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The Soil and Roots of the Socialist Labor Party
by Arnold Petersen
OCR from the SLP Golden Jubilee 1890-1940, published in 1940,
The history of the Socialist Labor Party is the history of working class development. Thus wrote the author of a Socialist Labor Party booklet published in 1907 under the title, "American Industrial Evolution." The author of these lines expressed a truth greater and more significant than he probably realized. The statement is true in a twofold sense. First, in the sense that the Socialist Labor Party, since its inception, has been flesh and bone, so to speak, of the working class of America: the struggles of the American proletariat have been reflected in the history and activities of the Socialist Labor Party during the fifty years of its existence as a Marxian Socialist political organization, and each and every one of the assaults made upon the S.L.P., from whatever quarter, has been an assault upon the premises from which the working class must necessarily and inescapably proceed in order to achieve freedom. Secondly, in the sense that the intellectual development of the Socialist Labor Party reflects the crystallization of American labor as a class, with definite class interests, and with homogeneous class characteristics as distinguished from the interests and characteristics of the property-owning, or exploiting, class. In the measure that the economic mould of American industrial society has transformed American labor from its more primitive, individualized craft existence, into functioning as a highly coordinated, collectivized and thoroughly disciplined industrial body, in that same measure has the Socialist Labor Party grown and become transformed from the early uncertain, groping beginnings to its present existence as a sound, scientific organization, definite as to purpose, certain as to means and measures, and as unvanquishable as the working class itself. The observation quoted becomes even more relevant if we include in the history of the Socialist Labor Party those early beginnings when it was known as the Socialistic Labor Party, though, as De Leon insisted, and as he might have phrased it, in the language of Shakespeare: The present S.L.P. is to its early forerunner as Hyperion to a satyr!
Actually the present S.L.P. dates its existence from 1890, which is why this year we are celebrating the Golden Jubilee of the Party. In 1900 De Leon wrote:
"It is said, in a loose way, that the Socialist Labor Party is twenty and even more years old. The statement is, however, essentially false. There was no Socialist Labor Party until the campaign of 1890. It is from then the Party dates. What was before was a debating society, stamped with the characteristics of one Alexander Jonas, poltroonish, ignorant, pretentious and thoroughly alien, hating the country and its people, unable, in short, to do anything. It is since 1890 that the Socialist Labor Party dates its actual existence."
And again in 1903 De Leon repeated and amplified as follows:
"There was, before 1890, an organization by the name of Socialistic Labor Party. It went off and on into local elections. It was wholly controlled by the Volkszeitung and some other 'old timers,' who used it to raise funds with from Tom Platt. The thing went out of existence in 1890."
De Leon should know, since he had personal knowledge of the individuals in control of the Socialistic Labor Party, and particularly of the worthless Alexander Jonas. Moreover, De Leon's judgment coincides with that of Frederick Engels, who spoke of the Jonas crowd in terms as contemptuous as these: "With them [the Volkszeitung crowd in control of the Socialistic Labor Party] the movement is business, and 'business is business.'" !
However, though we agree with De Leon that as a Marxian organization the S.L.P. was born in 1890, we may, perhaps, be permitted to stretch a point and say that the crude, primitive beginnings of the S.L.P. are to be sought in that earlier movement known as the Socialistic Labor Party, which was founded in the city of Newark on December 26, 1877. It is true that that earlier movement was scarcely a party in anything but name, although those in control were political actionists first, and trade unionists second, if at all, while the opposing element cared little or nothing about political action, but considered trade unionism the only thing really worth while. Yet, if from the suffix "ic" we may infer something apologetic -- that is, that the Socialistic Labor Party wasn't really Socialist, or Marxist, but something aspiring to be such, or something that vaguely expressed the confused Utopian notions of the "radicals" of the day -- if we so infer, and thus clearly acknowledge the fact of the crudeness of these early beginnings, I do not believe that in including these early beginnings as part of S.L.P. history, we shall do serious violence to the otherwise legitimate claim that the true S.L.P. as we now know it really is fifty, and not sixty-three years old this year!
Let us, then, briefly review the period which immediately preceded the nineties, and consider some of the events and struggles of this formative period in the history of the modern American Socialist movement. I do not intend to recite the familiar facts already recorded, except in passing, here and there, but to bring out a few not so familiar facts, and to sketch roughly the background of the Party, using such material as may seem relevant, picked from the records of the time, or from the byways, so to speak, of the period preceding the nineties.
The fact which stands out strikingly above all others is that the Socialist Labor Party since 1890 has been a characteristically native product, a typical American institution, as American as pumpkin pie or corn on the cob! One need not delve deeply into the past in order to verify this fact. It is stupid, to say the least, to maintain that Socialism is an importation, that because Marx and Engels were Germans therefore Socialism is a German product, and so on, and so forth. It is true, of course, that Marx and Engels gave Socialism its scientific basis. But, in the first place, if it had not been Marx and Engels it would have been some one else. All history attests that when social and economic development reaches certain heights, the needs that press for satisfaction are satisfied, and this applies to basic material or economic needs, as well as purely intellectual or ideological cravings. The history of human society, and of the human race, establishes beyond peradventure the fact of the oneness of the human mind, to use Morgan's phrase, or, as he put it, "the history of the human race is one in source, one in experience, and one in progress." Inventions and discoveries, he said, "tend to show ... the uniformity of the operations of the human mind in similar conditions of society."
