Arnold Petersen

  A sketch of Arnold Petersen
by artist Walter Steinhilber.
Arnold Petersen

Petersen was the National Secretary of the Socialist Labor Party of America from 1914 to 1969.

Please see the SLP web site at to obtain the literature that he wrote, in both digital and printed form.
Arnold Petersen

Related pages at this site:

·   Petersen's prefaces to the pamphlets of Daniel De Leon

·   Petersen's articles appearing in the SLP periodical, The People

They boast of their capitalist system -- the system, they say, under which America has grown great. What a strange boast is that! True, America has grown great under capitalism. Being rude, uncouth Marxists, we ask: "So what?" Greece and Rome grew great under slavery, and what has become of the glory that was Greece and the boast that was Rome? It is as if a person who has recovered from a broken leg were to insist on continuing using the crutches that helped him to recovery, for did he not grow strong with them, and through their aid? It is an argument so infantile that one is left amazed to reflect that men and women of adult, supposedly trained mentalities, are capable of advancing it. It seems trite to say, in this day and age, that there is no permanency in political and economic systems, yet the contentions of the fatuous defenders of capitalism imply precisely such permanency. They will concede that there was need of fundamental social changes once, but there is none now, they argue! There was history once, but history is no more!

from Socialism - The World of Tomorrow, 1939, reprint of 1953, pages 39-40

The vast majority are people who work for a wage - if and when they find work. Having no possessions, the means of production being held in private and exclusive ownership by the few (the capitalists), these millions of propertiless persons (the wage workers) must go to the owners and beg them for permission to use the machines and plants of production in general.

The capitalist will, in effect, say to these workers, "We own this land, these mines, these oil wells, this machinery, etc., etc., but they are useless to us without labor, or labor power. On the other hand, you have labor power, or ability to work at some job or other, but that labor power is no use to you unless you have access to the land and machines, etc., which we own, but can't operate ourselves. Very well, we will make a deal with you. If you will agree to work for us, and let us keep all you produce, we will pay you back just enough to enable you to live and raise a family. Experience demonstrates, and our experts estimate, that in two hours you can produce what you need to live and raise a family. We will allow you to keep for yourself what you produce in those two hours of labor, provided you will continue for six more hours, we to keep for ourselves everything you produce in these additional six hours. We own, and do no work, but we keep the bulk of what you produce. You work, but own nothing; you produce all, but you keep just a small fraction of the things you produce. Fair enough?"

Well, the toolless worker, himself and family starving, is not likely to be much concerned about fairness at this juncture, and so he is likely to say, in effect, "Very well, you own me and my life, because you own that whereon my life, and the lives of my dear ones, depend. I have no choice but to accept your terms, even if they do seem like the terms of highway robbers."

From "Labor Power and the Power of Labor",
editorial in The Weekly People, Oct. 29, 1938,
reprinted in the pamphlet Capital and Labor, 1939, reprint of 1965, pp. 52-53

The capitalists are "managers" in the same sense that bank robbers are "managers." Bank robbers "case the joint" so that with a reasonable degree of certainty they may get away with the loot.

In De Leonist Milestones, 1952, p. 17

Any moron, by virtue of ownership, can be a capitalist.

From Daniel De Leon: Social Scientist, 1945, p. 33

Failures and weaknesses alike are revealed, not as the result of the application of Marxian principles, but as the result of abandoning these. This applies equally to the Social Democrats and the Stalinists. Triumphantly above these soars the Marx-De Leon program, the only program that ensures the eventual emancipation of the world's workers from capitalist wage-slavery. That program, in its essence, is a follows:

(A) The organizing of the working class into integral, Socialist Industrial Unions -- unions dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism, and the supplanting of the political State with an industrial form of government.

(B) The Socialist, the working-class, Industrial Union, obedient to the dictates of social evolution, casts the nations and, with the nations, their governments in molds entirely different from the molds in which class rule casts nations and existing governments. While class rule casts nations and, with the nations, their governments in the mold of territory, Industrial Unionism, cutting across political lines of demarcation, casts the nations in the mold of useful occupations, and transforms the governments of nations into the representations from these, namely, from the industries. Accordingly, Industrial Unionism organizes the useful occupations -- the industries of the world -- into the constituencies of future society.

