Update 14-06: Sunday, February 9, 2014.

"A Day With Debs in Jail at Woodstock: How the Imprisoned Labor Leader and His Associates Lived in Confinement," by A.C. Cantley [July 6, 1895]   Cantley, a correspondent of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, visits jailed American Railway Union leader Eugene V. Debs and his associates at Woodstock Jail and finds a very liberal jail regime under the supervision of the county sheriff, a former grocery. Debs and his associates constituted themselves as the "Cooperative Colony of Liberty Jail," Cantley reports, and engaged in a regular self-directed program of military drill, economics study, exercise, journalism, and debate. The 7 jailed trade unionists were allowed to take meals inside the sheriff's private quarters -- unlike the other 5 prisoners sitting at the same time at the McHenry County Jail. Despite the structured, studious, communitarian regime, Debs indicates intense displeasure with the situation of he and his associates during a two-hour interview: "We feel that a cruel wrong has been perpetuated upon us in that we have been denied a trial by jury in flagrant disregard of the Constitution.... We committed no crime, we violated no law, we have not been tried, and yet we are sentenced to a term in jail, and the Supreme Court of the United States gives its negative affirmation to this outrageous proceeding by declaring that the court below had final jurisdiction and that its monstrous perversion of justice can not, therefore, be reversed. Every Federal Judge now constitutes a Tsar." Debs expresses a belief that the ongoing development of machine industry would press increasing numbers out of work, thereby shaking economic foundations. "The competitive system is nearing its close — the death gurgle is in its throat," Debs declares. "It is dying hard, but it has got to go, for the Eternal Truth is pledged to destroy every system not founded upon its immutable laws."

"This Plot Must Be Foiled: Conspiracy to Murder Mexican Comrades Now Imprisoned in This Country by Order of Diaz," by Eugene V. Debs [Oct. 17, 1908]   American Socialist  icon Gene Debs looks beyond American borders to rise to the defense of Mexican revolutionaries imprisoned by the country's military strongman, Porfirio Díaz. Debs alleges the existence of a "satanic international conspiracy" between the Roosevelt and Díaz governments to capture and execute Mexican revolutionaries-in-exile Juan Sarabia, Ricardo Flores Magón, Antonio I. Villarreal, Librado Rivera, and L. Gutierrez de Lara. He explicitly likens the situation faced by the Mexican radicals to that recently faced by Big Bill Haywood, Charles Moyer, and George Pettibone of the Western Federation of Miners. "These comrades have been engaged in a peaceful agitation in behalf of their wretched and suffering countrymen. Forced into exile by the ruling class, they came to the United States, but they soon found that their dream of security was a delusion and a snare," declares Debs. Debs calls upon the American working class to "arouse" to stop this "dastardly international conspiracy of capitalists to murder labor leaders who can not be silenced in any other way."

"To Our Comrades: Greetings," by Eugene V. Debs [Nov. 3, 1908]   With the arduous campaign of 1908 over, marked as it was by scores of speeches coast-to-coast from atop the Socialist Party's chartered train, the Red Special, Presidential candidate Gene Debs takes time to thank his supporters for their efforts. Debs makes note of the "hundreds of young, forceful, and effective orators, both men and women" who have become part of the Socialist movement since the 1904 campaign and the effective efforts of the Socialist press to counter systematic efforts at obfuscation and disinformation by capitalist politicians in the capitalist press. Debs notes the grave illness of his Vice Presidential running mate, Ben Hanford (chronic stomach trouble) and expresses well wishes. He also indicates belief that the Red Special had been effective and puts forward the idea of a permanent Socialist Party rail car, to travel from city to city in an effort to "thoroughly stir up the community and sow the seeds of Socialist thought and activity."

