The Socialist Labor Party 1876-1991: A Short History - Frank Girard and Ben Perry

A history of the Socialist Labor Party (SLP) is long overdue. Started In 1876, it is the ancestor of the far better known Socialist Party (SP), ('Communist Party (CP) and innumerable leftist organizations; it was a major factor in the launching of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Submitted by jondwhite on December 29, 2014

Despite this, it is comparatively little known and receives little attention from historians, especially the period after 1905. For them it may lack the glamour they associate with the IWW, the Socialist Party of Eugene Debs, and the Communist Party. Aside from a few recent biographies of Daniel De Leon, the major figure associated with the SLP, historical references to the party are usually written only as background for histories of other movements, and often the SLP and De Leon serve us villains in histories written from a partisan viewpoint.

The absence of the post-1905 SLP from books on labor history can be accounted for in part by its small size compared with the SP and CP. But another cause is certainly the political passions of the time. In 1912, Morris Hillquit, the foremost adversary of Daniel De Leon in the 1899 split in the SLP, published his History of Socialism in the United States which became a standard work influencing succeeding generations of labor historians. Moreover, these historians have lended to be members or sympathizers of organizations that were put off by the SLP's stance ("uncompromisingly revolutionary" or "hopelessly sectarian," according to one's viewpoint).

Yet the SLP with its alternative view of socialism had sufficient support to publish the first English language daily socialist newspaper as well as several foreign language periodicals, some of them lasting for generations. Its members distributed innumerable leaflets, sometimes several million in a year, and tens of thousands of workers attended SLP study classes and lectures on orthodox Marxism and socialist industrial unionism. After World War II, SLP candidates regularly outpolled those of the Socialist Party.

The following work is a condensed account of the history of the Socialist Labor Party in the U.S. Both authors are one-time active members in the SLP, occasionally serving as speakers, instructors and candidates for public office. Frank Girard was a member from 1947 until 1981 when he was expelled. He was a member of the party's National Executive Committee in the late seventies. Ben Perry joined the SLP in 1951 and resigned in 1969. He was elected to the State Executive Committees in Michigan, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. We would like to believe that these experiences have been useful for this history and do not preclude our attempts to be reasonably objective. Both authors worked on all portions of the book, but Girard primarily wrote chapters one, four, five and seven; Perry wrote two, three and six.



9 years 5 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by petey on December 30, 2014

oh man - a blast from my past. never joined, but was interested once, solicited even. read this book ages ago. thanks for the upload.


9 years 5 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by jondwhite on December 31, 2014

cheers, comments like yours are what makes uploading this material worthwhile


9 years 1 month ago

In reply to by

Submitted by syndicalist on May 21, 2015

The authour actually went on to become an important member of Philadelphia Solidarity (ideologically in tune with the former London Solidarity group). PS in the later years were key in helping to found Wooden Shoe Books in Philly.

This little booklet is informative.


9 years 1 month ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Y on May 21, 2015

I knew Frank Girard. Passed out many an SLP leaflet with his son, Tom. Frank was a good comrade and socialist. Not many of them around.


7 years 4 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Craftwork on February 19, 2017

Is this complete?

I've updated the formatting on all of this.


7 years 4 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Craftwork on February 19, 2017


Cheers, no it is not complete. The complete version is here
The PDF is too big to upload here so it needs proof reading.
There are seven chapters with foreword and afterword and appendices.

Ah excellent, thanks. Will probably need to be split-up to upload it onto here.

Can you recommend any more texts on the history of the SLP, early American Marxism, etc.?


7 years 4 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Spikymike on February 19, 2017

Has jondwhite not mentioned the related short 1990 biography of Daniel De Leon by (ex-spgb member) Stephen Coleman in the Lives of the Left series?


7 years 4 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by jondwhite on February 22, 2017


Has jondwhite not mentioned the related short 1990 biography of Daniel De Leon by (ex-spgb member) Stephen Coleman in the Lives of the Left series?

Good call. Lent that to a comrade and never got it back.


6 years 6 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by jondwhite on December 24, 2017

added pdf


5 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by sylas123 on September 5, 2018

I really appreciate this, I've been trying to get a copy of this since he passed when I was a kid, Frank was my great grandfather and sadly one of my great aunts held on to most of them and wont allow other family members access. Thank you!!


4 years 3 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by ZJW on March 23, 2020

The SLP did not think well of the Coleman book. See second to last post in this short thread about De Leonism from the SPGB Forum: .

1: The Early Years 1876-1889

Submitted by jondwhite on December 29, 2014

Like the Christian religion, socialism came to America with immigrants, mainly from Germany. Not surprisingly the division of socialists in the German homeland into two denominations—Internationalists, members of the International Workingmen's Association (IWA) who were strongly influenced by Karl Marx's ideas, and Lassalleans, followers of Ferdinand Lassalle, Marx's arch-rival in Germany—was reproduced in America. Later, when the struggle between Marxists and the anarchist supporters of Bakunin destroyed the IWA in 1872-4, its national sections were free to go their independent ways. For the Internationalists in Germany this independent way took the form of political unity with the Lassalleans in a congress at Gotha in 1875, where the first united "socialist party" in the world was organized, the Social Democratic Party of Germany.

Their comrades in America, who watched events in Germany as intensely as their counterparts would watch Russia a half century later, imitated them the next year, thereby becoming the second socialist party and, like the first, destined to last without organizational interruption to the present day. Events in America were especially conducive to unity in 1876. Expatriate German Lassalleans had prospered in the political democracy of the U.S., while internal warfare was destroying the International. As the International declined, some Marxists, while retaining their memberships in the International, had joined the Lassallean groups in their localities, giving these a Marxist orientation.

In April 1876, a preliminary conference of representatives of the Internationalists and the Lassalleans met in Pittsburgh and issued a call for a Unity Congress to meet in Philadelphia the following July to form a "Socialist Labor Party." Prior to this Congress, delegates from the remaining American sections of the International met in Philadelphia on July 15 and disbanded that organization. On July 15 the Unity Congress met. Seven delegates represented three thousand organized socialists in four groups: the now-disbanded International (with 635 members), the Workingmen's Party of Illinois (593), the Social Political Workingmen's Society of Cincinnati (250), and the Social Democratic Workingmen's Party of North America (1500), the latter three being Lassallean.

In four days the Unity Congress glued together the Workingmen's Party of the United States (WPUS) complete with an organizational structure, and a program calling for "the emancipation of the working classes," "the abolition of all class rule," and the abolition of the wages system. It also contained a Lassallean provision for state support of a system of cooperative production in which all means of labor would become the common property of the whole people, and an Internationalist-inspired call for the organization of trade unions. The Internationalists also succeeded in getting a party prohibition against electoral activity, although this was undercut by a Lassallean provision permitting sections to enter local elections if conditions seemed promising. Philip Van Patten, a Lassallean, was elected the first corresponding (national) secretary, a position he held until 1883. The new party had one English and two German weekly newspapers, The Socialist (soon renamed the Labor Standard) and the Arbeiter-stimme in New York and the Vorbote, Chicago. The first was edited by J.P. McDonnell, an Internationalist and colleague of Friedrich Sorge, who was the head of the IWA in the U.S. and a frequent correspondent of Marx and Engels.

