PARTY HISTORY

Convention of the Social-Democratic Workingmen's Party of North America

On July 4, 1874 the Social-Democratic Workingmen's Party of North America was organized. This group was centered in New York and consisted largely of Geman immigrants who were dissidents from the First International.

On the volition of this group, which claimed a membership of 1500, a preliminary conference was held in April of 1876 in Pittsburgh, PA, to establish the groundwork for a Congress uniting the Social Democratic Workingmens Party with adherents of the International Association and other fledgling groups. This April 1876 Pittsburgh gathering issued a call for a Unity Congress to meet in Philadelphia the following July to form a new organization.

The April 1876 Pittsburgh convention provided for the launch of an English language official organ for the organization, a broadsheet published in New York City as The Socialist. A run of this weekly publication has survived and been filmed by the New York Public Library under its later title, The Labor Standard (Master Negative *ZZAN-24, three reels). The paper continued publication until the end of 1881.

The convention also changed the name of the organization to the "Social Labor Party" and adopted a constitution for the same. Governance was to be by a 7 member National Executive Committee in a city selected by the convention, its members elected by the membership at large. The financial actions of this NEC were to be overseen by a 9 member Board of Supervisors, which was empowered to suspend officers in emergency situations. Local organization was to be in the form of "Branches" of at least 10 members, with no more than one branch allowed per city. Branches were allowed to divide into "Sub-Branches" based upon language, however. The Branches were headed by an "Organizer," who was given the task of selecting speakers and coordinating communications with the NEC. Each meeting of the Branch was to elect its chairman for the evening.

Membership in the organization was open to "every person of good character, working for wages in any employment." Non-wage-workers could be admitted only by a 2/3 vote of members present at a regular business meeting. All party members were required to become citizens of the United States.

Dues were set at 10 cents per month with no initiation fee, half of which was to be sent to the NEC to cover expenses of the national organization and the balance to remain in the local treasury to cover local expenses. New members were to receive a copy of the organization's Constitution and Platform and a dues card in exchange for 5 cents, with dues payments receipted by notations on the card.

Violation of the "principles or interests of the Party" was to be regarded as cause for expulsion, trials for which could be undertaken at any regular business meeting of the Branch. Those expelled were to be allowed the right of appeal to the Board of Supervisors and thereafter the National Convention. Members three months in arrears of dues were to be suspended, although unemployment or sickness was to be allowed as a reason for non-payment of dues.

[fn. Constitution for the Social Labor Party, The Socialist (New York), June 10, 1876, pg. 3.]

 

1. "Union Congress" -- Philadelphia, PA -- July 19-22, 1876

On July 19, 1876, this Unity Convention met in a session attended by just 7 voting delegates, who claimed to represent three thousand organized socialists -- 635 from the recently-disbanded International, 593 from the Workingmen's Party of Illinois, 250 from the Social Political Workingmen's Society of Cincinnati, and 1,500 from the Social Democratic Workingmen's Party of North America. Three additional delegates were granted seats but no votes at the convention, representing the Cincinnati Bohemian Labor Society, the Liberal League of Philadelphia, and the Workingmen's Union of Milwaukee.

Chicago was chosen as the first seat of the party, with the Board of Supervisors to be located in New Haven, CT.

A new constitution was adopted which called for supreme authority to be vested in a Congress held no less than biannually, which was to determine the location of the 7 member Executive Committee and the 5 member Board of Supervision. The Sections of these cities were to themselves elect these governing committees, which would in turn elect the various officers of the organization, effectively headed by a Corresponding Secretary.

Groups of 10 or more members speaking a common language were to constitute the primary party organization, the Section, with no more than one section of a given language to be allowed in any one town. Sections were to meet at least bi-weekly and were to elect their own officers, headed by an Organizer in charge of local propaganda activities and a Secretary in charge of taking minutes and maintaining the group's correspondence.

Dues at the local level were not specified in the constitution, although each section was to remit 5 cents monthly to the National Office for each member.

A Platform and Principles document was constructed for the organization.

[fn. "Unity Convention," The Socialist (New York), July 29, 1876, pg. 1.]

Philip Van Patten, a Lassallean, was elected the group's first Corresponding Secretary by the Chicago-based Executive Committee. Van Patten was American born and of middle class social origins and played a leading role in the organization from its founding until his sudden departure in 1884.

The Marxists (believing in the primacy of trade union organization and economic action) and the Lassalleans (believing in the primacy of electoral action via the ballot box) coexisted uneasily in this organization, the Marxists winning a party prohibition against the organization participating in electoral politics, a measure largely offset by a contrary policy that permitted participation in local elections if the conditions seemed promising. Candidates were run in a few locales in 1876, most successfully in the city of Milwaukee, in which the ticket polled 1,500 votes and elected 2 aldermen, 2 supervisors, and 2 constables.

[fn. Selig Perlman in Commons, et al., History of Labour in the United States (1918), v. 2, pg. 273.]

