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E. Lund

The SP – A Party of Confusion

(5 June 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 23, 5 June 1944, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Socialist Party (Norman Thomas’ party) will hold its national convention in Reading, Pa., on June 2–4. The main purpose of the event is to nominate its candidates in the presidential race.

Though the call describes it as the twenty-fourth national convention, this, strictly speaking, is a very formal designation. The Socialist Party of today has about as much in common with the Socialist Party of Eugene V. Debs as the Communist Party of today has with the sincere revolutionists who founded it in 1919.

This does not imply that the Socialist Party of today is not composed, in the main, of sincere and idealistic people. Quite the contrary; the Socialist Party of today has the unique ability of attracting a most varied collection of humanitarians and believers in “do-good-ism.”

There is hardly a current of well-meaning confusion that is not represented in the Socialist Party. Every serious question finds as many different answers in the Socialist Party as among the liberal population of the country generally.

A Cross-Section of the SP

When the war crisis faced America before Pearl Harbor, views within the Socialist Party ran from Walter White’s “aid to England” brand of intervention all the way to “Keep America Out of War” isolationism that brought Norman Thomas to the same platform with Lindbergh.

The May Day issue of the Socialist Party organ, The Call, reflected a good cross-section of the people who compose the organization and its following. There were greetings from those who see victory being assured by the United Nations. There were greetings from dozens of socialists in conscientious objectors’ camps. There were greetings from courageous but mistaken socialists who are serving prison terms for their refusal to serve in the Army because of their opposition to the war. Then there was a greeting from one socialist who could not wait for the war before enlisting in the National Guard

All call themselves socialists – all are well-meaning.

One finds greetings from ardent Quakers, ardent co-operators and ardent Social Action Methodists. One also find greetings from two war manufacturers and from at least one trade union bureaucrat who is trusted by less people in the labor movement than is Laval by the French people. Among the other trade unionists the best known are holding jobs by appointment from the top – jobs that last as long as the appointees keep quiet about the no-strike pledge and support to Roosevelt.

However, there are other trade unionists in the Socialist Party who are workers from the shop or officers of their locals by vote of their fellow workers. These are generally serious and consistently progressive in their trade union views. The courageous speech of Mark Brown at the recent convention of the Steel Workers Union in opposition to the no-strike pledge, is an example of this. In northern New Jersey, Detroit and a few other places, the Socialist Party contains active unionists, devoted to the working class. However, their progressive activities have little or no relation to their membership in the Socialist Party, with its unbelievable muddle-headedness in matters of program and organization.

No Clear-Cut Position

Despite a close reading of the SP Call, it is extremely difficult to find out where the party stands on any specific question. Usually, it has no position. Try as one will, one is unable to discover what the party position is on the Second International, and a perspective for re-uniting the international working class; on the class nature of the Soviet Union; on the nature of the present war; on Russia’s role in the war. It has no clear attitude toward the United Nations; toward conscientious objectors and pacifism generally; on how socialism is to be achieved; on the role and functioning of socialists in the labor movement; and on a myriad of other questions.

Not that most of these questions have not been discussed at one time or another in the organization. But the very nature of the party membership is such that a definite position on these questions is impossible to arrive at. Nor does the national executive committee think it important enough to try to establish a party position. Does it perhaps fear that, this would lead to splitting the party into six different camps? If the EC were serious about this problem, it would provide a convention agenda that would permit discussion and decision.

The Convention Agenda

The agenda of the forthcoming Reading convention provides time for everything: a keynote speech; a welcome speech; election of eight different committees (six of which will never complete their work or find time for a report to the convention); a report by the national secretary on the state of the party (all in thirty minutes!); messages and greetings from fraternal delegates; a public meeting; nominations of party candidates and acceptance speeches; and sundries sandwiched in. Where, in the midst of this busy three-day agenda, the delegates will get down to serious discussions of what the Socialist Party stands for these days and where it is going, is a mystery!

These questions will, as usual, be referred to the incoming NEC. Here they will lie dormant for the next year. A discussion will go on in the ranks, desultory or lively, depending on the locality and the critical nature of the problem. However, the party will have no position.

Meanwhile, its public position will, as always, be stated by Norman Thomas without consulting the party (speaking as “an individual,” of course). Many of the left-wingers will grumble and be dissatisfied. They will make threats about caucuses and internal bulletins and electing a “left wing” NEC next time. Thus it has been for these many years. It seems to have gotten into the blood of the party. Neither the virtue and wisdom of the gods nor the designs and Machiavellian maneuvers of the evil spirits can ever make this party anything else than it is.

And just what it is, is hard to say. What it is not comes more easily. It is not a Marxist party. It is not working-class in its composition. It is not socialist, except in the broadest meaning of the term. It is not a class-struggle party. It is not a genuine internationalist party. It is not clear about what it wants or how to get it. It is not disciplined in action.

What have we left? The SP definitely is composed of nice people with good intentions. Within it throbs a great heart that encompasses all “good causes” – no matter how contradictory and confused – that aim at uplifting mankind. But that is, not enough!

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