Eugene V. Debs
American labor and political leader (1855–1926)
(Redirected from Eugene Debs)
- Never mind what others may say, or think, or do. Stand erect in the majesty of your own manhood. Listen for just once to the throbbing of your own heart, and you will hear that it is beating quickstep marches to Camp Freedom. Stand erect! Lift your bowed form from the earth! The dust has long enough borne the impress of your knees. Stand up and see how long a shadow you cast in the sunlight! Hold up your head and avow your convictions, and then accept, as becomes a man, the consequences of your acts!
- "Industrial Unionism" (1905), Eugene Debs Speaks
- Go out into the field and bring in the rest of the workers, that they may be fully equipped for their great mission. We will wrest what we can, step by step, from the capitalists, but with out eye fixed upon the goal; we will press forward, keeping step together with the inspiring music of the new emancipation; and when we have enough of this kind of organization, as Brother DeLeon said so happily the other day, when we are lined up in battle array and the capitalists try to lock us out, we will turn the tables on the gentlemen and lock them out. We can run the mills without them but they cannot run them without us.
- "Industrial Unionism" (1905), Eugene Debs Speaks
- The workers are the saviors of society; the redeemers of the race; and when they have fulfilled their great historic mission, men and women can walk the highlands and enjoy the vision of a land without masters and without slaves, a land regenerated and resplendent in the triumph of freedom and civilization.
- "Industrial Unionism" (1905), Eugene Debs Speaks
- The class which has the power to rob upon a large scale has also the power to control the government and legalize their robbery.
- in Debs (1971), p. 75
- The issue is Socialism versus Capitalism. I am for Socialism because I am for humanity. We have been cursed with the reign of gold long enough. Money constitutes no proper basis of civilization. The time has come to regenerate society — we are on the eve of universal change.
- Open letter to the American Railway Union, Chicago Railway Times (1 January 1897)
- I am not a Labor Leader; I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition; as it is now the capitalists use your heads and your hands.
- As quoted in "Life of Eugene V. Debs" by Stephen Marion Reynolds, in Debs : His Life, Writings and Speeches (1908) edited by Bruce Rogers and Stephen Marion Reynolds, p. 71
- Wherever capitalism appears, in pursuit of its mission of exploitation, there will Socialism, fertilized by misery, watered by tears, and vitalized by agitation be also found, unfurling its class-struggle banner and proclaiming its mission of emancipation.
- "The American Movement" (written 1898, first published 1908)
- Ten thousand times has the labor movement stumbled and fallen and bruised itself, and risen again; been seized by the throat and choked and clubbed into insensibility; enjoined by courts, assaulted by thugs, charged by the militia, shot down by regulars, traduced by the press, frowned upon by public opinion, deceived by politicians, threatened by priests, repudiated by renegades, preyed upon by grafters, infested by spies, deserted by cowards, betrayed by traitors, bled by leeches, and sold out by leaders, but notwithstanding all this, and all these, it is today the most vital and potential power this planet has ever known, and its historic mission of emancipating the workers of the world from the thraldom of the ages is as certain of ultimate realization as is the setting of the sun.
- "An Ideal Labor Press," The Metal Worker (May 1904)
- The most heroic word in all languages is REVOLUTION.
- I have no country to fight for; my country is the earth; I am a citizen of the world.
- I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.
- From the crown of my head to the soles of my feet I am Bolshevik, and proud of it.
- As we have said, the bankers are for bullets—for the fool patriots that enlist at paupers' wages to stop the bullets, while the bankers clip coupons, boost food prices, increase dividends, and pile up millions and billions for themselves. Say, Mr. Workingman, suppose you have sense enough to be as patriotic as the banker, but not a bit more so. When you see the bankers on the firing line with guns in their hands ready to stop bullets as well as start them, then it is time enough for you to be seized with the patriotic itch and have yourself shot into a crazy-quilt for their profit and glory. Don't you take a fit and rush to the front until you see them there. They own the country and if they don't set the example of fighting for it, why should you?
- As quoted in "American State Trials: A Collection of the Important and Interesting Criminal Trials which Have Taken Place in the United States, from the Beginning of Our Government to the Present Day", Vol. 13, 1921
- Moyer and Haywood are our comrades, staunch and true, and if we do not stand by them to the shedding of the last drop of blood in our veins, we are disgraced forever and deserve the fate of cringing cowards.
We are not responsible for the issue. It is not of our seeking. It has been forced upon us; and for the very reason that we deprecate violence and abhor bloodshed we cannot desert our comrades and allow them to be put to death. If they can be murdered without cause so can we, and so will we be dealt with at the pleasure of these tyrants.
They have driven us to the wall and now let us rally our forces and face them and fight.
If they attempt to murder Moyer, Haywood and their brothers, a million revolutionists, at least will meet them with guns.
They have done their best and their worst to crush and enslave us. Their politicians have betrayed us, their courts have thrown us into jail without trial and their soldiers have shot our comrades dead in their tracks.
The worm turns at last, and so does the worker.
- "Arouse Ye Slaves!" (1906)
- It is utterly unsocialistic, reactionary and in truth outrageous, and I hope you will oppose with all your power. The plea that certain races are to be excluded because of tactical expediency would be entirely consistent in a bourgeois convention of self-seekers, but should have no place in a proletarian gathering under the auspices of an international movement that is calling on the oppressed and exploited workers of all the world to unite for their emancipation.
- Two Letters on Party Policy (1910)
- Lenin and Trotsky were the men of the hour and under their fearless, incorruptible and uncompromising leadership the Russian proletariat has held the fort against the combined assaults of all ruling class powers of earth. It is a magnificent spectacle . It stirs the blood and warms the heart of every revolutionist, and it challenges the admiration of all the world.
- "The Day of the People (1918)
- Those who produce should have, but we know that those who produce the most — that is, those who work hardest, and at the most difficult and most menial tasks, have the least.
- Walls and Bars (1927)
- When great changes occur in history, when great principles are involved, as a rule the majority are wrong.
