Socialist Labor Party of America

Socialist Labor Party of America
Party Chairman Robert Bills
Senate Leader
House Leader
Political ideology
Political position Fiscal:
International affiliation
The Socialist Labor Party of America (SLP) is the oldest socialist political party in the United States and the second oldest socialist party in the world. The party's ideology is De Leonism, which calls for a political transformation that will reorganize society along the principles of industrial unionism.


The party was founded in Newark, New Jersey, in 1876 as the Workingmen's Party of America. Renamed in December 1878, the SLP was a confederation of small Marxist parties from throughout the United States, becoming the first nationwide Socialist party. It was especially strong in New York City where there was a very large community of German immigrants.

At about the same time, another similarly-named organization, the Workingman's Party was formed in San Francisco, California under the leadership of drayage proprietor Dennis Kearney. The main purpose of this group was summed up by the slogan, "No Property, No Religion and No Chinese". It was featured in a contemporary stage play "The Chinese Must Go!". In 1881 a radical anarchist-oriented section left the party and formed the Revolutionary Socialist Labor Party. RSLP was at one point larger than SLP. Neither of these two groups were affiliated with the New Jersey Workingmen's Party or the Socialist Labor Party.

In 1886, the SLP took an active part in the New York City Mayoralty campaign of Henry George, who lost to Abram S. Hewitt.

In 1890, the SLP came under the leadership of Daniel De Leon, a lawyer who lectured at Columbia Law School until he quit to devote himself full time to the SLP. De Leon concisely articulated the SLP's concept of socialism: Socialism "is that social system under which the necessaries of production are owned, controlled and administered by the people, for the people, and under which, accordingly, the cause of political and economic despotism having been abolished, class rule is at end. — That is socialism, nothing short of that."

Ever since, the SLP has adhered to the form of orthodox Marxism known as DeLeonism. One of the reforms that DeLeon was responsible for was the establishment of English as the official language of the Party — German had previously been the majority language. De Leon was famously approvingly referred to by V. I. Lenin. The Socialist Labor Party fielded its first slate of Presidential Electors in 1888, winning 2,068 votes. Simon Wing, the SLP's first nominee for President (1892) received 21,163 votes.

Early 20th century developments

The SLP's main philosophy is the Socialist Industrial Union program, formulated by De Leon. De Leon's opponents, (primarily German-Americans, Jewish immigrants of various origins, and trade unionists) led by Morris Hillquit, left the SLP in 1901 and fused with Eugene V. Debs' Social Democratic Party to form the Socialist Party of America. In a dispute that took place in the Second International, concerning the entry of the French socialist Alexandre Millerand into the French government, and the possibility of winning reforms through parliamentary action, the SLP firmly opposed the supporters of reformism, referring to those who jumped over to the Socialist Party as 'kangaroos'. Therefore they and others in a similar position became known as Impossibilists. Today the term is still sometimes used with reference to the SLP and the Socialist Party of Great Britain although the two parties differ politically on a number of issues and have no connection.

Although it was often condemned as sectarian, the SLP carried out work in the trade unions and its members were active in the Knights of Labor. With the collapse of the Knights, SLP members were instrumental in setting up a small union federation in opposition to the American Federation of Labor, in part because the AFL refused to organise unskilled workers, who made up the vast majority of the working class. This lack of organization led De Leon to call for "Socialist Industrial Unions" which he speculated would not only defend the working class but form part of the future socialist society. To this day, the Socialist Industrial Union is at the heart of the Socialist Labor Party's program.

Perhaps the greatest impact of De Leon and the SLP was their help in founding the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905. Before too long, however they had a falling out with the element that they termed 'the bummery,' and left to form their own rival union, also called the Industrial Workers of the World, based in Detroit. De Leon died in 1914, and with his passing this organization lost its central focus. This body was renamed the Workers International Industrial Union (WIIU) and declined into little more than SLP members. The WIIU was wound up in 1924.

Later history

With the death of De Leon, the SLP, always critical of both the Soviet Union and of the Socialist Party's "reformism," has been isolated from the majority of the American Left, and that isolation seems to be ever-increasing. By remaining steadfast the party has, however, remained influential. The party has always advocated purist socialism in its program, arguing that other parties have actually abandoned the dream and become either fan clubs of dictators or merely a radical wing of the Democratic party.

The party experienced two growth spurts in the twentieth century. The first occurred in the late 1940s. The presidential ticket, which had been receiving 15,000 to 30,000 votes, increased to 45,226 in 1944. Meanwhile, the aggregate nationwide totals for U.S. Senate nominees increased during this same period from an average in the 40,000 range to 96,139 in 1946 and 100,072 in 1948. The party's fortunes began to sag during the early 1950s, and by 1954 the aggregate nationwide totals for U.S. Senate nominees was down to 30,577.

Eric Hass became influential in the SLP in the early 1950s. Hass, the nominee for President in 1952, 1956, 1960, and 1964, played a major role in rebuilding the SLP. He authored the booklet "Socialism: A Home Study Course" which was well-received. Hass increased the party's nationwide totals and recruited many local candidates. His vote for President increased from 30,250 in 1952 to 47,522 in 1960 (a 50% increase). Although his total slipped to 45,187 in 1964, Hass outpolled all other third party candidates - the only time this happened to the SLP. Aggregate nationwide totals for U.S. Senate nominees increased throughout the late 1960s, hitting 112,990 in 1972.

The increased interest in the SLP in the late 1960s was not a permanent growth spurt. New recruits subscribed to the anti-authoritarian views of the time and wanted their voices to have an equal status with the old-time party workers. Newcomers felt that the party was too controlled by a small clique, resulting in widespread discontent. In 1976, the SLP nominated its last Presidential candidate and has run few campaigns since then.

In 1980, members of the SLP in Minnesota, claiming that the party had become bureaucratic and authoritarian in its internal party structure, split from the party and formed the New Union Party.

They recently have been having trouble funding their newspaper, The People. Publication frequency was changed from monthly to bi-monthly in 2004, but continued. Due to lack of funds, the paper has been suspended as of 31 March 2008. The SLP itself continues to exist and hopes to resume publication of The People later in 2008.

Famed author Jack London was an early member of the Socialist Labor Party, joining in 1896. He left in 1901 but remained a Socialist.

The science fiction writer Mack Reynolds was an active member of the SLP and his fiction often deals with socialist reform and revolution as well as socialist Utopian thought.

Presidential candidates

See also



  • Frank Girard and Ben Perry, Socialist Labor Party, 1876-1991: A Short History, 108 pages (1 May 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," 10 February 1978 Workers Vanguard #192
    • "The SLP and the Russian Question" and letter from former SLPer 24 February 1978 Workers Vanguard #194
    • "The Dictatorship of the Proletariat," 10 March 1978 Workers Vanguard #196

External links

SLP Publications

Non-SLP link

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