after intense debate adopted a resolution condemning the war. Hillquit was one of the principal drafters. The resolution declaring unalterable opposition to the war carried 140 to 5 with 31 votes for a more central position. After the convention Hillquit went on to conduct a vigorous campaign for mayor of New York city on an anti war platform. Curiously he was never indicted by the government for this activity.
Wilson Administration Hostility to the Party
This convention action however put the party immediately in a stance of confrontation with the Wilson ministration which was determined to allow no opposition to the war. The administration, the press and even educational institutions moved against anti-war people, groups and publications. Persons who resisted the draft or were conscientious objectors were harshly treated. These included several socialists. The Milwaukee Leader had its mailing rights removed and came close to failing. Socialist papers like the New York Call and the American Socialist of Chicago were similarly harassed and interfered with.
Victor L. Berger, for editorials printed in the Leader, was charged with violation of the Espionage Act at the time he was campaigning for Congress in 1918. He was elected but the House of Representatives refused to seat him. In a subsequent trial he was, at the age of 59, sentenced to 20 years in prison by Federal Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis. Officers of the Socialist Party also were indicted and convicted on charges of treason. They included Adolph Germer, the national executive secretary, Irwin St. John Tucker and J. Louis Engdahl. Many other socialists felt the heavy hand of the government, especially in resisting the draft.
Debs himself was arrested after a speech in Canton, Ohio in 19l8.The speech was critical of the war though expressed only in moderate, but aggrieved terms. Debs was arrested, subjected to a prejudiced trial, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Debs was sent first to the federal penitentiary in Moundsville, W. VA, and then to the prison in Atlanta. Here he won the hearts of the other inmates. This unjust sentence was injurious to his health and he never fully recovered from it. When the bitterly vindictive Wilson Administration was replaced by the administration of Republican Warren G. Harding, Harding, who was personally, but not politically, sympathetic and friendly to Debs, pardoned him in 1921.
At the time of Berger’s indictment, after he had been elected to the House of Representatives, the House refused to seat him. Berger was again re-elected to the House of Representatives in1920 and again there was a fight against seating him. Ultimately he was seated and served until 1928. Since the departure of Berger from Congress, no other member of the Socialist party itself has been elected to the Congress, although in 1990 Bernard Sanders of Vermont, an Independent who considers himself a socialist, was elected.
The War’s Aftermath and the Emergence of Leninism
After the war was over, the attacks of the United States government were directed against ‘Reds’, persons who were sympathetic to socialism, labor, anti-war movements, or what was transpiring in the new Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The attention of the government moved away from socialists to the new phenomenon of people supporting the Bolshevik faction in the USSR who had taken over the government there.
It should be noted that the severe losses of life and property in the warring nations had pre-disposed many people in those nations to the idea of socialism or at least to some change to get rid of the royal heads of the states. The effects of the war in Russia were devastating to the people and resulted in a removal of the Czar through a revolution of moderates, in which Aleksandr Kerensky played a leading role and was instrumental in expanding civil liberties. The governing of Kerensky, however, was marked by disaffections of various kinds and the resulting government was not strong. The Imperial German Government, desiring to end the war on the Eastern Front in order to concentrate for a victory on the Western Front, financed a leader of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party (RSDWP), Vladimir I. Ulyanov, who operated under the pseudonym of ‘Lenin’, in an effort to take over the government of Russia from Kerensky. Lenin was a leader of the Bolshevik wing of the RSDWP, living in Zurich during the war. The Imperial German government financed his trip to Sweden, in a sealed train part of the way, and from there Lenin made his way to Russia. With the help of German money and clever tactics Lenin and his faction succeeded in getting control of the government of Russia in October, 1917,established the Russian Communist Party, and took the nation out of the war thus releasing German troops for moving to the Western front.
Lenin founded the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but its life was assured by the genius of Lev D. Bronstein, native born Russian, who once was active in a socialist local in New York City. Bronstein had adopted the pseudonym of ‘Leon Trotsky’. As an associate of Lenin he became commander of the Communist forces in the new government and was able to save the government for Lenin by self-taught military skill.
Communist Party Attacks on the Socialist Movements
Lenin had developed his own variety of Marxism-Engelism. This was the concept that though there was to be a dictatorship of the proletariat, the proletariat could not effectively seize power from the capitalists. This seizure must be achieved by an elite Communist Party which thereafter rules in the name of the proletariat and permits no other political movements or groups. The Communist Party alone would speak for the proletariat and error is not permitted by stern measures. Thus the element of democracy and expression of divergent views so dear to other socialists was effectively eliminated in the USSR and all Leninist parties everywhere.
