Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Thomas Barton Papers
A native of Indiana, Tom Barton (b. 1935) joined the Socialist Party (technically, the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation) in the late 1950s and its youth cadre, the Young People's Socialist League, one of the new generation of activists who reenergized the fractious Party and helped propel it into the struggle for civil rights and the peace movement. A third generation union activist, Barton's grandfather was a member of the International Workers of the World, an uncle helped form a UAW local in Wisconsin.
Affiliated with Student Peace Union, Barton traveled to Philadelphia in 1960 to help organize the peace movement in that city. His efforts soon bore fruit. Working with fellow Socialists Martin Oppenheimer (a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania) and Leo Kormis (a lab technician at Penn), he was influential in galvanizing local students to action, although their more orthodox Marxist perspectives sometimes sat uneasily with the New Left sensibilities of the Students for a Democratic Society and other groups. On the national stage, YPSL enjoyed considerable success in organizing the march for a nuclear test ban in Washington, D.C., in 1962, and they are credited with being the first left-oriented group to oppose U.S. military intervention in Vietnam.
With the Chicago Branch of YPSL in 1963, Barton gained increasing prominence. As an editor of Young Socialist Review and through his involvement in national committees, he was selected as a delegate to represent the Branch at the national YPSL Convention in 1964. The membership during that summer was badly divided in the stance the organization should take with respect to the upcoming presidential election, and particularly whether to support the candidacy of Lyndon Johnson. While Shachtman and Michael Harrington argued that the Socialist Party should realign to work with the Democratic Party and push them to the left, Barton became one of the leaders in the Left-wing faction of YPSL (along with Bob Brown, Marge Green, Walt Lively, Joe Weiner, and David Komatsu) opposing the realignment and favoring building a mass labor party. At the Convention, where he was listed as National Secretary, Barton was at the center of dispute between the Realignment, Left-wing, Third camp, Spartacists, and other camps. The events came to a head after a resolution was passed to suspend Socialist Party discipline over YPSL until the Party prevented its leaders from supporting Johnson and the Realignment (Right-wing) faction walked out. Although the Left-wing never formally split from the Party, the Party responded by suspending YPSL. The Left-wing itself split into factions and YPSL itself dissolved. Although reconstituted two years later, it did not regain the vibrancy it enjoyed during the early 1960s.
During the latter half of the 1960s, Barton continued in the revolutionary vein and as an active participant in the antiwar movement. At one time East Coast distributor of the antiwar Vietnam GI -- assisting in sending issues to Vietnam -- he was part of the Wildcat group that supported revolutionary organizing of the working class. Described by Barton's friend and fellow Wildcat Juan McIver as surviving "in a no-man's land between leftism and communism," the Wildcat was rooted in Chicago, Baltimore, and New York, and published Wildcat (later renamed The Spark), Wildcat Report (for New York), and Worker and Soldier. In Detroit, they built on widespread alienation among Black auto workers, attempting to coordinate with radical organizations such as the Dodge Revolutionary Workers Movement, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, and Detroit Revolutionary Organizing Committee. One worker at Chrysler's Eldon Ave. gear and axle plant regarded the Wildcat people as "Old Left" and "so secretive they had crossed over into paranoia." (http://libcom.org/library/black-cats-white-cats-wildcats-martin-glaberman).
Working in the health industry and a shop Steward with Local 768, Heath Care Workers, AFSCME District Council 37, New York City, Barton has remained politically active. A member of the International Socialist Organization, he has taken part in antiglobalization protests in 2000 and has been active in opposition to the war and militarism, publishing GI Special (later Military Resistance) and Traveling Soldier . He assisted ex-Iraq GIs in organizing Iraq Veterans Against the War.