Reform or Revolution

The People
January 27, 1996
Vol. 105 No. 18

REFORM OR REVOLUTION

Jan. 26 marks the 100th anniversary of the occasion on which Daniel De Leon delivered what turned out to be one of the most important addresses of his career. Whether he thought of it in those terms as he was preparing his remarks, or as he delivered them, may never be known. However, it is safe to assume that he considered the occasion for them as important to the future development of the socialist movement. It is also clear that his audience expected them to be worth hearing and preserving, for they arranged to have a stenographer take them down, and they wasted no time in having De Leon's speech printed as a pamphlet.

The audience De Leon addressed in Wells Memorial Hall that winter's day was composed primarily of members of the sections of the Socialist Labor Party that existed in Boston at the time. The Boston sections were then in the midst of reorganizing themselves following a local election campaign in which their candidates did not do as well as had been hoped. The membership was convinced that their failure to do better was linked to the confusion that then existed among many workers over the reform aims of the Populist Party and the revolutionary goal of the SLP -- a confusion to which the capitalist press and some of their own members had contributed.

Hence, De Leon did not have to be told precisely what the Boston Socialists expected from him. He came well prepared because he knew, as he put it, "that part of the purpose of the invitation was for me to come here to tell you upon what lines we in New York organized, and upon what lines we 'wicked' Socialists of New York and Brooklyn gave the capitalist class last November the 16,000-vote black eye." What followed almost certainly exceeded the expectations of those who were there to hear.

In this centennial year of that address, what De Leon had to say to his Boston audience deserves more, it demands a detailed review and analysis. For now we only wish to mark the occasion for the record. In a future issue, however, we will have more to say about the enduring importance and relevance of this extraordinary contribution to socialist literature Daniel De Leon's REFORM OR REVOLUTION.