Special Collections & University Archives University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries

Barton, Thomas

Thomas Barton Papers, 1947-1977 (Bulk: 1960-1974).
4 boxes (2 linear feet).
Call no.: MS 539

YPSL logo
YPSL logo

In the early 1960s, Tom Barton (b. 1935) emerged as a leader in the Left-wing of the Young People’s Socialist League, the national youth affiliate of the Socialist Party. Deeply committed to the civil rights and antiwar struggles and to revolutionary organizing, Barton operated in Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York and was a delegate and National Secretary at the 1964 convention in which tensions within YPSL led to its dissolution.

A small, but rich collection, the Barton Papers provide a glimpse into the career of a long-time Socialist and activist. From Barton’s entry into the Young People’s Socialist League in the latest 1950s through his work with the Wildcat group in the early 1970s, the collection contains outstanding content on the civil rights and antiwar movements and the strategies for radical organizing. The collection is particularly rich on two periods of Barton’s career — his time in the YPSL and Student Peace Union (1960-1964) and in the Wildcat group (1968-1971) — and particularly for the events surrounding the dissolution of YPSL in 1964, following a heated debate over whether to support Lyndon Johnson for president. The collection includes correspondence with other young radicals such as Martin Oppenheimer, Lyndon Henry, Juan McIver, and Joe Weiner.

Historical Note

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.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

A small, but rich collection, the Barton Papers provide a glimpse into the career of a long-time Socialist and activist. From Barton’s entry into the Young People’s Socialist League in the latest 1950s through his work with the Wildcat group in the early 1970s, the collection contains outstanding content on the civil rights and antiwar movements and the strategies for radical organizing. The collection is particularly rich on two periods of Barton’s career — his time in the YPSL and Student Peace Union (1960-1964) and in the Wildcat group (1968-1971) — and particularly for the events surrounding the dissolution of YPSL in 1964, following a heated debate over whether to support Lyndon Johnson for president. The collection includes correspondence with other young radicals such as Martin Oppenheimer, Lyndon Henry, Juan McIver, and Joe Weiner.

Woven together, the YPSL files — and particularly those for Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, and Texas — give a sense of YPSL’s field work and the sometimes radically different approaches taken by the New Left and Old Left, and between the varied factions within each. The correspondence, reports, fliers, and other materials reflect deep seated tensions over ideology and tactics, as well as the assault on the left by the forces of authority, as the grappled with issues ranging from the war in Vietnam to the pervasiveness of racism and sexism, and international politics from Berlin to China and Cuba.

The tumultuous 1964 Convention that resulted in the suspension and dissolution of YPSL is well documented, given Barton’s central involvement, and the files for the various branches of the League document the reaction around the country as news of the split spread. The YPSL Texas file with letters from Lyndon Henry and Doug Hainline is noteworthy for the clarity of analysis and candid discussions of YPSL’s relations with SDS.

Other materials are bellwethers for the shifts in attitude within the movement and the increasing radicalization of some members. In November 1965, for example, Joe Verret wrote bitterly about pacifists: “Good God — you know it and so does anyone else with serious intentions of defeating the imperialists — the change to socialism — the convulsion of property relations — will never be accomplished on a world scale if we try tactics such as lying down in front of the tanks of bourgeoisie . . . are we revolutionaries or are we just interested in having a nice sized organization?” (Joe Verret, Nov. 26, 1965)

The most extensive, densest, and perhaps richest correspondence in the collection — five folders worth — comes from Juan McIver, a fellow Wildcat and International Socialist. Sometimes signing himself Frank (and once Igor), McIver’s letters are remarkably intense and detailed discussions of Socialist politics, history, the struggle of the present day, revolutionary organizing, the international scene, his travels in Europe and England, and his evolving views on Socialism and the struggle to create a working class movement. McIver eventually broke with Leninism-Trotskyism. Some of Barton’s letters to McIver are included.

About one third of the collection consists of a remarkable group of materials relating to the Wildcat, and particularly Wildcat Detroit. Mostly signed pseudonymously, the letters and reports analyze efforts to engage in revolutionary organizing of the working class, primarily in the automotive industry. Among other highlights is an essay (filed under “Wildcat: Trade unions and revolutionary organizing”) discussing tactics in navigating racism, suspicion of fellow works, and the fight against capitalism. In a similar vein, the unidentified author of “Towards a Revolutionary Newspaper” laments the lack of a publication that reflects their point of view and offers thoughts on how better to reach workers:

“Initially we planned, and still plan to use locally produced factory bulletins, distributed free at the plant gates. As the basic tool of our organizing, recruiting, and propaganda work. The format would be the simplest and most economical; and 8 1/2 x 13 sheet mimeoed or printed on two sides; one side being a major political article by members of our organizing group, the other side being written entirely by people employed at the plant (ourselves and others)…”

The Wildcat files also contain materials relating to Revolutionary Union Movement groups, such as DRUM (Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement) and ELDRUM (Eldon Revolutionary Union Movement), which sought to organize Black workers and which joined forces to form the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. Among the printed materials are several copies of Wildcat and its successor The Spark, as well as a valuable series of highly ephemeral newsletters from Revolutionary Union Movements.