The new organization, initially called the Workingmen's Party of the US (WPUS), began with three party papers, two in German, the The Vorbote from Chicago and theArbeiterstimme (German) from New York, and one in English, The Labor Standard (formerly The Socialist, an English language paper) from New York.

The new organization went into formal operation during the second week of August 1876.

Minutes of the proceedings were to be published in pamphlet form in English and German. The name of the English language weekly, The Socialist, was changed by resolution of the convention to The Labor Standard and J.P. McDonald was elected editor. At its meeting of Sept. 22, 1876, the Executive Committee named Dr. George C. Stiebeling as Assistant Editor of the English paper.

The WPUS's first significant internal fight came over the Executive Committee's Sept. 27 decision to submit the question of consolidation of the two German papers to a general vote of the party. This would have effectively terminated the New York-based paper, which caused a heated protest by the German-language Section of the New York. An appeal to the New Haven-based Committee of Supervision stimied the vote. On Nov. 5 the Executive Committee passed a "Notice to All Sections" which condemned the "reckless action" and "defiance to authority" by the New York German Section.

[fn. Philip Van Patten (Sec.), "Notice to All Sections of the Workingmen's Party of the US," Nov. 5, 1876. In Labor Standard, Nov. 18, 1876, pg. 4.]

 

By the end of 1876, the Workingmen's Party of the United States included 60 sections, clustered in the Northeastern corner of the United States from Chicago to the Atlantic. There was only one section south of Kentucky (New Orleans) and two sections West of St. Louis (San Francisco, German and "American"). Of these 33 sections spoke German (55%), 17 sections were "American" (English language) (28%), 5 were "Bohemian" (Czech language) (8%), 3 spoke "Scandinavian" (Norwegian/Danish) (5%), and 1 spoke French (2%).

[fn. Analysis of Labor Standard membership rosters, published in each issue on pg. 4.]

There were no separate sections for black members; one section was established in Chicago by German-speaking women, with the party membership asked to vote on the question of such gender-based units. The party voted in favor of such units 475 to 52 with 4 additional sections unanimously supporting the proposal without providing a vote count and 2 additional sections doing likewise in the negative. The constitution was thus amended to permit Women's Sections with the Jan. 7, 1877 close of this vote.

[fn. Philip Van Patten, "Official Notices," Labor Standard, Jan. 20, 1877, pg. 3.]

 


Conventions of the Socialist Labor Party

1. "National Congress of the Workingmen's Party" -- Newark, NJ -- Dec. 26 - 31, 1877

The National Convention of the Workingmen's Party of the United States, assembled in Newark, New Jersey on December 26, 1877, officially changed the name of the WPUS to the "Socialistic Labor Party." The gathering was attended by representatives of 29 sections: 17 German, 7 English, 3 Bohemian [Czech], 1 French, and 1 women's. The report of the National Executive Committee claimed a membership for the organization of about 7,000 in good standing, spread across 72 sections.

Even though the 1877 convention was the group's second national gathering, in the official reckoning it is numbered as the "First." Philip Van Patten was retained as National Corresponding Secretary of the organization and John Ehmann, also of Cincinnati, served as National Financial Secretary. While the group's national office was in Cincinnati, a Board of Supervision, charged with the mediation of complaints, was established in Newark, NJ. The so-called "First Convention" removed the prohibition against electoral participation. Some of the group's anti-electoral Marxists left the organization in the aftermath of this gathering, forming the International Labor Union (ILU) and taking with them the party's English language weekly and changing that publication's name to The Labor Standard.

Apamphlet summarizing this gathering was subsequently published entitled Socialistic Labor Party: Platform, Constitution, and Resolutions Adopted at the National Congress of the Workingmen's Party of the United States Held at Newark, New Jersey, December 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 1877: Together with a Condensed Report of the Convention Proceedings. (Cincinnati, OH: Ohio Volks-zeitung, 1878).

In 1878, the New Yorker Volkszeitung was established, a publication which ultimately proved to be one of the longest lived in the history of American radical publishing. The paper was initially edited by Dr. Adolph Douai and Alexander Jonas.

In May 1878, the National Executive Committee began publishing a weekly in the English language in Cincinnati called The National Socialist. National Secretary Van Patten was a regular contributor to this publication and kept tight control over its political line. The paper ran at a substantial financial deficit and had to be suspended after a very short period of time.

On September 14, 1878, a new Engliish organ called The Socialist appeared in Chicago, regarded as perhaps the only places in which an English language socialist newspaper had a chance of financial survival.

Elections in April 1879 were promising, with 11,800 votes gathered in Chicago and 3 socialist aldermen elected. However, the depression of 1873-1879 gave way to prosperity and the electoral situation became increasingly difficult for radical candidates. The socialist vote declined in the fall of 1879 and did not rebound in the spring of 1880, fueling sentiment, particularly in Chicago, that obsession with the ballot box was a false path.