From Petersen's 1949 introduction to Eric Hass, The SLP and the Internationals, 1949, pp. 10-11

Superstition is born of fear, and fear is the result of ignorance. On the whole, only the unknown holds terror for man. Courage resides not in the heart, but in the head. Belief, pure and simple, is but an acknowledgment of ignorance, general or specific, even as bravery and power are merely a reflection of knowledge. Superstitious or supernatural faith, or beliefs, ends where knowledge begins. The power of a ruling class depends largely upon the ability of that class to keep the slave class in ignorance. To achieve this end all sorts of devices are employed by the ruling class. Formerly kingship was claimed to rest on divine sanction -- indeed the king himself often claimed divine origin. The most conspicuous example of that claim survives today in the person of the Emperor of Japan. When that claim was finally exploded in the modern capitalist world generally, the new ruler (the capitalist) based his right to rule (that is, to exploit the wage slaves and to hold them in economic subjection) on the claim that he (the capitalist) was not only a superior factor in the production of wealth, but that he was absolutely indispensable. He claims, for instance, that he is a capitalist because he is a great and useful captain of industry, whereas the truth is that he is a wholly useless or superfluous "captain of industry" simply because of the accidental fact that he is a capitalist! And he is a capitalist simply because the workers, in their ignorance and superstitious fear, hand over to him the total produce of their labor in return for a slave's pittance barely sufficient to insure to the workers a mere slave subsistence.

From the article "Superstition: Father of Slavery", The Weekly People, Sept. 2, 1939,
reprinted in Theocracy or Democracy, 1944

There is no one so blind but that he can perceive that as things are they cannot continue. Everything has been tried but one thing, and all have failed. The one thing that has not been tried is Socialism, and in Socialism, and that alone, lies the world's hope, the possibility of a nobler and higher civilization, and the certain prospect of working class emancipation from slavery and misery, from want and the harrowing fear of want. To achieve their great and noble aim, the workers must organize as a class, on the basis of their class interests, and not on the basis of the interests of the class, or groups, that exploit them, and hold them in economic thralldom. They must unite, and act as one. The workers are now divided in a thousand and one ways, these divisions reflecting false claims or deliberate schemes to keep them from throwing the parasites from off their backs. False racial claims, conflicting creeds, craft divisions, competitive labor fakers whose alleged 'labor unions' are but so many vested interests maintained as much to feather the nests of the fakers as to protect the class interests of the capitalist exploiters -- these, and many others, are the things that keep the workers from achieving that unity so indispensable to them if they are ever to be free. Singly the workers can be broken and kept in subjection; united, joined together in one mighty body of their own creation, and controlled by themselves alone, they are invincible!

In Theocracy or Democracy, 1944

Let us serve notice on our exploiters - of the "democratic" and "fascist" variety alike - that we refuse to fight their bloody wars! Let us turn Secretary Hull's declaration of war into a declaration of war on the bloody capitalist system! Let us tell the exploiters and war mongers in language they understand, that we will not send our young sons, our fathers and brothers to be slaughtered, or to slaughter our fellow workers in other lands, or their young sons or father, on the bloody altar of the exploiters' private property system!

In the editorial "A Declaration of War", The Weekly People, April 9, 1938,
reprinted in the pamphlet The Nazi Beast Roars, pp. 33-34

It is the mission of a party of Socialism at all times to teach the truth that the working class is robbed as a producing, and not as a consuming class.

In The High Cost of Living

A dying social system can never be reformed -- it cannot, nor should it, be salvaged. It has fulfilled its mission in the scheme of social evolution. To the scrap-heap with it, there to join the feudal system, and all other antiquities and worn-out and useless relics of civilization!

From Daniel De Leon: Emancipator, 19??, p. 25

No tinkering with capitalism, no compromise with the exploiting class, no bartering of principles, no trimming of sails. But one thought fills us, but one desire motivates us, the thought and the desire is that capitalism must be destroyed.