The Great Railroad Strike of 1877

It would have been hard to choose a better year than 1876 to launch a revolutionary socialist party in America. The Panic of 1873, which had first created a depression in agriculture, had by the mid-seventies begun to affect manufacturing and the transportation system. Unemployment on the railroads was high, and those workers still employed had to contend with arbitrary cuts in wages that were already abysmally low. The railroad strike began in July 1877, a year almost to the day after the founding convention of the WPUS. Starting at Martinsville, West Virginia, on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, it rapidly spread westward.

Coming as it did only six years after the Paris Commune, the strike's violence and mass working class support were blamed on "communists," which is to say the WPUS, in just the same way that Bolshevik instigation was seen in any significant strike in the twenties and thirties. The Workingmen's Party was accused not only of encouraging and taking advantage of the violence but of planning the whole thing.

Actually the sudden outburst of working class militancy and solidarity surprised the WPUS and its leaders as much as anyone else. While the party supported the strike, organizing mass meetings often attended by thousands, these were largely propaganda meetings aimed at presenting the socialist solution to labor's woes, and not, as the communard-fearing business interests charged, to egg the strikers on to greater violence.

In Pittsburgh, the major center of violence, the WPUS had almost no presence at all. Its involvement was significant only in Chicago and St. Louis. The former was the site of the party's national headquarters and a high concentration of members who were deeply involved in the trade union movement. In their capacity as union militants, Chicago members like Albert Parsons, George Schilling, Philip Van Patten, and others addressing mass meetings were able to raise among the ruling class the specter of a general strike. The police made strenuous efforts to break up these meetings and were resisted, according to some accounts, by armed members of the Lehr und Wehr Verein (Education and Defense Society), a uniformed and armed unofficial socialist militia which had sprung up as early as 1874 in response to Chicago police repression of worker activity.

In St. Louis the specter became a reality. Sympathy strikes were actively encouraged by the influential WPUS and led to a general strike that cut off all services and halted the movement of goods. For five days the headquarters of the WPUS replaced City Hall as the center of government. From it it an "Executive Committee" set up by the party issued permits to move and distribute food and other necessities. This hiatus in capitalist control of the city came to be called the St. Louis Commune. In the aftermath of the strike, dozens of WPUS members were jailed, and several were indicted for treason—but never tried. Among them was Lawrence Gronlund later to become a prominent author and popularizer of socialist ideas. For the WPUS nationally, the principal result was a very rapid increase in membership; by 1878 it had shot up to seven thousand in seventy-two sections.

Economic versus Political Action I

In their eagerness for unity the delegates to the 1876 founding congress had not resolved the dispute on tactics between the trade union-oriented Internationalists and the Lassallean proponents of electoral activity. The combination of a a rapid increase in membership, publicity from the party's role in the 1877 railroad strike, and increasing misery among the working class as the depression continued made the question of political action a hot issue when the first national convention met in Newark in December 1877. Dominated by electoral enthusiasts, the convention dropped the prohibition against entering elections and also changed the name to the Socialistic Labor Party (SLP). It should be pointed out that this was a change in the name only. Organizationally the party remained as before, even retaining Van Patten as national secretary. There was no split between Lassalleans and Marxists as such, many of the latter remaining in the party.

But Sorge and McDonnell, the leaders of the anti-electoral Marxists, seeing the handwriting on the wall, hadn't even bothered to attend. Taking with them most of the Marxist trade union militants—and the Labor Standard of which McDonnell was the editor—they immediately organized the International Labor Union (ILU) in conjunction with such eight-hour advocates as Ira Steward and George O'Neill. The ILU had a short but gallant life, collapsing in 1881 and expiring in 1884.

Not all trade union militants left the party, however. Parsons and others, mainly in Chicago, joined the ILU while remaining active in the SLP. At the same time that they supported the eight-hour movement and the ILU, Chicago socialists pursued a very successful series of election campaigns, defecting several aldermen and state legislators. In fact, SLP political success was sufficient to cause the Greenback Labor Party (GLP), a cheap-currency reaction to the prolonged depression of the seventies, to look on the SLP as a possible junior partner. Van Patten and the rest of the National Executive Committee (NEC) favored electoral fusion with the Greenbackers, as did Parsons and many other members of the English language sections. The opponents of fusion were the trade-union activists in the foreign language sections in the Midwest and the anti-political revolutionaries in New York and some other eastern cities. The non-compromisers (anti-fusionists) prevailed in the 1879 convention in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, where they nominated an SLP ticket for the 1880 presidential election. A party referendum, however, overwhelmingly rejected an independent SLP ticket and favored supporting the Greenback Labor ticket.

It was this action by the majority together with a new SLP prohibition against membership in the Lehr und Wehr Verein that hastened the departure from the SLP of Parsons and other Chicago militants, not rejection of electoral politics; for Parsons was a candidate for office as late as 1882 under the banner of trade union socialists. Nonetheless the rapid downturn in SLP fortunes in 1879 as the economy improved (the fall 1879 vote was only one-third that in the spring election, four thousand versus twelve thousand) and the counting-out of the lone SLP victor created the mood for the 1880 schism.

Parsons, August Spies, and the trade union militants in the Midwestern foreign language sections united with the eastern non-compromisers in 1881 to form the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP). But theoretical differences between the eastern anarchists like Johann Most and the radical trade unionists forced another convention in 1882. It produced a new statement of principles, the Pittsburgh Manifesto, which accommodated the syndicalist thinking of the Chicago trade unionists, and a new name, the International Working People's Association (IWPA), called the Black International. By early 1885 the membership of the IWPA had reached six thousand, with two thousand of these in Chicago alone.

One can gain some idea of the extent of the SLP roots of the IWPA by the number of prominent members who had been members of the SLP. For instance, all but one of the Haymarket defendants had been SLP members. The exception, Louis Lingg, had emigrated from Germany in 1885 after the split.