And so, if Marx and Engels, or some other European thinker, had not discovered and laid bare the scientific principles underlying Socialism, it would have been an American who would have made these discoveries, and in the light of our present knowledge and understanding we are justified in saying that the discoverer would probably have been the immortal Daniel De Leon, a thinker as American as anyone can be if we include the Americas in our concept of America.
Secondly, the struggles fought, and the aspirations voiced by American Labor, and the utterances of the early pioneers in the labor movement, establish the fact, as far as thought and language can do so, that the native American worker, once stirred into action, is as radical, as relentless, and as irreverent of traditions as any working class anywhere and at any time, if not more so. Long before Marx wrote and labored -- indeed, while he was yet only a child -- native-born American radicals voiced demands that today would send shivers up and down the spines of our plutocracy and their loyal poodles. We all recall the famous program formulated by Thomas Skidmore, and rationalized in his book published in 1829. * I quote this brief, characteristic passage from Skidmore's book to emphasize the point:
* "The Rights of Man to Property, etc."
"Inasmuch as great wealth is an instrument which is uniformly used to extort from others their property, it ought to be taken away from its possessors on the same principle that a sword or a pistol may be wrested from a robber, who shall undertake to accomplish the same effect in a different manner..."
"The steam-engine is not injurious to the poor, when they can have the benefit of it, and this, on supposition, being always the case, instead of being looked upon as a curse would be hailed as a blessing. If, then, it is seen that the steam-engine [as private property] for example is likely greatly to impoverish or destroy the poor, what have they to do, but to lay hold of it and make it their own? Let them appropriate also, in the same way, the cotton factories, the iron foundries, the rolling mills, houses..., ships, goods, steamboats, fields of agriculture, etc., etc., etc. ... as is their right."
Surely, nothing could be more radical, or, rather, revolutionary, than that, and anyone expressing such sacrilegious words today would surely be denounced by the church as an enemy of religion, of the family and of our morals, and by the plutocracy as an alien agitator who should at least be deported to the place whence he came!
Moreover, the history of the American labor movement, long before Marxian principles were known or understood, is a history of strikes, mostly violent; of rebellions against the State powers, and of contempt for laws if they stood in the way of the workers' achieving their objectives, which, by the way, were singularly modest as measured against present-day standards. Let us dismiss, then, this nonsense about Socialism and its demands being alien in origin and nature, and treat the subject in the manner of adults who are neither ashamed, nor yet too proud, of the childhood of our class and nation.
The Civil War prepared the ground for the modern class struggle in America on a scale and in a manner unparalleled anywhere else. A predatory ruling class emerged, finding itself in possession of a continent, or at least found a continent ripe to be picked by it, with fabulous natural wealth, inexhaustible resources, and with a labor force at its command which, however transient, was forever replenished by the never-ending stream flowing into the country from Europe. Many, of course, continued westward, but hundreds of thousands settled in the eastern cities -- in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and so forth, and, in the Middle West, in Chicago, notably -- most of these being German, Irish and, later, Jewish immigrants. It is an amusing commentary upon the Socialism-is-an-importation notion that the most unruly and, on the whole, the most lawless among these newcomers were the Irish, despite the fact that they were more political-minded than the others, and despite the fact that so many of them later became minions of the law. As unruly rebels, and outstanding among those practising violence, these Irish proletarians (practically all of them devout Roman Catholics) put the more placid, and supposedly Socialist-tainted Germans entirely in the shade. We have no time to cite examples, but the Molly Maguires is but one concrete example of this lawlessness among supposedly God-fearing, church-loving and authority-respecting people!
It was in this environment, and largely among such elements, that the Socialistic Labor Party had to work. The movement was predominantly German, since many of the members were refugees from Germany, having fled from the persecutions of the Bismarck regime. At the head of the Socialistic Labor Party, organized in Newark sixty-three years ago, there was nevertheless a native American, a Phillip Van Patten, the National Secretary and, according to Commons and Associates, an active Socialist from 1876 to 1884. These eight years were among the stormiest in the formative period of the political movement of labor, ushering in the decade of violence and cruel repression of labor by the bloated, power-drunk and corrupt plutocracy that arose from the ruins of the Civil War. The Cleveland campaign of 1884, commencing this decade, was one of the highlights in this period, the Haymarket tragedy of 1886 another. Grover Cleveland had become the darling of the middle and lower layers of the capitalist class -- the same Cleveland who in 1894 was to prove that a "liberal," even a "radical" capitalist President of the United States will respond as readily, if not more so, to the call of the plutocracy as to the demands of those who insured his election, whenever the interests of the capitalist class as a whole demand it. His promptness in sending troops into Chicago in 1894, over the protests of Governor Altgeld of Illinois, to crush the Pullman strike, proves the point.
However, during the seventies and early eighties the Socialistic Labor Party was continually torn with factional fights, and the greatest looseness in respect to organizational matters prevailed. Decisions of the Party as a whole would be openly flouted, now by this, now by that group, and heated discussions went on almost uninterruptedly for and against political action, for and against trade union activities, for and against Greenbackism, for and against anarchism (which, of course, had raised its ugly head), but nowhere was the line-up definite, no one took a clear stand on any question. Secessions were frequent and, although the Party Executive made a show of preserving some sort of discipline, it was quite incapable of enforcing decisions, if indeed it ever cared very much about doing so. A characteristic sidelight on this organizational looseness is given in the proceedings of the Sixth National Convention of the Socialistic Labor Party held at Buffalo in September, 1887. The convention adopted a resolution on Party members' participating in the campaigns of other so-called labor parties, from which I quote:
"Resolved, To recommend to the members wherever one or more labor parties are in the field, to support that party which is the most progressive; that is, the platform and principles of which comes [sic] nearest to ours, and at least recognizes the conflict between capital and labor; but members shall not be permitted to participate in the founding of new parties, when there is no well-founded reason to believe that the same shall fully recognize our principles." (Italics mine.)
