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.
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.