The SLP Reaches a Low Point

The SLP fusion with the Greenback Labor Party was a disaster. Not only did the party have no influence on the GLP's small-business/farmer-oriented platform, but the election dealt the SLP and its new ally a resounding defeat. This together with desertions to the RSP and the economic recovery that began in 1879 brought the SLP in 1883 to a point where its membership was little more than half the three thousand it had begun with four years earlier. At this point a bizarre event crushed morale even more. Philip Van Patten, national secretary of the party since its foundation as the WPUS, became discouraged and, apparently because he lacked any face-saving way out of office, simply disappeared on April 22, 1883, leaving a suicide note. Some time later it was learned that he had changed his name and accepted federal employment. Eventually he became a merchant in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Early in December 1883 Alexander Jonas, editor of the principal SLP paper, the daily New Yorker Volkszeitung, wrote to the IWPA on behalf of some prominent SLP members. He proposed the reunification of the movement on the ground that the Pittsburgh Manifesto held almost nothing the SLP could not accept. Answering for the IWPA, Spies rejected the overture, suggesting that the SLP dissolve its national organization and join the IWPA as independent local groups.

The SLP Gets Its House in Order

The fourth SLP national convention in Baltimore in 1883 was attended by only sixteen delegates. The crisis in the party's fortunes brought strong and creative action. Apparently influenced by the IWPA's success, the convention adopted a less centralized structure. It abolished the office of national secretary, curtailed the powers of the national executive committee, and gave the sections a great deal of autonomy. Tactically it renounced electoral politics except as an agitational and propaganda device. Ideologically it drew the line between anarchism and socialism, beginning a running debate with the IWPA. By abandoning the purely political electoralism of the seventies and conceding the necessity of force to achieve socialism, it co-opted a part of the ground held by the "socialist revolutionaries." At the same time by denouncing the language of violence used by many IWPA leaders, it began to appeal with some success to ex-SLPers in their ranks.

With this new energy plus the effects on recruitment of a new nationwide economic recession beginning in 1884, the SLP began its recovery. At its fifth national convention in Cincinnati in 1885, the number of sections was reported at forty-two up from thirty shortly after the 1883 convention. By 1886 the number had grown to sixty. The disintegration of the IWPA in the aftermath of the Haymarket Affair may also have helped the SLP's fortunes at this time. The party's 1883 stricture against politics lasted through the 1884 presidential election, but in 1886 a union labor movement precipitated by the new economic downturn and spearheaded by the Knights of Labor and other supporters of the eight-hour day movement brought the SLP buck into fusionist electoral politics, this time in parties called in various localities United Labor Party, Labor Party, Union Labor Party and Industrial Labor Party. These reached their zenith in the 1886 election and faded except in New York where fusionist sentiment persisted in the trade union faction around the New Yorker Volkszeitung. There the party had supported the United Labor Party, which had run single-tax advocate, Henry George, as its candidate for mayor of New York City.

In the first campaign in 1886, George came close to beating Theodore Roosevelt and a Democrat with the support of the SLP and union groups. In fact he probably did win but was counted out. Encouraged by this near success in the 1886 elections, George and his political advisers decided that still further political gains could be made among small business elements in the electorate by dissociating the movement from its union and socialist supporters. They also wanted to put the party on a more nearly pure single-tax basis by eliminating some of the platform concessions to the socialist and labor element. In the battle for control of the United Labor Party, the socialists lost and then organized the Progressive Labor Party. But an economic upturn and the effects of the split cut the vote of both parties to discouraging lows.

Economic versus Political Action II

To the New Yorker Volkszeitung faction of the SLP, whose interest in electoral politics had stemmed from the belief that it would rouse the interest of trade unionists in socialism, this disaster supported the contention that electoral activity in the U.S. was premature. But the political action group (which included national secretary W.L. Rosenberg, the majority on the NEC, and the party's German and English weeklies) prevailed in the debate over participation in the 1888 general election. For the first time the SLP went it alone in a national election and nominated presidential electors in New York who were committed to calling for the abolition of the U.S. presidency.

The low vote for this ticket, fewer than three thousand, followed by an even poorer showing in the spring 1889 elections completely discredited the political actionists headed by Rosenberg. At the same time the American Federation of Labor, by remounting an aggressive eight-hour day campaign, helped the fortunes of the trade unionist New Yorker Volkszeitung faction. Accusing Rosenberg and his group of dragging their heels in supporting the eight-hour struggle, the Volkszeitung faction succeeded in getting a majority in the General Meeting of Section New York. There, by stretching the constitutional right of Section New York to elect the national secretary and the national executive committee to include the right of dismissing them, they recalled Rosenberg, replaced him with Sergius Schevitsch, and elected three new NEC members.

The 1889 National Conventions

Questioning the authority by which they had been deposed, Rosenberg and the old NEC called a national convention for October 2, 1889, in Chicago. Because the new NEC chose to ignore the call, it was attended by delegates representing only a small minority of the SLP membership, the mainstay being Section Cincinnati. Through this convention the Rosenberg loyalists effectively separated themselves from the SLP majority. Known variously as the Rosenberg group and the SLP of the Cincinnati Persuasion, it later changed its name to the Social Democratic Federation and continued a separate existence until 1897 when it became a part of Eugene Debs's Social Democracy.

The Volkszeitung-influenced faction called its convention for October 12, also in Chicago. Clearly the larger of the two, it upheld the recall of party officials by Section New York, an action "of doubtful legality" according to Commons, author of the standard work on this period. It also made major changes in the tactics and goals of the party, one being the removal of a Lassallean platform demand for government funds for co-ops. Lucien Sanial, later to become the first editor of The People, was instrumental in rewriting parts of the constitution. The party went on record as endorsing without qualification the major trade union objective of the time, the eight-hour day, and pledged, in the context of the Marxist-Lassallean (trade union versus political action) conflict that had afflicted the party from the beginning, the convention was fully in the hands of the "Marxists." Technically, then, the action of the convention supports the contention in later years that the party had been "reorganized on its present Marxist basis." But this took place in 1889, not 1890 as party historians later claimed, and was instigated, ironically, by the Volkszeitung faction, destined to become the opponents of revolutionary trade unionism in the SLP during the next decade.


Looking back at the pre-1890 SLP, party leaders spoke of the German beer drinking and singing society the SLP had been, a foreign transplant isolated from the American working class. In later years they were even unwilling to admit that the pre-1890 SLP with its history of fusion and confusion was the same organization. For them the Socialist Labor Party dated from the advent of Daniel De Leon in 1890 and the birth of The People in 1891. Socialist history before that was an embarrassment.

But of course one doesn't escape the past by repudiating it. Like all organisms the SLP retained the genes it had received at its conception. These included an ongoing internal dispute over the relative emphasis to be given to political and trade union activity. The SLP would struggle over this question in 1899, 1905, 1908, and 1924, long after the Lassallean/Marxist debates were forgotten. Even in 1978, close to a century later, the question of intervention in the union movement would shake the party as would that of nominating a presidential candidate in 1980.

