Eugene Debs is the most famous American socialist. He ran for president several times around the beginning of the 20th century as a socialist. Around 1912, the Socialist Party had hundreds-of-thousands of members nationwide. Several mayors were elected under the Socialist Party banner and Debs got hundreds-of-thousands of votes during his runs for the presidency.
Eugene V. Debs Speaks is a collection of his speeches.
Reading Debs speeches for the first time and doing so more than a century after they were first published, was a sobering experience. Reading them in the middle of the battle for the Democratic Parties nomination in 2020 was disappointing.
Much of what Debs wrote and said more than a century ago still applies today.
- Neither the Democratic nor Republican Party represents America’s workers.
- Traditional labor unions are too aligned with the Democratic Party to really fight capitalism on behalf of their members.
- Racism and sexism still prevents working people from joining together in the kind of revolution necessary to overthrow the corporate masters and create a society based on work, not capital.
- Big money in both political parties and labor unions has made the voice of the worker barely heard.
Taking a break from Debs’s words, I read about the culinary union in Nevada refusing to endorse Bernie Sanders because he champions Medicare for All. That one story incapsulates how insightful Debs’s words were so long ago. A union of workers is refusing to endorse a candidate who stands more with labor than any other candidate because the leadership of that union does not want to give up the health care system it has bargained for and created. The union’s leadership doesn’t care that millions of workers have no insurance and millions more are uninsured. No, the leadership of Nevada’s culinary union cares more about what it negotiated than the country as a whole and the workers everywhere.
Fortunately, it looks like many members of the union may ignore their leadership’s corrupt bargain with the Democratic Party and stand in solidarity with workers across America. If things go right, the spirit of Eugene Debs will live on in Nevada and the care of all workers will matter to the members of the culinary union. After all, members of the culinary union may someday work in a different field. They may leave Nevada. In either of those cases, they will be glad they ignored their corrupt leadership and stood with their fellow workers.
I was so inspired by Debs’s words and so horrified by how little things have changed in the last century that I joined the Industrial Workers of the World. I’m not in a union now, but I will stand with unionized workers who want to control their union free of political influence and the corruption of party politics.
Thank you for your greatness Eugene Debs. Come November, when our revolution is successful, we will be building off your legacy.