[fn. Selig Perlman in Commons, et al., History of Labour in the United States (1918), v. 2, pp. 283-284 and passim.]

 

2. "2nd National Convention" -- Allegheny City, PA -- Dec. 26, 1879 - Jan. 1, 1880

The 2nd National Convention of the Socialistic Labor Party was attended by 25 delegates. No figures were provided either with regards to total membership or the number of sections -- a probable indicator of organizational decline. Phillip Van Patten was reelected as National Secretary and the seat of the National Executive Committee was transfered to Detroit by the convention. Apamphlet summarizing this gathering was subsequently published entitled Report of the Proceedings of the National Convention of the Socialistic Labor Party, Allegheny City, Pa., Dec. 26-Jan. 1, 1879-1880.

There was considerable discussion within the radical movement of this period over the question of tactics, with a growing tendency among German immigrants in particular to organize armed "Educational and Defensive" societies -- known by their German name, "Lehr und Wehr Verein." The anglophonic and ballot-oriented Van Patten and his supporters were adamently against such tactics; they were challenged in this by the SLP's left, headed by Chicagoan Albert R. Parsons, later of Haymarket Affair fame. Van Patten won the day at the 2nd National Convention, being re-elected as National Corresponding Secretary and seeing the party go on record as favoring participation in the 1880 Presidential campaign.

In November 1880, following yet another failed electoral campaign by the SLP, a number of members from the New York sections of the SLP left the organization to form a Revolutionary Club, which adopted a program modeled upon the German Gotha Program. similar revolutionary clubs sprang up in Boston, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Chicago.

 

Dues in the SLP were 10 cents a month in 1880 and membership in the party open to "any person who acknowledges the Platform, Constitution, and Resolutions of the National and State Conventions of the party, and who renounces allegiance to all other political parties or organizations whos principles and requirements conflict with those of the Socialistic Labor Party." New members joining in locals without existing sections could join by sending 3 months dues in advance to the Corresponding Secretary in Detroit, Michigan (headquarters of the party). As soon as 10 such members joined in a given city, 3/4 of whom were wage-workers, they were allowed to establish themselves as a section, by electing an Organizer, a Recording Secretary, a Corresponding Secretary, a Financial Secretary, a Treasurer, and an Auditing Committee of 2 members.

[fn. Bulletin of the Social Labor Movement. [Detroit, MI], v. 1, no. 14 (Dec. 1880-Jan. 1881), pg. 8.]

 


Convention of "Revolutionary Socialist Labor Party" --- Chicago, IL --- Oct. 21-XX, 1881

This split of the SLP Left was made formal on October 21, 1881, when a national convention of revolutionary clubs was held in Chicago and the "Revolutionary Socialist Labor Party" was organized by them.

There was no participation by the SLP in the elections of 1881. The New Yorker Volkszeitung declared that a socialist campaign was "useless unless the Amercan vote can be reached by it. But as the party is constituted at present, it can only reach the German working men." Consequently, the Volkszeitung advocated concentration on the establishment of an English language socialist daily newspaper.

[fn. cited in Morris Hillquit, History of Socialism in the United States. (NY: Funk and Wagnalls, 1903), pp. 269-270.]


 

3. "3rd National Convention" -- New York, NY -- Dec. XX-XX, 1881

The 3rd National Convention of the SLP was attended by about 20 delegates, representing 17 sections. Nearly all of these participants hailed from the Greater New York area. According to Morris Hillquit, "nobusiness of importance was transacted, and the national secretary regretfully stated that the majority of the socialists in the United States were outside the party." Philip Van Patten was once again re-elected as National Corresponding Secretary of the SLP.

[fn. Morris Hillquit, History of Socialism in the United States. (NY: Funk and Wagnalls, 1903), pg. 229.]

With energy and membership of the SLP dropping, National Secretary Philip Van Patten -- who had served in the office for 6 years -- lost faith and courage. On April 22, 1883, Van Patten suddenly disappeared, leaving a letter announcing his decision to commit suicide. This proved to be a subterfuge, however, and it later developed that Van Patten was discovered working in the lucrative employ of the Federal Government.

Philip Van Patten was succeeded by Jakob Schneider, who was in turn supplanted on a temporary basis in June 1883 by Emil Kreis before the job was finally taken over in October 1883 by Hugo Vogt, who held the job until the next scheduled convention in December.

 


The International Working People's Association (IWPA)

Convention of the Revolutionary Socialist Party --- Pittsburgh, PA --- Oct. 12-14, 1883

A joint convention of anarchists and "Social Revolutionists" who split off from the SLP was held in Pittsburgh from October 12-14,1883. This gathering wasattended by about 40 representatives from 26 cities, each of which was to operate autonomously. These autonomous local groups were joined under the banner of the "International Working People's Association," with a headquarters dedicated to the spreading of information, but without executive powers, located in Chicago. Chicago was authorized to elect an information bureau, which came to include August Spies as the English Secretary, Paul Grottkau as the German Secretary, William Medon as the French Secretary, and J. Micalonda as the Bohemian Secretary.

