In Memoriam–Hal Draper

Against the Current, No. 25, March/April 1990

Ernie Haberkern

ON JANUARY 26, 1990, Hal Draper, the leading international spokesman for the Third Camp socialist position and an active participant in and theoretician of the revolutionary socialist movement for over fifty years, died at the age of 75 in Berkeley, California.

Hal Draper first rose to prominence in the socialist movement in the 1930s. As national organizer of the Young People’s Socialist League, he led the left wing of the Student Strike Against War.

Draper outlined the history of the movement in his contribution to a collection of essays, called As We Saw the Thirties (University of Illinois Press). The target of these student demonstrations, unprecedented in the United States, was not only, or even primarily, the impending war in Europe. It was not an isolationist movement mainly concerned with keeping the country out of ‘foreign’ wars, as liberal historians continue to claim.

The demonstrations were aimed at the chauvinism, incipient fascism and increasing militarism which were poisoning American political life as the Roosevelt administration prepared the American people for imperialist war. While the Communist Party and its liberal sympathizers swung from sectarian denunciations of Roosevelt as a fascist to the opposite extreme—denouncing Roosevelt’s opponents and even tepid critics as the fascists—the left wing of the Socialist Party (SP), especially the youth who were themselves prospective cannon fodder, became even more principled opponents of Roosevelt’s foreign and domestic policy.

It was in the student antiwar movement that Hal Draper met his future wife of thirty-four years, Anne Kracik, who was also a prominent socialist activist and trade union militant. (She died early in 1973.)

In 1934 the American supporters of Leon Trotsky, led by men like James P. Cannon, Max Shachtman and Albert Goldman, the Socialist Party. They provided the left wing with an intellectual and political leadership it had lacked since the 1920s. Hal Draper became an active supporter and leader of the left wing that formed around these people.

In 1938, in what Draper felt was a hasty and Ill-advised move, Trotsky’s supporters, in de facto collaboration with the right-wing leadership of the SP, split the party and formed their own organization soon to be called the Socialist Workers Party. Faced with the choice of supporting a revolutionary leadership he thought mistaken and remaining with a party dominated by a right wing that was rapidly becoming an appendage to the Roosevelt wing of the Democratic Party, Hal Draper became a charter member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).

Before a year was up the Hitler-Stalin Pact threw the Socialist Workers Party, the labor and socialist movements, and the diplomatic and foreign policy of the major powers into a tailspin.

Inside the Trotskyist movement and its periphery on the left of the socialist movement, the pact provoked a crisis. Already in 1937, as Trotsky was preparing to found the Fourth International, there was growing opposition to support of the Soviet Union. Prominent spokesmen for this point of view were James Burnham and Joseph Carter in the United States and Yvan Craipeau in France.

In response to the crisis of the Hitler-Stalin pact Joseph Carter took the position that Russia had become a new class society, neither socialist nor capitalist, which was an enemy of both the bourgeoisie and the working class. In the course of the discussions around this issue, Hal Draper became convinced by Carter’s arguments. He drafted the 1941 resolution of the Carter position and based his political analysis of contemporary politics on that position for the rest of his life.(1)

Organizer and Writer

As a member of the newly formed Workers’ Party (formed from the 1940 split in the SWP), Draper spent the war years organizing opposition to the authoritarian and anti-labor policies of the war time administration. He and his comrades agitated against the internment of Japanese Americans, the perpetuation and extension of Jim Crow legislation and practice in the military and in civilian life, and the regimentation of labor through the no-strike pledge.

Their newspaper and theoretical journal, Labor Action and The New International, detailed the reactionary policies of American and Russian imperialism as they maneuvered for position in the post war world, cynically appealing to the horror and revulsion provoked by fascist and nazi war crimes while they assimilated the methods and techniques of fascism themselves.

During this period Hal and Anne Draper were employed in the shipyards in the Los Angeles area. They helped organize and lead the ultimately successful wildcat strikes that forced the union leadership, management and the government to deal with the workers’ trade union demands that had been sacrificed on the altar of the “wartime emergency.”

In 1948, Hal Draper became editor of the theoretical journal New International. In 1949, he left that position to become editor of the paper Labor Action which, under his editorship, changed from an agitational newspaper to one emphasizing socialist education and political analysis. In that same year, he authored the resolution on Capitalism, Stalinism and the Struggle for the World which used the position Carter had proposed in 1940 as the basis of a political perspective on the development of the postwar world.