This resolution might correctly have been labeled "A Resolution Affirming the Political Bankruptcy of the Socialistic Labor Party"! As we see, it was accepted quite as a matter of course that the members might support any other party they chose, just as long as they were satisfied that it was the "nearest to ours." In Buffalo "nearest" might be ten miles, in Chicago it might be a hundred miles, while in, say, St. Louis, "nearest" might be a thousand miles or more to the party's platform and "principles." !! It is true that the resolution also provided that where a local Section had endorsed a certain "political movement," the members were required to abide by the Section's decision, but we have no reason to suppose that the local Sections seriously attempted, or that they in fact were capable of compelling members, to abide by the Section's decisions in this respect. We note also with interest the innocuous phrase, "recognize the conflict between capital and labor," evidently intended as a veiled affirmation of the class struggle as the basis of the labor movement. But even this mild, and actually meaningless, phrase was challenged by a delegate who wanted to delete it. He finally withdrew his objection, apparently being assured that the phrase was intended to convey nothing that was not obvious on its face -- that is, that there certainly were conflicts between capital and labor!
Incidentally, this political bankruptcy of the Socialistic Labor Party reminds one of the present status and attitude of the so-called Socialist party, which in recent years has gone around looking for "labor" parties where the hapless S.P. members might play political action more or less as they please. This is simply one more proof of the bankruptcy of the Norman Thomas party which thus, 52 years after the Socialistic Labor Party passed its resolution and after all the experience made during these many years, is reverting to the primitive tactics of the eighties, thus rounding the circle of fusion, confusion and compromise! But it is more than a proof of the bankruptcy of the reformistic and bourgeois Socialist party. It is proof also of the utter criminality of the attempt made forty years ago to destroy the Socialist Labor Party, proof of the utter futility, and worse, of the entire career and activities of the so-called Socialist party. By each and every one of the standards acclaimed by the Socialist party to prove that it was right and De Leonism wrong, the direct opposite has been established. The Socialist party, in point of its own theories, is exactly where it was forty years ago, and from the viewpoint of numbers, and the material success it claimed during at least the first two decades of its existence, it constitutes a monument of complete failure. It is idle to speculate, but surely in view of all that has happened, it is not unreasonable to assume that if the Socialist Labor Party had not been faced with tremendous handicaps during these many years of a bogus Socialist party, there might today be in this country a vastly better understanding of revolutionary Socialism and a far greater, numerically speaking, Socialist Labor Party. From any viewpoint, however, De Leonism has emerged as triumphantly as what we might call Hillquitism has subsided ignominiously. The crime of the Social Democratic politicians is equal at least to the crime of the present-day Stalinist corrupters of working class thought, and both have contributed in equal measure to the disruption of the revolutionary elements in this country, and to the prevention of the rise of a numerically powerful revolutionary Marxian movement.
But let us revert to the general situation as it prevailed in the eighties -- that decade which by bourgeois writers has been called the "elegant eighties," but which more properly might be called the "'elendig' eighties" -- that is, the eighties of working class misery and wretchedness. As we noted before, in the great eastern cities there had settled a large immigrant element, chiefly Irish and German. The Irish were particularly audible, partly because they had the backing, of course, of the Catholic Church, and partly because many of them achieved leadership in labor unions. Since the forties, as a direct result of the cruel maltreatment of the Irish peasantry at the hands of the brutal British ruling class, thousands upon thousands had departed from the "auld sod," taking with them bitter memories of a ruined land, strewn with hundreds of thousands of corpses, the victims of evictions and the potato crop failures. As one historian tells us:
"In 1846 alone 50,000 families ... were evicted for not paying their rents. Their huts were leveled to the earth and they were left to die. During those hunger years there was bountiful food in sight of the famine victims.... [all of which was exported to England by the English absentee landlords]. The Irish peasants ate grass. They ate seaweed. They ate rotting potatoes. In the midst of plenty, at the door of the wealthiest nation in the world, 729,033 victims died.... each death was a preventable death. Each death was due to causes over which mankind has control."
How familiar all this sounds. And nearly a hundred years later we witness a similar spectacle in this country, now "the wealthiest nation in the world." But the methods of the modern capitalist class are more refined. The ten million unemployed, and the millions partly employed, do not actually drop dead and rot in public sight. They do so quietly, decently, and only occasionally do individual cases of particularly dramatic horror reach the front pages of our newspapers.
However, as our historian points out, to the English ruling class "the famine seemed the act of God, or else the purging of overburdened nature." And he quotes the London Times of the day as saying that Ireland "is being cleared quietly for the interests and luxury of humanity" -- by humanity we are to understand, of course, the brutal, cannibalistic ruling class of England!