A resolution proposed by August Spies was passed which referred to trade unions fighting for the elimination of the wage system as the vehicle of revolutionary change. The gathering also adopted a document known as the "Pittsburgh Proclamation," a declaration of principles of communistic anarchism composed by Johann Most.

In the aftermath of the 1883 convention and also due in large measure to widespread touring by anarchist leader Johann Most, the anarchist movement grew dramatically in the United States, particularly among its German-speaking population. Some formerly socialist newspapers, such as the Chicago Arbeiter-Zeitung and the Verbote became anarchist in orientation and other entirely new organs of the anarchist movement emerged. The growth of the anarchist movement negatively impacted the Socialist Labor Party, the already small ranks of which were even further depleted, falling to about 1,500 in 1883.

[fn. Morris Hillquit, History of Socialism in the United States. (NY: Funk and Wagnalls, 1903), pp. 237-238.]


 

In the wake of the formation of the International Working People's Association, sentiment grew within the SLP ranks for union with the new body. In December 1883 a circular letter addressed to the Chicago "groups" of the IWPA was sent by Alexander Jonas, Henry Emrich, George Lehr, and H. Molkenbuhr, noting the similarity of views between the two organizations and calling for united action. August Spieis answered on behalf of the Chicago groups, advising that the SLP liquidate itself and that the various sections affiliate with the IWPA as regular groups. It was in this shadow that the 4th National Convention of the SLP was held.

The years 1883-1885 were those of economic depression -- usually a time conducive to radical electoral politics. The SLP was fragmented and disillusioned from the efficacy of the ballot box, however, and was unable to take advantage of the situation which presented itself.

 

4. "4th National Convention" -- Baltimore, MD -- Dec. 26 - 28, 1883

The 4th National Convention was attended by just 16 delegates -- of whom 10 were from New York and 4 from Baltimore. It was, in the words of Morris Hillquit, "the most dismal convention ever held by the party." This gathering began the process of shifting the organization's orientation towards electoral politics towards a more explicitly trade unionist perspective. Also in an effort to garner favor with the left "Social Revolutionist" groupings that had split off from the SLP or which threatened to do so, the office of National Corresponding Secretary was abolished by the 4th Convention, not being revived until the 5th.

Changes were made to the platform and constitution of the party, the powers of the NEC were curtailed, and the sections were given increased autonomy in the administration of their affairs. The 4th Convention also adopted a radical "proclamation" which asserted that participation in elections was for the purpose of propaganda only and that the possessing classes would never surrender their power and position unless challenged with physical force. This left turn was successful in bringing back a certain section of "social revolutionists" to the party, including the prominant leader Paul Grottkau.

[fn. Morris Hillquit, History of Socialism in the United States. (NY: Funk and Wagnalls, 1903), pp. 240-241.]
 

The seat of the SLP's National Council was moved to New York City in 1884. With Chicago dominated by anarchist sentiment, the center of gravity of the SLP was thus moved to New York -- where it remained for nearly a century. The party did not take part in electoral activity during 1884 or 1885, only begining to participate in elections effective with the dynamic 1886 campaign in New York.

 

"The two years between 1884 and 1886 constituted a drab yet on the whole recuperative period for the Socialistic Labor Party. the depression that began in 1883 had the usual effect of sending new members into the party, and though still dwarfed by the [Anarchist movement], it tripled its membership and doubled the number of its sections."

--- Howard Quint, The Forging of American Socialism, pg. 25.

In 1884 and 1885 the SLP sent out several of its prominent leaders, including Alexander Jonas, F. Seubet, H. Walther, and O. Reimer, on lecture tours of the country. These individuals addressed public meetings as well as gatherings of local anarchist groups, conducting propaganda for socialism as against anarchism. The SLP also produced a number of pamphlets in this period, distributing some 160,000 copies in 1884-85. This effort had its effect, and by 1886 the SLP had doubled to about 30 sections. Three short-lived English language newspapers were established in this interval, the New York Voice of the People, the New Haven Evening Telegram, and the San Francisco Truth.

[fn. Morris Hillquit, History of Socialism in the United States. (NY: Funk and Wagnalls, 1903), pg. 242.]

 

5. "5th National Convention" -- Cincinnati, OH -- Oct. 5 - 8, 1885

The 5th National Convention was held in Schäpperle's Hall in Cincinnati and was called to order on Monday, Oct. 5 by W.L. Rosenberg. It was attended by 31 delegates bearing the mandates of 41 sections of the SLP. The SLP was still organizationallly weaker than the American anarchist movement, which touted itself as being comprised of about 80 organized groups with a claimed membership of 7,000 and 11 newspapers in this interval. Nevertheless, the SLP's organizational free-fall was staved.

An "Official Protocol" of the 5th National Convention was published in German along with the revised Platform and Constitution of the Party (in German and English) as "No. 1" of the "Socialistic Library" series, Jan. 1, 1886.

