Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chapter Five: The Socialist Labor Party (1876-1890)




5. The Socialist Labor Party (1876-1890)





Frederich Engels, along with Marx, was directly

involved with the early development

of the SLP in the US.
For a quarter of a century, from the
dissolution of the International Workingmen's Association in 1876 to the
foundation of the Socialist Party in 1900, the Socialist Labor Party
was the standard bearer of Marxism in the United States. This marked the
next big stage in the pre-history of the Communist Party. The decades
of the S.L.P. were a period of intense industrialization, of growing
monopoly capitalism and imperialism, of sharpening class struggles, of
many of the greatest strikes in our national history, of big farmer
movements, and of the gradual consolidation of Marxism into an organized
force in the United States.




The need for a Marxist party being
imperative, the socialist forces proceeded to reorganize one in
Philadelphia, July 19-22, 1876, just a few days after the old I.W.A. was
dissolved in that same city. The new body was the Workingmen's Party of
America, the following year to be named the Socialist Labor Party. It
was based primarily upon a fusion of the Marxist elements of the I.W.A.,
headed by F. A. Sorge and Otto Weydemeyer, son of Joseph Weydemeyer,
and of the Lassallean forces of the Illinois Labor Party and the
Social-Democratic Party, led by Adolph Strasser, A. Gabriel, and P. J.
McGuire. All told, there were about 3,000 members represented. The
Philadelphia founding convention had been preceded by a unity conference
in Pittsburgh three months earlier.




The Lassalleans at the convention
succeeded in securing a majority of the national committee of the new
Party, and they also elected one of their number, Philip Van Patten, to
the post of national secretary. In the shaping of policy, however, the
influence of the Marxists was predominant. The Party demanded the
nationalization of railroads, telegraphs, and all means of
transportation, and it called for "all industrial enterprises to be
placed under the control of the government as fast as practicable and
operated by free co-operative trade unions for the good of the whole
people."1 The Declaration of Principles was taken from the general
statutes of the I.W.A., and in the vital matters of trade unionism and
political action, the Party's program unequivocally took the position of
the old International.2 That is, the new Party would energetically
support trade unionism and would base its parliamentary activity upon
substantial trade union backing. A program of immediate demands was also
adopted, and the Party headquarters was established in Chicago. J. P.
McDonnell became editor of the Party's English organ, The Labor
Standard, and Douai was made assistant editor of all Party publications.
Organizational, if not ideological, unity was thus established. The
conflicting Marxist and Lassallean groups went right on with their
disputes in the new organization. Lassallean opportunism, although as
such a declining force during the next decade, was soon to graduate into
its lineal political descendant, pseudo-Marxist right opportunism.




THE S.L.P. AND THE GREAT RAILROAD STRIKE



The economic crisis of 1873 was one of
the severest in American history. The employers, taking advantage of the
huge unemployment, slashed wages on all sides. The workers desperately
replied with a series of bitter strikes, such as this country had never
before experienced. These strikes were mainly spontaneous, most of the
unions having fallen to pieces during the economic crisis. In 1874-75,
there were broad, hard-fought strikes in the textile and mining
industries. The "long strike" of 1875 in the anthracite coal region of
Pennsylvania culminated in the hanging of ten Irish workers and the
imprisonment of twenty-four others, as "Molly Maguires." They were
falsely charged with murder, arson, and other violence against the mine
owners. This was another of the many shameful labor frame-up cases that
have disfigured American history.




The most important strike of this
period, however, was the big railroad strike of 1877. This reached the
intensity of virtual civil war. Beginning in Martinsburg, West Virginia,
on July 17, 1877, all crafts, Negro and white, struck against a deep
wage slash. Like a prairie fire the spontaneous strike spread over many
railroads, from coast to coast. The listing weak railroad brotherhoods,
led by conservatives, were but a small factor. For the first time the
United States found itself in the grip of a national strike.




The government proceeded ruthlessly to
break the strike.   The big road centers were flooded with militia and
federal troops.  About 100,000 soldiers were under arms.3 In many places
the soldiers fraternized the strikers; in others they fired upon the
crowds, and in some places the militant strikers drove them out.   Many
scores were killed.