"Words of History: From the Annual Report (1907-08) of the Editor and Manager of St. Louis Labor which was Read at Last Year’s Annual General Meeting of Local St. Louis and Adopted," by G.A. Hoehn [Dec. 13, 1908]   Valuable history of the early period of the socialist press in the German-American mecca of St. Louis, Missouri, written by veteran party editor G.A. Hoehn. Hoehn, a German immigrant born in 1865, recounts the first German socialist newspapers in the city, the Volkstimme des Westens (People's Voice of the West) (c. 1877-c. 1880) and the St. Louis Tageblatt (St. Louis Daily Gazette) (1888-1897). The first English-language paper, according to Hoehn, was the original St. Louis Labor, edited by Albert E. Sanderson (1893-1896). Hoehn explains the proliferation of SLP papers of this period using the name Labor: "Later this publication developed into a Socialist Newspaper Union with special editions for 34 cities, some of which were Chicago; Milwaukee; St. Paul; Buffalo, Troy, NY; Boston, Holyoke, Manchester, Adams, Mass.; San Antonio, Texas; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Pueblo [CO]; Lincoln, Neb.; and other cities. St. Louis remained the headquarters of the Socialist Newspaper Union. For three years these publications, which had a joint circulation of over 6,000 [sic.?], did good work." A demonstrably incorrect version of events leading in the transition from the Social Democratic Party paper Missouri Socialist to the second iteration of St. Louis Labor follows. Hoehn hints at disarray within the seemingly solid ranks of Local St. Louis, declaring: "we cannot tolerate the DeLeonistic and Anarchistic work which some of our ward clubs have pleased to carry on for a number of years, much to the detriment and injury of our general party movement and our local Socialist press."

"The Gompers Jail Sentence," by Eugene V. Debs [Jan. 9, 1909]   Former American Railway Union president Eugene Debs -- who himself did jail time in 1895 as a result of a judge's unilateral declaration of his being in "contempt of court" -- weighs in on the landmark Buck Stove and Range Co. case, which had resulted in American Federation of Labor chief Samuel Gompers being sentenced to a year in jail and two of his associates to lesser terms for maintaining an unfair-to-labor list in the face of a judicial injunction. Debs makes an idealist and non-Marxist assertion that while the decision was logical and faultless "so far as those who regard labor as a commodity are concerned," nevertheless "labor is not a commodity but life, human life, with a soul in it, and as sacred as the God who created it, and that is why Justice Wright’s decision is heartless and infamous." Debs contrasts the harsh judicial treatment of labor leaders maintaining boycott lists with the green light given to employers to maintain employee blacklists and attributes this to corporation attorneys sitting as judges. He calls for radical and conservative unionists alike to join in "widespread, emphatic, and determined protest as will not only rebuke the court and prevent the sentence from being carried into execution, but absolutely secure them against any such despotic decision in the future."

"In Memoriam: Comrade Anna Ferry Smith Died in San Diego, Cal.," by G.A. Hoehn [March 6, 1909]   Memorial for Anna Ferry Smith, one of the 33 delegates that split the 1898 convention of the Social Democracy in June 1898 over the question of political action v. colonization to form the Social Democratic Party -- one of the forerunner organizations of the Socialist Party of America. Hoehn, founding editor of the St. Louis Arbeiter-Zeitung, the city's socialist weekly established in August 1898, recalls Smith's role as a founder of the Socialist movement in St. Louis and recounts a humorous episode of her defeat of a cockroach infestation at party headquarters. Also included is a reprint of a memorial by Francis M. Elliott from the Appeal to Reason, which lauded the "impulsive, combative, Celtic" Comrade Smith as "one of the grand apostles of human liberty, whose presence may be divinely discerned far out upon the frontier of human progress in every age of man." Bedridden in her last years, Smith had managed to fulfill her final wish of seeing Gene Debs nominated for President in 1908 and learning the "disappointing results of that contest."  

"Epigrams of Merit," by Eugene V. Debs [March 27, 1909]   A short collection of politically charged quips and witicisms gathered for publication in the Socialist Party of Missouri's weekly, St. Louis Labor. A few good examples include "The millionaire has as much too much as the tramp has too little," "I would rather be right with the minority than wrong with the majority," and "Books are better than beer."

"The Socialist Press," by Eugene V. Debs [June 5, 1909]   Short article by Socialist Party leader Gene Debs castigating the 50,000 members of the Socialist movement for their niggardly support of the party press. "Whether Socialist papers are privately owned or party owned, whether they are narrow and dogmatic or liberal and opportunist, they encounter the same difficulties and with scarcely an exception they are compelled to waste their means and energies in keeping going from day to day," Debs observes. Debs states that the average Socialist editor "works harder, longer, and more conscientiously than any other person in the movement, and he does it under circumstances that would break the spirit and drive out in despair and disgust anyone not literally harnessed to the movement by chains of steel." He notes the support of capitalists for their press and urges emulation. "Without a press of our own" in times of emergency or crisis, "we are practically helpless -- at the mercy of the enemy," Debs warns.

