Newstalgia Reference Room with Eugene V. Debs, one of the most famous Sociaist movement leaders of the 20th Century. Please donate to Newstalgia and help save the site and the archive. Give what you can!
April 28, 2012

Eugene Debs - the lifelong struggle against corporate greed.


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I ran across an article about Eugene Debs the other day. Considered by many to be the first Socialist leader four-time candidate for President in the early 20th Century, firebrand labor leader and one of the more notable figures on the political scene from the 1890's until his death in 1926.

Here is an address, which has been attributed to an actor (Len Spencer) at the time, recorded shortly after he originally gave it in 1904.

Debs was renown for his public speaking, and his dramatic addresses were legendary. Although this is most likely not the real voice of Debs, Len Spencer was well aware of Debs' oratorical skills and was said to have captured the spirit of a Debs address quite accurately. Obviously, that isn't anything anyone can actually verify in 2012, so we'll have to take their word for it.

Here is the transcript of that address, as the original cylinder and recording techniques make it hard to understand at times:

“Fellow workers and comrades. The Socialist movement is as wide as the world and its mission is to win the world, the whole world, from animalism, and consecrate it to humanity. What a tremendous task, and what a royal privilege to share in it. To win a world is worthy of a race of gods, and in the winning, men develop god-like attributes since all men are potential gods. What a madhouse the earth would seem today in the frenzied revelry of Capitalism before the light the Socialistic philosophy sheds upon it. What Alpine peaks of wealth and what desert wastes of poverty, despair, and death. What man, unless his heart be adamant, can contemplate this awful scheme and be content? What man, unless his brain be atrophied and his vision blinded, can fail to perceive the impending crisis?

In the presence of this vast and terrible phenomenon how satisfying to be enlisted in the Socialist movement, to understand this doubt-dispelling social philosophy, and to interpret passing events in the clear light of its science. The productive mechanism in modern industry—vast, complex, marvelous beyond expression—burns the impotent touch of the individual hand but leaps as if in joy to its task when caressed by the myriad fingered collective hand of modern toil.

The mute message of the machine—could but the worker understand, and would he but heed it—child of his brain, the machine has come to free and not to enslave, to save and not to destroy the author of its being. Potent and imperious as the command of the industrial Jehovah, the machine compels the grand army of toil to rally to its tenders, to recognize its power, to surrender body breaking and soul devouring tasks, to join hands in sacred fellowship, to sub-divide labor, to equalize burden, to demand joy and leisure for all. And emancipated from the fetters of the flesh, rise to the sublimest heights of intellectual, moral, and spiritual exaltation.

To realize this great social ideal is a work of education, and organization. The working classes must be aroused. They must be made to hear the trumpet call of solidarity: economic solidarity and political solidarity. One great all-embracing industrial union and one great all-embracing political party, and both revolutionary to the core: two hearts, with but a single soul. The modern tool of production must belong to those who make use of it, whose freedoms, yea, whose very lives depend upon it.

A hundred years ago, the collective ownership of the individual tool would have been absurd. Today, the private ownership of the collective tool is a crime. This crime is at the foundation of every other that disfigures society and from its shop cellars exudes the festering stenches of all sweat-shop civilizations. Educate the working class. Spread Wilshire’s Magazine, and the weekly Socialist papers, the pamphlets, [inaudible], and leaflets among the people. The middle-class see their doom in Capitalism, and must soon turn to Socialism. The handwriting is on all the billboards of the universe. The worst in Socialism will be better than the best in Capitalism.

The historic mission of Capitalism has been to exploit the forces of nature, place them at the service of man, augmenting his productive capacity a thousand-fold, to turn as if by magic, the shallow, sluggish dreams into rushing, roaring Niagaras of wealth, leaving to the toilers who produced it, a greater poverty, insecurity, and anguish than before. The mission of Socialism is to release these imprisoned productive forces from the vandal horde that has seized them, that they may be operated, not spasmodically, and in the interests of a favored class, as at present, but freely, and in the common interest of all. Then the world—the world the Socialist movement is to win from Capitalism—will be filled with wealth for all to have and to enjoy in its abundance.

When enough have become Socialists and each day is augmenting the number and making them more staunch and resolute, they will sweep the country on the only vital issue before the nation. A new power will be in control: the people. For the first time in all history, man at last will be free!”

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