Still another characteristic of the pre-1890 SLP was its domination by immigrants. What is questionable is the degree to which this condition interfered with its activist; among urban industrial workers. The record suggests that in the cites, at least, the alleged foreign roots of socialism seem to have had less inhibiting effect than Frederick Engels and later critics of the early SLP imagined, probably because immigrants had become an important component of the working class and because the party was more successful among English-speaking workers than was generally understood. Even Grand Rapids, Michigan, with a population in the 1870's of fewer than thirty thousand, had both German and American section of the Workingmen's Party. Local newspaper accounts of a WPUS mass meeting held in support of the railroad strikers in 1877 describe it as sponsored by both sections, and the list of speakers includes German, English, and Irish names. The same held true a decade later at the meetings in connection with the eight-hour day agitation and the Haymarket Affair.

Moreover, except in the early eighties, the party always had a weekly newspaper in the English language beginning with The Socialist and ending with the Workmen's Advocate. Also, while their fluency in English may have contributed to their prominence in the party, the roles played by Parsons, Van Patten, Holmes, Morgan, McDonnell, McQuire, Fielden, and many others make it clear that the SLP was not just a foreign colony in America. What does emerge as a bequest of the pre-1890 SLP is its special "mission" to the most exploited segment of the American working class, the immigrants.

Probably more alienating in the minds of most native-born American workers than its foreign accent was the SLP's alleged association-carefully fostered by the capitalist press—with the Paris Commune and the "crazy" element among the Bakuninists, who had adopted the tactic of public murder to fight the system. Assassinations, together with the public language of Johann Most and the RSP, continually raised the problem of how to dissociate the SLP from anarchist tactics while advancing the same goal.


2: Creation of the Modern Party 1890-1899

Submitted by jondwhite on December 29, 2014

At the beginning of 1890, the Socialist Labor Party continued to feel the need for fluent English-language agitators to carry on work among American workers. The value of the support it received from immigrating German and Jewish workers was obvious, but of course no major successes could occur without strong backing from native English-speaking workers. The arrival of Daniel De Leon in the fall of that year was a major element in resolving the problem of Americanization.

De Leon Joins the SLP

Daniel De Leon was born into a well-to-do Jewish family in Curacao, a Dutch possession off the coast of Venezuela. After receiving an excellent formal education in Europe, he emigrated to the United States, and later became a member of the law faculty of what is now Columbia University. In 1886, he supported Henry George's bid for the New York mayoralty on the Single Tax ticket. De Leon soon became dissatisfied with Single Taxism. By early 1889, disillusioned with George and his economic theories, he joined the Nationalist movement of Edward Bellamy.

De Leon became a very active Nationalist. He was put in charge of organizing new clubs in the New York City area and was a frequent speaker and writer, sometimes to the point of physical exhaustion. However, he and a few other Nationalist members became dissatisfied with the movement's gradualist approach and attempted to pull the movement into an avowed socialist stand. An attempt to organize a new party along socialist lines failed, and in September or October 1890, De Leon joined the SLP.

Agitation in the Knights of Labor

From its earliest days, members of the WPUS/SLP, including Van Patten and Parsons, had worked within the Knights of Labor. Unlike the later AFL, the Knights wished to benefit both skilled and unskilled workers and accepted blacks and women as equal members The original "Grand Master Workman" Uriah Stephens and his successor, Terence Powderly, did not welcome socialist influence, Powderly also thought little of the strike weapon and tried to squelch local Knights support for their widely publicized May First strike for the eight-hour day in 1886.

In 1893, the United Hebrew Trades joined the Knights enabling the socialists to become a substantial force in District Assembly (DA) 49. Despite being politically opposed to Populism, SLP delegates helped the Populists to take over the posts of district officers. That year DA 49 sent a number of socialist delegates, including De Leon, to the General Assembly, the Knights of Labor national convention. Here, they worked with anti-Powderly delegates concerned with reversing the declining fortunes of the Knights and elected James K. Sovereign as Grand Master Workman. Sovereign, needing socialist support to stave off an attempt by Powderly to regain power, accepted De Leon's support in return for a promise to appoint Lucien Sanial editor of the Knights official organ. Sovereign did prevail against Powderly at the next convention but reneged on his promise, and the socialist unionists soon found that Sovereign's policies differed little from those of his predecessor.

In 1895, the SLP slate in DAA 49 was elected and took control of the district. On the national level, however, the Sovereign faction tightened its hold. At the fall General Assembly, the credentials of the DA 49 delegation were challenged and by a narrow margin it was turned away. Although by this time the decline of the Knights had left little to capture, the experience clearly was a source of deep chagrin to De Leon and most of the party. After this, SLP literature repeatedly condemned the "labor fakirs" (or fakers) for their crass opportunism and lack of real interest in long term political goals.

Party Growth and Changes

The 90s saw the party grow in size and influence. In 1891, there were a hundred sections, of which eighty-eight were German speaking. Immigrant Jewish workers made up much of the rest; Jewish sections were numerous enough in New York to hold their own National conventions. The financial Panic of 1893 contributed to party growth. In 1896 the national convention had nearly a hundred delegates representing twenty-five states and Canada. The number of sections had doubled in three years.

The socialist vote continued to grow, and local candidates occasionally won office. The presidential vote in 1896 was 36,367, the highest it would reach before World War II. The party reached its all-time electoral peak in 1898 when the total vote for SLP candidates was 82,204. With this relative success came internal conflict. In Chicago and Cleveland there were, in spite of official party rules, fusions with Populists and Prohibitionists. In Haverhill, Massachusetts, the section’s James F. Carey was elected to city council. When Carey voted for a militia armory appropriation, the national office demanded his resignation, but the section refused to force him to comply. But these difficulties did not interfere with the party's progress.

Unquestionably, much of this progress resulted from competent leadership, and since that time SLP "leader" and the name of De Leon become synonymous. But many contemporary observers considered the SLP to have been dominated intellectually by the triumvirate of De Leon, Lucien Sanial and Hugo Vogt. De Leon, just as he had done with the Bellamy Nationalists, threw himself into the movement without reservation. Although De Leon's writings have a dated, academic flavor today, they were a vast improvement over most of the literature of the period, some of which suffered from awkward translation from the German. As a speaker, De Leon was much sought after for both English- and German-speaking audiences. De Leon never held administrative office, but as editor and speaker his perceptions of the labor movement and the required program to implement socialism deeply influenced those around him. Also, his legal training, knowledge of parliamentary procedure and debating skills undoubtedly were of great advantage in meetings establishing policy. He freely and harshly criticized his opponents. His enemies saw all this as manipulation and charged him with being a "boss" or "pope."

But the party had other important figures as well. Lucien Sanial, before immigrating, had been a French naval officer. He was a popular speaker and writer, frequently chosen to represent the SLP at international and labor conferences. Hugo Vogt was one of the German socialists forced to emigrate because of the Bismarck anti-socialist laws. His "forceful tongue and pen" made him especially useful working with German-American socialists. And the modern SLP might have turned out quite differently without the talents of Henry Kuhn who was the party's national secretary between 1891 and 1906. His tenacity and devotion to the movement became legendary. His loyalty to the SLP became also a loyalty to De Leon personally whom he described in later years as an "Instrument of Providence."