 

In the Fall of 1886, a speaking tour was arranged by the SLP, bringing to the United States German Social Democratic leader Wilhelm Liebknecht , Karl Marx's daughter Eleanor Marx Aveling, and her husband Edward Aveling. Liebknecht addressed crowds in German, while the Avelings spoke in English. They later published a brief account of their visit, including a description of the SLP with a prediction of its future development.

 

In November 1886, the New Haven, CT weekly The Workmen's Advocate, edited by J.F. Busche, was adopted as an SLP publication, giving the organization its first official English language voice since loss of The Socialist in 1878.

 

6. "6th National Convention" -- Buffalo, NY -- Sept. 17 - 21, 1887

The 6th National Convention of the SLP was attended by 37 delegates, representing 32 of the party's approximately 70 sections.

The gathering addressed the relationship between the SLP and the International Working-Men's Association, which was organized late in 1881 and consisted primarily of West Coast working men and farmers. The IWMA was anti-electoral, with the group stating that "if universal suffrage had been capable of emancipating the working people from the rule of the loafing class, it would have been taken away from them before now, and we have no faith in the ballot as a means of righting the wrongs under which the masses groan." A program of unity between the SLP and the IWMA could not be achieved, however, and by the end of the 1880s the latter group had slipped into oblivion. The SLP remained deeply divided between Lassalleans (who believed in the efficacy of political action the need to concentralte on electoral politics first and foremost) and Marxists (who believed that electoral politics was futile and that successful organization must take place in the realm of the trade unions). The party press was similarly split, the English language organ The Workmen's Advocate and the German Der Sozialist favoring electoral politics over trade union activity, while the New Yorker Volkszeitung, edited at this time by Alexander Jonas and Sergei Schevitsch, staunchly advocated a program almost exclusively concentrating upon trade union organization.

A stenographic record of the proceedings of the 6th Convention of the SLP was published. Text appears on the SLP's web site.

 

The September 1889 Recall.

In September 1889, in the aftermath of the failure of the Progressive Labor Party in New York to garner significant electoral support, the bulk of the membership of Section New York, clustered around the anti-electoral Volkszeitung group, voted to recall the sitting political-action oriented National Executive Committee headed by National Secretary W.L. Rosenberg and to replace them with a new group of trade union-advocates. The deposed Rosenberg NEC refused to recognize the legality of the action of the Section New York and a party crisis resulted. The Volkszeitung group took over the party's office and newspapers by means of a physical raid.

[fn. Rudolph Katz: "With DeLeon Since '89" in Daniel DeLeon: A Symposium. (SLP, 1919), pp. 5-6.]

While the "recalled" National Committee maintained the originally scheduled date for the 7th Convention of Wednesday, Oct. 2, 1889, the replacement National Committee delayed their "7th Convention" for 10 days, opening it on Oct. 12.

 

NOTE: DUE TO A FACTION FIGHT, TWO COMPETING NATIONAL CONVENTIONS WERE HELD IN 1889.

7A. "7th National Convention" [Regular -- Right -- Rosenberg] -- Chicago, IL -- October 2- XX, 1889

The pro-political action Rosenberg faction was backed by 23 small sections of the SLP. The officail organ of the factions was the Volks Anwalt, a paper which continued to publish into the 1900s.

The Rosenberg faction continued a marginal organizational existence for several years, ultimately changing its name to the "Social Democratic Federation before merging into the Social Democracy of America in 1898:

The Rosenberg faction, although strong at the start, lacked ths sustaining strength of a daily newspaper such as the Volkszeitung, and its subsequent career was uneven and showed a gradual loss of virility. It came to be called the "traveling faction," owing to its frequent change of headquarters. This "party on wheels," as it was also dubbed, moved Þrst to Cincinnati, then to Baltimore, then to Buffalo, then to Cincinnati again, then to Chicago, and Þnally to Cleveland. It then changed its name to the Social Democratic Federation and kept up a merely nominal existence until 1898, when it was merged into the then already existing Social Democracy.

--- "A Brief History of Socialism in America," in Social Democracy Red Book, pp. 45-46.

 

7B. "7th National Convention" [Insurgent -- Left -- Volkszeitung] -- Chicago, IL -- October 12-XX, 1889

The anti-political action, pro-trade unionist Volkszeitung-Schevitsch-Sanial-Jonas faction was backed by 27 large sections of the SLP. It initiated what it called an "aggressive policy" of opposition to ameliorative reforms and "confusionism." It would be this stronger New York-based faction which would emerge from the intra-party war wearing the mantle of the SLP. The main organ of this group was the influential New York daily, the Volkszeitung.

The Insurgent "7th National Convention" adopted a new platform drafted by Lucien Sanial. This new party document was dissimilar to the previous platforms of the party, which based themselves upon the abstract principles of socialism, instead basing its arguments upon the Declaration of Independence.

