Socialist Party Of America

(SPA)
   In 1901, the Social Democratic Party, led by Eugene V. Debs, joined with reformist elements of the Socialist Labor Party, led by Morris Hillquit, to establish the SPA. The SPA was committed to state ownership of the means of production and the equitable distribution of wealth among the working classes. It sought to achieve these ends through evolutionary rather than revolutionary means and supported social and economic reform through the political process. Support for the SPA was particularly strong in working-class immigrant communities, but it began to attract such middle class intellectuals as Upton Sinclair, Walter Lippmann, and John Reed in the years before 1914. However, when the party opposed U.S. entry into World War I, many people deserted, and the majority of its leaders were jailed under the wartime Espionage Act and Sedition Act. At the end of the war, the party divided between those who wished to follow a revolutionary path along Soviet lines and those who continued to espouse a reformist path. The Red Scare of 1919 and 1920 further weakened the party, and membership fell from 24,661 in 1921 to a mere 8,477 by 1926.
   In the 1930s and 1940s, the leader of the party was Norman Thomas, but even at the height of the Great Depression, he attracted less than 900,000 votes, about 2 percent of the vote (the total number of voters having increased considerably since 1912 with the enfranchisement of women.) After 1932 the SPA was increasingly undermined by the reforms introduced by the New Deal and was divided by factional differences. The vote for Thomas in 1936 was 187, 720, and in 1940 it fell to 99, 557. During the Cold War years, and with the effects of McCarthyism, membership in the SPA fell to below 2,000. The party was increasingly more of a radical wing of the Democratic Party, and in 1968 it supported Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey. After 1956, it did not run its own candidate again until 1976.
   See also Trade Unions.

Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . . 2015.

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