Eugene V. Debs organized and lead strikes, ran for president, educated the masses, and lived a life consistent with his socialist and religious beliefs. As we honor labor today, it’s worth reviewing some of Deb’s speeches and writing. He was imprisoned for speaking out against World War I his speech at Canton, Ohio in 1918 . President Woodrow Wilson and Congress had enacted the Sedition and Espionage Act which allowed this. Undeterred by his arrest and conviction, Debs ran for president from his prison cell in 1920. When Republican Warren Harding was elected, he commuted Debs’ sentence and invited him to the White House. The day after leaving the Atlanta Penitentiary, Harding greeted Debs at the White House with these words: “Well, I’ve heard so damned much about you, Mr. Debs, that I am now glad to meet you personally.” It was a different time.
Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the earth. I said then and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free. Eugene V. Debs, Founder of the American Railway Union
And that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose – especially their lives. E.V. Debs, Canton, Ohio, June 16, 1918
The earth is for all the people. That is the demand.
The machinery of production and distribution for all the people. That is the demand.
The collective ownership and control of industry and its democratic management in the interest of all the people. That is the demand.
The elimination of rent, interest, profit and the production of wealth to satisfy the wants of all the people. That is the demand.
Cooperative industry in which all shall work together in harmony as the basis of a new social order, a higher civilization, a real republic. That is the demand.
The end of class struggles and class rule, of master and slave, or ignorance and vice, of poverty and shame, of cruelty and crime — the birth of freedom, the dawn of Brotherhood, the beginning of MAN. That is the demand. 1903, Speaking before the Western Federation of MinersThe strike is the weapon of the oppressed, of men capable of appreciating justice and having the courage to resist wrong and contend for principle. The nation had for its cornerstone a strike, and while arrogant injustice throws down the gauntlet and challenges the right to conflict, strikes will come, come by virtue of irrevocable laws, destined to have a wider sweep and greater power as men advance in intelligence and independence 1888, Speaking during the strike of engineers and firemen on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Rail Line
In the Republican and Democratic parties you of the common herd are not expected to think. That is not only unnecessary but might lead you astray. That is what the “intellectual” leaders are for. They do the thinking and you do the voting. They ride in carriages at the front where the band plays and you tramp in the mud, bringing up the rear with great enthusiasm. E.V. Debs, Canton, Ohio, June 16, 1918
They are distorted, deformed, hideous mentally and morally. Their trade is treason, their breath is pollution and yet the officials of the C.B.&Q. formed a conspiracy with these professional liars, perjurers, cut-throats and murderers to overcome a strike, the result of a policy of flagrant injustice. 1888 Speaking during the strike of engineers and firemen on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Rail Line in which Pinkerton thugs, hired by the railroad, frequently assaulted strikers.
If it is a fact that after working for George M. Pullman for many years you appear two weeks after your work stops, ragged and hungry, it only emphasizes that the charge I made before this community, and Pullman stands before you a self-confessed robber….The paternalism of Pullman is the same as the self-interest of a slave-holder in his human chattels. You are striking to avert slavery and degradation.
1894, Speaking in Pullman, Ill., During the American Railway Union’s Pullman Strike
I told my friends of the cloth that I did not believe Christ was meek and lowly but a real living, vital agitator who went into the temple with a lash and a krout and whipped the oppressors of the poor, routed them out of the doors and spilled their blood and got silver on the floor. He told the robbed and misruled and exploited and driven people to disobey their plunderers, he denounced the profiteers, and it was for this that they nailed his quivering body to the cross and spiked it to the gates of Jerusalem, not because he told them to love one another. That was harmless doctrine. But when he touched their profits and denounced them before their people he was marked for crucifixion. Speaking to a reporter for Call from his prison cell in 1919 while serving time for making anti-war speeches.
Am I my brother’s keeper? [That frequently asked question] has never been answered in a way that is satisfactory to civilized society. Yes, I am my brother’s keeper. I am under a moral obligation to him that is inspired, not by maudlin sentimentality, but by the higher duty I owe myself.
It is when you have done your work honestly, when you have contributed your share to the common fund that you begin to live. Then, as Whitman said, you can take out your soul; you can commune with yourself; you can take a comrade by the hand and you can look into his soul and in that holy communion you live. And if you don’t know what that is, or if you are not at least on the edge of it, it is denied you even to look into the Promised Land. From a speech given at the founding of the Federal Council of Churches in Girard, Kansas, 1908
Statement to the court upon conviction for speaking out against World War II:
Your honor, I have stated in this court that I am opposed to the form of our present government; that I am opposed to the social system in which we live; that I believe in the change of both but by perfectly peaceable and orderly means….
I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and factories; I am thinking of the women who, for a paltry wage, are compelled to work out their lives; of the little children who, in this system, are robbed of their childhood, and in their early, tender years, are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon, and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the machines while they themselves are being starved body and soul….
Your honor, I ask no mercy, I plead for no immunity. I realize that finally the right must prevail. I never more fully comprehended than now the great struggle between the powers of greed on the one hand and upon the other the rising hosts of freedom. I can see the dawn of a better day of humanity. The people are awakening. In due course of time they will come into their own.
When the mariner, sailing over tropic seas, looks for relief from his weary watch, he turns his eyes toward the Southern Cross, burning luridly above the tempest-vexed ocean. As the midnight approaches the Southern Cross begins to bend, and the whirling worlds change their places, and with starry finger-points the Almighty marks the passage of Time upon the dial of the universe; and though no bell may beat the glad tidings, the look-out knows that the midnight is passing – that relief and rest are close at hand.
Let the people take heart and hope everywhere, for the cross is bending, midnight is passing, and joy cometh with the morning. Statement to the court, September 18, 1918