De Leonist Society of Canada, Democracy -- Political and Industrial

From THE DE LEONIST REVIEW, Jan.-Feb. 1995
Published by the
De Leonist Society of Canada
P.O. Box 944 Station F, Toronto, Ontario M4Y 2N9

On August 10, the De Leonist Society of Canada formally adopted a radical change in the position and program it will henceforth espouse. In effect, our new position comprises an addition. In a nutshell, while we retain the Socialist Industrial Union to both enforce the right of the socialist ballot and administer socialist production, instead of discarding political democracy (the geographic constituency) we incorporate it in the De Leonist program to enable society-as-a-whole to determine policy on social issues -- i.e., issues not directly related to production.

We are thoroughly convinced that our changed position is necessary to accomodate the tremendous economic and social changes that have taken place over the near century since De Leon first formulated the Socialist Industrial Union program for working class emancipation. Accordingly, The De Leonist Review will reflect what we consider is an advance in De Leonism.

Democracy -- Political and Industrial
(A Position Paper)
The De Leonist Society of Canada

There is a basic question concerning the shape and substance of socialist democracy that ever since the demise of the bona fide Socialist Labor Party has been gradually growing in importance in our minds until now we feel compelled to bring it to your attention.

The issue may or may not have been discussed years ago in the columns of the Daily People or Weekly People. may or may not have surfaced over the years at public meetings or elsewhere. *

[FOOTNOTE: * The issue did in fact surface in at least one SLP public meeting we attended, and more recently appeared in the minutes in the SLP of America's 1978 NEC Session.]

However, to the best of our knowledge it does not appear in SLP literature, the closest approach merely begging the question, as for example in the New York Labor News (1964) pamphlet "SOCIALISM: Questions Most Frequently Asked and their Answers." Quoting from Question and Answer No. 21 as follows:

"Will there be free speech under Socialism?"....

"...There will be no material incentive whatever to suppress anyone's exercise of the basic liberties and freedoms. On the contrary, there will be every incentive for the people, who at last have a democratic mastery of their lives, to preserve for themselves, individually and collectively, the full and unfettered freedom to question, to criticize and to suggest, thereby keeping the road to continued progress open." (Our emphasis)

Also begging the question is the following quote from page 64 of the same pamphlet:

"Socialism is that form of society in which ... the land, implements, and plants of produciton are owned collectively by the useful producers of the land, the productive means, in short the industries, being administered through the Socialist industrial organization of these producers, who today are wage workers. This precludes the existence of political government, and implies substitution therefor of an industrial government, a government having its basis of representation in the various industries, each worker with a voice and vote, in contradistinction to the present political government with its basis of representation in purely political (geographical) and arbitrary divisions." (Our emphasis)

A third quote that helps bring the matter to the fore is De Leon's definition of Socialism as published in the 1958 edition of the New York Labor News pamphlet "What is SOCIALISM?":

"Socialism is that social system under which the necessaries of production [factories, tools, land, etc.] are owned, controlled and administered by the people, for the people, and under which, accordingly, the cause of political and economic despotism having been abolished, class rule is at an end. That is socialism; nothing short of that." (by the people = our emphasis.)

Does the difficulty now become apparent? "The people" will enjoy free speech under Socialism; "the people" will have "a democratic mastery of their lives"; "the people" will enjoy unfettered freedom "to question, to criticize and to suggest" -- in short, while "the people" will have all this, will they also have a vote? No, not according to the above delineation! While "the people" will at last have "a democratic mastery of their lives," the said mastery does not accord them the right to vote! Not the people as a whole but only that segment of them actively engaged in production will have both voice and vote!

For years, when we at all thought of the distinction, we had no problem with it. After all, we reasoned, it would be a case of society delegating authority to the Work Force to run industry in society's interest, and since the Work Force together with their families would to all intents and purposes equate with society, the industrial vote (rather than the political vote) would afford the fullest possible exercise of democracy yet devised. In short, we had no misgivings with the proposition that the industrial vote would replace the political vote!

Now, however, there is a question -- a large question:

* The distinction between the people actively engaged in production at any given time, and the people as a whole, will not go away; on the contrary, as time goes by, advancing technology appears to be widening the gap.

