Daniel De Leon

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Daniel De Leon
Daniel De Leon in 1902.
BornDecember 14, 1852
DiedMay 11, 1914(1914-05-11) (aged 61)
Nationality American

Daniel De Leon ( /dəˈlɒn/ ; December 14, 1852 – May 11, 1914) was an American socialist newspaper editor, politician, Marxist theoretician, and trade union organizer. He is regarded as the forefather of the idea of revolutionary industrial unionism and was the leading figure in the Socialist Labor Party of America from 1890 until the time of his death. [1]

A politician is a person active in party politics, or a person holding or seeking office in government. Politicians propose, support and create laws or policies that govern the land and, by extension, its people. Broadly speaking, a "politician" can be anyone who seeks to achieve political power in any bureaucratic institution.

Theoretician (Marxism)

In Marxism, a theoretician is an individual who observes and writes about the condition or dynamics of society, history, or economics, making use of the main principles of Marxian socialism in the analysis.

A trade union, also called a labour union or labor union (US), is an association of workers in a particular trade, industry, or company created for the purpose of securing improvement in pay, benefits, working conditions or social and political status through collective bargaining and working conditions through the increased bargaining power wielded by creation of a monopoly of the workers. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with employers. The most common purpose of these associations or unions is "maintaining or improving the conditions of their employment". This may include the negotiation of wages, work rules, complaint procedures, rules governing hiring, firing and promotion of workers, benefits, workplace safety and policies.



Early life and academic career

Daniel De Leon was born December 14, 1852 in Curaçao, the son of Salomon de Leon and Sarah Jesurun De Leon. His father was a surgeon in the Royal Netherlands Army and a colonial official. His family ancestry is believed to be Dutch Jewish of the Spanish and Portuguese community; "De León" is a Spanish surname, oftentimes toponymic, in which case it can possibly indicate a family's geographic origin in the Medieval Kingdom of León.

Curaçao island country in the Caribbean, part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Curaçao is a Lesser Antilles island in the southern Caribbean Sea and the Dutch Caribbean region, about 65 km (40 mi) north of the Venezuelan coast. It is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Royal Netherlands Army

The Royal Netherlands Army is the land forces element of the military of the Netherlands.

As a result of the Alhambra Decree of 1492 and the Holy Office of the Inquisition, many Sephardim left the Iberian peninsula at the end of the 15th century and throughout the 16th century, in search of religious freedom. Some migrated to the newly independent Dutch provinces which welcomed the Sephardic Jews. Many of the Jews who left for the Dutch provinces were crypto-Jews, persons who had converted to Catholicism but continued to practice Judaism in secret. After they had settled in the safety of the Netherlands, many of them 'returned' fully to practice of the Jewish religion.

His father lived in the Netherlands before coming to Curaçao when receiving his commission in the military. Salomon De Leon died on January 18, 1865, when Daniel was twelve and was the first to be buried in the new Jewish cemetery. [2]

De Leon left Curaçao on April 15, 1866 and arrived in Hamburg on May 22. In Germany he studied at the Gymnasium in Hildesheim and in 1870 began attending the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. He studied medicine at Leiden and was a member of the Amsterdam student corps, but did not graduate. While in Europe he had become fluent in German, Dutch, French, English, ancient Greek and Latin, in addition to his first language Spanish. [3] [4] Sometime between 1872 and 1874 he emigrated to New York, with his wife and mother. There he found work as an instructor in Latin, Greek and mathematics at Thomas B. Harrington's School in Westchester, New York. In 1876 he entered Columbia College, now Columbia University, earning an LLB with honors 1878. [5]

Hamburg City in Germany

Hamburg is the second-largest city in Germany with a population of over 1.8 million.

Hildesheim Place in Lower Saxony, Germany

Hildesheim[ˈhɪldəsˌhaɪ̯m](listen) is a city in Lower Saxony, Germany with 103,804 inhabitants. It is in the district of Hildesheim, about 30 km (19 mi) southeast of Hanover on the banks of the Innerste River, a small tributary of the Leine River. With the Hildesheim Cathedral and the St. Michael's Church Hildesheim has become a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985.

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol (Italy), the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.

