The Kangaroo Conspiracy Within the Socialist Labor Party

Around the year 1900 a group of several dozen members of the Socialist Labor Party of America attempted to take control of the party away from the elected officers, and claimed to be the real SLP.

The genuine SLP gave the phonies the nickname kangaroos. The name was an allusion the con artists who in the 1800s would occasionally roll into town and claim to be judges, set up "kangaroo courts" which charged people fines, and then skip town with the money.

After the party kicked the disruptors out of the organization, several of them went on to become some of the main founders, speakers, writers and delegates of the Socialist Party of America.

In 1895, socialists located largely around the New York City area established the Socialist Trade & Labor Alliance as an alternative to the American Federation of Labor. Whereas the A.F. of L. organized workers by job type into competing jurisdictions (craft unionism), the ST&LA upheld the need to organize all of the workers in an industry into the same union (industrial unionism). In addition, the ST&LA was unambiguous about the need to replace private with social ownership of the industries. Among the participants in the founding of the ST&LA were elected officers of the SLP, including national secretary Henry Kuhn, newspaper editor Daniel De Leon, and previous newspaper editor Lucien Saniel. The SLP national convention of 1896 voted to endorse the ST&LA.

In 1897, a faction within the SLP led by Morris Hillquit opposed the ST&LA, or at least, according to the description offered by historian Ira Kipnis [page 28], objected that the ST&LA should limit itself to organizing unorganized workers, and not aim to replace the A.F. of L.

In 1899 Hillquit acquired control of the Socialistic Co-operative Publishing Association. The SCPA was a separate organization that the SLP had set up to publish the party's German language daily newspaper Volkzeitung, because a New York law prevented the SLP from owning the newspaper directly.

Hillquit's and his associates began to call themselves the "Socialist Labor Party". They chose officers with the same titles as the party's elected officers, including a new "National Executive Committee". A new "national secretary" named Henry Slobodin was chosen with the intention of replacing the elected N.S., Henry Kuhn.

The group led by Hillquit and Slobodin published counterfeit editions of the party press, in which they claimed that their own elected officers were the party's officers, instead of theose who had been elected by the membership. (Note: The SLP has subquently used the term "lampoon" to refer to such counterfeit party publications. The modern SLP constitution continues to specify the publication of a lampoon as an offense that will get a member expelled.)

In July of 1899, Slobodin led a group to the party's national headquarters to seize it physically. Kipnis [page 33] described the scene:

"Slobodin called for volunteers and marched them over to 184 Williams Street to install the new revolutionary administration. On his arrival he found that while the Hillquit forces had been busy with suspensions and elections, the De Leonites had barricaded themselves in the party offices. Slobodin's volunteers broke down the door and attacked the entrenched De Leon regulars, and Williams Street was soon ringing with smashed beer bottles, windows, and noses. At the height of the battle, police arrived, separated the warriors, discovered that Kuhn paid the office rent, and cleared out the insurgents. The next morning the De Leonites, still under police protection, withdrew all files and furniture to prepared positions in new offices on Beekman Street and left Slobodin in possession of what might or might not be the national office of the Socialist Labor Party."

The fake party acquired a copy of the subscriber list for The People , the SLP's English language weekly paper. By the second half of July, 1899, newsstands and subscribers were seeing what appeared to be two simultaneous editions of The People. They were identical in masthead and other physical appearances. In effect, one paper said, "Kuhn is really the national secretary; ignore the group led by Slobodin", while the other said, if effect, "Slobodin is really the national secretary; ignore the group led by Kuhn." Readers throughout the country were confused.

For the New York State elections of November 1899, the kangaroos nominated their own candidates. The board of elections receive ballot applications from two different sets of candidates, both using the name Socialist Labor Party.

The authentic SLP went to court to prove legally that the Hillquit faction had no right to take the name of the party and its publications. The court ruled in favor of the "De Leon-led National Executive Committee." [Kipnis 41]

Nevertheless, soon afterwards, the Kangaroos hald a meeting which they claimed to be the 10th national convention of the SLP. At that meeting they declared opposition to the ST&LA. They passed a resolution calling for Hillquit to head a committee to hold unity negotiations with the Social Democratic Party (of which Victor Berger and Eugene Debs were members). They nominated candidates for the 1900 U.S. presidential and vice-presidential elections.

According to Kipnis, these actions were in "apparent defiance of the court decision depriving them of the name of the Socialist Labor Party." [Kipnis 42]

The Kangaroos' so-called 10th national convention was held in Rochester, New York in January-February, 1900. The 10th national convention of the genuine SLP was held in New York City in June of 1900.

