1962 The Socialist Labor Party [Morrison]
The dean of American radical political parties, the Socialist Labor Party, was organized in 1876, although in its early years its attitudes and policies were quite different from those developed at the turn of the century. It was, originally, a pure and simple political party advocating social reform in the manner of the European Social Democratic Parties.
From 1892, in which year Daniel De Leon was elected Editor of The People, the Party began to evolve an anti-reform position and a new attitude toward labor union organization and its relationship to the socialist movement. By 1905 the Socialist Labor Party had become a dualistic organization, proclaiming that the workers throughout industry must organize into a « revolutionary socialist industrial union, » on the one hand, and the political Socialist Labor Party on the other. Although the attitude was always expressed that the organizations are inseparable and that if either were missing, the movement would become lop-sided — « like a duck trying to fly with one wing, » the earlier emphasis by De Leon was on the industrial arm, the means by which the victorious socialist working class would be enabled, according to him, to back up its victory at the polls.
In fact, so much more emphasis did De Leon place on the industrial union that in 1905, at the first convention of the Industrial Workers of the World at which he was a delegate, the published Proceedings quotes him as follows:
« The situation in America … establishes the fact that the ‘taking and holding’ of the things that labor needs to be free can never depend upon a political party. (Applause). If anything is clear in the American situation it is this: That if any individual is elected to office upon a revolutionary ballot, that individual is a suspicious character. (Applause). Whoever is returned elected to office on a program of labor emancipation; whoever is allowed to be filtered through by the political election inspectors of the capitalist class — that man is a carefully selected tool, a traitor of the working people, selected by the capitalist class. (Applause). (New York Labor News Company, p. 226).
Since the New York Labor News Company is owned by the Socialist Labor Party we take it that the foregoing is stated correctly. It would be interesting, indeed, to know if any of the Socialist Labor Party candidates for elective office in the intervening years have ever repudiated their beloved leader on this point.
THE « FLASH OF GENIUS »
As expressed in its Socialist Study Course:
« With a flash of genius De Leon perceived in the Chicago gathering (I.W.W. Convention) the real foundation of the parliament of labor, the Socialist INDUSTRIAL, Government of the future. Two days after the adjournment of that convention, in his Minneapolis speech on the Preamble of the I.W.W. (« Socialist Reconstruction of Society ») he pronounced his complete theory of Industrial Union Government — the industrial vote taking the place of the political vote and where the executive board of the Industrial Union sits, there sits the government of the nation. » (p. 19). (emphasis theirs).
And no doubt anticipating a possible immediate objection, the paragraph concludes:
« That the I.W.W. went to seed, unable through internal dry rot to fulfill the mission it so well started has, of course, no effect on the soundness of the theory. »
In the fifty seven odd years that followed the announcement of this « startling » discovery, neither Daniel De Leon nor the Party spokesmen who followed him have been able to see the glaring contradictions of their theory. The organization of workers into industrial unions — notwithstanding the label « socialist » — does not unite them but continues to divide them. Furthermore, any type of union under capitalism MUST organize all who work in a plant regardless of their political or social beliefs. It is one thing to expect co-operation among workers of conflicting ideologies in the struggle for wages, hours, and conditions but it is an entirely different matter to expect class unconscious workers to help institute socialism.
Over the years, the Socialist Labor Party has somewhat toned down its insistence upon the organization of the « socialist industrial union » under capitalism and has concentrated more upon the furthering of its political aims. But it does not want to become altogether « like a duck trying to fly with one wing, » so the industrial union still remains basic to its theory and it still occasionally publishes its blueprint in the Weekly People, under the heading: HOW TO BUILD A REAL UNION. Beneath a diagram depicting the organization of automobile plants are the stirring words:
« Here is unionism for the industrial age, practical unionism, fighting unionism, unionism that will not only enable the workers to wage the day-to-day struggle, but will also equip them to determine their own destinies…. »
Odd that a socialist party should instruct workers on how to organize into unions for the purpose of waging « the day to day struggle? » (a necessary enough job under capitalism but not within the province of a political party). Odd, indeed, but not quite as fantastic as the insistence that the industrial unions will have to be carried over into the new society after they have won « freedom. » Fantastic, indeed, is the Socialist Labor Party’s concept of a free society, a society in which:
« The Socialist Industrial Union will be his union, the union of the workers, an invincible democratic force, through which to win and hold economic freedom. » (Weekly People, Sept. 1, 1962.)