- Speech in Cleveland, Ohio.(Sept. 11, 1918) Eugene V. Debs Speaks, ed. Jean Y. Tussey (1970)
- Solidarity is not a matter of sentiment but a fact, cold and impassive as the granite foundations of a skyscraper. If the basic elements, identity of interest, clarity of vision, honesty of intent, and oneness of purpose, or any of these is lacking, all sentimental pleas for solidarity, and all other efforts to achieve it will be barren of results.
Outlook for Socialism in the United States (1900) edit
- Of course, Socialism is violently denounced by the capitalist press and by all the brood of subsidized contributors to magazine literature, but this only confirms the view that the advance of Socialism is very properly recognized by the capitalist class as the one cloud upon the horizon which portends an end to the system in which they have waxed fat, insolent and despotic through the exploitation of their countless wage-working slaves.
- What the workingmen of the country are profoundly interested in is the private ownership of the means of production and distribution, the enslaving and degrading wage-system in which they toil for a pittance at the pleasure of their masters and are bludgeoned, jailed or shot when they protest — this is the central, controlling, vital issue of the hour, and neither of the old party platforms has a word or even a hint about it.
As a rule, large capitalists are Republicans and small capitalists are Democrats, but workingmen must remember that they are all capitalists, and that the many small ones, like the fewer large ones, are all politically supporting their class interests, and this is always and everywhere the capitalist class.
Competition versus Cooperation (1900) edit
- I would address a few words to those who are in sympathy with the Social Democratic Party, but who hesitate to vote for it for fear they may lose their votes. Let me say to you: It is infinitely better to vote for freedom and fail than to vote for slavery and succeed.
What's the matter with Chicago? (1902) edit
- Chicago is the product of modern capitalism, and, like all other great commercial centers, is unfit for human habitation. The Illinois Central Railroad Company selected the site upon which the city is built and this consisted of a vast miasmatic swamp far better suited to mosquito culture than for human beings. From the day the site was chosen by (and of course in the interest of all) said railway company, everything that entered into the building of the town and the development of the city was determined purely from profit considerations and without the remotest concern for the health and comfort of the human beings who were to live there, especially those who had to do all the labor and produce all the wealth.
As a rule hogs are only raised where they have good health and grow fat. Any old place will do to raise human beings.
- I do not oppose the insane asylum—but I abhor and condemn the cutthroat system that robs man of his reason, drives him to insanity and makes the lunatic asylum an indispensable adjunct to every civilized community.
The Negro and His Nemesis (1904) edit
- The Elgin writer says that we shall "jeopardize the best interests of the Socialist Party" if we insist upon the political equality of the Negro. I say that the Socialist Party would be false to its historic mission, violate the fundamental principles of Socialism, deny its philosophy and repudiate its own teachings if, on account of race considerations, it sought to exclude any human being from political equality and economic freedom. Then, indeed, would it not only "jeopardize" its best interests, but forfeit its very life, for it would soon be scorned and deserted as a thing unclean, leaving but a stench in the nostrils of honest men.
- Foolish and vain indeed is the workingman who makes the color of his skin the stepping-stone to his imaginary superiority. The trouble is with his head, and if he can get that right he will find that what ails him is not superiority but inferiority, and that he, as well as the Negro he despises, is the victim of wage-slavery, which robs him of what he produces and keeps both him and the Negro tied down to the dead level of ignorance and degradation.
- The man who seeks to arouse prejudice among workingmen is not their friend. He who advises the white wage-worker to look down upon the black wage-worker is the enemy of both.
- The African is here and to stay. How came he to our shores? Ask your grandfathers, Mr. Anonymous, and if they will tell the truth you will or should blush for the crimes.
- For myself, I want no advantage over my fellow man, and if he is weaker than I, all the more is it my duty to help him.
The Socialist Party and the Working Class (1904) edit
- "The Socialist Party and the Working Class", opening speech delivered as Presidential candidate of the Socialist Party, Indianapolis, Indiana (1 September 1904)
- There has never been a free people, a civilized nation, a real republic on this earth. Human society has always consisted of masters and slaves, and the slaves have always been and are today, the foundation stones of the social fabric.
Wage-labor is but a name; wage-slavery is the fact.
- The most barbarous fact in all christendom is the labor market. The mere term sufficiently expresses the animalism of commercial civilization.
They who buy and they who sell in the labor market are alike dehumanized by the inhuman traffic in the brains and blood and bones of human beings.
- The very moment a workingman begins to do his own thinking he understands the paramount issue, parts company with the capitalist politician and falls in line with his own class on the political battlefield.
- The political solidarity of the working class means the death of despotism, the birth of freedom, the sunrise of civilization.
- The capitalist class is represented by the Republican, Democratic, Populist and Prohibition parties, all of which stand for private ownership of the means of production, and the triumph of any one of which will mean continued wage-slavery to the working class.
- The Republican and Democratic parties, or, to be more exact, the Republican-Democratic party, represent the capitalist class in the class struggle. They are the political wings of the capitalist system and such differences as arise between them relate to spoils and not to principles.
- Deny it as may the cunning capitalists who are clear-sighted enough to perceive it, or ignore it as may the torpid workers who are too blind and unthinking to see it, the struggle in which we are engaged today is a class struggle, and as the toiling millions come to see and understand it and rally to the political standard of their class, they will drive all capitalist parties of whatever name into the same party, and the class struggle will then be so clearly revealed that the hosts of labor will find their true place in the conflict and strike the united and decisive blow that will destroy slavery and achieve their full and final emancipation.
- Ignorance alone stands in the way of socialist success. The capitalist parties understand this and use their resources to prevent the workers from seeing the light.
Intellectual darkness is essential to industrial slavery.
- Death to Wage Slavery!
- The united vote of those who toil and have not will vanquish those who have and toil not, and solve forever the problems of democracy.
- Civilization has done little for labor except to modify the forms of its exploitation.
- The Republican and Democratic parties are alike capitalist parties — differing only in being committed to different sets of capitalist interests — they have the same principles under varying colors, are equally corrupt and are one in their subservience to capital and their hostility to labor.
