Social Democrats, USA
Last updated: January 10, 1989
Published by the International Relations Center / Interhemispheric Resource Center.
Background: The Social Democrats, USA (SD/USA) has its political roots in the Socialist Party. Its philosophical forefather was the intellectual Trotskyite, Max Shactman. Shactman, initially a Communist, became increasinging disenchanted with the actions of the Soviet Union under Stalin and developed a new genre of antiStalinist leftists. This group joined the Socialist party of Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas in the 1960s. (2) It was in this period that the SD/USA made its commitment to, and its first inroads into the organized labor movement. In 1972, the Socialist Party split into two factions; the left led by Michael
Harrington and the right or conservative wing led by Tom Kahn, Rachelle Horowitz, and Carl Gershman. (2) The latter became the SD/USA.
In the 1970s, under the leadership of Carl Gershman, SD/USAbecame a supporter of Sen. Henry Jackson and his contingent of conservative, hawkish "defenders of democracy." As such, they gained a great deal of political experience and saavy, but little political power. It was not until the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, that the SD/USA achieved positions of power and influence in both the labor movement and the government. (2)
Journalist Michael Massing points out that SD/USA members are masters of tactical politics. They, unlike other neoconservative groups that "hang out" in the lofty space of intellectualism, seek out middle-level jobs in government and organized labor. They understand the power that bureaucracies wield if properly managed. (2) He calls them the "State Department socialists."(2)
Today, the Social Democrats have an important place in the largest labor coalition in the U.S. , the AFL-CIO. Lane Kirkland, president of the AFL-CIO, called SD/USA a "major force for good in America." He went on to say that SD/USA has "an understanding that defense of freedom in the world must go hand in hand with the continuing struggle for social and economic justice at home."(1) SD/USA belongs to the Socialist International and promotes its agenda within the U.S. , but it enthusiastically supports a policy of U.S. intervention abroad. (2) SD/USA proclaims itself to be the "Standardbearer for Freedom, Democracy, and Economic Justice."(3) In its domestic policies, the organization fights for the rights of organized labor and often protested the union-busting, pro-corporate policies of the Reagan administration. (3) However, in its foreign policy SD/USA is stridently anticommunist and supportive of the policies of the U.S. government. (2)
SD/USA is a small organization with fewer than 1,000 active members; however, its influence has been extensive in the "upper-middle" levels of government and organized labor. (2) SD/USA is the driving force behind the policies of the International Affairs Department of the AFL-CIO, and cooperates with affiliates of the AFL-CIO in "democracy building" projects around the globe. (4) Similarly, Social Democrats hold influential positions in the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a quasi-governmental organization formally established by legislation introduced by the Reagan Administration in 1983. (4)
Funding: SD/USA obtains some of its funding from memberships and sales of its printed materials. (5) SD/USA receives contributions from the AFL-CIO. (4)
Activities: SD/USA has few domestic activities, most of its energies go into foreign policy. (2) Domestically, SD/USA distributes pro-union position and policy papers. It has worked on Frontlash, a youth group that undertakes a variety of projects. (2) Frontlash has run a voter education project funded by the AFL-CIO, and has worked on AFL-CIO projects to fight international child labor exploitation and to train "Labor Solidarity Interns" from the U.S. to work with their counterparts in Latin America. (2,36,37)
SD/USA has lobbied Congress to support basic industries in the U.S. and has been an advocate for national health insurance. (4,38)
SD/USA helped to revive the League for Industrial Democracy (LID). The LID, which is housed in the SD/USA office, shares SD/USA’s philosophy and advocates its policies. (15)
SD/USA holds an annual convention. In 1985, the keynote speaker was Alfonso Robelo a leading opponent of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua and a member of the contra political directorate. (8)
SD/USA has given financial, moral and political support to Poland’s Solidarity movement and to the movement’s quarterly bulletin Solidarnosc. (3) In this effort, SD/USA has been joined by the LID and the Brussels-based Committee in Support of Solidarity (CSS). (5,9) CSS is heavily supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, a U.S. government-funded organization that sponsors anticommunist,"democracy-building" projects around the world. (10)
Bruce McColm and Douglas Payne represented SD/USA on the Socialist International observer delegation to the February 1989 Paraguayan elections. (16) McColm is the executive director of Freedom House, an anticommunist human rights organization that studies governments and countries around the globe to determine whether or not they qualify as "democratic." Payne is the director of hemispheric studies at Freedom House. (11) Payne also represented SD/USA at the Socialist International’s Committee on Latin America and the Caribbean at its 1989 meeting in Kingston,Jamaica. (16) Freedom House is heavily funded by NED. (10,12,13,14)
Government Connections: Carl Gershman, chair of SD/USA from 1974 to 1980, was an aide to Jeane Kirkpatrick when she was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. In 1984, he served as an adviser to the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America
