For those involved in the American anti-capitalist movement, it becomes apparent that the left is fractured and scattered. It seems to be far worse among Communist circles. There are so many different communist groups within the United States, that it is hard to keep track.
In the spirit of pan-left cooperation, I have assembled an ongoing list of avowed communist (and the SPUSA and DSA) groups to help anyone who might need it. Each group includes a brief explanation of their differences and ideology.
I plan on updating and adding to this list as time goes on. If you have a correction or an addition, feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
*Last Updated 16 June 2020*
Worker’s World Party (WWP)
The WWP is a Marxist-Leninist party. Founded in 1959, by a split, led by Sam Marcy, in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) over issues arising from the SWP’s Trotskyist positions on a few key issues. Two examples being Marcy’s support of the Chinese Revolution and the 1956 Soviet intervention in Hungary. Colloquially, those Communists that supported the Soviet intervention were called “tankies”. Today, this term has evolved to mean an organization that supports the USSR, Maoist China, and a broad front of, not necessarily ideologically similar, governments that oppose the interests of Western imperial powers.
The SWP formed from a split with the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA), in 1938, over the CPUSA’s support for Joseph Stalin, over Leon Trotsky, for the leadership of the Soviet Union. Trotskyist organizations, like the SWP, oppose the Soviet Union after the death of Lenin, and all Socialist countries that follow the Soviet example. This includes China and the Eastern Bloc.
A Leninist organization, like the WWP, the SWP, and etc. is structured around the organizing principles of the Russian Bolshevik leader, Vladimir Lenin. Leninist parties adhere to Democratic Centralism, which is democratic decision making and unity in action. All decisions are decided internally by the specified democratic process, but when a decision is made, it must be followed by all membership, at least publicly. This includes the party’s stance on an issue (i.e. the party line). This leads to a lot of splits by those who refuse to take a certain stance.
Their paper is Worker’s World, and they publish a good deal of books.
Socialist Workers Party (SWP)
The SWP still exists, but primarily focuses on union organizing and their party paper, The Militant.
It is important to note that virtually every socialist or communist organization, at least in the US, has publications of some kind. It varies widely in quality and quantity, but I’ve yet to find one group that doesn’t have a physical newspaper. As long as there’s a Red, newspaper’s not dead. They are called the party organ, and they are a key pillar of Leninist party structure. The organ is how the party line is disseminated to the cadre and masses en masse.
Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL)
The PSL is a Marxist-Leninist party. They split from the Workers World Party in 2004 over issues of organizational structure. The PSL holds a virtually similar line to the WWP, having not split over the WWP line, and has agreeable relations with them. The PSL is involved with a lot of coalition building. The PSL frequently joins with other groups to make popular fronts. Two examples being the Act Now and Stop War and End Racism (A.N.S.W.E.R.), and the People’s Congress of Resistance (PCoR). A.N.S.W.E.R is an anti-war and anti-racist group that formed after the attack on the Twin Towers, in 2001. PCoR is an attempt to form a people’s government. The PSL’s is frequently accused of using umbrella organizations as fronts. The PSL will deny this, as other, autonomous, organizations exist in them, and helped create them.
The PSL organ is Liberation, and in another similarity to the WWP, they publish a good deal of books.
Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA)
The CPUSA is an avowed Marxist-Leninist party but is in practice a democratic centralist social democratic party. While the CPUSA is still organized along Leninist lines, there is a common understanding among communist circles that the CPUSA is communist only in name. Like many long-standing communist parties in Europe, they have reformed their core ideological beliefs and praxis after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Jokingly referred to as the “left-wing of the Democratic Party,” they mainly work to elect Democratic Party candidates. They openly supported the presidency of Barack Obama, and shun any form of militant and radical beliefs or actions.
International Socialist Organization (ISO)
*The ISO disbanded in 2019*
The ISO is a Trotskyist organization. Like other Trotskyist groups, they claim that socialism did not exist in the Soviet Union, China, or many others, but was instead a degenerated workers state. Claiming that corruption after the revolution resulted in a new class of bureaucrats replacing the capitalist class. These bureaucrats use the state as a tool to extract surplus labor value, effectively returning to capitalism (i.e. state capitalism).
The ISO has the Socialist Worker as their paper.
International Marxist Tendency (IMT)
The IMT is a Trotskyist organization, but it does not operate as a traditional unified party. Rather than spend energy training core cadre and building political capital, they primarily work through education. The IMT runs In Defense of Marxism, a notable left-wing news site. The IMT is styled as a Fourth Internationale, the great congress-like assemblies of the global Socialist movement. One of the younger groups on the list, formed by a split from the Committee for a Worker’s International (CWI) in 1998.
The other side of their political work is entryism. Entryism is the practice of joining a larger group (Labour, for example) with the specific intention of co-opting it from the inside. A controversial praxis, but not without its merits. The IMT has members doing this around the globe.