- First of all, Theodore Roosevelt and Charles W. Fairbanks, candidates for President and Vice-President, respectively, deny the class struggle and this almost infallibly fixes their status as friends of capital and enemies of labor. They insist that they can serve both; but the fact is obvious that only one can be served and that one at the expense of the other. Mr. Roosevelt’s whole political career proves it.
- The people are as capable of achieving their industrial freedom as they were to secure their political liberty, and both are necessary to a free nation.
- The hand tools of early times are used no more. Mammoth machines have taken their place. A few thousand capitalists own them and many millions of workingmen use them.
- Capitalism is dying and its extremities are already decomposing. The blotches upon the surface show that the blood no longer circulates. The time is near when the cadaver will have to be removed and the atmosphere purified.
- The working class must be emancipated by the working class.
Woman must be given her true place in society by the working class.
Child labor must be abolished by the working class.
Society must be reconstructed by the working class.
The working class must be employed by the working class.
The fruits of labor must be enjoyed by the working class.
War, bloody war, must be ended by the working class.
- With faith and hope and courage we hold our heads erect and with dauntless spirit marshal the working class for the march from Capitalism to Socialism, from Slavery to Freedom, from Barbarism to Civilization.
The Issue (1908) edit
- "The Issue", Speech delivered at Girard, Kansas (23 May 1908)
- Now my friends, I am opposed to the system of society in which we live today, not because I lack the natural equipment to do for myself, but because I am not satisfied to make myself comfortable knowing that there are thousands of my fellow men who suffer for the barest necessities of life. We were taught under the old ethic that man's business on this earth was to look out for himself. That was the ethic of the jungle; the ethic of the wild beast. Take care of yourself, no matter what may become of your fellow man. Thousands of years ago the question was asked: "Am I my brother's keeper?" That question has never yet 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 any maudlin sentimentality, but by the higher duty I owe to myself. What would you think of me if I were capable of seating myself at a table and gorging myself with food and saw about me the children of my fellow beings starving to death?
- People are never quite so strange to each other as when they are forced into artificial, crowded and stifled relationship.
I would rather be friendless out on the American desert than to be friendless in New York or Chicago.
- The rights of one are as sacred as the rights of a million.
- If it had not been for the discontent of a few fellows who had not been satisfied with their conditions, you would still be living in caves. Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.
Progress is born of agitation. It is agitation or stagnation.
- Competition was natural enough at one time, but do you think you are competing today? Many of you think you are. Against whom? Against Rockefeller? About as I would if I had a wheelbarrow and competed with the Santa Fe from here to Kansas City.
- When we are in partnership and have stopped clutching each other's throats, when we have stopped enslaving each other, we will stand together, hands clasped, and be friends. We will be comrades, we will be brothers, and we will begin the march to the grandest civilization the human race has ever known.
Working Class Politics (1910) edit
- We live in the capitalist system, so-called because its dominated by the capitalist class. In this system the capitalists are the rulers and the workers the subjects. The capitalists are in a decided minority and yet they rule because of the ignorance of the working class.
- The economic unity of the workers must first be effected before there can be any progress towards emancipation. The interests of the millions of wage workers are identical, regardless of nationality, creed, or sex, and if they will only open their eyes to this simple, self-evident fact, the greatest obstacle will have been overcome and the day of victory draw near.
The Secret of Efficient Expression (1911) edit
- Robert G. Ingersoll and Wendell Phillips were the two greatest orators of their time, and probably of all time. Their power sprang from their passion for freedom, for truth, for justice, for a world filled with light and with happy human beings. But for this divine passion neither would have scaled the sublime heights of immortal achievement. The sacred fire burned within them and when they were aroused it flashed from their eyes and rolled from their inspired lips in torrents of eloquence.
- Had Ingersoll and Phillips devoted their lives to the practice of law for pay the divine fire within them would have burned to ashes and they would have died in mediocrity.
- Denial of one's better self seals the lips or pollutes them. Fidelity to conviction opens them and truth blossoms in eloquence.
- There is no inspiration in evil and no power except for its own destruction.
- He who aspires to master the art of expression must first of all consecrate himself completely to some great cause.
Sound Socialist Tactics (1912) edit
- Revolutionary tactics must harmonize with revolutionary principles. We could better hope to succeed with reactionary principles and revolutionary tactics than with revolutionary principles and reactionary tactics.
- As a revolutionist I can have no respect for capitalist property laws, nor the least scruple about violating them. I hold all such laws to have been enacted through chicanry, fraud and corruption, with the sole end in view of dispossessing, robbing and enslaving the working class.
- If I had the force to overthrow these despotic laws I would use it without an instant's hesitation or delay, but I haven't got it, and so I am law-abiding under protest - not from scruple - and bide my time.
- I have not a bit of use for the "propaganda of the deed." These are the tactics of anarchist individualists and not of socialist collectivists. They were developed by and belong exclusively to our anarchist friends and accord perfectly with their philosophy. These and similar measures are reactionary, not revolutionary, and they invariably have a demoralizaing effect upon the following of those who practice them. If I believed in the doctrine of violence and destruction as part policy; if I regarded the class struggle as guerilla warfare, I would join the anarchists and practice as well as preach such tactics.
- There have been times in the past, and there are countries today where the frenzied deed of a glorious fanatic like old John Brown seems to have been inspired by Jehovah himself, but I am now dealing with the twentieth century and with the United States.
- But my chief objection to all these measures is that they do violence to the class psychology of the worker and cannot be successfully inculcated as mass doctrine. The very nature of these tactics adapts them to guerilla warfare, to the bomb planter, the midnight assassin; and such warfare. in this country, at least plays directly into the hands of the enemy.
- The sound education of the workers and their thorough organization, both economic and political, on the bassis of the class struggle, must precede their emancipation. Without such education and organization they can mke no substantial progress, and they will be robbed of the fruits of any temporary victory they may achieve, as they have been through all the centuries of the past.
