De Leonist Society of Canada response to SLP leaflet about Albert Einstein, Why Socialism?


February 3, 1996 letter by the De Leonist Society of Canada,
addressed to Frank Girard, editor of the Discussion Bulletin
reprinted from The De Leonist Review, July-Aug. 1996


Dear Frank:

We were much impressed by the Einstein essay, "Why Socialism?" which you reprinted in DB75. This, together with your concurrent reprinting of the Socialist Labor Party's open letter response to Einstein, impels us to point up a fundamental difference between the SLP's concept of socialist democracy and our own concept.

The lead-in to the subject is a grave concern, eloquently expressed by Einstein thus: "How is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?"

The essence of the SLP position is reflected in Stephen Emery's response, as contained in the following quotes:

"The questions referred to indicate sincere and penetrating thought. However, they also indicate that you, Dr. Einstein, have not escaped being infected by one of the most vicious of the many fallacies regarding Socialism in circulation today; the erroneous notion that the governing agency of Socialist society will be political in character -- i.e., a State; and the corollary notion that control of Socialist industry will be vested in a bureaucracy....

"To seek to realize Socialism through the instrumentality of the existing machinery of government, to seek to adapt the present political mechanism to the requirements of Socialist society by even the most radical reforms conceivable -- must fatedly result in a totalitarian 'planned economy,' Events in Stalin's Russia (as well as elsewhere) speak volumes on this head.

"Why is this so? Why cannot the State be bent to Socialist purposes? For the fundamental reason that the political form of government was not designed to serve as the instrument of the popular will. On the contrary, the origin of the political State traces to the desire and the need of a rising oligarchy to destroy the ancient influence of the people in communal affairs. And down through the centuries... the political State has, by a process of adaptation, continued unfailingly to perform its essential function, that of being the organized power through which the majority has been oppressed and a minority's self-interest imposed as the social law....

"There remains, however, the larger question still unanswered: What is to be the structure of government under Socialism?

"This problem was solved ... by the American Socialist, Daniel De Leon, who formulated the ground plan for an industrial representative government, an economic administration democratically constituted by all those engaged in the industries and vocations on which our collective welfare depends....

"In lieu of extensive treatment [here] I earnestly recommend that you study De Leon's works, and with them the scholarly 'Ancient Society' of Lewis Henry Morgan, a masterwork which laid the basis for modern anthropology...."

The essence of our own position is centered in our thesis or position paper, DEMOCRACY: POLITICAL AND INDUSTRIAL, a paper first launched in September of 1992 for consideration by the Advisory Committee of the then De Leonist Society of U.S. (and subsequently published in both the first issue of The De Leonist Review, and in Discussion Bulletin 70). The paper recognizes, and we believe solves, what has been a serious problem in socialist democracy -- a problem that had been officially recognized as such by the Socialist Labor Party some thirty years postdating Emery's reply to Einstein (Minutes of the SLP's 1978 NEC Session). The problem was a growing shortfall of democracy in the SLP program generated by ongoing demographic change! The solution sprang from our eventual realization that while State government implies political government, contrary to SLP belief political government is NOT NECESSARILY State government! Quoting as follows:

"The central problem was how to reconcile the introduction of the industrial vote with annulment of the political vote; how to harmonize De Leon's definition of Socialism in which control will be exercised by the people (the people as a whole!) with the existing concept of industrial democracy wherein control is not exercised by the people as a whole; that is, how to equate self-government of the producers [i.e., the Work Force of the day] with self-government of the people!

"We could not do so.

"The question that then propelled itself forward was the question of sovereignty; WHO in a true socialist democracy must needs be sovereign, (must decide and control economic and social policy) -- the people as a whole or merely those actively engaged in the work force?

"The answer to the question was of course immediately self-evident -- the people must be sovereign.

"Not immediately evident, however, were the means by which the people could become truly self-governing! The answer was there, awaiting recognition, but certain erroneous habits of thought blocked our perception -- namely (1) Political democracy is synonymous with the political State, therefore (2) The Central Directing Authority of a Socialist Republic must needs be the All-Industry Congress of the projected industrial democracy.

