SLP Celebrates 110th Anniversary

SLP Celebrates 110th Anniversary
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THE PEOPLE
FEBRUARY 2000

The Socialist Labor Party was organized on its present basis as a militant party of Marxian socialism in 1890. This year of 2000 therefore marks the 110th anniversary of the party.

The Socialist Labor Party was the outgrowth of the Socialistic Labor Party, which was organized in 1876 - 1877. That party, in turn, was a development of various movements that traced back (indirectly) to the work of Socialists in unions and in the American branch of the International Workingmen's Association founded by Karl Marx.

On a lineal basis, the SLP can trace its origin back to 1876. On a collateral basis, it can trace its origin back to, say, 1868 - 1869, when Frederick Sorge, a friend of Marx and Frederick Engels, worked for the affiliation of the National Labor Union to the International.

PROPAGANDA VS. ACTION

But such a search for origins is of more academic interest than social. The fact remains that the SLP of today originated in 1890 when its ranks were joined by Daniel De Leon.

One historian of the SLP has stated that the old Socialistic Labor Party was considered a "party of propaganda" by its members "who wanted it to remain forevermore a 'party of propaganda' and endorse whatever radical movement might spring up." In this "propaganda" party confusion reigned supreme, much as it reigned (and still reigns) in the so-called Socialist Party of a later period.

De Leon's 1890 entry into the party was followed by emphasis on socialist ACTION. De Leon, a Columbia University lecturer on international law, brought the message of socialism to the streets of New York City and insisted upon the need for challenging capitalism at the polls.

THE PEOPLE was founded soon after De Leon's entry into the party, with Lucien Sanial as editor. About that time, the party sent De Leon on an organizing tour that took him to the Pacific Coast and back. The result was a knitting together of the party's units and the real beginning of the party as a militant party of Marxian socialism. De Leon then became Sanial's assistant and assumed the editorship of THE PEOPLE when Sanial's failing eyesight forced him to resign the post in 1892.

THE OPPOSITION WITHIN

The spirit of action injected into the party by De Leon was not in itself sufficient to make the SLP THE party of socialism. Indeed, that spirit was welcomed by some antisocialist elements within the party for its value in promoting the growth of the party as an institution. These elements were soon disillusioned.

De Leon was not interested in an institution. He was concerned with the task of abolishing capitalism and of establishing socialism. He knew that numbers were not enough and that the party's members and other supporters must have a goal, a method of reaching it, and a plan for the establishment and operation of the socialist society.

The story of De Leon's and the party's struggle with antisocialist elements is an integral part of the history of socialism. In retrospect, it may be said that the struggle was fortunate in that it emphasized the need to clarify the issues involved. Certainly, the struggle sharpened De Leon's awareness of the need for Marxian soundness and drove him on to an examination of society and of social forces that culminated in the great discovery of Socialist Industrial Unionism.

REVOLUTIONARY MILESTONES

REVOLUTIONARY MILESTONES, an out-of-print SLP pamphlet, tells the story of the SLP's development in basic terms. The recorded "milestones" will seem unimportant to people whose idea of socialism has been formed by the reformistic mishmash of the so-called Socialist and Communist parties. They are, however, true milestones in the progress of socialist thought and action, or, to use another simile, true foundation stones of socialism.

The first "milestone" was "Americanizing the movement." The old Socialistic Labor Party was largely a German party, which was under the control of German immigrants who slavishly followed the tactics of the German Social Democratic Party and who held America and the American workers in contempt. This issue now has a mere historical importance within the SLP, but, in various manifestations, it still affects the growth of socialism. For example, the SP, in the name of "socialism," attempted to tie the American and other workers to the tactics and goals of "successful" "socialist" parties in England and Germany, while the CP kowtowed to every twist and turn of the former Soviet Union.

Other "milestones" in the 110-year history of the SLP include:

- The struggle against capitalism's craft unionism;

- The struggle for proletarian discipline, i.e., the building of a party that is clear on its goal and the tactics needed to reach it;

- The struggle for revolutionary clarity and against the debilitating distraction of reform;

- The struggle for party ownership and democratic control of the party's press;

- The struggle against "social patriotism" -- meaning no truce between the classes and complete clarity on the meaning and implications of the class struggle;

- The struggle for free immigration and against racism (a point affecting class solidarity);

- The struggle for Socialist Industrial Unionism and against anarcho-syndicalism;

- The struggle against political parties disguised as religion;

- The struggle against Stalinism and other "socialist" and "communist" pretenders.

THE SLP'S EXPERIENCE

Each "milestone" represents a thorough Marxian analysis of the indicated subject and an advance in the SLP's understanding of social forces. Together, they add up to the experience of 110 years. This experience is available to the workers of America, and of the world, once they are determined to end capitalism and to build the socialist society. Indeed, it may be said with all factors in mind that the lessons imparted by this experience are a necessity if the workers are to avoid entanglements with movements and ideas that are bound to entrap them still more in the meshes of capitalism and statism.

In the year 2000, as in 1890, and as in all the years between, the Socialist Labor Party urges the workers and all other forward-looking persons to study the socialist alternative to capitalism and statism and to join with it, as De Leon did in 1890, for the socialist reconstruction of society.