- An organization of intellectuals would not be officered and represented by wages earners; neither should an organization of wage earners be officered by intellectuals.
Jesus, the Supreme Leader (1914) edit
- Jesus was not divine because he was less human than his fellowmen but for the opposite reason that he was supremely human, and it is this of which his divinity consists, the fullness and perfection of him as an intellectual, moral and spiritual human being.
- Jesus ... has been disfigured and distorted by cunning priests to serve their knavish ends and by ignorant idolaters to give godly sanction to their blind bigotry and savage superstition ... He has persisted in spite of two thousand years of theological emasculation to destroy his revolutionary personality, and is today the greatest moral force in the world.
- The vain attempt persisted in through twenty centuries of ruling class interpolation, interpretation and falsification to make Jesus appear the divinely commissioned conservator of the peace and soother of the oppressed, instead of the master proletarian revolutionist and sower of the social whirlwind—the vain attempt to prostitute the name and teachings and example of the martyred Christ to the power of Mammon, the very power which had murdered him in cold blood, vindicates his transcendent genius and proclaims the immortality of his work.
The Canton, Ohio Speech, Anti-War Speech (1918) edit
- "The Canton, Ohio Speech, Anti-War Speech" in The Call (16 June 1918)
- To speak for labor; to plead the cause of the men and women and children who toil; to serve the working class, has always been to me a high privilege; a duty of love.
- I may not be able to say all I think; but I am not going to say anything that I do not think. I would rather a thousand times be a free soul in jail than to be a sycophant and coward in the streets.
- This assemblage is exceedingly good to look upon. I wish it were possible for me to give you what you are giving me this afternoon. What I say here amounts to but little; what I see here is exceedingly important. You workers in Ohio, enlisted in the greatest cause ever organized in the interest of your class, are making history today in the face of threatening opposition of all kinds—history that is going to be read with profound interest by coming generations.
- There is but one thing you have to be concerned about, and that is that you keep foursquare with the principles of the international Socialist movement. It is only when you begin to compromise that trouble begins. So far as I am concerned, it does not matter what others may say, or think, or do, as long as I am sure that I am right with myself and the cause. There are so many who seek refuge in the popular side of a great question. As a Socialist, I have long since learned how to stand alone.
- I never had much faith in leaders. I am willing to be charged with almost anything, rather than to be charged with being a leader. I am suspicious of leaders, and especially of the intellectual variety. Give me the rank and file every day in the week. If you go to the city of Washington, and you examine the pages of the Congressional Directory, you will find that almost all of those corporation lawyers and cowardly politicians, members of Congress, and misrepresentatives of the masses — you will find that almost all of them claim, in glowing terms, that they have risen from the ranks to places of eminence and distinction. I am very glad I cannot make that claim for myself. I would be ashamed to admit that I had risen from the ranks. When I rise it will be with the ranks, and not from the ranks.
- They who have been reading the capitalist newspapers realize what a capacity they have for lying. We have been reading them lately. They know all about the Socialist Party—the Socialist movement, except what is true. Only the other day they took an article that I had written—and most of you have read it—most of you members of the party, at least—and they made it appear that I had undergone a marvelous transformation. I had suddenly become changed—had in fact come to my senses; I had ceased to be a wicked Socialist, and had become a respectable Socialist, a patriotic Socialist—as if I had ever been anything else. What was the purpose of this deliberate misrepresentation? It is so self-evident that it suggests itself. The purpose was to sow the seeds of dissension in our ranks; to have it appear that we were divided among ourselves; that we were pitted against each other, to our mutual undoing. But Socialists were not born yesterday. They know how to read capitalist newspapers; and to believe exactly the opposite of what they read.
Why should a Socialist be discouraged on the eve of the greatest triumph in all the history of the Socialist movement? It is true that these are anxious, trying days for us all — testing days for the women and men who are upholding the banner of labor in the struggle of the working class of all the world against the exploiters of all the world; a time in which the weak and cowardly will falter and fail and desert. They lack the fiber to endure the revolutionary test; they fall away; they disappear as if they had never been. On the other hand, they who are animated by the unconquerable spirit of the social revolution; they who have the moral courage to stand erect and assert their convictions; stand by them; fight for them; go to jail or to hell for them, if need be — they are writing their names, in this crucial hour — they are writing their names in faceless letters in the history of mankind.
- There is nothing that helps the Socialist Party so much as receiving an occasional deathblow. The oftener it is killed the more active, the more energetic, the more powerful it becomes.
- Those boys over yonder—those comrades of ours—and how I love them! Aye, they are my younger brothers; their very names throb in my heart, thrill in my veins, and surge in my soul. I am proud of them; they are there for us; and we are here for them. Their lips, though temporarily mute, are more eloquent than ever before; and their voice, though silent, is heard around the world.
- Are we opposed to Prussian militarism? ... We have been fighting it since the day the Socialist movement was born; and we are going to continue to fight it, day and night, until it is wiped from the face of the earth. Between us there is no truce—no compromise.
- You remember that, at the close of Theodore Roosevelt’s second term as President, he went over to Africa to make war on some of his ancestors. You remember that, at the close of his expedition, he visited the capitals of Europe; and that he was wined and dined, dignified and glorified by all the Kaisers and Czars and Emperors of the Old World. He visited Potsdam while the Kaiser was there; and, according to the accounts published in the American newspapers, he and the Kaiser were soon on the most familiar terms. They were hilariously intimate with each other, and slapped each other on the back. After Roosevelt had reviewed the Kaiser’s troops, according to the same accounts, he became enthusiastic over the Kaiser’s legions and said: “If I had that kind of an army, I could conquer the world.” He knew the Kaiser then just as well as he knows him now. He knew that he was the Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin. And yet, he permitted himself to be entertained by that Beast of Berlin; had his feet under the mahogany of the Beast of Berlin; was cheek by jowl with the Beast of Berlin. And, while Roosevelt was being entertained royally by the German Kaiser, that same Kaiser was putting the leaders of the Socialist Party in jail for fighting the Kaiser and the Junkers of Germany. Roosevelt was the guest of honor in the white house of the Kaiser, while the Socialists were in the jails of the Kaiser for fighting the Kaiser. Who then was fighting for democracy? Roosevelt? Roosevelt, who was honored by the Kaiser, or the Socialists who were in jail by order of the Kaiser? “Birds of a feather flock together.”