« Hold » against whom? Is the political party not really> scheduled to abdicate at the moment of victory in the manner prescribed by Daniel De Leon?
If capitalism has been abolished along with the political state and an economy of abundance has been introduced, who or what can attain a position of control over man’s life?
No wonder the Socialist Labor Party sees socialism as a continuation of the policy of dividing « workers » on the basis of industry rather than a uniting of the entire population on the basis of membership in a world community. No wonder these « Marxists » still do not know what sort of a society exists in the Soviet Union, still does not understand that it is the dominant relationships in a society which determine the type of social and economic system.
THE S. L. P. AND RUSSIA
In the years following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the Socialist Labor Party has been excelled only by the Leninist groups, themselves, in its twisting and turning on the question of Russian economics. From its official position, stated in November of 1917 that there could be no socialism in Russia since the « condition sine qua non of the Socialist Republic, » the industrial unions, was lacking (See The Western Socialist, Sept.-Oct. 1940) to their 1962 official statement depicting the Soviet Union as a system of « Bureaucratic Statism, » a « system unique in the world’s history » (Weekly People, October 20, 1962), they have sought to explain what to them has seemed to be unexplainable. Behind their reluctance through the years, to delve too deeply into the economics of Russia is a more than minor similarity between their and the Bolshevik concept of socialist society, a similarity which can be ascertained easily by consulting S. L. P. literature.
For example, the Socialist Study Course, cited above, gives an excellent statement on the affinity between Leninism and De Leonism and since it appears in a book designed for use in S.L.P. study classes, the responsibility cannot be evaded. On page nineteen of this 1937 publication the De Leon-ists have the following to say:
« It is curious and interesting and instructive to note that at just about the same time that De Leon pronounced the theory of Industrial Unionism, Lenin and the Russian Socialist movement launched the Soviets — labor councils arising out of industry, of a semi-economic, semi-political nature. These were used in 1905 merely as a revolutionary lever. In the years that intervened till the 1917 Revolution, they went out of sight. The council theory, once discovered, however, remained and evidently spread underground. With the first breezes of the March Revolution, the Soviets again sprang into a living reality, and it was then, in the struggle with Kerensky and the Duma, that Lenin commenced to draw attention to the council at Petrograd as the second government. From then on the idea grew, and with the November Revolution the Soviets became the power. The Duma, the political government, in the prophetic words of Engels, died out. It was no wonder, then, that when Lenin some time later and for the first time got hold of the works of De Leon it should come to him like a revelation that, unnoticed by him and by all the previously important Socialist leaders of Europe, the theory with which Lenin had struggled — and because of Russia’s backward economic condition had been only partially able to solve — had been fully and completely and independently worked out already in 1904. »
And to further cement their unity with the Bolsheviks the Socialist Labor Party advances its own refinement of the Great Man Theory, demonstrating that it will not accept second place for its leader:
« It is quite possible that with the De Leon influence, which we have reason to believe became strong on Lenin, had Lenin lived and continued to lead the revolutionary reorganization of Russia, much of the present strictly bureaucratic red tape would have been dispensed with and the government would gradually have passed into the hands of the unions, where it rightfully belongs, and where it must be placed – perhaps by a second revolution – before there can be a true Socialist Republic in Russia — not a mere dictatorship of the proletariat, a makeshift for the transition period. » (emphasis ours).
Soviets! Great men! Dictatorship of the Proletariat! No wonder the Socialist Labor Party does not understand what goes on in Russia! There have been no Soviets — other than in name – in Russia since the Communist Party became the supreme power in 1917. Lenin, no more than any other leader, was able to do what he wanted but was compelled to do what the conditions indicated. The Russia of and since 1917 called for state capitalism and state capitalism became the order of the day. That the Duma, in 1917, « died out » was certainly no fulfillment of Engels « prophetic » words but the consequence of the collapse of the feudal-agrarian society and the inability of the Keren-sky government to cope with the conditions of chaos prevailing between March and November of 1917.
That the Socialist Labor Party refuses to see or is incapable of seeing the real nature of Soviet capitalism today is but a reflection on its socialist understanding. In a society of abundance, such as socialism must be, the existence of labor councils; unions; dictatorship by whatever name; governments or nations however designated; will be impossible. Socialism can imply nothing other than the common ownership of everything that is in and on the earth by all of mankind – not the division of the population on the basis of union membership, but its unification on a basis of membership in society.