The "Americanization" of the party made considerable progress during this period. Documents from the 1893 convention in Chicago had been written primarily in German. But at the 1896 convention many of the delegates were from "American" sections or had clearly non-German names (one of these was the noted feminist, Charlotte Perkins Gilman). On the other hand, although the preponderance of Germans faded and the number of "native" Americans increased, the party did remain overwhelmingly first or second generation immigrant. Party literature was published in Polish, Danish, French, Italian and "Slavish" as well as the predominant English, German and Yiddish.

The printing and distribution of agitational literature also proliferated during the decade. Increasingly, books and pamphlets were written directly in English with fewer translations of European titles. Exceptions were the Marx/Engels classics, some of which De Leon translated. In 1896 Kuhn reported "The People has developed splendidly…with its circulation…now more than 6,000…" Under De Leon, The People had become the recognized voice of the party. The German Vorwärts circulation had climbed to five thousand. Jewish members were by far the most successful, launching a daily Abend-Blatt with circulation of fifteen thousand. There were other English and German papers as well as ephemeral Dutch, Italian and Polish.

There were some, however, who objected to The People as a national organ. One group attempted and failed to replace The People with locally edited editions of the St. Louis-based Labor. The local editions of Labor, like The People during its first year, were filled with non-socialist "human interest" material. Their editorials sometimes endorsed political fusion and support for the AFL. This conflict was another harbinger of the coming split.

The Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance

Until 1896, the SLP considered trade unions necessary to improve working class living standards and as useful forums to promote socialism. De Leon's editorial influence and the SLP's bad experiences at the hands of non-socialist labor leaders combined to modify the pro-union stance of the party, which had come to question the ability of the unions to really help the workers under capitalism. Many, including De Leon, even doubted the value of strikes. In January 1896 De Leon gave a lecture in Boston, "Reform or Revolution," in which he rejected reforms: political measures that do not abolish capitalism. De Leon's speech argued that the struggle for socialism was basically political, and he called for nothing less than the overthrow of capitalism. The workers were exhorted to support a revolutionary union whose primary task was to educate the workers, and secondarily to play a defensive role in resisting the encroachments of capital. The ultimate goal continued to be a somewhat nebulously conceived commonwealth in which the means of production would be nationalized.

On December 13, 1895, shortly after the SLP-dominated District Assembly 49 of the Knights of Labor had in effect been rejected by its national body, it joined with a number of other Knights district assemblies and other labor federations in the New York city area to form the Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance (STLA). Although the STLA is often referred to as having been "still-born," the SLP claimed that DA 49 took the majority of the fast-failing Knights with them, and evidently the STLA did begin with about a hundred locals in the New York area. According to Fine, a "hostile source" said that 228 charters were issued "between January [1896?] and July 1898" when it had about fifteen thousand members, and its influence had extended into Pennsylvania, New England and elsewhere. Samuel Gompers later wrote that the STLA had kept New York's East Side in turmoil and had received support from garment, textile, cigar making, mining and glass workers elsewhere. Although the SLP did not officially support the new union until its convention in the summer of 1896, in reality it was the guiding force, and SLP members were encouraged to join from the start.

It should be pointed out that the STLA was not an industrial union. Like the Knights of Labor, it was organized by trades or groups of trades. However, Gompers and his supporters were furious over this dual unionism which they saw as dividing the trade union movement, and some in the SLP like Thomas J. Morgan agreed. The SLP and STLA retorted that the AFL was hopelessly corrupt and based on the perverse principle of cooperation between Capital and Labor.

The STLA was an active and militant labor organization, but it suffered from a schizophrenia that was to affect the Industrial Workers of the World later: officially, it did not believe that workers could gain any real benefits under capitalism and would do best by putting their energies into establishing socialism, but simultaneously the union had to fight for immediate gains with weapons at its disposal such as the strike. Many workers who joined the STLA lacked the long view of the SLP members and concluded that the more established AFL, even with its evident shortcomings, gave more promise of immediate benefits. The prevalent STLA and SLP attitude on the futility of traditional union activity is well illustrated by De Leon's February 1898 speech in New Bedford, Massachusetts, on the occasion of an important strike there. He informed the striking workers that what they needed, "aye, more than bread, is the knowledge of a few elemental principles of political economy and of sociology." The speech outlined the Marxist view of class division and exploitation, stating that the only solution was the "sword of the Socialist ballot" protected by "the shield of the trade union…" He conceded that shop organization could be of value but considered the strike basically an inspiring display of resistance to oppression.

In July 1898, the STLA held a national convention in Buffalo. De Leon had condemned Ernest Bohm, STLA national secretary, and August Waldinger, both officials in the Central Labor Federation, the "backbone" of the STLA. He charged the two with corruption: accepting advertising for Republican and Democratic candidates. The DeLeonites won a Pyrrhic victory when the CLF withdrew from the STLA. Prior to this, the STLA had had a considerable measure of independence with its press, sometimes espousing views differing from those of The People. Afterwards, the STLA's influence declined rapidly, and most of its active members were SLP members.

The Split

At the 1896 convention, few opposed the party's increasingly anti-reformist and dual union program. But difficulties arose with the Socialistic Cooperative Publishing Association, which published The People and the New Yorker Volkszeitung. Originally, loyalty to SLP principles had been required for membership, but during the decade many of the SCPA members, the "Volkszeitung group," had become estranged from current political developments within the SLP. Many were German immigrants of the generation before who had become small businessmen and were offended by the party's position that taxation was only a capitalist question, or who were skilled craftsmen deeply involved in AFL activity and bitterly opposed to the STLA. Factional opposition may have been catalyzed by Morris Hillquit, a one-time industrial worker who had become a lawyer. He advised a confidant that he would start an anti-De Leon campaign beginning October 1898.

The Volkszeitung group became a nucleus of opposition which extended beyond New York. This opposition went beyond the STLA and taxation issues to include charges that a few men, De Leon in particular, controlled the party. The question of revolution versus reforms does not seem to have been as important as one might suppose from reading later SIP polemics, although division over the question probably existed (as it did also around this time in the socialist movement in France, Great Britain, Russia and elsewhere).

Battle lines began forming early in 1899. The new NEC had only one oppositionist, and Henry Kuhn was re-elected National Secretary by a large margin. When The People published what De Leon characterized as a "catalogue of sins" of the Volkszeitung, the Volkszeitung group tried to have its position printed in The People. When the NEC refused, the Volkszeitung group circularized the membership using The People subscription list. A referendum confirmed an NEC decision to dispossess the SCP and have the press strictly party-owned.