- In 1869 that grand old warrior of the social revolution, the elder Liebknecht, was arrested and sentenced to prison for three months, because of his war, as a Socialist, on the Kaiser and on the Junkers that rule Germany. In the meantime the Franco-Prussian war broke out. Liebknecht and Bebel were the Socialist members in the Reichstag. They were the only two who had the courage to protest against taking Alsace-Lorraine from France and annexing it to Germany. And for this they were sentenced two years to a prison fortress charged with high treason; because, even in that early day, almost fifty years ago, these leaders, these forerunners of the international Socialist movement were fighting the Kaiser and fighting the Junkers of Germany. They have continued to fight them from that day to this. Multiplied thousands of Socialists have languished in the jails of Germany because of their heroic warfare upon the despotic ruling class of that country.
- If Theodore Roosevelt is the great champion of democracy —the arch foe of autocracy , what business had he as the guest of honor of the Prussian Kaiser? And when he met the Kaiser, and did honor to the Kaiser, under the terms imputed to him, wasn’t it pretty strong proof that he himself was a Kaiser at heart? Now, after being the guest of Emperor Wilhelm, the Beast of Berlin, he comes back to this country, and wants you to send ten million men over there to kill the Kaiser; to murder his former friend and pal. Rather queer, isn’t it? And yet, he is the patriot, and we are the traitors. I challenge you to find a Socialist anywhere on the face of the earth who was ever the guest of the Beast of Berlin, except as an inmate of his prison—the elder Liebknecht and the younger Liebknecht, the heroic son of his immortal sire.
- I hate, I loathe, I despise Junkers and junkerdom. I have no earthly use for the Junkers of Germany, and not one particle more use for the Junkers in the United States.
- They tell us that we live in a great free republic; that our institutions are democratic; that we are a free and self-governing people. This is too much, even for a joke. But it is not a subject for levity; it is an exceedingly serious matter.
- These are the gentry who are today wrapped up in the American flag, who shout their claim from the housetops that they are the only patriots, and who have their magnifying glasses in hand, scanning the country for evidence of disloyalty, eager to apply the brand of treason to the men who dare to even whisper their opposition to Junker rule in the United States. No wonder Sam Johnson declared that "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel." He must have had this Wall Street gentry in mind, or at least their prototypes, for in every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the people.
- The Man of Galilee, the Carpenter, the workingman who became the revolutionary agitator of his day soon found himself to be an undesirable citizen in the eyes of the ruling knaves and they had him crucified.
- How stupid and shortsighted the ruling class really is! Cupidity is stone blind. It has no vision. The greedy, profit-seeking exploiter cannot see beyond the end of his nose. He can see a chance for an "opening"; he is cunning enough to know what graft is and where it is, and how it can be secured, but vision he has none — not the slightest. He knows nothing of the great throbbing world that spreads out in all directions. He has no capacity for literature; no appreciation of art; no soul for beauty. That is the penalty the parasites pay for the violation of the laws of life.
- Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder. In the Middle Ages when the feudal lords who inhabited the castles whose towers may still be seen along the Rhine concluded to enlarge their domains, to increase their power, their prestige and their wealth they declared war upon one another. But they themselves did not go to war any more than the modern feudal lords, the barons of Wall Street go to war. The feudal barons of the Middle Ages, the economic predecessors of the capitalists of our day, declared all wars. And their miserable serfs fought all the battles. The poor, ignorant serfs had been taught to revere their masters; to believe that when their masters declared war upon one another, it was their patriotic duty to fall upon one another and to cut one another's throats for the profit and glory of the lords and barons who held them in contempt. 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.
They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war, and strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people.
And here let me emphasize the fact — and it cannot be repeated too often — that the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace.
Yours not to reason why;
Yours but to do and die.
That is their motto and we object on the part of the awakening workers of this nation.
If war is right let it be declared by the people. You who have your lives to lose, you certainly above all others have the right to decide the momentous issue of war or peace.
- If ever I become entirely respectable I shall be quite sure that I have outlived myself.
- You need at this time especially to know that you are fit for something better than slavery and cannon fodder. You need to know that you were not created to work and produce and impoverish yourself to enrich an idle exploiter. You need to know that you have a mind to improve, a soul to develop, and a manhood to sustain.
- They are continually talking about your patriotic duty. It is not their but your patriotic duty that they are concerned about. There is a decided difference. Their patriotic duty never takes them to the firing line or chucks them into the trenches.
And now among other things they are urging you to "cultivate" war gardens, while at the same time a government war report just issued shows that practically 52 percent of the arable, tillable soil is held out of use by the landlords, speculators and profiteers. They themselves do not cultivate the soil. Nor do they allow others to cultivate it. They keep it idle to enrich themselves, to pocket the millions of dollars of unearned increment.
- And now for all of us to do our duty! The clarion call is ringing in our ears and we cannot falter without being convicted of treason to ourselves and to our great cause.
Do not worry over the charge of treason to your masters, but be concerned about the treason that involves yourselves. Be true to yourself and you cannot be a traitor to any good cause on earth.
Yes, in good time we are going to sweep into power in this nation and throughout the world. We are going to destroy all enslaving and degrading capitalist institutions and re-create them as free and humanizing institutions. The world is daily changing before our eyes. The sun of capitalism is setting; the sun of socialism is rising. It is our duty to build the new nation and the free republic.
- In due time the hour will strike and this great cause triumphant — the greatest in history — will proclaim the emancipation of the working class and the brotherhood of all mankind.
- [T]he class which has the power to rob upon a large scale has also the power to control the government and legalize their robbery.
Federal Court statement (1918) edit
- Statement to the Federal Court, Cleveland, Ohio, upon being convicted of violating the Sedition Act (18 September 1918)
- Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind then that I was not one bit better than the meanest on Earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; and while there is a criminal element, I am of it; and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.
