Max Shachtman & Albert Gates


Independent Socialist Leagues Statement of Dissolution

ISL Members to Join SP-SDF

(Summer 1958)

From The New International, Vol. XXIV No. 2–3, Spring–Summer 1958, pp. 72–75 & 148.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

A new step forward has been taken in the great work of reuniting and rebuilding the ranks of the American socialist movement.

In January 1957, the Socialist Party and the Social Democratic Federation, products of a separation lasting more than two decades, united into the SP-SDF and issued a Statement on Socialist Unity in America. “The democratic socialist movement has never exacted uniformity of opinion from its members,” said the Statement, “but it does require the sharing of a common purpose. Both the SP and the SDF have believed in democratic socialism. They are fully in accord with the Socialist International’s program.” In its conclusion, the Statement declared:

The goals of freedom, democracy and equality, and the means of their achievement, are shared jointly by Socialists and trade unionists. We invite all democratic socialist groups and individuals to join with us in helping to make real the concept of human fellowship in freedom.

In July 1957, the Independent Socialist League, by the unanimous vote of the delegates to its national convention, adopted a resolution analyzing the state of American socialism, hailing the end of the long period of division and of sectarian isolation and stagnation of socialists in this country, and endorsing the proposal to unite all democratic socialists into an effective movement under the banner of the SP-SDF. This resolution, taking note of the complete discreditment and collapse of the Communist movement in the U.S. pointed out:

What ruined socialism in the U.S. was its identification with Russian tyranny by a majority of radicals as well as by non-socialists. It will not arise from its present stage of fragmentation and isolation – more, it will not deserve to do so – unless it comes forward unambiguously as a democratic movement.

The resolution reiterated the standpoint of the ISL:

It takes its position against capitalism, against Stalinism, and for socialism, making clear in its platform that the social system it proposes to substitute for capitalism in the U.S. is not what prevails in Russia or other nations dominated by the Communists. It stands for democracy everywhere and gives moral support and encouragement to those who fight for it in every nation. It defends democracy in the U.S. and strives to extend it here and in all capitalist countries of the world. But it stands equally for democracy in Russia and its satellites. It insists that the people deserve at least the same democratic rights there as we demand here.

After examining all the groups proclaiming the socialist goal, the resolution stated:

“Of all the groups, one stands out uniquely: The SP-SDF.”


“... it is already broad enough in character to serve as an inclusive movement embracing a wide range of democratic socialist tendencies. It represents, to the interested public, socialism in general; unlike the Socialist Labor Party, it is not hostile to the labor movement; it is small but it is not discredited and enjoys the respect, if not the support, of many militants in the labor movement. It can play a special role in unifying and rebuilding the movement ...”

This resolution was communicated to the N.E.C. of the SP-SDF. It was followed by informal discussions between representatives of both organizations, and by discussions among their membership.

In May–June 1958, the national convention of the SP-SDF in Detroit, after extensive debate, adopted a resolution urging unaffiliated democratic socialist groups in this country to join its ranks.

With reference to the I.S.L., the convention declared:

“During almost a score of years, the ISL has been steadily evolving and moving from their prior organizational viewpoints. Today, as it is amply established by their writings and statements, private and public, over the past number of years, the ISL represents and supports a truly democratic socialist ideology. In their most recent national convention, last year, the ISL formally resolved and declared their readiness to dissolve their own organization so that their members can be free to make their respective, individual applications for membership in the SP-SDF, pledging themselves to our principles and binding themselves to the discipline and control of our Party, on an equal basis, rights and responsibilities of membership in our Party. They seek, however, in the light of these assumptions and pledges that none of their members, so applying for membership in our Party, shall be under any disabilities or objections because of their prior affiliations.”

The resolution of the Detroit convention concluded with the recommendation that:

In furtherance of the program initiated by our Unity Convention in 1957, this National Convention of our united SP-SDF extend comradely welcome into membership, in our party, to all of the present members of the ISL, who will make their applications for membership in our Party, under the program submitted and set forth; and further recommends that the incoming N.E.C., directly and through its delegated officers or committees, immediately take this matter in hand so that there may be promptly achieved the expressed purposes to bring these socialists, from the ISL, into active membership in our Party.

