The Election of 1904 (18-26)


Gene Debs seems to have embraced his role as presidential nominee of the Socialist Party in 1904 less grudgingly than he did four years previously. He delivered an acceptance speech to the SPA’s nominating convention in May, sat out the hot summer months — presidential campaigns were much shorter in that era than they are today — and began to campaign in earnest on September 1 with a widely reprinted speech delivered at Masonic Hall in Indianapolis.

Eugene V. Debs opens up campaign in New York City with speech at

This is not a typo, the Socialist Party remained the “Social Democratic Party” due to ballot restrictions in New York and Wisconsin during the 1904 campaign. It also had a different name in Minnesota, the “Public Ownership Party.”

It takes a great deal of time-consuming detective work to determine EVD’s itinerary during the 1904 campaign — there was never anything so neat and easy as a list of scheduled speaking engagements as there was for the “Socialist Red Special” year of 1908, with the time of every scheduled whistle-stop speech minutely planned and publicized on a printed schedule. Instead, newspapers from around the country have to be searched and perused and the rough outline filled in and fleshed out.

In connection with volume 3 of the Debs Selected Works I have made some serious progress towards a definitive listing of Debs speaking appearances during the 1904 campaign.  The following list is nothing like complete, bear in mind, is “only” at the 401 million page mark with their searchable accumulation of digitized microfilm — en route to several billion pages a decade hence, I am sure. There is no doubt whatsoever that blank spots will be colored in and a few errors fixed as more source material becomes available. That being said, the following makes for a decent start at the effort to list every Debs speech during the 1904 Presidential Campaign…

I’ve worked really hard on this. It interests me.

My timeline as it currently stands follows…

•          •          •          •          •


• Sept. 1, 1904. — INDIANAPOLIS at Masonic Hall scheduled.

• Sept. 2, 3, 4, 5. — no information.

• Sept. 6, 1904. — NEW YORK CITY at Carnegie Hall, George D. Herron presiding. Debs claimed in Montana News published Oct. 5 (pg. 1) that “there was a line seven blocks long formed to enter Carnegie Hall to avoid a crush at the doors, and a detail of 100 policemen to prevent a jam. The great auditorium filled to the roof in a few moments and thousands could not get in.”
• Sept. 7. — BALTIMORE, MD.
• Sept. 8. — WHEELING, WV
• Sept. 9. — DAYTON, OH. — Spoke on a Friday night at the Park Theater.
• Sept. 10. — no information.
• Sept. 11 —  ST. LOUIS, MO. At Riverside park to at least 5,000 people at a socialist picnic at Riverside Park. Debs spoke for two hours, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm.
• Sept. 12— MEMPHIS, TN. Introduced by Fred Stanley of the Labor-Journal. The editor of the Memphis Commercial Appeal afterwards wrote:

“Mr. Debs is a man of vast strength of personal magnetism. Intensely in earnest, a man of the people, caring little for the effect of rhetorical graces, although possessed of these in no mean degree, he first attracts attention and then compels admiration on his own account, even where the listener quite disagrees with his peculiar political and economic views.

“Eugene V. Debs upon the lecture platform is a man of intense action. His long, angular form bends and sways, his long right arm crooks and lifts, his bony fingers shake and point as he strives with voice and gesture to drive his argument home to the intelligence of his audience and clinch it there. He makes an individual appeal. There is no broad shooting at a phalanx, there are no scattering volleys. It is a rapid succession of sharp-shooting, in which every word counts and every sentence nails an argument. And always he speaks to you, and you forget that there are others who are listening.” (Quoted in SD Herald, Sept. 24, 1904, p. 1.)

