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Social Democrats, USA (1972-2005)

Common Interest

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The Party of Eugene Debbs, Norman Thomas, and Neoconservatism

 

The Social Democrats, USA (SD-USA) traced its political roots to the Socialist Party of America. Its
philosophical forefather was the intellectual Max Shactman. Initially a communist, Shactman became increasingly
disenchanted with the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. Embracing democratic socialism, he and his followers
eventually joined the Socialist Party in 1958. Throughout the 1960s, Shactman and other socialists worked in the
Civil Rights movement. In early 1970s, the Socialist Party, the party of Eugene Debbs and Norman Thomas, split
into factions over the Vietnam War. One antiwar faction was led by Michael Harrington. Shactman's faction
(also detesting the counterculture of the larger antiwar movement), proclaimed its support for the war, eventually
wrestling control of the old SPA, thereafter, renaming it the Social Democrats, USA.

From 1973 to 1976, SD-USA became strong supporters of the hawkish New Dealer, Sen. Henry Jackson.
Though, it was not until the election of Ronald Reagan, in 1980, that the SD-USA achieved positions of power
and influence. SD-USA was a small organization with fewer than 1,000 active members; however, its influence
has been extensive in the upper-middle levels of the State Department and organized labor. Dubbed the "State
Department Socialists", the SD-USA was the force behind the International Affairs Department of the AFL-
CIO, which promoted "democracy building" projects around the world. During this time, the SD-USA remained
fiercely anticommunist.

SD-USA gave financial, moral, and political support to Poland's Solidarity labor movement, which helped
ultimately end communist rule. Carl Gershman, chair of SD-USA from 1974 to 1980, was an aide to
neoconservative stalwart Jeane Kirkpatrick, when she was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under
Reagan. In 1985, the keynote speaker for SD-USA was Alfonso Robelo, a leading opponent of the Sandinista
government in Nicaragua and a member of the contra political directorate. The SD-USA still included more
progressive influences, like those of 60's Civil Rights activist, Bayard Rustin and pragmatist philosopher Sidney
Hook. The SD-USA fielded local candidates in the 1988 general elections. Though, many in the SD-USA
continued in their association with the Republican Party.

Paul Wolfowitz, later Deputy Secretary of Defense in the first George W. Bush Administration, had previous ties
to the SD-USA. The SD-USA strongly supported the Allied invasion of Iraq in 2003. It saw western-style labor
movements as a democratizing force in the New Iraq. Though, the SD-USA became largely defunct, after the
death of its longtime leader Penn Kemble in 2005. A liberal faction reorganized a rump organization in 2008, to
then break into two separate groups in 2010.

Neoconservative Concepts:

Anti-totalitarianism, Containment theory, Democracy Promotion
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