The prompt action of the SDF in dealing effectually with those malcontents who are bent upon following the lead of the German-Venezuelan Jew Loeb, or "de Leon", to the pit of infamy and disgrace, is regarded with much satisfaction on this side.
The above extract from our amusing contemporary, Justice, may serve as an introduction to the following sketch of my impressions of the Socialist movement in the United States. But first I would like to point out how accurately that paragraph photographs the mental conditions and methods of the men in charge of that paper. Take the phrase applied to our comrade Daniel de Leon - "the German-Venezuelan-Jew". Here we see in a paper which a week or two previous had been, in dealing with the First of May, complimenting the international character of the Socialist movement, and vehemently asserting that our principles were superior to all conditions of race or nationality, in its evil-minded desire to injure a Socialist editor sneering at him as a "German-Venezuelan-Jew". In other words, directly appealing to racial antipathies and religious prejudices. But we who have been studying Justice, not as an inspired emanation from the brightest intellects of the age, but as a rare freak in the political world, are well aware that this is no new trick of its policy. We all remember how, when the late Boer war was being launched upon this country, Justice, instead of grasping at the opportunity to demonstrate the unscrupulous and bloodthirsty methods of the capitalist class, strove to divert the wrath of the advanced workers from the capitalists to the Jews; how its readers were nauseated by denunciations of "Jewish millionaires", "Jewish plots", "Jew-controlled newspapers", "German Jews", "Israelitish schemes", and all the stock phrases of the lowest anti-Semitic papers, until the paper became positively unreadable to any fair-minded man who recognised the truth, viz, that the war was the child of capitalist greed, and inspired by men with whom race or religion were matters of no moment.
Now, comrade de Leon is a Venezuelan, and the descendant of an old family, famous alike in the history of Spain and the New World, but if he were all that the Justice phrase has him, what of it? Suppose he were a German-Venezuelan-Jew, or a Cockney-Irish-Scotsman, or even, horror of horrors, an Anglo-Saxon, what is it to us or to Socialists generally? Mr Hyndman always claims to be "only a common Englishman", although, as a matter of fact, he once stated to the writer that he was of Irish descent, and that one of his relatives was implicated in the insurrection of 1798, but as long as he claims England, no Irishman who knows him would seek to deprive England of the honour.
But Mr Hyndman assured us in the issue of Justice prepared for the last SDF Conference that de Leon killed his party. If this is so, and I would not dare to insinuate that Mr Hyndman was lying, then, from what I know of the SDF and of the American SLP, a dead party in the States must be a bigger political force than a live party in Great Britain.
First let us see what the SDF has not done, then look at what the SLP has done and is still doing.
The SDF is over twenty years in existence, yet it does not own or control a single newspaper or journal of any kind. At repeated Annual Conferences the delegates have been told by Mr Quelch that he would print in Justice any report of the Conference he pleased, and that they had no control over the matter. The Twentieth Century Press, as a matter of fact, was established upon shares sold all over the country at a time when Socialists, Anarchists, Fabians, Labourmen, Christian Socialists, and every kind of freak, were lumped together, and all of them were, and perhaps still are, represented among the shareholders. But the SDF as a party has no control over the shareholders or their property.
The SDF professes to be a political party independent of all others, and the only real exponent of Socialist principles, yet since the ILP came into existence the SDF has never had the courage to engage in a parliamentary candidature without soliciting the help of the ILP, and playing for the votes of the Radicals.
The SDF declares Trade-Unionism to be played out, yet denounces any attack upon the labour leaders who declare Trade-Unionism to be all-powerful.
The SDF declares the Workers' Representation Committee to be worthless and a delusion since it will not pledge itself to abelief in the Class War, yet the SDF counsels its branches to refrain from criticising or opposing the candidates of this worthless and delusive committee.
Now what is the position of the SLP of the United States?
The Socialist Labour Party of the United States conducts a daily paper in the English language, a weekly paper, and a monthly paper in the same language. It also conducts a weekly paper in the German language, one in the Swedish language, and one in Yiddish. All these papers are owned and controlled entirely by the party membership. They are also set up and printed in a printing establishment which is the property of the party. In the offices of the Weekly People, New York, there are five linotype machines continually at work, an equal number of compositors setting from the case, and a Hoe printing machine capable of printing and folding 30,000 copies per hour.
There is also a paper in the Italian language affiliated to and supporting the party, but not owned by the membership.
At last election this party polled 53,000 votes in the United States. Every one of these votes were cast for its programme and policy, despite the fact that another (so-called) Socialist party was in the field against it. The "Social Democrat", or "Socialist", as this other party is called, is exactly analogous to the ILP of Great Britain. To exactly appreciate the value of the vote of the Socialist Labour Party as a criterion of its strength, you have to imagine what the vote of the SDF would be if it could muster up courage sufficient to run a candidate in an election in which the ILP had also a man in the field.
The SLP declares pure and simple trade-unionism to be played out, and acting on that belief, it attacks and exposes the treacheries and sophistries of the trade-union leaders.
The SLP declares itself to be the only genuine Socialist Party in the United States, and acting on that belief, it opposes every other party, and fights them at every election.
The SLP seeks to make Socialism a guiding principle in the daily life of the workers by organising trade-unions on Socialistlines, and by refusing membership to anyone who identifies himself with its antagonists by accepting office in a pure and simple trade-union.
In short, the SLP does everything the SDF has not heart enough to do; it therefore shows its belief in its own principles, and wins the respect of its enemies even whilst they hate it. On the other hand, the SDF recoils from the logical application of the principles it professes to believe in, and whilst continually criticising the ILP, as continually seeks to embrace it in unity, although as continually repelled with contempt. There was revolutionary activity and fight once in the SDF, but their leaders, Hyndman, Quelch, Burrows, etc, have led it indeed as a lightning conductor leads lightning - into the earth to dissipate its energy. Therefore the party which has been killed is stronger than the party which no one thinks worth killing.
Republished in James Connolly: Lost Writings, (ed. Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh), Pluto Press 1997.