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The Progressive Labor Party (PLP) is a Marxist–Leninist political party based primarily in the United States established in January 1962 as the Progressive Labor Movement following a split in the Communist Party USA, adopting its new name at a convention held in the spring of 1965. It played a vocal role in the anti-Vietnam War movement of the 1960s and early 1970s through its Worker Student Alliance faction of Students for a Democratic Society. Following the end of American involvement in Vietnam, the PLP emerged as one of the leading anti-revisionist communist organizations in the United States. The PLP publishes a weekly newspaper called Challenge.
The PLP began as an organized faction called the Progressive Labor Movement in January 1962, formed in the aftermath of a fall 1961 split in the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) that saw the expulsion of left-wing labor activists Milt Rosen (1926–2011) and Mortimer Scheer. Prior to his expulsion, Rosen was a prominent CPUSA functionary, serving as District Organizer for upstate New York from 1957 and Industrial Organizer for all of New York state from 1959. An initial organizational meeting was held in December 1961, attended by 12 of the approximately 50 current and former CPUSA members identifying themselves as the "Call group". Rosen delivered a political report to the Cuban Revolution-inspired group urging the establishment of a new communist party in the United States to replace the CPUSA, which was characterized as irredeemably "revisionist".
The organization remained amorphous in its first months, publishing Progressive Labor—initially a monthly newsletter—and engaging in small-scale discussions. An organizational conference was called by the editors of Progressive Labor to be held in New York City in July 1962. This gathering, held at the Hotel Diplomat, was attended by 50 individuals from 11 different cities and served to launch itself as a formal organization, the Progressive Labor Movement. Milt Rosen again delivered the main political report to the gathering, calling for the writing of a program and development of a network of clubs and affiliated mass organizations in order to win supporters for a new revolutionary socialist movement. Given the small size of the fledgling organization, formation of a political party was deemed unpropitious with the name Movement selected to emphasize the early and transitional nature of the organization. The Progressive Labor Movement was finally reconstituted as the Progressive Labor Party at a founding convention held in New York City from April 15–18, 1965. A 20-member National Committee was elected at this time. Milt Rosen became the founding chair of the party at the time of its formation. Organizational headquarters were established in New York City.
Although it disdains parliamentarism as an end, the Progressive Labor Movement was quick to make use of the electoral process as a vehicle for propaganda, launching an effort to gain the signatures of 5,000 registered voters in New York City to put a PLP candidate on the ballot for the November 1963 election of the New York City Council. Although it did not manage to place its candidate on the ballot, the proto-PLP did manage to distribute more than 100,000 pieces of party literature in conjunction with the electoral campaign.
The PLP remained an organization of modest size throughout the decade. Although it did not publicize its membership, federal income tax returns filed in 1967 and 1968 provide a reasonable proxy. The PLP formally existed as a publishing partnership listing Milt Rosen and the party's 1965 candidate for New York State Senate Bill Epton as partners. These returns showed income and expenditures of about $66,000 in 1967 and about $88,600 in 1968, with the partners claiming no income from the ostensible business relationship.
During the decade of the 1960s, the PLP followed the international political line of the Communist Party of China and was described by commentators as "Maoist". The organization carved out a niche in the anti-Vietnam War movement, with its Worker Student Alliance faction acting as rivals to the Revolutionary Youth Movement faction within Students for a Democratic Society—the latter a self-described Maoist organization which had a minority faction within it that would later evolve into the so-called Weather Underground.
The PLP made extensive use of mass organizations (front groups) from its earliest years, through which it spread its ideas, raised funds and recruited new members. Included among these were the Student Committee for Travel to Cuba (1963–1964), which organized travel to post-revolutionary Cuba; the Harlem Defense Council (1964), organized in response to racially oriented rioting in the Harlem section of New York City; the May 2nd Movement (M2M, established 1964), organized in opposition to the Vietnam War; and other short-lived, issue-driven front groups.
The PLP ended its previous political line supporting the Cultural Revolution and broke with the People's Republic of China in the spring of 1971 with the publication of an internal discussion bulletin for party members detailing eight points of disagreement with the Chinese regime. These related to the softening of China's foreign relations towards Cambodia, North Korea, Romania, Yugoslavia and the United States, its "complete elevation of the Black Panther Party as the revolutionary group in the United States" and its "total collusion with every nationalist fake the world over, from Nasser to Nkrumah".
During the decade of the 1970s, the PLP began to shape its activity around the issue of racism in the United States, forming a mass organization called the Committee Against Racism (CAR). A CAR convention held in New York City in July 1976 drew some 500 participants. The organization made use of aggressive direct action tactics against its perceived opponents, disrupting presentations by controversial psychologist Arthur Jensen and physicist William Shockley in the spring of 1976.
In 1977, the renamed PLP front group the International Committee Against Racism (InCAR) made headlines by disrupting an academic conference by pouring a pitcher of water on sociobiologist E. O. Wilson's head while chanting "Wilson, you're all wet".
According to the constitution adopted at the time of the PLP's formation in 1965, membership was open to anyone at least 17 years old who accepted the program and policies of the party, paid dues and required assessments and subscribed to party publications. Supreme authority within the organization was to be exerted by national conventions, held every two years. The convention was to elect a National Committee to handle matters of governance between conventions. The primary party unit of the PLP was the "club", organized either on a shop, territorial, or functional basis. All party members were required to be active members of a club and were to be bound by the principles of democratic centralism, in which decisions of higher bodies were to be considered as binding upon participants in lower bodies. During the 1960s, new members were additionally required to undergo three months of ideological training, usually held in small group settings in individual houses.
Owing in part to the significant economic and extensive time requirements expected of its members, the PLP has since its inception been a small cadre organization, with an "estimated hard-core membership" of about 350 in 1970, supplemented by numerous sympathizers. Members during the 1960s were predominantly from white, middle-class backgrounds, shunned drug use, and tended "to dress neatly and wear short hair", according to a 1971 House Internal Security Committee staff report.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the PLP published a magazine called Progressive Labor, which first appeared as a monthly before shifting to quarterly and later bi-monthly publication. The press run of Progressive Labor circa 1970 was approximately 10,000. The party also published Challenge, a publication likewise issued at changing intervals over the years. In 1970, the press run of this publication was approximately 75,000 according to the estimates of government investigators, with many of these copies unsold.
Challenge remains in production today as a bi-weekly, issued under the same covers with its parallel Spanish language counterpart Desafío. The PLP also produces a semi-annual theoretical magazine, The Communist.
During 1963 and 1964, the PLP also produced a theoretical magazine called Marxist-Leninist Quarterly. This publication was terminated and merged with Progressive Labor magazine in 1965. A short-lived West Coast publication called Spark was also produced from 1965 until early in 1968.
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