De Leon's Address on the Paris Commune (1891)'





Soon after Daniel De Leon joined the Socialist Labor Party, in September 1890, the Party's National Executive Committee sent him on a national speaking tour that took him as far west as Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. One of the many stops along his route was Chicago, where he arrived in time to speak at the 20th anniversary celebration of the Paris Commune on March 18, 1891. What follows is a brief account -- most likely an excerpt -- of De Leon's address on that occasion from the WORKMEN'S ADVOCATE of March 28, 1891. The WORKMEN'S ADVOCATE was the predecessor of THE PEOPLE, which was launched on April 5, 1891, during De Leon's tour.



The colors of a half dozen nations fluttered about West Twelfth Street Turner Hall. The Stars and Stripes were intertwined with all of them. The great hall was crowded. The Socialists had charge of the demonstration. Husbands, wives, and children all were present. The hall and galleries were crowded. G.A. Hoehn of the ARBEITER-ZEITUNG called the assembly to order and spoke briefly on the memories of the day. He then introduced Daniel De Leon, who was received with a storm of applause.

Prof. De Leon said in part:

"We have met to commemorate an event that is but one of a large number of its sort. Inscrutable are the ways of Providence. 'Tis with the pangs of travail the babe is born into this world. 'Tis with the pangs of travail progressive thought emancipates itself from the shackles of the past and from the realms of abstraction, to leap into the present and the field of action. The track of civilization is marked in human blood. The landmarks of social progress are huge hecatombs of human life. Such a landmark is the Paris Commune, its rise full of promise and its tragic end. Yet we are not come to mourn, but to celebrate. We wear to-day the festal rose, not the sombre crepe; we are marshaled to the sound of cheerful music, not with the roll of muffled drums; we meet to shake one another by the hand in congratulation, not to condole. And why?

"The Paris Commune, in the first place, presents an object lesson that eloquently points the path of emancipation. The lives laid down there were laid down cheerfully to teach the lesson that the class that produces and renders useful services to society is, under the present system, as distinct from the capitalist or idle class as though the former were black and the latter white of skin; as distinct as was Gurth with his iron collar-band from his feudal lord as described by Scott. It taught the lesson that, via legislation, Labor has nothing to expect from the ruling, or capitalist class and its political parties, but sops which the right hand will withdraw faster than the left hand will grant; and that, for the rest, the rifle, the bullet and the dagger, calumny, misrepresentation, suppression of the truth, suggestion of the false are the favorite weapons, as it is fit with a ruling class that flies in the teeth of science, and with whom honor is a by-word.

"Secondly, the Paris Commune is a monument that marks the close of one and the opening of another era. Instructed, tutored and enlightened by experience, Labor can foresee that the carnage of twenty years ago cannot be repeated. If the murderous class that lives upon the blood of men, women and children in the United States, as elsewhere, should again initiate bloodshed it will not be the people, but its enslavers who will bite the dust."