1931-12 Proletarian Democracy vs Dictatorships and Despotism [Petersen]

An address delivered by the Annual De Leon Birthday Celebration, New York City, December 13, 1931. Published in 1932, New York Labor News Company, New York City. Thanks to Byron.


Another work on Daniel De Leon from the press of the Socialist Labor Party must be especially opportune and urgent to justify its publication at this time, when the importance of practical revolutionary working class activity is brought to the forefront of Socialist discussion by the rapidity with which capitalism is disintegrating the world over.

The present work, originally entitled « Daniel De Leon: His Contribution to Marxian Science, » fulfills just such special requirements. It maintains, as a consistent theoretical and practical whole, the teachings of De Leon in the vanguard of scientific Socialism. It continues the revolutionary Marxian tradition of the Socialist Labor Party, so brilliantly developed by De Leon, of insistence upon the importance of unremitting attention to the tactical problems of the working class struggle.

Consideration of these tactical problems engaged the attention of Marx and Engels as early as 1844 or I845, when these two great founders and leaders of scientific Socialism were attracted to each other by their contributions to the ephemeral « Deutsch-Franzoesiche Jahrbuccher. » (German-French Year Books.) From then on, in their joint works, « Die Heilige Familie » (The Holy Family), 1845, and in the « Communist Manifesto, » 1848, all through and following the reactions succeeding the sporadic proletarian revolts in Europe in 1848 and 1849, and especially during the Lassallean reaction in Germany in 1856, then on to the Paris Commune of 1871, through the reactions to Bismarck’s attempted suppression of German Socialism in 1876, and up to the time of Marx’s death in 1883, both leaders consistently applied themselves separately and jointly, as their correspondence reveals, to laying down the fundamental, theoretic and practical lines of revolutionary proletarian tactics. This work was continued by Engels in his « Origin of the Family, » in « Socialism, Utopian and Scientific » and in various articles and letters, to the end of his life.

The rich content of Marx’s and Engels’s fundamental outlook upon this question of what does and does not constitute practical, revolutionary activity of the proletariat on the industrial and political fields of the class struggle quickly absorbed the attention of Daniel De Leon during his early experiences in the Socialist Labor Party, and became the starting point of that scientific synthesis of theory and practice elucidated in the following pages.

After the passing of Marx and Engels, despite the early meteoric brilliancy of those learned Marxists, and later « turncoats, » the Kautskys, Guesdes and Plechanofs, and despite also the like vulgarization and betrayal of Socialism by the « social chauvinistic » and opportunist Scheidemanns, Vanderveldes, MacDonalds and Debsites, there yet remained two great leaders to carry on the work of Marx and Engels against the tribes of bourgeois salvagers, the « social democrats, » who literally flocked to the capitalists’ aid. They were Daniel De Leon and Nicolai Lenin, giants both of them in sustaining in and out of season correct Marxian revolutionary theory and tactics before the working class. As early as 19os, one by the publication in Russia of his pamphlet on « The Two Tactics, » the other in America by his speech on the « Preamble to the 1. W. W., » now published under the title, « Socialist Reconstruction of Society, » made a deep impress upon the Socialist movement and simultaneously solved the vexed question of the « right tactic » in their respective countries.

« In great historical processes, » wrote Marx in a letter to Engels,i « twenty years are but as one day and then may come days which are the concentrated essence of twenty years. » The « Ten Days Which Shook the World » in 1917 were a prophetic fulfillment, the « concentrated essence » of the twelve years, 190S to 1917, in Russia. There, « Marxism, » through Lenin, and in spite of the Social Democrats, conquered the bourgeois outposts of advancing capitalism, and today controls the Socialist destinies of 120 million people.

It is one of the logical implications in the accompanying address on De Leon that the latter in America, like Lenin in Russia, made every allowance for what Lenin correctly describes as the « objectively necessary dialectic of human history » expressed in the above observation quoted from Marx’s letter to Engels; and that, therefore, when those « great historical processes » bring to America « the days which are the concentrated essence of twenty years, » the platform of the Socialist Labor Party will be found to correspond to and form part of those very historical processes, and carry the American working class to its triumph over capitalism.

If it did no more than trace, as it does, the development of Marxian revolutionary tactic relating [1] to the industrial organization of the working class, and (2) to its revolutionary political activities as interpreted both by Lenin and De Leon, each in relation to the particular stage of economic development obtaining in their respective fields of operation, the present work would have met a great want at this moment. But it does more than that. It takes « the Marxian concept of proletarian rule, referred to as the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat,’ and De Leon’s theory of Industrial Unionism and working class government based on industrial constituencies, » and in accord with George Eliot’s maxim, cited by De Leon, « that the difficult and useful thing to do is not to find differences in things that look alike, but to discover the likeness that may be between things that look different, » it reveals the central principle which both forms of proletarian democracy have in common, the relevancy of each of these forms to the peculiarly different conditions of their determination. Yet this is not all. Without doubt the vital feature of this address is the close analysis and documented exposition leading up to the discussion of those specific economic conditions which limited Marx, Engels and Lenin, on the one hand, to the particular application of the « Dictatorship of the Proletariat, » and De Leon, on the other hand, to Industrial Unionism and working class government based on industrial constituencies; and the strong opposition of all the principals here concerned to any playing at revolution such as is ignorantly or treacherously indulged in by the American « burlesque bolsheviki » operating under the name of the Communist party of the U.S.A. upon the past of Marx, Engels and Lenin, and from that outlook upon the future which belongs to De Leon and the S. L. P., and reveals how and to what extent the great « scholar, student and proletarian organizer » made that qualitative contribution to Marxism expounded in this work. Needless to say, De Leon’s outlook was taken from a vantage point of immediate contact with a far higher developed stage of capitalist development than that practically contemplated by Marx and Engels-and even by Lenin, it appears, until after his acquaintance with the writings of De Leon.

When the history of twentieth century Socialism is written, this address by the National Secretary of the Socialist Labor Party will be found invaluable for its clear, forceful and many-sided presentation, not alone of the influence of Daniel De Leon on his contemporaries and the period in which he lived, nor even of the great influence which his work will have upon the immediate future, a future fraught with impending revolution. Its conspicuous value for the historian will consist in its presentation of the rich and profound content of De Leon’s scientific and philosophical outlook. With adequate citation it shows that the essential quality of De Leon’s contribution to Marxian thought falls into two categories: (1) The contribution to the theory of economic organization, the integrally organized Industrial Union, a deduction from the transformation to socialized production as it has developed in America, with its capitalist organization of the workers for production by industries instead of as heretofore by crafts; and, (2) revolutionary tactic, the intellectual and moral driving force of this transformation, the coordinated employment of the revolutionary political party of the proletariat for the abolition of the Political State, with the use of the Industrial Union both as a revolutionary weapon in the class struggle and as furnishing the economic framework, the industrial constituencies, of the future Socialist Industrial Republic. De Leon’s revolutionary tactic flows from his theory of economic organization as does the river from its source, and leads inevitably to the « consolidation into permanent Socialist institutions of the fruits of the class struggle. » Both aspects of this qualitative contribution to Marxian science rests upon the scientific determination by De Leon of the question what does and does not constitute true, i.e., Marxian revolutionary organization and tactic, not in countries economically undeveloped as the Russia of 1917 (Lenin’s proletarian political democracy in Russia, the « Dictatorship of the Proletariat, » is patterned theoretically upon the revolutionary Commune of 1871 in Paris), but in a higher developed capitalist country like contemporary America. In the following pages the elucidation of this question, and its answer, makes this address a historic and scientifically practical weapon in the armory of Marxian Socialist literature.

A.J. TAYLOR. New York, N. Y., February 1932.


In reviewing the life and work of Daniel De Leon one is impressed with the striking similarity between De Leon’s character, achievements and the recognition (or the lack of it) and treatment accorded him by most of his contemporaries, and the character, achievements, etc., of his great predecessor Karl Marx, and, in a more limited sense, of Nicolai Lenin as well. Each of these three outstanding personalities in the Socialist movement sprang from the wealthy bourgeoisie; each gave up a brilliant career to dedicate himself to the cause of the exploited proletariat; each, upon leaving the « sacred precincts » of his class, abandoned the ideology, the principles and the traditions of his class, and accepted unreservedly the principles of the revolutionary working class movement, planting himself squarely and with no thought of eventual retreat, on the basis of the class struggle. Each led a life in poverty and privation, entirely unlike the majority of the so-called intellectuals who, either as lawyers or writers, carried with them into the Socialist movement their special or petty bourgeois ideology and prejudices, frequently using the labor movement to enrich themselves at the expense of that movement.

Each of these three men was largely ignored by the bourgeois officialdom of his time, and by the professional and usually corrupt labor leaders and supposed fellow Socialists. Each was accused of being arrogant, domineering, tyrannical, sectarian, intolerant and what not, and each was abused and vilified solely because of his single-minded devotion to scientific principles and persevering pursuit of correct principles and tactics. Marx and Lenin have achieved a partial recognition, which is bound to increase as the capitalist system in general utterly degenerates. The recognition of De Leon will be, if anything, even more striking and universal once the American working class begins to realize that it must take the road of revolution, and when it begins to understand what means and methods must be employed, and when it becomes thoroughly convinced that there is no traveling back on the road to the past.