(the Kissinger Commission) established by President Reagan. (2) Penn Kemble was on the advisory committee of the U.S. Information Agency’s (USIA) Voice of America. (34)
Arch Puddington worked for USIA’s Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. (35)
Elliott Abrams was Assistant Secretary of State for InterAmerican Affairs in the Reagan administration. Prior to that he served as Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and as a staffer for Sen. Henry Jackson. (40) Abrams was a major figure in the Iran-Contra Affair. (41)
Bruce McColm served as a consultant to the U.S. Senate’s Central American Monitoring Group and has taken congressional representatives on fact-finding tours in Central America. (11)
Jeane Kirkpatrick was the U.S. delegate to the United Nations during the Reagan administration. (53)
Max Kampleman was a legislative counsel for Sen. Hubert Humphrey and a chief U.S. negotiator to the Geneva arms talks with the Soviet Union. (40)
Private Connections: This is where the real strength and importance of SD/USA lies. The overlapping memberships between SD/USA
board of directors and national advisory council and the League for Industrial Democracy (LID), Freedom House, the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), and the AFL-CIO and its affiliates are numerous. Between SD/USA and LID there are 20 overlapping board members; 13 between SD/USA and APRI; 6 between Freedom House and SD/USA; and 6 between SD/USA and the AFLCIO. (4,6,7) SD/USA also has close ties with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). (4)
Carl Gershman is the president of the National Endowment for Democracy. (12) NED serves as a channel for U.S. government funding for "democracy building" projects in third world nations. (12) In keeping with its congressional mandate, the bulk of NED’s funding (70 percent in its first two years) has been given to the Free Trade Union Institute (FTUI), an affiliate of the AFL-CIO’s International Affairs Department. (4) Gershman was a research director for APRI and a resident scholar at Freedom House. (4) The Carl Gershman Papers, which take up nine linear feet at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, are considered a valuable source on the recent history of socialism in America. However, Gershman represents SD/USA, the rightwing branch of socialism that was formed as the result of a split in the party in 1972. The leftwing is represented by the Democratic Socialists of America, led by Michael Harrington until his death early in 1989. (2)
Tom Kahn was called from SD/USA to head the International Affairs Department of the AFL-CIO by Donald Slaiman, current chair of SD/USA. (1,4) The International Affairs Department operates around the world, developing and supporting "democracy" and "free" trade unions through its affiliates FTUI, the African American Labor Center (AALC), the Asian American Free Labor Institute (AAFLI), and the American Institute of Free Labor Development (AIFLD). However, it is the U.S. government’s foreign policy that defines the terms "free" and "democratic."(4) Kahn also serves on the board of FTUI. (4) He is on the board of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a group established to assist refugees of Nazi and communist oppression. (17) The IRC receives funding from AID. Its operations historically have reflected the policies and followed the interests of the U.S. government. (18) Kahn is also on the board of LID. (6)
Norman Hill is the president and executive director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute. (19) APRI is a labor organization that provides the link between organized labor and blacks. (20)APRI’s original purpose was to broaden the civil rights movement begun by Martin Luther King to one that would demonstrate a national unity for political, economic, and social justice for blacks. Today, APRI is funded primarily by the AFLCIO and follows the political philosophy of SD/USA. (21,22) Hill is also on the boards of LID and Freedom House. (6,7) He also serves as the vice president of the Bayard Rustin Fund, a fund set up in honor of the long-time chair of APRI and SD/USA. (21)
Bayard Rustin, who died in 1988, was the long-time chair of APRI. (21) He was on the original board of the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), a stridently anticommunist group organized to combat what it perceived to be America’s greatest danger, the Soviet Union. The CPD advocated a strong defense and a policy of containment militarism. (23) Rustin was chairman of the executive committee of Freedom House, vice president of LID, and on the board of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (CDM). (24,25,26)
The CDM is a group of conservatives, often tagged "Reagan Democrats," who work within Congress to implement anticommunist policies. (23)
Albert Shanker is president of the American Federation of Teachers, a national union considered by many to be the most progressive teachers union in the U.S. (21) On the international scene, however, the AFT’s activities are more conservative. The AFT conducted a project entitled "Teachers Under Dictatorship," a study revolving around teachers in Chile, Nicaragua, South Africa, and Poland. The funding for this project came from NED through FTUI. (27) Shanker currently serves on the boards of Freedom House, APRI, CDM, FTUI, AIFLD, the AFL-CIO, and NED. (7,19,28,4,29,10) He also served or serves on the boards of the AFL-CIO’s International Affairs Department affiliates, the AALC and AAFLI. (30) Shanker was a founder of the CPD. (23) He served on the advisory board of the Cuban American National Foundation, an anti-Castro lobbying group which has received funding from NED. (31,32) Shanker also served on the board of the IRC and the American Foundation for Resistance International. Resistance International is an anticommunist group that supports "freedom fighters" around the world and in this country works to overcome the "sweet reasonableness" of Gorbachev and reawaken the people to the dangers of communism. (17,33)