The year 1889 marked an explosive surge in the growth of the SLP, with the Schevitsch-Sanial-Jonas faction quickly growing to 70 sections. This spurt in growth was believed by at least one observer to have been directly linked to the publication of Edward Bellamy's wildly successful novel, Looking Backward, and the subsequent interest in social reorganization which followed on the heels of that literary event. "It practically saved the SLP from extinction," he wrote.

[fn. Frederic Heath, "A Brief History of Socialism in America," in Social Democracy Red Book. (Terre Haute, IN: Debs Publishing Co., 1900), pg. 43.]

 

Beginning in 1890, the SLP began to attempt to conduct socialist organization within the ranks of the American Federation of Labor. They attempted to gain a delegate to the December 1890 convention of the AF of L, but were ultimately rejected after acrimonious debate.

 


Coming of Daniel DeLeon.

In the fall of 1890, a young graduate of Columbia Law School and former New York organizer for the Nationalist Clubs movement named Daniel DeLeon joined the Socialist Labor Party. The erudite DeLeon was immediately welcomed into the party with open arms, his fluency in English and ability as a public speaker being valuable assests. DeLeon was sent on a national organizing tour for the SLP in 1891.


 

In March 1891, the SLP entered into an agreement with the Socialistic Cooperative Publishing Association to produce a new party paper. The Workmen's Advocate was replaced by a new and larger weekly called The People. Lucien Sanial, former editor of The Workmen's Advocate became the first editor of the new paper.

In 1891, the SLP ran Daniel DeLeon for Governor of New York. DeLeon received 13,000 votes. DeLeon was also named as Associat e Editor of The People . He ttook over the top position at that paper when Editor Lucien Sanial resigned in 1892.

In 1892, the SLP ran candidates for President and Vice President of the United States for the first time. Simon Wing of Massachusetts and Charles H. Matchett of New York were the nominees for these two respective offices.

 

8. "8th National Convention," Chicago, IL -- July XX-XX, 1893

The immigrant nature of the SLP is emphasized by the fact that the documents of the 1893 National Convention were written primarily in German. The Convention was attended by 42 delegates; at this gathering the SLP was reported to have 113 constituent sections.

The SLP achieved its greatest influence in the organized labor movement from 1893 to 1895. At the 1893 Convention of the AF of L, Thomas J. Morgan, an SLP member from Chicago and Secretary of the Machinists' Union, successfully presented a resolution calling for the government to provide work "when the private employer cannt or will not." Another resolution calling for "collective ownership by the people of all means of production and distribution" passed at that gathering by a vote of 2244 to 67.

 

At the 1894 Convention of the AF of L, Samuel Gompers was removed as head of the federation, being replaced by John McBride of the Miners Union. Although not a Socialist, the removal of Gompers was regarded as a coup by the SLP. Gompers regained his position at the next national convention of the AF of L, however, and was never seriously challenged for his position again.

In February 1896, Daniel DeLeon gave a lecture in Boston entitled "Reform or Revolution" in which ameliorative reforms were rejected decisively. Workers were exhorted to support explicitly revolutionary trade unions en route to a transformative seizure of state power. The Socialist Trade & Labor Alliance (ST&LA) was established as the vehicle for this movement -- a set of "dual" trade unions in practical opposition to the established American Federation of Labor unions. An enormous conflagration erupted over this question, pitting adherents of the previously existing unions against supporters of the new ultra-left wing party line.

 

"The STLA was an active and militant labor organization, but it suffered from a schizophrenia that was to affect the Industrial Workers of the World later: Officially, it did not believe that workers could gain any real benefits under capitalism and would do best by putting their energies into establishing socialism, but simultaneously the union had to fight for immediate gains with weapons at its disposal such as the strike. Many workers who joined the STLA lacked the long view of the SLP members and concluded that the more established AFL, even with its evident shortcomings, gave more promise of immediate benefits."

--- Girard and Perry, The Socialist Labor Party, 1876-1991: A Short History, pg. 21.

 

9. "9th National Convention," New York City -- July 4 - 10, 1896

The 1896 Convention of the SLP was attended by 94 delgates, representing over 200 sections in 12 states. The convention nominated Charles H. Matchett for President of the United States and Mathew Maguire for Vice President and adopted a campaign platform.

The 9th Convention marked a formal turn of the organization from the tactic of "boring within" the existing "conservative" unions in favor of one of establishing explicitly "socialist" unions in opposition to the existing labor organizations. These dual unions were to be grouped under the umbrella of the "Socialist Trade & Labor Alliance" (ST&LA), an affiliated arm of the SLP.

The turn was formalized after heated debate of a resolution introduced to the convention by Daniel DeLeon . DeLeon's resolution stated that the AF of L and Knights of Labor had both "fallen hopelessly into the hands of dishonest and ignorant leaders" and lauded the formation of the Socialist Trade & Labor Alliance, calling for the American proletariat to form "one irresistible class-conscious army, equipped both the shield of the economic organization and the sword of the Socialist Labor Party ballot." DeLeon's resolution passed by a vote of 71 to 6, with one abstention.