- In this country — the most favored beneath the bending skies — we have vast areas of the richest and most fertile soil, material resources in inexhaustible abundance, the most marvelous productive machinery on earth, and millions of eager workers ready to apply their labor to that machinery to produce in abundance for every man, woman, and child — and if there are still vast numbers of our people who are the victims of poverty and whose lives are an unceasing struggle all the way from youth to old age, until at last death comes to their rescue and lulls these hapless victims to dreamless sleep, it is not the fault of the Almighty: it cannot be charged to nature, but it is due entirely to the outgrown social system in which we live that ought to be abolished not only in the interest of the toiling masses but in the higher interest of all humanity…
- I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.
- 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, 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 lookout knows that the midnight is passing and that relief and rest are close at hand. Let the people everywhere take heart of hope, for the cross is bending, the midnight is passing, and joy cometh with the morning.
Quotes about Debs edit
- Something was in Debs, seemingly, that did not come out unless you saw him. I'm told that even those speeches of his which seem to any reader indifferent stuff, took on vitality from his presence. A hard-bitten socialist told me once, "Gene Debs is the only one who can get away with the sentimental flummery that's been tied onto Socialism in this country. Pretty nearly always it gives me a swift pain to go around to meetings and have people call me 'comrade.' That's a lot of bunk. But the funny part of it is that when Debs says 'comrade' it is all right. He means it. That old man with the burning eyes actually believes that there can be such a thing as the brotherhood of man. And that's not the funniest part of it. As long as he's around I believe it myself."
- Heywood Broun, quoting an unnamed socialist in It Seems To Me, 1925-1935 (1935), p. 38
- Eugene V. Debs left to the workers’ movement a life record of unceasing struggle on the side of the oppressed, of dauntless spirit and careless disregard for personal rewards or hazards. It is a priceless heritage. That heritage belongs to the revolutionary workers. Let them claim it for their own.
- James P. Cannon, Eugene Debs - Hail and Farewell! (1926)
- Of Eugene V. Debs, the Socialist candidate, we can only say this frankly: if it lay in our power to make him President of the United States we would do so, for of the four men mentioned he alone, by word and deed, stands squarely on a platform of human rights regardless of race or class.
- W. E. B. Du Bois, "Editorial", The Crisis Magazine August 1912, page 181. Cited in Daniel Walden (ed.), W. E. B. DuBois: the Crisis writings, Fawcett Publications, 1972, page 191.
- He was lost and forgotten, even by the Chair, in the glowing demonstration of intelligent class-consciousness which claimed Debs, the indicted Socialist, and rejected the emissaries of a great capitalist government, however disguised.
- Crystal Eastman on Women and Revolution
- Why is the thought of Debs in jail so heart-breaking? It isn't because he is sixty years old. It is because he has the heart of a child, warm, trusting, merry heart, and who can think of a shut-in child without crying?
- The Liberator (July 1920), in Crystal Eastman on Women and Revolution
- Eugene Debs is a good American citizen as well as a good Socialist, and a man beloved by all who know him. To punish such a social servant for standing by his principles is a historic mistake — the world has made many such.
- Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in Ruth Le Prade (ed.), Debs and the Poets (1920). Also quoted in Justin Wintle and Richard Kenin, The Dictionary of Biographical Quotation of British and American subjects. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978.
- During my stay in Chicago I attended a Labour convention in session in the city...The most striking figure at the convention was Eugene V. Debs. Very tall and lean, he stood out above his comrades in more than a physical sense…Whatever the politicians in his party might be doing, I was sure that he was decent and high-minded. His belief in the people was very genuine, and his vision of socialism quite unlike the State machine pictured in Marx's communist manifesto. Hearing his views, I could not help exclaiming: "Why, Mr. Debs, you're an anarchist!" "Not Mister, but Comrade," he corrected me; "won't you call me that?" Clasping my hand warmly, he assured me that he felt very close to the anarchists, that anarchism was the goal to strive for, and that all socialists should also be anarchists. Socialism to him was only a stepping-stone to the ultimate ideal, which was anarchism. "I know and love Kropotkin and his work," he said; "I admire him and I revere our murdered comrades who lie in Waldheim, as I do also all the other splendid fighters in your movement. You see, then, I am your comrade. I am with you in your struggle." I pointed out that we could not hope to achieve freedom by increasing the power of the State, which the socialists were aiming at. I stressed the fact that political action is the death-knell of the economic struggle. Debs did not dispute me, agreeing that the revolutionary spirit must be kept alive notwithstanding any political objects, but he thought the latter a necessary and practical means of reaching the masses. We parted good friends. Debs was so genial and charming as a human being that one did not mind the lack of political clarity which made him reach out at one and the same time for opposite poles.
- Emma Goldman, Living My Life (1931)
- When the news of the Russian Bolshevik Revolution of November 1917 burst upon the world, American workers learned for the first time of a man named Vladimir Lenin-through this great event in human history, the beginning of socialism. We also learned some new words, which became part of the language in no time, "Bolshevik" and "Soviet," among them. Even those of us who were left-Socialists and IWWs knew practically nothing of the Russian Socialist movement, except that we had great sympathy with its long, agonizing struggle to overthrow the tsar's cruel and bloody regime. Overnight, "Bolshevik" became a household word, even to those who did not know it merely meant "majority," and referred to a political division in the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party. "I am a Bolshevik from the crown of my head to the tip of my toes!" said Debs. "Damned Bolsheviks!" employers shouted at militant workers and union organizers. All strikers were "Bolsheviks," of course.
- Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, The Rebel Girl: An Autobiography, My First Life (1955)
- (The IWW} was not only the inheritor of many of the traditions of the 1880's but personalities who were identified with the 1880's were present at the early conventions of the IWW. The names may not be known to you unless you are students of labor history but included were such figures as Eugene Debs, Daniel DeLeon and Mrs. Lucy Parsons.