The resolution further provided for the amalgamation into the Young People’s Socialist League, the youth affiliate of the Party, of the Young Socialist League which has been fraternally associated with the ISL.

Following the Detroit Convention the entire matter was submitted to discussion and vote of the SP-SDF membership in a national referendum. The voting in the referendum just concluded, has ratified the decision of the convention. Formal notification of this decision has now been given to the ISL.

At a full meeting of the National Committee of the ISL held in Detroit at the conclusion of the SP-SDF convention, the resident Political Committee was voted full powers to take all measures necessary to meet the terms of the resolution adopted by the SP-SDF convention as soon as it became effective.

By virtue of these powers, the PC of the ISL hereby announces the dissolution of the ISL.

It urges all members of the League to join the ranks of the SP-SDF. It calls upon all independent and unaffiliated socialists to take the same action. It endorses the decision of the YSL to join with the YPSL for the building of a powerful youth affiliate of the SP-SDF.

Furthermore, the ISL has arranged that Labor Action and the New International, shall, as provided by the convention resolution of the SP-SDF and by our own proposal to the Party, be put at the disposal of the SP-SDF, to be used, or discontinued, as may appear best and most advisable.

We are sure that we express the views of all the comrades of the ISL when we take this great occasion to declare in the present address:

WE LOOK BACK WITH PRIDE upon the eighteen years of the existence of our independent organization, years during which our comrades fought to uphold with honor the banner of socialist freedom, democracy and internationalism. For almost two decades, without ever faltering in our socialist activity, we have also seen to it that our socialist principles were made clearer, to ourselves and to others. We have not hesitated to abandon old views and doctrines that proved to be obsolete or false and, always eschewing dogmatism, we have readily modified our views to suit them to new conditions and new problems or old problems in new forms. We continue to believe, as we have repeatedly said in the past, that only complete ideological and political independence from the camp of world capitalism on one side and the camp of world Communism on the other, can assure both the maintenance of socialist principles and the eventual triumph of its emancipating goal.

In now dissolving the ISL in order for our members to join in the upbuilding of the SP-SDF, we are underlining the fact that we are not bound by any narrow and partisan considerations that are the hallmark of the sect. We are deeply convinced that the opportunities for building a genuine movement are now greater in this country than they have been for a long time. When socialism faces the realistic prospect of rebuilding its political movement, all socialist sects become futile and even reactionary. This prospect now exists. United in the ranks of the SP-SDF, we shall seek in common with all other comrades to realize the opportunities to the full, in word and deed, with enthusiasm and conviction.

The socialist political movement we support is an independent democratic movement.

We are fundamental and thoroughgoing opponents of capitalism and we seek to replace it completely by a socialist society; we aim at a movement that is completely independent of the Stalinist social system; the Communist regimes based on it and of the politics of the movements that support it in any way. We do not seek to “reform” it – a totalitarian slavery is not to be reformed but replaced fundamentally by socialist democracy. We do not favor a socialist movement that is a “rival” of the Communist movement but one that is its uncompromising opponent, as socialism has always been the opponent of movements that aim at or defend the suppression of the labor movement and of democracy, that aim at or defend the exploitation of the working classes.

As democratic socialists, we reject completely as incompatible with our principles and our aims any and all regimes, even if they proclaim themselves as “socialist” or “people’s democracies,” that are in actuality totalitarian, as in the case of Russia, China and their satellites. By the same token, we reject all political movements, parties and doctrines that support such regimes, that are their defenders or apologists. We stand for the traditional socialist conception that the winning of the battle for democracy is the establishment of a workers’ government dedicated to the inauguration of a classless society. A “socialist” government that denies or suppresses democracy is a contradiction in terms, and world experience in the last decades has proved this beyond the possibility of dispute. We reject the concept of a one-party dictatorship in which all other political parties are prohibited or suppressed as a violation of democracy in general and of socialist democracy in particular. We reject totalitarianism, or any dictatorship over the working class, as the road to socialism. We reject the imposition of “socialism” on the working class “for its own good,” against its will or without its freely-arrived-at democratic decision. The road to a socialist government and a socialist society lies only through the ever-greater expansion of democracy. To these propositions the socialist movement is unequivocally committed.