From Daniel De Leon: The Uncompromising, 1939, p. 72

Reforms naturally imply belief in the usefulness, or indispensability, of the thing to be reformed. A garment may be renovated or repaired over and over again, but the point is eventually reached when the effort and cost of repair exceed the replacement cost of the garment. To continue to repair must eventually, and inevitably, lead to a result directly opposite to that at which the process of repairing is aimed.

Petersen's 1947 preface to Daniel De Leon, Reform or Revolution

Compromise one part, and the whole is lost.

In Daniel De Leon - Social Scientist, 1945, p. 53

Stony-faced, hard-eyed gentlemen talk mysteriously about about the part capital plays in production, and about the rights of capital which labor must respect! And what is this capital, this mysterious force which is equal to, or placed above labor?

Stripped of all mysticisms, of all irrelevancies, it, as we have seen, is nothing else than past and dead labor, in the shape of instruments of production, etc. Machines, plants, etc., privately owned, constitute capital. And as all men know, these machines were produced by labor, hence, as said, represent past labor expended, or dead labor. Name the thing needed in social production which labor has not previously supplied, or which it does not supply from day to day! And the workers supply the inventive genius, the managerial skill, the will and the power which keep the productive mechanism in constant operation.

When present workers operate these machines, etc., it means, then, that present and living labor is joined to past and dead labor, and the result is the abundance of good things all around us - solely, then, the product of labor, yet for the greater part denied to labor.

If we remember these simple truths, the seeming mystery surrounding capital disappears. If we only remember that capital is simply a term given to the things labor produced in the past, but which were stolen from labor, and used by the thieves to extract more wealth from living labor, the foolishness and dishonesty of those who prate about capital in terms of a human being, and who demand rights for capital, become patent.

From the editorial "Capital", The Weekly People, of Sept. 10, 1938,
reprinted in Capital and Labor, pp. 28-29

The productivity of the nation has grown to such an extent that within the capitalist framework the only "solution" to the "plague of plenty" is to have ever more and ever greater wars. Not war, but peace, is becoming the real specter that haunts plutocrats and politicians! A partial "solution" is the deliberate destruction of food and materials. That is a time-honored "remedy," but one not quite safe in a world that, for the greater part, is on the brink of starvation, with literally millions starving to death. Yet, such destruction of food, etc., is still being carried on systematically. A year ago between 25,000,000 and 40,000,000 bushels of potatoes were ordered "dumped" by the Secretary of Agriculture, huge quantities being rendered unfit for consumption by drenching them with gasoline! This year it is announced that the State of Maine will "dump" 13,000,000 bushels! The madhouse business of willful foodstuff destruction is emphasized by the complaint that more than 20,000,000 pounds of copper are used in spraying potatoes against blight! Twenty million pounds of copper to save millions of bushels of potatoes that are destined for willful destruction! And they call this the best of all possible systems!

From the pamphlet Despotism on the March,
based on the annual report of the national secretary
to the SLP's National Executive Committee session of 1951,
subsection "Capitalist Productivity Proves a Curse!", pp. 28-29

The pleas and whinings of the "free enterprisers" are particularly nauseating, because they are so hypocritical. They know that there is no such thing as "free enterprise" except for the small minority owning the instruments of production and all that goes with such ownership. They are obviously talking about capitalism. There can be no free enterprise where the vast majority are totally divorced from the tools of production, to which they can secure access only by selling themselves into wage slavery. To the vast majority there is not, there cannot be, either freedom or individual enterprise in such a situation. When the plutocracy and their allies talk about private property rights being sacred, when they say that where there is no "private property" (as they understand it) there can be no freedom, they lie, or they babble like fools. We are living under a social system where opportunity to own property (and I am not talking about toothbrushes or 2 by 4 lots!) is permanently denied to upward of 85 per cent of the people.

In the pre-capitalist era the workman owned his own tools, and he was economically a free man. Now the "tools of production" (the mammoth plants) are owned by a small plutocratic minority who have the power to deny (and do deny when it suits their interests) the worker's access to them except on terms of slavery. This is the "free enterprise" system, and this is what we are daily told our boys are fighting to preserve on seven seas and five continents! This is what they call freedom, and our American way!