The case of Lenin, to the blind worshipper or to the special advocate of false and mostly anarchist notions, must at times appear a puzzling one. For it can be shown that Lenin at times has made statements and observations which are flatly contradicted by utterances elsewhere in his writings and speeches. The apparent inconsistencies, however, are easily understood once we realize that the Lenin of post-1918 days is a somewhat different Lenin from the one of ante-1918 days, the reason for the difference being that before 1918 Lenin, like most of his contemporaries, was in total ignorance of the life and works of Daniel De Leon. It was not so with the later Lenin. In 1918 and subsequent year, Lenin devoted himself to a study of De Leon’s works, recognizing (and giving unreserved expression to the recognition) in De Leon a Marxist of the highest order and without a peer during the time that he worked in the Socialist cause. So impressed was Lenin with the works of De Leon that he decided to have them translated into Russian. Arthur Ransome observes that Lenin had introduced a few phrases of De Leon into the draft for the new program of the Communist party, as if [said Ransome] « to do honor to his memory. » It is obvious then that Lenin, after reading De Leon, had begun to modify his ideas especially as regards highly developed capitalist countries. We have every reason to assume that if Lenin had been spared another ten or twenty years, he would have come out in open and all but unqualified recognition of the correctness of De Leon’s principles and tactics as applied to ultra capitalist countries. Lenin, however, was given scarcely more than three years of active life after the Bolshevik Revolution. For although he died in January 1924, it must be remembered that for almost an entire year he lived in retirement to recuperate from the effects of the wounds inflicted upon him by the cowardly assassin. And even after his return to an active life he was scarcely able to do more than attend to the most important and pressing problems which presented themselves. Moreover, one must never forget that he had virtually a continent on his hands, a fact which should go a long way toward explaining his seeming acquiescence in some of the craziest stunts of the then Zinoviev-led Third International. Though this may be speculation, it is speculation that is fully justified by the facts and circumstances known to us.

It has often been assumed that we are indebted to a renegade S. L. P. member in Russia for Lenin’s knowledge of De Leon. Arthur Ransome’s statement proves beyond a doubt that this assumption is erroneous. Ransome quotes Lenin as saying that « he had read in an English Socialist paper a comparison of his own theories with those of an American, Daniel De Leon. HE HAD THEN 13ORROWED SOME OF DE LEON’S PAMPHLETS FROM REINSTEIN (who belongs [belonged] to the Party which De Leon founded in America), read them for the first time and was amazed to see how far and how early De Leon had pursued the same train of thought as the Russians. » It is reasonable then to assume that the S.L.P. renegade referred to had kept his De Leonism securely under lock and key, in fear no doubt of making himself unpopular, until he was actually requested by Lenin to open his « treasure chest » of De Leon’s pamphlets.

Students of Socialist thought and history will do well in remembering these facts, for they fully explain not only the seeming inconsistencies in Lenin’s writings and speeches, but they also justify, as I have already stated, the conclusion that Lenin would have accepted all that is essential in « De Leonism, » and having so accepted would have urged, and undoubtedly caused, the acceptance of the De Leon principles by the crude movement then taking shape in the United States of America, and which now, in plain denial of Marxian principles, has developed into an Anarcho-Communist movement. That this would have materially altered the course of events in America, that it would have resulted in a powerful Marxian movement based on all that is essential (and what isn’t ?) in the De Leon principles and tactics, no one can doubt. However, this, too, is speculation and it would be fruitless to dwell upon it or to pursue it further. The so-called labor movement has taken a certain course, and hard as the work may be on the scientific Marxists of America that movement will have to be deflected from that’ course and directed into channels that run parallel with the social and economic trend of present-day Industrial America.

Arnold Petersen

[1] “Briefwechsel,” Vol. III page 127, Quoted from Lenin’s “Marxism.”



Science and Prescience

The occasion for this meeting is to celebrate the birthday of a great social scientist, Daniel De Leon. The reason for celebrating great men’s birthdays is usually to pay a tribute to them for the important part which, as unselfish and intelligent agents of the social forces, they played in their day, and which directly affected, and in the course of their lives, transformed the society in which they lived. In this sense are the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln celebrated. The part similarly played by, and the influence of De Leon on his contemporaries and the period during which he worked and lived were as great, though this is still far from apparent even to many of his admirers today. But of far greater importance is the influence which De Leon’s work will have upon the days which are looming up immediately before us. Thus, to celebrate the birthdays of Washington, Lincoln and others is to celebrate the past, while to celebrate De Leon’s is to celebrate the future as well as the past. And in this lies great significance. For, other things apart, the future is essentially the concern of science, and science, in the language of De Leon, implies prescience, that is the power to foresee. And of all sciences, social science is undoubtedly the most important, since all other sciences ultimately contribute to it, and since all other sciences would have neither meaning nor justification except in so far as they subserve the aims and purposes of social science. For social science is the science of ultimate human welfare, of human happiness.

Marxism a Science

Marxism, or Socialism if you like, is a science-it is the social science. The hall-mark of any science is its capacity, and willingness (on the part of the scientist), to reject conclusions previously formed when subsequently ascertained facts and later experiences make that necessary. Likewise, to add to itself such new elements as new facts and more ripe experience make possible. It has been the custom to conceive of Marxism as a product finished at the hands of the master. In a certain sense this is true. Quantitatively Marxism has been added to since the days of Marx. By that I mean that expository works have been written, works applying the science of Marxism to particular events and special circumstances, but which in themselves did not constitute creative work in the science, important though they may have been. The point may be reached, however, where quantity is transmuted into quality. It is at such a point that the science becomes enlarged. But let us not deceive ourselves; not every « innovation » in the field is necessarily an addition to the science of Marxism. To prove itself an addition it must be (1) a logical and harmonious extension of the fundamental principle; it must form (2) an integral part of the science-that is, once discovered, it must ever after render. the science incomplete, in fact,. untenable, for the absence of it; and, (3) it must fulfill a need which theretofore, vaguely or otherwise, had been felt, and by reason of which those engaged in the Marxian movement had struggled in order to overcome, without deserting the central principle of Marxism. The one man, and the only one, who has added qualitatively to the science of Marxism, is the American scholar, student and proletarian organizer, Daniel De Leon. Since in the course of my talk this afternoon I shall have occasion to refer repeatedly to the great Russian Marxist, Nicolai Lenin, it would seem proper at this time to mention the fact that of all the reputedly great Marxists of the last thirty or forty years, he was the only one to recognize the genius of De Leon and the importance of his achievements. John Reed (who now lies buried under the Kremlin Wall), appearing before the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Labor Party in 1918, reported that:

« Premier Lenin is a great admirer of Daniel De Leon, considering him the greatest of modern Socialists–the only one who has added anything to Socialist thought since Marx. It is Lenin’s opinion [continued Reed] that the Industrial ‘State’ as conceived by De Leon will ultimately have to be the form of government in Russia. »

This is the clearest and most definite of the numerous utterances by Lenin on De Leon’s greatness and his contribution to Marxism. In direct line with Reed’s statement is the report of the then New York World correspondent, Arno Dosch-Fleurot, who wired his paper that:

« Daniel De Leon, late head of the Socialist Labor Party in America, is playing, through his writings, an important part in the construction of a Socialist state in Russia. The Bolshevik leaders are finding his ideas of an industrial state in advance of Karl Marx’s theories. »

It has been said that it requires genius to recognize genius. That is not quite true, for after all, if it were true, there would be quite a few geniuses in this world. To the understanding Marxist, however, it is cause for gratitude that a man of the stature of Lenin, should have seen so clearly the important contribution which De Leon made to Socialist thought.

Marxian Fundamentals

In order properly to estimate the importance of De Leon’s contribution to Marxian science it becomes necessary here to review briefly the essence of Marxism as it was formulated by Marx with the aid of his coworker, Frederick Engels.

First, The Extraction of Surplus Value. Marxism demonstrates that under capitalism the worker, as the sole producer of social wealth, is robbed of the major portion of the product of his labor. The social means of production (themselves representing past and accumulated labor) being privately owned, and the worker possessing nothing but his labor power, that is, his ability to perform some useful productive function, he is compelled to sell that labor power to the private owner of the means of production. That which he receives in the form of wages is, normally, equivalent to the value of his labor power. If it takes one and a half hours to produce his own value, i. e., sufficient food, shelter, and clothing, etc., for one day, and if the working day is nine hours, it follows that the value produced in excess of the value of his own labor power would constitute five-sixths of the total produced by him. Or, to put it in another way, in order to be allowed to work for the capitalist owner of the tools, he must produce six times his own value. Or, finalIy, he receives but one-sixth of the wealth produced by him. The five-sixths goes to the capitalist class and is called surplus value. The surplus value (taking the sum total produced by the working class) is divided into interest, profit, rent, and once appropriated by the capitalist class it is expended in re-investment, in riotous living, graft, taxes, etc., etc. Apart from the extraction of surplus value, the important points to be noted in this connection are the fact of the working class reproducing itself as such, the permanent existence of wage labor being an indispensable condition for the maintenance of capitalism; the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands; the impelling need of disposing of the surplus products in foreign markets. the home market (in the given circumstances) being unable to absorb them, with the consequent elimination of these foreign markets in the measure that they in turn develop as capitalist commodity-producing nations.

