De Leon and American Socialism

October 2021 Forums General discussion De Leon and American Socialism

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    Can anyone explain, in simple terms for I am simple, the main differences between the ‘De Leonists’ and the SPGB philosophies? And also during the early part of the 20th Century, were there links between the SPGB and the American ‘Socialist Party’? Or, point me to an idiots guide online. Don’t know why but I am developing a curiosity regards American and Canadian socialist parties from 1900 to 1940……..!


    Here’s a couple more articles from the Socialist Standard Archives pages on this and others should make use of the Archives page here : contains articles going back to 1904 and is a mine of interesting historical and theoretical stuff. The Search function works too.On our relations with what one member once described as “our political cousins” in the SLP here and in America they were never good. Ill-tempered polemics continued right up until the 1960s. Here’s a typical example: main difference was over the relative importance of economic and political action. They said that economic action was more important. We said that this was syndicalism and that the workers had hardly any economic power under capitalism, hence the imperative need to first get control of political power. Any attempt to “take and hold” the means of production without this (or as an afterthought, as the SLP taught) would end in disaster. The other differences (eg on Russia, labour-time vouchers, internal democracy) are set out in the 1969 article Marcos mentioned.As to the Socialist Party of America, we didn’t think much of them either: members have still maintained a soft spot for Eugene Debs: pre-WWI Socialist Party of Canada we liked (they took the same position as us on the primacy of political power). Some of their early articles can be found on the SPC’s site at: “Our Rich History of Social Analysis”. More can be found on this Canadian Labour History site: should keep you going!


    I was a member of the SLP USA and I did find any similarity with the SPGB/WSM, and by studying the articles written by the SPGB I discovered that it had a much better stand regarding many political and economical issues and that is the reason why I joined the World Socialist Movement, and I have not found anything better after that, and another problem is that they have created a cult in regard to De Leon in the same manner that the Bolshevik party ( and Stalin )  did with Lenin, the Leninist have Marxism-Leninism and the Deleonist they have Marxism-Deleonism. The stand regarding the taking of power by the working class is pure economism and syndicalism, and they also hold a  nationalist stand in regard to the US bourgeois constitution and the so called founding fathers, and in regard to Puerto Rico they hold a stand similar to the auto-determination of the nations propagated by the Leninist, despite their long tradition of calling themselves a Marxist party they were not able to obtain a clear picture about the class basis of the Soviet economy and later on they start to say that it was state capitalism, but the SPGB did know that it was state capitalism since the very beginning


