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Series XVI. Socialist Labor Party (SLP)

Scope and Content Notes:

The Socialist Labor Party began in 1876 as the Workingmen’s Party of the United States, renamed the Socialistic Labor Party in 1877. A tiny remnant survives today.

Its only notable successes occurred in the years immediately after the 1877 railroad strike near the end of the bitter 1870s depression. The railroad strike had been as much a popular insurrection as a conventional strike. Fueled both by the anger that had provoked this insurrection and the sense of empowerment that it had kindled, significant numbers of U.S. workers turned to third party protest voting between 1877 and 1880. Most of those protest votes went to the Greenback-Labor Party, but the SLP drew substantial votes and elected local officials and state legislators in many Midwestern cities with substantial German immigrant populations.

The Party faded badly in the early 1880s because of a split between Marxists and anarchists, an upswing in the economy, and the rise of the Knights of Labor, a more credible organizational home for working-class activists than the SLP. In the early 1890s a charismatic intellectual, Daniel De Leon, took over leadership of what was left of the party. Although De Leon was an original thinker—Lenin praised him as the only American to make noteworthy contribution to Marxist theory—he was a terrible organizer, so irascible and dogmatic that he repeatedly drove people away from the organization.

Despite De Leon’s flaws the Party expanded in the 1890s benefitting from another Depression beginning in 1893, the surge of political energy accompanying the Populist movement, and publicity surrounding the announcement that railroad union leader Eugene Debs had converted to socialism. Inevitably, however, these new recruits came into conflict with the De Leonites. They joined with other socialist factions to found the Socialist Party of the United States (SPUSA) in 1901. The new party quickly eclipsed the SLP.

De Leon and his followers had one more story to tell. They played a key role on the founding of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) in 1905. Inevitably De Leon had a falling out with others in the IWW leadership, and left the organization to form a rival IWW faction in 1908.


Box 10
Folder 41 "1940 Platform...No Peace Without Socialism!"
Folder 42 "Karl Marx, The Man and His Work and the Constructive Elements of Socialism", Three Lectures and Two Essays By Karl Dannenberg, 1918
Folder 43 "Socialist Reconstruction of Society", The Industrial Vote, By Daniel De Leon
Folder 44 Grand March Festival Given By The Socialists of St. Paul, Minn. at Germania Turner Hall, 1894
Folder 45 A Socialist Labor Party Envelope and Ticket
Folder 46 Three Letters to Sections and Members of the S.L.P., February 23 and 27, 1918
Folder 47 "Economic Basis of Education", By Aaron M. Orange, 1942
Folder 48 "A Socialist Labor Party Statement, What Can Be Done About Unemployment?"
Folder 49 "The Fetishism of Liberty", By Harry Waton, 1917
Folder 50 "From Reform to Bayonets", By Arnold Petersen, May, 1947
Folder 51 Multiple Socialist Labor Party Documents Addressed to Samuel Johnson
Folder 52 "Anti-Semitism, Its Cause and Cure Daniel de Leon", 1921
Folder 53 "Socialism: World Without Race Prejudice", By Eric Hass
Folder 54 "Unionism: Fraudulent of Genuine?", By Nathan Karp, 1962
Folder 55 "Democracy", Past, Present and Future, By Arnold Petersen, 1962
Folder 56 1964 Platform or the Socialist Labor Party of America, 1964
Folder 57 "Discussion Bulletin", February, 1986
Folder 58 Flyer for a Musical and Lecture
Folder 59 "Socialist Album", 1896
Folder 60 Christmas Entertainment Newsletter, December 27 1896
Folder 61 "Winter Evening Agitation Meetings" leaflet, 1894

Box 14
Folder 51 "Vote for the Socialist Labor Party" Flyer