It was this Ireland which during the forties and succeeding decades furnished a vast portion of the immigration to the United States, and it was these, and their immediate descendants, who, with their bitter memories, contributed so actively and vocally to the political ferment of the seventies and the eighties. As our Irish historian puts it: "It [i.e., "the agony of emigration"] transferred to the broad shoulders of the United States the burden of illiteracy and technical backwardness which had been created by bad English government." (More correctly our historian might have said, in the slightly paraphrased language of Marx: which had been created through the "wholesale expropriation of the agricultural population from the soil," the British landlord and plutocratic class conquering "the field for capitalistic agriculture ... [making] the soil part and parcel of capital ... [creating for American] industries the necessary supply of 'free' and outlawed proletariat.")
In view of the chaos and confusion in the Socialistic Labor Party, the ranting of the anarchists and the futility of Greenbackism and similar movements, together with the presence of a large group of immigrants from a country where possession of land, however limited, was a passion; and backed as these latter were by a church reaching out for power, and determined to become one of the major forces in American public life -- in view of all this, it is understandable why the Henry George movement should have proved such an amazing political success in the eighties. Not that the church itself endorsed the Henry George Single Tax idea -- on the contrary, it was opposed by the hierarchy which naturally wanted to hold on to its already considerable land holdings which in time were to become vast -- but many among the alert and articulate Irish immigrants, or the second generation, took to the idea, as did individual members of the Catholic clergy, notable among whom we find the famous Father McGlynn. (One of the most active members of the Irish Fenian movement, Michael Davitt, who visited America in 1878, became quickly converted to the Single Tax theory, and remained a friend and disciple of Henry George.) Henry George, however, was largely without an organization of his own. In August of 1886 a conference of various labor groups (including the Socialistic Labor Party) took place in New York City for the purpose of launching an independent campaign in behalf of labor. This movement was largely directed by the Central Labor Union. This body had been organized four years earlier as a result of a mass meeting which, according to Commons and Associates, had been called by one Robert Blissert, "a journeyman tailor and refugee from Ireland, 'for the purpose of sending greetings to the workers of Ireland in their struggle against English landlordism.'" That mass meeting, presided over by Phillip Van Patten, National Secretary of the Socialistic Labor Party, was dominated by the so-called Socialist element, and the declaration adopted followed the familiar pattern, and was, on the whole, remarkably clear in its pronouncements, viz., that "there can be no harmony between capital and labor under the present industrial system," giving the usual Socialist reasons, though perhaps not in the very clear terms of today. The resolution also urged unity of labor, without affiliation with capitalist parties, and stressed the international character of the revolutionary labor movement.
It was this group, and affiliated bodies, which four years later met to nominate a labor candidate on a labor ticket. Because of his prominence, his supposed radicalism and idealism, the man selected as labor's candidate for mayor was Henry George. To us today there is something incredibly ludicrous in the thought that on a ticket of labor there could be placed as candidate this typically bourgeois pundit, this philistine whose crude, and often naive, notions of political economy might have fitted into an eighteenth or early nineteenth century environment, but which certainly fitted least of all the United States! Marx, discussing George's nostrums, pointedly queried: "How did it happen [George should have asked] that in the United States, where, relatively ... the land was accessible to the great mass of the people and to a certain degree (again relatively) still is [i.e., in 1881], capitalist economy and the corresponding enslavement of the working class have developed more rapidly and shamelessly than in any other country!'
In other words, here was a continent with land aplenty, still available, on pioneer terms, to anyone desiring it, thus fulfilling the condition demanded in George's naive theory, and therefore, according to Georgeism, presenting the de facto establishment of what George and his successors and followers call economic freedom. George, of course, did not perceive the flaw in his reasoning, namely, that although land obviously is basic, it is no more so than water or air or the sun's power. Therefore, for George to talk about land being the basic element made no more sense than if he had said that water or air was basic. In the given social premises land and the means of production are basic -- the one useless without the other. Whence it follows that land as well as the socially needed tools of production must be owned in common. If George had asked himself the questions posed by Marx, and pondered the possible answers, he might, granted the possession of the requisite intellect and ability to reason logically, have perceived the absurd naivete of his Single Tax notion.
George did not ask these questions, his intellect and understanding of the problem being what they were. However, he was nominated for mayor on the Labor ticket in 1886. We are familiar with the circumstances which brought Daniel De Leon into this campaign as an active supporter of Henry George. Commons, in his work, "History of Labor in the United States," has an illuminating account of what he calls "the memorable campaign [of 1886]," and from it I quote this brief passage:
"On October 1 a mass meeting was held in Chickering Hall of several thousand radical middle-class and professional people to ratify George's candidacy. Among those who took part in its debates were Professor Daniel De Leon and Father McGlynn."
The Democratic party, then as now divided into Tammanyites and anti-Tammanyites, sank their differences and nominated a wealthy iron manufacturer, Abram S. Hewitt, while the Republican party (vigorously waving "the bloody shirt" -- i.e., the dead Civil War issues) nominated a young upstart who then was even more of a windbag and phrasemonger than he became later, to wit, none other than Teddy Roosevelt I! Hewitt, of course, was elected. The total vote cast was in round numbers 220,000, of which George (running second, with T. R. a poor third) received about 70,000 votes. In passing it is of interest to note that the comic weekly, Puck published and supported by a group that was violently anti-George, and contemptuous of the Republican corruptionists, or spoilsmen, as the paper called them -- this Puck printed a cartoon shortly after the campaign, depicting the Republican politicians (including young Teddy I, Depew, Cabot Lodge, and others) busily engaged in putting a huge suit of armor on a puny-looking Roosevelt, the title of the cartoon being:
"Little Roosevelt!!! -- The Grand Old Party Must Be Hard-Up!"
