Socialist Party of America

The Socialist Party of America (SPA) was a socialist political party in the United States formed in 1901 by a merger between the three-year-old Social Democratic Party of America and disaffected elements of the Socialist Labor Party of America which had split from the main organization in 1899.[1]

Socialist Party of America
FoundedJuly 29, 1901; 120 years ago (1901-07-29)
DissolvedDecember 31, 1972; 49 years ago (1972-12-31)
Preceded bySocial Democratic Party of America
Succeeded bySocial Democrats, USA (majority; de jure)
Socialist Party USA (minority)
Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (minority)
HeadquartersWashington D.C. (minority)
Youth wingYoung People's Socialist League
Political positionLeft-wing
International affiliationSecond International (1901–1916)
Labour and Socialist International (1923–1940)
Socialist International (1951–1972)
Colors  Red

In the first decades of the 20th century, it drew significant support from many different groups, including trade unionists, progressive social reformers, populist farmers and immigrants. However, it refused to form coalitions with other parties, or even to allow its members to vote for other parties. Eugene V. Debs twice won over 900,000 votes in presidential elections (1912 and 1920) while the party also elected two Representatives (Victor L. Berger and Meyer London), dozens of state legislators, more than a hundred mayors, and countless lesser officials.[2] The party's staunch opposition to American involvement in World War I, although welcomed by many, also led to prominent defections, official repression, and vigilante persecution. The organization was further shattered by a factional war over how to respond to the October Revolution in the Russian Republic in 1917 and the establishment of the Communist International in 1919—many members left the party in favor of the Communist Party USA.

After endorsing Robert M. La Follette's presidential campaign in 1924, the party returned to independent action at the presidential level. It had modest growth in the early 1930s behind presidential candidate Norman Thomas. The party's appeal was weakened by the popularity of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, the organization and flexibility of the Communist Party under Earl Browder and the resurgent labor movement's desire to support sympathetic Democratic Party politicians. A divisive and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to broaden the party by admitting followers of Leon Trotsky and Jay Lovestone caused the traditional Old Guard to leave and form the Social Democratic Federation. While the party was always strongly anti-fascist as well as anti-Stalinist, its opposition to American entry in World War II cost it both internal and external support.

The party stopped running presidential candidates after 1956, when its nominee Darlington Hoopes won fewer than 6,000 votes. In the party's last decades, its members, many of them prominent in the labor, peace, civil rights, and civil liberties movements, fundamentally disagreed about the socialist movement's relationship to the labor movement and the Democratic Party and about how best to advance democracy abroad. In 1970–1973, these strategic differences had become so acute that the Socialist Party of America changed its name to Social Democrats, USA. Leaders of two of its caucuses formed separate socialist organizations, namely the Socialist Party USA and the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, the latter of which became a precursor to the Democratic Socialists of America.

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