Noting the fact that at one time the workman enjoyed the right of ownership of the tools he worked with, a writer in a recent issue of the Nation quotes the late Thorstein Veblen as having said that "in the course of time, however, the right of private property came to mean not the right of a workingman to own tools and the things that he made with those tools, but the right of absentee stockholders [and those very much present, too!] to close down factories and to deny to working-men access to the means of production whenever the ... owners thought operation unprofitable"!

In short, the "free enterprise" system -- that is, capitalism -- establishes this set of facts:

1 -- The worker, bereft of property, or the tools of production, must sell himself into wage slavery. Slavery, in whatever form or degree, can never be made to spell Freedom.

2 -- As wage slaves the workers are robbed of the major portion of what they produce, the bulk going to the State and to the property-owning class in one form or another. No free or decent society can exist which rests on the robbery of one class by another.

3 -- A virtually absolute despotism prevails in the industries and wherever wage labor is employed and exploited. Economic despotism can never be made to spell Democracy.

4 -- As a class the workers are doomed to lifelong slavery. It is an indispensable condition for privately owned industry (capitalism) to have available a well-stocked labor market. "Free enterprise" could not survive a day if there were not'always millions of workers so reduced in circumstance as to compel their selling their labor power for a price -- a price that at best barely keeps them above the starvation line. Where the door of "opportunity" is fatedly and permanently closed to the majority, it is fraudulent to insist that, because here and there a worker escapes from wage slavery into the intermediary or topmost layers of society, therefore this proves "free enterprise" (capitalism) to be a system of opportunity to all. The inherent denial of opportunity can never be made to spell possible or guaranteed opportunity.

From Daniel De Leon -- Internationalist, 1944, reprint of 1948, pages 43-45, subsection "The 'Free Enterprise' Fantasy"

In what way does the exercise of the political vote in behalf of so-called social legislation affect the economic condition of the workers? In a real sense the answer is: It does not affect it at all, except possibly for the worse. Insofar as the workers succeed in having laws enacted which supposedly improve the conditions under which they labor, the voting merely aids in consolidating their slavery, and in codifying the terms of their slavery. It does not, and cannot, alter or beneficially affect wage slavery itself. The political vote is utterly unrelated to the economic status and conditions, except as aforesaid. The political vote, taken as a whole, is at best but a half vote_it is not whole or complete. "Cast your vote," said Thoreau, "not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence." The "whole influence" of the workers' vote must include the industrial vote of the workers within the precincts of industry. To cast the political vote, citizens are organized in political units -- wards, districts, counties and states. To cast the industrial vote, the workers must organize into industrial units -- into Socialist Industrial Unions, thoroughly integrated -- that is, in the particular industries where they work. When they vote in industry they have an unrestricted ballot. For by the industrial ballot they determine their hours of labor, they elect their own foremen and superintendents, they elect their delegates to the local and national industrial councils and to the general congress of all industries where sits the industrial government -- democratically elected, responsive to the will of those who elected them, and charged with the task of coordinating industry, and of integrating the various industrial processes, in effect estimating the needs of society and administering production and distribution as a whole. And they vote on any other question affecting their welfare as industrial workers and members of the commonwealth.

But possession and exercise of the industrial ballot require, first, organization into Industrial Unions, and, in due time, by the democratic process of the political ballot, the abolition of private property rights in land and industry -- in short, the abolition of capitalism and the instituting of the Socialist Industrial Republic of Labor. Then, and not until then, will the workers enjoy true democracy; then, and not until then, will the workers truly possess the freeman's vote. For then, but not until then, will the ballot -- the industrial ballot -- really relate to the things vital to their lives and welfare, and then, but not until then, will the exercise of that ballot have meaning and effectiveness in governing their affairs as producers, as co-owners of industry, socially operated as it will then be socially owned.

From The Freeman's Vote

A few years ago an Austrian hack named Hayek wrote a book, "The Road to Serfdom," which was loudly acclaimed as the final, utterly devastating answer to Marx! Once and for all, and at last, Marx was finished! The book followed the pattern of its predecessors. There were no original falsifications by Hayek, no new angles in this clumsv attack, but it contained the familiar, stupid misrepresentations. Yet it was viewed by the capitalist apologists as a sensation, but who today recalls it? How many would remember the author's name, how many the title of his book? Hardly any. The book, as Artemus Ward would say, is now deader nor Caesar!

