The state of socialism in America, circa 1912
|Eugene V. Debs|
The book is divided roughly in half; the first part being articles and short lectures and the second consisting of four longer campaign speeches. In “The Secret of Efficient Expression,” when Debs is asked to explain how he became such a powerful and effective speaker, he provides a political autobiography detailing the course of his self education. Among his influences, he ranks two great orators as his personal heroes: abolitionist Wendell Phillips and “The Great Agnostic” Robert Ingersoll—two names that crop up repeatedly in his discourse. In “Susan B. Anthony,” Debs expresses his admiration for and solidarity with the famous suffragist, whom he met on two occasions. “Pioneer Women of America” heaps more praise upon Anthony, while also recognizing Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s contributions to the women’s rights and abolitionist movements. In “The Coppock Bros.,” Debs recognizes two Ohio men who fought alongside John Brown in the attack on Harper’s Ferry. “Jesus, the Supreme Leader” presents a secular interpretation of Christ as the ultimate communist, a view shared by Sinclair and many other Christian socialists.
Of course, the book is more than just a collection of history lessons. The majority of its pages are occupied by political rhetoric, some of which could fairly be called propaganda. In “The Social Spirit,” Debs preaches against individualism, capitalism, and competition in favor of brotherhood, socialism, and cooperation. In a pair of pieces, “The Little Lords of Love” and “A Message to the Children,” Debs uses imagery of an idyllic socialist childhood to appeal to parent voters and ends up sounding manipulative and cloying in the process. The campaign speeches are where the real meat of Debs’s thought comes through. If there’s one entry that encapsulates the state of socialism in America a century ago it’s “Unity and Victory,” which opens as a primer on socialist philosophy and ends in a call for all unions to join together into one universal brotherhood of the working class. Not surprisingly for campaign speeches, the four selections included here tend to get repetitive, and Debs spends just as much time attacking his opponents—Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson, and William Jennings Bryan—as he does outlining his own agenda. These are campaign speeches, after all, intended to educate and persuade, not to entertain. Regardless of your political slant, the primary value of Labor and Freedom to the 21st century reader is its function as time capsule to an era when many considered socialism to be a viable option for American governance, the class struggle was openly discussed as a reality of American life, and the “S” word was not hurled about as a pejorative insult.
Articles, lectures, and speeches in this collection
The Old Umbrella Mender
The Secret of Efficient Expression
Jesus, The Supreme Leader
Susan B. Anthony
The Little Lords of Love
The Coppock Bros.
The Social Spirit
Roosevelt and His Regime
Industrial and Social Democracy
A Message to the Children
Pioneer Women in America
Unity and Victory
Political Appeal to American Workers
The Fight for Freedom
Capitalism and Socialism
If you liked this review, please follow the link below to Amazon.com and give me a “helpful” vote. Thank you.