The cartoon was accompanied with this jingle
"The old belated party knights
Equip their hero for the fray --
Yes, they who fought for equal rights,
Through all the nation's darkest day, *
Their earliest steps would now retrace,
And bring the spoilsmen's slavery back --
Their only objects pay and place --
Their champion -- a jumping-jack."
FOOTNOTE -- - * The Civil War
These are harsh words about the terrible Teddy, he who later foully slandered the noble Tom Paine by referring to him as "a dirty little Atheist." Puck also referred to Teddy I as one who "was quite willing [in 1886] to incur the risk of delivering the city over to the hands of the anarchists and socialists." In view of subsequent history, Puck's horoscope of the "guileless" Teddy (who is described as "innocent, simple and confiding in character") is interesting: "You are not [said Puck to Roosevelt] the timber of which Presidents are made, even if you were not, at present, disqualified from the office by the harsh law which decrees that the beautiful bloom of adolescence must be brushed from the cheek of manhood ere the doors of the White House open to the aspirant." Actually, as we know, Puck guessed wrong, although it could hardly have been expected of the paper to foresee that the assassination of a President was to catapult the "jumping-jack" into the Presidential chair some thirteen years later!
If the 1886 campaign was virulent, the 1887 campaign was even more so. Following the defeat of 1886, Henry George and his allies set to work to repair fences, and to strengthen their movement. Tentative arrangements for a permanent party were made, the name selected being the United Labor Party. * A county convention was called for January 6, 1887. At this convention of 340 delegates (of which 320 were wage earners), there were present among the delegates Daniel De Leon, Lucien Sanial and Hugo Vogt, all of whom were to play significant parts in the post-1890 Socialist Labor Party.
FOOTNOTE -- - * In part I have drawn upon Commons's work for certain data presented here.
These three were placed on the important committee on organization. The platform and party name, United Labor Party, previously agreed upon tentatively, were reaffirmed, and it was stipulated that none should be eligible to membership unless he had "severed all connections with all other political parties, organizations and clubs." (Quoted by Commons from the New York Leader, January 22, 1887.) On May 5, 1887, a joint call was issued for a state convention at Syracuse on August 17, the three issues stressed in the call being taxation of land values (George's Single Tax), currency reform, and government ownership of railways. The "planks" of the Socialistic Labor Party were completely ignored, which led to a rumpus, culminating in the expulsion of the "Socialistic" representatives in the United Labor Party on the ground that they were members of another political party -- that is, the Socialistic Labor Party! As if George & Co. did not know this from the very beginning!
Section New York of the Socialistic Labor Party held a meeting, declaring that they were really not a political party at all -- that is, that the party was a political party only in a very strict Pickwickian sense! That argument smells of Alexander Jonas and the Volkszeitung crew -- definitely! Well, it didn't work -- the "Socialistic" gentlemen were excluded at the Syracuse state convention, August 17, 1887. The spokesmen for the "Socialists" included one Sergius E. Schevitsch, a Russian reputed to be of noble birth, and one of those editors of the Volkszeitunq of whom Frederick Engels spoke so contemptuously. * The "Socialists" countered by organizing another "Labor" party, the Progressive Labor Party, which in fact was simply the Socialistic Labor Party under another name, and which was quietly laid on the shelf a few months later. The Henry George group adopted a Single Tax platform, nominated George for Secretary of State, and the political battle was on.
FOOTNOTE -- - * Schevitsch had married a Countess Helena von Racowitza, who, as Helena von Doenniges, played such an important role in the life of Ferdinand Lassalle, being, in fact, the cause of his untimely death. Schevitsch returned to Europe in 1901, eventually arriving in Germany where he planned to settle. Someone started a rumor that Schevitsch was a Russian spy, and apparently the German Social-Democrats believed that he was one, though the facts as to his guilt or innocence do not ever seem to have been fully established. The late Morris Hillquit claims to have secured the adoption of a resolution at "a general party meeting" in New York in which the innocence and good character of Schevitsch were certified. There is something peculiar about Hillquit's reference to his part in this affair. He said that it fell to him, "a mere youngster," to take the initiative in clearing Schevitsch. Since the incident took place in 1901 or later, it means that Hillquit was then a "mere youngster" of 32 years! Moreover, the "general party meeting" must have been a meeting of the then recently organized Socialist party, which officially could have had no knowledge of Schevitsch's record while a member of the Socialist Labor Party, and therefore was no more competent to pass on the case than any other group of whatever political complexion. Hillquit also says that the charges against Schevitsch (originally published in the German party organ, Vorwaerts) "were practically withdrawn [by the editor of the Vorwaerts]." Now, the phrase "practically withdrawn," especially employed by a lawyer, and above all by such a lawyer as Hillquit, can only mean that the charges were in fact not withdrawn. Be this as it may, the career of Schevitsch as a Socialist was finished in Germany even as it had been previously finished in the United States. It is reported that he and his wife died in a mutual suicide pact in the year 1912.