* The distinction reveals a disturbing contradiction between the two definitions of Socialism above cited. In De Leon's definition it is "the people" who will "own, control and administer", in "SOCIALISM: Questions and Answers" it is "the useful producers" (i.e., the Work Force) who will "own collectively" and "administer." One would assume that if the people (the people as a whole) are to own and control they must needs be able to do more than merely "question, criticize and suggest" -- that is, they would also need to vote! But there is the rub; as the socialist program now stands, a landslide vote for Socialism would be the last vote exercised by the people (the people as a whole), in voting for Socialism the people would not only delegate ultimate authority to the Work Force but in doing so would disfranchise themselves! We see, therefore, that standing in the way of a clip and clear presentation of the De Leonist program is this troublesome question of WHO is to be sovereign in a socialist society -- the people at work at any given moment, or the people as a whole?

* The context of the administrative aspect of Socialist Industrial Unionism in 1904 was brilliantly described by De Leon in "The Burning Question of Trades Unionism" as follows:

"The parliament of civilization in America will consist ... 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."

That was in 1904!

But the identical context (the identical "legislative work") reappears as late as 1960 in Eric Hass's "Socialist Industrial Unionism -- The Workers' Power," as follows:

"The national industrial unions' duties are manifold, yet simple. Manifold because it must direct a vast industry with hundreds of units; simple because its problems are purely production problems" (Our emphasis.)

Today, however, the "legislative work" that would confront a Socialist Industrial Union Congress is "easy" and "simple" no longer; on the contrary, it has become infinitely complex! At the beginning of the 20th Century there could well have been but one outstanding task for socialist legislation -- the problem of production and distribution -- a purely economic problem. But now as we near the end of the century it is obvious that Socialism must inherit a host of grave social problems generated and/or exacerbated by moribund capitalism; now a Socialist Administration would have to deal not only with questions directly related to production but also with questions indirectly related to it, many of which require value judgements not anent production per se. For example:

(1) Industrial policy -- Questions of production priorities, degree and pace of technological innovation such as automaiton, etc., alternative energy sources, energy conservation, design choices, etc.

(2) Natural environment -- question re production of same, establishing additional national parks, determination of balance between the environment and industrial development, etc.

(3) Scientific research -- Questions of priorities in medical research, aims and pace of genetic research, space exploration, etc.

(4) Human Rights -- Codification and protection of same, the settling of aboriginal claims.

(5) Abortion -- Resolution of the debate, "Freedom of Choice vs. The Right to Life."

(6) Justice -- Revision of civil and criminal codes, prison reform (as long as prisons remain necessary).

(7) Education -- Determination of curricula, etc., also the extent to which classroom should be amalgamated with field work.

(8) External Affairs -- Policy re other Socialist Republics, re underdeveloped countries, re warring countries, re disarmament, etc.

The crucial question that confronts us, therefore, is not whether there are social issues demanding resolution but the question of WHO in the Socialist Republic should make the final decisions in the resolution of such issues -- WHO should determine social policy?

Inevitably the political domain enters the picture and it does so in a number of ways. The matter becomes clearer the closer we look at the meaning of that word political. According to Webster, "political" is among other things: "Of, relating to, or concerned with the making as distinguished from the administration of government policy." (Our emphasis.) The definition is pivotal, casting light on what appears to be a shortcoming in our present concept of socialist government!

Consider the following quote from the Hass pamphlet previously cited:

"The qualifications of those who will serve in the Socialist Industrial Union Congress ... will be (aside from a devotion to duty) a knowledge and understanding of the processes of production and distribution, and an ability to coordinate and direct these processes."

And that is how it should be. However, the moment a Socialist Industrial Congress addresses a social issue it ceases to be a purely industrial body; it becomes both political and industrial in nature; as our concept now stands, it will be required to both legislate and administer social policy! Unquestionably, the Industrial Congress will be the best qualified organ to conduct the processes of production and distribution, however it surely does not follow that such congress is better qualified than society as a whole to resolve the many social issues that are not directly related to these processes. On the other hand, it surely does follow that if society delegates authority to the Industrial Congress to determine social policy it thereby severs the very taproot of political democracy! In sort, we appear to have reached an impasse -- i.e., can we continue to uphold our claim that Socialist Industrial Union government will afford the greatest possible enjoyment of democracy in our industrial age?