"Socialist Propaganda Through Moving Pictures," by J. Mahlon Barnes [Dec. 11, 1909]   Perhaps the earliest effort of the American socialist movement to make use of motion pictures for propaganda purposes was the Adrem Company, an unfruitful and obscure 1909 effort by Socialist Party National Secretary J. Mahlon Barnes and others to establish a socialist movie house in Chicago, for which it was planned to produce propaganda films. "This way to the minds of men and women means converts by the thousands, where cold logic and a windy corner would not hold a corporal’s guard," Barnes hopefully speculates. Declaring the moving picture to be "a medium as mighty as the daily newspaper," Barnes even proposes the radical new idea of the newsreel (created in France in 1908): "It is even possible to picture the tragedies of a big city upon the very day that they have happened. Photographs are taken, rushed to the studio, printed upon films, and thrown upon the screens before eager audiences within a few hours after their actual occurrence." The Adrem Company was to donate 50% of it profits to the Socialist Party, Barnes indicates, clearly implying the remaining 50% distributed to owners of $1 "profit-sharing certificates."

"A Matter of Vital Importance," by E.H. Thomas [Dec. 31, 1909]   Rotation of candidates in office is dismissed as a capitalist principle, a fad, and a tool for the radical left wing of the Socialist Party of America to take over the organization in this short piece by Elizabeth H. Thomas -- already for a decade the State Secretary of the Social Democratic of Wisconsin. Thomas points to the experience of the German, Belgian, and Austrian socialist parties in keeping "able, faithful, and experienced leaders" in positions of trust. The governing National Executive Committee of the SPA, consisting of right wing socialists Robert Hunter, Algie Simons, Victor Berger, and John Spargo, and centrist Morris Hillquit is just such a collection of "tried and true veterans" worthy of return to office in the "present crisis" -- to whom she would add Wisconsin's own Rev. Carl D. Thompson to fill the vacancy left by the departure of left winger A.H. Floaten. "Comrades, this is no time to experiment with the party... Preserve the Socialist Party!" Thomas vigorously declares.

"Why Boys Should Not Join the 'Boy Scouts,'" by Celia Rosatstein [June 1911]   The decade of the 1910s was marked by an ideological struggle for the hearts and minds of children, pitting on the one side the paramilitary Boy Scouts of America and on the other the radical anti-militarists of the Socialist Sunday School movement. This article from Young Socialists Magazine -- produced by the publishers of the socialist German daily New Yorker Volkszeitung -- makes the plea for SSS boys to reject the appeals of the Boy Scouts movement. Rosatstein writes: "Do not join the scouts. You will be taught to stand up for your master, to respect your master, to obey your master, and in case of a strike to shoot to kill. They will teach you that the workers are fools; that they don’t know what they are talking about when they want their rights. And when your parents who had struggled hard to support you that you may grow up to be good and healthy men, rise up and still struggle that you and your brothers and sisters may live in plenty, you, being on the side of the capitalists, will crush them. And yet you want to join an army where you will be taught to do the same."

"Jesus, the Supreme Leader," by Eugene V. Debs [March 1914]   New edition. An underappreciated aspect of Eugene Debs' ideology was his interpretation of Christianity and conscious emulation of the central figure of that religion. For Debs, Jesus Christ was in no way a fictitious or allegorical personage but rather a thoroughly admirable historical figure advancing a truly sacred cause -- the class-conscious struggle of the downtrodden and oppressed against "Mammon." For Debs, Jesus was a radical political leader whose tradition ran down the ages to John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, and Karl Marx -- and served as a model for the way in which a righteous person should live. This fiery article is probably Debs' fullest statement of his radical religious faith.

