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Social Democrats USA
Founded 1973 (1973)
Headquarters P.O. Box 5307, Johnstown, PA 15904-528
Ideology Social democracy
Political position Fiscal: Center-left
Social: Center-left
International affiliation Socialist International (lapsed)
Official colors Red
Politics of the United States
Political parties

Social Democrats, USA (SDUSA), one of three successor organizations emerging from the historic Socialist Party of America (SP), was a coalition of democratic, anti-Communist intellectuals and trade unionists, whose active life lasted for about three decades after its foundation in 1973.


Organizational history



By 1972, the American left was deeply split into a multiplicity of factional groupings. Even a numerically small organization, such as the historic Socialist Party, was bitterly divided over questions such as the socialist position on the Vietnam War and the perspective to be taken by socialists towards the "New Politics" of insurgent Democratic Party Presidential hopeful George McGovern. Central was the question which had tormented the Socialist Party since its Convention of 1912 — what should be the organization's policy towards those advocating syndicalism or socialism established by revolutionary means?

On the Socialist Party's Right were many of the primary officials of the party, including Max Shachtman, Tom Kahn, Charles S. Zimmerman, Bayard Rustin, Paul Feldman, Penn Kemble and Joan Suall, who saw in communism a heinous social system which must be stopped from expansion through the application of military force. They therefore opposed the unilateral withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam and looked askance from the motley anti-war movement, which included Maoists, supporters of Ho Chi Minh, Trotskyists, hippies, radical pacifists, and sundry others who alienated the social group they courted, the organized blue collar workers of the AFL-CIO. With respect to the McGovern campaign, this Right Wing of the Socialist Party followed the lead of AFL-CIO chief George Meany, a fierce anti-communist and supporter of American intervention in Southeast Asia, in adopting a policy of neutrality in the Presidential Election of 1972.

This orientation struck others in the party as little more than de facto support for American imperialism and the Nixon Administration's bloody war in Viet Nam. This opposition to the Socialist Party's primary leaders were unified in their explicit rejection of the Vietnam conflagration and hostile to the conservative AFL-CIO bureaucracy headed by George Meany. They were themselves divided, however, on the question as to whether continued dedication on the part of "New Politics" adherents in the Democratic Party could transform that historic bulwark of the status quo into a principled party of the left, advancing a social democratic agenda.

The pivotal turning point came at the end of December 1972, when the Socialist Party met in New York City in a Special Convention to discuss changing the name of the organization. It was argued by the main leadership group that the name of the organization not only alienated most Americans — the word "Socialist" being linked in the popular consciousness with the various "Actually Existing Socialisms" of the Soviet Union, China, and nations of Eastern Europe — but further was not reflective of the reality that the so-called "party" had abandoned use of the tactic of running its own candidates for public office since the late 1950s. The abandonment of the word "socialism" was seen by the opposition factions, on the other hand, as indicative of a lack of commitment of the leadership to the organization's socialist mission, a sort of kowtowing to conservative trade unionists and uninformed public opinion that would only accentuate the SP's slide towards conservatism in its domestic and international political outlook.

The Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, which sought to work largely within the Democratic Party and liberal movements, and the Union for Democratic Socialism, which wanted to ally with peace and progressive forces outside the Democratic Party. (The DSOC later became the Democratic Socialists of America and the UDS later became the Socialist Party USA.)

At the same time, and contributing indirectly to the larger splits, the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation voted in 1972 to merge with the much smaller Democratic Socialist Federation (based largely on New York Jewish trade unions and fraternal organizations); in 1973 the merged "SP-DSF" changed its name to "Social Democrats USA."

Although most of SD USA's members were Democrats[citation needed], the organization maintained ties with both major political parties[citation needed] and supported a strongly interventionist foreign policy.[1] It was unwavering in its support for Israel, strongly supported the 2003 war in Iraq, and came to generally favor the international policies of the United States under George W. Bush[citation needed], a stance which was also at odds with the views of the Continental European social democratic parties.[2]

Cold War

In the 1970s and 1980s, members of SD USA were sometimes referred to as "State Department socialists", for example by journalist Michael Massing [3] due to their support of hard-line Cold War policies. Prominent SD USA members served in the Reagan Administration (e.g. Elliot Abrams[3]), on the staff of the State Department, Labor Department and on Jeane Kirkpatrick's staff - one of SDUSA's leading figures, Carl Gershman, served as Kirkpatrick's aide when she was US Ambassador to the United Nations[3]. SD USA members have long been prominent at the National Endowment for Democracy (Gershman is the NED's president[3][4]) and Freedom House (SDUSA member Bruce McColm served as Freedom House's executive director[3]).

Influence on Neoconservative movement

Although some former members had become neoconservatives,[5], SD USA as an organization held many positions that were different from those of most neoconservatives[citation needed]. For instance, they strongly supported workers' rights at home and overseas and opposed many of the Bush administration's domestic policies[citation needed]. In the 1980s, the SD USA was perhaps best known for its support of Poland's Solidarity trade union.

One of its leading members, and its first National Chairman, was the late civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, though by the 1980s he was not active in the organization and focused most of his energies on the issue of gay rights[citation needed]. Other notable members have included Ben Wattenberg[citation needed], Sandra Feldman[citation needed], and Ronald Radosh[citation needed].

History since 2005

There was much speculation[6] that the death of the group's long time leader Penn Kemble would be SDUSA's demise. This tone was strongly felt in the January 2006 reminiscences of SD veteran Joshua Muravchik in Commentary Magazine.[5] The SDUSA website has not been updated since 2005, in 2007 the organization's membership in the Socialist International lapsed,[7] and the two telephone numbers and one fax number listed on the official website have been disconnected.

In 2008, a group centered around Pennsylvania members of SDUSA determined to re-launch the organization as the Social Democrats USA — Socialist Party, USA, reclaiming the right to use the name "Socialist" for local election activities, in defiance of the SPUSA, which they allege is illegitimately using the designation, as are SPUSA's allied groups.[8] This organization has applied to the International for re-activation of SDUSA's membership, to be granted to SD/SP.[citation needed]


External links


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