"Finally, after reflection, the way opened up. Political democracy is not synonymous with the political State; on the contrary, it will attain its fullest expression through abolition of the State. Socialist democracy is not industrial democracy instead of political democracy but a harmonious combination of both....

"The form of socialist industrial representation and administration, based on industrial constituencies, is our heritage from the genius of De Leon; theform of political democracy, based on graphic constituencies, is another priceless bequest tho from a more distant past.... In short, the political form as well as the industrial form being at hand, it now seems clear to us that the revolutionary act that will lock out the capitalist from the workplace and shatter his control of Congress and Parliament must not thereby merely clear the industrial field for inauguration of industrial democracy, but also the political field for inauguration of political democracy."

Now we would of course have to agree that our pivotal "discovery" cannot stand without a solid foundation to support it. After all, it challenges the long-held SLP position so vividly expressed by Emery in his open letter to Einstein, to wit: " of the most vicious of the many fallacies regarding Socialism in circulation today [is] the erroneous notion that the governing agency of Socialist society will be political in character -- i.e., a State..." No question but that the SLP identified (and continues to identify) political government and State government as invariably one and the same! But again, on what grounds did we contest this position? Not on idle speculation but on the very "masterwork" that Emery recommended to Einstein, viz., "the scholarly 'Ancient Society1 of Lewis Henry Morgan." In fact, Morgan's research indicates that a political form of government did not, as Emery implies, come into existence as a ruling class instrument (the Marxian State) but as a democratic organ in a "free state" serving the whole citizenry! Quoting Morgan:

"Cleisthenes ... placed the Athenian political system upon the foundation on which it remained to the close of the independent existence of the commonwealth."

"Omitting minor particulars, we find the instructive and remarkable fact that the township, as first instituted, possessed all the powers of local self-government.... All registered citizens were free, and equal in their rights and privileges, with the exception of equal eligibility to the higher offices. Such was the new unit of organization in Athenian political society, at once a model for a free state, and a marvel of wisdom and knowledge. The Athenians commenced with a democratic organization at the point where every people must commence who desire to create a free state, and place the control of the government in the hands of its citizens."

The way is now clear for a deeper look into the question: How is it possible to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?

The question arises from the questioner's awareness that the State can become a breeding ground for bureaucratic despotism. Starting from this premise, the replies proffered by the Socialist Labor Party and the Canadian De Leonist Society are markedly different. The SLP program replaces State government with a representative government based on industrial constituencies -- and thereby concludes that the problem of socialist democracy is solved. We disagree. We point out that industrial democracy without political democracy not only disfranchises all in society except the Work Force of the day, but we ask, in our turn, what assurance can be given that a socialist industrial administration will prove impervious to anti-social ambition?

The De Leonist Society, too, calls for abolition of the State and the institution of industrial democracy. However, unlike the SLP we neither hold that political democracy is inseparable from the State nor do we postulate Socialist Industrial Administration as THE government of a Socialist Republic. On the contrary, both the political and industrial "structures" of government being at hand, we hold that social control of these structures rather than the structures per se must be the overriding concern of socialist democracy. Accordingly, in sharp contrast to the SLP program, our program retains the political form, vests ultimate control of both the political and industrial forms in the people (in the body politic) and so doing empowers society rather than the Work Force alone to determine both social and industrial policy. What is more, given dual branches of government (political and industrial) it should now become apparent that checks against bureaucratic usurpation are thereby greatly enhanced. Now not only can a Socialist Industrial Executive serve as a "democratic counterweight" to possible corruption of the political branch, but the latter can if necessary perform the same service for the industrial branch.

We must nevertheless conclude with an admission and an admonition. The point is, that while we have advanced social control of both the political and industrial government form as the best protection againts corruption of socialist democracy, what guarantee is there that such control, once won by society, might not one day slip out of society's grasp? Obviously there can be no such guarantee, only the counsel that survival of a Socialist Republic must ultimately hinge upon vigilance, eternal social vigilance!



February 3, 1996