"Peace Advocate in Cincinnati Horsewhipped: Socialist Leader of People’s Council Abducted While on Way to Meeting" (Labor World) [event of Oct. 28, 1917]   News account of the kidnapping and horsewhipping of 1902 Ohio Democratic Secretary of State candidate-turned-Socialist anti-war activist Herbert S. Bigelow by the Ku Klux Klan. Bigelow, a Cincinnati minister, had been on his way to speak to a group of Socialists in Newport, Kentucky when he was abducted by five men, slapped into handcuffs, and whisked away by car to the woods near Florence, Kentucky. There his shirt was removed and he was handcuffed to a tree and sentenced to be whipped by a white-robed Klansman "in the name of the poor women and children of Belgium." Left in the woods to fend for himself, Bigelow found his way to medical attention in the town of Florence, according to the report.

 "Senate Passes Measure Aimed at IWW: Outlaws the Use and Advocacy of Violence." (Labor World) [Event of May 6, 1918]   In May 1918 the United States Senate passed legislation designed to outlaw the radical Industrial Workers of the World organization for the duration of the war. Any organization with the purpose of bringing about "any governmental, social, industrial or economic change within the United States by the use, without the authority of law, of force, violence, or physical injury to person or property" was to be declared an "unlawful association" under the bill, and it would become a felony -- punishable by 10 years in federal prison and a $5,000 fine -- to continue to be a member or agent of such an “unlawful association” or to "defend its acts." The Washington correspondent of the anti-IWW Duluth Labor World notes that should a test case find that the IWW advocated "force, violence or physical injury to persons or property" or held that physical injury to property was practiced by the IWW, members of the group would be forced to quit their membership -- "Otherwise they will be arrested by the hundreds, tried as rapidly as possible, and when convicted will be put away in federal prisons." The frightening possibility of radical former "wabbly" timber workers, copper miners, longshoremen, and farm workers flooding the local and central labor unions of the established labor movement after passage of the legislation is presented by the correspondent.

"Meyer London Urges Workmen’s Circle to Support President." (Labor World) [May 22, 1918]   Socialist Party Congressman Meyer London of New York left no doubt about his pro-war orientation despite the Socialist Party's anti-war St. Louis Resolution in his May 22 speech to the Pittsburgh national convention of the predominately Jewish and Socialist Arbeiter Ring organization. London casts the war as a battle between, on the one hand, "a strong brutal power organized for the last 50 years" and led by a Kaiser with an "infernal lust" for "world domination" against France, England, and the United States -- "the freest countries in the world." London declares that "as Socialists, we should be among the first ones to support our country in the fight for the idealistic peace program proposed by President Wilson, a peace program that was adopted by all liberty-loving people of the world." He expresses a feeling of vindication for his efforts to keep revolutionary Russia in the war over the objections of his East Side congressional constituents, who had "considered my action as one of treason to Socialism." (These quotes appealed simultaneously in The New Appeal under the headline "Where I Stand." Note that London lost his Nov. 1918 bid for reelection before being returned in 1920 and was never expelled for party treason.)

"Sedition Law Now Effective: Bill Imposes Prison Sentence of Twenty Years and $10,000 Fine." (Labor World) [May 30, 1918]   Short notice of the signing into law by Woodrow Wilson of the draconian Espionage Act which he had sought from Congress. This called for up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for anyone who "writes, prints or utters anything tending to obstruct a liberty loan campaign, recruiting for the army or navy, or anything vilifying the government or officials or tending to incite resistance to them, or who by word or deed favors the cause of Germany or her allies," according to the news report. Moreover those "convicted" of violating the act were to suffer the loss of mailing privileges, either sending or receiving, the article states.

