Laurence Gronlund

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Laurence Gronlund
Born (1846-07-13)July 13, 1846
Copenhagen, Denmark
Died October 15, 1899(1899-10-15) (aged 53)
New York City
Occupation Writer, lecturer, and political activist
Nationality American
Spouse Beulah A. Gronlund

Laurence Gronlund (1846 - 1899) was a Danish-born American lawyer, writer, lecturer, and political activist. Gronlund is best remembered for his pioneering work in adapting the International Socialism of Karl Marx and Ferdinand Lassalle to the American idiom in his popular 1884 book, The Cooperative Commonwealth, and for his influence upon the thinking of utopian novelist Edward Bellamy, newspaper publisher Julius Wayland, and the American socialist movement of the 1880s and 1890s.


Early years[edit]

Laurence Gronlund was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, on July 13, 1846. He was a participant in the Danish-German War of 1864.[1]

Gronlund graduated from the University of Copenhagen's Faculty of Law in 1865, and emigrated to the United States two years later.[2]

For a short time he taught German in a public school in Milwaukee prior to his 1869 admission to the bar and the opening of a law practice in Chicago.[1]

Gronlund was converted to the ideas of socialism and gave up the practice of law in order that he might write and lecture on matters of collective ownership. Gronlund joined the German-American dominated Socialist Labor Party (SLP), a political party still in its infancy, and in 1878 published his first work, a pamphlet entitled The Coming Revolution: Its Principles.[2] Gronlund was a firm advocate of trade union-based, German-style International Socialism, in contrast to various communitarian schemes then in vogue in the United States.[2]

The Cooperative Commonwealth[edit]

The first edition of Gronlund's The Cooperative Commonwealth was published in Boston in 1884.

In 1884 Gronlund published his most influential and best remembered work, a small volume titled The Cooperative Commonwealth. This book attempted to popularize Karl Marx's ideas about the labor theory of value and the fundamentally exploitative nature of competition within the capitalist system. The working class, forced to scramble for survival under the competitive system, was depicted as the "natural prey" of small shopkeeper "parasites" who existed by inflating selling prices and deprecating quality.[3] Moreover, the "big capitalists" were said to wield a still more powerful weapon, that of combination, which made possible more efficient "fleecings" of working people.[4]

The capitalist system contained within itself a "fatal contradiction," Gronlund argued — an inherent tendency towards "overproduction":

"Since...Labor under our wage-system, our profit-system, our fleecings-system, only receives about one half [of the value of its production] as its share, it follows that the producers cannot buy back that which they create. * * * For the more Capital is being accumulated in private hands, the more impossible this wage-system renders it for the producers to buy what they produce. The more necessary it becomes for capitalists to dispose of their ever increasing fleecings, the less the ability of the people to purchase them will, relatively become.... The more Capital, the more 'overproduction.[5]

Individualism in production, although efficient in causing Capital to grow, was simultaneously "digging the grave of Capital," Gronlund declared.[6]

With Marx's Das Kapital still unavailable in English translation during the decade of the 1880s, Gronlund's reinterpretation of Marx into the American vernacular was revelatory. More than 100,000 copies of The Cooperative Commonwealth were sold,[7] and the book would remain one of the most influential works on the socialist theme in the United States for the rest of the 19th Century.

Later writings[edit]

Gronlund's second book, Ça ira! was a reevaluation of the role of French revolutionary Georges Jacques Danton (1759-1794).

After having lived in the United States for 20 years, in 1885 Gronlund made an extended stay to Great Britain, where he would remain for two years.[8] Gronlund spent his time in Britain lecturing on socialist themes to both political and academic audiences, touching on both current politics[9] and historical themes in speeches made across England and Scotland.[10]

Gronlund returned to his adopted country in 1887 and resume his activism on behalf of the Socialist Labor Party. Gronlund was immediately called upon by the SLP to differentiate its views from the single tax program of Henry George, an 1886 candidate for mayor of New York City on the ticket of the upstart United Labor Party which the SLP had actively supported.[8] The result of this assignment was two pamphlets, Socialism vs. Single Tax and Insufficiency of Henry George's Theory.[11]

The departure of the SLP from the broader United Labor Party of which it was a part was civil, with Gronlund remarking in a June 1887 lecture at New York City that Henry George was

"...a most noble man, the starting wedge for socialism in the United States, but his theory is insufficient and his remedies would not accomplish what he believes. When it comes down to the kernel of the matter, he is radically different from us and we must part company from him."[12]

Gronlund turned his attention to history with the publication of his second book, a reevaluation of the life and activities of French Jacobin revolutionary Georges Danton in the French Revolution of 1789 to 1794. At the end of his life Gronlund regarded this 1887 work, Ça Ira! or Danton in the French Revolution, as his most important work.[13] In his book Gronlund attempted to challenge the popular image of Danton, first President of the Committee of Public Safety, as a terrorist and to restore his place to history as a leader of the democratic French revolution.