• Sept. 13.— CHATTANOOGA, TN. Accompanied by a workingmen’s band dressed in “white duck trousers and blue shirts.” Spoke for two hours at the Auditorium, starting at 8 pm. Introduced by Socialist Congressional candidate R.B. Taggart.
• Sept. 14. — ATLANTA, GA. Planned meeting site at the Wesley Memorial Tabernacle abruptly cancelled 24 hours in advance. Hall of Representatives in State Capitol  secured at last minute and Debs spoke to about 300 people there for two hours. Introduced by Rev. E.M. Skagen of the West End Episcopal Church and Max Wilk, secretary of Local Atlanta SPA.
Debs faces troubles for Sept. 15, 1904 Birmingham, Alabama Socia• Sept. 15. — BIRMINGHAM AL. Denied access to the city’s opera house, campaign was forced to rent a smaller hall on the edge of town — then were denied rental of chairs. Eventually were able to obtain raw planks, which were placed on top of chairs to fashion makeshift benches. Hall crowded to capacity and hundreds turned away.
• Sept. 16. – LITTLE ROCK, AR at Old Concordia Hall. Free admission. Arrived in town at 1:40 and was escorted to the Gleason Hotel by E.W Perrin, State Secretary of the SP of Arkansas. Spoke for two hours to an audience including many farmers. “The house was packed and jammed, no standing room even out in the corridor. Debs was lustily cheered to the echo.”
• Sept. 17. — PINE BLUFF, AR.
• Sept. 18. — FORT SMITH, AR. Spoke during the day at the park to about 2,500 despite a heavy rain.
• Sept. 19. — KANSAS CITY, MO, spoke at Convention Hall to a large crowd, estimated variously at 2,000 to 5,000 people for more than 2-1/2 hours. Admission was 10, 25, and 50 cents. Speech punctuated by applause. Shook hands and spoke to a crowd of people who surrounded him for more than an hour after the speech finished.
• Sept. 20. — WICHITA, KS at Toler Auditorium. 300 reserved seats for 25 cents, otherwise admission free. Introduced by Rev. Granville Lowther, Socialist candidate for Governor of Kansas. Stayed in the Hotel Carey in Wichita afterwards.
• Sept. 21. — No speech given: transit day. Was rumored to speak at the depot at EL PASO, TX, en route to CA. A crowd assembled, but Debs was not on the expected train, which was running three hours late. Another news report has him visiting Newton, KS on the 21st and leaving late in the evening straight for Los Angeles.
• Sept. 22. — Arrived in ALBUQUERQUE, NM at 10:40 am, where he was scheduled to speak for 20 minutes at the depot. “Repairs” had to be made on the engine and he wound up speaking nearly an hour from the back of a baggage truck. According to one observer, “Many of those present were old railroad men who were visibly affected at meeting their old comrade… We presented him with a basket of native fruit and were awfully sorry to see the train move out.” No night speech given: transit day.
• Sept. 23. — LOS ANGELES. Speaks to an audience filling the 4,000 seat Hazard’s Pavilion at 8 pm on a Friday night. Admission downstairs ranged from 10 to 50 cents. The (anti-union) LA Times refused to cover the speech the next day.
• Sept. 24. — SAN FRANCISCO. Speaks to 7,000 at Woodward’s Pavilion. Admission was 10 cents, reserved seats 25 cents.
• Sept. 25. —  no information.
• Sept. 26. — PORTLAND, OR. Arrived at the hall at 8:30 pm to a standing ovation lasting several minutes.

Chicago Inter Ocean editorial on Debs, pt. 1 -


• Sept. 27. — TACOMA, WA. At Lyceum Theater, which was packed “from gallery to parquet.” Those unable to obtain seats congregated outside. Topic: “Political Economics from a Socialist Standpoint.”
• Sept. 28. — SEATTLE. Arrived in morning from Tacoma. Called at Seattle socialist headquarters then went to visit a friend at Dunlap. Spoke for two hours in the evening at the “new” Armory located on 10th and Howell streets to a full house. Tickets were 10 cents. Scheduled to leave on the 10 pm train for Spokane.
• Sept. 29. — SPOKANE, WA at the Auditorium. Introduced by David Burgess of Tacoma. Addresses 1,500 people paying from 10 cents to 50 cents admission.
• Sept. 30. — WALLACE, ID to a large and enthusiastic audience.
• Oct. 1. — MiSSOULA, MT at Union Opera House, scheduled to start at 8:00 pm. Socialist candidate for Clerk and Recorder T.D. Caulfield presided and Debs spoke for nearly 2 hours. Debs’ train from Couer D’Alene was scheduled to arrive at 3:15 pm.


Impassioned anti-Debs editorial from the Chicago Inter Ocean (Dec. 2, 1904), one of the city’s three or four most important dailies. They did not like EVD, putting things mildly…