Lenin in dictatorship developed Communist parties in many foreign nations, with the fundamental intention that they should be subservient to the Soviet Communist Party and hence to him. These parties were to carry out Soviet foreign policy, even if the sacrifice of their own interests and members was required. To achieve this end Lenin caused to be formed in March, 1919 a ‘Communist International’, which was to be the controlling agency over affiliated Communist parties throughout the world.
One of the primary targets of the Communist International was to get control of or destroy socialist or social democratic parties everywhere. The important Socialist Party of America thus became a target. The appeal of the October Revolution was particularly strong for a time in the United States. Even Debs identified with it for a short time until he perceived its murderous suppression of rights. The appeal of the Soviet Union was particularly strong in the foreign language sections of the Socialist Party. There were seven of these with large memberships. Within the party a Left Wing group was formed in 1919. This group called for a revolutionary workers’ party which would seize power by force if necessary. The National Executive Committee of the party was under the control of persons who had been long time socialists. They were called the Old Guard. Although it is likely that the majority of the members of the party, when the large membership of the foreign language sections is considered, wanted affiliation with the Communist International, the Old Guard was able to maintain itself in authority. Mass expulsions from the party occurred, mostly of the foreign language sections. Lenin thus had successfully weakened the Socialist Party of America.
Another factor in weakening the Socialist Party was the claim of the Communist Party of the USSR that what it was doing was building ‘socialism’. Lenin who had ruthlessly killed off or imprisoned his opposition was succeeded by an even more ruthless man, Joseph V. Dzhugashvili. Dzhugashvili had taken the name of ‘Joseph Stalin’. Though mass killings of rivals and whole peoples took place in the USSR under Stalin, yet the functioning of the USSR was described as socialism in action. The word ‘socialism’ thus became discredited as representing a system which grossly violated human rights in the name of the Communist Party and the dictatorship of the proletariat. To this day in many parts of the world and especially in the United States, the term ‘socialism’ is equated by many people, ignorantly or deliberately, with that form of Communism known as ‘Stalinism.’ The Socialist Party of America could not educate adequately for the public to understand that what happened under Stalin and Lenin was not socialism.
Third Decade Activities of the Party
In 1920 the Socialist Party again nominated Debs for President when he was in prison. That year he received a total of 919,799 votes, his largest total. However the party membership having been weakened by war and the Communists split fell from 100, 504 to 26,766. Seymour Stedman, Chicago, was his running mate.
During the 1920’s and before in many cities, socialists had worked closely with labor unions. During the war the railway brotherhoods were on record for public ownership of the railways.
The United Mine Workers of American in 1921 favored an American Labor party. In the Midwest and plains states there were movements related to Populism and movements like the Nonpartisan League of North Dakota and Farmer-Labor movement of Minnesota which headstrong planks and programs of a socialist nature. In 1922 union presidents from the machinists union and railway brotherhoods formed a Conference for Progressive Political Action at which Socialist leaders were present. The hope among socialists was that a major new party would be formed with labor and socialist objectives in its platform.
At a convention of this CPPA in 1924 in Cleveland, the socialists sought to crystallize a third party, but were unsuccessful. Nevertheless when the convention endorsed Senator Robert M. La Follette of Wisconsin, a Progressive Republican for the office of President, a subsequent Socialist convention supported him. La Follette ran with Senator Burton K. Wheeler and the slate received 4,822,856votes.
Norman Thomas as the Spokesperson of the Party
Eugene Victor Debs died on October20, 1926 in Elmhurst, Illinois. At a memorial service for him at his home in Terre Haute, Norman Thomas gave, the eulogy. Thomas, born in Marion, Ohio in 1884, was a graduate of Princeton and an ordained Presbyterian minister who had served at the Spring Street Settlement House in New York. The conditions he observed there expanded his concept of social concerns. He was drawn into the orbit of socialist activity by Morris Hillquit’s campaign for mayor of New York in 1917, in which an anti-war position was the theme. In 1924 he was a candidate for Governor of New York but polled something less than 100,000 votes at a time when the CPPA slate nationally polled over 4.8 million votes.
