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What is the Socialist Workers Party?

By Henry Gaudet
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Socialist Workers Party is a left-wing political party active in the United States since 1937. It advocates a democratic, classless alternative to the capitalist model of society. The party's platform includes ideals such as full employment, strong labor unions and public ownership and control of resources. Dictatorial capitalism is denounced by this party and is not among its stated objectives.

Statements from this party declare that the party supports a non-racist, classless, feminist, socialist society. They state that socialism and democracy are linked and seek to shift the balance of power from the privileged few to the working majority. Their policies advocate equal rights with no distinctions made because of race, gender, national origin or sexual preference, and they actively seek to remove class distinctions.

Publicly controlled resources and agencies are put forward as the ideal, and production goals are set to fulfill needs rather than to increase profits. The party endorses genuine public ownership control over disconnected bureaucracy in which social status simply shifts from the wealthy to the manager. Under this policy, the Socialist Workers Party also lists full employment as a goal.

Principles set out by the party stand in sharp contrast to the opinions of most Americans. Capitalism and consumerism have been wholly embraced by the country at large, and the socialist agenda cannot be reconciled with the rich and famous American dream. Most Americans link socialism with communism and associate the doctrine with the Soviet Union and Cold War fears.

Roots of the Socialist Workers Party can be traced to a rift in the Communist Party USA. Members who supported the Russian Leon Trotsky over Joseph Stalin broke away and formed the Communist League of America in 1928. Infighting over politics and procedure continued through the 1930s, with socialist groups splintering and fusing. This resulted in the formation of the Socialist Workers Party in 1937. In the decades that followed, infighting would continue to distract socialists in the U.S.

Other political groups around the world have parties who operate under the name Socialist Workers Party. Britain, Australia and Ireland each have parties by that name, with similar values and agendas. Other political parties and groups around the world have adopted the name but advocate different principles and politics. For instance, the name is also associated with Germany’s Nazi party in the 1930s and 1940s, but that group advocated fascism as opposed to socialism, and there is no political or ideological link to modern socialist parties.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Veruca10 — On Oct 20, 2011

@jmc88 - I agree that there is no such thing as a classless society. Never has been, and likely never will be. In fact, in the so-called classless communist countries like China, North Korea, the Soviet Union, Cuba, and others, there is definitely a rigid class structure that determines how you will live, where you will live, what you will be allowed to do, what your job will be, and even access to food, education, and medical care. There is little to no upward mobility and often not even the ability to travel freely in their own country for the lower classes.

The idea of more equality in society appeals to many people's desire for fairness. I am more of a supporter of free choice and self-determination.

I firmly believe that even if you evened everyone out right now, took all of the money in the World and spread it out equally, in short order most of the same people would be rich, and most of the same people would be poor. Sad, perhaps, but I believe it it true.

By winslo2004 — On Oct 19, 2011

@chivebasil - I agree that the Occupy protestors lack a consistent voice. They frequently seem to have no voice at all. They are frustrated and want things to change, but many cannot really articulate what that means or what they think needs to be done.

The Socialist Workers definitely present a different path than the current one. There is nothing wrong with looking at other systems and ideas to see what works and what doesn't. I think that statism and communism have pretty much proven to be duds everywhere they have been tried. There are really only two real communist countries left, Cuba and North Korea, and they haven't exactly hitched their wagon to a star, have they?

China is still totalitarian, but capitalism is breaking out all over the place and they still have big problems with poverty. Vietnam and Cambodia are becoming manufacturing centers and opening themselves up to outsiders. It would seem that the World is trending away from the ideas of the Socialist Workers, not toward them.

By Nepal2016 — On Oct 19, 2011

I suppose it's good to hear from the dissenting voice every so often. These guys have been on the ballot every time I've voted in a national election. In fact, that's how I found out they existed. I had no idea there was such a party until I started voting.

The problem is, they seem to be going from the dissenting voice to having more supporters, especially among young people. Their ideas may sound good on paper, but I have never heard anyone explain how we are supposed to pay for all of the "free stuff" they want. If everything is free and there are no rich people to tax and everybody is guaranteed a living no matter if they work or not, how exactly does that work?

By chivebasil — On Oct 18, 2011

The Occupy protests in New York and many other cities have a lot of affinities for the socialist workers party. I know that the movement does not have a single message and that many of the participants do not have any sympathies for socialist ideas. But I also know that many of the protestors are thinking about alternatives to the systems of power we have in place right now.