A member of the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Labor Party in 1888, Gronlund broke with the party soon after, ostensibly over its decision to open a saloon on Fourth Street in New York City as a means of generating funds for use of the party.[13]

Late in 1890 Gronlund published his third book, an "essay in ethics" entitled Our Destiny: The Influence of Socialism on Morals and Religion. This was a work which touched upon the quasi-religious aspect of the socialist project.[2] Gronlund argued that there existed two sides of socialism, a "good kind" of "mutual good will and mutual help" as well as a negative socialism of "hatred and spoliation."[14] Gronlund cast his lot with the former socialist trend, currently best expressed in the United States by the emerging movement built around Nationalist Clubs.[14] Gronlund noted with bemusement that while people shuddered in fear of "destructive Socialism," at the same time the concentration of capitalism through trusts and increased government intervention in economic affairs was slowing bringing into existence a socialist regime.[15]

Final years[edit]

Gronlund devoted himself almost exclusively to lecturing until his appointment to a poorly-paid position in the office of the Bureau of Labor in Washington, D.C.,[16] where he worked for Commissioner of Labor Carroll D. Wright.

Following the end of his stint with the Bureau of Labor in 1893, Gronlund rededicated himself as a touring lecturer dealing with socialist themes. He was a speaker at a Congress of Economics held in conjunction with the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, speaking there alongside Henry George and Richard T. Ely.[7] He also spoke to a variety of audiences from coast to coast, including forays into Utah[17] and California.[7]

Owing to misgivings about the term "socialism" — which he believed covered too many bedfellows, such as anarchists and communitarians — Gronlund insisted upon describing himself as a "collectivist" in his later years on the lecture circuit.[7] Despite this change in nomenclature, Gronlund remained orthodox in his socialist views, as he explained in one 1894 newspaper interview:

"As collectivists, we do not approve of the violent methods of the European [revolutionary] socialists. We want the gradual absorption of all capital by the government in a peaceable manner. We are satisfied to work with the Populists, or with Henry George, or with those who advocate government ownership of railroads, for they are all in the same line with us, though we go much farther. We would say government ownership of railways, banks, telegraph lines, factories, mills, workshops, and all industries; also government ownership of land, for land is capital. The government would be the employer, the people the employed, and there would be no conflict of interest."[17]

In addition to lecturing to audiences around the country about "collectivism," Gronlund plied his trade as a writer, contributing to the pages of Twentieth Century Magazine.[7] Gronlund spoke not only to English-speaking audiences, but also spoke in his native Danish to members of the Scandinavian immigrant community during his travels around the United States.[7]

Gronlund was enthusiastic about the ideas and tactics of the Fabian Society in Great Britain and sought to emulate the Fabian movement on American soil, explicitly declared in 1895 that "this movement is evolutionary, not revolutionary."[7]

In 1896, Gronlund and his wife Beulah, a regarded as a talented artist and art teacher, moved to the city of Seattle, Washington.[18] There Beulah Gronlund was active in launching the Seattle Humane Society, dedicated to the prevention of cruelty to animals.[18]

A fourth and final book, The New Economy: A Peaceable Solution of the Social Problem, was published in 1898 and emphasized the evolutionary and anti-class war orientation which Gronlund developed in his later years.

Death and legacy[edit]

Laurence Gronlund died October 15, 1899, in New York City. He was 53 years old at the time of his death.

At the time of his death Gronlund was remembered critically but warmly in the American socialist press. Writing in the Social Democratic Herald, Secretary of the Social Democratic Party of America Seymour Stedman remembered him as a proverbial absent-minded professor:

"He was eccentric and careless. He would walk with pipe and paper along a thriving thoroughfare oblivious of all; his hat shaped like a French general's, peak in front and back; shoes well worn; clothes shabby, and was in meeting reticent, even timid... He treated the subject of Socialism plainly and stripped it of utopianism.... The peoples of the future will dwell in peace where this hardy pioneer warred with the accumulated prejudice, passions, and ignorance of the ages."[19]

Leonard D. Abbott recalled Gronlund as a "great soul" who had lived in poverty throughout his life out of commitment to the socialist cause, the recipient of "very small financial rewards from all his books put together."[13] He quoted Gronlund during his last year of life as rejecting the political strategy of winning power through independent political action, declaring "I regard [Eugene] Debs as the most unselfish of labor leaders, but you can't build up a third party in this county — you've got to work through the Democratic Party."[13]

Gronlund was enormously influential during the decades of the 1880s and 1890s and is credited by historian Daniel Bell with playing a pivotal role in the conversion of future Appeal to Reason publisher Julius Wayland to socialism in 1891.[20] Wayland would begin his first socialist newspaper, The Coming Nation, in 1893 and would build his subsequent publication into a mass circulation weekly that would help make socialism a broad political movement during the first two decades of the 20th Century.

