A century ago on June 27, 1905,
in a crowded hall in Chicago, Illinois, Big Bill Haywood, leader of the
militant Western Miners Federation, called to order “the Continental Congress
of the Working Class,” a gathering convened to create a new working class
revolutionary organization in the United States: the Industrial Workers of
the World (IWW), often referred to as the Wobblies...
Previous installments in this series have focused on both the positive aspects of Daniel De Leon's political legacy, and the central political and economic incomprehensions of the De Leonist political tendency. This final article will discuss De Leonism's tragic response to the Russian Revolution and the dire political consequences of this tendency's theoretical shortcomings.
Previous instalments in this series have addressed De Leonism’s contradictory legacy to the working class, including both its positive contributions to the workers movement in the U.S. at the beginning of the 20th century, and its enormous confusions on economic analysis, the class struggle, and the development of class consciousness. This article focuses on De Leonism’s curious confusions on the nature of bourgeois democracy and proletarian revolution.
De Leon’s opposition to
reformism, a central element in his ideological perspective, superficially resembles the
position defended today by the ICC and the rest of the Communist Left. However, De
Leon’s views, originally formulated as early as the 1890s, were based on a total
confusion on the operation of capitalist economy and were actually incorrect for the
period in which he lived. Here it is important to differentiate clearly between reformism
and reforms. As we pointed out in Internationalism, #21, "Reformism has always
meant the theory and practice of a peaceful transition to socialism, whose hallmarks have
been a commitment to parliamentarism, legalism, and pacificism. This theory and practice
of reformism…has always been antithetical to the interests of the working class and
has represented the invasion of bourgeois ideology into the ranks of the
proletariat." On the other hand the struggle for reforms – for durable
improvements in the conditions of the working class, i.e., the end of child labor, the
eight hour day, etc – "in the ascendant phase of capitalism when it was pse of capitalism when it was possible
for the working class to win durable reforms from the bourgeoisie…occurred on the
class terrain of the proletariat and was a manifestation of the fundamental antagonism
between capital and the wage-working class." Thus in the late 19th and
early 20th centuries, the struggle for reforms was correctly supported by
Marxist revolutionaries. De Leon on the other hand did not support that struggle. Instead
he denounced the struggle for reforms as synonymous with the counter-revolutionary
practice of reformism.
As we pointed out in Part I of this series, Daniel De Leon unquestionably played a pivotal role in introducing Marxism to American revolutionaries, and exerted considerable influence early in this century not only over members of the Socialist Labor Party (SLP), but also the left of the Socialist Party (SP) and the early Communist Party, as well. Unfortunately this influence wasn’t always
beneficial. In Part II, we focused on De Leon’s mistaken adherence to Lassallean
economic conceptions (see Internationalism 114), which rendered De Leon incapable of
comprehending the relationship between the immediate struggle and the historic goals of
proletarian struggle. This failure had profound implications for De Leon and his followers
in terms of their political intervention in the class struggle.