Introduction: This essay is an attempt to make sense of important early worker/labor organizations in the United States, and place their significance into a modern context. The Russian Revolution of 1917 was the global event that changed socialist party & labor organizing politics forever. I’ve sifted through a lot of content on Wikipedia to made this understandable.
Eugene V. Debs was instrumental in the founding of the American Railway Union (ARU) in 1893. Debs led the bitter Pullman Strike in 1894, and was jailed by US president Grover Cleveland Alexander over that. The Social Democracy of America (1897), the Social Democratic Party of America (1898), and the Socialist Party of America (1901) were political organizations founded by Eugene Debs, America’s most prominent early socialist leader. Debs twice (1912 & 1920) won nearly a million votes in a presidential election.
Socialist Party of America (SPA) opposition to US involvement in World War I (1914-18), was welcomed by many workers, who were about to be recruited to fight & die in the mud overseas. But the SPA was shattered by US government agents, who provoked constant factional warfare over how to respond to the Russian Revolution in 1917, and the establishment of the Communist International in 1919.
Many SPA members left in favor of the Communist Party (CP), which in 1928 fell completely under the influence of Joseph Stalin. By then, the Communist International was infiltrated with GPU spies, in every national section around the world.
One theme that comes up over & over in researching the history of American labor & socialist parties in the 20th-century is the constant factionalization, name changes, shifting alliances, break-ups & reformations. Why was this?
Modern US intelligence begins with J. Edgar Hoover, a key state bureaucrat in the Palmer Raids of 1919-20, which was the first major salvo of the “Red Scare” in America, which continues to the present. An eager & young Hoover quickly became the chief operating officer of the Bureau of Intelligence (BOI, formed 1909), renamed the FBI in 1936. J Edgar Hoover was a virulent anti-communist autocrat, and ran the BOI/FBI as a personal dictator until his death in 1972.
Before the Russian Revolution, and its threat of international socialism to the capitalist order, state intelligence was limited to foiling assassination plots of high officials, rooting out spies trying to steal military secrets, stopping counterfeiters, etc. Intelligence was seen as a necessary wartime activity, with limited application during times of peace.
Allan Pinkerton fought for the Union in the US Civil War, and helped protect Abraham Lincoln, by using agents to sniff out assassination plots. Allan Pinkerton helped found the US Secret Service in 1865, which then was part of the Department of the Treasury for the use of combating then-widespread counterfeiting of US currency.
As a footnote, the Department of Justice was formed in 1870 during the Ulysses S. Grant administration to prosecute crimes against the US government. The United States Marshals Service (USMS) is America’s oldest federal law enforcement agency, created in 1789 during the presidency of George Washington. That was it for federal policing back then, outside of the US military.
It’s important to note here, that after the US Civil War, Allan Pinkerton founded the strike-breaking Pinkerton Agency which hired, trained, and outsourced private goons to robber barons for the purpose of attacking picketing workers. Allan Pinkerton made extensive use of women as spies, and has been praised by some in modern identity politics as a pioneer for doing this. Pinkerton said that women often were his most valuable agents because they could gain the trust of others, easier than most men.
Most of Europe was in a depression during the 1920’s, and it finally came crashing to America in October 1929. The ideology of FDR’s New Deal was to provide enough crumbs to the working masses so they wouldn’t revolt. Wildcat strikes with socialist leadership among workers were rampant in this era. Pinkertons & police were often used for violence against organizing workers.
World War II breaking out in Europe in September 1939 saved American capitalism, and ushered in profiteering, a successful war effort, and a post-war boom that lasted into the 1960’s. These historical forces saved capitalism in the 1930’s and led the way to reformist labor movements (AFL-CIO, Teamsters, etc.) dominating the post-war period, entrenching nationalism & anti-communism into worker consciousness, through fear & propaganda campaigns.
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), commonly called “Wobblies”, were an international labor union (1905-24) that was founded in Chicago, an American city rich in labor struggle history. The philosophy & tactics of the IWW were described as “revolutionary industrial unionism”, with ties to socialist, syndicalist, and anarchist labor movements. Wobblies opposed the splitting of workers into separate trade unions, as their slogan was “One big union.”