From 1878 to 1882, he lived in Brownsville, Texas as a practicing attorney, then returned to New York. While he maintained an attorney's office until 1884 he was more interested in pursuing an academic career at his alma mater, Columbia. A prize lectureship had been created in 1882. To be eligible a candidate had to be a graduate of Columbia, a member of the Academy of Political Science and read at least one paper before the academy. The three year appointment came with a $500 annual salary and required the lecturer to give twenty lectures a year, based on original research, to the students of the School of Political Science. De Leon devoted his lectures to Latin American diplomacy and the interventions of European powers in South American affairs. He received his first term in 1883 and his second term in 1886. In 1889 he was not kept on. Some allege that the University officials denied him a promised full professorship because of his political activities, [6] while other believe that his subject was too esoteric to be a permanent part of the curriculum. [7]

Brownsville, Texas City in Texas, United States

Brownsville is a city in Cameron County in the U.S. state of Texas. It located on the western Gulf Coast in South Texas, adjacent to the border with Matamoros, Mexico. The city covers 81.528 square miles (211.157 km2) and has a population of 183,299 as of 2017. It is the 131st-largest city in the United States and 16th-largest in Texas. It is part of the Brownsville–Matamoros conurbation, with a population of 1,136,995 people. The city is known for its year-round subtropical climate, deep-water seaport and Hispanic culture.

The Academy of Political Science is an American non-profit organization and publisher devoted to cultivating non-partisan, objective analysis of political, social, and economic issues. It is headquartered in The Interchurch Center in New York City. Its current President is Robert Y. Shapiro.

Columbia Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Columbia University is a graduate school of the university that grants academic degrees in the arts and sciences, including M.A.s and Ph.D.s., in fields not covered by the university's professional or other schools.

De Leon published no papers about Latin America during this period, but he did contribute an article to the debut issue of the Academy's Political Science Quarterly on the Berlin West Africa Conference. [8] He also wrote reviews on Franz von Holtzendorff's Handbuch des Völkerrechts in June 1888 and its French translation in March 1889 for the same publication.

<i>Political Science Quarterly</i> journal

Political Science Quarterly is an American double blind peer-reviewed academic journal covering government, politics, and policy, published since 1886 by the Academy of Political Science. Its editor-in-chief is Demetrios James Caraley. Each issue consists of five or six articles as well as up to 40 book reviews.

Berlin Conference international conference that regulated European colonisation and trade in Africa

The Berlin Conference of 1884–85, also known as the Congo Conference or West Africa Conference, regulated European colonization and trade in Africa during the New Imperialism period and coincided with Germany's sudden emergence as an imperial power. The conference was organized by Otto von Bismarck, first Chancellor of Germany; its outcome, the General Act of the Berlin Conference, can be seen as the formalisation of the Scramble for Africa, although some scholars of history warn against an overemphasis of its role in the colonial partitioning of Africa, drawing attention to bilateral agreements concluded before and after the conference. The conference ushered in a period of heightened colonial activity by European powers, which eliminated or overrode most existing forms of African autonomy and self-governance.

Personal life

De Leon traveled back to Curaçao to marry the 16-year-old Sarah Lobo from Caracas, Venezuela. The Lobo were a prominent Jewish family in the area that lived in both the Dutch Antilles and Venezuela. After a traditional Jewish wedding in Caracas the family moved to a Spanish speaking area of Manhattan, at 112 West 14th street where their first son, Solon De Leon would be born on September 2, 1883. By the mid to late 1880s the family was living in the Lower East Side. In 1885 or 1886 another child, Grover Cleveland De Leon was born but only lived a year and a half. On April 29, 1887 Sarah Lobo De Leon died in childbirth while delivering stillborn twins; it was the same year that Grover had died. After this the De Leons left the Lower East Side and moved in with their housekeeper Mary Redden Maguire at 1487 Avenue A. [9]

