Introduction Hal Draper: A Biographical Sketch

in Historical Materialism
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Abstract

Hal Draper was born in Brooklyn in 1914, to East European Jewish immigrant parents. In 1932 he became active in the Student League for Industrial Democracy and the Socialist Party youth section, the Young People's Socialist League (YPSL). A leader of the Student Strikes Against War, he became an associate editor of Socialist Appeal in 1934. In 1937, the socialist youth, led by Draper and Ernest Erber, voted to support the Fourth International after Trotsky's followers entered the Socialist Party (SP). Draper opposed the subsequent split in the SP, which Trotsky and James P. Cannon deliberately provoked, but left with the Trotskyists and became the national secretary of the Socialist Workers’ Party's youth group, a member of its first National Executive, and the secretary of the party's National Education Department. Irving Howe, a YPSL comrade, later recalled his admiration. Draper was, ‘genuinely learned in Marxism, with a mind that marched from one theorem to another as if God were clearing his way’, a youth leader who ‘would speak for us with a razored lucidity’ in debate with the Stalinists. Draper was part of the minority when the SWP split in 1940 over two issues, the ‘Russian question’ and the ‘bureaucratic conservatism’ of James P. Cannon's internal party regime. Draper became a founder member of the Workers’ Party (WP) , led by Max Shachtman, which developed an analysis of the Soviet Union as neither a ‘workers’ state’ nor state capitalist but a new form of exploiting class society, bureaucratic collectivism. The WP refused to ‘defend the Soviet Union’ and developed a distinctive democratic revolutionary Marxism, summed up by the slogan, ‘Neither Washington nor Moscow but the Third Camp of Independent Socialism!’. And, in reaction to Cannon's monolithic conception of the party, the WP developed a highly democratic internal political culture marked by ‘an atmosphere of genuine tolerance’ unceasing internal debate carried in the public press, and untrammelled rights for minorities.

Introduction Hal Draper: A Biographical Sketch

in Historical Materialism

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