Socialist Workers Party Records, 1928-2002


The records of the Socialist Workers Party are closely tied to the administrative organization of the party. The party operates on three levels: local organizations, the national office, and its international association, which, since 1940, has been informal. Almost all of the records in this collection have been generated in the national office.

On the local level the party provides for a variety of units of organization depending upon the size and vitality of the membership. The branch, the basic unit of organization, is the most significant body on the local level. Every member of the party belongs to a branch except for those members who reside in areas where no branch exists; they are known as members-at-large. In the past a branch has had between five and fifty members. Each branch elects its own leadership, the executive committee, which in turn elects an organizer and all local officers and committees. The executive committee directs activities between branch meetings but is ultimately responsible to the membership.

The party has several administrative bodies on the national level and it regularly convenes a national convention. The national leadership derives its authority solely from the national convention, the highest governing body of the party, where representatives of the branches assemble to formulate policy and elect a national executive. National conventions are held at least every two years. More frequent special conventions may be called by the national executive or on demand by branches representing one-third of the membership. The two bodies elected by the national convention are the National Committee (NC) and the Control Commission. The latter, which has one of its five members delegated by the NC, is less involved in the normal operations of the party. Its function is to carry out internal investigations in the interest of party welfare. The Control Commission takes no action but presents its findings and recommendations (depending on the circumstances under which it was convened) to the Political Committee, National Committee or convention. Although the Control Commission is a standing body, it is dormant unless convened by the Political Committee to investigate a particular dispute. The NC meets only a few times each year, and its meetings are known as plenums. Its size is determined by each new convention and thus it changes frequently. The main function of the National Committee is to develop policy which it formulates on the basis of the decisions of the national convention.

The Political Committee (PC) is responsible for day-to-day operations of the party organization. It is composed of members of the NC, traditionally those members who resided in New York City. The PC assumes a broad function as the central authority between plenums and it is authorized to speak and act in the name of the National Committee. All party organs and branches are under the supervision of the PC which meets whenever needed, even several times a week. Several subordinate leadership bodies report to the Political Committee. The Political Bureau and the Secretariat basically function as the PC. Moreover, at times it elects a secretariat to operate between its meetings.