Thomas also was an editor, a journalist and a platform speaker with a style and manner that was not matched for its effectiveness. In 1925 he was a candidate for mayor of New York. He was also active in many groups like the League for Industrial Democracy. He had developed into the chief spokesperson for the party. Thus in 1928 the party nominated him for President. His campaign, although resulting in only 275,000 votes, attracted many native-born Americans and many intellectuals and set the stage for the adoption by the New Deal of many socialist measures in the depression of 1929-1940.In 1929 Thomas again ran for Mayor of New York and this time with a larger popular support among the press, secured 175,000 votes.
Thomas’ presidential candidacies were greatly helped by his running mate, James H. Maurer of Pennsylvania. Jim Maurer, a member of the Socialist Party since 1902, had been a machinist and active in the labor movement. He had been president of the Pennsylvania Federation of Labor from 1912 to 1929 and had served three terms in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as a socialist. He came from Reading which had a strong socialist movement and which had elected many public officials.
The Great Depression of 1929and Its Impact on the Party
The economic panic of 1929 and the ensuing depression tended to strengthen the Socialist Party. Where there were active socialist local organizations as in Bridgeport, New York, Milwaukee and Reading, they gained new adherents as the result of severe conditions of poverty and unemployment which workers faced. However this same depression gave the party some serious internal problems. The seeming success of the USSR, and the growth of the Communist Party, had great appeal to many people. Some persons in the party, both new and older members, were enthralled by what they thought was developing in the USSR and Communist world. A movement then appeared to have the party become more radical and either join the Third International or officially recognize the USSR as a truly socialist state and follow its direction. Other members who were oriented to the trade union movement and who were appalled by the loss of rights in the USSR resisted this trend. The former group which had many younger members were known as the ‘Militants’ and the older members were known as the ‘Old Guard’. This phenomenon of generational difference over party philosophy has appeared several times in the party history.
The struggle was particularly virulent at a convention of the party in Milwaukee in 1934 in which the Militants sought unsuccessfully to elect Daniel W. Hoan as national chairperson instead of Hillquit. Hoan was not himself a Militant. Many of the Militants, though not Communist, also sought more active roles for the party in trade union organizing and were later to get them when John L. Lewis started his organizing of the Congress of Industrial Organizations(CIO). This Militant-Old Guard conflict began a movement which eventually resulted in many of the Old Guard leaving the party for other organizations and many of the Militants themselves getting drawn into the orbit of Stalinist, Trotskyist or Maoist organizations. A centrist group around Thomas remained in the party.
The Election of Franklin D. Roosevelt
The election of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Democratic candidate, as President in 1932 presented the Socialist Party with another great challenge. Roosevelt had gained the strong support of trade union leaders. These leaders in turn demanded of their union organizers loyalty and fealty to the Democratic party. Thus many labor leaders who had been socialist left the party, on orders of and compulsion by the top leaders in their unions, to campaign for Roosevelt. Several more labor organizers closely associated with Thomas thus left the party and no longer supported his candidacy when he ran for President in 1936.
An example of this pressure on the party was found in Milwaukee where the party was given a serious setback. Socialists had made substantial gains in city and county government elections in 1932.However, the leaders of the Wisconsin Federation of Labor who had been associated with the Socialist Party in Wisconsin demanded that the party get off the Wisconsin ballot and join forces with the Wisconsin Progressives in order to get state labor legislation passed. In 1935 the Wisconsin party did so. In 1936 elections, the members of the Party functioning within the Farmer
Labor Progressive Federation, lost most of the seats in Milwaukee city and county governments and retained only the major post of mayor. The Partying Wisconsin did not regain its ballot status until 1941. Labor leaders and Progressives were moving into the Democratic Party because the Democrats had adopted a large number of the Socialist Party immediate demands, and had created public jobs which were given out in the form of patronage.
Continued Communist Efforts to Penetrate the Socialist Party
In addition to the troubles that the party faced with the Democrats’ hold over trade union leadership and public jobs, the party also had to continue its struggle against attempted Communist penetration and control nationally and locally. Communists were persistent in boring from within and developing united fronts, organizations without the name of Communism, but in effect controlled by them. Thus the Communists gained control of important sections of the trade union movement.
The support which the Socialist Party gave nationally to the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1935 further alienated the top leadership of the AFL from the Party. The brothers Victor, Walter and Roy Reuther, leaders in the new United Auto Workers, were the children of a former Socialist Party candidate for the U. S. House of Representatives.
