Daniel De Leon and the Socialist Industrial Union Program

Daniel De Leon (1852-1914) was an orator and elected newspaper editor for the Socialist Labor Party of America.

De Leon edited The People, established in 1891 and still published by the SLP today. As editor, De Leon wrote approximately 4,000 editorials.

The term Marxism-De Leonism refers to the unity of the three fundamental principles of Marxism (the materialist conception of history, Marxian economics, and the class struggle) with the principles which De Leon later discovered. To Marxism, De Leon added the axiom that socialism can be established only if the working class organizes both politically and industrially, adhering to specific strategies that comprise an effective program. The objective of this site is to introduce more readers to the socialist industrial union program which De Leon developed circa 1904.

You are welcome to post your opinions in the site's public discussion forum.

Please find nearly the complete works of Marx and Engels at the Marxists Internet Archive. See many of De Leon's addresses and editorials, in text format in the De Leon department of the Marxists archive, and in PDF format in the SLP's literature section.

The New Union Party is a De Leonist organization which differs from the SLP primarily on the interpretation of how a socialist political party should be structured and operated internally. I shall take no stand on that issue, which I feel I am not entirely qualified to evaluate. I'm not a member of either party. My sole purpose here is to help educate more people about De Leon's dual program for the political and industrial organization of the working class for the inauguration of socialism.

Readers will note that, like De Leonists, the Industrial Workers of the World asserts that the working class needs to organize a large industrial union in order to establish a classless society. However, the IWW believes that political party preference is a "personal" issue, like religious preference. De Leonists hold that workers' organization on the political field is essential to the peaceful and civilized approach to restructuring society, and to capture and dismantle the state.

Even worse than the IWW's hands-off position on the matter of workers taking political action is the more extreme viewpoint held by the International Communist Current . While the ICC correctly opposes statism, vanguardism, and nationalism, its position statements make the error of opposing socialist intervention into politics. For example, their Basic Position document says, in part, "In decadent capitalism, parliament and elections are nothing but a mascarade [sic] . Any call to participate in the parliamentary circus can only reinforce the lie that presents these elections as a real choice for the exploited." Somehow the ICC fails to recognize that voting for capitalist candidates, who are avowedly pledged to use state power to massacre the workers in the event that the workers take control of the means of production, is entirely different from voting to insert labor's delegates into public office, as the only method to take away the ruling class's control of what it today it's principal deadly weapon -- the state.

The reader is encouraged to investigate the such causes as the Participatory Economics Project (ParEcon), and to make note of their interesting discussions about how collectively-owned industry can be managed democratically and efficiently by workers, in the absense of either a profit motive or a competitive market. The fundamental weakness of such projects is that they show no signs of developing a viable method to establish a new socioeconomic system. To propose no program of transition conveys an implication that there might be a role for reformism, statism, vanguardism, and other destructive features. In contrast, the De Leonist program is very clear about proposing a political mandate to declare the industries and services to be socially owned, which an industrial union movement will back up with with irresistible economic power, by physically taking possession and control of the means of production.

The Socialist Party USA has, over the years, received more publicity than the De Leonist sector. Unfortunately, the SP has never clearly enunciated the need for the working class to unite industrially to take and operate the industries for social use. The SP has also failed to focus on the need for a revolutionary reconstruction, and has diluted its political program with calls for gradual reforms which imply the continuation of capitalism.

The World Socialist Movement may be recognized for their realization that socialism is not "nationalization" or "state ownership" of the means of production, and for their avoidance of incremental reformism. I have always found the WSM case that socialism requires a global administration without national boundaries to be very convincing. They also operate a Yahoo discussion forum . The World Socialist organizations differ from De Leonists primarily in the fact that they call for the working class to organize politically and "consciously," which I feel is a uselessly ambiguous expression. The World Socialists' error is that they explicitly reject the socialist industrial union program . The De Leonist program makes it clear that the working class needs to organize in a revolutionary and uncompromising way, on both the political and industrial fields. Only the formation of a classwide socialist industrial union will enable the workers to take possession of the industries and services, and to carry on production for social use. Workers must be united at the workplaces in particular, to take over the self-management role, and to carry on production without any forms of interruption or chaos, the moment immediately after a socialist political mandate has been delivered.

Another difference between the World Socialist and the De Leonist sectors is that the WSM proposes "free access" to all goods. Personally, I believe that such a economic system would not be viable, due to the often-discussed "free-rider problem" (despite automation, production levels would tend to fall below desired consumption levels). Most De Leonists propose a system of work time credits to keep personal consumption levels in approximate proportion to each individual's choice of total work hours. This is usually called the "labor time vouchers" debate. More discussion of this issue will be posted later.

I agree with the maxim of the abolitionist Wendell Phillips: "Let us always remember that he does not really believe his own opinions who dares not give free scope to his opponent." All discussions of De Leonism, comments both for and against it, are "on topic" here. For example, there have been opportunities to debate the assertions of Ken Ellis , who has written an online book that is sharply critical of De Leonism.

Before there was a www, and internet publications were electronic magazines or 'zines distributed by email and dial-up bulletin boards, I put out a socialist 'zine called Organized Thoughts. It only ran nine issues from 1992-1994, but it contained some stimulating debates and literature excerpts. It is still available at the etext archive. Another file in that directory is a 1993 article in which I proposed answers to common objections to a non-market production-for-use economic system. (Caveat: All email addresses appearing in that old archive are by now obsolete, and most postal address found there are probably obsolete as well.)

Please send email to submit commentaries for publication online, or for general correspondence.

This site is funded by paid advertising. Ads are rented space, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the site editor or any of the correspondents.

Last modification to this file: Sep. 1, 2010. removed an obsolete technical comment about the discussion forum.