Finally, the desperate strike was
crushed. The workers learned at bitter cost the need for strong unions
and organized political action. This near-civil war deeply shook all
sections of the population throughout the land.




The Workingmen's Party was very active
in this great strike, as in all others of the period. The Party
executive urged the workers and the public to support the strike; it
raised the eight-hour demand and called for nationalization of the
railroads. In Chicago, a socialist stronghold, the Party organized an
effective general strike. "Chicago is in possession of the Communists,"
shrieked the newspapers. Albert R. Parsons was then one of the most
active Party leaders in Chicago. The leadership of the socialists in St.
Louis was also equally outstanding, and it made the strike very
effective. "This is a labor revolution," cried the local paper, The
Republican. For a week the Party-led strike committee was in virtual
possession of St. Louis.4 Finally, the strike was crushed by troops and
the wholesale arrest of the strikers' leaders. Activities were carried
on by the Party in other strike centers.




For the Workingmen's Party all this was a
new and tremendous experience in leading huge masses in struggle. It
was a powerful blow against the sectarian barriers that were separating
the Party from the workers. Marx and Engels hailed the great mass
struggle. In its 1877 convention the Party changed its name to the
Socialistic Labor Party of North America. The Party grew rapidly; by
1879 it had 10,000 members in 25 states, and between 1876 and 1878, 24
papers were established.




During this critical period, in 1877,
there was published in the United States the famous scientific work,
Ancient Society, by Lewis Henry Morgan. It was primarily a study of the
social organization of the Iroquois Indians and perhaps the most
important book ever written in the Western Hemisphere. Engels declared
that "it is one of the few epoch-making books of our times." Morgan was
not a Socialist, but Engels said of him that "in his own way [he]
discovered afresh in America the materialist conception of history
discovered by Marx forty years ago."5




WORKERS' AND FARMERS' POLITICAL STRUGGLES



Following the big strikes of 1877, the
workers, outraged by the brutal suppression methods of the government,
took a sharp turn toward political action. Labor parties sprang up in
many cities and states. In the meantime, the farmers, under the pressure
of the severe economic crisis, also embarked upon political activity.
They created the Greenback Party, whose cure-all panacea was the
issuance of paper-money green-backs, hopefully to pay off the farmers'
mortgages, to liquidate the national debt, and to finance a general
prosperity. In the 1876 elections the workers' parties refused to
support tire Greenback Party, because it had 110 labor demands in its
program.




By 1878, however, there had developed a
farmer-labor alliance, the National Greenback-Labor Party. This party,
which by then included in its program minimum labor demands, scored
considerable success in the elections of that year, polling its high
vote of 1,050,000 and sending 15 members to Congress. The capitalist
press shouted that the Communist revolution was at hand. But it was an
uneasy alliance of workers and farmers. Labor's forces resented the
domination of the party by businessmen and big farmers, and they also
reacted against the minor stress that was placed upon the workers'
demands. Disintegration of the party, therefore, set in; so that in the
1880 presidential elections its candidate, General Weaver, got only
300,000 votes. The Greenback-Labor Party was already far along the road
to oblivion.




The Marxists generally took a position
of participating in these important political struggles. They actively
supported the building of the local and state workingmen's parties, and
they also endorsed the general plan of a worker-farmer political
alliance. They raised demands, too, for the Negro workers. However, they
had opposed supporting the Greenback Party in the 1876 elections on the
sound ground that it did not defend the workers' interests. In the 1878
elections considerable socialist support was given to the
Greenback-Labor Party candidates, and in 1880 a national endorsement of
that party's candidates was extended by the Socialist Labor Party.




In the carrying out of this general line
there was gross opportunism. The Lassalleans, headed by Van Patten and
other middle class intellectuals, controlled the Party. Taking advantage
of the heavy defeats suffered by the trade unions during the economic
crisis and misinterpreting the swing of the workers toward political
action, they held that the trade unions had proved themselves to be
worthless and that thenceforth the Party should devote itself
exclusively to parliamentary political action. They elaborated upon this
opportunism by making impermissible compromises with the Greenbackers
and by surrendering to Denis Kearney of the Pacific Coast, with his
reactionary slogan, "The Chinese must go." They also watered down the
S.L.P. program until it called for the abolition of capitalism by a
step-at-a-time process. The Lassalleans, here and in Germany, were
gradually dropping Lassalle's original Utopian demand for state-financed
producers' co-operatives, and were being transformed into the
characteristic right-wing Social-Democrats, who were to wreak Such havoc
with the whole world's labor movement for many decades.




