A Socialist Anachronism

From The De Leonist Review
November-December 1995

A SOCIALIST ANACHRONISM

Almost a century has elapsed since Daniel De Leon pioneered Socialist Industrial Unionism, projecting for the first time a credible form whereby the working class could overthrow Capitalism and simultaneously commence socialist production and distribution. Of prime importance to the question of democracy, however, is the fact that while the SIU concept fathered Socialist Industrial Democracy, it at the same time wrote finis to the geographic constituency and Political Democracy-these being nailed as totally unfit for the task of industrial administration.

The Industrial Democracy envisioned by De Leon apparently harmonized with his concise definition of Socialism, thus:

"Socialism is that social system under which the necessaries of production [factories, tools, land, etc.] are owned, controlled and administered by the people, for the people, and under which, accordingly, the cause of political and economic despotism having been abolished, class rule is at an end. That is Socialism, nothing short of that."

But now, on the threshold of the 21st Century, it is evident that the demographic changes that have taken place in the 20th have thrown the projected apolitical Industrial Democracy and the goal of social ownership and control into discord! Both the Canadian De Leonist Society and the Industrial Union Party have chosen essentially similar paths in order to resolve the problem and thus bring De Leonism abreast of the times. It should be placed on record, however, that the Socialist Labor Party has yet to confront the problem head-on with the result that a1contradiction today challenges its avowals of democratic intent. As for instance that which leaps out of the editorial page of the July 22 ('95) issue of its organ, the People. On this page are two passages that cannot be reconciled. The first appears in the concluding paragraph of the editorial, "Founders and Leaders. The second appears under the caption, "what is socialism?" Quoting as follows:

(1) "The conditions on which the country was founded are gone forever, and no one wants to move back to a time when production was difficult and wealth was scarce. We want to move forward, and thereby bring our social institutions back into line with the aspirations that inspired the Founding Fathers. That can only mean one thing today-social ownership and democratic control of the economy by 'We the People,' There is no other word for that than socialism, and no other way to achieve it than the Socialist Industrial Union program of the SLP."

(2) "Socialism is the collective ownership by all the people of the factories, mills, mines, railroads, land and all other instruments of production....Socialism means direct control and management of the industries and social services by the workers through a democratic government based on their nationwide economic organization.

"Under socialism, all authority will originate from the workers, integrally united in Socialist Industrial Unions.... "Besides electing all necessary shop officers, the workers will also elect representatives to a local and national council of their industry or service -- and to a central congress representing all the industries and services. This all-industrial congress will plan and coordinate production in all areas of the economy....

"Such a system would make possible the fullest democracy and freedom."

Is the contradiction not loud and clear? On one hand we have it that the heart and soul of socialist democracy is "social ownership and democratic control of the economy by 'We the People.'" But hold on! Socialism is also stated to be "the collective ownership [of the economy] by all the people." What has happened here to the said control"? It has been surrendered by "We the People" and vested in a governing body that is not elected by us but by the work force! ("Under socialism, all authority will originate from the workers, integrally united in Socialist Industrial Unions." The workers will "elect representatives to a local and national council of their industry or service-and to a central congress representing all the industries and services.")

The more we look at the above scenario the less we like it. For we hold that "social ownership" of the economy is a mere wraith or figure of speech without social control to give it substance and meaning. And we point to what has surely become evident by now, that in contrast to De Leon's day when there were "few grey heads" among the working class, there is in our day a large ancT growing number of retirees in the population -- a number so large as to defy efforts to equate the work force with "We the People." No longer producers, therefore no longer a part of the work force, this important segment of society joins others such as housewives who, standing outside social production therefore presumably outside the Socialist Industrial Union organization, are presumably unable to exercise a vote on how they shall be governed.

The SLP declares that "Socialism means direct control and management of the industries and social services by the workers through a democratic government based on their nationwide economic organization." (Our emphasis.) We draw a sharp distinction between control (direct or indirect) and management (i.e., administration). On one hand we readily acknowledge that because the industrial complex has far outstripped the managerial capability of political appointees, its management should become the exclusive purview and duty of the work force. But on the other hand we emphasize that in the context of the above-mentioned demographic changes the question of control is a far different matter, is an issue that has been a long time in the making, and is an issue today that all De Leonists must resolve. The issue is control by the work force versus control by the people-as-a-whole. We stand behind the principle that "the fullest democracy and freedom" require that not the work force alone but "We the People" (the work force together with the rest of society) be the arbiters of the policies under which the economy is to be managed!

An updating of the De Leonist program requires an exploration of the means whereby "We the People" may determine broad questions of industrial policy (of which there are many!) for implementation by the fcil¯Industry Congress. Such questions require value judgements not directly connected to the functional details and coordination of industry. They lie outside the purview of the Socialist Industrial Union. They are POLITICAL questions, questions that democracy insists are the purview of the body politic, of "We the People," of society-at-large! At the same time, let us not overlook it that while the SIU is patently unstructured to serve as a locus for determination of industrial policy by society-at-large, it is even less fit for resolution of the many social issues which Socialism will be called upon to address! It is our position that the one credible means that to date can afford society the means to initiate, debate, and resolve political issues is the very political democracy that the SLP program to this day still maintains should be replaced with industrial democracy!

We believe that the contradiction that today looms large in the SLP program could well result from a persistent, erroneous habit of thought that long blocked our own vision -- namely, that political democracy and political State are two sides of the same coin! Morgan and Engels helped dispel the myth. Even De Leon's above-quoted definition of Socialism begs the question: If "political despotism" (the political State) is abolished, would not the political field, thus freed, thereby become a natural adjunct to industrial democracy?

The gap between the work force and "We the People," minimal at the start of the century, is much in evidence today at the century's end, and appears to be still widening. This development has thrust the question of sovereignty to the center of the stage. Given the end of class rule, where must sovereignty find its ultimate expression-in a government in which supreme power is vested in the people-as-a-whole, or in a government in which supreme power is vested in the people's work force? The SLP still advocates the latter, holding that "Under socialism, all authority will originate from the workers, integrally united in Socialist Industrial Unions." But that position can only mean devolution of society's political powers upon the central administration of the industrial organization, can only mean abolition of the political form and popular vote whereby "We the People" could otherwise govern ourselves! Such position discounts a century of change in the makeup of the population. In short, it is clear that as regards its democratic posture the SLP program has become an anachronism.

Embracing the concept of the SIU for the management of socialist production, the Canadian De Leonist Society nevertheless rejects as false the People's assertion that the SIU program of the SLP will afford We the People "control" of the economy. For as we have shown, the SLP program denies us control by depriving us of the means to exercise it!

We are convinced that De Leonists should enter the 21st century with a program of both political and industrial democracy! Accordingly, we hold that the question a socialist ticket should ask the people to agree to should not be devolution of their political powers upon an industrial organization but delegation of industrial executive authority to an industrial organization responsible to the people through their legislative assemblies."

-- A.S.