While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

Eugene V. Debs
Most famous American Socialist
Born: November 5, 1855(1855-11-05)
Died: October 20, 1926 (aged 70)
Political Beliefs Socialist
Famous For Well known Socialist in America

Eugene Victor Debs is one of the most famous(perhaps even the most) Socialist in America. He was a union leader and a founding member of both the International Labor Union and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Early in his life he belonged to the Democratic Party. He helped to found the American Railway Union, the largest union of it's time. He was involved and imprisoned for his part in the Pullman Strike.

His beliefs turned to Socialism after he read the work's of Karl Marx. Victor Berger was the man who gave him a copy of Marx's works. He influenced the American Socialist Party greatly and won the nomination of it five times. He was later arrested in 1917 for speaking out against American involvement in World War One.

Debs insisted on nonviolence and was a reformer. This lead him to protest against the American involvement in WW1.

Early Life Edit

Eugene Debs was born on November 5, 1855, in Terre Haute, Indiana to parents Jean Daniel and Marguerite Marie Bettrich Debs, who both immigrated to the United States from Colmar, Alsace, France. He dropped out of High School at the age of 14 to work as a painter. He did several jobs such as boilerman and grocery clerk. He then became a politician and was elected to the Indiana General Assembly. He did this as a Democrat. At this time the Democrats where actually the Conservatives in America.

Eugene debs first job

A picture of Debs at his first job, a painter, Debs is in the bottom left hand corner

Pullman Strike Edit

Debs became involved in the Pullman Strike in 1894, which grew out of a compensation dispute by the workers who constructed the train cars made by the Pullman Palace Car Company. The Pullman Company, due to falling revenue caused by th economic Panic of 1893, had cut the wages of its employees by 28 percent. The workers, many of whom were already members of the American Railway Union, appealed to the Union at its convention in Chicago, Illinois for support.[ Debs attempted to persuade the ARU members who worked on the railways that the boycott was too risky, given the hostility of both the railways and the federal government, the weakness of the ARU, and the possibility that other unions would break the strike. The membership ignored his warnings and refused to handle Pullman cars or any other railroad cars attached to them, including cars containing U.S. mail. Debs, though, finally decided to take part in the strike, which was endorsed by almost all members of the ARU in the immediate area of Chicago. Strikers fought by establishing boycotts of Pullman train cars, and with Debs' eventual leadership, the strike came to be known as "Debs' Rebellion".

The federal government did, in fact, intervene, obtaining an injunction against the strike on the theory that the strikers had obstructed the U.S. Mail, carried on Pullman cars, by refusing to show up for work. President Grover Cleveland then sent in the United States Army to enforce the injunction. The entrance of members of the Army was enough to break the strike, which ended with thirteen strikers killed, and led to a blacklisting of thousands of workers who had taken part in the strike.An estimated $80 million worth of property was damaged, and Debs was found guilty of contempt of court for violating the injunction and sent to federal prison. A Supreme Court case decision, In re Debs, later upheld the right of the federal government to issue the injunction.

Socialist Leader Edit

At the time of his arrest Debs was not a Socialist. In prison he read the works of Karl Marx,given to him by Victor Berger and then became one. He found a short lived party, the Social Democratic Party before founding the Socialist Party of America. The Socialists held considerable regional influence in some areas and managed to get two men in the House of Representatives.

Debs was the leader of the American Socialists and gained their nomination five times. Debs received 5.99 percent of the popular vote (a total of 901,551 votes) in 1912, while his 1920 campaign remains the all-time high for a Socialist Party candidate. His other tries where in 1904, 1908,and 1920. His highest vote in anyone state was in Nevada where he gained 16 percent of the vote, incumbent President Taft only had 15 percent.

Debs speech

Debs giving a speech

He arrested in 1917 for speaking out against the draft. He went to prison in 1919 and was latter pardoned by President Harding.

Despite being is prison he still ran for president from his cell, being the only person to do so. He gained the highest amount of votes a Socialist ever got(although not the highest percentage, Debs did however manage this in 1912).

In 1916 he ran for Congress in his home district in Terre Haute on the Socialist ticket and was defeated.

Though at first Debs supported the Russian Revolution and the Bolsheviks, he quickly sided with his friend and the person who introduced him to Socialism, Victor Berger and opposed the dictatorial style which Lenin ran Russia. This set the stage for the Socialist Party's long-time opposition to Communism.

Debs often was uncomfortable with his position as a leader, despite the Socialists great love for him and his oratorical skills.

Speaking Edit

Eugene V. Debs was noted as a powerful speaker. Debs was noted by many to be a charismatic speaker who sometimes called on the vocabulary of Christianity and much of the oratorical style of evangelism—even though he was generally disdainful of organized religion.

Legacy Edit

He died on October 20, 1926, at the age of 70 in Elmhurst. He is remembered as an opponent to big corporations and World War One. American socialists, communists, and anarchists honor his compassion for the labor movement and motivation to have the average workingman build socialism without large state involvement. He motivated the left in America and continues to this day.

Ten years later his beloved wife, Kate, was buried beside him. Debs was cremated and his ashes were interred in Highland Lawn cemetery, Terre Haute, with only a simple marker.

The measure of Debs and the Socialist Party is not in vote counts alone. A cartoon from the same 1912 campaign portrays the competition for progressive ideas by the parties, ideas such as voting rights for women, restrictions on child labor, and workers’ right to organize unions. It is highly doubtful if the Republicans and Democratics would have been giving at least lip service to such progressive ideas as early as 1912 had not the Socialists been popularizing these ideas since 1900.

Selected QuotesEdit

Very “great” men sometimes shrivel into very small ones and finally vanish in oblivion in the short space of a single generation.

The most heroic word in all languages is REVOLUTION.

The capitalist was originally a socially useful individual, but the evolution of our industrial system has rendered him a parasite, an entirely useless functionary that must be eliminated if civilization is to endure.

The patriotism of professional politicians is reflected in the material interests of the master class and this fact has become so apparent that their noisy theatricals have lost their magic and now excite but the scorn and derision of intelligent, working men and women.

It[Socialism] means the end of princes, the end of paupers and the beginning of Man.

Not many of those schooled in old-party politics have any adequate conception of the true import of the labor movement. They read of it in the papers, discuss it in their clubs, criticize labor unions, condemn walking delegates, and finally conclude that organized labor is a thing to be tolerated so long, only, as it keeps within “proper bounds,” but to be put down summarily the moment its members, like the remnants of Indian tribes on the western plains, venture beyond the limits of their reservations. They utterly fail or refuse to see the connection between labor and politics, and are, therefore, woefully ignorant of the political significance of the labor movement of the present day.

Sources/More Reading Edit

Wikipedia Article on Debs

| Eugene V Debs Foundation

Biography and List of Quotes

Archive of his Writings

Socialist Party of America Presidential Candidate
Socialist party of america logo Preceded by:None
Eugene V Debs
Succeeded by:
Allan Benson
Socialist Party of America Presidential Candidate
Socialist party of america logo Preceded by:Allan Benson
Eugene V Debs
Succeeded by:
Robert M LaFollette Sr (Progressive Party)