The crass opportunism of the S.L.P.
right-wing leadership antagonized Sorge, Parsons, Schilling, McDonnell,
and other Marxists and trade unionists in the Party. The latter
elements, in particular, insisted that the Party should combine economic
with political action. The Party conventions from 1877 to 1881 were
torn with quarrels over this issue. The factional split widened, minor
secession movements developed, membership declined, papers succumbed,
and the Party sank into an internal crisis. Meanwhile, a new danger
appeared on the horizon —anarcho-syndicalism. During the next few years,
this was to threaten the very life of the Socialist Labor Party.




THE ANARCHO-SYNDICALIST MOVEMENT



Anarcho-syndicalism originated from a
number of causes. Among these were the following: (a) the extreme
violence with which the government repressed strikes generated among
workers the idea of "meeting force with force"; (b) the robbing of
workers' election candidates of votes tended to discredit working class
political action altogether; (c) the fact that millions of immigrant
workers had no votes also operated against organized political action;
(d) the opportunist policies of the reformist leadership of the S.L.P.
disgusted and repelled militant workers; (e) the influence of
petty-bourgeois radicals upon the working class, and (f) the injection
of European anarchist ideas gave a specific ideological content to the
movement.




As early as 1875, to defend themselves,
German workers in Chicago formed an armed group. This tendency spread
rapidly, as a result of the government violence in the big 1877 strikes.
In 1878, the S.L.P. national executive condemned the trend and ordered
its advocates to leave the Party. In October 1881, the supporters of
"direct action," led principally by Albert R. Parsons6 and August Spies,
met in Chicago and organized the Revolutionary Socialist Labor Party.
This movement, however, did not take on a definitely anarchist
complexion until after the arrival of Johann Most, a German anarchist,
in 1882. Most found willing hearers, and in October 1883, a joint
convention of anarchists and members of the Revolutionary Socialist
Labor Party was held.




This convention formed the International
Working People's Association.7 Its program proposed "the destruction of
the existing class government by all means, i.e., by energetic,
implacable, revolutionary, and international action," and the
establishment of a system of industry based on "the free exchange of
equivalent products between the production organizations."8 The program
condemned the ballot as a device designed by the capitalists to fool the
workers. The Chicago group, more syndicalist than anarchist, inserted
the clause that "the International recognizes in the trade union the
embryonic group of the future society." Behind this movement was the
anarchist anti-Marxist conception that socialism could be brought about
by the desperate action of a small minority of the working class,
impelling the masses into action.




The opportunist-led S.L.P. shriveled in
the face of the strong drive of the anarcho-syndicalists. By 1883 the
S.L.P. membership had dwindled to but 1,500, whereas that of the
International went up to about 7,000. Also, the latter's several
journals were flourishing. In April 1883, after six years as S.L.P.
national secretary, Van Patten suddenly disappeared, turning up later as
a government job-holder. Shortly afterward attempts were made by
prominent S.L.P. members to fuse that organization with the
anarcho-syndicalist group; but to no avail, the latter replying that the
S.L.P. members should join their organization individually. From then
on it was an open struggle between the two parties.




The anarcho-syndicalist International
met shipwreck in May  1886, at Chicago. The militants of that
organization were taking a leading part m the A.F. of L. trade unions'
big agitation for the national eight-hour general strike movement, which
climaxed on May first. At the McCormick Harvester plant six striking
workers were killed by the police.   The anarcho-syndicalists called a
mass meeting of protest in the Haymarket on May 4th, with Parsons,
Spies, and Fielden as the principal speakers. Some unknown person threw a
bomb, killing seven police and  four rkers and wounding many more.  In
the wild hysteria following this event, Parsons, Fischer, Lingg,
Fielden, Schwab, Spies, Engel, and Neebe were arrested. After a
criminally unfair trial, another on the growing list of labor frame-ups,
they were all convicted.  Neebe, Schwab, and Fielden were glven long
prison terms; Lingg committed suicide while awaiting trial and Parsons,
Spies, Fischer and Engel were hanged on November 11, 1887.   Governor
John Altgeld, six years later, released the four reining in prison and
proclaimed their innocence.    Haymarket Affair was a heavy blow
especially to the International group and after a futile effort in l887
to amalgamate with the S.L.P it dissolved. The substance of the
Haymarket outrage was an attempt by the employers to destroy the young
trade union movement.




