Daniel De Leon, Socialist Reconstruction of Society, 1930 Preface by Henry Kuhn


Henry Kuhn
1930 Preface to the 25th Anniversay Edition of
Daniel De Leon's 1905 Address
"Socialist Reconstruction of Society"

The pamphlet herewith presented is a document of enduring quality. Published first in 1905, after the speech therein reproduced had been delivered by Daniel De Leon in Minneapolis, it has gone through edition after edition, and -- let us hope -- will continue to do so.

What is it that in Socialist propaganda literature imparts such permanency? Obviously the fact that, first and foremost, the conditions depicted not only have held good in later years, but that the argument presented has gained in potency by a further development of the conditions affecting the life of the working class along the lines indicated in the document.

Indeed, such is today the lay of the land in capitalist society, that a general feeling of apprehension as to what the future may bring runs through the mass of the workers. More or less clearly in some minds, dimly in others, the impression is sinking in that we are passing through and are in the midst of a period of industrial revolution, a period where all that was thought permanent is being upset.

Nothing is as it has been, and both men and things are in a state of rapid flux. The feeling of economic security is vanishing. Automatic machinery reduces the working force not only in industry but in agriculture, aye, not even excepting commercial pursuits; it eliminates skill once considered as affording some protection to the worker fortunate enough to possess it; and, worse yet from the standpoint of employment, it increases productivity and adds that to the menace of shrinking markets.

It has been said that formerly it was the function of industry to supply customers with goods, but that now it has become the function of frenzied sales departments to supply goods with customers. Nobody, barring the few top capitalists, feels secure, and the feeling that a social change is impending is taking hold of many minds. Nor is this condition confined to our country -- it is worldwide, and worldwide the reaction is bound to be.

The first and formative convention of the I.W.W., held in Chicago in 1905, was preceded and brought on by a manifesto issued "To the Workers of the World" by a conference of industrial unionists who had met in Chicago in January, 1905. The opening paragraph of that manifesto reads:

"Social relations and groupings only reflect mechanical and industrial conditions. The great facts of present industry are the displacement of human skill by machines and the increase of capitalist power through concentration in the possession of the tools with which wealth is produced and distributed."

If this characterization of capitalist industry held good in 1905, with what terrible vengeance does it not hold good at this writing, in 1930?

One-quarter of a century has since dipped into the ocean of time. If, as subsequent events have demonstrated, the American working class in 1905 was not ripe and ready to build up for itself the industrial organization so masterfully outlined in the speech by Daniel De Leon, it seems certain that today, in 1930 and the years to come, that working class will be put under such economic pressure as to be compelled in sheer self-defense, and prompted by the instinct of self-preservation, to examine critically the very existence and structure of capitalist society - and once that examnation has begun, the only possible outcome will and must be a revolutionary American labor movement built on the lines of Industrial Unionism.

In the light of what the world is facing today, and in the light of the conditions by which the working class is and will be confronted, it is certain that this document, "Socialist Reconstruction of Society," will contribute its part toward such an outcome by helping along the process of working clash awakening, and it is equally certain that we will continue to see published edition after edition in ever swelling numbers.

Henry Kuhn

Richmond Hill, N. Y., February 1930