Earlier in the year of 1887 Father McGlynn, who had defied the Catholic hierarchy (not in matters of religion, but in matters entirely political and economic), had organized what he called the Anti-Poverty Society, based generally on the Single Tax theory, with a quasi-religious admixture. Its large membership was composed mainly of Father McGlynn's Irish co-religionists who, when McGlynn was excommunicated following his second refusal to go to Rome to explain himself, organized a protest parade in which it is reported 25,000 took part, overwhelmingly Irish Catholic wage workers. The Catholic hierarchy raged and raved in unison with the rest of the propertied elements who thought themselves menaced by the McGlynn-George economic heresies -- fatuous delusions we would call them.
The pages of Puck, the comic weekly (it was at that time really a political journal, and only incidentally a comic paper), are revealing in the light they throw on that turbulent campaign of 1887, and also because of the utter contempt for, and refreshing disrespect shown to, the Catholic hierarchy, including the Pope. If a bourgeois journal of today would dare to manifest one-tenth the contempt for the Ultramontane machine which Puck displayed, its days would be numbered. Certainly the arrogance and insolent anti-American propaganda of a Coughlin would in the eighties have called forth the strongest rebuffs, if they would not have provoked physical violence against the howling clerical demagogue.
It is one of the characteristics of the Roman Catholic political machine, particularly in the United States today, that while it will, and does, attack anything or anyone conceived by it to be undesirable, regardless of the truth or all the facts in the case, a terrific howl is instantly raised if but one timid question is asked concerning the church or its priesthood -- a question relating to political or economic matters, of course -- and whining complaints are made about attacking religion and the holy church! Well, the spirit of the eighties was different, and that fact, among others, measures the change that has taken place in matters libertarian during the past fifty-odd years. One of the reasons for the boldness of the press of that period in this respect was, of course, that the Roman Catholic Church as yet was relatively weak in the United States, unable to apply that terrific pressure in political and economic matters which is one of the commonplaces of our times.
Puck, as stated, represented the typical capitalist viewpoint of its day-anti-plutocratic, anti-labor (specifically, and with violent emphasis, anti-labor union), anti-Henry George, and anti-Catholic hierarchy. In a series of brilliant and powerful cartoons, and in pithy editorial paragraphs, the magazine's bias was presented on all these questions. Looking at these cartoons today, still breathing, it seems, with full life, one feels as if suddenly the curtain of the past is drawn aside, and that one again walks the streets of New York of the eighties, and that one hears the many battle-cries and watches the great and near-great personages tripping along the streets, or debating hotly in the halls, of that, relatively, "little, old New York."
As I said, during the particular year of 1887 this thoroughly
representative bourgeois magazine had three chief "pet aversions."
It was violent on all three. The argument against labor unions is
the classic one -- by joining a union the worker becomes a slave and
a tithe-payer to the union bosses. As one of the paper's
"For I am one of the Bosses --
Work not with my hands, but my jaws;
Thrive best on the workmen's losses --
When he strikes, my money I draw."
By joining the union the worker loses his individual liberty (which capitalism, of course, carefully guards and maintains for him!), and his social and economic advancement, it is argued, depends entirely upon his individual efforts. In a day when Saturday half-holidays were a startling, almost incredible idea, Puck argued that half-day on Saturday would, of course, mean that the worker would get paid only five and a half days, and it belabored the point with that would-be scientific asininity which characterizes all discourses on capital and labor by bourgeois commentators.
A double-page, colored cartoon, entitled "The New Ally of the Knights of Labor -- Does the Catholic Church Sanction Mob Law?" shows a crowd of workers armed with bricks, which they are hurling at a noble-looking workingman who lies bleeding on the ground, his tools scattered about him. He is a scab. In the center of the street a group of priests, headed by the then Archbishop, later Cardinal, Gibbons, marches along, Gibbons with arms outstretched in the posture of blessing the striking workers who are stoning the scab. The workers carry such signs and banners as: "The injury of one is the concern of all," "Death to the scab," "Knights of Labor," with a saloon, of course, in the background to convey the suggestion of drunkenness, etc., on the part of the strikers, as contrasted with the sobriety, thrift and general, all-around nobility of the scab. Editorially the magazine accuses the Catholic Church of bidding for the "labor vote," and chides Gibbons for his endorsement of the Knights of Labor. Referring to Cardinal Manning of England, Puck observed:
"But Cardinal Manning, not having the knowledge of 'practical politics' of his American coadjutor, has frankly stated, in his missive, that he wants the Knights of Labor to help him in spreading the power of the Romish church in America."!
Another cartoon shows Father McGlynn and Archbishop Corrigan engaged in a pugilistic bout with Pope Leo XIII (made to look like a scarecrow) seated on the right, looking apprehensive lest his man (Corrigan) lose, and holding a bottle labeled "St. Peter's Tonic," while Henry George, in clerical robes, stands on the left, equally apprehensive for his man, McGlynn, and also holding a bottle, labeled "Anti-Poverty Elixir." Still another cartoon shows Pope Leo XIII in a rage, his tiara rolling on the ground, while he brandishes one of his slippers at McGlynn (who is comfortably seated on a book titled "H. George's Theories"), the slipper bearing the legend "Excommunication." Still another depicts the struggle between the Georgeites and the "Socialists," the "Socialists" being personified in a bewhiskered beer barrel in front of "Socialist Headquarters" which flies a flag with the lettering: "McGlynn is ausgespielt," while McGlynn, portrayed as a whisky bottle, is shown swinging a stick at Mr. Beerbarrel. The whisky bottle torso of McGlynn bears the label: "Irish Whisky, McGlynn Brand," and the whole thing is captioned: "I told you so -- German Beer and Irish Whisky will never mix!" Well, that's one way of explaining the historic struggle of 1886-1887, to which the serious historians, Commons and Associates, devote many pages! And numerous other cartoons show Henry George offering his "Anti-poverty" quack medicine, while others convey suggestions for exterminating violently all Socialists, anarchists, single taxers and labor leaders !