• Oct. 2. – HELENA, MT: Ten minute whistle stop scheduled for 2:15. LIVINGSTON, MT at night to a SRO crowd. Debs spoke for two hours. “We could have used a house twice as large and filled every seat.”
• Oct. 3 – BUTTE, MT at the Auditorium. Scheduled to start at 7:30 pm. As many as 10,000 people tried to attend, with thousands unable to get in. Spoke for more than an hour.
• Oct. 4. – POCATELLO, ID. speaks for an hour between trains at McNichols and Wright Hall. Speaks briefly with a newspaper reporter in Ogden, en route to SLC. Arrives in SLC late night Tuesday, Oct. 4 and stays at the Grand Pacific Hotel.
Oct. 5. – SALT LAKE CITY at the Salt Palace Theater. Scheduled to start at 8:00 pm. Topic; “Should the trusts own the government or the government own the trusts?”
• Oct. 6. —  no information.
• Oct. 7. (?) — DENVER at Coliseum Hall, which was packed to the rafters. [Denver more than 500 miles from SLC and more than 500 miles from Omaha].
• Oct. 8.— no information.
• Oct. 9.— OMAHA, NE at Washington Hall.
• Oct. 10. — DES MOINES, IOWA at the Auditorium. Spoke in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 1,500, each paying 10 cents admission.
• Oct. 11. — MINNEAPOLIS at the vast International Auditorium, with admission set at 10 cents. An outdoor meeting was held outside due to the 7,000 seat venue (extra seats having been added) being filled, with Carl Thompson, George Kirkpatrick, and Frank O’Hare addressing the outdoor meeting.
• Oct. 12. — ST. PAUL scheduled.
• Oct. 13.— DUBUQUE, IA. Admission charged, which did not deter it from being one of the biggest political meetings in the city’s history. Full transcript of speech run by the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald.
• Oct 14. — ROCK ISLAND, IL to a full house at the Illinois Theater.
• Oct. 15. — No Speech Given.
• Oct. 16.—TOLEDO, OH to a full house at Memorial Hall. Five hundred people turned away at the door. Introduced by Thomas W. Row of the American Flint Glass Workers Union.
• Oct. 17. – CHICAGO at the Auditorium with Ben Hanford to an overflow audience. Small admission fee charged. Overflow crowd in Congress Street outside unable to get seats listened to stump orators.
• Oct. 18.— CLEVELAND, OH at Grays’ Armory. Debs arrived slightly late and was greeted by an ovation from a crowd estimated at 3,000 to 3,500.
• Oct. 19.— NEW CASTLE, PA seceduled.
• Oct. 20.— PITTSBURGH, PA at Old City Hall, auspices of Allegheny Co. Socialist Party.
• Oct. 21. — READING, PA. At the Auditorium to “the largest and most enthusiastic gathering ever held in the city.”
• Oct. 22.—WILMINGTON, DE at Turn Hall in the afternoon scheduled.
• Oct. 23. Sunday — NEW YORK CITY at the Academy of Music. Debs said to be accompanied on his eastern tour by Stephen M. Reynolds, a Terre Haute attorney and friend. Debs spoke in the afternoon to 8,000 people, who packed the floor, three balconies, boxes, stage, and standing room. Before opening the line outside ran for three blocks; half an hour after door closed there were still hundreds outside, unable to get in. Music was provided by the Brooklyn Letter Carriers’ band with speeches by Dr. Gibbs of Worcester, MA; John Brown of Connecticut, and Com. Bach, SPA candidate for Lt. Governor in New York. When debs entered a ten minute ovation erupted with cheering, shouting, and the waving of flags and handkerchiefs. EVENING: BROOKLYN at the Majestic Theater.
• Oct. 24.M— no information.
• Oct. 25. U — JERSEY CITY in the evening. Overflow meeting outside was addressed by Comrade Keep. SECOND MEETING: NEWARK at the largest hall in the city to an overflow crowd.
• Oct. 26. W — NEW HAVEN, CT to a SRO crowd at Music Hall. A torchlight procession with music and banners marched past Debs’ hotel on the way to the hall. Rev. Alexander Iroine cll ed the meeting to order. Debs spoke for two hours. Afterwards he was swarmed and lifted onto the shoulders of the crowd, who cheered themselves hoarse.

• Oct. 27, 28, 29. — no information.

• Oct. 30, 1904. — BOSTON, MA. Afternoon. Speaks with James F. Carey of Haverhill. Packs out Faneuil Hall, with “several thousand people unable to gain admittance, according to the Boston Globe. Spoke for more than two hours, then addressed an impromptu meeting outside in the square, then was surrounded by a cheering crowd of 1,000 who accompanied him to his hotel.
• Oct. 30, 1904 — BOSTON afternoon and FALL RIVER, MA at night.
• Oct. 31.— BROCKTON, MA
• Nov. 2. — ROCHESTER, NY at Fitzhugh Hall scheduled.
• Nov. 3. — BUFFALO, NY, Concert Hall at the Teck Theater Building scheduled.
• Nov. 4.— MILWAUKEE at West Side Turner Hall, the largest hall in the city. Large attendance included a number of farmers who came to town for the speech. Overflow crowd and a scheduled overflow meeting held at Freie Germania Hall. Debs was accompanied by a number of campaign speakers, including Seymour Stedman, Victor L. Berger (running for Congress in the 5th District), Winfield Gaylord (running for Congress in the 4th District), William A. Arnold, candidate for Governorn, Rev. E.E. Carr, and others.
• Nov. 5. — RACINE, WI scheduled
• Nov. 6. — DETROIT at Light Guards’ Armory scheduled.
• Nov. 7. — TERRE HAUTE, IN to close the campaign.
• NOV. 8. — ***ELECTION DAY***