After the party expelled the disruptors and was realistically able to enforce that expulsion, the disruptors acted on their intention to merge with the Social Democratic Party into a new organization that would endorse the A.F. of L. In 1901 that merger established the Socialist Party of America.

Here is a summary of some of the leading kangaroos and what later became of them in their Socialist Party careers.

Morris Hillquit


A lawyer practicing in New York City.

The major actor in the disruption of the Socialist Labor Party, 1898-1900, and the founding of the Socialist Party, 1901.

It is typical for written sources in American history to describe Hillquit as the "moderate", as opposed to the "dictatorial" De Leon. This, despite the fact that it was De Leon who had been elected by the SLP membership to write the newspaper editorials.

Ended up leading the "right wing" of the Socialist Party which taught that "socialism" means liberal reforms.

Became wealthy by taking the cases of workers who needed legal defense and overcharging them.

In 1904, SP delegate to the International Socialist Congress in Amsterdam, Holland. Repeatedly opposed the credentials of SLP delegate Daniel De Leon. Rosa Luxemburg spoke in favor of De Leon and the SLP; nevertheless, the SP was successful in persuading the body to take away most of the SLP's votes.

Notorious for his anti-immigration proposal at the 1904 International Socialist Congress, where he wrote in opposition to the immigration of "inferior races". When it was demanded that he delete the word "inferior", and also to include several examples, he changed the wording of his proposed resolution to say "backward races (Chinese, Negroes, etc.)"

Tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Socialist Party to adopt a position in support the World War I policy of Woodrow Wilson.

Described by many secondary sources as the leading intellectual leader of the Socialist Party of America.

Described by the later SLP national secretary Arnold Petersen in these terms:

"The crafty Hillquit (who amassed a fortune acting as lawyer for workers, and labor unions, in distress, as as a Wall Street speculator) was one of the first to discover that the uncompromising tactics of De Leon constituted 'fanaticism', and he never failed to spew his venom at De Leon."

-- Petersen, in Daniel De Leon: The Uncompromising, 1939, p. 14

"In a speech delivered by Hillquit in 1932 ... the millionaire lawyer and Wall Street speculator asked himself if his activity in the S.P had been 'worth while.' And with an eye, no doubt, to his bank account, to his luxurious home, to his many plutocratic friends, and his position as a sensible bourgeous 'socialist,' as recognized by capitalist interests, he answered his own question enthusiastically in the affirmative."

-- Petersen, Ibid., p. 50

"In another passage Hillquit says: 'There was never much love lost between Daniel De Leon and me.' How could there be? There was nothing in common, absolutely nothing, between De Leon, the man of towering intellect, of unquestioned probity, who chose a life of poverty to serve the proletariat, and Hillquit, the puny ferret-like intellect, with his shyster-lawyer propensities, who amassed wealth by capitalizing his supposed leadership in the labor movement. De Leon stands as a monument of proletarian dignity and integrity, representing the best and noblest in man. Hillquit stands as a monument of petty bourgeois reformism, representing all that is sordid and ignoble in the labor movement. Indeed, there could be no 'love' between them, as little as there could be between revolution and reform, or between the exploited working class and the exploiting capitalist class."

-- Petersen, in Daniel De Leon: From Reform to Revolution, 1946, p. 28

Henry Slobodin

Another lawyer with a practice in the New York City area.

The phony "SLP" of 1899-1900 chose him as their "national secretary".

Led a gang of thugs to physically assault the SLP headquarters staff in July, 1899.

Ended up being part of the Socialist Party "left", which supported both political and industrial organization, and, while often reformist, at least occasionally mentioned the goal of social ownership of the industries.

Elected to the SP National Executive Committee.

Delegate to the SP national conventions of 1908 and 1912.

in 1913 wrote the article Socialism and the Municipalities , in which he called for reforms at the municipal level, ".... because I believe that much more can be achieved for Socialism with a proletariat enlightened, well-housed, well-fed, and well-clad, than with the proletariat ignorant, degraded, and abiding in economic misery."

In the World War I era, became pro-war, and took pride in being one of the so-called "socialists" who were, in Slobodin's words, "in favor of military preparedness". (As quoted in Samuel Gompers, American Labor and the War, 1919 , page 61)

Louis Boudin

Another New York City lawyer! (No kidding.)

