Daniel De Leon, As To Politics, 1945 Preface by Eric Hass

Eric Hass
1945 preface to
As to Politics by Daniel De Leon

Today, the anti-political actionists are few, and they are crying into the wind. History has confirmed what Daniel De Leon demonstrated in this polemic nearly forty years ago -- that Marx was correct in holding that every great class struggle necessarily becomes a political struggle.

Nevertheless, the discussion, "As To Politics," is no mere historical document. Although the pendulum has swung to the opposite end of the arc from that represented by the anarcho-syndicalist movement of an earlier era, the arguments marshaled by De Leon possess amazing relevancy now. Indeed, it is because there have recently sprung up among us powerful movements to encourage and direct political action among the workers that De Leon's brilliant enunciation of Marxian tactics takes on a new pertinence.

What is the aim of the political action propounded to the workers by the labor leaders and their "liberal" and Stalinist allies? It is to preserve capitalism by eliminating its so-called "abuses." It is, on the one hand, to elect to positions of State power that species of politician known as a "friend of labor"; on the other hand, to augment, the power of the State to control and direct the nation's economic life and attempt to arrest the contradictions that gnaw at capitalism's vitals. The political action of the labor leaders does not seek the abolition of capitalism; it seeks, rather, the palliation of the effects of capitalism.

What ought the end and aim of working class political action to be? Marx points out that "the economical subjection of the man of labor to the monopolizer of the means of labor, that is, the sources of life, lies at the bottom of servitude in all its forms, of all social misery, mental degradation, and political dependence." The economic emancipation of the working class "is therefore the great end to which every political movement ought to be subordinate.

The political action enunciated by De Leon in this polemic squares with this great end. The term, "political action," he points out, is generic and embraces such activity as nominations of candidates, campaigning, voting and, "finally as a consequence, 'parliamentary activity.'" But for the revolutionary working class it is vital that political action be guided by the principle of the class struggle. Thus parliamentary activity of the elected candidates of Socialism cannot, without betraying the working class, consist of trading votes with capitalist opposition parties. For the elected candidates of Socialism, parliamentary activity is, "to a great extent, the continuation, upon the much more widely heard forum of parliament, of the agitation and education conducted by such a party [of Socialism] on the forum of the stump during the campaign." It would seize every opportunity to prove the irreconcilability of the interests of capital and labor and the urgent need for the workers to put an end to the capitalist regimen.

"Anything short of such activity by the elected candidates of a party of Socialism," De Leon writes, "is 'log-rolling'; 'log-rolling' implies a common ground between the 'log-rollers'; consequently the 'log.rolling' Socialist must have shifted his ground to that of his capitalist opponent. Such a Socialist betrays the Working Class." The same principle, he adds, applies to Socialists elected to executive positions. "Socialist incumbents may act only obedient to the principle that impossible is the attempt to represent two classes engaged in the conflict of the class war; that, consequently, they represent only one class -- the Working Class

Here is provided the answer to the question: In the absence of the economic organization of labor, the Socialist Industrial Union, which alone can enforce the demand that the instruments of wealth-production become society's collective property, and set up a democratic administration to replace the political State of class rule, what could the elected candidates of the Socialist Labor Party do?

De Leon's reply invites no illusions. Bona fide Socialists in Congress could not, as the Stalinist and "socialist" reformers falsely maintain, bring amelioration to the workers. On the contrary, efforts in this direction could only serve to prolong the evils imposed by class rule, and intensify them as the inherent contradictions within capitalism become aggravated. The prodigious efforts of every ruling class to palliate the suffering of the workers with "cradle to grave security plans" bear witness to this. For the successful candidates of Socialism to join the political representatives of capitalism in reform projects of this nature would, therefore, serve the interests of the ruling class by heightening the illusion among the workers that capitalism is capable of being reformed and that it is worth reforming. It would be one of the cardinal duties of a bona fide Socialist in Congress to destroy this illusion by exposing reforms as concealed measures of reaction.

Not the least of the great merits of this particular contribution to the arsenal of Marxist literature is the example it provides of De Leon's prescience -- the power to foresee. Pointing out that the downfall of traditional laissez-faire capitalism, because of its inner contradictions, does not necessarily signal the advent of Socialism, that for Socialism to be triumphant the working class must understand their revolutionary mission and organize accordingly, he forecast the rise of a monopoly period "to which the designation `Plutocratic Feudalism' is the fitter term." Under this anachronistic set-up the workers "will sink to the depths of serfs, actual serfs of a plutocratic feudal glebe."

In 1940 (thirty-three years after De Leon inscribed these words), in a pamphlet on "How Nazi Germany Has Mobilized and Controlled Labor," published by The Brookings Institution, L. Hamburger employed similar language in describing the status of the worker under the Nazi version of industrial feudalism:

"Thus it [the Nazi government] set up a modern equivalent to antique and medieval feudalism. The colonus of the later Roman Empire, the serf of the Middle Ages, was considered part of the estate of his squire or lord. He was attached to, fixed on, the estate; he had no right to move away. He was, in the language of feudal law, glebae adscriptus. Similarly the German worker was now becoming attached to, fixed on, the job -- glebae adscriptus if it happened to be an agricultural one, or factoriae adscriptus (if one may say so) if it happened to be an industrial one."

In hammering home the vital importance of working class political action, using as his anvil, the pure and simple physical forcists, De Leon sounded a warning that will surely yet be heeded by the American workers. For they, too, stand in grave danger of sharing a fate not unlike that of the German workers. If they avoid this fate and achieve economic freedom -- a freedom that includes all other freedoms -- it will be because they have heeded this warning, subordinated the political movement to the great end of economic emancipation, and organized the Socialist Industrial Union to enforce their political mandate and to provide the administrative organs for future society.

ERIC HASS

New York, April 16, 1945