THE KNIGHTS OF LABOR



With the revival of industry, beginning
in 1879, trade unionism, weakened in the long economic crisis, again
spread with great rapidity. To meet the fierce exploitation by the
employers, the workers had to have organization. Local trades councils
and labor assemblies grew in many cities, and small craft unions also
began to take shape. The Socialists, while only a small minority in the
membership and leadership of the unions, were very active in all this
work. The S.L.P. Bulletin, in September 1880, declared that the
formation of the central bodies "has been accomplished mainly by the
efforts of Socialists who influence and in some places control these
assemblies, and are respected in all of them."9




A serious attempt to organize the labor
movement upon a national scale was made through the International Labor
Union, formed early in 1878. This center developed out of the joint
efforts of such Socialists as Sorge, McDonnell, and Otto Weydemeyer, and
also of the noted eight-hour day advocates, Ira Steward and G. E.
McNeill. The I.L.U. laid heavy stress upon the eight-hour day, and
advocated the ultimate emancipation of the working class. The
organization finally developed, however, chiefly as a union of textile
workers. It conducted a number of strikes, but was formally dissolved in
1887. More successful was the next big effort, the Knights of Labor.




The Noble Order of the Knights of Labor
was organized in Philadelphia in December 1869, by Uriah S. Stephens and
a handful of workers. It was at first limited to garment workers, but
in 1871 it expanded to other trades. With the decline of the National
Labor Union, the Knights of Labor grew and by 1877 it had 15 district or
state assemblies. Like various other labor unions of the period, the K.
of L. was a secret organization with an elaborate ritual. It held its
first general assembly, or national convention, in Reading,
Pennsylvania, in 1878, when it became an open body. The Order grew
rapidly in the aftermath of the great 1877 strikes and under the effects
of reviving industry. In 1883, the K. of L. had 52,000 members; in
1885, 111,000; and in 1886, its peak about 700,000. Stephens was its
Grand Master Workman until 1879-when he was succeeded by T. V. Powderly,
who served until 1893, at which time he was replaced by J. R.
Sovereign.




The K. of L. contained trends of
Marxism, Lassalleanism, and "pure and simple" trade unionism. Its
program set as its goal the Lassallean objective, "to establish
co-operative institutions such as will tend to supersede the wage system
by the introduction of a co-operative industrial system." It proposed a
legislative program which included labor, currency, and land reforms,
and also government ownership 0f the railroads and telegraphs, as well
as national control of banking. The Marxist influence was to be seen
chiefly in the many militant strikes of the K. of L. The Order
considered craft unionism too narrow in spirit and scope, and it aimed
at a broad organization of the whole working class. Its motto was "An
injury to one is the concern of all." The K. of L. accepted workers of
all crafts into its local mixed assemblies. It had many Negro workers in
its ranks and about 10 percent of its members were women. Professionals
and small businessmen were also admitted, to the extent of 25 percent
of the local membership.




Although its conservative leadership,
heavily influenced by Lassallean and outright bourgeois conceptions,
deprecated strikes, even sinking to the level of actual strikebreaking,
the K. of L. made its greatest progress as a result of economic
struggles. During 1884-85 the organization was especially effective in a
number of big strikes of telegraphers, miners, lumbermen, and
railroaders. Harassed masses of workers turned hopefully to the new
organization, and the employers viewed it with the gravest alarm. The K.
of L. swiftly became a powerful force in the industrial struggle. It
also was active politically, participating generally in the broad labor
and farmer political movements of its era.




The period of the rise of the K. of L.
was one of internal crisis within the S.L.P.—what with the crippling
effects of the right-wing leadership, the continuing pest of
sectarianism, and the severe struggle of the Party against the
anarcho-syndicalists. Nevertheless, the Party did exercise a
considerable influence in the K. of L. from its earliest period as an
open organization, particularly in the local assemblies, in various
cities where German immigrant workers were in force.




THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR



As the Knights of Labor developed, a
new, rival union movement, eventually to become the A.F. of L., also
began to take shape. This was based upon the national craft unions,
which could find no satisfactory place in the K. of L. These
organizations, some of which antedated the CiviL War, objected to the
mixed form of the K. of L., to its autocratic centralized leadership, to
its chief concern with other than direct trade union questions, and to
its neglect of their specific craft interests. Hence, gathering in
Pittsburgh, on November 15, 1881, six national craft unions painters,
carPenters, molders, glass workers, cigar makers, and iron, steel, and
tin workers—were the prime movers in setting up an organization more to
their liking, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the
United States and Canada.




Marxist influence was manifest but not
dominant in this new movement. Samuel Gompers, a Jewish immigrant cigar
maker born in London, who was its leading spirit, had long been
associated with Marxist circles; indeed, he had probably belonged to the
I.W.A., but later found it expedient to deny the fact. Gompers said
that he had studied German so as to be able to read Marx's Das Kapital.
Adolph Strasser, Ferdinand Laurrell, and P. J. McGuire, close Gompers
associates, had been members of the S.L.P. There were eight S.L.P.
members present among the 107 delegates at the founding convention.
Marxist conceptions also stood out in the new body's preamble, still in
effect in the A.F. of L. today. This signalizes "a struggle between
capital and labor, which must grow in intensity from year to year." The
constitution, which granted a high measure of autonomy to the national
unions, was copied almost verbatim from that of the British Trades Union
Congress and its Parliamentary Committee.10




The general trade union programs of the
K. of L. and the new Federation were similar, but there were also
important differences. "The Knights demanded government ownership of the
systems of transportation and communication, but the new Federation did
not. Nor did the Federation accept the monetary program of the Knights
of Labor, indicating that it definitely regarded the industrial
capitalist rather than the banker as the chief enemy of the
wage-earners, and-unlike the Knights—had pretty nearly rid itself of the
belief in financial panaceas. It is also significant that the
Federation made no reference to producers or consumers co-operatives,
and failed to recommend compulsory arbitration which the Knights
supported."11 The new Federation was evidently geared to limiting itself
to concessions under capitalism, rather than aiming at the abolition of
the existing regime of wage slavery.




It was clear soon after its foundation
that the new labor center, basing itself upon the skilled workers, was
little concerned with the welfare of the masses of semi-skilled and
unskilled. The A.F. of L. aimed chiefly at organizing the developing
labor aristocracy, a policy which dovetailed with the employer policy of
corrupting the skilled workers at the expense of the unskilled.' An
anti-Negro bias was also to H observed in the affiliated A.F. of L.
unions, reflecting the employers policy of discriminating against these
workers. These were long step backward from the National Labor Union and
the Knights of Labor. The K. of L. at its height, with some 700,000
members, had about 60,000 Negroes in its ranks, a figure not reached by
the A.F. of L. for about fifty years, when it counted, however, a total
of some three million members. 




At first the new Federation was not
considered as an enemy of the Knights of Labor—thus, at its first
convention, 47 of the 107 delegates came from K. of L. organizations.
Potential antagonisms sharpened, however, and soon the two labor centers
were at loggerheads. Efforts were made, especially by the A.F. of L.
leaders in the early years, to harmonize and unite the two bodies, but
these came to naught and the rivals fought it out, to the eventual
disappearance of the Knights.




For its first five years the Federation
stagnated along, with only about 50,000 members. After its initial year
Gompers was its president. At the Federation's second convention, in
1882, only 19 delegates attended. Nor were the three succeeding annual
conventions any more promising. The attention of the workers, dazzled by
the successful strikes of the K. of L., was focused on that
organization. But the great events of 1886 were soon radically to change
the whole labor union situation.




