Co-founded in 1992 by Daniel Cantor (a former staffer for Jesse Jackson‘s 1988 presidential campaign) and Joel Rogers, the New Party (NP) was a socialist political coalition whose objective was to endorse and elect leftist public officials — most often Democrats. Cantor and Rogers wanted NP to be “an explicitly social democratic organization, with an ideology roughly like that of Northern European (e.g., Swedish) labor movements.” NP’s short-term goal was to move the Democratic Party leftward, thereby setting the stage for the eventual rise of a new socialist third party. According to author Stanley Kurtz, NP “is best understood as an attempt to build a mass-based political front for a largely socialist party leadership.” Around the time of NP’s founding, Joel Rogers himself penned a piece in the Marxist journal New Left Review, wherein he made it clear that the organization was a socialist enterprise at its core.
The initial strategic meetings to plan the New Party were held in Joel Rogers’ Madison, Wisconsin home in the very early 1990s. Present at these gatherings were Rogers and his wife Sarah Siskind; Harriet Barlow (who would later become an IPS board member); Dan Cantor; Steve Cobble (affiliated with the Institute for Policy Studies, or IPS); Barbara Dudley (then-executive director of Greenpeace); ACORN leaders Jon Kest, Steven Kest, Zach Polett, and Wade Rathke; and Sandy Morales Pope (of the Teamsters union).
In the fall of 1994, a New Party publication listed more than 100 activists “who are building the NP.” Of these, fourteen were affiliated with the IPS, twelve with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), six with the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, and five with ACORN. Notable names among the list of 100+ were John Cavanagh, Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Randall Forsberg, Maude Hurd, Manning Marable, Frances Fox Piven, Zach Polett, Wade Rathke, Mark Ritchie, Joel Rogers, Gloria Steinem, Cornel West, Quentin Young, and Howard Zinn.
The New Party’s influential Chicago chapter began to coalesce in January 1995. Its members consisted mainly of individuals associated with ACORN, DSA, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the Committees of Correspondence.
NP also had a front group called Progressive Chicago, whose purpose was to identify candidates whose agendas the New Party and its sympathizers might support.
NP’s modus operandi featured the political strategy of “electoral fusion,” where it would nominate, for various political offices, candidates from other parties (usually Democrats), thereby enabling each of those candidates to occupy more than one ballot line in the voting booth. By so doing, NP often was able to influence candidates’ political platforms. (Fusion of this type is today permitted in eight states — Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Mississippi, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, and Vermont — but is common only in New York.) NP’s overriding goal was to elect leftist Democrats rather than third-party candidates, as evidenced by a 1994 New Party Executive Committee announcement that said: “Joining the New Party doesn’t end your relationship with the Democrats, it changes it.”
Though Illinois was not one of the states that permitted electoral fusion, in 1995 the political neophyte Barack Obama nonetheless sought NP’s endorsement for his 1996 state senate run. He was successful in obtaining that endorsement, and he used a number of NP volunteers as campaign workers. By 1996, Obama himself had become a member of the New Party. (Obama also had been a prominent member of the aforementioned NP front group, Progressive Chicago.) A key figure in NP’s Chicago chapter was Carl Davidson, a Marxist who became one of Obama’s earliest political supporters.
In 1996, three of the four NP-endorsed candidates in Illinois won their electoral primaries — Obama in the 13th State Senate District, Danny Davis in the 7th Congressional District, and Patricia Martin (a judge) in the 7th Subcircuit Court. All four candidates attended an April 11, 1996 New Party membership meeting to express their gratitude for the party’s support. NP chapters elsewhere in the U.S. similarly helped to elect dozens of additional political candidates.
To a large extent, NP functioned as an electoral front for ACORN—particularly in Chicago. Indeed, the DSA’s national newsletter characterized NP as essentially the “electoral arm” of ACORN and its allied SEIU locals.
NP’s hostility to capitalism was made plain in the party’s assertion that “our major economic problem is not the government, as conservatives claim, but American enterprise itself.” internal ACORN/New Party documents give evidence that NP sought to employ a “pragmatic” leftism that rejected ideological purity and instead sought to “organiz[e] the private economy to serve public ends”; i.e., rather than nationalizing the entire economy, the aim was to fight for government regulations that would empower community groups like ACORN to create “popular and democratic control over the economy.”
Among NP’s specific objectives were “full employment, a shorter work week and a guaranteed minimum income for all adults; a universal ‘social wage’ to include such basic benefits as health care, child care, vacation time and lifelong access to education and training; a systematic phase-in of comparable worth; and like programs to ensure gender equity.” NP also advocated “the democratization of our banking and financial system – including popular election of those charged with public stewardship of our banking system, worker-owner control over their pension assets [and] community-controlled alternative financial institutions.”
NP described itself as a party that was “run by dues-paying members, who are organized into chapters.” In 1999, the “Join the New Party” section of NP’s website made it clear that NP was a membership-based organization (wherein a “basic membership” cost $36).
By early 1997, NP’s membership rolls had grown to approximately 10,000. But later that same year, the party’s influence declined precipitously after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that electoral fusion was not protected by the First Amendment’s freedom of association clause. By 1999 NP was essentially defunct. Daniel Cantor and other key party members went on to establish a new organization with similar ideals, the Working Families Party of New York.
For additional information on the New Party, click here.