In 1891, while on a speaking tour around the country for the SLP, De Leon found himself in Kansas when he learned that a planned speaking engagement in Lawrence had been canceled. He decided to head to Independence, Kansas where he had been advised there was some sympathy for the socialist movement. He arrived on April 23 and was hosted by a 26-year-old school teacher, Bertha Canary, who was the head of a local Bellamyite group, the Christian Socialist Club. Canary was familiar with De Leon, having read some of his articles in the Nationalist Club movement press, and the two apparently became infatuated with each other. In 1892 they were married in South Norwalk, Connecticut. [10] They had five children: Florence, Gertrude, Paul, Donald and Genseric. He named the latter, according to Solon De Leon, after the medieval king Genseric, a Vandal who made the Pope kiss his toes. [11]

Political career

De Leon settled in New York City, studying at Columbia University. He was a Georgist 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 became a Marxist in the late 1880s, 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. [12] 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 and Value, Price and Profit pertaining to the level of wages and temporary effect of union activity on working conditions is similar to the language used by De Leon in his answer to Connolly, and the 'iron law of wages' is a Malthusian theory which De Leon did not indicate any support for.

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 (ST&LA) in 1895, which was dominated by the SLP.

DeLeon was the editor of the official newspaper of the Socialist Labor Party from 1890 until his death in 1914. Deleon-daniel-smoking-sm.jpg
DeLeon was the editor of the official newspaper of the Socialist Labor Party from 1890 until his death in 1914.

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). De Leon was an important figure in the US labor movement, and in 1904 he attended the International Socialist Congress, held in Amsterdam. Under the influence of the American Labor Union (ALU), he changed his politics around this time to put more focus on industrial unionism, and the ballot as a purely destructive weapon, in contrast to his earlier view of political organization as 'sword' and industrial union as 'shield'. He worked with the ALU in the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in 1905. His participation in this organization was short-lived and acrimonious.

De Leon later accused the IWW of having been taken over by 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, resulting in a change to the Preamble which precluded "affiliation with any political party." De Leon's followers left the IWW to form a rival Detroit-based IWW, which was renamed the Workers' International Industrial Union in 1915, and collapsed in 1925. [13]

Death and legacy

De Leon was formally expelled from the Chicago IWW after calling proponents of that organization "slum proletarians". [13] He died in New York on May 11, 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 hopes for peaceful and bloodless revolution also influenced Antonio Gramsci's concept of passive revolution. [14] George Seldes quotes Lenin saying on the fifth anniversary of the revolution, "... What we have done in Russia is accept the De Leon interpretation of Marxism, that is what the Bolsheviki adopted in 1917." [15]

Electoral history

De Leon ran in 1891 for Governor of New York and received 14,651 votes. He ran in 1893 for Secretary of State of New York and received 20,034 votes. He ran again in 1902 for Governor and received 15,886 votes. He ran in 1903 for the New York Court of Appeals. He ran again in 1904 for Governor and received 8,976 votes.



  1. Kenneth T. Jackson, ed. (1995-09-26). "DeLeon, Daniel". The Encyclopedia of New York City. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. p. 324.
  2. Carl Reeve, The Life and Times of Daniel De Leon. New York: Humanities Press, pp. 2-3.
  3. Stephen Coleman, Daniel De Leon. Manchester, England: University of Manchester Press, 1990; pg. 8.
  4. Reeve, The Life and Times of Daniel De Leon, pg. 4.
  5. Seretan, L. Glen Daniel DeLeon: The Odyssey of an American Marxist. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979; p. 6
  6. Reeve, The Life and Times of Daniel De Leon, pp. 19-20.
  7. Lewis Hanke, "The First Lecturer on Hispanic American Diplomatic History in the United States," The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Aug. 1936), pp. 399-402.
  8. Daniel De Leon, The Conference at Berlin on The West-African Question
  9. Reeve op cit. pp.4-5
  10. Coleman, op. cit. p.9
  11. Reeve op cit. pp.6
  12. Daniel De Leon (1904). "DeLeon Replies" . Retrieved February 22, 2007.
  13. 1 2 Fred W. Thompson and Patrick Murfin, The IWW: Its First Seventy Years, 1905-1975, 1976; pg. 39.
  14. Dan Jakopvich, "Revolution and the party in Gramsci’s thought." IV Online magazine (IV406, Nov. 2008), , See section: "The dialectics of consent and coercion."
  15. Seldes, George (1987). Witness to a Century. New York: Ballantine Books. pp. 191–192. ISBN   0345331818.

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