As a sounding board to help promote discussion and resolution of this troubling question, we here reproduce in full the QUESTION PERIOD published in the Weekly People of October 26, 1963:


Don't you think that with the establishment of a Socialist Industrial Union Administration a political party should be retained at all levels of government to function as an educational and advisory body?

Absolutely not! The "advice" of a political party would be gratuitous, presumptuous and certainly not needed by an administration that, through democratic means, enlists the intelligence of all the people. One of the great virtues of a Socialist Industrial Union government is that it opens all the avenues of information and creates meaningful forums for the discussion of social as well as economic problems. This in every school, factory, mine, ship, distribution facility, etc., questions of public interest, particularly questions relating to the specific industry or service, may be discussed by discussed by the rank and file in shop councils -- and advice communicated to the various industrial union administrative councils, or even to the All-Industrial Union Congress.

Certainly the workers in the "education industry," for example, could fulfill the advisory function with far more understanding and intelligence than a political party which would necessarily be unattached to any industry or service.

Moreover, a political party in a nonpolitical society would be an incongruity, a presumption that a certain set of men, uncontrolled by a democratic process, possess a superior wisdom, and hence are entitled to a special role. The incongruity is the worse when it is recalled that political parties are reflexes of material interests. Presumably the questioner is thinking in terms of retaining the political party of Socialism for the advisory role he proposes. Today, under capitalism, such a party represents working class interests. But under Socialism, where the very basis for classes -- conflicting economic interests -- will be wiped out, and where, moreover, there will be no political State, the virtue that today attaches itself to the party of Socialism would vanish.

When De Leon discussed the need for "might" -- the industrial union -- to back up the Socialist ballot, in "Socialist Reconstruction of Society," he emphasized that this industrial union might was needed "as much, I would almost say. against the political movements its own breath heats into being as against the capitalist tyrant himself." Why? "It needs that might against the capitalist to put the quietus upon him; it also needs that might to prevent the evil consequences to which, in this corrupt atmosphere of bourgeois society, the political movement is inevitably exposed."

The fact is that for a political party to prolong its existence after the conditions that created it have disappeared (that is, after the industrial union was established as the central directing authority) would be a manifestation of corruption, an assertion of special privilege. The Socialist Labor Party understands this and is prepared to disband with a shout of joy the moment the Socialist Industrial Union assumes the reins of government.

Is this sound in its entirety? Heretofore we would not have questioned its basic argument. Today, however, we offer the following criticism:

* A Socialist Industrial Union Administration "through democratic means enlists the intelligence of all the people."

Comment: All the people? Precisely how does it do this?

* "A Socialist Industrial Union government ... opens all the avenues of information and creates meaningful forums for the discussion of social as well as economic problems." (Our emphasis)

Comment: Where are the forums on social problems to be opened up? And who will be involved in their discussion? Answer -- "in every school, factory, mine, ship, distribution facility, etc., questions of public interest, particularly questions relating to the specific industry or service, may be discussed by discussed by the rank and file in shop councils" -- that is, political forums restricted to the confines of the workplace and thereby restricted at any given time to the fraction of the populace who are at work. Such are the "democratic means" of enlisting the intelligence of "all the people" Such at any rate is what the context implies.

* "Rank and file advice on questions of public interest (including social problems) may be communicated to the various industrial union administrative councils, or even to the All-Industrial Union Congress."

Comment: "Advice" on industrial matters would doubtless be welcomed, but how could such councils or congress, whose purview is essentially industrial, be reasonably expected to welcome, much less sift through and evaluate for possible social legislation and administration and unexpected flood of recommendations from "all the people" on urgent social matters? In fact, the more we think of the idea of workers, either at the shop level or in any higher branches of the SIU, taking time out from their jobs of producing or directing production to discuss and supposedly solve all the aforementioned grave social problems, the less sense it makes. The SIU's job will be to conduct production to the end that an abundance is produced with a minimum of labor -- to not only ascertain, in De Leon's words, "the wealth needed, the wealth producible and the work required," but also to perform that work. How can workers reasonably be expected to do this while simultaneously spending the great amount of time that will be required to review, discuss, debate, formulate and implement solutions for the many social problems not directly related to production? Just ask yourself if, when at work, you have, or would have had, the time or even the inclination to attempt this manifold task. No, comrades, it is in their leisure hours, after workers have performed their industrial chores, that they will have the time and be in the necessary relaxed frame of mind to do justice to the aforementioned social questions.