Finally, to vary the monotony perhaps, we note two cartoons which serve to remind us that in certain essentials it is the same old capitalist world, though fifty years have gone by, and two whole generations have sunk into their graves. One shows the British lion sprawling all over the map, with President Grover Cleveland holding back the beast by its tail, nobly supported by an army of American capitalists, while a rather lean-looking eagle (dressed as the traditional Uncle Sam) is carrying a bundle labeled "Commerce," and trying to get ahead of the outraged lion! Yet another, sardonically reminiscent of the present, shows Bismarck as the full moon labeled "Peace," shining on the troubled European waters, with predatory beasts on all sides ready to jump on a wee mouse, the beasts being designated Italy, Austria, Germany, France and Russia, the mouse representing Bulgaria which, the throne having become vacant, at that time was the prey being stalked by the predatory European governmental beasts.
The political cartoons of a given period faithfully reflect the thoughts and mores of the age, and are a powerful aid to a later generation in reconstructing the period. It is so in this case, and having dwelt long and intimately with this subject, and the period of 60 or 70 years ago, through the records and pictorial presentation of the struggles of that time, one is apt to become possessed of the uncanny feeling that one has just stepped out of these dusty tomes to join the ghostly throng, and to fight the old battles over again with them.
The decade of the eighties also witnessed the rise of the American Federation of Labor, and the emergence out of obscurity of the foxy and utterly unscrupulous Samuel Gompers. Like a mole, Gompers seems mostly to have tunneled underground during this period, for there is comparatively little mention of him. Sammy was biding his time, meanwhile blowing not too hot this way, nor yet too cold that way. Some of his utterances of this early period have a "Socialistic" ring. De Leon used to say that no man in a public cause starts out with corrupt intent, but that circumstances and persistence in error affect the character and lead to corruption. It was even so with Gompers, said De Leon. In the precise language of De Leon:
"There is that in errors of conduct that inevitably affects the character of him who indulges in them. However sincere he may be at first, bound he is to become crooked."
When the Knights of Labor declined, and with the overthrow (which De Leon effected), of its leader, so-called master workman, Terence Powderly, the organization virtually ceased to exist. As Commons says, when Powderly passed out of the picture he was succeeded (in 1893) by a farmer editor from Iowa, one James R. Sovereign (also eliminated later by De Leon's efforts), and with the election of this farmer editor "the national organization of the Knights took the final step away from the wage-earners' movement." Thereafter the evil days of Gompers and Gompersism began in earnest. However, in the eighties the position of Sam Gompers, in so far as he had at all active participation in public affairs, was, as Commons put it, "that of a sympathizing outsider" -- sympathizing, that is, to both sides until he knew which way the cat would jump. On the issues projected by the George movement, during the fight in 1887, he cautiously spoke as follows:
"The labor movement, to succeed politically, must work for present and tangible results. While keeping in view a lofty ideal, we must advance toward it through practical steps, taken with intelligent regard for pressing needs. I believe with the most advanced thinkers as to ultimate ends including the abolition of the wage-system." (Italics mine.)
This wicked heresy of abolishing "the wage-system" was quickly abandoned by Gompers, who later accepted, as the "lofty ideal" of the labor movement, "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work," and who solemnly protested that capital and labor were, or should be, brothers, and that one just could not get along without the other. The crafty fox soon had no end of exits and entrances from and to his fox's lair. He was the perfect ideal of the capitalist labor lieutenant who, as the plutocratic Herald Tribune recently pointed out, must be, and is, a politician in order to be a good "labor leader," because (the plutocratic Herald Tribune says) "labor is so largely under bureaucratic control" of the political government -- that is, labor is now virtually in a state of economic serfdom. We know that what the plutocratic journal says about the labor fakers being politicians is true; that it has been true since the rise of the labor faker (the modern plebs leader), and that it is true today, as a review of that illustrious row of labor lieutenants attest -- Green, Lewis, Dubinsky, Hillman, Schlossberg, and the smaller fry -- all of them serving the interests of capitalism faithfully, all of them attempting, and as yet largely succeeding, in keeping down the revolutionary spirit of the exploited workers, and all of them deep in capitalist politics.
And Sammy Gompers, though he protested "no politics in the union" until he was blue in the face, plunged himself and his American Federation of Labor into capitalist politics up to its neck -- indeed, it was frequently completely submerged in the murky waters of capitalist politics. Whenever the capitalist class needed the herding of labor for purposes other than, or, rather, in addition to, those directly relating to craft union activities, Sammy was on the job. No less important personages than two Presidents of the United States have enthusiastically certified to this fact. Paying a glowing tribute to the "patriotic courage" of Gompers, and to his "statesman-like sense of what has to be done," President Wilson in November, 1917, said: "The horses that kick over the traces will have to be put in a corral." The workers have been called many names, and to be likened to horses may not have been the biggest insult offered them, and yet, one wonders. Certainly, Wilson made no secret of his belief that they were beasts of burden who, if they did not pull in harness with brother capital (which means, that they were carrying "brother capital" on their backs as part of the load), would be rounded up in a corral. President Roosevelt, who delivered a dedication address in 1933 when a monument to the memory of the sainted Sammy was unveiled in Washington, D.C., paid this spirited tribute to the old labor faker in recognition of his abilities to herd the "labor cattle" for the shambles. I quote from Mr. Roosevelt's address:
"But more than that, it was his [Gompers's] patriotic leadership for the unanimous mobilization of the workers in every part of the union which supplemented the mobilization of the men who went to the front."
