Labor Day Tribute to Eugene Debs, one of this country’s greatest progressive leaders

While there is a lower class I am in it;
While there is a criminal element I am of it;
While there ‘s a soul in prison I am not free.

–from Walls and Bars by Eugene Victor Debs, the great labor leader’s only published book

Mary Reilly Nichols inspired me with her Facebook tribute today:

“Happy Labor Day Everyone!

“‘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.'”
– Labor leader and Union organizer Eugene Debs 1855-1926

Courtesy of the Clarence Darrow Digital Collection here is Deb’s 224 page book in its entirety.


What I admire most about Debs is his opposition to World War I

Here is an excerpt from Debs’ anti-War Canton Ohio speech  made on June 16, 1918. This speech so inflamed President Woodrow Wilson that Wilson arranged for Debs’ 10 year sentence in the Atlanta Federal Prison. From Prison Debs was the first candidate for President of the United States to run as a convicted felon from Prison. Debs received more than a million votes in the General Presidential election while serving in prison. The winner Warren G. Harding, as Republican as they come, ironically signed the pardon freeing Debs.

Here is the Canton speech excerpt:

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…

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.






2 thoughts on “Labor Day Tribute to Eugene Debs, one of this country’s greatest progressive leaders”

  1. Thanks Joel!
    Wasn’t Debs amazing? A true hero.
    My great grandfather was a “Wobbly” and the family was union involved ever since. My dad got run out of Talladega Alabama by the KKK for trying to union organize in a textile mill there!

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