- Eugene Victor Debs, whose home is an infrequently visited museum on the campus of Indiana State University, was arguably the most important political figure of the 20th century. He built the socialist movement in America and was eventually crucified by the capitalist class when he and hundreds of thousands of followers became a potent political threat.
- They heard the stirring voice of Eugene Debs, that most compassionate of American voices since Lincoln, and they knew it rang with truth.
- Irving Howe, Introduction to Echoes of Revolt: The Masses, 1911-1917 by William L. O'Neill (1989)
- You dear comrade! I have long loved you because you are an apostle of brotherhood and freedom. For years I have thought of you as a dauntless explorer going towards the dawn; and, like a humble adventurer, I have followed in the trail of your footsteps. From time to time the greetings that have come back to me from you have made me very happy; and now I reach out my hand and clasp yours through prison bars.
- Helen Keller, "To Eugene V. Debs", New York Call, April 29, 1919. Reprinted in Philip Sheldon Foner, (ed.), Helen Keller, her Socialist years: writings and speeches. International Publishers, 1967.
- The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 acted as a catalyst for the protracted workers' rights struggles and widespread sociopolitical change that would define much of the twentieth century. Transformative figures like anarchist organizers Emma Goldman and Lucy Parsons, socialist labor leader Eugene V. Debs, Knights of Labor head Terence V. Powderly, and AFL founder Samuel Gompers were all inspired by the massive forty-five-day railroad strike that cost hundreds of millions in damage, resulted in one hundred casualties, and saw a thousand people imprisoned.
- Kim Kelly (journalist) Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor (2022)
- At the People's College in Fort Scott, Kansas, my mother met Arthur Le Sueur, who with Helen Keller, Eugene Debs, and Charles Steinmetz had founded the greatest workers' school in the country. Thousands of farmers and hillbilly men, miners, and other workers took correspondence courses in workers' law and workers' English and workers' history.
- Meridel Le Sueur "The Ancient People and the Newly Come" (1976)
- Eugene Debs was a man the likes of which I had never seen before or since. He was a man who expressed love boldly. He loved and kissed the people. Kissing was not common on the puritan prairies, but he kissed comrades and children and women. He couldn't have been made anywhere else but in the Midwest. He knew poetry and the IWW preamble and all the people's expressions. It seemed to me theat his growth actually came from the people, his growth forced upon him by their needs, and he returned to them the image. He was fed, matured, and consumed by the struggles of his time. He loved the American earth and its people. He would sit in our kitchen and recite the death speech of John Brown (abolitionist). He believed in oratory and poetry and love. He was a lanky, tall man, who moved, like so many farm boys, as if the shy body receded backward, hung on the bones; his delicate face and bald head and his whole being were full of a kind of tenderness. He also liked to drink in a bar with the workers and recite poetry, orations, and stories and to listen to theirs. He was a marvelous speaker. In the time of no amplifiers his delicate message rang like a bell, as if his whole being became a resonance. He walked back and forth lifting his long arms and spoke like a lover and a teacher. Arthur had traveled with him on the "Red Special" in the 1908 presidential election. They spoke every hour from the train platform; the farmers stood in the fields to listen, and the workers came down to hear him at the station...I heard Debs tell with wonder how he confronted Jim Hill at the foot of Fourth Street in St. Paul, after he had held up Hill's trains in the Pullman strike of 1896 and how the big cyclops had said that not a man would go out on strike, that he knew every man who worked on his railroad (and he probably did). But they followed Debs and they won the strike, and Debs told how when the train pulled out of the St. Paul station, thousands of railroad workers stood silent and bare-headed beside the track. The greatest tribute ever paid him he said, was when they stood with their shovels and with happiness radiating from their faces, yet with tears in their eyes, their tribute more precious than all the bouquets in the world. These prairie agrarian prophets, these sagas of the people, still rise in the nitrogen of the roots, still live in the protein.
- Meridel Le Sueur "The Ancient People and the Newly Come" (1976)
- In both political and legal ways he played a significant part in reducing intolerance of dissent in this country, and bringing to life the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech.
- The words of the great American socialist, Debs, comes to my mind: “THE COURT OF FINAL RESORT IS THE PEOPLE, AND THAT COURT WILL BE HEARD FROM IN DUE TIME . . .”
- Debs knew what war does to societies. The very avoidable "Great War" broke the momentum of our nation's rising progressive reform movement, ushered in the era of red-baiting, and directly set the stage for World War II. Most crucially, the aggressive expansion of the American Empire and military state distracted and lowered the expectation levels for American democracy and civic society. Debs knew full well how power structures thwarted the general population's expectations for the good life and paved the way for entrenched austerity and misery, despite a growing gross domestic product.
- Ralph Nader, Breaking Through Power (2016)
- I also had luck because I was proud of my class--because of growing up with Socialist parents and having sat on Eugene V. Debs's lap and given him red roses. And hearing him. I remember how he said passionately, "You are not heads to them, brains that can think. You are not hearts to them, that can feel. You are hands." And he held up his hands. And he started, you know: "Cowhands, farmhands. . . ." I was impressed again by the power of language.
- Grand Old Rebel! I am writing you these few lines to express my admiration and appreciation of the grand stand that you have taken, regarding your restoration to citizenship. Why should you ask for that which you, in justice and fairness, have never forfeited? It is [thanks] to such characters as you that reaction is halted and this stupid old world moves on a little, until the time for change is reached...Hoping that your useful life may be spared for many years, I am
- Ah Debs, Debs, Debs, you are out-weighed, out-priced,
These are the days of Caesar, not of Christ —
And yet — suppose — when all was done and said,
There were a Resurrection from the Dead!
- John Cowper Powys, "To Eugene Debs", in Ruth Le Prade (ed.), Debs and the Poets (1920). Also quoted in Justin Wintle and Richard Kenin, The Dictionary of Biographical Quotation of British and American subjects. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978.