The Evil of ‘National Socialism’
Events of the 1930’s arising out the triumph of so-called ‘National Socialism’ in Germany under Adolf Hitler and of fascism in Italy under Mussolini also had their impacts on the Socialist Party of America. In the case of the rise of Hitlerism and fascism, the Party was torn by division over how to respond to such developments. At a special convention in Detroit in 1934, the Militant caucus of the party had secured the adoption of a statement known as’ The Detroit Declaration of Principles.’ This statement said that the party would respond to war and preparations for war by massed resistance and a general strike. However, the Soviet Union, which saw in the Nazis and fascists a threat to itself, began warming up to the Democratic national administration after denouncing it. The Communists called for a united front against Nazism and fascism, and this meant use of force to defeat them.
Generally speaking the party in the past had adopted an almost pacifist position, and the conviction existed that all wars were the result of capitalist aggressions. However Hitler and the Nazi movement were willing to destroy not only socialism, despite the Nazi name, but Jews and non-Aryan people. The Socialist Party of America had always had a considerable number of persons of Jewish extraction in it and many of its most important leaders like Hillquit, Berger, Waldman and others were of Jewish heritage. Among Jewish members of the party then there was a grave concern over the party’s pacifism.
Matters within the party grew critical in 1935 when a rebellion in the Spanish military forces, supported by Hitler and Mussolini, set itself to destroy a democratically elected government in Spain. There was thus a movement to support a united front of non fascist nations against Hitler, Mussolini and their Spanish agent, General Franco, in the Spanish Civil War. The world Socialist movement was divided on what to do. The Communist parties of the world and of the United States sent military volunteers, equipment and supplies to Spain. Further over time in Spain, the Communists gained control of the response against Franco, even to the liquidating of allies to do so. Democratic Socialists on the other hand were hesitant to call for military action because of their pacifism. The Socialist Party, however, sponsored a group of socialist volunteers to serve in the International Brigade.
This situation was never resolved satisfactorily in the world socialist movement, especially because the memory of the awful slaughter of the First World War was still in the minds of the British and French people. The Socialist government of France was able to send aid to Spain only covertly because of right-wing opposition. This memory also prevented a firm and early response against the Nazi takeover of Germany and the destruction of the Weimar Republic. Because of the hesitancy of the Socialist Party of America to develop a stance of military response to the fascists, many persons who felt the need for such a response turned to other movements.
The Problem with Trotskyists
Another problem confronting the Socialist Party in the 1930’s was that posed by the entrance of Trotskyists into the party. The earliest Communists in the United States, as well as in other parts of the world, had become split over the ascendancy of Stalin when his attacks on Trotsky resulted in Trotsky’s exile. Two leaders of the American Trotsky movement, both originally Stalin Communists, were Max Shachtman and James Cannon. They had formed a Workers Party, but in 1936 decided that the party members would have a wider arena of activity if the members were in the Socialist Party. Accordingly the party dissolved and members, including Shachtman, entered the Socialist Party. Because their entrance was resisted by non-Trotskyists, these members were expelled and they formed the Socialist Workers Party in 1937.
Shachtmanites and Cannonites later split over disagreements on the Hitler-Stalin Pact. The minority group (the Shachtmanites) formed the Workers Party which later became the Independent Socialist League.
The Social Democratic Federation
In 1936 also a group of Socialist party members, distressed over the Militant-Old Guard Conflict, left the party and formed the Social Democratic Federation, supporting Roosevelt and the New Deal in the 1936 election. This group included many of the leading intellectuals of the party. This group had mostly an eastern membership. It constituted the rightwing of the American Labor Party in New York state which in the next decade became the Liberal Party.
In 1936 the Socialist party again nominated Thomas for President. His running mate this time was George Nelson, a Wisconsin farmer. The vote was 187,720. In 1940 Thomas ran with Maynard Krueger, a professor at the University of Chicago, and the vote total was now 116,796. This vote was diminished not only by various splits in the party, but by a rising national war fever and also by the fact that many unemployed persons were getting jobs in war industries and voting Democratic.
The Second World War
Efforts toward unity prior to the Second World War between the Socialist Party and the Social Democratic Federation foundered on the prospects of a war against Hitler. The majority of the Socialist Party opposed entrance into the war, while the Social Democratic Federation membership favored participation under certain circumstances. When the war came, the Socialist Party stressed the formation of an international organization to help keep the peace and remove the cause of war. The party continued to call for public ownership and for establishing civil rights.