THE NATIONAL EIGHT-HOUR FIGHT



The developing class struggle after the
Civil War reached a new height of militancy in the great fight for the
eight-hour day in 1886. The agitation for this measure had been on the
increase ever since the end of the war. Its foundation was the
intensified exploitation to which the workers were being subjected. Marx
called the eight-hour movement "the first fruit of the Civil War . . .
that ran with the seven leagued boots. . . from the Atlantic to the
Pacific."12




The Federation leaders, who were far
more militant then than now, seized upon the shorter-hours issue.
"Hovering on the brink of death, 'he Federation turned to the heroic
measure of a universal strike which had been suggested a decade before
by the Industrial Brotherhood. At its invention in Chicago in 1884 a
resolution was adopted to the effect that from and after May 1, 1886,
eight hours shall constitute a day's Work."13 The Federation put its
forces behind the movement, but Powderly, the head of the Knights of
Labor, a rank conservative, made the fatal mistake of opposing the
strike.




The general strike centered in Chicago,
where the Parsons-Schilling forces headed the Central Labor Union.
Nationally, it was highly successful, some 350,000 workers, including
large numbers of K. of L. members, going on strike. The eight-hour day
was established in many sections, particularly in the building trades.
And more important, despite the Haymarket outrage committed by the
bosses (described earlier), a tremendous wave of trade union
organization was set on its way. This laid the basis for the modern
trade union movement.




Out of this movement was born historic
International May Day, which, however, the A.F. of L., its creator, has
never seen fit to celebrate, although A.F. of L. unions participated in
May Day celebrations for many years. May first was adopted as the day of
celebration of world labor at the International Socialist Congress in
Paris, France, in July 1889. Since then, tens of millions of workers
have marched on that day in every city of the world, in anticipation of
the final victory of the


working class.14



The 1886 strike virtually decided that
the Federation and not the K. of L. would be the national trade union
center. At its December 1886 convention in Columbus, the original
Federation, now with some 316,469 members, and growing rapidly,
reorganized itself and adopted its new name of the American Federation
of Labor. Although the K. of L. gained heavily in numbers as a result of
the great 1886 struggle, it had definitely lost the leadership of labor
and soon thereafter began to decline in strength. By 1890 it had only
200,000 members and was no longer the decisive labor factor.




In the struggle for leadership the A.F.
of L. had a number of advantages over the K. of L. The craft form of
organization, based on the key role of the skilled workers in this
period, was superior to the hodgepodge mixed assemblies of the K. of L.
Its decentralized form was also more effective than the paralyzing
overcentralization of the K. of L. The A.F. of L.'s policy of confining
its membership strictly to workers likewise gave it a big advantage over
the K. of L., which took in large numbers of farmers, professionals,
and small businessmen. Its strike policy, too, was a big improvement
over the no-strike attitude of Powderly and his fellow bureaucrats. The
rejection of current money nostrums and other social panaceas that
infested the K. of L. also helped the A.F. of L., and so did the
opposition to the K. of L.'s adventurous petty-bourgeois political
policies.




Despite these advantages, which compared
favorably with the Knights of Labor, the A.F. of L. program contained a
whole series of weaknesses which were to manifest themselves with
deadly effect in the coming decades. The A.F. of L.'s gradual rejection
of a Socialist perspective implied its eventual outright acceptance of
capitalism and a slave role for the working class. Its concentration
upon the skilled workers finally developed into direct betrayal of the
unskilled and the foreign-born masses. Its obvious white chauvinism was a
callous sell-out of the Negro people from the start. Its opposition to
independent political action grew into a surrender to the fatal
two-party system of the capitalists. Its general program, which through
the years became a real adaptation of the labor movement to the profit
interests of the powerful and arrogant monopolists, finally resulted in
the wholesale corruption of the labor aristocracy, in the growth of a
monstrous system of inter-union scabbing, and eventually in the creation
of the most corrupt and reactionary labor leadership the world had ever
known.




In the early years of the A.F. of L. the
non-Marxist leadership of the unions, not yet solidly organized as a
dominating clique, reflected some of the militancy of the rank and file
under the latter's pressure. But with the development of American
imperialism, particularly from 1890 on, they soon fell into the role
allotted to them by the employers, as "labor lieutenants of capital,"
basing themselves upon the skilled at the expense of the unskilled. They
proceeded to build up the notorious Gompers machine, which ever since
has been such a barrier to working class progress. They were able to do
this because of the whole complex of specifically American factors,
related to the rapid growth of American industry, which had resulted in
relatively high living standards for the workers as compared to those in
other countries, and which were operating to prevent a rapid
radicalization of the American working class.