- In the Socialist Party I met Debs again. At that time the face of the party was truly turned towards the labor movement and from the first both Debs and I found our place mainly among the workers. We were always associated in the left wing of the party and both of us struggled constantly against the opportunistic, petty-bourgeois tendencies in the right wing of the party, led by the old-guard lawyer, Morris Hillquit.
- Ella Reeve Bloor We Are Many: An Autobiography (1940)
- In 1979, with changing technology, I wrote and produced a video on the life and times of Eugene Victor Debs that was sold to colleges around the country. Debs was a great American who played an enormously important role in our history, but he was unknown to most people. He was one of the leading trade union leaders of the late nineteenth century, the founder of the American Socialist Party, and a six-time candidate for president of the United States. In 1920, he received nearly 1 million votes for president while he was in jail for his opposition to World War I. Many of the ideas that Debs campaigned on were later adopted by FDR and incorporated into the New Deal. Today, I have a plaque of Debs on a wall in my Senate office.
- Bernie Sanders, Where We Go from Here (2018)
- Clearly the White House is the only safe place for an honest man like Debs.
- George Bernard Shaw, quoted in Justin Wintle and Richard Kenin, The Dictionary of Biographical Quotation of British and American subjects. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978
- While the history of Debs is the history of the Socialist Party in its activities and enthusiasm, it seems in the retrospect a somewhat extraordinary fact that a man who had been so active in building labour organization for more than twenty years was not, in the Socialist Party, primarily an organizer any more than he was a theoretician. He was instead the voice, sometimes the pen, always the soul and conscience of the Party.
- Norman Thomas, "Eugene Debs", in Alfred Barratt Brown, Great Democrats, Nicholson & Watson, 1934.
- While the flower of American youth was pouring out its blood to vindicate the cause of civilization, this man, Debs, stood behind the lines sniping, attacking, and denouncing them… This man was a traitor to his country and he will never be pardoned during my administration.
- Woodrow Wilson, Noggle, Burl (1974). Into the Twenties: The United States from Armistice to Normalcy. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
- He helped found both the American Railway Union and the Industrial Workers of the World, and was jailed in 1919 for his opposition to World War I. While in prison he ran for president, and received nearly 1,000,000 votes.
- It must have been about this time that I first heard Debs speak. He was facing an audience which packed the Academy of Music. On that same stage Henry Ward Beecher had stood and upheld the cause of the Democratic party in a tense campaign. I had been greatly interested in seeing Debs, for I had read and been told much about him-of his fearless leadership in the railroad strike of 1894, his term in jail as a consequence, and his fighting spirit. But I was disappointed that night-not by what he said, but by his manner. I thought him too much like a school-boy elocutionist. In after years, however, I attended several mass-meetings at which Debs was the main speaker, and he who had once been amateurish had become a real tribune of the people and a master of chastisement of the profit pharisees. No question about it an inspiring man because he was himself inspired. He was emotional, and used the logic of understanding born of long experience with workers. When one heard him voice a natural sympathy for the enslaved, one felt that here was a champion who would go to the stake rather than sacrifice his own beliefs.
- Art Young: His Life and Times (1939)
- "Chattel slavery has disappeared," Eugene Debs said. "But we are not yet free. We are engaged in another mighty agitation today. It is as wide as the world. It is the rise of the toiling and producing masses, who are gradually becoming conscious of their interest, their powers, as a class, who are organizing industrially and economically, who are slowly but surely developing the economic and political power that is to set them free. They are still in the minority, but they have learned how to wait and to bide their time. It is because I happen to be in this minority that I stand in your presence today, charged with crime." Not one word of his speech in Canton did he take back or try to soften. Instead he re-asserted the right of any minority, or any individual, to speak out against war or any other act of a nation which that minority or individual believed wrong. The indictment charged Debs with utterances calculated to incite mutiny in the army, stirring up disloyalty to the government, obstructing the enlistment of soldiers, encouraging resistance to the United States of America, and promoting the cause of the enemy. Then sixty-three years old, Debs was found guilty and sent to Atlanta penitentiary to serve ten years.
- Art Young: His Life and Times (1939)
- I regret exceedingly that though I am constantly coming upon references to the martyrdom of Eugene V. Debs, I do not know what particular act of righteousness has landed him in gaol. But from the admiration which he has excited in the breasts of many Americans whom I admire, I have an uneasy suspicion that he ought to change places with his judges.
- Israel Zangwill, in Ruth Le Prade (ed.), Debs and the Poets (1920).
Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States edit
- It was the Depression of 1893 that propelled Eugene Debs into a lifetime of action for unionism and socialism.
- There were Negroes in the Socialist party, but the Socialist party did not go much out of its way to act on the race question. As Ray Ginger writes of Debs: "When race prejudice was thrust at Debs, he always publicly repudiated it. He always insisted on absolute equality. But he failed to accept the view that special measures were sometimes needed to achieve this equality."
- when he read Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, it deeply affected him.
- When Susan B. Anthony, at eighty, went to hear Eugene Debs speak (twenty-five years before, he had gone to hear her speak, and they had not met since then), they clasped hands warmly, then had a brief exchange. She said, laughing: "Give us suffrage, and we'll give you socialism." Debs replied: "Give us socialism and we'll give you suffrage."
- The writer Heywood Broun once quoted a fellow Socialist speaking of Debs: “That old man with the burning eyes actually believes that there can be such a thing as the brotherhood of man. And that's not the funniest part of it. As long as he's around I believe it myself."
- As the Socialists became more successful at the polls (Debs got 900,000 votes in 1912, double what he had in 1908), and more concerned with increasing that appeal, they became more critical of IWW tactics of "sabotage" and "violence," and in 1913 removed Bill Haywood from the Socialist Party Executive Committee, claiming he advocated violence (although some of Debs's writings were far more inflammatory).
- Eugene V. Debs Foundation
- Learn about Eugene Debs
- Eugene Debs at the Anarchist Encyclopedia
- Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive
- Eugene V. Debs at DMOZ
- Eugene Debs on the IWW Memorial Page
- Debs (YouTube video), Bernard Sanders short political biography film which includes many readings of Debs quotes, Worldcat entry