In this document, Draper applied the theory of “bureaucratic collectivism,” which the name Carter gave to the new system not only to Russia, its satellites and China, but to the first glimmerings of non-Stalinist bureaucratic tendencies in capitalism and in liberal and social democratic ideology and practice.

Throughout the fifties, Labor Action, published by the Independent Socialist League, as Workers’ Party was now called, remained a respected, knowledgeable and principled opponent of American imperialism as the authoritarian tendencies of the as Roosevelt administration flowered in the Cold War period. In its reportage and analysis of McCarthyism, the American invasion of Korea and the growing intervention in Vietnam LaborAction, unlike many on the left, did not find it necessary to apologze for the Stalinist movements that so often benefitted from American blunders and atrocities in this period.(2)

After the majority of the Independent Socialist League dissolved into the Socialist Party in 1958 (a move Hal Draper opposed as an attempt to bury Third Camp socialism in a party moving in a pro-West direction), the Drapers spent a year travelling in Europe on a sort of political Grand Tour, meeting with leaders and activists of various tendencies in the socialist movement.

They moved to Berkeley, California the next year, at a time when the student movement that was to give birth to the Free Speech Movement and the New Left of the sixties was already underway.

Hal and Anne Draper were prominent advisers and leaders of the left wing of the Socialist Party in the early sixties at a time when that party enjoyed an Indian Summer of activity. Its members exercised considerable influence in the civil rights and peace movements. The SP enjoyed a brief monopoly position on the left since the Communist Party and its periphery were in complete disarray following Khrushchev’s revelations and the suppression of the rising of the Hungarian working class against Stalinism.

A New Movement

By 1964, the political and organizational ties of the right wing of the Socialist Party, under the leadership of Michael Harrington and Bayard Rustin, to the Democratic Party had damaged the SF’s reputation and strained its relations with the militants and even the not-so-militants in the civil rights and peace movements. The betrayal of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegation at the Democratic convention of 1964 by these same leaders made continued membership in the same political party with them impossible for many socialists.

In the early fall of 1964 the left wing of the SP in Berkeley constituted itself as the Independent Socialist Club. Just in time for the Free Speech Movement (FSM).

It is difficult to imagine the outrage provoked by the FSM in these post-Vietnam War days. Not only conservative politicians and campus administrators but prominent liberal politicians and columnists denounced the students as did the student government and the student newspaper the Daily Californian. (The only lib-lab type who backed the students was George Hardy of the Service Employees. He was the exception that proved the rule. His local had tried to organize dormitory workers on the campus the year before and had been royally shafted by the liberal industrial relations expert who was president of the University. A man named Clark Kerr.)

Hal Draper was one of the few from the generation of the thirties who spoke out in defense of the students. His pamphlet, The Mind of Clark Kerr, published by the Independent Socialist Club, articulated the students’ deeply-felt but unthought-out suspicions of this liberal administrator who was doing the dirty work of conservative opponents of civil rights.

Draper’s book, Berkeley the New Student Revolt, published later that year, was the first serious attempt at a critical analysis of the New Left. Hal and Anne Draper continued to be active spokespersons for the left in the 1960s especially in the growing antiwar movement in the unions. They were particularly active in the Labor Assembly for Peace Anne Draper was a one of the founders of this first organized attempt to swing labor away from the Meany line.

As the New Left went into its precipitous decline in the late sixties Hal Draper turned to the theoretical work which he felt was necessary to reorient an increasingly disoriented movement. His four volume study of Marx’s political thought Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution (Monthly Review Press) has had an important impact on serious socialist scholars.

In 1981, Hal Draper founded the Center for Socialist History, a non-profit organization dedicated to research and study on the origins and history of the socialist movement by and for socialists who want to understand their movement and its role in history and help shape its development in the future. Recent events in Eastern Europe, even more than the collapse of the New Left, demonstrate the need to rethink the socialist past as a prerequisite for and necessary part of effective revolutionary action.

Friends of Hal Draper suggest that memorial contributions be made to the Center for Socialist History, 2633 Etna Street, Berkeley California, 94704.


  1. There is a myth that the Italian crank Bruno Rizzi is responsible for this theory. See my article in Telos, No. 66, fora discussion of this particular piece of disinformation.
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  2. A collection of Hal Draper’s writings on this subject is available from the Independent Socialist Press, 11 Eton Ct., Berkeley, CA 94705.
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March-April 1990, ATC 25

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