The Second World War also affected the Party adversely. Many of the younger members were drafted, and many others went into camps for conscientious objectors. The work of a party committed to peace seemed irrelevant in a world where Hitlerism and Fascism needed to be destroyed. Many of the drafted members never returned to activity in the party, though some of the conscientious objectors did.
During the war in 1944 Thomas again was the candidate for President with Darlington Hoopes of Reading, a member of the Society of Friends and former Pennsylvania state legislator, as his running mate. The Socialist Party was unique that year in denouncing Stalin’s labor camps and in demanding freedom for interned Japanese Americans. The vote total for them was 80,518.
After the war, the party struggled to go forward with a program appropriate to changed conditions, one which emphasized world peace, anti-war activities especially in light of the existence of the atomic bomb, and the continued emphasis on social reform and civil rights. Housing, refurbishing of public equipment, and controlling inflation occupied the attention of local Socialist parties. Socialist mayors were present in three middle sized cities-Jasper McLevy in Bridgeport, J. Henry Stump in Reading, and Frank Zeidler in Milwaukee.
Changes in the Party
Thomas ran as a Socialist Party candidate for President for the last time in 1948. His vote total was 139,521votes. The Socialist Party at the time was in opposition not only to the Democratic and Republican parties but to the Independent Progressive Party whose candidate was Henry Wallace. While the IPP favored a foreign policy of peace, its domestic program was a weak one from a socialist viewpoint, and there was a belief among many people that the IPP had become a front for Stalinists and the Communist party.
Thomas did not run for President or other office after 1948 and later felt that the Socialist party should only be an educational organization. The majority of the party did not agree. In 1952the party’s candidate was Darlington Hoopes. His running mate was Samuel Friedman, an active labor leader in New York and teacher. The ticket polled 40,000 votes. Hoopes and Friedman again were the candidates in 1956.
In the late 1950’s there was an effort to find unity between the Social Democratic Federation and the Socialist Party. This was accomplished with some members of the SDF in 1958. The new organization was known as the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation with Frank Zeidler, mayor of the City of Milwaukee at the time, as national chairperson.
In 1958 Max Shachtman of the Independent Socialist League led his followers into the Socialist Party. He proceeded to fill a leadership role in the party with writings, speeches and brilliant polemics. Norman Thomas was becoming less physically able to play any role in the party except as revered former national chairperson.
Death of Norman Thomas
Norman Thomas died in 1968 at the age of 84. The great strength and appeal of Thomas was not merely his pacifism, but his championing of the cause of the unemployed, people in social need, sharecroppers and minorities. He was highly praised by leaders like Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez. Thomas was especially popular at universities and colleges, and was also influential with the American press, which while it did not accept his candidacies, often supported his views and principals. The ameliorating laws passed in the New Deal era for labor and social services owe their existence in substantial part to the Socialist Party and to Thomas.
Shachtman Policies in the Party
In the 1940’s the party office had moved from Chicago to New York and the internal relationships of the party had become increasingly involved in internal New York City groups and differing philosophies about socialism.
Shachtman himself was becoming increasingly conservative, seeking to exert major influence over the existing national and international trade union leadership, and also having a concern over the fate of the new State of Israel which came into existence in1948.
In many parts of the nation there were still local organizations of the Socialist Party with other tendencies and traditions at work. They more strongly emphasized independent socialist action and less reverence for the top trade union leadership. In the1950’s civil rights came to the fore as a national issue and socialists became involved in the civil rights struggles.
Socialist Party as a Lobbying and Pressure Group
After 1956 the party did not run candidates for Presidents and concentrated, at least on the national scene, on trade union work. Many of the younger people who came into the party with Shachtman and some of those who had earlier been in the party from the 1940’s became top union leaders, organizers or educational directors.
However in the civil rights movement some of the older members of the party were among the first to initiate a leadership role. One of these was Walter Bergman, Detroit, one of the first freedom riders who was beaten severely for his daring. Socialists also took leadership in opposing the movement known as ‘McCarthyism’ which arose during the 1950’s.
To many liberals and even some socialists, the attractiveness of Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic Presidential candidate in 1952and 1956 brought them into the Democratic Party. This movement was strengthened by the election of John Kennedy to the Presidency in 1960.
