Dallas Reynolds, The Origins of Socialist Industrial Unionism

Dallas Reynolds
The Origins of Socialist Industrial Unionism
reprinted from the Discussion Bulletin
Sept.-Oct. 2002 #115, pages 17-20
Things to do: post-OCR proofreading to remove typos

[The article below by Dallas Reynolds is a reprint from DB7. It was originally sent to the OB by Ben Perry. He got it from the April 1971 issue of the SIU Discussion Bulletin, the now-defunct periodical of expelled Socialist Labor Party members and other dissenting SlUists. Reynolds wrote it as an antidote to the DeLeonolatry he considered one of the less desirable features of the SLP. He was apparently on a demystifying crusade, for that issue of the SIUDB also contained two other articles with the same theme: "DeLeon and Lenin" and "Workers' Councils or Socialist Industrial Unions."

Reynolds -- the son of Verne L Reynolds, a prominent SLP member of the twenties and thirties, a presidential candidate and national organizer for the party -- "was himself a national organizer for a time. He left the party in 1956. Under the name of Mack Reynolds he became a well-known and prolific science fiction writer, often using socialist ideas in his novels. He died in Mexico in December 1982. -- fg]



It would seem an axiom among DeLeonists that the outstanding American socialist was the "Father of SIU" that he was the first to hit upon the-concept and is to be given credit for developing it However, the present writer cannot find evidence in the literature to back this up.

Recently, I had occasion to reread Daniel DeLeon. The Man and His Work, a symposium in two books written by eight of his comrades, who had known him well. To my surprise, in Book One by Rudolph Schwab; Henry Kuhn, National Secretary during most of the period that DeLeon edited The People; and Olive M. Johnson, who took over the editorship not long after DeLeon died, no credit for originating the concept of SIU is given the man they eulogized.

In Book Two, written by Rudolph Katz, Chas B. Ross, Sam J. French and Ch. B. Corregan, Katz alone, in a way, credits him when he says.To Marx belongs the discovery of the economic interpretation of history and the scientific application of the theory of value. To DeLeon belongs the discovery of the necessity of forming the industrial battalions that can take and hold' the wealth power now in the possession of the capitalist class."

During the lifetime of Marx, Engels in his Socialism From Utopia to Science credits Marx with the ro discovery of Dialectical Materialism and the Law of Surplus Value, and although Marx himself never made such a claim, possibly through modesty, he was familiar with the work and is not known to have refuted the praise. No one, to the present writer's knowledge, ever claimed during DeLeon's lifetime that the SIU was discovered by DeLeon. Certainly, DeLeon himself never made such a contention.

His closest approach to the concept is in The Burning Question of Trades Unionism, a lecture delivered at Newark on April 21,1904, and it isnt very dose. DeLeon makes no mention of Socialist industrial Unionism, although the germ of the idea is present. He speaks only of trades unions and of the Socialist Trades and Labor Alliance. Nine months later, in Chicago, a conference was held preliminary to the IWW convention. As Arnold Petersen puts it in his pamphlet, Bourgeois Socialism: Its Rise and Collapse in America, "It is noteworthy that most of the signers of the call for the Chicago convention were members or sympathizers of the SP, and they included such SP diehards and DeLeon-haters as A. M. Simons, Ernest Urttermann and others besides Eugene V. Debs, Mother Jones, and William D. Haywood." Also present was Frank Bohn, more or less by a fluke. He was an SLP speaker making a tour and was invited to attend at the last moment. He defected later to the SP.

At the Chicago conference they issued a manifesto which contains the SIU concept that is, they called for "...one great industrial union embracing all industries...the economic organization of the working class, without affiliation with any political party."

Later, at the First Convention of the IWW, in June, 1905, this was amplified and in the Preamble to the Constitution we find, "Between these two classes (the working class and the employing class) a struggle must go on until all the toilers come together on the political as well as on the industrial field, and take and hold that which they produce by their labor, through an economic organization without affiliation with any political party."

This, the IWW, was the first SIU ever to be formed. The second was the WIIU, the so-called Detroit IWW, backed by the SLP after the original IWW in 1908 had fallen into the hands of anarcho-syndicalists and repudiated the political clause.

DeLeon was a delegate to the first convention, along with 13 others from the Socialist Trades and Labor Alliance. He was active in the convention, speaking many times, but nowhere does he use the term industrial unionism, although others did, and although there were admirers of his at the convention besides his own fellow delegates of the ST&LA, nobody singled him out for crediting the basic idea upon which the IWW was founded, neither then nor in later IWW conventions. It simply never occurred to anybody to do so. For that matter neither was any other individual so singled out.

