American Socialist Workers Party

   Founded in 1938, the American Socialist Workers Party was established by the Trotskyist James P. Cannon following his expulsion from the Socialist Party of America. The ASWP’s political orientation throughout its history has been Trotskyist, although in the late 1980s it moved toward the politics espoused by the Cuban leader Fidel Castro. It has also undergone many splits and factional struggles. The party was opposed in principle to World War II, which resulted in the imprisonment of Cannon and 17 other leading members under the Smith Act. As one of the original members of the Fourth International, the ASWP withdrew its formal membership to comply with the Voorhis Act, while maintaining an ideological affiliation. When the Fourth International split in 1953, the ASWP joined the International Committee under the new leadership of Farrell Dobbs. In the 1960s the ASWP influenced the left through its Young Socialist Alliance, which mobilized many university students, causing membership to rise as high as 10,000 by the early 1970s. Factional disputes however occurred over the Cuban Revolution. Cannon and other leaders, such as Joseph Hansen, viewed Cuba as categorically different from the Stalinist states of Eastern Europe. The ASWP moved closer to the ideological position of the International Secretariat of the Fourth International from which it had split in 1953, rejoining the organization in 1963. A faction called The Revolutionary Tendency, however, opposed this re-joining, and produced a critical analysis of the Cuban Revolution. Its leaders, James Robertson and Tim Wohlforth, were expelled from the party and went on to form the Spartacists.
   The party’s membership grew throughout the 1970s mainly as a response to its campaign against the Vietnam War. Jack Barnes became National Secretary in 1972, by which time membership had begun to stall. Barnes focused the party’s energies on industry, arguing mass struggles were coming, and urged members to uproot and take jobs in industry. Many of the older and younger members opposed this policy and left. In 1982 the party formally parted from its Trotskyist ideology, resulting in a loss of one third of its membership. Former member Weinstein established Socialist Action, and the Breitman– Lovell group formed the Fourth International Tendency.
   By the late 1980s the ASWP and its supporters internationally reconstituted themselves in each country as the Communist League. In 1990 the ASWP formally left the United Secretariat of the Fourth International. The ASWP’s international formation is sometimes referred to as the Pathfinder Tendency, as each member of the Communist League operates a bookstore which sells ASWP’s Pathfinder publications. Since 1948 the ASWP has entered every presidential election, receiving its highest number of votes in 1976 (91,314). The party membership has declined to several hundred in recent years, and in 2003 it sold its New York headquarters.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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