In the 1960’s the national attention moved way from the Socialist Party to groups who were active in civil rights demonstrations, groups who claimed to be the New Left and groups that were influenced by the philosophies of Lenin, Trotsky and Mao. In 1960 the Student-Non-violent Coordinating Committee was formed and in 1962 the Students for a Democratic Society. The latter produced a manifesto, the Port Huron statement, partly socialist in character. By 1968 this latter group had split into various factions with a Leninist orientation and some with a commitment to extreme violence for the overthrow of society. The SDS, curiously, was originally the Student League for Industrial Democracy of which the SDS philosopher, Harry W. Laidler was the head. However the SDS philosophy, contrary to Lid’s was for the use of force to change society.
The Vietnam War
The involvement of the United States in a war in Vietnam beginning during the Kennedy administration had impact on the Socialist Party of America. Anti-war elements in the party opposed such involvement. However some of the top leadership under Shachtmanite influence supported it on the grounds that it would be an opposition to a growing Communist influence in the world, an influence that would certainly also be opposed to the new State of Israel.
A number of younger people had joined the Socialist Party in the1950’s and 1960’s. Included among these was Michael Harrington who came into socialist activities by way of the Catholic Worker movement. Harrington was in the Young People’s Socialist League in the 1950’s and left to join the Independent Socialist League of Shachtman. With that group he entered the caucus of Shachtman. Harrington was also active in the LID. In 1962 he published his famous book, THE OTHER AMERICA, which dealt with poverty in the United States and became the basis of a program in the Democratic party.
The Realignment and Debs Caucuses
By the time of the 1968 convention of the Socialist party two caucuses had developed representing differences in policy. Harrington and Shachtman were aligned in the majority caucus, called the Realignment caucus because it was favorable to re-aligning the movement inside the Democratic Party for increased power there through its already great influence in sections of the labor movement where Shachtman’s adherents had important positions. The Realignment caucus was basically in favor of the war in Vietnam as a means of checking Soviet Communist expansion. The other caucus was the Debs caucus which, as its name indicates, was attempting to perpetuate the ideals of Debs, especially in anti-war sentiments.
By 1970, the Realignment caucus divided into a majority group led by Shachtman and a Coalition group led by Harrington. The issue was over how much support should be given to the war in Vietnam, the Shachtman caucus favoring more support and the Harrington caucus less, but without a pull-out from Vietnam. In both groups, however, there was also a growing sentiment that the term ‘socialist’ was now too much identified with the Stalinist type of Communism. Even though Stalin was dead his successors were pursuing his policies.
In a 1972 convention of the Socialist Party-SDF (Socialist Party of America), the delegates voted in the majority to change the name of the party to Social Democrats, USA. By 1973 Harrington’s Coalition caucus left the Social Democrats, USA, and began a process which resulted in the formation of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee and later the Democratic Socialists of America (1982).Ultimately the SDUSA continued rightward with some leaders supporting first Nixon, then Reagan and ultimately helping the Nicaraguan Contras.
Regrouping in the Socialist Party
In late 1972 and early 1973, Illinois Socialists, especially Virgil J. Vogel, circulated letters calling for the continuation of the Socialist Party. The Debs caucus continued to function, as did state parties in several places, notably California and Wisconsin. The activity resulted in a conference in Milwaukee in May of 1973. At the conference, upon a motion by Vogel, the conference became a convention of the Reconstituted Socialist Party of America on May 26,1973.
Since the Socialist Party of Wisconsin had continually maintained an office in Milwaukee from about 1898, the Wisconsin party offered space in its office for a national office for the reconstituted party. The first national secretary of the Socialist Party USA was Abraham Bassford IV of Brooklyn. The new party adopted The Socialist Tribune, formerly the paper of the Debs Caucus, as its official paper. This paper was published in the Los Angeles area and Bill and Mae Briggs were doing much of the work to put it out. The current party publication, The Socialist, is the lineal descendant of The Socialist Tribune. The office of the party continued in Milwaukee into late the 80’sand Zeidler served as national chairperson until 1984.
Resumption of Electoral Action
At a convention of the SPUSA in Milwaukee in 1975, the convention voted to put forth a presidential slate Zeidler was nominated for President and J. Quinn Brisben, a history teacher in the Chicago public schools and civil rights champion, was nominated for Vice President. The slate was able to get on the ballot in eight states and encountered the new difficult state ballot laws around the nation. Brisben did much of the traveling in the campaign and was very popularly received. Much of the campaign was devoted to educating the public on what socialism is.