The ST&LA, of course, was not a SIU and ended when it merged in 1905 into the IWW.

Industrial unions were not unknown as far back as the 19th Century. On page 125 of The First Convention of the IWW Delegate Trautmann cites a worker who had belonged in Europe to industrial unions for eleven years previous to the founding of the IWW. Daniel DeLeon did not seem particularly wedded to the term. In such pamphlets as -As to Politics,. written in 1907. he never uses it, nor does be in Abolition of Poverty, published in 1911, nor Fifteen Questions published in 1914 shortly before his death.

That his comrades of the time did not think in terms of DeLeon having formulated the SIU concept is particularly to be found in the Daniel DeLeon,_ the Man and His Works symposium on page 50, where Henry Ku 5, former National Secretary, says, The formation of the IWW regardless of what has happened in after years, must be considered one of the most important events in the history of the American labor movement... by. virtue of the ideas it has formulated and crystallized during the few earlier years of its existence. Never before, had the idea of industrial unionism been so clearly formulated..." No mention of DeLeon originating it.

In fact, the term "Socialist Industrial Unionism" is fairly recent. The writer can not find it in earlier SLP pamphlets. It didn't evolve until along in the 1920's. Nor did the term "DeLeonism." In the Manifesto of the SLP to the Working Class of America, 1921, DeLeon's name is mentioned only four times and largely in passing. One mention is a little joke he told. The adulation, which came later, probably started with the deluge of Petersen biographical pamphlets on his idol, and about the same time, probably, the term DeLeonism came into general use.

In the National Convention Report of 1920, there is no mention of DeLeon in the National Platform, and no mention of him in the "Principles of the SLP" at the end of the NC report his name is mentioned half a dozen times, largely in passing.

In the National Convention Report of 1924 we find the first reference to Socialist Industrial Unionism that I have found in the literature, a quotation from a 1923 editorial in the Weekly People, and Lenin is quoted as giving DeLeon credit for creation of the "Revolutionary Industrial Union idea." DeLeon is not mentioned in the National Platform, but the SIU is.

In the National Convention Reports of 1928 and 1932, DeLeon is not mentioned in either the National Platforms or in the acceptance speeches of the candidates. But from then on his name is everywhere in the literature.

Present-day "progressive DeLeonists" who credit him with the origin of SIU usually seem to think that the ST&LA was a SIU in embryo; however, Petersen himself in the preface to The Burning Question of Trade Unionism says, The ST&LA, however, never had at one and the same time both a clear conception of the full requirements of true unionism and a membership strong enough to put these principles into practice..."

Others think that the What Means This Strike speech heralded the first presentation of SIU, but once again, in the introduction, Petersen writes, "On page 24 of this pamphlet DeLeon speaks of the workers bringing the government under their control, implying that the state would be controlled by workers in their interest and that that would be socialism. State ownership is not socialism; industrial Union administration is... The same erroneous implication is found on page 25... The reference to 'shop organizations' on page; 29 must now be read as 'socialist industrial organizations' in order to render the argument valid. The same applies in a measure to the language employed on pages 30 arid 31.... The IWW until 1908 represented Socialist Industrial Unionism in its true, though incomplete and undeveloped form."

So it would seem that not even his most ardent admirer considered DeLeon clear on SIU at the time he delivered this speech.

No, a great fighter against opportunism in the American labor movement, DeLeon was. A great editor of the first real American revolutionary newspaper, he most certainly was. But the discoverer of the concept of SIU, he seemingly was not It was evidently the discovery of a whole group of radicals of the time, in combination, and first saw the light of day in the manifesto issuedrin January 1905 calling for the first convention of the iWW and in that convention itsetf, held in June of 1905.

This writer is of the belief that students of DeLeon's place in the American radical movement should read the first convention report of the IWW. In passing, it might be pointed out that though Eric Mass (Editor of the Weekly People 1939-68) in the #4 issue says, "...(the SLP)... could not develop a mass following because in ail the years of the SLP's existence there has been no revolutionary situation ...",. on page 148 of the !WW convention report, Deleon says, "When that strike (coal miners' strike) was in progress for eight months, had this organization (the IWW) that we hope to launch here in Chicago been in existence, the revolution would have been accomplished in 1903."

Dallas Reynolds