December 14 Socialist Leader Daniel De Leon is Born

December 14, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1852.

That was the day Socialist leader Daniel De Leon was born in Curaçao to Dutch Jewish parents. As a young man, he traveled Europe.

He settled in New York City, and earned a law degree from Columbia University in 1878.

De Leon joined the Socialist Labor Party in 1890 and became the editor of its newspaper, The People. His book, Socialist Landmarks, consisting of a series of lectures, became wildly popular.

These lectures included Reform or Revolution, What Means This Strike?, The Burning Questions of Trade Unionism, and Socialist Reconstruction of Society.

De Leon warned of reforms under capitalism as illusory.

He argued for revolutionary socialism and soon assumed leadership of the SLP. As a former Knights of Labor, he was critical of the American labor movement, often referring to the AFL as the American Separation of Labor for its business unionism and refusal to organize any but the most highly skilled, white craft workers.

De Leon also took a strong stand against racism in the Socialist movement, stating “Why should a truly Socialist organization of whites not take in Negro members, but organize these in separate bodies? On account of outside prejudice?

Then the body is not truly Socialist.” De Leon was among the socialist leaders at the founding 1905 conference of the Industrial Workers of the World.

By 1908, he and others looked to effect social change through the Socialist Party and existing trade union movement.

This put them at odds with the direct action perspective of the IWW.

Many left the IWW at this point, including De Leon and Socialist leader Eugene Debs. When he died in 1914, more than 30,000 turned out for his funeral.

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