Eugene V. Debs

November 5, 1855 — October 20, 1926

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About Eugene V. Debs

Eugene Victor "Gene" Debs (November 5, 1855 – October 20, 1926) was an American socialist, political activist, trade unionist, one of the founding members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) ("Wobblies") and five times the candidate of the Socialist Party of America for President of the United States.[1] Through his presidential candidacies as well as his work with labor movements, Debs eventually became one of the best-known socialists living in the United States.

Early in his political career, Debs was a member of the Democratic Party. He was elected as a Democrat to the Indiana General Assembly in 1884. After working with several smaller unions, including the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, Debs led his union in a major ten-month strike against the CB&Q Railroad in 1888. Debs was instrumental in the founding of the American Railway Union (ARU), one of the nation's first industrial unions. After workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company organized a wildcat strike over pay cuts in the summer of 1894, Debs signed many into the ARU. He led a boycott by the ARU against handling trains with Pullman cars in what became the nationwide Pullman Strike, affecting most lines west of Detroit and more than 250,000 workers in 27 states. Purportedly to keep the mail running, President Grover Cleveland used the United States Army to break the strike. As a leader of the ARU, Debs was convicted of federal charges for defying a court injunction against the strike and served six months in prison.

In prison, Debs read various works of socialist theory and emerged six months later as a committed adherent of the international socialist movement. Debs was a founding member of the Social Democracy of America (1897), the Social Democratic Party of America (1898) and the Socialist Party of America (1901). Debs ran as a Socialist candidate for President of the United States five times, including 1900 (earning 0.6% of the popular vote), 1904 (3.0%), 1908 (2.8%), 1912 (6.0%) and 1920 (3.4%), the last time from a prison cell. He was also a candidate for United States Congress from his native state Indiana in 1916.

Debs was noted for his oratory skills, and his speech denouncing American participation in World War I led to his second arrest in 1918. He was convicted under the Sedition Act of 1918 and sentenced to a term of 10 years. President Warren G. Harding commuted his sentence in December 1921. Debs died in 1926, not long after being admitted to a sanatorium due to cardiovascular problems that developed during his time in prison.

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The year now drawing to a close will be memorable in the annals of labor because of the organization of the Industrial Workers of the World. For thirty years I have been connected with the labor movement. All of the years of my young manhood were devoted to the work of organizing my fellow-workingmen, that by the power of united effort they might do something to improve their condition as workers, promote their interests as citizens and advance their general welfare as men. There was a time when I believed that the trade union was in itself sufficient for this work. I have been compelled to revise my opinion and to conclude that something larger, more thorough and comprehensive in the way of organization is required to meet the demands o... (From:
The opponents of the Industrial Workers, numerous, varied and powerful though they be, will find themselves baffled in every attempt they make to stem the tide of new industrial organization. These opponents, strange as it may seem, embrace, besides the capitalist class and their “labor lieutenants,” Socialists who profess to favor industrial unionism and trades unionists who profess to be class conscious workingmen! An anomalous situation, indeed! The only national labor union that recognizes the class struggle, the Industrial Workers of the World, is opposed, and the American Federation of labor, whose leaders deny the class struggle,... (From:
(Chairman Rozelle: I have the pleasure now to introduce to you one whom you all know, Eugene V. Debs.) There is inspiration in your greeting and my heart opens wide to receive it. I have come a thousand miles to join you in fanning the flames of the proletarian revolution. (Applause.) Your presence here makes this a vitalizing atmosphere for a labor agitator. I can feel my stature increasing, and this means that you are growing, for all my strength is drawn from you, and without you I am nothing. In capitalist society you are the lower class; the capitalists are the upper class-because they are on your backs; if they were not on your backs they could not be above you. (Applause and laughter.) Standing in your presence, I can see... (From:
The unity of labor, economic and political, upon the basis of the class struggle, is at this time the supreme need of the working class. The prevailing lack of unity implies lack of class consciousness; that is to say, enlightened self-interest; and this can, must and will be overcome by revolutionary education and organization. Experience, long, painful and dearly bought, has taught some of us that craft division is fatal to class unity. To accomplish its mission the working class must be united. They must act together; they must assert their combined power, and when they do this upon the basis of the class struggle, then and then only will they break the fetters of wage slavery. We are engaged today in a class war; and why? ... (From:

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November 5, 1855
Birth Day.

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October 20, 1926
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January 18, 2021; 6:05:58 PM (UTC)
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