We aim at building a democratic socialist movement, for the aim of socialism is nothing but the fullest attainment of democracy. The socialist movement differs from all others in that it is the only consistent and thoroughgoing champion of democracy in all spheres of economic, political and social life. In that most urgent of political struggles of our day, the struggle against the war danger and for world peace, we stand unambiguously opposed to all forms of imperialism and colonialism and unreservedly in favor of the democratic right of self-determination for all peoples and nations. No peace is possible if this right is trampled on or evaded; no foreign policy is democratic if it is not imbued with respect for this elementary right. From this follows our opposition to capitalist imperialism and to Communist imperialism. From this standpoint, for example, we hail the French Socialists who have defended and still defend this democratic right of foreign peoples under French rule, while opposing those socialists who have denied or evaded this right. We stand for the fullest democratic rights to the Negro people in the United States. We stand for the fullest democratic rights of the members of the trade-union movement, in which we shall seek to have the voice and vision of socialism heard again loudly and effectively.

THE DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST MOVEMENT must be democratic first and foremost in its internal life, so that its membership may be able to arrive freely and fairly at decisions on policy and activity, where the views of the majority prevail at all times with scrupulous assurances that the rights and conscience of minorities are in no way violated. This requires in turn a movement that is broad in its composition, its outlook, its concepts; that avoids iron and sterilizing dogmas which it seeks to impose upon all others, including dissenters in its own ranks; that avoids the demand for conformity on all questions and problems that are of interest to it; that rejects all concepts of a “monolithic” party and barrack-room discipline. All “monolithic” parties have had their day to the full; all of them have yielded disastrous results, the Communist Parties more than any other.

We of the ISL have sought to summarize and to learn from the vast variety of movements and experiences of the past, to emulate what proved to be wise and to avoid what proved to be wrong and even fatal to socialism. As Marxian socialists, which we have been and which we remain, we reject all dogmas, including those defined as principles. The teachings of socialism, properly understood, have been a guide to socialist thought and socialist action which excludes dogmas. We do not subscribe to any creed known as Leninism or defined as such. We do not subscribe to any creed known as Trotskyism or defined as such. Our own experience with movements professing such creeds has only served to confirm us in our view that socialism cannot be built as a durable and effective movement if they are imposed upon it, nor can its desirable unity be maintained under that condition. We are strongly in favor of a broad party with full party democracy for all, which does not demand creedal conformity on all questions, whether they be of a theoretical character, or of an historical character. Such conformity typifies the sect; it is alien to a living, democratic, socialist political movement in which differences of opinion may be freely held and set forth.

We subscribe to the declaration on the Aims and Tasks of Democratic Socialism, adopted by the Socialist International with which the SP-SDF is affiliated, as the acceptable basis for reuniting and reconstructing a worthy socialist movement in this country. It is on this basis that the ISL first proposed union with the SP-SDF and on this basis it now enters its ranks. We take note of the prefatory statement with which the American SP published the Aims and Tasks of Democratic Socialism in this country:

“Some will be disappointed that the statements are so general. Others will recall that Socialists themselves differ widely on important immediate issues. A few will look in vain for a complete blueprint of a socialist society. The American Socialist Party, too, has some differences with the sentiments expressed, and this is doubtless true of every party affiliated or otherwise connected with the International. In the Socialist International, there is room for constructive dissent.”

It is in this spirit of socialist unity that we continue our activity in the ranks of our party, the SP-SDF, and in which we call upon all other socialists to do likewise. We have every confidence that in the days ahead we will find an ever-widening sphere for our activity, that socialism will once again become a militant, effective and respected political movement in the United States, that its influence will spread throughout the broad popular movements and circles of the country, above all the mighty trade-union movement, the inspiring movement for Negro equality, the reawakening movement of the young students.

Our energies and determination are not dimmed but renewed. Our enthusiasm for the work ahead, the hard work which is its own reward, burns brighter than ever. We know the vast dimensions of the task that lies before us before democratic socialism becomes a political power in the land. But we are confident that in fraternal cooperation with the other comrades of the SP-SDF and with all socialists we here summon to join the ranks we will help to build up the movement again, make it the proud champion of the cause of all who suffer social oppression and indignity, and bring closer the time of freedom for all mankind.

Political Committee of the Independent Socialist League


Max Shachtman, nat’l chairman

Albert Gates, nat’l secretary

Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

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