I have been participating in the protests but I'm not sure how I feel about the idea of socialism. What I do know for sure is that we need a change, something completely different. This will take more than a few regulations and a tax hike and a few guys going to prison. The problems will only repeat. We need to find a way to shake up the system.

By JimmyT — On Oct 18, 2011

I do not know much about parties like the Socialist Workers Party, but when I hear about a Party called something linked to Socialism I immediately associate them with Communists and people that are anti-American.

As someone that is not very well informed on these matters I am wondering how close to the really extreme types of Communism groups like these are and if in reality they are really a danger to American citizens or not.

I remember back a few decades ago when the United States was very anti-Communist and thought it threatened our system of government, but when it comes down to it are they really any more than just ideas and are they really a threat to our American institution?

By jmc88 — On Oct 17, 2011

@jcraig - I agree with your point to an extent. Some people view groups like these as entirely basing their beliefs on class struggle, like you did. However, a group like the Socialist Workers Party does not look to, or at least claims that do not, sacrifice democracy in order to prevent this class struggle.

In reality some people are always going to be better off than others and that is why they simply accept it and try and simply look to the government to try and run everyone's lives. It then becomes an issue of whether or not civil rights and liberties are violated and whether the government is involved too much in people's affairs. This group is simply a group that looks to try and change the American System of government, through Marxist beliefs to the extreme.

By jcraig — On Oct 16, 2011

@kentuckycat - I understand how you are saying that they are a party like any other and that their views should not be totally ignored bu this particular party wants enough regulation that it completely undermines the ideas of individual liberties and rights which our country was founded upon.

I see the Socialist Workers Party as having a clear cut Marxist ideology in which they think that everyone is separated into particular working/social classes and that is fact. Truth is they have some dilluded views on how the world works and think that it is entirely based upon class struggle. Out of this belief, they think that the government needs to step in and hold people back from becoming better off than others. When this happens it can never be an equal state and everyone loses out somehow.

By kentuckycat — On Oct 15, 2011

Not to defend the Socialist Workers Party, but I think that people are a little confused with their views. They seek not necessarily for total government control, simply government regulation and they do this in hopes that by creating a classless social system people will be treated more equally and have as much of an opportunity as anyone else.

I have never been supportive of parties such as the Socialist Workers Party, and their beliefs do contradict that of the American Dream, but their ideas should not be totally ignored and people should understand that they truly believe that they are trying to make everyone equal in their own way, despite how they may come off to people from outside the party.

By candyquilt — On Oct 15, 2011

They might not have a lot of members, but regardless I think that the Socialist Workers Party can be a threat to the American system. The goals of the party is completely contrary to the ideas and goals the founders of this country had in mind.

We cannot have a strong centralized government that the Socialist Workers Party desires because that will infringe on our individual rights. Our democratic capitalist system was established to make sure that this doesn't happen and it has been working fine.

By discographer — On Oct 15, 2011

@ddljohn-- I do think that the split in the Communist party and the creation of the Socialist Workers party was more strategic than ideological, but there were still some ideological/philosophical differences in the group.

As far as I know, around the time the split occurred, the American Communist party (then called 'Communist League of America' or CLA) was having a lot of difficulty gathering support and membership. In order to gain more support, some of the members decided to associate themselves with the Socialist Party in France that was more popular. But this created a lot of problems in the party because there were many members that were against this move.

So, although it was a strategic move by some of the party members that created rifts in the party in the first place, it was differences in ideology that cause them to eventually separate into the Socialist Workers Party.

Even today, the Socialist Workers Party is not the most unanimous group. They've had rifts and differences in the party ever since they were established.

I think the answer to your question is that the Communist and Socialist Party have some similarities in ideology, but also enough differences to keep them apart.

By ddljohn — On Oct 14, 2011

Since the American Socialist Workers Party emerged from the Communist Party, and that too because of differences over leadership and not really ideology, what is the difference between the American Socialist Workers Party and the American Communist party then?

I don't think the general public is wrong to confuse socialism and communism. I too am confused about the difference. And if the Socialist Workers Party members were once members of the Communist Party, there can't be much difference between them, right?

What do you think? I would love to hear what other people think is the difference between these two parties. Do they share the same goals and ideology, or not?

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