1930-09 Preface to ‘Socialist Reconstruction of Society’ [Petersen]
Arnold Petersen – Preface to Socialist Reconstruction of Society by Daniel De Leon
There was little to indicate that the date July 10, 1905, was destined to become famous in the annals of revolutionary literature. On that day, however, Daniel De Leon, linguist, authority on constitutional and international law, social scientist, leading Marxian economist, lecturer, editor, founder of revolutionary working class unionism in America, and foremost protagonist of proletarian emancipation, delivered the now famous address then entitled "The Preamble of the I.W.W.," later changed to "Socialist Reconstruction of Society."
The address was delivered in Minneapolis, Minn., during a lecture tour undertaken by De Leon following the Chicago I.W.W. convention. Few of those who attended the lecture realized the importance of the occasion. Few now recall any particular incident in connection with the lecture. But this speech by America’s foremost Socialist was subsequently published in pamphlet form, in editions so numerous that count of them has been lost, and reprints are still called for. As the late Henry Kuhn, former National Secretary of the Socialist Labor Party, said in his preface to the special Twenty-fifth Anniversary edition, "it is … certain that we shall continue to See published edition after edition in ever swelling numbers."
De Leon’s address on the Preamble of the I.W.W. has made history. It has inspired and instructed thousands upon thousands of workers, even as it has infuriated the enemies of the revolutionary working class movement. However, this is not the place to record the history of De Leon’s struggle with the opposition to the Industrial Union idea. That history, when written, will reveal De Leon as a lone Titan, battling for a great principle, surrounded by a pack of yelping human canines, who all feared him and who nevertheless were anxious to set their teeth in his flanks and, if possible, trip him and rend him. They failed, obviously, but though they could not conquer him they could, and did, keep up their snarls, sneers, lies and absurd misrepresenations.
A splendid example of these sneers and misrepresentations is found in Wm. D. Haywood’s autobiography ("Bill Haywood’s Book," 1929). The following iines are quoted as being most characteristic:
"De Leon [said Haywood] had [in 1913 or so] lost what little knowledge he had of industrial unionism."
De Leon, the father of Industrial Unionism, recognized as such by all thinking and posted workers in and students of the modern labor movement, including Nikolai Lenin, had but "little knowledge" of Industrial Unionism — and this "little" — alas — he lost! That this was neither Haywood’s original nor his honest estimate of De Leon’s profound contribution to social science is, fortunately, capable of proof. In a letter written to De Leon, dated Denver, Colo., November 18, 1905, Haywood wrote in part:
"I have read and reread your Minneapolis address on the preamble of the Industrial Workers of the World. Your exposition of the aims and objects of the I.W.W. is clear and convincing. I wish that a Copy of it could he placed in the hands of every man and woman of the working class in this country."
Contrast this with the snarl quoted from Haywood’s autobiography, and comments become superfluous.
In referring to the weird stories spread about Russia by the forces of capitalism, it has become customary to speak of the "lie factories" of Riga, Helsingfors, etc., etc. The "lie factory" which supplied most of the weird tales concerning De Leon, and which were sometimes whispered, sometimes shouted here, there and everywhere in order to counteract his influence, and specifically to disrupt and destroy the then non-anarchist, that is, Socialist I.W.W., was the so-called Socialist party. The bitter personal hostility of the Socialist party politicians against De Leon caused them to go beyond all reason in their futile and fatuous opposition to him. No less a person than Eugene V. Debs has excellently epitomized this opposition and one of its chief causes. In the Worker (N.Y.) of July 28, 1906, Debs said:
"It may be that De Leon has designs upon the Socialist party and expects to use the I.W.W. as a means of disrupting it in the interest of the Socialist Labor Party, and if he succeeds it will he because his enemies in the Socialist party [i.e., Messrs. Ghent, Berger, Hillquit, Spargo, et al.], in their bitter personal hostility to him, are led to oppose … the revolutionary I.W.W. and support the reactionary A.F. of L…."
From another bitter opponent of De Leon we have similar testimony. Vincent St. John, one of the leaders in the anarcho-syndicalist ("Bummery") coup of 1908, said on the occasion of the "Sherman affair" in 1906:
"It is my opinion that they [the Shermanites] are, because of lack of argument with which to sustain a wrong position, hoping to cause the prejudice which exists against De Leon and the Socialist Labor Party to blind many to the true state of affairs, a prejudice which I plead guilty to having had, but which I was unable to justify upon investigation. a prejudice which exists against this organization and man because it and he stood upon the ground that we now occupy fourteen years ago, struggling against grafters and traitors, and for which they have paid the penalty in being slandered and vilified. This is no eulogy of De Leon or the S.L.P…. It is my conclusion."
The tactics imputed by St. John to the Shermanites were to be employed by himself less than two years later. And these tactics were employed by every opponent of De Leon who ran afoul of his invincible logic, firm convictions and purity of purpose. What St. John said in 1906 could have been applied with equal justice to the slanders and vindictive acts committed by his associates against De Leon in 1908 and after.
No serious criticism has ever been made of "Socialist Reconstruction of Society." It stands today as a monument of Socialist science, of clear and sound reasoning — and as a terrible indictment of capitalism in all its twentieth century hideous ruthlessness and brutality. Clownish or imbecile attempts have been made to pick flaws in this materpiece, and a typical case in point is that made by an S.P. luminary who now is the editor-in-chief of the Socialist party weekly organ in New York. This gentleman offers this imbecility a a "critique" of De Leon’s argument in "Socialist Reconstruction of Society" that the political State must be conquered only to be destroyed:
"Political action is not completely rejected [in 'Socialist Reconstruction of Society'] but to abandon political power after winning it differs little from refusing to struggle for it in the first place."
This is how De Leon disposed of this feeble-minded attempt at criticism:
"This is a choice chunk of dialectics. According to such logic –
"To have demolished the Bastille, after having captured it, differs little from having refused to capture it in the first place; or-
"To have disbanded the federal armies, after having overthrown secession, differs little from having refused to gather the federal armies in the first place; or-
"To cast off your crutches, after you have regained the use of your legs, differs little from having refused to use erutches in the first place.
"Mr. Oneal’s pamphlet should he read. It is a dialectical blunderbuss fired at the S.L.P. from a blunderbuss that ‘kicks’ the blunderbusser."
The I.W.W., launched in 1905 under such auspicious circumstances, has been wrecked a result of the abandonment of the political clause and hte adoption of archcho-syndicalism, exactly as predicted by De Leon. But the Industrial Union principle as formulated by De Leon and advocated by the S.L.P. is as sound at the present time and even more applicable than in 1905. The true nature of the political State — its antiquated character, its capitalist class nature, its unfitness as an instrument of government in a highly developed industrial society — is becoming more and more glaring. Industrial government of, by and for the workers, on a basis of collective and cooperative ownership of all socially needed means of production, is about to enter the stage of history. If the advent of this new form of government is hastened by decades, if the transition period is attended with little or no chaos and violent upheavals, if the blessed sun of economic freedom soon rises and sets on a happy race enjoying peace and plenty, it will be due in large measure to the untiring, nobly sacrificing labors of Daniel De Leon. And of all his great writings we may be sure that none will be valued more highly by posterity than "Socialist Reconstruction of Society."
New York, September 1930.