Second, The Materialist Conception of History (and the Class Struggle), which reduces itself to the proposition that « in every historical epoch, -the prevailing mode of economic production and exchange, and the social organization necessarily following from it, form the basis upon which is built up, and from which alone can be explained, the political and intellectual history of that epoch; that consequently the whole history of mankind (since the dissolution of primitive tribal society, holding land in common ownership) has been a history of class struggles, contests between exploiting and exploited, ruling and oppressed classes; that the history of these class struggles forms a series of evolution in which, nowadays, a stage has been reached where the exploited and the oppressed class–the proletariat–cannot attain its emancipation from the sway of the exploiting and ruling class-the bourgeoisie without, at the same time, and once for all, emancipating society at large from all exploitation, oppression, class distinctions and class struggles. »

Third, The Emancipation of the Working Class. Here, in the language of Marx and Engels, it is postulated that « the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself, » by which is meant that only through classconscious efforts of the working class, expended through independent working class organizations, political and economic, will the working class be able to free itself from the fetters of wage slavery.

Tactical Questions

These were the Marxian principles which De Leon accepted when he commenced to take an active part in the Socialist and labor movement in this country. With his keen, analytical mind, he applied these principles to the conditions at hand, and accepted the full logic of the premises. But in so doing he ran foul of all the furies that are released under private property systems, and particularly the capitalist system, when one begins to act contrary to the life principle of such systems. Successively he struggled with the difficulties encountered, providing for the shortcomings in the movement as they were revealed to him. It would take us too far afield to go into these this afternoon. Besides, important as were these tactical questions they were still merely incidental to the main question which was looming up before De Leon’s searching mind, the question of the instrumentality through which the working class might successfully effect its emancipation, and consolidate into permanent social institutions the fruits of the revolutionary struggle. The struggles involved in the important tactical questions that De Leon had to deal with were indeed essential to the unfolding of his genius, for subsidiary as were these questions to that one question of superior importance, the road to that question inescapably led through each and every one of them. Independent political action-the cutting of the bourgeois navel string that bound the working class to the old order-was essential. Party ownership of the press was essential, for, no press, no party, and a privately owned press meant a privately owned party, which, of course, meant no party at all. The question of taxation was important. To expose the absurdity of the claim that the working class was paying the taxes was to render the movement immune to the reform snares of the petty bourgeoisie. If the working class could be convinced that it was a tax-paying class, it could be shown to have interests in common with the capitalist class. « Taxes! » exclaims Frederick Engels. « A matter, to the bourgeoisie of deep, to the workingmen, however, of very slight concern. That which the workingmen pay in taxes goes, in the long run, into the value of labor power, and, accordingly, must be borne by the capitalists. » The question of reform or revolution was important in the same sense that the taxation question was important, for so long as the workers were doped with the opium of reform, no class view, and still less revolutionary action could be thought of. It has been well said that reform is a compromise with the past. At any rate, the reform road leads back and never forward. These and numerous subsidiary tactical questions were important enough, and each had to be settled as the road was being cleared. But the one thing that De Leon recognized above all other things was the need of an aggressive, economic organization of labor. The labor unions that he found were either decadent, or they were, as he put it in the adopted phrase, bulwarks of capital against Socialism. In his immortal address, « Two Pages from Roman History, » De Leon has portrayed the « labor leader, » or the labor lieutenant of the capitalist class, In his true colors. The analogy he draws here between the ancient Roman plebs leader and the modern labor faker is a stroke of genius. To supply the proletariat with a union thoroughly imbued with a class spirit the Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance was launched. The S. T. and L. A. was a tremendous step forward, but it still did not fully answer the question: How to insure success of the revolution and provide the new social system with governmental machinery suited to its needs and purposes? By 1904 De Leon had all but solved the question intellectually. But before going further it becomes necessary to retrace our steps.

Essential Lack in Socialist Thought

What was the one thing that was lacking in Socialist thought, to use Lenin’s phrase? The answer is: The form under which could be worked out the economic emancipation of labor in a fully developed capitalist country. The standard formula, as stated in the « Communist Manifesto, » and as restated with minor variations by Socialists everywhere before De Leon, declared that:

« The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie; to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible. » (« Communist Manifesto. »)

More concisely, Engels later stated the problem as follows:

« By converting the large majority of the population more and more into proletarians, the capitalist mode of production creates the power which, under penalty of its own destruction, is forced to accomplish this revolution. By urging more and more the conversion of the large already socialized means of production into State property, it points the path for the accomplishment of this revolution. The proletariat seizes the machinery of the State and converts the means of production first into State property. » (« Socialism, Utopia to Science. »)

Discussing here the new conditions (as conceived by him) Engels continues:

« The first act wherein the State appears as the real representative of the whole body social-the seizure of the means of production in the name of society-is also its last independent act as a State. The interference of the State in social relations becomes superfluous in one domain after another, and falls of itself into desuetude; the place of a government over persons is taken by the administration of things, and by the conduct of the processes of production. [Emphases here mine.] The State is not ‘abolished.’ It dies out. » (« Socialism from Utopia to Science. »)

Here is projected a much clearer picture of the industrial commonwealth of labor than heretofore. First, the uselessness of the State as a means of directing production is dearly shown; secondly, it is made abundantly clear that the administration of the new society will be industrial instead of Political. The seeming inconsistencies (as for example, that the first act of the State as a representative of the whole of society be. comes at the same time its last act, while nevertheless the new « State » is shown to be functioning for quite some time) are to be explained in the light of the conditions, of the time. I shall return to that later. But Engels ‘s statement marked an advance over previous attempts at outlining the functions of the State and the transition period) and this advance was due in a large measure to the Paris Commune of 1871.

The Passing of the State

We are most of us familiar’ with Marx’s analysis of the Paris Commune) In his famous work on the subject (« The Civil War in France »)–at once profound and spirited–he returns again and again to the constitution, of the Commune and its workings. This great historic event convinced Marx that « the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made State machinery, and wield it for its Own Purposes. » And he adds: « The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary, body, executive and legislative at the same time- » Here is embedded the germ, of the great thought which De Leon was to work out completely thirty years later. By contrasting « working » with « parliamentary, » Marx indicates that an entirely new governmental machine had to be evolved, one suited to the new social groundwork, in short, an administration of things, or an industrial administration. « It was [said Marx] essentially a working class government, the product of the struggle of the producing against the appropriating class, the political form (at last discovered) under which to work out the economic emancipation of labor. »

What Marx here says is that the working class, upon securing or seizing power, must dismantle the Political (parliamentary) State while, on the one hand, it represses the opponents of the working class, and, on the other hand, gradually and as speedily as possible, increases « the total of productive forces. » While Marx clearly realized the true nature of the proletarian revolution, while he clearly saw that the proletariat, to use the forceful language of Lenin, must smash up the old State machinery, he failed (or did not think it necessary at the time) to take into account the development of a situation much more radically different from the seventies than the seventies were from 1847. For he, as well as Engels and his contemporaries, proceeded on the assumption that the victorious proletariat would have three main factors to deal with before instituting Socialism proper. First, a powerful and potent, though temporarily beaten, capitalist class; second, a numerically strong petty bourgeois and peasant element, with the actual proletariat everywhere in the minority; and third, an insufficient industrial development. Throughout all the writings of Marx and Engels on this subject (and the same holds true of the writings of Lenin, who in industrially backward Russia largely faced the same situation generally prevailing at the time of the Paris Commune), Marx and Engels reverted to that three-fold obstacle to immediate and complete proletarian success. The transition period to them was not only a prolonged one, but one fraught with real dangers to the proletarian regime. Hence, their repeated insistence (especially since the Paris Commune) on the repressive features of the projected working class government, and their emphasis on the necessity of undisputed working class rule which they occasionally designated the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Because of the significance attached to this phrase since the Russian Revolution I want to emphasize here that the essence of this dictatorship (as understood by Marx and Engels) was exercise of supreme power by the proletariat, unconditional surrender of the capitalist class, with the rubbish of parliament, constituent assembly and what not, consigned to the museum of antiquities, as Engels put it. I shall return to the phrase « Dictatorship of the Proletariat » later.