On July 8, the semi-annual meeting to elect delegates to the Central Committee of Section New York was convened. Parliamentary wrangling and scuffling took place and the opposition decided to call a General Committee meeting without the "administration faction." A last minute announcement was published in the Volkszeitung, inaccesible to most of the non-German DeLeonites. At the meeting, National Secretary Kuhn was replaced by Henry Slobodin, and most of the NEC was sacked. This rump meeting of the General Committee included only a fraction of the actual members and, in any case, probably lacked the authority to carry out its actions. (De Leon began referring to the opposition as "kangaroos" because of their alleged similarity to the "kangaroo courts” of the old West, which ignored formal legality.)

The "Battle of July 10" occurred around midnight when the dissidents tried to take over the party headquarters. Considerably outnumbered according to DeLeonist accounts, the loyalists held off several attacks against opponents armed with iron and wooden clubs before police arrived with guns drawn. Accepting De Leon's explanation that his faction was legally there, the police dispersed the raiding party.

However, since the headquarters was in the Volkszeitung building, the loyalists wisely moved everything out the next day to a safer location. Each side declared itself the legitimate Socialist Labor Party and published its own version of The People. The Volkszeitung faction, having the original subscription list, was able to publish its account of events first. Outside of New York, members and readers were surprised to learn that the old NEC and national secretary had been deposed. The DeLeonites soon followed with the story that a planned disruption had failed.

In New York, duplicate organizations were established almost at once. Outside of New York, several sections went over immediately to the new SLP. Such sections were "reorganized" by the Kuhn NEC to exclude the dissidents. Other sections adopted a wait-and-see attitude, some of them concluding that affairs in New York were in such a mess that the NEC should be transferred. The opposition NEC gradually gained support from around the country as some sections went over to them and as they attracted new members from among those who had considered the old party's policies and leaders too rigid. The legal question of who possessed the right to use the names and emblem of the SLP and The People went to the courts. The remaining members eventually rationalized the loss of substantial portions of the German and Jewish blocs as a benefit, a fulfillment of the long-sought Americanization of the party. Most of those prominent in the breakaway SLP had been much less so in the old. The most notable to leave was probably Hillquit.

In February 1900, the dissident wing of the Socialist Labor Party held its national convention in Rochester, New York. It claimed to have the support of four thousand members out of an original 5500 while the "regular" party claimed that losses were minimal. (It is quite possible that a majority did eventually defect.) In its report to the new SLP, the Rochester NEC confidently predicted the early demise of the DeLeonite faction. It reported having lost a legal battle over the right to use the party name and emblem in New York but was the official SLP in Massachusetts and California. (Although most of the lawyers in the party except for De Leon were said to have been among the defectors, the New Yorkers eventually won virtually all of the legal battles.) The Rochester SLP declared its willingness to join with the Social Democratic Party because no "difference in principle, or even in tactics divides us." The Social Democratic Party, especially the leadership, had mixed feelings about their new supporters. However, on July 29, 1901, anti-De Leon socialists held a unity conference, and the Socialist Party (SP) was organized with a claimed membership of ten thousand.


3: The Daily People Years 1900-1914

Submitted by jondwhite on December 29, 2014

The 1900 Convention

The "regular" SLP held its convention in June 1900 and substantially changed its organizational structure and policy. It removed all reform planks from its platform. And as a reaction to the kangaroo opposition to the STLA and its support of the AFL, it endorsed a constitutional provision forbidding any SLP member to be an officer in a non-socialist union. De Leon and the majority felt that such office would be a corrupting influence. Henry Kuhn, the national secretary, opposed the provision, feeling that workers would regard such a position with hostility and that the "labor fakers" would be left in charge. Another change took away the right of Section New York to choose the NEC which was now to be chosen by referendum from fourteen candidates nominated by the "seat of the headquarters." In addition, the Board of Supervisors, a Cleveland-based committee designed to arbitrate internal party differences which had frequently overturned decisions by the New York NEC, was abolished.

Another decision of the 1900 convention had the most far-reaching consequences. It authorized the publication of a Daily People although the party had failed by a wide margin to raise the fifty thousand dollar fund originally thought the minimum needed to start publication. Again, Kuhn opposed De Leon and the majority. The first issue appeared July 1, 1900. The Daily People exemplified an important new position taken by the party: The party press must be owned and controlled by the party itself. While the hoped-for circulation never materialized, the Daily and weekly Peoples edited by De Leon were a unifying voice championing the SLP's program.

In the 1900 elections, the DeLeonite SLP received 33,382 votes, only a small decline from its 1896 total. It was, however, much less than that received by the coalition slate of Eugene V. Debs and the kangaroo, Job Harriman.

The 'Kanglet' Disruption

The struggle to maintain the daily by a party consisting of a few thousand workers—increasingly demoralized by the ascending fortunes of the SP—was intensely stressful, and personality conflicts were not long in coming. The paper's first manager, Julian Pierce (who also ran the New York Labor News Co., the party's book distributor), had from the beginning recommended that the Daily People be suspended for economic reasons. After the 1900 elections the SLP was forced to reduce the size of the paper, and it laid off a number of employees. Those who remained went through hard times when purchases of paper or installment payments on the machinery had priority over wages. At the end of 1901, De Leon reported that he had not received his normal $25 a week for a year and a half; twice, his wage was only five dollars. Kuhn later wrote that not "a few of the militants broke down from the fray. The I.L.P. of those days used up a good deal of human material."

1902 saw the culmination of internal controversy. There were bitter charges and counter-charges of "Daily People killers" and dictatorial “Managing Powers." In the end, major figures like Vogt and Sanial were gone as well as Pierce and many others who had worked hard for the party. The "kanglets" were fewer than the kangaroos of a few years back, but they represented a great reservoir of talent that could not be readily replaced.

The 1904 SLP convention concerned itself largely with the problems facing the party press. It endorsed De Leon's policies and sent a delegation to the International Congress in Amsterdam. Also, the convention changed the party constitution to give the NEC national representation. An NEC Sub-Committee (S-C) whose members lived in one city was designated to carry out administration between NEC meetings. (In time the New York S-C came to function like the old New York NEC). The SLP vote that year was 33,510, virtually the same as 1900 and down less than ten percent from the banner year of 1896. This was little consolation, however, for the Socialist Party's Eugene Debs received over 400,000 votes.

Industrial Unionism

De Leon gave his "Burning Question of Trades Unionism" speech in Newark, NJ, April 1904. It is a rousing indictment of traditional craft unionism with its attendant corruption. Industrial unionism is nowhere mentioned as such, workers being advised to join the STLA, which was organized by trades or crafts. In one section, De Leon describes the "historic mission of unionism," which is to support the political victory of socialism. De Leon's industrial unionism as concieved more fully a year later proposed that workers elected to a socialist parliament would represent industries and not geographical regions. This view was not original and had been anticipated by French and American syndicalism some years before. However, the syndicalists had almost invariably come to reject political action as a means of taking power, preferring instead a revolutionary "general strike." "Industrial unionism" was in the air at that time though perhaps more as a class weapon than as a vehicle for revolutionary change.

