Workers Party (United States)

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Not to be confused with Workers Party, USA.

The Workers Party (WP) was a Third Camp Trotskyist group in the United States. It was founded in April 1940 by members of the Socialist Workers Party who opposed the Soviet invasion of Finland. They included Max Shachtman, who became the new group's leader, Hal Draper, C. L. R. James, Martin Abern, Joseph Carter, Julius Jacobson, and Irving Howe. The party's politics are often referred to as Shachtmanite.

At the time of the split, almost 40% of the membership of the SWP left the SWP. The WP had approximately 500 members. Although it recruited among workers and youth during the war years it never grew substantially, despite having more impact than its numbers would suggest.

Early years[edit]

By 1941 the party had developed a minority tendency which was grouped around the figures of two leading intellectuals CLR James and Raya Dunayevskaya. This tendency took the name the Johnson-Forest Tendency for its principal leaders' pseudonyms. It developed the viewpoint that Russia was state capitalist. The tendency developed the view that the WP should rejoin the Fourth International due to the imminence of a pre-revolutionary situation. In the meantime the SWP had from 1943 onwards developed a loose oppositional tendency led by Felix Morrow and Albert Goldman which, among other things, called for the WP to be readmitted to the SWP.

In 1945 and 1946, these two tendencies argued for their parties to regroup. However, discussions decelerated after Goldman was found to be working with the WP's leadership. He left the SWP in May 1946 to join the WP, with a small group of supporters including James T. Farrell. C. L. R. James' tendency left the WP in October 1947 in order to rejoin the SWP, while Farrell and Goldman left in 1948 to join the Socialist Party of America.

Working in the labor movement, the party grew rapidly, largely as at a time of labor shortages which allowed its mainly New York Jewish intellectual members to take industrial jobs which would otherwise have been closed to them. At the same time the draft prevented the construction of a stable industrial base as much of the youthful membership was inducted into the armed forces. In the same period younger members, for example were recruited.

Youth organizations[edit]

The organization created a youth section, the Socialist Youth League in 1946. After the merger of a number of a group from the Young Peoples Socialist League in the early 1950s, including Michael Harrington, it renamed itself the Young Socialist League. They merged back with the YPSL at about the same time as the adult organization was merging with the SP-SDF in August 1958. A group led by Tim Wohlworth did not approve of this merger and joined the SWP affiliated Young Socialist Alliance.

International affiliation[edit]

Having departed the SWP the newly founded WP found itself outside the ranks of the Fourth International too but continued to consider itself to be in political sympathy with the movement internationally. In order to give expression to this the WP founded a Committee for the Fourth International to regroup its international co-thinkers, including a group of emigre Germans. After WW 2 Shachtman would attend the Second World congress of the Fourth International as an observer only to reject the organisation as irredeemably sectarian.

Independent Socialist League[edit]

In 1949, the group renamed itself the Independent Socialist League. It was removed from the US Attorney General's List of Subversive Organizations after a lengthy court battle, but failed to grow as Howe and others exited the organization to start the political magazine Dissent.

From 1949 the organization published an internal discussion bulletin for its members called Forum.[1]

In 1957, the ISL joined the Socialist Party of America, dissolving the following year. Some members took leading positions in the Socialist Party. A small group around Hal Draper left to form the Independent Socialist Clubs.

"Third Camp"[edit]

From the start, the group distinguished itself from the SWP by advocating a Third Camp perspective. In an article published in April 1940, entitled "The Soviet Union and the World War", Shachtman concluded:

The revolutionary vanguard must put forward the slogan of revolutionary defeatism in both imperialist camps, that is, the continuation of the revolutionary struggle for power regardless of the effects on the military front. That, and only that, is the central strategy of the third camp in the World War, the camp of proletarian internationalism, of the socialist revolution, of the struggle for the emancipation of all the oppressed.

The group soon developed an analysis of the Soviet Union as bureaucratic collectivist. It was the first group to use the slogan "Neither Washington nor Moscow", implying that they preferred neither capitalism nor the states allied to the Soviet Union.

Footnotes[edit]

Publications[edit]

Similarly named parties[edit]

External links[edit]