Sol Chaikin is a vice president at LID and he serves on the boards of Freedom House and APRI. (6,7,19) Chaikin was a founder of the CPD and is on the board of the CDM. (23,28) Chaikin was or is a member of the advisory board of the conservative think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies. (34)
Donald Slaiman is a department head at the AFL-CIO. It was Slaiman who tapped Tom Kahn to head the Department of International Affairs, despite the fact that Kahn had no previous work experience with labor unions. (4) Slaiman is on the boards of LID and APRI. (6,19)
Bruce McColm is the executive director of Freedom House. (7) He is the only North American to serve on the Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States. (11) He served on Freedom House’s presidential election observer teams in Haiti and Surinam. (11)
Penn Kemble was the organizer of the "Gang of Four"–four young Democrats who became contra supporters in the mid-1980s. Kemble and his crew played a key behind-the-scenes role in obtaining congressional support for aid to the Nicaraguan contras. (35) Kemble was the co-founder and president of the board of the Friends of the Democratic Center in Central America (PRODEMCA). (42) PRODEMCA received funding from a conduit for money and arms in Ollie North’s Iran-Contra network. (35) It also received major funding from NED for support of La Prensa and other anti-Sandinista political and media groups inside Nicaragua. (2,13,14) Kemble was co-founder of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), an organization with the goal of "restoring democratic values" to churches. (43) IRD targeted progressive religious organizations active in third world countries and charged them with aiding communism. (44) IRD has received funding from the U.S. Information Agency. (43) Kemble was a founder of the CDM and currently serves on its executive committee. (23,28) He is also on the boards of LID and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), the Democratic Party’s conduit for NED funding. (6,45) Kemble’s sister, Eugenia Kemble, is the executive director of FTUI. (4)
Rachelle Horowitz is the wife of Thomas Donohue, secretary/treasurer of the AFL-CIO. (4) She is also on the boards of APRI, LID and the Bayard Rustin Fund. (19,6,21) Horowitz was on the board of the AFT, and was a founder of the CPD. (46,23)
Jay Mazur, president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, is a vice president of the AFL-CIO and on the boards of AIFLD, FTUI, AALC, and AAFLI. (29,4,47,30) He served or serves on the board of the National Committee for Labor Israel-Histadrut. (4) Mazur also serves on the boards of LID and APRI. (6,19)
John Roche was a founding member of the CPD and serves on its current executive committee. (23,48) He is on the advisory committee of the CDM, and the boards of LID and APRI. (28,6,19) Roche also serves on the board of the IRC. (17)
Jeane Kirkpatrick was a prominent member of CDM and a member of the CPD. (23) She
is on the board of the Committee for the Free World, a stridently anticommunist group of neoconservative intellectuals who promoted their views in the media. (49,50) She was also connected with PRODEMCA. Kirkpatrick is a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and is or was on the "faculty" at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). (40,51) CSIS was closely tied to the Reagan administration and has been called "a parking lot for former government big shots."(51) Kirkpatrick made the keynote address and was honored at a reception at the secretive, rightwing foreign policy group, the Council for National Policy. (52)
Max Kampleman was vice chairman of the CDM and was on the CPD. (40) Midge Decter, executive director of the Committee for the Free World, joined him on those boards and also served on the board of the influential, conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation. (40) Decter was the managing editor of Commentary, an intellectual neoconservative publication edited by her husband, Norman Podhoretz. (40) Elliott Abrams, former Assistant Secretary of State of Inter-American Affairs and a key figure in the Iran-Contra affair, is Decter’s son-in-law. (40)
Misc: Albert Shanker of the AFT said of the Social Democrats,"They’ve had a certain type of tough political education… They know they will never attain power electorally. So they learn other things–how to caucus, organize factions, draw up policy papers, handle ideas. It’s a good training ground for politics."(2)
SD/USA served as the spring board for major neoconservative figures Penn Kemble, Rachelle Horowitz, and Carl Gershman, among others. (2)
Comments: SD/USA is an important and powerful group because of the jobs and connections of its membership. It numbers among its members a strange combination of intellectual neoconservatives and top union officials. The Reagan administration brought these groups together by allowing them both a considerable amount of influence and power. So, while the SD/USA name may not be familiar to many, its membership gave intellectual credence to the politics and policies of the Reagan administration and provided "cover" for Democrats who supported an agressive anticommunist foreign policy.
