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Daniel De Leon (December 14, 1852 – May 11, 1914) was a Curaçao-born American socialist and Syndicalism-influenced trade unionist of Spanish Jewish origin. He was educated in Germany and the Netherlands and arrived in the United States in 1874. He would later become the most influential leader of America's first socialist political party, the Socialist Labor Party (SLP).
De Leon settled in New York City, studying at Columbia University. He became a committed socialist during the 1886 Mayoral campaign of Henry George and in 1890 joined the Socialist Labor Party, becoming the editor of its newspaper, The People. He quickly grew in stature inside the party and in 1891, 1902 and 1904 he ran for the governorship of the state of New York, winning more than 15,000 votes in 1902, his best result.
De Leon was a Marxist, and argued for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, trying to divert the SLP away from its Lassallian outlook. Some argue that his famous polemic with James Connolly showed him to have been an advocate of Lassalle's Iron Law of Wages. . Others question this assertion because by the same logic Marx and Engels could be described as advocates of the Iron Law because language in The Communist Manifesto pertaining to the level of wages and temporary effect of union activity on working conditions is similar to the language used by DeLeon in his answer to Connolly.
De Leon was highly critical of the trade union movement in America and described the craft-oriented American Federation of Labor as the "American Separation of Labor". At this early stage in De Leon's development, there was still a considerable remnant of the general unionist Knights of Labor in existence, and the SLP worked within it until being driven out. This resulted in the formation of the Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance (STLA) in 1895, which was dominated by the SLP.
By the early 20th century, the SLP was declining in numbers, with first the Social Democratic Party and then the Socialist Party of America becoming the leading leftist political force in America (as these splinter groups embraced capitalist reforms). However, De Leon remained an important figure in the US labor movement, and in 1905 he helped found the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). His participation in this organization was short-lived and acrimonious. De Leon later lost control and the ability to influence that organization to what he called disparagingly 'the bummery'. De Leon was engaged in a policy dispute with the leaders of the IWW. His argument was in support of political action via the Socialist Labor Party while other leaders, including founder Big Bill Haywood, argued instead for direct action. Haywood's faction prevailed and De Leon left the IWW to form a rival Detroit-based IWW, which was soon renamed as the Workers' International Industrial Union. He died in New York in 1914. His Socialist Labor Party has remained influential, largely by keeping his ideas alive.
Daniel De Leon proved hugely influential to other socialists, also outside the US. For example, in the UK, a Socialist Labour Party was formed.
De Leon's brand of Marxism is known as Marxism-Deleonism or simply as De Leonism.
To this day, the Socialist Labor Party remains the foremost De Leonist political organization in existence.
- Frank Girard and Ben Perry, Socialist Labor Party, 1876-1991: A Short History, 108 pages (May 1, 1991, Livra Books) ISBN 0-9629315-0-0.
- L. Glen Seratan, Daniel Deleon: The Odyssey of an American Marxist, (1979,Harvard University Press) ISBN 0-674-19121-8.
- from bound volume #8 of Workers Vanguard,(Spartacist Publishing, Box 1377 GPO, New York, NY 10116):
- "Was De Leon a DeLeonist?" and "SWP Invites SLP to Build Party of the Whole Swamp," February 10, 1978 Workers Vanguard #192
- "The SLP and the Russian Question" and letter from former SLPer February 24, 1978 Workers Vanguard #194
- "The Dictatorship of the Proletariat," March 10, 1978 Workers Vanguard #196