Arnold Petersen, excerpt from the 1946 pamphlet Daniel De Leon : Emancipator


an excerpt from
Arnold Petersen, Daniel De Leon : Emancipator
1946, reprint of 1967, pages 23-25

The question, then, De Leon was confronted with was: is the cause of working class emancipation sound and and practical? Does it rest on mere sentiment, or is it in the cards of social evolution that the working class is destined to carry forward the program of civilization and, if so, can this be achieved by leaving the workers as wards of capitalism, or, worse still, as wage-serfs of a feudo-industrial class under the system of unrelieved industrial feudalism slowly, but surely, rising on the social horizon? We know the answer De Leon received. As he put it in that magnificent closing speech delivered at the second convention of the Industrial Workers of the World in 1906: "I have no enthusiasm except the enthusiasm that positive knowledge brings; that which brought me into the movement [of working class emancipation], and that which keeps me in the movement -- the positive knowledge that this system [of Socialist Industrial Unionism] is correct; that our system is correct; that our methods are correct, and that the emancipation of the working class can be accomplished. ..."

And the basis of De Leon's "positive knowledge," of his deep understanding of the fundamental issues involved, was in the economics and sociology of what we know as the science of Marxism, of the laws formulated by Marx, and brought to final flowering by De Leon himself. On the side of economics, De Leon ascertained these facts:

1 -- That the workers under capitalism are, in effect, so many commodities, bought and sold in the labor market as cattle, calico, corn and potatoes bought and sold in their respective markets, as chattel slaves were bought and sold in the slave market.

2 -- That, as commodities, the status of workers was bound to deteriorate in the measure that their value as commodities decreased, and that that value was bound to decrease precisely to the extent that the economic laws of capitalism operated toward greater productivity, greater concentration of capital, and the inevitable increase of proletarians with ever swelling armies of unemployed testifying to the fated working out of these economic laws; and that there was no hope, no possibility, of the workers, as a class, ever rising out of their wage slave status under capitalism, all contentions of scheming capitalists, visionary reformers, or venal labor fakers to the contrary not withstanding.

On the side of sociology, De Leon ascertained these facts:

1 -- That society is an organism, and that social systems are subject to the laws of all organisms: birth, growth, maturity, decay and final death.

2 -- That capitalism had reached that stage where its continued existence spelled reaction, rendering impossible further social progress, with the inescapable, stratification, or to use a modern term, "freezing" of social classes as permanent rulers, and a permanent ruled subject or wage-serf class.

3 -- That reforms designed toalter the private property system, or to alleviate the condition of the subject class, were fatedly doomed to failure -- aye, even more: fated to strengthen the position of the ruling class, and worsen the condition of the subject class. He proclaimed the simple, yet profound truth, that "palliatives are palliations of wrong" -- that palliative ever steels [i.e., strengthens] the wrong that is palliationed"; that "the palliative works the evil of inoculating the revolutionary force with a fundamenta; misconception of the nature of the foe it has to deal with"; that "nothing is gained on the road of palliatives [i."e., of reform]; all may be lost." He demonstrated that "Where a social revolution is pending and, for whatever reason is not accomplished, reaction is the alternative"; that "every reform granted by capitalism is a concealed measure of reaction." He warned the workers that they must place reliance only in their own organized power and social integrity of purpose, and hold in scorn the proffered would-be support of the ruling class and its henchmen. "Revolutions triumphed," he argued with that conviction born only of deep understanding and profound knowledge of the forces at work, "revolutions triumphed, wheneyer they did triumph, by asserting themselves and marching straight upon their goal. On the other hand the fate of Wat Tyler [medieval proletarian rebel] ever is the fate of reform. The rebels, in this instance, were weak enough to allow themselves to be wheedled into placing their movement into the hands of Richard II, who promised 'relief' -- and brought it by marching the men to the gallows."

A dying social system can never be reformed -- it cannot, not should it, be salvaged. It has fulfilled its mission in the scheme of social evolution. To the scrap-heap with it, there to join the feudal system, and all other antiquities and worn-out and useless relics of civilization!