* "Certainly the workers in the 'education industry' for example could fulfill the advisory function with far more understanding and intelligence than a political party which would necessarily be unattached to any industry or service."

Comment: Let us give credit where credit is due! Suppose for the sake of argument that a socialist society had individual or political parties to convey society's "advice" on social issues "at all levels of government." Returning to the example at hand it is our opinion that the Weekly People reflected and unwarranted, elitist attitude. Naturally we would expect teachers to be knowledgeable, but by what token is the Education Industry or the All-Industry Congress itself better fitted than society as a whole to both advise and decide social policy?

* "A political party in a nonpolitical society would be an incongruity."

Comment: A non-political society?? Once again we turn to Webster: political -- (a): "of or relating to government, a government, or the conduct of government." (b): "of, relating to, or concerned with the making as distinguished from the administration of government policy."

* "Political parties are reflexes of material interests."

Comment: The statement is lamentable narrow, needing qualification in more than one way. For instance we could say: (1) Political parties in a class divided society are reflexes of class material interests, or (2) Political parties, if founded in a socialist society, may reflect both material and immaterial interests.

* "The fact is that for a political party to prolong its existence after the conditions that created it have disappeared (that is, after the industrial union was established as the central directing authority) would be a manifestation of corruption, an assertion of special privilege."

Comment: The context here is obviously political parties as we know them today -- parties that reflect economic class interests -- and we certainly agree that their existence in a socialist society would manifest corruption. Nevertheless we are strongly of the opinion that this logic should in no way be employed to inhibit political party activity on what we presume will be a broad political field outside the perimeter of the industrial union.

We now come to the main thrust to which all of the foregoing is a prelude. It is a bold conclusion, also the one possible conclusion through which we could finally resolve the worrisome inconsistencies in our program.

The central problem was how to reconcile the introduction of the industrial vote with annulment of the political vote; how to harmonize De Leon's definition of Socialism in which control will be exercised by the people (the people as a whole!) with the existing concept of industrial democracy wherein control is not exercised by the people as a whole; that is, how to equate self-government of the producers with self-government of the people!

We could not do so.

The question that then propelled itself forward was the question of sovereignty; WHO in a true socialist democracy must needs be sovereign (must decide and control economic and social policy) -- the people as a whole or merely those actively engaged in the work force?

The answer to the question was of course immediately self-evident -- the people must be sovereign.

Not immediately evident, however, were the means by which the people could become truly self-governing! The answer was there, awaiting recognition, but certain erroneous habits of thought blocked our perception -- namely (1) Political democracy is synonymous with the political State, therefore (2) the Central Directing Authority of a Socialist Republic must be the All-Industry Congress of the projected industrial democracy.

Finally, after reflection, the way opened up. Political democracy is not synonymous with the political State; on the contrary, it will attain its fullest expression through abolition of the State. Socialist democracy is not industrial democracy instead of political democracy but a harmonious combination of both.

It but remained to look for the organ of socialist political democracy, the organ of self-government of a classless, industrial nation, the organ through which all the people could govern themselves.

We did not need to look long. Somewhere De Leon referred to political democracy as a "jewel" of civilization, albeit an encrusted one. Freed from the baneful effects of class rule, political democracy will afford more than freedom of voice and vote; it will institute political representation safeguarded (as will be industrial representation) by immediate recall! The form of socialist industrial representation and administration, based on industrial constituencies, is our heritage from the genius of De Leon; the form of political democracy, based on geographic constituencies, is another priceless bequest tho from a more distant past. Now totally unsuited for the conduct of the processes of production and distribution, nevertheless would not such political form, revolutionized and reformed, be the one form yet conceived that would be well suited in our industrial age for the task of resolution by a Socialist Republic of the many social problems it would need to address? We are convinced that it would. In short, the political form as well as the industrial form being at hand, it now seems clear to us that the revolutionary act that will lock out the capitalist from the workplace and shatter his control of Congress and Parliament must not thereby merely clear the industrial field for inauguration of industrial democracy, but also the political field for inauguration of political democracy.

Sent to U.S. Advisory Comittee Sept. 1, 1992.
Issued to U.S. De Leonist Society members
March 15, 1994.