De Leon editorials 100 yrs ago
m.lepore at genie.geis.com
m.lepore at genie.geis.com
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 :
mlepore at mcimail.com
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
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
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 mcimail.com
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