Like Slobodin and Debs, ended up as part of the SP "left" calling for both political and industrial organization of the workers.

In 1907 wrote a book entitled The Theoretical System of Karl Marx which got him a reputation as a Marxian theoretician. Defended Marxian principles against the revisionism of Eduard Bernstein.

1917 Brooklyn, NY delegate to SP national convention

Described as having taken a "middle ground position" (???) at the SP convention where some supported and others opposed U.S. entry into World War I.

Ancestor of the 1960s-era civil rights lawyer Leonard Boudin, and his daughter, Weather Underground radical Kathy Boudin. (As described in a 2004 book, Family Circle: The Boudins and the Aristocracy of the Left by Susan Braudy.)

Max Hayes

Maximilian Hayes (1866-1945)

A printer in Cleveland, Ohio; founder of the pro-labor newspaper, the Cleveland Citizen; member of the A.F. of L. Typographical Union.

Chosen by the Kangaroo convention of 1900 to run for vice-president of the U.S., but dropped out of the ticket and dropped out of SP and anything with "socialist" in its name. Remained active in the A.F. of L. and Cleveland-area consumerism.

In 1911, ran unsuccessfully against Gompers of president of the A.F. of L.

Max S. Hayes High School in Cleveland is named after him.

A. M. Simons

Algie Martin Simons of Chicago, Illinois

In an 1899 article he commented on the SLP's loss of control of one of its own newspapers.

Became editor of the magazine "International Socialist Review", published by the Charles H. Kerr Cooperative and affiiated with the Socialist Party.

1906, wrote the article The IWW and De Leonism in which he explained:

"Because I do believe in the principles and tactics of the IWW, and because I see no other way than through that organization by which to maintain, develop, and make effective the power of economic resistance on the part of the working class, I should be traitorous to my own knowledge and belief if I did not attack what I know to be the worst enemy of the IWW. That enemy is the thing which has come to be known as 'De Leonism.'"

In 1907 wrote the book Class Struggles in America .

J. Mahlon Barnes

Former office holder in the A.F. of L. Cigarmakers' Union in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Before the kangaroo cospiracy, was the SLP's 1892 candidate for Congress from Pennsylvania and the SLP's 1898 candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania.

1903, 1904, elected to the SP National Executive Committee; 1905 elected SP National Secretary. In numerous years both before being naitonal secretary, was the Philadelphia delegate to SP national conventions.

Job Harriman

Another laywer!

Before the kangaroo conspiracy, was the 1898 SLP candidate for Governor of California.

In 1900, debated SLP editor Daniel De Leon (transcript of the debate) .

1911, came very close to being elected mayor of Los Angeles on the SP ticket.

"The election was supposed to be a shoo-in. Job Harriman, socialist candidate for mayor of Los Angeles, had won the 1911 primary, beating incumbent George Alexander by 4,000 votes. Yet four days before the election, the McNamara brothers - whom Harriman had served as defense attorney - confessed to bombing the Los Angeles Times. Harriman lost."

-- From the Los Angeles Times

In 1914, helped to establish the Llano del Rio Colony, a utopian community in California.

Julius Gerber

Became part of the SP "left wing" which supported both political and industrial organization.

Became the SP New York state secretary.

Frequent delegate to SP national conventions.

Alexander Jonas

One of the original American socialists, he had been a member of the Workingmen's Party before the SLP was founded. Mentioned several times in the SLP's document How the SLP Emerged as a Marxist Political Party

1878, co-founder of the Volkzeitung, the German-language SLP newspaper that was later taken over by the kangaroos.

1894, author of Why Workmen Are Unemployed? An Answer to a Burning Question

Years later, described by SLP national secretary Arnold Petersen as "one Alexander Jonas, poltroonish, ignorant, pretentious and thoroughly alien, hating the country and its people, unable, in short, to do anything.... the worthless Alexander Jonas." (from The Soil and Roots of the Socialist Labor Party, 1940.)

Algernon Lee

Along with Hillquit and others, became part of the SP's "right wing" which sought liberal political reforms and opposed industrial unionism.

Went on to become the editor of the Socialist Party's New York newspaper, The Daily Call.

Best known for advocating municipal ownership of utilities.

1918-1921, elected alderman in New York City.

After Hillquit died in 1933, held the office of SP national chairman for a year.

Notes written by Mike Lepore for on June 3, 2007

Revisions. June 3, 2007: first draft. June 4, 2007: added the section on Algernon Lee. Apr. 23, 2009: fixed spelling errors.