Political Victory Insufficient

As I stated before, by 1904 De Leon had come face to face with the question of what to do when political power fell to the working class. With the tremendous industrial development in America, with its numerically insignificant, and economically weak « middle class, » and its total absence of a peasantry such as is found in continental Europe, he had come to realize that a mere political victory of the working class here was insufficient–nay, a menace. For despite periodic outbreaks of « middle class » discontent, the rule of top-capitalism was undisputed in every real sense; the power of the plutocracy was practically unlimited. On the other hand, the proletariat formed the overwhelming majority in the country, and as the spurs of exploitation were driven deeper into its flanks, the working class was becoming more and more restless. Hence the need of a « bulwark » and hence, again, the capitalist-inspired and capitalist-nurtured craft unions and the plebs leaders or labor lieutenants. Politically, the country was (and it still is) in the grip of the entrenched politicians of the Republican and Democratic parties. Well has Engels described the extent and nature of this powerful political domination:

« Nowhere [said Engels in 1891] do the ‘politicians’ form a more distinct and more powerful subdivision of the nation than in the United States. Here both the great parties, to which the predominance alternately falls, are in their turn ruled by people who make a business of politics, who speculate upon seats in the legislative bodies of the Union and the separate States, or who live by agitation for their party and are rewarded with offices after its victory. It is well known how the Americans have tried for thirty years past to throw off this yoke, which has become intolerable, and how, notwithstanding, they sink ever deeper into the mire of corruption. It is just in the United States that we can most clearly see the process through which the State acquires a position of independent power over against the society, for which it was originally designed as a mere tool. There exist here no dynasty, no aristocracy, no standing army with the exception of a few men to guard against the Indians, no bureaucracy permanently installed and pensioned. Nevertheless we have here two great rings of political speculators, alternately take possession of the power of State and exploit it with the most corrupt means and to the most corrupt purposes. And the nation is powerless against these men, who nominally are its servants, but in reality are its two overruling and plundering hordes of politicians. » (Engels’s Introduction to German edition of « Paris Commune » by Marx.) This description, as you will note, is as adequate today as thirty years ago.

Union Mission Defined

These, I repeat, were the conditions generally prevailing when in 1904 De Leon made his epoch-making address, « The Burning Question of Trades Unionism. » Here De Leon, for the first time fully and with great precision and clarity, outlined his contribution to Marxian thought, viz., the « great historic revolutionary mission » of the true economic organization of labor. He (De Leon) derides the « pure and simple » politicians for contending that the union is of no great use to the workers, « that the union might as well be smashed now as later. » He adds: « They are the real Utopians of today who imagine the Socialist Commonwealth can be established as spring establishes itself through its balmy atmosphere, and without effort melts away the winter snows. » He lashes the « pure and simple » unionist for failing to understand the necessity of political action on the part of labor. He emphasizes the fact that the working class has no knowledge of, and no interest in, capitalist law-making, except to « sweep the vermin [of capitalist law) into the ashbarrel of oblivion. » The political aspect of the labor movement, he said, spells REVOLUTION. He points to the duty of Socialist workingmen (if any) elected to office–« no tinkering, no compromise, unqualified overthrow of existing laws. That means the dethronement of the capitalist class. » He then outlines the reason for the power of the capitalist class, « the fact that the WORKING CLASS is not organized. » The majority of the voters are workers. But even if this majority were to sweep the field, they would find the capitalist able to throw the country into panic, chaos and famine unless « THE WORKINGMEN WERE SO WELL ORGANIZED IN THE SHOPS THAT THEY COULD LAUGH AT ALL SHUT-DOWN ORDERS, AND CARRY ON PRODUCTION. » Referring to the heterogeneous nature of the constituency in political territory he comes to the crux of the matter:

« Civilized society will know no such ridiculous thing as geographic constituencies. It will only know industrial constituencies. The parliament of civilization in America will consist, not of Congressmen from geographic districts, but of representatives of trades throughout the land, and their legislative work will not be the complicated one which a society of conflicting interests, such as capitalism, requires but the easy one which can be summed up in the statistics of the wealth needed, the wealth producible, and the work required -and that any average set of workingmen’s representatives are fully able to ascertain, infinitely better than our modern rhetoricians in Congress. . « 

De Leon then outlines the supreme mission of the revolutionary economic organization as being that of organizing the working class industrially–those with, as well as those without, jobs–and he adds that the mission of the economic organization is important also in that « the industrial organization forecasts the future consiituencies of the parliaments of the Socialist Republic. » (Emphasis mine.)

Marxism Fulfilled

Here we have the rounding out of the Marxian principle of proletarian revolution. This is the real form at last discovered « under which [in ultra-capitalist countries] to work out the economic emancipation of labor. » What Marx forecast, and what was implied in his comments on the Paris Commune, De Leon here presents, not yet in full-fledged form, but with sufficient precision and clearness as to outline in this important and the only contribution « to Socialist thought since Marx. » In the parts quoted we have the fulfillment of all the conditions laid down by Marx, and of all that is implicit in Marxism. But the next year was to provide De Leon with the opportunity of completing his theory of the industrial constituency of the new society. By this time the Industrial Workers of the World had been launched, and inspired by the presence of this new promising union, he threw himself into the task of clarifying obscure points. His revolutionary ardor has now risen to new heights, It is, indeed, an inspired, yet a sober and thoroughly balanced Marxian revolutionist who at Minneapolis lays down the principles of Socialist reconstruction of society. Yet, it is not. an egotist who here frantically sings his own praises. At no time does he announce to the world that he has made a great discovery. Rather does he emphasize the fact that the highly developed capitalist system in this country has made possible the projection of this addition to Marxian science. And while it is true that circumstance makes the man, it is also true that the right man must be there to serve as the true instrument of circumstance. And the right man was, indeed, there, in the full flower of his genius. Speaking on the point that the final, the consummating act of working class emancipation must be achieved by the toilers « taking and holding » the product of their labor it through an economic organization of the working class, etc., » he says:

it In no country, outside of the United States, is this theory applicable; in no country, outside of the United States, is the theory rational. It is irrational and, therefore, inapplicable in all other countries, with the possible exception of Great Britain and the rest of the English-speaking world, because no country but the United States has reached that stage of full-orbed capitalism-economic, political and social-that the United States has attained. In other words, no other country is ripe for the execution of Marxian revolutionary tactics. » (« Socialist Reconstruction of Society. »)

Political Movement Destructive

With magnificent scorn and contempt De Leon lashes the various « owls, the pseudo-Marxists included, » who are all set afluttering in their failure to understand, or unwillingness to accept, the revolutionary implications of the supreme mission of the economic organization. Branding the capitalist unionism of the A. F. of L. as a « capitalist contrivance . . . calculated to block the path of [true] unionism, » he makes this significant statement:

« The Preamble of the Industrial Workers of the World is the first pronouncement on the field of practice that clinches this many-sided issue. As becomes her opportunities, therefore her duty, this fruit firs, ripened on the soil of America. » (« Socialist Reconstruction of Society. »)

He thereupon takes up the question of the political party. With equal incisiveness, and great clarity of thought, he places the reason for, and the function of a political party in its proper relation to the central question, which is the « taking and holding » of industry for the purpose of planned social production:

« It does not lie in a political organization, that is, a party, to ‘take and hold’ the machinery of production. Both the ‘reason’ for a political party and its (structure’ unfit it for such work.. . .

« The ‘reason’ for a political party unfits it to ‘take and hold’ the machinery of production. As shown when I dealt with the first sentence of this clause–the sentence that urges the necessity of political unity–the ‘reason’ for a political movement is the exigencies of the bourgeois shell in which the Social Revolution must partly shape it course. The governmental administration of capitalism is the State, the government proper (that institution is purely political). Political power, in the language of Marx, is merely the organized power of the capitalist class to oppress, to curb, to keep the working class in subjection. The bourgeois shell in which the Social Revolution must partly shape its course dictates the setting up of a body that shall contest the possession of the political robber burg by the capitalist class. The reason for such initial tactics also dictates their ultimate goal – THE RAZING TO THE GROUND OF THE ROBBER BURG OF CAPITALIST TYRANNY. The shops, the yards, the mills, in short, the mechanical establishments of production, now in the hands of the capitalist class

they are all to be ‘taken,’ not for the purpose of being destroyed, but for the purpose of being ‘held; for the purpose of improving and enlarging all the good that is latent in them, and that capitalism dwarfs; in short, they are to be ‘taken and held! in order to save them for civilization. It is exactly the reverse with the ‘political power.’ That is to be taken for the purpose of ABOLISHING IT. It follows herefrom that the goal of the political movement of labor is purely DESTRUCTIVE. Suppose that, at some ‘election, the classconscious political arm of Labor were to sweep the field; suppose the sweeping were done in such a landslide fashion that the capitalist election officials are themselves so completely swept off their base that they wouldn’t, if they could, and they couldn’t, if they would, count us out; suppose that, from President down to Congress and the rest of the political redoubts of the capitalist political robber burg, our candidates were installed;–suppose that, what would there be for them to do? What should there be for them to do? Simply TO ADJOURN THEMSELVES, ON THE SPOT, SINE DIE. Their work would be done by disbanding. The political movement of labor, that, in the event of triumph, would prolong its existence a second after triumph, would be a usurpation. It would be either a usurpation, or the signal for a social catastrophe. It would be the signal for a social catastrophe if the political triumph did not find the working class of the land industrially organized, that is, in full possession of the plants of production and distribution, capable, accordingly, to assume the integral conduct of the productive powers of the land. The catastrophe would be instantaneous. The plan of production and distribution having remained in capitalist hands, production would be instantly blocked. On the other hand, if ‘the political triumph does find the working class industrially organized, then for the political movement to prolong its existence would be to attempt to usurp the powers which its very triumph announces have devolved upon the central administration of the industrial organization. The- ‘reason’ for a political movement obviously unfits it to ‘take and hold the machinery of production. What the political movement ‘move’s into’ is not the shops, but the robber burg of capitalism-for the purpose of dismantling it. (« Socialist Reconstruction of Society. »)