THE HENRY GEORGE CAMPAIGN



The great eight-hour struggle naturally
had important political repercussions for the workers. As the 1886 fall
elections approached, the workers organized labor parties in a number of
cities. The Socialists were active in all these parties, which played a
considerable role in the local Sections. But by far the most important
of such independent movements was the 1886 campaign of Henry George for
mayor of New York City.




Henry George, because of his notable
book on the single tax, Progress and Poverty, published in 1879 and
selling eventually up to several million copies, had gained a wide
popularity  among  the  toiling masses. George considered the people's
woes as originating basically from the private monopolization of the
land, and his main social remedy was to tax this monopoly out of
existence. This was the single  tax.  George failed to note, however, as
Engels and the S.L.P. leaders sharply pointed out, that the main cause
of the workers' poverty and the antagonism of classes was the
capitalists' ownership of all the social means of production and that,
therefore, the final solution, as the Socialists proposed, could only be
had through the collective ownership by society of all these means of
production. George did not understand the capitalist class as the basic
enemy of the working class and the people. In his election platform,
however, he included demands for government ownership of the telegraph
and railroads, as well as some minor labor planks.




Henry George was nominated by the local
trade union movement in New York. The S.L.P. also endorsed his candidacy
as a struggle of labor against capital, "not because of his single tax
theory, but in spite of it." While basically criticizing the single tax,
Engels, who paid close attention to American labor developments, agreed
that the Socialists should offer Henry George qualified support. The
main thing, he said, was that the masses of workers were taking
important first steps in independent political action.




The bitterly contested local campaign
resulted in votes as follows: Abram S. Hewitt, 90,456; Henry George,
67,930; Theodore Roosevelt, 60,474. 15 The George forces claimed with
justification that they had been counted out. Following the New York
elections, the Socialists and the George forces split over the question
of program, and the single tax movement, torn with dissension, soon
petered out.




In the aftermath of the tremendous class
struggles, beginning with the big national railroad strike of 1877,
which climaxed in the eight-hour fight of 1886, the S.L.P., although
still weakened by internal confusion and dissension, began to grow. At
its seventh convention, in 1889, the Party claimed to have 70 sections,
as against 32 at its convention of two years before. The Party press was
also looking up-The Party, however, was far from having developed a
solid Marxist program and leadership. As yet, those who could actually
be called Marxists were very few. Consequently, the Party, while abiding
by its ultimate goal of socialism and using the writings of Marx and
Engels as its guide, was wafted hither and yon by the pressures of the
current class struggle. Still torn with division, the Party had, in its
fourteen years of life so far, developed various ideological deviations,
most of which were to plague the Socialist movement for years to come. 




There were the "rights," who had
dominated the Party's leadership since its foundation in 1876. They
underestimated the importance of trade unionism, made opportunistic
deals with Greenbackers and other movements, yielded to Chinese
exclusionist sentiment, catered to the skilled workers, and generally
played down the leading role of the Party. Then there were the sectarian
"lefts," who wanted to cast aside the ballot as a delusion, refused to
participate in broad labor and farmer movements, toyed with dual
unionism, and satisfied themselves with mere propaganda of revolutionary
slogans. There were also the "direct actionists," anarcho-syndicalists
who, as we have just seen, had nearly wrecked the Party. And finally, on
the part of all these groupings, there was a deep misunderstanding and
neglect of the vital Negro question.




Marx, and especially Engels, gave direct
advice to the American Socialist movement during the seventies and
eighties, fighting against all the characteristic deviations.16 These
two great leaders sought tirelessly to break the isolation of the
Socialists from the broad masses, urging their active participation in
all the elementary movements of the working class and its allies—in the
trade unions, the labor parties, and the farmer movements. But the great
Marx died in 1883, and Engels followed him a dozen years later in 1895.
Thus the young American proletariat lost its two most brilliant and
devoted teachers and leaders.