On December 20,1975 the Metropolitan Block, the location of the party office in Milwaukee burned in a huge fire lasting about24 hours. The fire was of suspicious origin. Many of the precious historical records of the national, Wisconsin state and Milwaukee County parties were destroyed. Nevertheless party members rallied to support and a new office was found quickly and the national office resumed its work.
The 1976 Presidential race brought new members into the party, especially in Iowa where William Douglas was the principal organizer, and in the Milwaukee area. Among the members joining were Diane Drufenbrock, a college professor and member of a Catholic religious order, and Beatrice Hermann, a vocational school teacher. Hermann, who was one eighth Cree Indian, especially concerned herself with American Indian conditions.
The efforts of the Socialist Party, USA as an electoral party to receive recognition from the Socialist International were denied. The SI however continues to recognize both the SDUSA and DSA, neither of which were political parties but merely lobbying groups. DSA related its work to the Democratic party. SDUSA however became very influential in Republican and Democratic circles and developed some of the foreign policy stances of the Republicans. Some of the militants of the Socialist Party in the 1930’s, 40’s and50’s became mentors for the extreme Right of the Republican party.
In 1977 and 1978 a Milwaukee group associated with then national secretary Tom Spiro formed a group called the Revolutionary Marxist tendency and sought to gain control of the party. The group was essentially Leninist in character and included some recently admitted members. The move to change the party to a Leninist party lost in a convention in Coralville, Iowa in 1978.
In 1980 the party nominated for President of the United States David McReynolds of New York, a longtime peace activist and the first openly gay candidate for national office of any political party. For Vice President it nominated Diane Drufenbrock of Milwaukee, a Franciscan nun and professor of mathematics. McReynolds, active in the War Resisters League, emphasized both anti-war activities and civil and human rights. The candidates were able to get on more state ballots, but it was still difficult getting ballot status and raising funds.
The Party Becomes Feminist-Socialist
During the 1980’s in America, a prevailing emphasis among people on the Left developed for women’s empowerment in a male dominated society. Much literature was printed on feminism, as to what it was or should be. The same trend also developed with force in the party. Since its beginning, the party has had a minority of women, although by 1980 a majority of the National Committee were women. A doctrine of ‘parity’ thus was advanced and became a subject of consideration in the party. By parity was meant that in the elected leadership of the party there whereto be at least as many women as men, no matter what the proportions were in the membership at large. This situation was effectuated at a national convention in Milwaukee in 1985 in which the voting by women delegates was counted with a weight of one and one half as compared to one for each male vote. This action in voting caused some disaffection and some withdrawal and loss of membership.
As part of the drive to elevate the power of women in the party, the platform of the party included the statement that the party was now a feminist-socialist party in character. In 1984 the party did not officially bring itself to an endorsement of a candidate, but members in the leadership entered into negotiations with the Citizens Party where Ramsay Clark was considered a presidential possibility. When, however, the radical feminist Sonia Johnson who would not affirm support of the socialist movement obtained the support of the Citizens Party, negotiations stopped.
Also in the 1980’s a movement developed to emphasize the principle of workers’ control of the work place. This produced some division in the party in that some members considered this a new variety of syndicalism.
Later in the 1980’s new emphasis was given to gay and lesbian rights in the party, and the advancement of such rights became a dominant theme in some sections of the party. This emphasis followed an emphasis on reproductive rights for women.
In 1988 the party nominated Willa Kenoyer of Michigan, a publisher and free-lance journalist and Ron Ehrenreich of New York, a social worker, for its candidates. Their vote total was reported as 3,882 but it must be remembered that by this time in the 1980’s votes of minority parties were often not totaled or even counted.
The Problem of Educating the Public as to True Socialism
In the course of its existence as the SPUSA the party was encountering a problem of its label ‘Socialist’ which was identified in the press as meaning that which is found in the Soviet Union. It also had a problem with the fact that some people continued to think it was the German National Socialist Workers Party (Nazis) in the United States. It was also encountering a problem of trade union leaders and members who favored the Democratic party mostly and followed the concept of Gomperism-no public ownership but the employers should pay higher wages and labor should ‘reward their friends and punish their enemies’-in the two major parties. The party also faced the fact that the students and other persons were joining cult-like political movements, essentially fascistic or authoritarian in character, identified with some person as the supreme leader. Even more lately student movements developed right wing characteristics and also were built around ethnic or racial differences.