Gronlund's articulation of a vision for a cooperative economy and society echoed over the next decades in early-twentieth century U.S. and Canadian leftist circles. It helped lead to the formation of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation party in 1932, which became Canada's largest left-wing political party, and continues to this day as the New Democratic Party, and to the nature of the economic principles of the Farmer-Labor Party of the United States, particularly in the FLP's Minnesota affiliate, where advocacy for a Co-operative Commonwealth formed the central theme of the Party's platform from 1934, until the Minnesota FLP merged with the state Democratic Party to form the Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party in 1944.


  1. ^ a b William D. P. Bliss and Rudolf M. Binder (eds.), The New Encyclopedia of Social Reform. Third Edition. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1910; pg. 564.
  2. ^ a b c d Leonard Schlup, "Laurence Gronlund," in Leonard Schlup and James G. Ryan (eds.), Historical Dictionary of the Gilded Age. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2003; pg. 206.
  3. ^ Laurence Gronlund, The Cooperative Commonwealth. Boston, MA: Lee and Shepard, 1884; pp. 44-45.
  4. ^ Gronlund, The Cooperative Commonwealth, pp. 48-49.
  5. ^ Gronlund, The Cooperative Commonwealth, pp. 71-72.
  6. ^ Gronlund, The Cooperative Commonwealth, pg. 72.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g "Gronlund Talks: Discusses the Future of Socialism: Would Be a Collectivist," The Morning Call [San Francisco], vol. 77, no. 35 (Jan. 4, 1895), pg. 12.
  8. ^ a b "Socialists to the Front: Eager to Convert the Rest of the United Labor Party," The Sun [New York City], vol. 54, no. 297 (June 24, 1887), pg. 1.
  9. ^ See notice of his speech to the Christian Socialist Union on "Deeds of the French Bourgeoisie," Pall Mall Gazette [London], vol. 95, whole no. 6897 (26 April 1886), pg. 5.
  10. ^ See account of his lecture on "England's Future in the Light of Evolution," Glasgow Herald, vol. 104, no. 57 (8 March 1886), pg. 12.
  11. ^ Insufficiency of Henry George's Theory. New York: New York Labor News Co., 1887; Socialism vs. Tax Reform: An Answer to Henry George. New York: New York Labor News Co., 1887.
  12. ^ "Socialism Pure and Undefiled," The Sun [New York City], vol. 54, no. 299 (June 26, 1887), pg. 2.
  13. ^ a b c d Leonard D. Abbott, "A Memory of Laurence Gronlund," Social Democratic Herald [Chicago], vol. 2, no. 20, whole no. 70 (Nov. 4, 1899), pg. 1.
  14. ^ a b Laurence Gronlund, Our Destiny: The Influence of Socialism on Morals and Religion: An Essay in Ethics. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1890; pg. 6.
  15. ^ Gronlund, Our Destiny, pg. 8.
  16. ^ "Known by the World," Pittsburgh Dispatch, vol. 46 (Nov. 9, 1891), pg. 4.
  17. ^ a b "A Noted Lecturer: Laurence Gronlund Calls Himself a Collectivist," Salt Lake Herald, vol. 50, no. 129 (Oct. 11, 1894), pg. 2.
  18. ^ a b Clarence Bagley, History of Seattle: From the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time: Volume 2. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1916; pg. 642.
  19. ^ Seymour Stedman, "Laurence Gronlund," Social Democratic Herald [Chicago], vol. 2, no. 19, whole no. 69 (Oct. 28, 1899), pg. 2.
  20. ^ Daniel Bell, Marxian Socialism in the United States, in Donald Drew Egbert and Stow Persons, Socialism and American Life. In two volumes. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1952; vol. 1, pg. 259.


Further reading[edit]

  • A.B. Edler, "Lawrence Gronlund," Obituary. Reprinted in Appeal to Reason, whole no. 208 (Nov. 25, 1899), pg. 3.
  • Solomon Gemorah, Laurence Gronlund's Ideas and Influence, 1877-1899. PhD dissertation. New York University, 1965.
  • Solomon Gemorah, "Laurence Gronlund — Utopian or Reformer?" Science & Society, vol. 33, no. 4 (Fall-Winter 1969), pp. 446–458. In JSTOR.
  • Mark A. Noon, "Laurence Gronlund (1846-1899)," in Steven Rosendale (ed.), American Radical and Reform Writers: First Series. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 303. Detroit, MI: Thompson Gale, 2005.
  • Joseph Rickaby, Socialism: A Reply to Laurence Gronlund. London: Catholic Truth Society, n.d. [c. 1890].
  • "Co-operative Economics" (Wikipedia)