Information on Use
Terms of Access and Use
Restrictions on access:

The collection is open for research.

Preferred Citation

Cite as: Thomas Barton Papers (MS 539). Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

History of the Collection

Acquired from Eugene Povirk, February 2008.

Processing Information

Processed by Dex Haven, October 2010.


Additional Information

Language
English
Bibliography
Georgakas, Dan and Marvin Surkin, Detroit: I do Mind Dying (N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press, 1975)
Lyons, Paul, The People of This Generation: The Rise and Fall of the New Left in Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania, 2003) (N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press, 1975)


Contents List
Ceylon: The JVP Uprising of April 1971 [Publication]
1971
Box 1
Congress of Racial Equality. Southside Chicago Chapter Constitution and By-laws
ca.1963
Box 1
Independent Socialist Clubs (Mike Shute, Joel Geier)
1966
Box 1
International Anarchist
Undated
Box 1
ISRAC 2 [Publication from Comite d'action revolutionnaire Israelien a l'etranger]
1969
Box 1
Keep Left: The Paper for Socialist Youth
1965 Feb.
Box 1
Labor Committee for Full Employment: Preamble and goals
1963
Box 1
Labor Today [Periodical],vol. 8. 4; 9, 1, 3/4
1969-1970
Box 1
McIver, Juan
1970-1978
5 folders
McIver, Juan
1970
Box 1
McIver, Juan
1971
Box 1
McIver, Juan
1972
Box 1
McIver, Juan
1973
Box 1
McIver, Juan
1976-1978
Box 1
National Committee to Abolish the HUAC. Philadelphia Council
1961-1962
Box 1
Peace Action Center
1961-1962
Box 1

Includes issues of the Peace Action Newsletter, the Washington Witness, brochures and circular letters, and information on the “Washington Project” and work with the Student Peace Union

Peace News Wire
1961-1962
Box 1
Pennsylvania Committee for Economic Freedom
1961
Box 1
Philadelphia Peace March
ca.1961
Box 1

Organizational flier

Philadelphia Picketers’ Defense Committee
1961-1962
Box 1
Phoenix (Swarthmore College student newspaper), vol. 83, 3
1962
Box 1

Includes article on rightist R. Steven Uzzell criticizing Socialist and Communist influence at Swarthmore

Saling, Rick
1970
Box 1
Socialism and peace (Donald G. Rose, Tom Condit)
1961-1962
Box 1
Socialism: reading lists
ca.1962
Box 1
Socialist Party / Social Democratic Federation
1959
Box 1
Socialist Party and Civil Rights
1963
Box 1
Socialist Party and the Right Wing
1961
Box 1

Primarily newsclippings on the topic

Socialist Party. Boulder (Colo.) Branch
ca.1961
Box 1
Socialist Party. National Action Committee
1958-1964
Box 1

Minutes of meetings, resolutions, fliers, etc.

Socialist Party. Peace Committee
1962
Box 1
Socialist Party: Friendly
1964
Box 1

Letters of support for YPSL

Socialist Party: Organizational
1960-1961
Box 1
Student Peace Union (Donald McKelvey, Dave Komatsu)
1960-1962
Box 1
Student Peace Union (Donald McKelvey, Gail Paradise)
1963-1964
Box 1
Student Peace Union. University of Pennsylvania (Walt Brod, Carl Gilbert, George Laky, Diane Pachella)
1961-1963
Box 1
Ten Revolutions That Shook the World (University Democratic Socialist Club publication)
Undated
Box 2
Verret, Joseph S.
1964-1966
Box 2
Wildcat. Education Board: Minutes
1970
Box 2
Wildcat: Articles
ca.1969
Box 2
Wildcat: Baltimore, Md.
1969
Box 2
Wildcat: Buffalo, N.Y.
1969
Box 2
Wildcat: Correspondence and miscellaneous
1970
Box 2
Wildcat: Detroit
1968-1969
Box 2

Correspondence, reports, and communiques between Wildcat groups in several cities

Wildcat: Mailing lists
ca.1970
Box 2
Wildcat: Newsletters and publications
1969-1970
Box 2
Dodge Workers Speak
1970
Box 2
Eldon Wildcat
1970-1971
Box 2
Laying it on the Line
1970-1971
Box 2
Lynch Road Rumblings
1970
Box 2
Needling Points
1970
Box 2
Ring Down
1971
Box 2
Spark, no. 1-3, 7, 10
1971-1972
Box 2

