De Leon editorials 100 yrs ago

m.lepore at m.lepore at
Tue Aug 8 17:02:00 MDT 1995

 My associates and I are transcribing the works of De Leon, the
 late 19th / early 20th century American Marxist newspaper editor,
 into ascii text for computer distribution.

 It's interesting to note that some of De Leon's editorials were
 published 100 years ago.  Sort of like looking at one snapshot in the
 history of the labor movement in the U.S.

 Here is a sample [1895]:
                                                         Mike Lepore
                                                 mlepore at

   attached file:

                              A Test Point

                           by Daniel De Leon
              Editorial in _The People_, August 11, 1895

        Last Sunday, Senator William Alfred Peffer delivered a lecture
 at Prohibition park, Staten Island, in the course of which he stated:

        "It would be unjust to take away any property from people who
 own it."

        Much turns on the seemingly simple question here involved.  It
 may even be considered a test point that reveals both the fiber of
 both mind and body, or the total absence thereof, in him who dares to
 approach the social question.

        In the hands of two sorts of holders, and of no other, can
 property be found; either:
   1.  In the hands of those with just title; or
   2.  In the hands of those with none.

        Taking the first, and leaving here aside all inquiry into what
 constitutes "just title," but assuming that certain property is found
 in hands justly entitled thereto, the justice or injustice of taking
 it away is a practical one; no abstract theories need here be applied.

        Men gather and organize themselves into social bodies for their
 well-being.  A practical purpose, redounding to the ultimate
 well-being of all, lies at the bottom and is the aim of all
 "government" or social systems.

        This principle is no longer open to discussion; in granite
 letters it is engraven in the words:  "Governments are instituted
 among Men" to secure "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness";
 and "whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these
 ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to
 institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and
 organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely
 to effect their Safety and Happiness."

        Upon this practical principle, even before it was so strikingly
 worded, have men ever proceeded in their organization of society, and
 their conception of what was "just" or "unjust" was ever controlled by
 that which their experience of facts pointed out.  If, in their
 opinion, the doing of a certain thing would not redound to their
 happiness, it was undone; if, in their opinion, it would redound to
 their happiness, it was done.  Facts, material conditions, experience,
 in short, has ever lighted the path of justice.

        Whether property, held by good title, should or should not be
 taken away - in other words, whether the social system of ownership
 should or should not be changed - is, accordingly, to be determined
 solely by the experience gathered upon the happiness or the
 unhappiness that flows from its continuance in private hands.

        If its continuance brings on misery, it ceases to be just to
 leave it where it is; it becomes justice to take it away.

        This undeniable principle firmly kept in sight, there can be no
 doubt that the system of private holdings of what is needed for
 production has become injustice, and that justice now demands the
 taking it away.

        This fact experience had pointed out as early as 1829, when the
 great New Yorker Thomas Skidmore uttered the pregnant maxim:

        "Inasmuch as great wealth is an instrument which is uniformly
 used to extort from others their property, it ought to be taken away
 from its possessor, on the same principle that a sword or a pistol may
 be wrested from a robber, who shall undertake to accomplish the same
 effect in a different manner."

        Thus stands the case even with regard to property held in
 private hands with just title.  Can there be any question to stolen
 property?  None whatsoever.  Now, then, the property found today in
 the private hands of the capitalist class is none other than stolen

        Labor alone produces all wealth.  The capitalist class does no
 manner of useful work, directly or indirectly.  He is a sponge on the
 body social.

        The original wealth that his class turned into a pistol,
 wherewith to increase its hoard by robbing others, was itself stolen,
 by child of some fraud or other, some fire, some failure.  perchance
 some blacker crime.  And from that starting point, the pistol used as
 capital has been enlarged, improved and perfected to do its criminal
 work on larger and larger scales.

        To take away the property of the capitalist class is to restore
 their own to the working class, to the overwhelming majority, and
 thereby reorganize society in such a form as may promote the happiness
 of its members.  This course has become unquestionable justice.

        Neither do the abstract principles that underlie the law of
 property stand in the claim that the property now held by the
 capitalist class, and needed to produce the necessities of life with,
 should be transferred from its present to other holders.  On this
 subject, the keen intellect of Benjamin Franklin shed valuable light,
 nor did his robust manliness recoil before the truth.  He said:

        "Private property is a creature of society, and is subject to
 the calls of that society, wherever its necessities shall require it,
 even to its last farthing."

        When the Populist Senator William Alfred Peffer sweepingly
 pronounces unjust the taking of "any property from those who own it,"
 he reflects the mental and physical fiberlessness of both himself and
 of the movement of which he is so ridiculous a secretion.

                                                     end of document

 P.S. --  This one is included in a newly-released collection of 35
 De Leon editorials written between 1894 and 1914.  I'm starting a
 list of people who would like to have that collection e-mailed to
 them.  It's 3000 lines long, and will probably be mailed in the
 form of six 500-line files.

 I have to use different sites for incoming mail and outgoing mail.
 The best place for you to write to me is:  mlepore at

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