IWW membership declined dramatically during the Great War, due to conflicts with other labor groups, particularly the reformist American Federation of Labor (AFL), which regarded the IWW as too radical. On September 5, 1917, US Department of Justice agents made simultaneous raids on dozens of IWW meeting halls across the country. Physical attacks, mass arrests, and agent provocateur infiltration caused the IWW to splinter irrevocably in 1924.
Historically in 1924, Vladimir Lenin final succumbed to a series of strokes, as a result of wounds he received in an assassination attempt by a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party in August 1918, and died on January 21, 1924. There was already a succession struggle going with with Trotsky’s Left Opposition taking a principled internationalist stance against Joseph Stalin’s reactionary theory of “socialism in one country.” Stalin first declared this gospel in the Soviet Republic in 1924, after Lenin’s death, and it immediately killed the Wobblies fighting spirit by disorienting workers in America– and everywhere else.
IWW leader Big Bill Haywood left the county and fled to the Soviet Union in 1923, while Eugene Debs died an early death in 1926 upon being released from prison. That’s how the first generation of American socialists were handled by the US government. They were led to align with endless variations of opportunists, due to their political naivety & desperation. They really didn’t have a chance of succeeding, without help on the world stage, in the form of a successful revolution in Germany in 1923, or in China in 1927. Both of these potential revolutions were betrayed by social democrat & Stalinist treachery.
Mixed-in also on the “left” at this time were the Socialist International (SI), a worldwide (dis)organization of social democrat political parties which had collapsed when every nation’s organization supported war credits for their own country in August 1914. This party is also known in history as the Second International. To hide their shame, they changed their name to the Labour and Socialist International (LSI) from 1923-1940, as a rival to the Communist International (Comintern), AKA, the Third International. The First International was the Paris Commune of 1871.
Getting back to political opportunists & government agents, the Conference for Progressive Labor Action (CPLA) was a established in May 1929 by anti-communist pastor A.J. Muste (below). The organization’s true purpose was to promote the reform of the American Federation of Labor, while spying & informing on socialists. A.J. Muste’s CPLA dissolved itself in December 1933, to form the American Workers Party, a new pseudo-socialist organization.
One year later, the Workers Party of the United States (WPUS) was established in December 1934, by a merger of Muste’s American Workers Party (AWP), and the Trotskyist Communist League of America (CLA) led by James Cannon. The Workers Party of the United States was dissolved in 1936, when its members entered the Socialist Party of America, the original party of Eugene Debs.
This caused A.J. Muste to resign from “socialist” politics, due to his anti-Trotskyist positions, and return to his roots as a Christian pacifist. According to Wikipedia, “He became director of the Presbyterian Labor Temple in New York City from 1937 to 1940 where he paid special attention to combating Marxism and to proclaiming Christianity as a revolutionary doctrine.”
During a 1969 debate with William F. Buckley Jr., Noam Chomsky cited A.J. Muste as “someone who did take a very strong, and I think very honorable position” on opposing World War II. For ideological & political reference, the American linguist Noam Chomsky aligns with anarcho-syndicalism & libertarian socialism. He rejects Trotskyist internationalism. William Buckley’s best intellectual comparables would be George Plimpton & Lou Dobbs, for reference on that end.
James Cannon (above) was the first American Trotskyist, and a leader of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Cannon was personally groomed by “Big Bill” Haywood, and was an IWW organizer. Cannon was expelled from the Stalinist Communist Party (US) in 1928, and formed the SWP that year.
The SWP news organ is The Militant, a weekly newspaper, and it’s publishing house is Pathfinder Press. In 1937, The Militant headquarters was transferred to New York City. According to Wikipedia, “The Militant [currently] is not officially owned or controlled by the SWP. To protect the party and the paper, The Militant is owned by a private group.” No citation is provided. I use Wikipedia (not my favorite reference) so often here as a source, simply because this information isn’t available anywhere else.
David North proved in “Security & the Fourth international” (1975-85) that the Socialist Workers Party had been completely infiltrated with spies long before WWII. Eric London has just researched & published how SWP members were actually GPU & US agents responsible for the assassination of Leon Trotsky in August 1940, in Coyoacan, Mexico City. The crucial agent in this murder was Sylvia Ageloff, first within the SP and then within the SWP, who was close to a group of New York Trotskyists around Martin Abern, a former IWW member and leader of the Communist youth movement in the 1920s.