One of the most serious handicaps of the
S.L.P. during this whole period was its almost exclusive German
composition. The publication of Lawrence Gronlund's Cooperative
Commonwealth in 1884, and Edward Bellamy's famous Looking Backward in
1888, helped to popularize Socialist and semi-Socialist ideas among the
American masses, but Justus Ebert could still say, "The Socialist Labor
Party of the eighties was a German party and its official language was
German. The American element was largely incidental."17 And Lawrence
Gronlund also said that m 1880 one could count the native-born
Socialists on one hand.




Engels spoke of the "German-American
Socialist Labor Party," and he fought to improve its isolated situation.
In a letter to Florence Kelley Wischnewetsky, he said of the S.L.P.:
"This Party is called on to play a very important part in the movement.
But in order to do so they will have to doff every remnant of their
foreign garb. They will have to become out and out American. They cannot
expect the Americans to come to them; they, the minority, and the
immigrants, must go to the Americans who are the vast majority and the
natives. And to do that, they must above all things learn English."18




In 1889, the internal dissensions within
the S.L.P. reached a breaking point. The opposition to the opportunist
leadership, according to Ebert, turned around three major points: "First
... its compromising political policy; second, its stronger pure and
simple trade union tendencies; third, its German spirit and forms."19
The revolt was led by the New York Volkszeitung (Schewitsch-Jonas
group), founded in 1878 as a German daily paper. The Busche-Rosenberg
official leaders of the Party, a hangover from the old opportunist Van
Patten group, were deposed and the Schewitsch-Jonas faction elected
instead. This led to a split, and in consequence for a while there were
two S.L.P.'s. The Rosenberg group, the minority faction, got the worst
of the struggle. It lingered along weakly, calling itself the Social
Democratic Federation, until finally it fused in 1897 with Debs' Social
Democracy. Lucien Sanial wrote the new program of the S.L.P. The split
strengthened the Marxist elements in the Party. The S.L.P. of today
dates its foundation from this period.




In the following year, 1890, an event of
major importance to the S.L.P. and the labor movement took place. This
was the entrance of Daniel De Leon into the Party. De Leon, born in 1852
on the island of Curacoa off the coast of Venezuela, was a professor of
international law at Columbia University, and had supported Henry
George in the 1886 campaign. Brilliant, energetic, and ruthless, De Leon
immediately became a power in the S.L.P. In 1891 he secured the post as
editor of the Weekly People (later a daily) which he held from then on.
For the next thirty years, long after his death in 1914, De Leon's
writings were to exert a profound influence not only upon the S.L.P.,
but upon the whole left wing, right down to the formation of the
Communist Party in 1919, and even beyond.














1 The Socialist, July 29, 1876.
2 Commons, History of Labor in the U.S., Vol. 2, p. 270.
3 Justus Ebert, American Industrial Evolution, p. 60, N. Y., 1907.
4 Hillquit, History of Socialism in the U.S., p. 233.
5 Frederick Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, p. 5" N. Y., 1942   (Preface to 1884 edition).
6 Parsons was nominated as the S.L.P.
candidate for president in 1879, but did not accept because he was too
young. See Lucy E. Parsons, Life of Albert R. Parsons, p-22, Chicago,
1889.
7 Not to be confused with the International Workingmen's Association. See Chapter 4-
8 Hillquit, History of Socialism  in  the  U.S., p. 238.
9 Cited by Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the U.S., p. 498.
10 Lewis L. Lorwin, The American Federation of Labor, p. 13, Washington, 1933.
11 Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the US., pp. 523-24.
12 Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, p. 387.
13 Lorwin. The American Federation of Labor, p. 19.
14 For a fuller account, see Alexander Trachtenberg, History of May Day, N. Y., 1947.
15 Nathan Fine, Labor and Farmer Parties in the United States, p. 43. N. Y., 1928.

16 Most of Frederick Engels' writings on
the American question are to be found in the Preface to the American
edition of his book, The Condition of the Working Class in England in
1844 (N. Y., 1887), and in many letters to Florence Kelley
Wischnewetsky. Sorge, and others. See Karl Marx and Frederick Engels,
Letters to Americans, New York, 1952. 
17 Ebert, American Industrial Evolution, pp. 66-67.
18 Engels, Preface to the American
edition of The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, p. v.
See Marx and Engels, Letters to Americans, Appendix. 
19 Ebert, American Industrial Evolution, p. 66.


About Me

Flag Counter


Popular Posts

Designed ByBlogger Templates