It is questionable whether this extends into the current administration. However, its role in private or quasigovernmental organizations is still intact. Its members dominate the AFL-CIO’s Department of International Affairs, and play key roles in NED, and in its major grantees, and dominate the upper echelons of the AFT and APRI. Its members hold sway at Commentary and in the Committee for a Free World.
U.S. Address: 815 15th St, NW, Suite 511, Washington, DC 20005
Principals: The 1989 officers are: Donald Slaiman, pres; Velma Hill and Penn Kemble, vice chairs; and Rita Freedman, exec dir. (1) Until his death in 1989, Sidney Hook was honorary chair. (1) The members of the 1989 National Committee are: Harold Ash, Judy Bardacke, Steve Beiringer, Eric Chenoweth, Roger Clayman, Daniel M. Curtin, David Dorn, Paul Feldman, Joel Freedman, Samuel H. Friedman, Eugene Glaberman, Albert Glotzer, Marguerite Glotzer, Norman Hill, David Jessup, Pat Jones, Dwight W. Justice, Tom Kahn, Adrian Karatnycky, Seymour Kopilow, Israel Dugler, Louis Leopold, George Lerski, Herbert Magidson, Henry Maurer, Bruce McColm, Morris Milgram, Bruce Miller, Meyer Miller, Max Mont, Emanuel Muravchik, Irving Panken, Charles Perkel, Michael S. Perry, David Peterson, Arch Puddington, Joseph Ryan, Manuel Santaqna, Hugh Schwartzberg, Yetta Shachtman, Hugh Sheehan, Jessica Smith, Joan Suall, Helen Toth, Ruth Wattenberg, and Richard C. Wilson. (1)
Members of the 1989 National Advisory Council are: Robert Alexander, Thomas R. Brooks, Sol C. Chaikin, Edward J. Cleary, Charles Cogen, Marjorie Merlin Cohen, Jeannette B. DiLorenzo, John J. Driscoll, Evelyn Dubrow, David Evanier, Sandra Feldman, Charles Gati, Frances Grant, Feliks Gross, John E. Haynes, Thomas Y. Hobart Jr. , Sol Hoffman, Jiri Horak, Rachelle Horowitz, Ted H. Jacobsen, Jakub Karpinski, Walter Kirschenbaum, Irene Lasota, Leon Lynch, Jay Mazur, Joyce D. Miller, Vanni B. Montana, Cleo Paturis, Douglas W. Payne, Raul R. Porter, Ronald Radosh, John P. Roche, Edgar Romney, Paul Seabury, William Stern, Irwin Suall, Mary N. Temple, Jackson Toby, Lynn R. Williams, William Julius Wilson. (1)
Carl Gershman and Bayard Rustin were former leaders of SD/USA. (3,8) Jeane Kirkpatrick, Elliott Abrams, and Max Kampleman are among the better known members of SD/USA. (8) Commentary magazine and the Committee for the Free World are also mentioned as voices for SD/USA. (8)
Sources:1. Letter from Rita Freedman, exec dir, SD/USA, received July 1989.
2. Michael Massing,"Trotsky’s Orphans: From Bolshevism to Reaganism," The New Republic, June 22, 1987.
3."Social Deomcrats, USA: Standardbearers for Freedom," Democracy, and Economic Justice, SD/USA, received in 1989.