Note, here the close parallel between this last quoted statement and Marx’s declaration that the purpose of the « Communal Constitution [was to] become a reality by the destruction of the State power which claimed to be the embodiment of that unity independent of, and superior to, the nation itself, from which; it was but a parasitic excrescence. »

Rise of Industrial Union Power

« And, now, [continued De Leon] as to the ‘structure’ of a political party. Look closely into that, and the fact cannot escape you that its structure also unfits the political movement to ‘take and hold’ the machinery of production. The disability flows inevitably from the ‘reason’ for politics. The ‘reason’ for a political party, we have seen, is to contend with capitalism upon its own special field–the field that determines the fate of political power. It follows that the structure of a political party must be determined by the capitalist governmental system of territorial demarcations -a system that the Socialist Republic casts off like a slough that society shall have outgrown. Take Congress, for instance, whether Senate or House of Representatives. The unit of the congressional representation is purely politically geographic; it is arbitrary. The structure of the congressional district reflects the purpose of the capitalist State-political, that is, class tyranny over class. The thought of production is absent, wholly so, from the congressional demarcations. It cannot be otherwise. Congress-not being a central administration of the productive forces of the land, but the organized power of the capitalist class for oppression–ITS constituent bodies can have no trace of a purpose to administer production. Shoemakers, bricklayers, miners, railroad men, together with the workers in all manner of other fractions of industries, are, accordingly, jumbled together in each separate congressional district. Accordingly, the political organization of labor intended to capture a congressional district is wholly unfit to ‘take and hold’ the plants of industry. The only organization fit for that is the organization of the several industries themselves–and they are not subject to political lines of demarcations; they mock all such arbitrary, imaginary lines. The central administrative organ of the Socialist Republic-exactly the opposite of the central power of capitalism, not being the organized power of a ruling class for oppression, in short, not being political, but exclusively administrative of the producing forces of the land-ITS constituent bodies must be exclusively industrial. The artillery may support the cavalry; the cavalry may support the infantry of an army in the act of final triumph; in the act, however, of ‘taking and holding’ the nation’s plants of production, the political organization of the working class can give no help. Its mission will have come to an end just before the consummation of that consummating act of labor’s emancipation. The form of central authority to which the political organization had to adapt itself and consequently looked, will have ceased to be. As the slough shed by the serpent that immediately reappears in its new skin, the Political State will have been shed, and society will simultaneously appear in its new administrative garb. The mining, the railroad, the textile, the building industries, down or up the line, each of these, regardless of former political boundaries, will be the constituencies of that new central authority the rough scaffolding of which was raised last week in Chicago. Where the General Executive Board of the Industrial Union of the nation will sit there will be the nation’s capital. Like the flimsy cardhouses that children raise, the present political governments of counties, of states, aye, of the city on the Potomac herself, will tumble down, their places taken by the central and the subordinate administrative organs of the nation’s industrial forces. Obviously, not the ‘structure’ of the POLITICAL movement, but the structure of the ECONOMIC movement is fit for the task, to ‘ take and hold’ the industrial administration of the country’s productive activity-the only thing worth ‘taking and holding.’  » (« Socialist Reconstruction of Society. »)

Revolutionary Tactics

This completes the important contribution made by De Leon to Marxism. There remains but to quote DeLeon’s own summary of the foregoing principles with particular respect to their application to the field of tactics:

« The bona fide or revolutionary Socialist movement needs the political as well as the economic organization of labor, the former for propaganda and to conduct the struggle for the conquest of the capitalist controlled Political State upon the civilized plane of the ballot; the latter as the only conceivable force with which to back up the ballot, without which force all balloting is moonshine, and which force is essential for the ultimate lockout of the capitalist. Without the political organization, the Labor or Socialist movement could not attain the hour of its triumph; and without the economic organization, the day of its triumph would be the day of its defeat. Without the economic organization, the movement would attract and breed the pure and simple politician, who would debauch and sell out the working class; and without the political organization, the movement would attract and breed the agent provocateur, who would assassinate the movement. »

De Leon emphasized tirelessly the importance of political action. He met unflinchingly the challenge hurled by the Anarchist that the overthrow of capitalism involved economic action only and that political action was useless or worse than useless. With equal zest did he take up the taunt of the pure and simple politician that since the Political State was to be demolished anyhow, it was useless to conquer it in the first place Marx, in a brilliant passage in one of his shorter essays, effectively answers Anarchist and politician alike. « The revolution as such [said Marx]–the overthrow of the existing power and the dissolution of the old conditions-is a political act. [There goes the Anarchist down!] But without a revolution, Socialism cannot be enforced. It requires this political act, so far as it has need of the process of destruction and dissolution. But where its organizing activity begins, where its proper aim, its soul, emerges, there Socialism casts away the political hull. » [And down goes the pure and simple politician!] (« On the King of Prussia and Social Reform. »)


Socialist « Dictatorship » Defined

The shallow-minded, the special pleader of unsound principles, take great pains – and not a little pleasure – in insisting that the Marxian concept of proletarian rule, referred to as the « Dictatorship of the Proletariat, » and De Leon’s theory of Industrial Unionism and working class government based on industrial constituencies, are necessarily, and under any and all circumstances, antithetical. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have already shown that the essence of Proletarian Dictatorship, as understood by Marx and the great expounders of Marxism, is supreme power by the working class, to the exclusion of all capitalist and bourgeois elements, and with parliaments and constituent assemblies utterly destroyed.i All of this is not only implied in the concept of De Leon’s Industrial Union and industrial government, but is, indeed, an indispensable condition for the realization of the Socialist or Industrial Republic. Marx, as De Leon often emphasized, is not a quotation nor yet a string of quotations. Every word he uttered is pregnant with meaning, and his utterances were always directed by a central principle, and definitely based upon definite conditions. The central principle was, course, the emancipation of the working class, i.e., the victory of the proletariat, and the conditions were naturally such as were at hand. There is, in itself, potent charm in the phrase « Proletarian Dictatorship. » Marx used it as the one best suited at the time to express his idea of working class supreme power, stripped of the fetters of the capitalist Political State, and a the better suited because it brought into contrast the actual fact (though denied in theory) of capitalist economic dictatorship. De Leon himself used the phrase on at least one occasion, a fact which proves that i was primarily used by Socialist writers merely to express the complete negation of capitalist political and economic Power. In an editorial written in 1910 (i.e. long after he had worked out his Industrial Union and government theory) De Leon employs the phrase. Discussing the arrogant action of the then New York Governor, Chas. E. Hughes, in practically ordering the legislature to do his bidding and emphasizing the attempted usurpation Of Power by the Executive, DeLeon concludes:

« Besides the economic conditions to warrant the phenomenon, it requires two things for the dictatorship–the dictator and the dumb dictatorees. The latter seem to be there; the former is taking shape. And yet bourgeois pundits are learnedly explaining the necessity of the dual legislative chamber system. They had better try and save their own precious legislatures. Close behind the bourgeois dictator comes the Dictatorship of the Proletariat . . . »

What does De Leon here imply by the phrase « Dictatorship of the Proletariat? » Clearly nothing more than that the « precious legislatures » will be superseded by the organized power of the proletariat, i.e., the integral Industrial Union, And it was in the identical sense (modified by the conditions of the time) that Marx used it, and, indeed, it was in the same sense that Lenin used it, modified by the conditions in Russia. When Marx referred to the « Proletarian Dictatorship, » capitalism as a whole was still in process of development, that is, it was as yet far from having exhausted the possibilities for normal growth. We know that the working class (the proletariat) in continental Europe constituted a minority. In « The Gotha Program » Marx says: « the working population’ in Germany consists, in its majority, of peasants and not of proletarians. » And Lenin, in his « The State and Revolution, » says: « On the Continent of Europe, in 1871, the proletariat did not in a single country constitute the majority of the people. A ‘people’s’ revolution actually sweeping the majority into its current, could be such only if embracing both the proletariat and the peasantry. »

Peasantry and Proletariat

Note that Lenin places the proletariat in juxtaposition to the peasantry. A whole class which is the legitimate result of definite historical causes and present economic conditions, and which possesses considerable economic power, however diffused it may be, cannot arbitrarily be swept aside, or ignored. It must be taken into account. Likewise–the small bourgeois who is barely hanging on to existence by the skin of his teeth. Lenin has described this situation graphically in his biting criticism of his own domestic brand of burlesque bolsheviks: « To defeat the great, centralized bourgeoisie is a thousand times easier than to ‘defeat’ millions and millions of small owners who in their daily, imperceptible, inconspicuous but demoralizing activities achieve the very results desired by the bourgeoisie, and restore the bourgeoisie. » (« Left Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder. ») Property interests are bound to dominate the actions of such groups, and they must be convinced that it is in their interest to support the proletarian revolution, or be subjected to forcible repression in the interest of that revolution. This condition, as I have intimated, prevailed also in Russia in 1917. Does it prevail in the United States? Even to ask the question is to subject oneself to ridicule: The overwhelming, the immense majority of the people in this country is of the wage working class. The so-called middle class is so dependent on « big business » that its group status is largely a fiction. In a revolutionary (or any other thoroughgoing crisis) it would, almost to a man, be hurled into the ranks of the proletariat. And as for « the peasantry » in America-well, even a fifty horse-power microscope would fail to reveal the presence of that outlandish species, the Anarcho-Communists and Mr. Mencken to the contrary notwithstanding.