A record of highlights of the proceedings of the 9th Convention of the SLP was published in pamphlet form.

According to Morris Hillquit, the years 1896 to 1899 saw the strongest growth in the history of the SLP, with the total number of sections increasing to over 300 and party operations being extended to some 30 states. "In 1899 the Socialist Labor Party had reached the zenith of its power," he declared.

[fn. Morris Hillquit, History of Socialism in the United States. (NY: Funk and Wagnalls, 1903), pg. 259.]

 

The SLP was deeply divided between a so-called "administration faction," including the national officers and editors of the offical party publications, The People (English) and Vorwaerts (German), and an opposition faction centered around the German language New York daily, the Volkszeitung. This latter group was particularly hostile to the trade union policy adopted at the 1896 Convention, believing it to have alienated erstwhile allies in the trade union movement and thus marginalized the SLP. It also resented the rigid enforcement of the party discipline practiced by the Natonal Executive Committee, replete with expulsions of dissidents from the organization and suspension of entire Sections. This festering split erupted in open conflict in July 1899 over the election of a new general committee of Section New York, a group to which the 1896 SLP Convention purportedly delegated the power to elect the National Executive Committee -- which in turn had power of election of the editors of the party's printed organs. The newly-elected General Committee met for the first time on July 8, 1899 -- a session which quickly dissolved in acrimony and conflict. A second meeting was hastily called for July 10, 1899 by the dissident faction, which elected Henry Slobodin as National Secretary and named a new editor of The People.

This action of the dissident general committee was not recognized by the sitting National Executive Committee, which continued to conduct its operations. Two parallel organizations, each designating themself the Socialist Labor Party and issuing a publication called The People, thus emerged. These two organizations named competing full slates of candidates for the elections of 1899 -- and the matter was fought out in the courts, which the regular faction ultimately winning the right to the name on the New York state ballot.

This judgment threw the dissident faction into disarray, and it called an emergency national convention of its supporters.

In addition to the New York group centered around the German-language newspaper the New Yorker Volkszeitung, the SLP Right had another center in the city of Chicago around an English language newspaper called The Workers' Call, edited by A.M. Simons. This group initially attempted to circumvent the New York NEC of the SLP and to declare itself and its organ the official center of the organization in light of the interparty emergency that erupted in the Summer of 1899. Section Chicago was suspended by the New York NEC, however, and gradually moved to a position of unity with the largely German New York SLP Right oppositionists. Simons was later made editor of the Chicago-based theoretical journal The International Socialist Review, serving in that capacity from the publication's foundation in 1900 through 1907.

 

NOTE: DUE TO A FACTION FIGHT, TWO COMPETING NATIONAL CONVENTIONS WERE HELD IN 1900.

10A. "10th National Convention" [Insurgent -- Right -- "Kangaroo"] -- Rochester, NY -- Jan. 27 - Feb. 2, 1900

The anti-DeLeonist SLP Right held its own convention in Rochester, NY, proclaiming it the official "10th National Convention" of the Socialist Labor Party. The convention was attended by 59 delegates.

Henry L. Slobodin was formally elected Executive Secretary of the SLP Right's organization, which continued to call itself the "Socialist Labor Party" and to issue an English language newspaper by the name of The People. The convention repudiated the Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance, the hated "dual union" umbrella organization established by the regular SLP in 1896 in opposition to the American Federation of Labor, instead proclaiming its support for the struggles of all trade unions without regard to affiliation. A new platform was adopted and revised by-laws approved. The gathering also enacted a resolution calling for unity with the Social Democratic Party and named a Unity Committee, headed by Morris Hillquit, to attend the forthcoming convention of the SDP and to there make a unity appeal.

[fn. Morris Hillquit, History of Socialism in the United States. (NY: Funk and Wagnalls, 1903), pp. 327-328.]

In the course of preparation for organizational merger, the SLP Right's organization voted to adopt the name "Social Democratic Party" and went under that moniker, with organizational headquarters in Springfield, Massachusetts, up to the time of the 1901 Unity Convention that established the Socialist Party of America.

 

10B. "10th National Convention" [Regular -- Left -- "DeLeonist"] -- New York City -- June 2 - 8, 1900

The 10th National Convention of the SLP was a landmark gathering, the first since the formal split of the party. The SLP Right, associated with the New Yorker Volkszeitung and a number of the anglophonic leaders who favored working within the existing AF of L trade unions rather than establishing dual "Socialist" unions, attempted to wrest control of the SLP organization and its central publication, The People, edited by Daniel DeLeon. This SLP Right factiion (perjoratively known as the "Kangaroos") held its own so-called "Tenth National Convention" in Rochester, NY, Jan. 27 to Feb. 2, 1900 before joining with the Social Democratic Party at the Indianapolis Unity Convention of 1901 to found the Socialist Party of America.

