Social Democratic Federation of America

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The Social Democratic Federation (SDF) was organized in 1936 after the split in the Socialist Party between the Old Guard and the Militants. It was able to attract many of the traditional Socialist Party sources of support and its activities were directed by many prominent Socialist Party members, including August Claessens, Algernon Lee, Leo Meltzer, James Oneal and Louis Waldman. The SDF sought to promote the principles of social democracy and independent political action. In the late 1930's, SDF was associated with the American Labor Party of New York and the People's Party. During the 1940's and early 1950's, SDF's membership and influence declined forcing merger negotiations with the Socialist Party. The merger was affected in 1957.

From the description of Records, 1933-1956. (New York University). WorldCat record id: 17269163

The Social Democratic Federation of America (SDF) was organized in 1936 after the split in the Socialist Party ranks between the Old Guard and the Militants. Although not an official political party like the Socialist Party, the SDF was a political organization which consisted of the following groups: (1) Socialist Party state branches, particularly those in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Maryland; (2) Socialist Party municipal locals, particularly those in Reading, Pennsylvania, under the leadership of James H. Maurer, and Bridgeport, Connecticut, under the leadership of Mayor Jasper McLevy; (3) labor parties, especially members of the American Labor Party of New York, the FarmerLabor Party of Minnesota, and the Non Partisan League; and (4) socialist foreign language organizations, like the Jewish Socialist Verband and the Finnish Socialist Federation. During its formative period, the SDF was not only able to attract many of the traditional Socialist Party sources of financial support, but its activities were also directed by many prominent members of the Socialist Party, including August Claessens, Algernon Lee, Leo Meltzer, James Oneal, and Louis Waldman.

During its 20 year history, the SDF sought to promote the principles of social democracy and independent political action. Such ideals were realized through a variety of activities concerning domestic and international issues. Regarding the domestic issues, the SDF sought legislation to amend the National Labor Relations Act, supported Franklin D. Roosevelt in his Presidential campaigns in 1940 and 1944, called upon all labor organizations to unite against communist groups in the United States, and endorsed civil rights legislation. Internationally, the SDF played a vital role in various programs that brought German refugee children to the United States. The SDF also supported American participation in World War II, opposed Mahatma Gandhi's independence movement in India during the war, and assisted in the relocation of Jewish refugees after the war.

Like the Socialist Party, the SDF was also plagued by bitter internal conflicts. One of the major controversies affecting the organization in the late 1930s and early 1940s was its relationship with the American Labor Party of New York. When the New York Old Guard became the New York State division of the SDF in 1936, they adopted the name "People's Party" and subsequently joined the American Labor Party. From the perspective of the People's Party, this linkage with the American Labor Party was seen as an opportunity to help organize a formidable labor party, support Franklin D. Roosevelt in his Presidential reelection bid, and still remain outside the realm of conventional party politics. Ironically, however, the members of the People's Party, who had earlier withdrawn from the Socialist Party on the grounds that it was overly sympathetic towards communism, were now closely associated with an organization which was controlled by communists. The unsettling relationship with the American Labor Party ultimately caused such influential SDF figures as Louis Waldman and Leo Meltzer to resign from the organization.

Another conflict within the SDF involved the New Leader and its editor, James Oneal. Shortly after the SDF was established in the fall of 1936, the editorial board of the New Leader withdrew its support for the Socialist Party and joined the new organization. The relationship between the New Leader staff and the SDF executive committee was never cordial, since both groups held differing opinions as to what the editorial policy of the newspaper should be. These disagreements became so large in scope and so emotional in tone that James Oneal finally resigned as editor in 1940. In his resignation letter, Oneal stated that the New Leader had become a liberal, progressive publication instead of a significant SDF organ and that the New Leader had failed to strengthen the SDF overall. Following Oneal's resignation, the editorial board of the New Leader and the SDF leadership continued to fight over the proper editorial policy for the publication. Eventually, the staff of the New Leader split from the SDF.

During the 1940s and early 1950s, the SDF experienced a drastic decline in its membership and influence. Much of this decline can be attributed to three major factors: (1) the general decline in the popularity of socialism throughout this period; (2) the movement of many socialists, social democrats, and progressive liberals into the Americans for Democratic Action and other liberal organizations; and (3) the suspicions generated by the SDF's association with the American Labor Party. By the early 1950s, this decline forced the SDF leadership to begin serious negotiations with the Socialist Party on a possible merger. Attempts at uniting these two organizations began as early as 1937 and continued through the 1940s without much success. At this point in time, however, the mutual decline of both organizations had prompted a reassessment of the merger issue. Finally, in 1957, after several years of negotiations, the SDF merged with the Socialist Party.

From the guide to the Social Democratic Federation of America Records, 1933-1956, (Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Social Democratic Federation of America Records, 1933-1956 Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
referencedIn Goldberg, Louis Palatnik, b. 1888. Papers, 1929-1957. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
referencedIn Goldberg, Louis Palatnik, b. 1888. Papers, 1926-1957. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
referencedIn August Claessens Papers, 1906-1963 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
referencedIn Lee, Algernon. Papers, 1896-1954. Churchill County Museum
creatorOf Social Democratic Federation of America. Records, 1933-1956. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
referencedIn Socialist Party (U.S.). Records, 1900-1976. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
referencedIn Socialist collections in the Tamiment Library, 1872-1956 (inclusive), [microform]. Yale University Library
referencedIn Algernon Lee Papers, Bulk, 1896-1954, 1861-1954, (Bulk 1896-1954) Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
referencedIn Lena Morrow Lewis Papers, 1899-1951 Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
referencedIn Claessens, August, 1885-1954. Papers, 1911-1955. Churchill County Museum
referencedIn Printed Ephemera Collection on Organizations, 1886- Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
referencedIn New Leader records, 1928-1960. Churchill County Museum
referencedIn James Oneal Papers, 1907-1962 Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
referencedIn Socialist Party (U.S.). Records, 1900-1987. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American Labor Party. corporateBody
associatedWith Beal, Fred E. person
associatedWith Beal, Fred Erwin, 1896-1954 person
associatedWith Claessens, August, 1885-1954. person
associatedWith Debs, Theodore, 1864-1945. person
associatedWith Goldberg, Louis Palatnik, b. 1888. person
associatedWith Jewish Socialist Verband. corporateBody
associatedWith Lee, Algernon. person
associatedWith Lewis, Lena Morrow. person
associatedWith Maurer, James. person
associatedWith Maurer, James H. b. 1864. person
associatedWith McLevy, Jasper. person
associatedWith Meltzer, Leo. person
associatedWith Meltzer, Leo. person
associatedWith Mooney, Thomas J., 1882-1942. person
associatedWith New leader (New York, N.Y. : 1924). corporateBody
associatedWith Oneal, James. person
associatedWith People's Party. corporateBody
associatedWith People's Party (N.Y.). corporateBody
associatedWith Russell, Charles Edward, 1860-1941. person
associatedWith Social Democratic Youth. corporateBody
associatedWith Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation. corporateBody
associatedWith Socialist Party (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Tamiment Library. corporateBody
associatedWith Waldman, Louis. person
associatedWith Waldman, Louis, b. 1892 person
associatedWith WEVD (Radio station) New York, N.Y. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
New York (State)--New York
Subject
Socialism
Textile Workers' Strike, Gastonia, N.C., 1929
Labor unions--United States
Labor unions
Socialists--United States
Beal Case
Occupation
Function

Corporate Body

Active 1933

Active 1956

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