So important a factor is the presence of a peasantry considered by Lenin, that he observes (in his refutation of Kautsky’s plea for « bourgeois democracy ») that « if Kautsky had still remembered it, he could not have denied the need for a proletarian dictatorship in a country in which the small peasant producer is predominant. » (« The Proletarian Revolution. ») The logic of this statement is that in a country where this peasantry is conspicuous by its complete absence, where, in short, the fact of complete industrialization, even of agriculture, is so obvious as to impress itself upon the dullest intellect-that in such a country there is no need of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in the contemporaneous sense of continental Europe of 187 1 or Russia of 1917. We have here agricultural wage workers -proletarians who happen to live in the country. We have the large bonanza farms, the great mechanized agricultural plants, and we have small or tenant farmers whose status–economically–corresponds exactly to the petty corner grocers and similar petty bourgeois elements and whose economic power is precisely zero.

From Capitalism to Socialism

Throughout the works of Marx, Engels, and also ,of Lenin, the point is stressed that upon seizure of power, and after suppressing the state and all that thereby hangs, the important task of the proletariat is to develop the productive powers. The lack of industrial development is one of the cornerstones, in fact, the chief one, upon which rests the particular application of the « Dictatorship of the Proletariat » by Marx, Engels and Lenin. In the « Communist Manifesto » it is repeatedly emphasized that one of the primary tasks of the victorious proletariat is to « increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible. » In Lenin’s « The Soviets at Work » it is pointed out that « government can be seized in a few days; insurrections put down in a few weeks; but to increase the power of labor to produce wealth requires years. » In his « The Great Initiative » or « Communist Saturdays » Lenin says: « The productivity of labor is the most important factor in the victory of the new social order. » We may then logically deduce that where the conditions are the direct opposite of those which confronted Marx in 1871, and Lenin in Russia in 1917, the transition period mentioned by Marx and Engels is not only unnecessary, but it is even impossible, in reason, to conceive of it. Hence, the question of insuring a successful transfer of power from capitalism to Socialism reduces itself, first of all, to one of form. The lower the industrial development, the more that form (in the event of proletarian victory) must partake of the nature of the old society; the higher the industrial development, the more the form must partake of the nature of the new society; in the perfect flowering of capitalist industrial development the form, i.e., the instrument or means of revolution, merges logically into the very governmental structure of the new society itself, or, in other words, the Industrial Union becomes the very framework of the Socialist Industrial Republic of Labor. And to have worked out this revolutionary theory, in strictest conformity with the basic principles of Marxism, constitutes the great De Leon’s vital contribution to Marxian science.

Proletarian Democracy

That the so-called « Dictatorship of the Proletariat » is essentially a question of form is made clear by Lenin on numerous occasions. Thus in his exposure of Kautsky he says:

« Proletarian Democracy, of which the Soviet regime constitutes one of the forms, has given to the world a hitherto unknown expansion and development of democracy for the gigantic majority of the population, for the exploited and laboring masses. » (« The Proletarian Revolution. »)

Note that « Proletarian Democracy » is used here as a synonym for « Proletarian Dictatorship » as constituted in Russia. The form of « Proletarian Democracy » in this country is the Industrial Union in control of social production. In the same pamphlet Lenin carefully and distinctly says: « The Soviets are the Russian form of proletarian democracy. » It is the « Russian form, » mark that-not the British, the United States, or any other form, but the Russian. And he adds that any one who desired to study the subject of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat would first give a general definition of dictatorship, « and then examine its peculiar national form, the Soviets, and give a criticism of them as one of the forms of the dictatorship of the proletariat. » (« The Proletarian Revolution. ») Here he speaks so plainly that it would seem impossible even for an Anarcho-Communist to misunderstand him. In this country the « peculiar form » of the « dictatorship of the proletariat » (using the term here, not in its strict dictionary sense, but in the sense of working class supremacy) is the Industrial Union which, coupled with the fact of super-developed capitalist production, renders meaningless all talk of a transition period. As to transition period: Here again the clear-cut statements of Lenin bear out the contention of De Leon that in this country we can pass from capitalism to Socialism without an intermediary stage, and that it would be an act of usurpation to continue the purely political control for one moment beyond working class seizure and control of industry:

« Transition Period »

« There is no doubt [said Lenin] that the Socialist revolution in a country where the immense majority of the population belongs to the petty land-holder producers, is possible only by reason of a number of special transition measures, which would be entirely unnecessary in countries having a developed capitalism, where the wage earners in industry and agriculture constitute an immense majority. In countries with a highly developed capitalism, there has been for decades a developed class of wage workers engaged in agriculture. Only such a class can serve as a support to an immediate transition to Socialism, socially, economically and politically. Only in countries in which this class is sufficiently developed will the transition from capitalism to socialism be possible. [Emphases in the foregoing mine. – -A. P.] In a great number of utterances, in all our addresses, in the entire press, we have pointed out that the condition in Russia is different, that in Russia we have a minority of industrial workers, an immense majority of petty land-holders. The social revolution in such a country may meet with ultimate success only under two conditions; in the first place, under the condition that a simultaneous social revolution in one of the several advanced countries will come to its Support. » (Speech on « Our Relation to the Peasants, » delivered at the 10th-Congress of the Russian Communist Party, March 15, 1921.)

Lenin’s Clear Vision

Lenin here virtually draws a picture of capitalism in the United States and he says, in effect, that all the transition measures which make the « Proletarian Dictatorship » necessary in Russia are unnecessary here, and that an immediate transition to Socialism is possible for the workers here-provided, of course, the workers here organize their « peculiar » form of power, the Industrial Union. I ask: Will the lunatics who are shouting for « Soviets » and « Proletarian Dictatorship » in this country heed the « master’s voice »? Echo answers: They won’t heed the « master’s voice. » No, they won’t, because that would rob them of even the semblance of an excuse for existence, and after all, you know, business is business, even when it isn’t as flourishing as it was!

Marx on the Importance of Economic Organization

The question may be asked: Did Marx attach any importance to the economic organization in the accomplishment of the proletarian revolution? The answer is emphatically in the affirmative. De Leon, in passing, observes « that here in America the union, the economic organization of labor, leaps to the transcendent importance that Marx’s genius dimly descried in the distance. . . » We have then, first, Marx’s statement in « Value, Price and Profit, » reading:

« [The unions] fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerrilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organized forces as a lever for he final emancipation of the working class, that is to say, the ultimate abolition of the wages system. »ii

We also have Marx’s statement to J. Hamann, general treasurer of the German metallurgical workers. It was made on the occasion of Marx’s visit to his friend, Dr. Kugelman, in Hanover, Germany, on September 30, 1869. It was reported by Hamann in The Volksstaat of November 17, the same year, as follows:

« The trades union should never be connected with, nor made dependent upon a political party, if the former is to fulfill its task. The moment that is done, the death-blow is dealt to it. The trades union is the school for Socialism. In the trades union the workingmen are trained into Socialists, because there the struggle with capital is daily carried on under their very eyes. All political parties, whatever their complexion may be, and without exception, warm up the working class only for a season, transitorily. The trades union [i.e., the economic organization], on the contrary, captures the mass of the workingmen permanently. ONLY THE TRADES UNION [i.e., the economic organization] IS CAPABLE OF SETTING ON FOOT A TRUE POLITICAL PARTY OF LABOR, AND THUS RAISE A BULWARK AGAINST THE POWER OF CAPITAL. »

Commenting on this statement De Leon said, in part:

« The formation of the Socialist party gave impetus to the development of the Socialist Labor Party principle. S. L. P. principle soon took shape in the principle that- the union was an essential factor in the emancipation of the working class. The Marxian motto, ‘only the union can give birth to the true party of labor’ became the guiding light of the S. L. P. The Party lay main stress upon the organization of the working class into revolutionary unions, and considered the ballot, however important, useful and necessary, a secondary consideration. »


[1] The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, stripped of its Latin, scientific, and historico-philosophical dress, and clothed in simple language, means that only a certain class, and that the industrial workers, especially the workers in large factories, is able to lead the general body of the exploited masses in their fight to end capitalist exploitation. –Lenin, Communist Saturdays.”

[2] “By consciously opposing the incessant encroachments of capitalism the economic organization becomes, quite unconsciously, the center of gravity [Schwerpunkt] for organizing the working class, even as the medieval communes served as centers of gravity for the rising bourgeoisie. Through the daily guerrilla fights between labor and capital the economic organizations of labor become still more important as levers for the abolition of the wages system.”—Quoted by Franz Mehring, in his work “Karl Marx,” from resolution drafted by Marx for the Geneva Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association, September, 1866.