Mr. Roosevelt might have added that Sam Gompers went even further, in that he took an active part as a recruiting sergeant for the military forces, persuading thousands of his misled dupes that it was their duty to slaughter or get slaughtered, in order that the Gompers brand of democracy might be made safe!
Through the twenty-four years of his activities in the Socialist Labor Party, De Leon fought this crafty labor faker and his plutocratic masters, earning the hatred of Gompers -- a hatred that knew no limit-venomous, unscrupulous, unending. But that is another story.
Another active, and at times influential, force in the seventies and eighties was the anarchist movement -- if one can describe as organic that which is essentially amorphous. The outstanding representatives of the anarchist gospel were A. R. Parson, August Spies, and the questionable Johann Most, an arrival from Germany, of whom Bebel said (in his "Memoirs") that although Most started out right "he went astray. ... and finally.... ended in the United States as a drunkard...." There was also the "philosophical anarchist," Benjamin Tucker, born in Massachusetts of Yankee stock. The anarchists were dealt a crushing blow in the Haymarket tragedy, which, of course, also caused a set-back to the labor movement and in time gave impetus to the rise of labor fakers and unscrupulous "labor" politicians. We know now that those hanged at Chicago were innocent of the crimes of which they were convicted; we know that a desperate ruling class, seeing a splendid chance to crush the rising, rebellious labor movement, seized this chance, and made the most of it. But we also know that several of those hanged, in their anarchist folly, did everything possible to aid the capitalist class in achieving its end in this respect. Parson and Spies were particularly violent in their avowals of anarchist theories of physical force, and in their expressions of contempt for the ballot, the peaceful means of settling the social conflict.
Benjamin Tucker, the "philosophical anarchist," whatever that may be, has been quoted as asserting that "every group of individuals has the right to oppress all mankind, if it has the power to do so." This is the good old philosophy of power politics, the essence of which is that might makes right. Thus anarchism proves itself the obverse, as capitalism is the reverse, of the same base coin of class rule and class exploitation. And that men should have died simply to prove that once more is the real tragedy of the "Haymarket affair."
Such was the scene, and these were the actors, in this drama preceding the founding of the scientific Socialist Labor Party, which for fifty years has upheld the banner of working class emancipation, during half of which period it was directly guided by the great De Leon, while during the latter half it has been guided and inspired by his mighty spirit and noble example. This was the soil of the modern American labor movement, and these the roots of that movement. It is not the purpose, nor is there space, to tell the story of the S.L.P. itself since 1890, nor the detailed activities of Daniel De Leon in the Party. That has been well done by others, even though the subject awaits thorough and coordinated treatment by those who not only understand and accept the principles of De Leonism, but who may be expected to have gained a better perspective of the battles, events and achievements of the S.L.P. and of De Leon than one might reasonably expect to find in those who fought side by side with De Leon, and who themselves participated in these achievements, or temporary defeats, as the case might be. The record is there for all to read, and it is a record of which to be proud.
Out of chaos, De Leon and the S.L.P. created order; out of confusion, De Leon and the S.L.P. forged coherency, direction, and clearly outlined goal. The goal and methods having been clearly defined (the integrated Industrial Union Republic of Labor and classconscious, revolutionary political and economic organizations of the workers), and this goal and these methods having been found to check with every requirement of the modern emancipation movement, it remains for us to carry on the fight to reach through the wall of opposition to the workers themselves. It can be done; it must be done; it WILL be done. If we are few in numbers, that is no proof that we are wrong. On the contrary, the fact that we are as yet few in numbers, considering all the past and present factors and circumstances, is an assurance that we are holding to the correct line. For if we were to abandon or compromise our principles, we would soon attract in large numbers those who thrive only on compromises and temporizing. But if we were to do that, there would be no reason or excuse for our continued existence. Pursuing our great task along the true and tested line, we cannot fail. We know we are right -- we know the workers will eventually come to an understanding of their class interests, and when that day comes (and it cannot be far off now), they will accept the program of the S.L.P. and translate it into requisite organizations, and in the spirit of De Leonism electrify the organizations into action, leading to the sublime goal, the crowning glory of mankind, the Socialist Commonwealth.
Meanwhile, few or many, having paused for a moment at the fiftieth
milestone of our Party's existence, we tighten our belts, and
prepare for the fifty-first year, and as many thereafter as may
follow. It is, as the American poet said, a case of --
"... the obedient sphere
By bravery's simple gravitation drawn."
And so, the Party rallies its forces to renewed battle, enjoining
each militant in the land to --
Be the first to join the onset
Though you traverse flood and fire;
Smite relentless every foeman
That would foil your heart's desire.
Knightly faith, and Roman courage,
Live and hold the vantage still;
Valor wins the victor's garland --
You can conquer if you will.
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