What's the Difference?

(Between the SLP and Other 'Socialists')

In answer to the many inquiries we receive about the differences between the Socialist Labor Party (SLP) and other organizations and “tendencies” describing themselves as socialist, we offer the following necessarily brief summation:


This group is typified by the Communist Party USA, which was set up in 1919 following the Bolshevik Revolution.

For decades the CPUSA emulated the former Soviet Union and accumulated a history of slavishly echoing Kremlin politics and objectives. It contended that the Soviet Union was a socialist society and aimed to establish a similar system in America. But the Soviet system had nothing in common with the classless, stateless organization of the associated producers envisioned by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. The Soviet economy was highly stratified and bureaucratically administered in the interests of a privileged class of officials. It was organized under the control of a suffocating state apparatus controlled by a Communist Party that included just 5 percent of the population.

The CPUSA fell into disarray after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.


Before 1991, this group was typified by the Socialist Workers Party. “Trotskyism” finds its roots in the intraparty quarrels between Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky during the 1920s. While differing with the CP over certain measures taken by the Stalinist regime—most particularly the ouster of Trotsky from the inner circles of the Russian Communist Party—Trotskyist aims are virtually identical to those of the Communist Party.

Since 1991, the SWP appears to have lost its former preeminence among Trotskyist groups and has taken to admiring Fidel Castro and the Cuban Communist Party. Nonetheless, the numerous Trotskyist splinter groups continue to envision a society in which the state controls the industries and a Trotskyist-dominated party controls the state.

'Social Democracy'

“Social Democracy” in America, which dates from 1901, found its first organized expression in the Socialist Party. The SP combined the Social Democratic Party of Eugene Debs in the West with a reformist element that broke off from the SLP. The SP collapsed completely after World War II. A resuscitated version, the SPUSA, and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) typify this “tendency” today.

“Social Democrats” argue that socialism is something that will come about in the distant future or is something akin to the so-called welfare state. These groups have no basic criticism of the capitalist system. They advocate various reforms as the solution to the problems confronting working people today. They are the modern-day representatives of what Karl Marx and Frederick Engels described as “conservative or bourgeois socialism” in their famous Communist Manifesto.


All these organizations have two common denominators, both of which differentiate them from the Marxist SLP.

Reform vs. Revolution

The first denominator is their common acceptance of the validity and desirability of reforms. Thus, although all of them maintain that some kind of “socialism” is their objective, the realization of socialism is not considered possible for an indefinite period in the future. For the present, they say, the thing to do is to work for social reform, i.e., measures that will allegedly alleviate the suffering of the workers.

One of the reform parties, the SWP, denies that it is reformist. But the only difference between it and the reformist SPUSA and DSA on this point is that the SWP attempts to disguise its reform demands as “partial steps” or “transitional measures.” They’re still reforms.

The SLP holds that capitalism is not worth reforming and that, in any case, it cannot be reformed so as really to improve the workers’ condition, or protect them from capitalism’s recurring depressions and wars, or from displacement by automation. Moreover, as long as workers are deluded by the hope of “improved conditions” under capitalism they will turn to the party they think can deliver the goods—the Democratic Party. And the Democratic Party is in the reform business precisely to divert the workers from a revolutionary socialist solution to their problems, and to preserve capitalism. Franklin Roosevelt put it this way: “Reform if you would preserve.”

The SLP grasps the fact that revolutions are not made, but that they come, that capitalism itself is bound to create the revolutionary crisis that will ultimately set the working class into motion. It holds, therefore, that it is the duty of a bona fide party of socialism always to hold the issue of the abolition of wage slavery up before the workers clip and clear, and to expose reforms as delusions where they are not concealed measures of reaction.

'State Socialism'

The second common denominator of the parties claiming to be “socialist” is that their concept of socialism is one in which industry is nationalized and administered by the state.

But the SLP agrees with Marx that “the existence of the state is inseparable from the existence of slavery.” When the state takes over all that really happens is that the workers, who remain wage slaves, exchange one master, the private capitalists, for another, the bureaucrat. This definitely is not socialism.

In contrast to the “radical” reformist parties, the SLP program calls for abolition of the political state with its geographic constituencies and instruments of coercion, and the creation of an industrial union government, an administration resting on industrial constituencies. Only when the means of production are owned socially and administered democratically by the workers will we have genuine socialism.

The differences between Marxism-De Leonism (which the SLP alone represents), “communism” and “bourgeois socialism” are fundamental. For the reasons stated, the SLP has nothing in common with them. However, the best way to compare the differences between organizations is to study carefully the history, the literature, the policies and the objectives of each.

“Again—the saying is common that he who knows only one language knows none. With even better reason is it to be held that he who knows only one party knows none. The SLP, in line with its policy of enlightenment, makes it a point...to acquaint all whom it reaches with the existence and policy of all the other political parties. No ‘Chinese wall’ hems in the mind that SLP propaganda quickens to thought.” (Daniel De Leon, 1911)

For additional information we encourage you to further explore the SLP's website.

Socialist Labor Party of America, P.O. Box 218, Mountain View, CA 94042-0218 • www.slp.org • socialists@slp.org

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