    Below FYI is a review of Coleman’s biography of De Leon from The People, January 22, 1994.   I have posted it here in full as an online version seems unavailable.
    Factual Errors, Prejudice, Mar De Leon Biography
    By Robert Bills
    From certain quarters, we have been reproached for neglecting to take notice of Stephen Coleman’s 1990 “biography” of Daniel De Leon, “a man whose name and career are indelibly intertwined with the history of the Socialist Labor Party and its official journal, The People. We accept the rebuke for the reason that some may interpret our silence to mean we have no criticism to offer, while others may have been confused by it.
    However, Coleman’s book presents a number of formidable obstacles that are not easily overcome. For the most part, it is simply a rehash of what previous would-be biographers of De Leon have written. There isn’t an original idea in it that we could discover, though the book has several peculiar distinctive qualities that make it almost impossible to read. These range from an avalanche of errors in simple fact that justify the conclusion that Coleman didn’t do his homework, to a veritable blizzard of proofing errors that serve as a constant distraction.
    According to his publishers, “Coleman paints a critical but sympathetic portrait of a complex and committed Marxist thinker w ho refused to compromise his belief that capitalism had to be abolished.” Speaking for himself, however, Coleman summarizes his “portrait” in terms that leave a much different impression:
    “It is customary for biographies to conclude with a summary of the practical achievements of their subjects. In the case of Daniel De Leon a summary of failure would be more appropriate. De Leon did not succeed in destroying, or even slightly denting, the edifice of American capitalism. “
    This, however, is not a conclusion Coleman draws from painstaking research into the life and work of Daniel De Leon. It is also his thesis -the thing he set out to prove to himself and, presurnably, to his readers. Hence, Coleman also introduces his work as “a study of uncompromising revolutionary hope and dismal political failure”   In short, Coleman’s purpose in writing a “biography” of Daniel De Leon was not to produce a disinterested and objective study, much less a “critical but sympathetic” one.Coleman’s purpose was to pick straws from a straw man whose only existence was in his own none-too-fertile imagination.
    Coleman’s proof of De Leon’s “failure” as a thinker, strategist and tactician of the socialist movement is that the SLP never attracted large numbers of workers to its ranks. That, however, is tantamount to conceding that the socialist movement – to which there are many more claimants than the SLP – is a failure. That line of reasoning might be understandable if it came from a writer who did not identify himself with that movement; but that is not the case where Coleman is coneerned, he being a writer and spokesperson for the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
    Coleman is entitled to his opinion, of course, and we would be the last to deny him the right to express it. However, that does not change the fact that this luminary of the “SPGB” and, as his publishers dutifully note, “professor of History of Ideas on the London camp us of Drew University,” is a borderline illiterate who is a lazy researcher to boot. Perhaps literary abilities also fall into the category of opinion, so we will pass over them and enter the realm of facts – concrete, immutable, jump-up-and-kick-you-where-it-hurts facts – that are twisted beyond recognition.
    According to Coleman, for example, a youthful De Leon was removed from the German town, where he was a student at the local gymnasium when the Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870, “to the prestigious University of Leyden in Holland, where there is evidence that he followed his father’s footsteps in studying medicine.”    (Emphasis added.) Yet, virtually every other researcher reports that there is no documentary evidence that De Leon ever attended the University of Leyden, much less of what he may have studied there. Coleman cites no source for this revelation.
    According to Coleman, “It has been alleged by De Leon’s opponents that in the five years between 1878 and 1883 he worked in a private law practice.” Why “alleged?” Had Coleman bothered to read as much as De Leon’s obituary in The People he could not help but come across this sentence: “For a short time he [De Leon] practiced law in Texas …. “
    No wonder, after getting only nine pages into his “biography” of 192 pages, Coleman curtly states: “So much for personal biography.” Amen.
    But there is more.
    According to Coleman, “De Leon became editor [of The People], in 1891.” De Leon became editor in 1892. According to Coleman, De Leon “retained the editorship for twenty-three years, working for all of that time without any paid journalistic staff, but relying at all times on volunteer writers to fill the space.”   (Emphasis added.)   While De Leon single-handedly staffed The People from 1892 until the Daily People was launched on July 1, 1900, the paper has had a paid editorial staff from that day down to this.   If reading up on this was too much for Coleman, he might at least have looked at the at the pictures in the Daily People’s fourth anniversary souvenir pamphlet; or, if he couldn’t scare one up, the 90th anniversary commemorative supplement published in the June 30, 1990, issue of The People.
    According to Coleman, “the People … did endure financially without advertising.” (Emphasis added.) In truth, every single issue of The People from 1891 until after World War I carried advertising for everything from corn plasters and Coca-Cola to cigars and cigarettes. Even pictures are too much for Coleman to look at?
    According to Coleman, “it was De Leon himself who translated into English for the first time Marx’s Value, Price and Profit.” In truth, Marx delivered that speech in London, England – Coleman’s home town – before an English audience of English-speaking people who may have thought from Marx’s accent that what they were hearing was German, or Greek, or something else. Nonetheless, Marx wrote and delivered his speech in English – plain English, we might add, should Coleman ever care to take a peek at it.
    According to Coleman, “De Leon did not answer the following statement and question which was put to him by [Job] Harriman” during their debate in November 1900. The reason “De Leon did not answer” in Coleman’s account is that Coleman looked in the wrong book! Had he researched the subject, he would have come across the fact that two versions of the debate were printed and put into circulation: The SLP version, “stenographically recorded by Benjamin F. Keinard,” printed in the Daily People and as a pamphlet immediately after the debate took place; and a later, Harriman version printed by the “Socialist Co-Operative Publishing Association.” He also would have found De Leon’s answer in the stenographically recorded version.
    These are a few of the errors that appear in Coleman’s “biography” of Daniel De Leon. The few we’ve chosen come from the first 50 pages of the book. We dare not go on to what our “professor of History of Ideas” discovered when he “researched” the ideas of De Leon. Only a masochist would try.


    Blimey, that’s enough to keep me going till 2013!! Cheers comrades!

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