Monday, June 02, 2008

Do They Mean Us? #18

I can't remember if I have previously included the WSPUS in the 'Do They Mean Us?' series but, what with my geographical arrangements, it would be daft for me not to take the opportunity to feature them if and when the occasion arises.

They get a special mention today because I had a bit of a result this week when I was able to obtain a secondhand copy of the 1990 edition of The Encyclopedia of the American Left for only $2.85 (plus $3.99 postage) from a bookshop in Auburn, Wa. (Trust me, that is a result. The later 1998 edition is going for anything in between $32 to $100 on Amazon.)

Edited by Mari Jo Buhle, Paul Buhle & Dan Georgakas, this 900 page tome covers everything and everyone on the American Left from the Abraham Lincoln Brigade to Di Zukunft (a Yiddish language socialist journal given over to literary and wider cultural matters). Granted, what with the book being published back in 1990, that of course means that there's nearly twenty years of the American Left that could be covered in later editions but as my ignorance of the history of the American Labor Movement is vast enough as it is, I can work my way up to 1990 for now.

Whether I'm living in the States or in Britain, old habits die hard and on receiving the book I immediately turn to the back of the book to see whether or not the SPGB or the WSPUS are featured in the index. I'm pleasantly surprised to see that the WSPUS has a modest entry in the book. I wouldn't expect much more than that. As the entry states, the WSPUS historically has been most visible and vocal in the Boston area, and it would be a self-delusion to claim otherwise. However, I think the entry gives the mistaken impression that though the organisation started in Detroit, it left Motor City soon after but the truth is that for a time in the 40s & 50s, the WSPUS had a strong local there and even had its national headquarters based there for a time in the 50s.

Nice to see the mention of Isaac Rabinowich ('I. Rab') in the piece. I had the good fortune to met his grand-daughter, Karla Rab, a few months back when she helped out with the Party stall at the Brooklyn Peace Fair. She has been working on a biography of her grandfather for a couple of years now and, now that it has been completed, she is in the process of looking for a publisher. It should be a fascinating read.

Final mention should be made for the author of the piece on the WSPUS in the book. Franklin Rosemont is a longstanding IWW member and well known surrealist. Why it seems particularly apt that one of America's leading surrealist should pen the entry on the WSPUS I can't quite articulate, but it just seems par for the course.


The WSP is the US companion party of the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB), which was formed in 1904 by a group of anti-reformist Marxists who had broken with H.M. Hyndman's Social Democratic Federation. During World War 1, SPGB members Moses Baritz and Adolph Kohn came to the United States to avoid conscription, and they established a following in Detroit. In 1916 some of their supporters founded the SP of the United States, but changed its name to Workers' Socialist Party a few months later when they found that the name Socialist Party had been copyrighted by the SP of America. The new party at first existed only in Detroit, and from 1919 to 1922 took the name Detroit Socialist Educational Society.

WSP locals have existed off and on in several US cities, including New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. But its real stronghold, and the only city where it can be said to have had an enduring influence, was Boston, where the tireless I. Rab conducted Marxist study classes and lively forums almost nightly from the early 1930s through the late 1940s, and more or less weekly for many years thereafter. In the 1970s the Boston WSP local had a regular program on the radio.

In 1939 the WSP started publication of The Western Socialist ("Journal of Scientific Socialism in the Western Hemisphere"). The name World Socialist Party was adopted in 1947 to avoid confusion with the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party.

Tractarians and debaters rather than activists, the WSP persists today as a very small educational group, pamphleteering and leafletting for what it regards as the only truly and purely Marxian socialism. See also Proletarian Party

- Franklin Rosemont

Jerome, W. "A Brief History of the World Socialist Party." The Western Socialist 33, no. 252 (1966).

If I ever get the cut and paste chance, I'd like to post the aforementioned 1966 issue of the Western Socialist on the blog. Fascinating snippets about the WSPUS and the Socialist Party of Canada, and does go some way in chipping away of the partial caricature of the WSPUS as nothing more than " . . . tractarians and debaters".


Renegade Eye said...

I learned about your group through blogging. I always was confused about who is WSP. I thought at first it was the social democratic group.

gray said...

Rosemont's piece is pretty fair if you compare it to other writers on our impossibilism. What sort of write up do the SLP de Leonists get, by way of a comparison?

Darren said...

Renegade Eye,

In fairness the internet as been a bit of a boon for our tradition, both in terms of keeping in contact with each other and with raising our profile. I'm not sure where we would be today if it wasn't around.


bearing in mind the SLP was always bigger - and better known - than the WSPUS, the section on the SLP is pretty substantial. In fact, there's quite a few entries on the SLP and a few of its more prominent members.

When I'm struggling for material on obscure eighties pop bands, I might transcribe a few. ;-)

PS - There's even an entries for both John Keracher and the Proletarian Party.