The Forging of American Socialism: Origins of the Modern Movement

By Howard H. Quint | Go to book overview
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V. DeLeon Molds the Socialist Labor Party

IN THE autumn of 1890 when an American electorate was expressing at the polls its dissatisfaction with the "Billion Dollar" Fifty-first Congress, Daniel DeLeon was forsaking the respectability of the middle-class Nationalists for the disreputable and proletarian Socialist Labor Party.1 It was the crossing of the Rubicon for the erudite, thirty-eight-year-old attorney and former professor, for in embracing socialism he eliminated himself from the opportunities for preferment that his undeniable talents might have obtained for him in a capitalistic society. It was an important event, also, in the history of American socialism; for DeLeon as much as, if not more than, any other man during the 1890's shaped the course of American socialist political development.

DeLeon had been in the United States for eighteen years before he took his position in the socialist ranks. He was born in Curaçao in 1852, the son of Salomon and Sara DeLeon. Unquestionably he was of Jewish stock despite his curious, if not outright ridiculous, claim of descent from a wealthy, aristocratic, Catholic, Spanish family of Venezuela.2 His father was a surgeon in the Dutch colonial army--hardly an occupation for a Spanish grandee and, according to some of DeLeon's tormenters, carried the surname "Loeb."3

Young Daniel, weak and sickly as a youth, was sent to Europe to be educated. He studied first at a Gymnasium in Hildesheim, Germany, and then at the University of Leyden, from which he was graduated in 1872 at the age of twenty, an accomplished

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1
An excellent though brief treatment of DeLeon, who deserves a full length biography, appears in Charles Madison Critics and Crusaders, pp. 470-85. Also see Arnold Petersen, Daniel DeLeon: Social Architect ( New York, 1941); L. G. Raisky, Daniel DeLeon, The Struggle Against Opportunism in the American Labor Movement ( New York, 1932); Louis Fraina, "Daniel DeLeon," New Review, II ( 1914), 390-99.
2
Olive M. Johnson, Daniel DeLeon, American Socialist Pathfinder ( New York, 1923), p. 9.
3
Gompers, Seventy Years of Life and Labor, I, 417.

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