Daniel De Leon - Reform or Revolution, Introduction to the 1934 Industrial Union Party edition


This is the publisher's introduction to the Industrial Union
Party 1934 edition of Daniel De Leon, "Reform of Revolution."

Reform or Revolution

by Daniel De Leon

An address delivered under the auspices of the People's Union at Well's Memorial Hall, Boston, January 26, 1896

Published by the Industrial Union Party, 1934


When feudalism gave way to capitalism, the present social system, the new ruling class, the capitalist class, proclaimed a new era in history, one in which insecurity, poverty, ad other social ills were magically to dissolve. "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity", the cry of the French bourgeois was the European echo of the forerunning American proclamation of the rights of "Life, Liberty, ad the pursuit of Happiness". Both declarations reflected not only the yearnings of the rising capitalist class for the establishment of social and political conditions under which its hampered trade and manufacturing enterprises could expand and prosper, but they also reflected the sincere belief, in many quarters, that along with the emancipation of the capitalist class from feudal restrictions would come the emancipation of all society.

This proved not to be so. The basic cause of the ills afflicting society, private property, remained untouched by the social revolutions which overthrew feudal domination, with the consequence that as soon as capitalism became established the contradictions arising out of the private ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange created social ills as agonizing and destructive as those of feudalism. The insecurity, poverty, exploitation, and misery of the serf became the compulsory heritage of the industrial worker, and prevail today in forms and degrees made more acute by the perfection of the machine.

Disconcerted by the presence pf unwelcome phenomena which they had believed would be eradicated by the advent of capitalism, many among the bourgeoisie, in their ignorance or the forces motivating and set in motion by society, sought to bring about such changes they fancied would correct the existing evils. They failed to understand that not only were these ineradicable but the must, with the later maturity of capitalism become worse, and with the coming of its old age as a social system reach a point of excruciating intolerability for mass of the people., That they could not perceive these developments is not surprising, for Karl Marx had not yet appeared with his scientific contributions by which the changes could be foreseen, and by which it was made plain that, at least in the present period in the development of capitalism, reforms are not only impossible of achievement by the class alone suffers under the tyranny of private property -- the working class -- but that where reforms are initiated they tend to perpetuate the capitalist system at a time when it has spent itself as a force for good, and exists only as an impediment to the establishment of a new and better social order.

Neither the unmistakable lesson of the futility of reform implicit in countless episodes of other periods of social disintegration and collapse, similar to that now being experienced by capitalism, nor the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from social science, that the working class must direct itself toward the abolition of the wages system instead of tinkering with its effects, has diminished the number or the ardor of those who would lead the workers up the blind alley of reform. Closing their minds to history they persist in holding alluring pictures before the workers, describing the benefits which would supposedly accrue from cheaper transportation, municipal ownership, unemployment insurance, and other kindred and fatuous reforms.

If the reformers are active, the revolutionists are none the less so. The revolutionary movement is carrying on unceasing propaganda against the efforts of those who would divert the working class from the highway to revolution into the marshes of reform. It is waging incessant warfare against the pernicious reform doctrines advanced by conservative, liberal, and pseudo-revolutionary groups, and is constantly re-directing the attention of the workers toward their mission of bringing about a complete change in their social status through social revolution. In this war on error and chicanery, the revolutionary movement is guided by the profound and illuminating works of Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, and Daniel De Leon. It is however no disparagement of the great contributions of Marx and Engels, to state that, so far as the campaign against reform is concerned, De Leon has supplied it with is most specific and deadly ammunition.

Next to De Leon's momentous contribution of the principles and tactics of revolutionary Industrial Unionism stands his work on reform. It was De Leon who, first of all scientists, studied, analyzed, and exposed the poisonous nature of reform movements and reformers. A conspicuous example of the thoroughness and brilliance of his results in this field is his famous address, Reform or Revolution", here reprinted.

Although "Reform or Revolution" was delivered nearly forty years ago it is even more timely today, because of the impending doom of the capitalist system, than when first uttered. When social systems approach their last days, elements deriving, or expecting to derive, benefits from their continuance resort to stimulants -- reforms -- as a means of energizing and prolonging their duration, much in the same manner that restoratives or stimulants are administered to dying humans. Plainly, the devices employed may retard, but cannot prevent the inevitable end. Nevertheless it is at just such times that innumerable nostruns are brought to the fore, and when, in the case Of society, they act only to prevent the birth of a more advanced social order, they constitute a danger of the first magnitude. No better example bas been afforded by history than the present application of the National Industrial Recovery Act in the United States -- a gigantic effort by the capitalist class to revive the system by means of reforms. Absorption of the interest of the working class in such attempts, instead of being centered upon organization for revolution can lead to the gravest consequences, the rise of Industrial Feudalism, under which the working class would suffer depths of misery and degradation never before experienced. In view of this dire possibility, the importance of the work of De Leon and of the revolutionary movement should be apparent, and De Leon's speech on this question should be given the widest distribution possible.

Executive Committee

Industrial Union Party

February 3, I934