Martin Abern, Max Shachtman & James Burnham were leaders inside the SWP. They allied in an unprincipled factional fight over the position of the SWP’s majority Trotskyist faction, led by James Cannon defending the Soviet Union as a degenerated workers state surrounded by imperialism.
This reactionary triumvirate was expelled from the SWP in 1940 for their political treachery, and the Workers Party (WP) was founded in April 1940 by Max Shachtman. Martin Abern was placed on the governing National Committee of the Stalinist WP, and remained there for the rest of his life.
During World War II, James Burnham left the SWP to work for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency, leading the “Political and Psychological Warfare” division. These were the rogues established into leadership of the US Trotskyist movement back then.
The WP eventually became the party of Michael Harrington & post-modern liberalism. They are known today as the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the party of Bernie Sanders & Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The DSA organ is Jacobin, an American pseudo-socialist quarterly magazine based in New York, where (as we keep seeing) it’s most convenient for the US intelligence (and anybody else) to plant & handle its agents.
Louis F. Budenz (above) was a Soviet espionage agent, who was part of the Central Committee of Communist Party (USA) & editor of Daily Worker. Budenz taught labor organizing & strike management at Brookwood Labor College, a creation of A.J. Muste outside New York City. Bundez later taught at Fordham University, before being prosecuted by J Edgar Hoover as a Soviet spy.
The International Socialist Organization (ISO) existed from 1976-2019, recently dissolving itself (again), this time apparently into the Green Party. The Greens popped up like weeds in the 1970’s around the world, in response to environmental & social justice issues. They are completely petty-bourgeoisie in political orientation, as every national section of the liberal reformist Green Party is controlled by capitalism & its agents.
The Progressive International (PI) is a mish-mash of pseudo-left activists & international organizations, armed with post-modernism. They are not to be (or meant to be?) confused with the Progressive Alliance (PA), a political soup of social democrats & progressive liberals founded in May 2013 in Leipzig, Germany. The Progressive Alliance reaches nobody in the working class, claiming they have 140 participants from around the world, according to Wikipedia.
All this brings us to the Fourth International (FI), which was founded by Leon Trotsky in Paris, in 1938. The ICFI was formed after their split with Pabloism in 1953, though James Cannon’s “Open Letter.” Pabloism was the creation of Michel Pablo & his milieu of supporters, who rejected dialectics & Trotsky’s characterization of Stalinism as counter-revolutionary.
The SEP (US) was formed in 1995 by the Workers League (WL), the US supporters of the ICFI. The Workers League had been founded in 1966 by the American Committee for the Fourth International (ACFI), which emerged out of a split with the spy-infested Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Much more can be read on this history in David North’s classic book, The Heritage We Defend (1988).
The Socialist Equality Party (SEP) is the only Trotskyist party in the United States, as everything else that claims to be “socialism” is pseudo-left politics. The SEP (US) is affiliated with SEP’s established in other nations around the world, and the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI). The ICFI publishes daily Marxist news & analysis on the World Socialist Web Site, and maintains Mehring Books as its publishing house.
It took the International Committee for the Fourth International (ICFI) about 50 years to solve the issue of spies & government agents. It is the only socialist party in the world that can honestly claim to have done so. The political significance of this can’t be overstated. Since February 14, 1998, the ICFI has published Trotskyist content on its daily news organ, the World Socialist Web Site, which is by far the most read & influential socialist publication in the world.
How do we know the SEP is secure? Here are a few revealing clues. First, you don’t see, read, or hear of any factional battles over party line & policy. Second, you don’t see, read or hear of any factional battles between SEP sections in all their established nations around the world. Joe Kishore (US) agrees with Nick Beams (Australia), who agrees with Alex Lantier (France), who agrees with Chris Marsden (UK), etc… Third, the WSWS is heavily censored by big tech & the state. If the SEP/WSWS was infiltrated with agents, the deep state would enable it, not attempt to silence it.