Progressive Labor Party (PLP)
The PLP is an anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist party. They formed out of a splinter group from the CPUSA, the Progressive Labor Movement (PLM), in 1962. They are the only group I’ve met that refers to themselves as Stalinists (a common pejorative of Trotskyists). They certainly are anti-revisionists. Anti-revisionism (some say Orthodox) is by the book Marxism. An Orthodox Marxist typically rejects all theoretical innovations after a specific thinker. It typically works out chronologically as Marxist thought is easily understood as building a platform upon yesterday’s platform.
For the PLP, this is Stalin. After Lenin detailed how to organize a party, Stalin detailed how to use one. The most notable point of Stalinism is the two-stage revolutionary process and its implications on struggles for self-determination. Basically, the great chronological stages of history that Marxism describes (pre-class, feudal, capitalism, socialism, and etc.) are based on real existing factors, and according to Stalinism, you cannot “jump” from a feudal society to a socialist one. According to Marxism, socialism inevitably arises from the dialectical conflict that naturally occurs in a highly developed capitalist society. Things don’t happen because we make them happen, they happen because things just make them happen on their own (i.e. materialism). Marxism’s Dialectical Materialism is covered in depth in another article.
This idea had serious real-world consequences because, during his time, there were numerous armed Communist led uprisings in semi-feudal countries. For example, during the Spanish Civil War, when the Anarchists and non-Soviet backed Communists started implementing Socialist/collectivist policies, the USSR told their organizations in Spain to stop them. Spain dialectically had to become fully Capitalist first, and so the USSR supported the Spanish capitalist class in regaining control of communalized areas. That was the Orthodox way it needed to be done, and understandably so, intra-left conflict soured. This is one of the core points that Trotsky opposed Stalin on, a Trotskyist, on Spain for example, would say that the working class should have fully taken power from the get-go. This is part of his theory of permanent revolution. Ironically, a group like the IMT is also anti-revisionist but draws the line at Marx-Lenin-Trotsky.
Both groups would say that Soviet policy from the 60s onwards would be dialectically haram. They are truly the Salafists of the Communist world, and so respect is due. Their paper is called Challenge.
Revolutionary Communist Party USA (RCPUSA)
The RCPUSA is a one of a kind Maoist organization that formed in 1975 under Bob Avakian, and Avakian still leads the RCPUSA, I know that for a fact. The RCPUSA is probably tied with the Maoist collective, Red Guards Austin (RGA), for the most controversial and talked about group in the scene. The RCPUSA came in hot, not as a clean ideological split like most of the others. Like a hectic Italian parliament, it was from the political
maneuvering of small militant Maoist factions quickly shifting into different coalitions. By the end of 1971, Avakian was left as the sole authority of the Bay Area Revolutionary Union (BARU). Like a beaming lighthouse, guiding vessels to safety in the Yellow Sea as cowards and reductionists jump ship, the BARU united many smaller Maoist groups until the nation-wide organization became the Revolutionary Union (RU). By the end of the BARU’s long arduous march, Avakian was recognized for his efforts and elected to the RU central committee (typically the highest decision-making body in a Leninist party). In the next few years, Avakian and the RU, inspired by Chairman Mao’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR), began breaking away from the typical, long dead, ideological mold that, frankly, still holds today. In 1975, the RU having evolved due to Avakian’s innovations, reformed as the RCPUSA.
With the death of Chairman Mao in 1976, the arrest of the gang of four, and the rise of the comprador-roader Deng Xiaoping, the RCPUSA put their money where their mouth was. In 1979, Avakian and 78 others, which is more than some organizations have nationally, were arrested for trying to assassinate Deng Xiaoping on his visit to the US. While the charges were dropped, Avakian still lives in exile. Such militancy was standard among his international coalition of Maoists.
The RCPUSA has Revolution and plenty of books published, and they are stereotyped as more akin to book merchants than Communists. However, the RCPUSA was behind Refuse Fascism, does a lot better than most other organizations at reaching out to communities of color, and they still hold political clout outside the US.
Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)
The DSA is a multi-tendency democratic socialist organization. Democratic socialism (demsoc) is a tendency that, while commonly Marxist, rejects Leninist organizing principles. In addition, the “democratic” of the DSA’s demsoc refers to the seizure of state power through the democratic participation in the current liberal democratic state apparatus. The DSA is multi-tendency, having many different tendencies in their ranks, and the DSA has internal caucuses to represent them. These tendencies go from Marxists to Social Democrats. While the DSA is frequently typecast as a social democratic group that adopts “democratic socialism” as a misnomer, like Bernie Sanders, there is a strong left within it. They recently swelled to be the largest leftist group in the United States after the 2016 presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders drew a lot of people into political activity.
Socialist Party of the United States of America (SPUSA)
The SPUSA is a multi-tendency democratic socialist organization. The SPUSA can be confused with the DSA, but they are fundamentally different groups. The SPUSA is the successor, founded in 1973, to the Socialist Party of America (SPA), of Eugene V. Debs. The multi-tendency of the SPUSA does not extend to Social Democrats. The demsoc of the SPUSA refers to economic and political decentralization. They prefer decentralized methods of power and economic control, not as much as Anarchists, but preferring more individual control. The SPUSA believes that working outside the liberal democratic system is necessary to achieve Socialism, while the DSA works to achieve power through it.
The SPUSA even has a paper, The Socialist.