Organizing the Workers Industrially

Turning to Lenin we find this pregnant observation:

« Without the closest connection with the trade unions, without their hearty support and self-sacrificing work . . .it would have been, of course, impossible to govern the country and to maintain the dictatorship for two and a half years, or even for two and a half months. » (« ‘Left Wing’ Communism, an Infantile Disorder. »)

If this were true in Russia, if in such a low economic organism the union played so important a role, how much more essential would it not be in an economic organism of such high order as the United States where the very conditions cry out for revolutionary economic organizations?

To De Leon there never was any question as to possibility of organizing the workers industrially. To question that was to question the possibility of accomplishing the social revolution. He said:

« The social revolution is not accomplishable unless the proletariat becomes conscious of its class interests, conscious of its historic mission, and is organized accordingly. To deny the fact, and yet expect Socialism, is vain Utopia, in conflict, moreover, with historic evolution. To ignore the fact, and yet practice political Socialism, is a dastardly deception practiced upon the proletariat …. efforts will be vain …. unless the proletariat is organized economically in the battalions that will enable it to assume the reins of industrial government on the day of its political victory. »

The Working Class United

And driving the, lesson home, one might almost say with sledge-hammer blows, he adds: « He who does not believe the workingmen can be united on the economic field, and yet talks labor or Socialist politics, convicts himself out of his own mouth a politician, scheming for graft. » Let some of those cracker-barrel philosophers who sit and ruminate on the alleged impossibility to organize the workers under capitalism-let them chew on that a bit. For if there is one country where the working class can be united on the economic field, it is in the United States of America. Nowhere has economic evolution so completely divorced the capitalist from the processes of production; nowhere is there found so wide a chasm between working class and capitalist class economic interests as here; and nowhere is the fact so palpable as here that the working class is the only class that has no material or economic interest in preserving the existing property system. Even John Stuart Mill recognized more than three score years ago the fact that the working class had no stake in the present capitalist system when he observed that « until the present age, the institution of property in the shape in which it has been handed down from the past, had not …. been brought seriously into question, because the conflicts of the past have always been conflicts between classes, both of which had a stake in the existing constitution of property. It will not be possible to go on longer in this manner » since, he adds, « the discussion includes a class that has next to no property of its own. » Surely, in the light of the virtual breakdown of political government, of the all but universal collapse of capitalism (economically if not politically), of the revealed impotency of the propertied elements in society–in the light of these facts it should be obvious that the working class is the only organizable, and therefore surely to be organized, class. And that it will be done along the lines indicated by De Leon, no serious person who has given any thought and study to the subject can seriously doubt. Long ago De Leon pointed to the breakdown and demolition of the Political State as a precursor to the industrially organized working class’s assuming complete control of industry in its own behalf.

In passing, it might be noted that, apart from his studies of Marx, De Leon credited the great American ethnologist Lewis H. Morgan with having clinched, so to speak, his conversion to Socialism. In an oft-quoted passage Morgan points to the termination of man. kind’s property career, saying further: « Democracy in government, brotherhood in society, equality in rights and privileges, and universal education, foreshadow the next higher plane of society to which experience, intelligence –and knowledge are steadily tending. It will be a revival, in a higher form, of the liberty, equality and fraternity of the ancient gentes. » In the democracy of the ancient gentes as analyzed by Morgan, De Leon saw the undeveloped germ of the magnificent social organism envisioned as the Industrial Republic of Emancipated Labor.

« All Power to the Industrial Union »

Properly analyzed and understood there is, then, no contradiction between Marx’s phrase « Proletarian Dictatorship » and De Leon’s Industrial Union government. The contradiction appears only if we completely ignore the very political and economic factors upon which Marx, Engels (and Lenin, for that matter) absolutely conditioned the « Dictatorship of the Proletariat. » « Proletarian Dictatorship » obviously loses its present political implication in a country like ours where the victorious class is, by the very fact of its triumph having been possible, in supreme economic control. In a situation of that nature such a class can be said to « dictate » simply in the colloquial sense of « dictating, » that is deciding how, where and when the processes of production and distribution are to be directed. Power is the essence of proletarian, as of any other, rule, and while in Russia they adopted the slogan « All power to the Soviets! », in this country we shall unquestionably and unhesitatingly proclaim: « ALL POWER TO THE INDUSTRIAL UNION! » And the day is not far distant when the Russians will adopt our slogan, and discard theirs. For Industrial Unionism, in the language of Lenin, is what they are building.


What Is Force?

In discussing the change from capitalism the question is invariably posed: Can it be done peacefully? There are two superstitions prevalent in this connection; one is that the revolution must necessarily be peaceful; the other, that it must necessarily be bloody. Neither is inevitable, but as De Leon so eloquently pointed out, with the working class organized politically and industrially, the chances are in favor of a peaceful revolution. But every Marxist agrees that no successful revolution is possible without force. The question presents itself: What do we mean by force? « Force, » said Marx, « is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power. » (« Capital. ») Mark that carefully: « Force is itself an economic power. » Engels in his « Landmarks of Scientific Socialism » observes that the revolver triumphs over the sword, and that « superior force is no mere act of the will but requires very real preliminary conditions for the carrying out of its purposes, especially mechanical instruments, the more highly developed of which have the superiority over the less highly developed. Furthermore [he continues] these tools must be produced, whence it appears that the producer of the more highly developed tool of force, commonly called weapon, triumphs over the producer of the less highly developed tool. In a word, the triumph of force depends upon the production of weapons, therefore upon economic power, on economic conditions, on the ability to organize actual material instruments ….. Economic force is the control of the great industry. » Here again we have force reduced, in the final analysis, to economic power, to the ability to organize material instruments, as, for example, economic or Industrial Unions, and Engels, as you will observe, comes mighty close to saying just that.

De Leon put it this way:

« . . . the ‘physical force’ called for by the revolutionary act lies inherent in the economic organization; …. the element of ‘force’ consists, not in military or other organization implying violence, but on the STRUCTURE of the economic organization, a structure of such nature that it parries violence against itself, shatters it, and thereby renders the exercise of violence in return unnecessary, at least secondary, or only incidental.. . . . « 

Frequently unthinking followers of Lenin argue as if the « Dictatorship of the Proletariat » is synonymous with physical force and violence. Lenin very effectively dispelled this erroneous notion in his « Communist Saturdays » when he said:

« The Dictatorship of the Proletariat–as I have insisted several times, as, for instance, in my speech at the session of the Petrograd Soviet on May 13th–is not merely force used against the exploiter, and not even essentially force. The economic foundation of the revolutionary exercise of power, the guarantee of its permanence and success, consists in this: that the proletariat has created a higher form of social organization of labor than capitalism. That is the great thing. »

In « ‘Left Wing’ Communism, an Infantile Disorder, » Lenin observes that « The Dictatorship of the Proletariat is sanguinary and bloodless, violent and peaceful, military and economic, educational and administrative »–which reduces the question to one of tactics adapted to particular countries and circumstances. On the question of legal and illegal means Lenin said: « Inexperienced revolutionaries often think that legal means of struggle are opportunist, for the bourgeoisie often (especially in ‘peaceful’ non-revolutionary times) use such legal means to deceive and fool the workers. On the other hand, they think that illegal means in the struggle are revolutionary. This is not true. »

Military Force Analyzed and Rejected

Disputing the contention that military force or power is superior to economic power, and that the workers should be organized in military units rather than in Industrial Unions, De Leon stated:

« A military organization implies not one, or two, it implies a number of things. Bombs, explosives, generally, may be left out of the reckoning. They may be of incidental, but not of exclusive use by an organized force.

« First of all powder is needed. The best of powder needs bullets and balls to do the business. The best of powder, bullets and balls are useless without guns. Nor are inferior guns of much avail when pitted against the up-to-date guns at the command of the capitalist class. The military organization of the revolutionary proletariat will need the most effective weapons. The question has. often been asked from capitalist sources, Where will you get the money from to buy the railroads and the other capitalist plants? The question is silly. No one proposes, nor will there be any occasion, to ‘buy’ those things. Not silly, however, but extremely pertinent, is the question, Where will the proletariat get the billions needed to purchase such a military equipment?

« Suppose the billions be forthcoming. Weapons, in the hands of men unskilled in their use are dangerous, primarily, to those who hold them. Numbers, undrilled in military evolutions, only stand in one another’s way. Where and how could these numbers practice in the use of their arms, and in the military drill? Where and how could they do the two things in secret? In public, of course, it would be out of question.

« Suppose, finally, that the problem of the billions were solved, and the still more insuperable problem of exercise and drill be overcome. Suppose the military organization of the proletariat took the field and triumphed. And then-it would immediately have to dissolve. Not only will it not have been able to afford the incidental protection that the revolutionary union could afford to the proletariat while getting ready, but all its implements, all the money that it did cost, all the tricks « Fourthly, and most significant and determining of all, the day of its triumph will be the beginning of the full exercise of its functions-the administration of the productive forces of the nation.

