The Rise and Decline of the Socialist Party in the United States
Throughout American history, there have been an array of factions vying for votes in our democratic system of government. These organizations consist of leaders who believe in an idea and have developed ways to achieve that idea. Success of a political organization, or party, is based on how well leaders can convince people to follow them and join their ranks. Socialism as a political idea is based on cooperative ownership and redistribution of goods, services, and production. The Socialist Party of America was one faction whose roots are based in socialism. Created in 1901, the SPA was formed by the combination of the Social Democratic Party of America, a short lived movement, and the Social Labor Party, a working man's party. This combination attracted new members, as well as members from the progressive and populist parties, which made up the majority of the SPA. The rise of the Socialist Party of America was fueled by the working mans desire for a utopian society. Campaign promises for public ownership of utilities, better sanitation, and a social security program, at local levels, led to the party's highpoint in 1912. These small successes were short lived. The American citizens sense of individualism and pride as well as a lack in acquiring news members and support set the wheels of failure in motion. The party’s staunch opposition to involvement in World War I and the expulsion of its members led to The Socialist Party's final moment. Faction polarization within the party crippled a once unified front, and finally President Roosevelt’s “New Deal” legislation effectively silenced the American Socialist party.
The lineage of the Socialist Party of America (SPA) can be traced back to the early 1850s. The United States was a bustling nation full of opportunity. Endless new beginnings and freedoms appealed to European citizens who were looking for a better life. Seeking a better life, a boom in 1850 brought 1,713,000 immigrants through Ellis island, bringing along with them their philosophical ideas of socialism1. The failed German revolution of 1848 procured the emigration of Germans to America. Some of these immigrants were the intellectual leaders of the failed revolution, but most were impoverished Germans that lost confidence in their government to provide for them the basic necessities of life.
Along with Germans, Italians, Finns, Jews, Hungarians, Ukrainians, Bohemians and Russians came to America toting their socialist values2. Finns were particularly strong in their socialists ideas. Settling in the Midwest, former Finnish citizens imported a revolutionary perspective of socialism to Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan3. Into the 19th century, German immigrants settling in Midwestern cities such as Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Dayton, Ohio, and St. Louis, Missouri put fourth major inputs and provided body to the growth of socialism in the United States.
Immigrants to the United States were not the only ones seeking change. The philosophy of socialism in the states was viewed with no interest by American citizens. This has to do with the character of American culture and our views. American culture has maintained a faith in individualism, economic advancement, and equal opportunity in the marketplace4. In short, Americans put their faith in capitalism. But capitalism does not always deal everyone a fair hand and
there are inconsistencies in the market. This led to formation of radical, third party ,socialist based movements in America's traditional two party political spectrum. These third parties were viewed as radical because during the 1850's to the 1930's there was an expression of deep distrust towards the expansion and intervention of states by citizens concerning their private affairs5. Alternatives to socialism were made. The Progressive party's programs of modest state intervention through federal...
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