Newspaper, formerly called Wildcat

Wildcat, vol. 1, no. 10-17
1970-1971
Box 2

Newspaper, continued by The Spark

Wildcat Bunch of ATT [newsletter]
1970
Box 2
Wildcat: New York City factories list
ca.1970
Box 2
Wildcat: Press discussion
ca.1969
Box 2
Wildcat Report
1970
Box 2
Wildcat: Trade unions and revolutionary organizing
ca.1970
Box 2
Worker and Soldier
1971
Box 2
Workers Councils Parliament [publication]
1970
Box 2
Workers Special News [newsletter]
ca.1970
Box 2
Workers Voice (Western Electric Kearny Works newsletter)
1970
Box 2
YPSL. National Action Committee
1958-1960
Box 2
YPSL. National Action Committee
1963-1965
Box 2
YPSL. National Executive Committee
1960-1964
Box 2
YPSL: Bibliography and Study Guide
1961
Box 2
YPSL: Brochures
1962-1963
Box 2
YPSL: California (Michael Parker, Ted Alpen)
1964
Box 2
YPSL: California. San Francisco (Don Thomas, Stephen Meisenbach)
1963-1964
Box 2
YPSL: Chapter reports
1961
Box 2
YPSL: Conferences and publications
1960-1964
Box 2
YPSL: Contacts
1964
Box 2
YPSL: Convention
1964
Box 2
YPSL: Defense of Man [publication]
ca.1963
Box 2
YPSL: Financial
1964
Box 2
YPSL: Florida (Bruce Carl Huston)
1964
Box 2
YPSL: Fund raising
1960-1963
Box 2

Efforts and publicity for raising funds

YPSL: Illinois
1961-1964
Box 3
YPSL: Illinois. Chicago Chapter (Janet Heywood, Joe Weiner, Pat Sexton, Joe Stetson)
1960-1963
Box 3
YPSL: Illinois. Chicago Chapter (Janet Heywood, Joe Weiner, Pat Sexton, Don Widman)
1964
Box 3
YPSL: Indiana (Gavin MacFadyen)
1957-1963
Box 3
YPSL: Massachusetts (Neil Chacker, Jonathan A. Wouk)
1964
Box 3
YPSL: Membership
1964
Box 3
YPSL: Michigan
1964
Box 3
YPSL: Michigan State University Conference on Political Perspectives
1965 Feb. 12
Box 3
YPSL: Miscellaneous
1961-1964
Box 3
YPSL: Missouri (Jim Hamilton)
1964
Box 3
YPSL: New Jersey
1964
Box 3
YPSL: New York City Chapter (Tom Barton, Marge Green, Norm Shatkin, Joan Shatkin)
1961-1964
Box 3
YPSL: New York City Chapter. Fliers for social events
1961-1962
Box 3
YPSL: New York City Chapter. Flyers for events
1961-1962
Box 3
YPSL: New York. Cornell University Chapter (Dave Rader, Doug Hainline)
1964
Box 3
YPSL: Pennsylvania
1964
Box 3
YPSL: Pennsylvania. Philadelphia Branch (Ed Hollander, Bob Brown, Carl Gilbert)
1947-1964
Box 3
YPSL: Pennsylvania. Philadelphia Branch Investigation
1963
Box 3
YPSL: Political history
1958-1964
Box 4
YPSL: Relevance of Hope [publication]
ca.1959
Box 4
YPSL: Split with Socialist Party
1964
Box 4

Relating primarily to convention of 1964

YPSL: Statements and resolutions
1961-1966
Box 4

Possibly associated with National Action Committee

YPSL: Student Socialist Union
1964
Box 4
YPSL: Texas (Lyndon Henry, Doug Hainline)
1963-1964
Box 4
YPSL: Virginia (Marc Gripman, Carol Rosenquist)
1964
Box 4
YPSL: Washington (Rick Saling, Dean Henry Fearn)
1964
Box 4
YPSL: Washington D.C. (Neil Maclay, A. Busby)
1964
Box 4
YPSL: Wisconsin (Joe Stetson, Scott Spencer, Paul G. Faler)
1964
Box 4
Young Socialists League (Martin Oppenheimer)
1957
Box 2
Subjects
  • Antiwar movements
  • Civil rights movements
  • Communists
  • Revolutionaries
  • Socialist Party of the United States of America
  • Socialists--United States
  • Student Peace Union
  • Students for a Democratic Society (U.S.)
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Protest movements
  • Wildcat
  • Young People's Socialist League
Contributors
  • Barton, Thomas
  • Gilbert, Carl
  • Henry, Lyndon
  • MacFadyen, Gavin
  • McIver, Juan
  • Oppenheimer, Martin
  • Shatkin, Joan
  • Shatkin, Norm
  • Verret, Joe
  • Weiner, Joe
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