"Mayor Van Lear Joins American Labor Alliance: Repudiates Socialist Anti-War Platform -- Speaks on Loyalty with President Gompers." (Labor World) [events of June 10-20, 1918]   In June 1918 Socialist Minneapolis Mayor Thomas Van Lear joined Congressman Meyer London in flaunting the SPA's April 1917 St. Louis Resolution on War and Militarism, which committed the party to militant and active opposition to American participation in the European war. The occasion for Van Lear's ideological flip was the annual convention of the American Federation of Labor, held in neighboring St. Paul. Unlike the previous year, when Samuel Gompers' pro-war American Alliance for Labor and Democracy had pointedly come to Minneapolis for its national convention and had been ignored by Van Lear, this time the mayor not only attended but joined the organization. Van Lear also appeared with Gompers on the platform at a public mass meeting held in support of the war. Robert Maisel, head of the AALD, held a press conference in New York City at which he flaunted the membership applications of Socialist Van Lear and his chief of police. "Last week he joined the Alliance, thereby repudiating the St. Louis platform; took part in extending a special welcome to the members of the labor mission to Great Britain and France, whose report the Socialist delegates to the AF of L convention refused to endorse, and aided in organizing a branch of the Alliance, which now has 2,000 members," Maisel boasted. (The Spanish-American War veteran Van Lear was ultimately expelled from the Socialist Party of Minnesota for violation of party discipline by a referendum vote of approximately 1500 to 800; on July 8, 1918 Van Lear's entire 13th Ward branch of Local Minneapolis was expelled for having refused to take action against him.)

"Red Party Leaders Have Death Bed Conversion: Frantically Profess They are for President Wilson’s War Aims — Moved by Events in Europe Rather than Loyalty to America," by A.M. Simons [July 6, 1918]   Inspired by recent endorsements of Woodrow Wilson's war aims by leading Socialist politicians such as Meyer London and Thomas Van Lear, pro-war social democrat Algie Simons takes aim at the sincerity of such political reversals. Socialist thinking, Simons indicates, is driven not by American patriotism, but rather by events outside of the United States -- such as the situation in revolutionary Russia, the overthrow of revolutionary Hungary, and British Zionist machinations in Palestine. At its core the SPA remains marked by an attitude of "insolent Prussianism," Simons declares, and continues the German foreign policy agenda, including most importantly the conduct of international meetings of socialists from both belligerent camps with a view to an outcome of "peace without victory." Only the American Federation of Labor has been alert and active in fighting this agenda, Simons states.

"Social Democrats Plan Convention; Meet Next March: Preliminary Eastern States Conference of Social Democrats in Philadelphia to Meet February 7." (New Leader) [Jan. 9, 1937]   Messy details about the effort to organize a new organization for those who owe their allegiance "to social democracy as opposed to dictatorship and terror" in the wake of the 1936 Socialist Party split. According to this piece, the new rival entity, the Social Democratic Federation, was formed in Cleveland simultaneous with the May 1936 split at the SPA's convention there. New York had been immediately expelled by the left socialists in the majority at Cleveland and had subsequently, it seems, established themselves as the "People's Party of New York." Other state organizations dominated by the moderate wing had quit the Socialist Party in 1936, including Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maryland, as well as about half of the New Jersey organization and 2/3 of Massachusetts. Permanent organizations had then been established in New Jersey and the District of Columbia. Julius Gerber's son Gus had handled the job as the provisional SDF's first national secretary until September 1936, after which Jim Oneal had taken over the task. The Indiana state socialist organization had also affiliated with the new provisional group, which had been joined by the Finnish and Jewish (Yiddish language) Socialist Federations. A preliminary "Eastern States Conference" was called by the Socialist Party of Pennsylvania for Philadelphia on February 7, which was to work out a program and agenda for a broader founding National Convention, to be held in Pittsburgh on March 14. Thus volition for the new SDF was not exclusively through the New York apparatus, but rather from the Pennsylvania socialist organization.

"'The Pity of It' Jim Maurer Says About Leftist Splits by James H. Maurer [Sept. 1937]   The Socialist Party controversy of 1936-37 pitted left and right against one another for control of the Socialist Party's name and assets. The Old Guard lost, splitting the organization to form the Social Democratic Federation at a founding convention held late in May 1937. Interestingly, in the elections of 1937 the radicals challenged the established old guard Socialists in September primary elections -- the inspiration for this short article by former Pennsylvania Federation of Labor President Jim Maurer. Maurer deems the split the inevitable result of a struggle between those who "belittled political action, glorified violence, and made the party acceptable to Communists and unacceptable to the American people" and adherents of democracy. Now in the midst of a further factional war with the Trotskyists whom they had themselves welcomed into the Socialist Party, the left socialists were attempting to create a diversion by "hurling mud and calling names." "The real issue here is whether we shall go by the Socialist way or the Communist way, the way or democracy or the way of dictatorship and, finally, of fascism," Maurer declares.


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