4. AIFLD in Central America: Agents as Organizers (Albuquerque, NM: The Resource Center, 1987).
5. Phone conversation with staff member at SD/USA office, Nov 1989.
6. Letter from Kirsten Crane, League for Industrial Democracy, July 24, 1989.
7. Freedom House, letterhead, received July 24, 1989.
8. Christopher Hitchens,"Minority Report," The Nation, July 6, 1985.
9."The L. I. D. –A Brief History," League for Industrial Democracy, received July 24, 1989.
10. National Endowment for Democracy, Annual Report, 1988.
11. Freedom House, Freedom House: Committed to Democratic Principles and Action, 47th Year, 1987-1988.
12. National Endowment for Democracy, Annual Report, 1984.
13. National Endowment for Democracy, Annual Report, 1985.
14. National Endowment for Democracy, Annual Report, 1986.
15. Jack Clark,"The ‘Ex’ Syndrome," NACLA, Report on the Americas.
16. Social Democrats USA,"SD Represented in Paraguay, Jamaica," NOtes, Vol XIX, May 1989.
17. Letter from the International Rescue Committee, received Dec 6, 1988.
18. Private Organizations with Connections in El Salvador (Albuquerque, NM: The Resource Center, 1988).
19. A. Philip Randolph Institute, letterhead, received Aug, 1989.
20. The A. Philip Randolph Institute Memorial Fund, a brochure, undated.
21. A. Philip Randolph Institute,"25th Anniversary Commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom," Aug 25, 1988.
22. Phone conversation with Norman Hill, president of APRI, Aug 17, 1989.
23. Jerry W. Sanders, Peddlers of Crisis: The Committee on the Present Danger and the Politics of Containment Militarism Boston, MA: South End Press, 1983).
24. R. Bruce McColm, To License A Journalist, Freedom House 1986.
25. Letter from the League for Industrial Democracy, Sep 30, 1986.
26. Letter from the Coalition for a Democratic Majority, Sep 23, 1986.
27. Free Trade Union Institute, Quarterly Report to NED, July 31, 1988.
28. Coalition for a Democratic Majority, letterhead, received July 1989.
29. AFL-CIO Handbook, 1988.
30. United Food and Commercial Workers Intl Union, Fact Sheet, undated, received Aug 1989.
31. Cuban American National Foundation, brochure, 1986.
32. John Spicer Nichols,"The Power of the Anti-Fidel Lobby," The Nation, Oct 24, 1988.
33. The American Foundation for Resistance International, brochure, received Nov 8, 1989.
34. Center for Strategic and International Studies,"Programs, 1987-1988," 1987.
35. USIA,"Volunteers for Intern
ational Communication: Reports of USIA Private Sector Committees," 1984.
35. Michael Massing,"Contra Aides: Why Four Democratic Operatives Enlisted in Ollie North’s Crusade," Mother Jones, Oct 1987.
36. AFL-CIO,"Frontlash Launches Campaign On Child Labor Abuse," Working Together, Vol. 1, No. 1, undated.
37. AFL-CIO Latin American Solidarity Program, flyer, May 1989.
38. SD/USA,"An Open Letter to Democrats and Republicans on The Structural Crisis of the American Economy," Oct 31, 1983.
39. Irena Lasota,"A New Spring in the Eastern Bloc," The Social Democrat, Fall 1988.
40."The Neocon Family Tree," Mother Jones, July/Aug 1986.
41. Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair, Appendix B, Vol 4, 1988.
42. PRODEMCA, Annual Report, 1986.
43. The New Right Humanitarians (Albuquerque, NM: The Resource Center, 1986).
44. Alan F. Wisdom,"On the Peace Watch: IRD Visits Churches in Central America," Religion and Democracy, Jan 8, 1988.
45. National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, list of board members, May 1989.
46. Profiles of Board Members, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, 1984.
47. Free Trade Union Institute, list of board of directors, updated by phone conversation with FTUI, Aug 1989.
48. Phone conversation with the Committee on the Present Danger, Aug 1989.
49. The Committee for the Free World, brochure, undated, received July 7, 1989.
50. Kathleen Teltsch,"400 Intellectuals Form ‘Struggle for Freedom’ Unit," New York Times, Feb 19, 1981.
51. Alison Muscatine,"Georgetown’s Media Profs," Washington Post May 11, 1986.
52. Council for National Policy, Meeting Agenda, Oct 10-11, 1982.
53."The Buck Starts Here," Briarpatch, Oct 1985.
The underlying cites for this profile are now kept at Political Research Associates, (617) 666-5300. www.irc-online.org.