From Reviling of the Great, 1949, page 55

And in this our Socialist World of Tomorrow we shall know no such ridiculous thing as political government, based, as it is, on wholely arbitrary and artificial demarcations -- especially arbitrary and artificial in the United States where not even differences in language justify the chopping up of a country that is almost a continent into 48 utterly meaningless parts.

Instead of political government, with politicians elected supposedly to represent with impartiality a heterogeneous constituency with conflicting material interests (a patent absurdity which in practice results in the ruling class being in fact alone represented) -- instead of such a political government of and by politicians, and for capitalist interests, we of the Socialist World of Tomorrow shall constitute a government democratically deriving its representation from industry, each industry being represented, from bottom up, by workers (useful producers), through gradually ascending deliberative and planning bodies, concerned with such practical things as quantities and kind of useful things needed to ensure uninterrupted flow of the good things of life in abundance; the number of hours required for labor in the various industries; the proper distribution and exchange of the machinery and things of immediate consumption needed nationally and internationally, the erection of plants of production, of administration, education, etc., etc., as well as the building of dwellings for the happy denizens of the Socialist Industrial Republic.

-- And also to provide for the needed physical means to keep in continuous operation educational and recreational institutions, at the highest known and ascertainable standards.

-- To provide, in short, for a society of high culture and all the leisure compatible with a particular stage in economic development.

Given a social production machine capable of turning out use-values in practically unlimited quantities, the work of such an industrial administration becomes in the main statistical and coordinating, apart, of course, from the cultural departments which require men and women especially trained in educational work and in cultural activities generally.

Obviously, the technological requirements will, in our Socialist World of Tomorrow, receive primary consideration, since they contribute to the material basis on which is reared our cultural superstructure.

Technologically, the endeavor will be to produce a maximum of the good things with a minimum of effort. Culturally, the endeavor will be to produce the highest type human being regardless of cost.

In the Capitalist World of Today, the primary consideration and question are: Does it pay? In our Socialist World of Tomorrow, the chief question will be: is it needed or desirable, and socially beneficial? And is the individuality of each safeguarded without sacrificing the blessings of cooperative effort? The rest is of little or no consequence.

In the Capitalist World of Today, mass production methods are extended to the education of the youth. In our Socialist World of Tomorrow, we shall multiply mass production in industry (and yet reduce the hours of labor), but in education the purpose will be to develop the individual -- to make the student conscious of the fact that he can no more exist apart from collectivity than he can go to live on Mars, yet, his individuality is what matters -- individuality in cooperation.

In the language of Marx, in the Socialist World of Tomorrow, man will remove the fetters trammelling his individuality, and develop all the rich capabilities of his species.

Contrary to the tenets of decadent capitalism, which decrees that man lives only for the State, Socialism (in which the State is in fact no more) decrees that man's social and economic organizations exist for his convenience, to which they are and will remain wholly subordinate.

And thus Socialism, the World of Tomorrow in the Marxian definition of the Socialist Labor Party, is the direct opposite of capitalism, both in its philosophy, its historical conception, and its economics, as well as in social form, governmental structure and productive purpose.

from Socialism - The World of Tomorrow, 1939, edition of 1953, pages 14-18

And we are strengthened in our convictions and determination by our knowledge of the fact that everything that is normal to social progress works in our favor. The usurping class, on the contrary, has everything against it - everything except the present blindness and ignorance of labor. The usurpers are strong only because the working class is weak, AND THE WORKING CLASS IS WEAK ONLY BECAUSE IT IS NOT ORGANIZED. Once properly organized, as it must and will be organized, politically and industrially, there is no power on earth that can resist the working class. And when victory crowns the struggle of the workers, the society with which his name will forever be associated - - the society of Liberty, Abundance and Peace-will likewise soar triumphant: Liberty for all, linked to Abundance and Peace enduring for all!

Arnold Petersen, in Daniel De Leon: From Reform to Revolution, 1946, pp. 47-48

Last page revision: Fixed typographical errors July 11, 2010