A major development in labor history began when radical unionists. called a secret conference to be held in Chicago, January 1905, to discuss ways of organizing the workers along industrial lines. No SLP members had been invited although national organizer Frank Bohn was present, apparently because he happened to be working in the area. The conference issued a manifesto announcing a convention in Chicago the following summer whose purpose would be to launch a national industrial union.

The convention, enthusiastically awaited by De Leon and the rest of the SLP, opened on June 27, 1905. De Leon was one of the most active and vocal delegates at this founding meeting of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Like Debs, he saw in the IWW concrete manifestation of socialist ideals. The two publicly announced a healing of the bitterness between them. However, Debs's future support of the IWW involved little practical activity, for he was unable to overcome the hostility of most of his party due mainly, he claimed, to opposition to De Leon. But SLP members, as De Leon put it, entered the IWW "like ducks to a mill-pond."

Despite the small number of professed anarchists or syndicalists, the convention supported delegate Father Thomas Hagerty's plan of organization in which the union, and later the nation itself, was to be organized along industrial lines. After heated debate, the convention adopted a constitutional preamble which included a sentence (the well-known "political clause") that declared that the class struggle would continue "until all the toilers come together on the political, as well as on the industrial field…through an economic organization of the working class without affiliation with any political party."

Shortly after the Chicago convention, De Leon went on tour to promote support for the IWW inside and outside of the SLP. In Minneapolis, he delivered a speech, "The Preamble of the IWW" (published now as Socialist Reconstruction of Society). Arguing for the political clause, De Leon claimed that, in this country where universal suffrage exists, the movement for socialism must have a political wing, although he refrained from stating that that wing must be the SLP itself. The new economic movement, which he called "industrialism," however, was to do more than fight for workers' benefits. It was to back up the socialist ballot and be the basis of socialist society with the political state replaced by non-geographic industrial divisions. When this revolution had occurred, the SLP would disband, handing power over to the industrial union. This picture of future society was a syndicalist one. However, in combining the concept of industrial government with a political movement that would legitimize it, he launched the ideology that would become known as "DeLeonism."

The' Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance had now dissolved into the IWW contributing 1200 members (largely SLP supporters) to the IWW's original 4200. The party itself worked with great enthusiasm in support of the IWW. While there had been wrangling over the Preamble's political clause, the SLP and other revolutionary elements in the IWW initially worked well together. A year later, they cooperated to depose its president, Charles Herman, a compromise choice who apparently considered socialism no more than a dream of the future and who was perceived as trying to turn the IWW into an AFL-type "business union" operation. This, however, effectively marked the end of cooperation between the DeLeonists and non-SLP radical unionists. The political clause confined to draw fire. There were few left from the SP to support the SLP position but an ever-growing anarcho-syndicalist wing which scorned politics, demanding "direct action." Some, like Bill Haywood and Vincent St. John, who had initially worked with and praised De Leon, were now opponents.

Now Internal Opposition

Only two years after the "kanglet" disenssion, De Leon encountered personal opposition from James Connolly, a many-talented Irish socialist agitator who had helped found the British SLP. In 1904 Connolly attacked as anti-Marxist the stance of many in the party who held that strikes were useless since wage increases would be negated by price increases. He also criticized the party's severe and unrelenting denunciation of the Catholic Church, claiming that it unnecessarily alienated many workers. This put him in direct opposition to De Leon who posed as a lapsed Catholic and was architect of the party’s strong anticlerical stance.

Another opposition voice was that of Frank Bohn, a dynamic national organizer, who in 1906 succeeded Henry Kuhn as the party's national secretary. Bohn began to doubt that the SLP could continue to function as a bona fide political party; he said that it would function better as a revolutionary propaganda league, possibly within the SP.

When the NEC met in June 1907, there were substantial contingents of Connolly and Bohn supporters within the party, and the NEC itself was divided. Of those present at the meeting, three were for Bohn, three for De Leon and a seventh uncertain. Olive M. Johnson, who represented California, suddenly decided to attend, creating a pro-De Leon majority. She later claimed that this action probably saved the party from the "Bohn-Connolly axis." This episode marked the last serious challenge to De Leon within the party.

In January 1908, Bohn resigned as national secretary and was replaced by Paul Augustine. Bohn left the party not long after, going to the SP for a while and then reportedly supporting Woodrow Wilson for the U.S. presidency. James Connolly also left the SLP, joining the SP and founding The Harp, a paper directed toward immigrant Irish workers. He eventually returned to Ireland where he became far better known. With James Larkin, he directed a six-month strike of twenty thousand Dublin transport and other workers. (During World War I, he decided that the nationalist question had to be settled first and joined Sinn Fein. He was commander-in-chief of the Easter Rebellion and was executed by the British on May 12, 1916.)

The Unity Question

Shortly after the founding of the IWW, De Leon had expected that the Socialist Party might break-up over conflict between pro-IWW and pro-AFL factions. Although generally portrayed by the SLP as wholly reformist, the SP had a revolutionary wing which accepted much of the SLP program. This fact, coupled with the reluctant realization by SLP members that the SP was not only not breaking up but had surpassed the SLP in popularity among the workers, fuelled a recurring movement within both parties for unity. The two parties on local and state levels occasionally explored this possibility. In the winter of 1905-6 delegates from the SLP and SP in New Jersey met several times, and agreed to unify, essentially accepting the SLP positions on the IWW, party ownership of the press, and party discipline. However, a statewide Socialist Party referendum rejected the proposed agreement.

Although Kuhn and others remained adamantly opposed, sentiment continued for pursuing a principled plan for unity, possibly with the SLP as a semi-autonomous subdivision of the SP. In 1908, De Leon spoke on behalf of such unity, emphasizing that he spoke only as an individual member. The SP leadership, however, was almost unanimously opposed. Unity with the SP would have destroyed their dreams of the SP becoming an influential labor party along the model of the European social democratic parties. Despite a declaration by the Amsterdam International Congress in 1904 that rival national parties should merge and the precedent of such mergers in Russia and France, the SP not only rejected a merger but attempted to prevent recognition of SLP delegates to the Second International.

The IWW Split

The growing "direct action" wing of the IWW, hostile to political action, tried and failed to defeat De Leon and remove the Preamble's political clause at the 1907 IWW convention. Personality issues were also a factor; De Leon was often cantankerous and difficult to work with. However, his deep hope that the IWW would succeed sometimes enabled him to transcend personality conflicts. On August 1907, De Leon wrote to Haywood congratulating him on his release from prison where he had been serving time on a trumped-up murder charge. De Leon added that because Haywood was "unencumbered by the animosities inseparable from the early days of the struggle," he had become the natural working class leader. "The capitalist class has thrown the ball into your hands. You can kick it over the goal." As for the SLP, "when the I.W.W. will have reflected its own political party…it will be with a shout of joy that the S.L.P. will break its ranks." De Leon never received a reply.