« The fourth consideration is significant and determining. It is the consideration that Social Evolution points the finger to, dictating the course that the proletariat must take;–dictating its goal;–dictating its methods;–dictating its means. The proletariat, whose economic badge is poverty; the proletariat, whose badge, the first of all revolutionary classes, is economic impotence;–for the benefit of that class, apparently treated so stepmotherly by Social Evolution, Social Evolution has wrought as it has wrought for none other. It has builded the smithy of capitalist industrial concentration; and, in keeping with the lofty mission of the working class to abolish class rule on earth, Social Evolution has gathered ready for the fashioning, not the implements of destruction, but the implements of future peace, withal the most potent weapon to clear the field of the capitalist despot–the industrially ranked toilers. The integrally organized Industrial Union is the weapon that Social Evolution places within the grasp of the proletariat as the means for their emancipation. »

There should be no doubt in the minds of reasonable men that here, once and for all, De Leon disposed of that particular question.

De Leon on Peaceful Solution

In « Socialist Reconstruction of Society » De Leon develops the question of a peaceful solution fully. Speaking of « the consummation of that ideal so dearly pursued by the Socialist–THE PEACEFUL SOLUTION OF THE SOCIAL QUESTION, » he points out that while in Europe a peaceful solution is out of the question, here it is otherwise. Here the capitalist is essentially a swindler, and « the swindler, » says De Leon, « is a coward. » He adds: « Like a coward, he will play the bully, as we see the capitalist class doing, toward the weak, the weak because disorganized, working class. Before the strong, the bully crawls. Let the political temperature rise to the point of danger, then, all monkeying with the thermometer notwithstanding, your capitalist will quake in his stolen boots; he will not dare to fight; he will flee.

The complete industrial organization of the working class will then have insured the peaceful issue of the struggle. But perhaps the capitalist may not flee. Perhaps, in a delirium of rage, he may resist. So much the worse-for him. The might, implied in the industrial organization of the working class of the land, will be in position to mop the earth with the rebellious usurper in short order and safeguard the right that the ballot proclaimed. »

Shaking in Stolen Boots

De Leon here spoke prophetically. For on a small scale we have had a concrete demonstration of the correctness of his contention that the capitalist is a coward who, in the hour of danger, will flee or surrender. In 1918, shortly following the Bolshevik revolution, Charles M. Schwab, the steel magnate, in obvious panicky fear, declared:

« The time is coming when the men of the working classes, the men without property, will control the destinies of this world of ours. It means that the Bolshevik sentiment must be taken into consideration and in the very near future. We must look to the worker for a solution of the economic conditions now being considered.

« I am not one to carelessly turn over my belongings to the uplift of the nation, but I am one who has come to a belief that the worker will rule, and the sooner we come to a realization of this the better it will be for our country and the world at large.

« This great change is going to be a social adjustment. I repeat that it will be a great hardship to those who control property, but perhaps in the end it will work estimably to the good of us all. Therefore, it is our duty not to oppose, but to instruct, to meet, and to mingle with the views of others. »

Mr. Schwab is by no means alone in his fear of the proletarian revolution, though all of the capitalists may not be quite as chicken-hearted as « Weeping Charlie. » That he is not alone in this dread of the impending doom of capitalism is indicated by a writer in a recent issue of the plutocratic newspaper, the New York Herald Tribune. In today’s issue (December 13, 1931 ), this paper contains an article by Bruce Barton, a typical go-getter and apologist for capitalism. Mr. Barton says, in part, as follows: « A young man who is vice-president of a New York bank told me that he dined recently at a fashionable resort. ‘All the other guests were very rich,’ he said. ‘They were older people, many of them retired. They were shaking in their boots. They are afraid there Will be a social upheaval and that their money will be taken away. »‘ (Emphasis mine.) And Mr. Barton adds, quite properly, « I told him I thought these people had a right to worry. » Yes, well may these capitalists, exploiters and useless parasites shake in their stolen boots. Even if they do not all clearly perceive the handwriting on the wall, they possess like other beasts of prey, and wild creatures in general, a quality or a sense which warns them of impending storms and cataclysms. If they all take the view expressed by Mr. Schwab, and act accordingly, they need not, however, fear anything worse than the prospect of life-long, useful labor–a prospect, which to them, indeed, may and undoubtedly does appear to be a dreadful one. If on the other hand, they do not react to the coming change in the manner of the canny Charles M. Schwab, it will be just too bad for them. For the working class, properly organized, will possess supreme economic power, leaving little or no opportunity for rebellious capitalists to work any mischief.

Marx on Peaceful Solution

We know, from their own words, that both Marx and Engels thought it possible to accomplish the revolution in a peaceful manner in such countries as England and America. In 1872, Marx, addressing a congress of the International at the Hague, said:

« The worker must one day capture political power in order to found the new organization of labor. He must reverse the old policy, which the old institutions maintain, if he will not, like the Christians of old who despised and neglected such things, renounce the things of this world.

« But we do not assert that the way to reach this goal is the same everywhere.

« We know that the institutions, the manners and the customs of the various countries must be considered, and we do not deny that there are countries like England and America, and, if I understood your arrangements better, I might even add Holland, where the worker may attain his object by peaceful means. But not in all countries is this the case. »

And in the preface to the first English translation of « Capital, » Engels said:

« The sighed-for period of prosperity will not come; as often as we seem to perceive its heralding symptoms, so often do they again vanish into air. Meanwhile, each succeeding winter brings up afresh the great question, ‘what to do with the unemployed’; but while the number of the unemployed keeps swelling from year to year, there is nobody to answer that question; and we can almost calculate the moment when the unemployed, losing patience, will take their own fate into their own hands. Surely, at such a moment, the voice ought to be heard of a man [Karl Marx] whose whole theory is the result of a lifelong study of the economic history and condition of England, and whom that study led to the conclusion, that, at least in Europe, England [and, by parity of reasoning, the United States] is the only country where the inevitable social revolution might be effected entirely by peaceful and legal means He certainly never forgot to add that he hardly expected the English ruling classes to submit, without a ‘pro-slavery rebellion,’ to this peaceful and legal revolution. »

That « pro-slavery rebellion » will, if attempted, in this country be met with the superior force of the proletariat, organized into invincible, integral Industrial Unions.


In passing I should like to add that on this question Lenin parts company with Marx, Engels and De Leon. He does so for reasons which to me seem irrational, or which certainly do not seem based on facts or logic. To go into that, however, would require more time than we have this afternoon. I mention the point chiefly because I desire to avoid laying myself open to the charge of evasion, or, by implication, of misrepresenting Lenin on this question. It would require a separate lecture to deal fully with the questions of physical force and violence in relation to the labor movement and the revolutionary act. The revolutionist, however, should never feel impelled to apologize for insisting on the possibility of a peaceful solution, provided he does not neglect the organizing of the needed force, the Industrial Union. Brute physical force is the law of the jungle. But civilized man differs from the denizens of the jungle because of his superior intelligence, his power to reason, and, above all, his capacity to organize for a The veneer that separates man from common purpose the beast may, in a sense, be thin enough, but such as it is, it is the one saving grace, the one thing that inspires hope of our ever rising superior even to the present capitalist jungle. Dear to the heart of civilized man is the hope of settling social disputes peacefully, and, as De Leon said, it is the one consummation dearly pursued by the Socialist. We of the working class want peace. We are tired and weary of the struggle of the ages. We want to put an end to capitalism with as little trouble as possible, though with all the power necessary. And we are a thousand times fortunate in that destiny, or whatever we may call it, furnished us, not only with this magnificent country with its enormous resources and its high degree of political and economic development, but also with the great social scientist whose genius enables us to chart our course and inspires us with the determination expressed in the poem recited by our young comrade this afternoon- » Sail on, Sail on, and on, and on »–for the successful entry into the port of humanity, the haven of the Socialist Commonwealth of free, enlightened and affluent labor.

(The End.)


[1] “Briefwechsel,” Vol. III page 127, Quoted from Lenin’s “Marxism.”

[2] The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, stripped of its Latin, scientific, and historico-philosophical dress, and clothed in simple language, means that only a certain class, and that the industrial workers, especially the workers in large factories, is able to lead the general body of the exploited masses in their fight to end capitalist exploitation. –Lenin, Communist Saturdays.”

[3] “By consciously opposing the incessant encroachments of capitalism the economic organization becomes, quite unconsciously, the center of gravity [Schwerpunkt] for organizing the working class, even as the medieval communes served as centers of gravity for the rising bourgeoisie. Through the daily guerrilla fights between labor and capital the economic organizations of labor become still more important as levers for the abolition of the wages system.”—Quoted by Franz Mehring, in his work “Karl Marx,” from resolution drafted by Marx for the Geneva Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association, September, 1866.

2 Réponses to “1931-12 Proletarian Democracy vs Dictatorships and Despotism [Petersen]”

  1. Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung Says:

    […] communards autrichiens ! (1934) * Daniel De Leon: La grève générale (1907) * Arnold Petersen: Proletarian Democracy vs Dictatorships and Despotism […]


  2. From the archive of struggle no.44 « Poumista Says:

    […] of Great Britain: Russia since 1917 (1948) * Une lettre de G. Miasnikov (1929) * Arnold Petersen: Proletarian Democracy vs Dictatorships and Despotism (1931) * A l’aide des communards autrichiens ! (1934) * Marceau Pivert: Tendre la main aux […]


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