The Socialist Party in the past usually had a Young Peoples’ Socialist League (YPSL), though not in every place. Members of the YPSL often developed their own programs, and many times were at loggerheads with the party itself over issues. Recently there has been a move to reconstitute the YPSL.
Electoral Action, Lobbying, Demonstrating
With few exceptions, such as in Iowa City, socialists have moved away from electoral action and into lobbying, demonstrating and participating in other movements such as the anti-war movement, the movement to preserve the environment, and advancement of civil rights in various parts of the world. For many people now electoral activity at the polls does not appear to be the way in which changes can be affected in society, particularly with the arrival of television and the money needed to project a party image on it.
Concerning electoral activity, special note should be taken of the fact that currently in Iowa City, Socialist Karen Kubby is a council member. Members of the party have run from time to time as independents in various local races. David Schall of Shorewood, Wisconsin, served as an elected member on the village board there. In Iowa the party has from time to time put up state candidates. In some cities such as Milwaukee the party has taken a lead in forming coalitions to support local candidates. The party however was never strong at any time in attracting Blacks or Hispanics or other persons from other than a European background. During the earliest history of the party, it had a considerable component of farmers, and this was especially true in the Great Depression. It also had good representation in states like Oklahoma, Kansas, Montana and Washington.
A movement which advocates peaceful change at the ballot box toward a socialist and cooperative society is having increasing difficulty. Also some persons of the Left see in public agencies – schools, housing authorities, social welfare agencies, and the police war stance in meeting of the national committee in Milwaukee which opposed the United States going to war in the Persian Gulf instead of negotiating a solution.
A question now is whether it is advisable that the Socialist party should again present a Presidential slate in 1992 and encourage its members to run for Congressional seats as a means of advancing its cause. The times seem favorable with the loss of employment, hard times facing the workers, and a huge national debt and the danger from weapons of mass destruction.
Notes on Certain Officers and Members of the SPUSA
Since the reconstituting of the party in 1973, major support has come from the Southern California locals where Margaret Feigin, now Margaret Phair, former national co chairperson, and Charles Curtiss devoted great efforts to keeping the national party functioning. In the Middle West, Max and Sylvia Wohl of the Cleveland metropolitan region assisted greatly with their support. William Douglas of Iowa organized many locals and brought in new members. Donald Busky of Philadelphia helped maintain the party presence in Pennsylvania.
Persons holding the office of National Secretary in order of their tenure were Abraham (Brahm) Bassford IV, Brooklyn, William Osborne Hart, Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, Lee Webster, Chicago, Steven Rossignol, Austin, Texas, Tom Spiro, Rick Kissell, Milwaukee, Donald Doumakes, Iowa City, and Ann Rosenhaft, New York. The party office was located in three places in Milwaukee, two locations in Chicago and in New York in eighteen years. Editors of the official publication have included Bill Briggs, Robert E . Schlichter and Charles Curtiss and Margaret Phair. Special note should be made for Ervin A. Koth, Milwaukee, who was the national party treasurer until he died from cancer in 1979. Beatrice Herrman, Milwaukee, active on the National Committee, championed the cause of women and of the Native or Indian Americans.
The above recital of the history of the organization now known as the Socialist Party USA is of necessity very much lacking in detail. Many people, early and late, who made great contributions to the movement cannot be mentioned in this account. However, there are many books which give in greater detail the events and conditions referred to above. A list of some of these books is available. In the books they are bibliographies of still other books. The literature about socialist, labor and cooperative ideas, philosophies and movements is very large. One thing indicated is that not only the American public, but also the members of the party should engage in systematic study about socialism, its values and its meanings. Further, the study of the lives and positions of individuals in the movement is highly illuminating for historical reasons and for understanding human conduct. Though the conflicts of groups and the foibles of individuals in the party seem overwhelming, yet in the overview of party history, human society in this nation and the world have benefited from the vision of a democratic socialism.
Frank P. Zeidler
July l8, 1991
Frank P. Zeidler. (1912-2006), a life-long Socialist, served as Mayor of Milwaukee from 1948 through 1960. He was later recognized by Milwaukee Magazine as the best mayor Milwaukee has ever had. As a citizen, socialist, public official, and activist in numerous religious, community and civic organizations, Frank Zeidler devoted his life to the causes of peace, democracy, economic progress, and a clean environment.