A year later, the anarcho-syndicalists were better organized. Recognizing that they had a fight on their hands in the IWW, the SLP saw to it that its members and friends pad their back dues, and De Leon, Rudolph Katz and other SLP members were elected as delegates. By now there were virtually no delegates from the Socialist Party. In the West, an "Overalls Brigade" of unbilled and unemployed workers was recruited, apparently to pack the convention. They were the prototypes of the militant, "horny handed," anti-intellectual wobbly that the IWW has since come to symbolize. After five weeks of riding in box cars, holding meetings, selling literature and singing union songs, they reached Chicago. Many of these newly-minted members knew little about the issues except for the alleged need to get rid of De Leon. The SLP, on their side, derided the "bummery" and condemned what they saw as a dangerous trend toward glorifying physical force. The SLP felt it necessary to provide bodyguards for De Leon.

After considerable debate, De Leon was denied his seat on the basis of credentials never previously questioned. Clearly a pretext, it saved the anarcho-syndicalists from having to face a master of debate and parliamentary procedure. The SLP wing promptly left the convention and organized a rival IWW which became known as the "Detroit IWW". The original far better known "Chicago IWW," whose constitutional preamble no longer mentioned politics, became increasingly well known for militant strikes, free speech fights, and often violent repression by company and government police.

The Detroit IWW, however, was not initially a negligible force. In 1912 the silk workers of Paterson, New Jersey protested against low wages and the introduction of the four-loom (per worker) system. While the Chicago IWW was devoting full attention to a large strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the Paterson strikers accepted leadership by the Detroit IWW and its skilled organizer, Rudolph Katz. Fifty speakers were sent in and, according to one account, a thousand Daily Peoples were distributed daily. According to Katz, thousands of workers temporarily joined the Detroit IWW, and some settlements were made with smaller companies. The larger mills refused to bargain, and Katz and a colleague were jailed. At this point, the Chicago IWW and Bill Haywood either were invited in, or imposed themselves depending upon who can be believed. In the end, they too were defeated.

The Detroit IWW gradually became less of a union and more of a propaganda organization, mostly composed of SLP members, to espouse industrial unionism. It is conventional to refer to it as “De Leon's IWW," but in reality De Leon and many other members were unenthusiastic about it. He supported its strikes editorially but did little else on its behalf. De Leon was greatly distressed by the 1908 IWW division and seems to have felt that only an effective industrial union was worth strongly supporting.

De Leon and DeLeonism

In March 1908, before the split in the IWW, the SLP nominated Morrie Preston for the presidency. Preston, probably not even a party member at the time, was an IWW organizer who, while picketing a Nevada restaurant, had shot and killed the owner in self-defense, lulled on a murder charge and widely viewed as a working class hero, Preston's candidacy would have embarrassed Debs who was again running on the Socialist Party ticket. However, Preston (who was to be exonerated eighty years later) declined the nomination, and the SLP vote decreased by 60% from that of 1904.

At the party's April 1912 national convention, the national secretary reported that there were about three thousand members, not all in good standing. In addition, there were four foreign language federations with about 1700 members. In November, the party received 29,213 votes, nearly reaching the 1896-1904 levels. But the SP nominated Debs for a fourth time, and he received almost 900,000 votes. The electoral disparity between the two parties claiming to represent American socialism was much greater than ever before.

During this period De Leon occasionally indicated that the party's rigid opposition to immediate demands could be modified in the interest of establishing a socialist party with a greater base. Between 1909 and 1913, De Leon published at least four "open letters" to leaders of various reform groups supporting certain reforms under capitalism if these brought genuine relief and were not merely tactics to undercut the revolutionary movement. As to other tactics, his support of electoral politics and opposition to violence only reflected current American conditions. In countries where free elections did not exist or where widespread military training of conscripted workers was the rule, he conceded that tactics might differ. It would be a mistake, though, to misconstrue the stand of the SLP and De Leon at that time. Although it was for a peaceful solution to the social question, it opposed any evolutionary concept of social change.

De Leon's hold over the party was an intellectual one. He never held any non-editorial office within the party although he freely made policy recommendations to party officers. At times he was stubborn and unyielding, willing, for example, to break off relations with his son and fellow-member Solon rather than compromise what he felt were party principles. Yet the NEC and its Sub-Committee occasionally made decisions that he was unhappy with. Nonetheless, the later official SLP position that De Leon was incapable of arbitrary action cannot be supported either, since many important editorial position in the party press clearly preceded official sanction.

End of the De Leon Era

Of all the problems facing the organization, financial difficulties became the most pressing. In April 1913, national secretary Augustine wrote to all the sections: "Suspension threatens the Party Plant…Creditors are pressing for payment and some have threatened suit…We must raise One Thousand dollars immediately…" Telegrams were sent out asking the larger sections to raise $150, each, within two days.

In early 1914, "Augustine, incapable of facing the situation…", according to Kuhn, resigned and Arnold Petersen was prevailed upon (by De Leon, himself, according to Petersen) to take the job of national secretary. Petersen had been a member for only six years, but he had become increasingly prominent as a writer and had demonstrated his administrative ability as the party's New York state secretary. He had studied accounting and, after discussing matters with the party's auditing committee and finding only $79 in the party treasury, recommended that the party cease its commercial printing operation and "suspend" the Daily People (but continue the weekly People). The last issue appeared on February 22, 1914 and we can well believe the contemporary who reported that "it hurt De Leon as few other things had." Meanwhile, De Leon's health broke down. During the winter he had had repeated severe "colds" and at one point requested the NEC to deduct two weeks salary for his inability to work. He finally was hospitalized.

A special meeting of the NEC was called for May, just two months before the regular semi-annual session. Special committees proposed to pull the party out of its financial hole with loans from members and a special literature fund. Other proposals were to consider lowering subscription rates, selling the plant, and having the weekly paper printed outside. The predicted lawsuits had become a reality. Although the desperate financial situation was the central issue, the NEC found time to denounce the killing of Chicago IWW members in Colorado.

Daniel De Leon died on May 11, 1914. The party and its sympathizers universally mourned his passing. There were some uncharitable statements by his enemies, the New Yorker Volkszeitung stating that "he died a few decades too late…" However, there were also many tributes from old opponents, and there was clear evidence that De Leon's writings and oratory must have touched many who were only peripherally connected with the movement. The Newark Evening News wrote that three thousand attended his funeral service and that forty thousand lined the streets watching the procession. An era of American socialism had passed.