National Secretary Henry Kuhn's extensive Report of the National Executive Committee to the 10th National Convention, detailing the intraparty strife and the status of the organization is available here as a downloadable document.

The 10th National Convention made extensive changes to the formal organizational form of the Socialist Labor Party and approved a substantial number of modifications to the national constitution. A document examining the 1896 and 1900 variants of the SLP constitution is available as a downloadable document.

A complete stenographic record of the proceedings of the regular 10th Conventioin of the SLP was published in book form.

 

11. "11th National Convention" -- New York City -- July XX-XX, 1904

For financial reasons, no stenographic record of the proceedings of the 11th Convention of the SLP was published.

 

 

12. "12th National Convention" -- New York City -- July XX-XX, 1908

For financial reasons, no stenographic record of the proceedings of the 12th Convention of the SLP was published.

 

13. "13th National Convention" -- New York City -- April 7-9, 1912

For financial reasons, no stenographic record of the proceedings of the 13th Convention of the SLP was published.

The convention opened on April 7, 1912, at Arlington Hall, NYC. A total of 40 delegates representing 18 states were present at the opening, with representatives of 2 other states joining the gathering after the start of the conclave.

Daniel DeLeon was elected Chairman of the Day for the first day of the gathering and he delivered the keynote address to the assembled delegates. DeLeon indicated that the labor movement was under attack from all sides by its enemies, particularly by the Republican Party, while the Democratic Party bided its time, waiting to get into power. Only the SLP stood by the colors of International Socialism, DeLeon said.

 

14. "14th National Convention" -- New York City -- April XX-May XX, 1916

For financial reasons, no stenographic record of the proceedings of the 14th Convention of the SLP was published.

 

 

15. "15th National Convention" -- New York City -- May XX-XX, 1920

Some 3100 copies of a 64 page pamphlet of the proceedings of the 15th Convention of the SLP was published.

 

At different times in 1921, the Socialist Labor Party sent Adolf Carm and NEC member John D. Goerke to Moscow as the party's representative to the Third International. The SLP was not committed to joining the organization, but rather saw itself as the logical American representative of the revolutionary socialist program in America and sought to explain its specific views to the Comintern and return with the Comintern's specific views for the consideration of the SLP. At no point in his 26 page letter to Lenin of Jan. 15 did National Secretary Arnold Petersen show a willingness to submit to the central discipline of the CI in the development of the SLP's program and tactics.

 

16. "16th National Convention" -- New York, NY -- May 11 - 13, 1924

A complete stenographic record of the proceedings of the 16th Convention of the SLP was published in paperback book form.

The text of the reports to the convention of the various Language Federations of the SLP (Bulgarian // Hungarian // Scandinavian [Swedish] // South Slavonic) as well as the Ukrainian Organizing Committee are available as downloadable documents.

 

 

17. "17th National Convention" -- New York, NY -- May 12 - 14, 1928

A complete stenographic record of the proceedings of the 17th Convention of the SLP was published in paperback book form.

 
 

18. "18th National Convention" -- New York, NY -- April 39 - May 2, 1932

The 18th National Convention was attended by 33 delegates representing 16 states and 3 language federations (in order of size: South Slavonic, Bulgarian, Hungarian). National Secretary Arnold Petersen delivered the Report of the National Executive Committee to the gathering, a report which did not provide either membership statistics or dues revenue statistics from which membership statistics could be calculated. Only a 5% increased sale of dues stamps in FY 1931-32 over FY 1930-31 (April 1 start to FY) was claimed with a "total membership, including those exempted and roughly estimating the number of those who do not buy dues stamps and do not ask for exemption stamps" of 2,500 -- clearly an overly round and inflated figure. In illuminating contrast to Petersen's failure to report the specifics of membership size, the tales of so-called "internal disturbances" were related in exhaustive and minute detail, with 36 1/2 pages of the 204 page stenographic record of the proceedings being dedicated to the topic.

 

19. "19th National Convention" -- New York, NY -- April 25 - 28, 1936

A complete stenographic record of the proceedings of the 19th Convention of the SLP was published in hardcover and paperback book form.

 

20. "20th National Convention" -- CITY? -- DATE? 1940

A complete stenographic record of the proceedings of the 20th Convention of the SLP was published.

 

21. "18th National Convention" -- CITY? -- DATE? 1944

A complete stenographic record of the proceedings of the 21st Convention of the SLP was published.

 

Note: The SLP's last two Language Federations -- the Bulgarian and South Slavonian -- were disbanded at the end of 1970, due to declining membership, limited finances, and age-related illness to key members.

 



Note: If you wish to cite this exact page, the URL is http://www.marxisthistory.org/subject/usa/eam/socialistlaborparty.html
Author: Tim Davenport. Title: "Socialist Labor Party (1876-1946): Party History." Site: Early American Marxism website. Last updated: Sept. 1, 2011.