Unsurprisingly, the exhausted Debs barely wrote or spoke on socialist themes for the rest of the year. He spent  time at home in Terre Haute, recuperating. Things got so bad that Victor Berger’s Social Democratic Herald was reduced to running repackaged “reruns” of EVD’s material like recycled Peanuts strips…

Berger and Debs were very, very friendly from 1897 to 1904. VLB was a good newspaper man. He knew that Debs “sold” and he tried to get a Debs article into every issue.

From Debs’ perspective, the Social Democratic Herald was his old paper, The Railway Times, with a new name under new friendly management. He was happy to help.

Things changed between Debs and Berger in 1905…

•          •          •          •          •

My best work of the week…

Gorgeous Socialist political art from 1904. This is a rare image for this period of SPA history, most radical art was still drawn very crudely.

"The Double Headed Octopus" — Socialist 1904 political ca

•          •          •          •          •

Publishing update.

debs-layout.jpgVolume 1 has now moved to the next stage, which is page layout. We’re still fussing a little bit over such matters as whether to use footnotes, chapter notes, or end notes and the size and justification of the quotation text, but it’s starting to look like a real book.

As I expected (but maybe not Haymarket, who has this thing listed as “540 pages” on their website), things will come in just north of 700 pages by the time everything gets tuned up and an index is tacked on.

The reason that I’m not surprised: I have been doing my work as specially formatted 6 inch by 9 inch pages throughout the text compilation and manuscript process. Moreover, I have been approximating the point size used in a standard Haymarket book — so the 753 page manuscript ending up as a 715 page book is vastly more likely than the prospect of it magically shrinking to become a 540 page book… Besides, word count: 275,000 words is 700 pages, give or take.

Haymarket are the absolute kings of massive paperbacks, having a couple in their catalog with over 1,300 pages (!!!) and a couple others weighing in around 1,000. Consequently, producing a fat book is nothing that I feel badly about. The girth will raise the selling price a few bucks, that’s show biz — you get what you pay for.

From my perspective bigger is better when one has six volumes to work with and 12 or 15 volumes worth of material to choose from. Just save as much good stuff out there as you can, that’s the name of the game…


By the way, Haymarket Books is running a 50% off sale through most of the month of August, so this is a fine time to get over there and fill out that library!




The deadline for Eugene V. Debs Selected Works: Volume 3 is October 15, 2018. I had previously set a soft deadline of August 1 to finish the document compilation phase of the project, which means things are now moving into what our soccer friends might call “extra time.” As there is a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words, there will be a number of cuts made, as expected.

I am guessing there will be about two more weeks needed to get finished.

  • “The Class Struggle and Its Impediments” — July 30, 1904 — 1,190 words
  • “Moving Toward Socialism” — Aug. 30, 1904 — 1,767 words
  • “Socialists Making Unprecedented Gains” — Oct. 1, 1904 — 622 words
  • “Principle Shall Prevail: Campaign Speech in Milwaukee” [excerpt] — Nov. 4, 1904 — 4,238 words
  • “The Swing of Victory” — Nov. 9, 1904 — 396 words
  • “Known by Its Fruits” — Dec. 24, 1904 — 655 words

Word count:291,422 in the can + 8,868 this week = 300,290 words total.

The above material — along with fairly vast numbers of other Debs speeches and articles — is available for free download via Marxists Internet Archive <>

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Home stretch (18-25)


I’m heading down the home stretch on document compilation and putting on a final kick for the finish line. No time to blog.

It will probably take me one week past my Aug. 1 soft deadline to get finished, judging by the list of items remaining to be found and assessed.




The deadline for Eugene V. Debs Selected Works: Volume 3 is October 15, 2018. I’m setting a soft deadline of August 1 to finish the document compilation phase of the project. This means there are now 1 more Saturday after today to get the core content section of the book assembled, with a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words.

  • “Mayor Jones and ‘All the People’” — Jan. 1904 — 1,169 words
  • “The Crimes of Capitalism in Colorado” — April 9, 1904 — 931 words
  • “Stray Leaves from an Agitator’s Notebook” — June 1904 — 2,730 words
  • “The Independence Depot Bombing: A Case of Capitalist Infernalism” — June 25, 1904 — 1,806 words
  • “The Anniversary of Class War in Colorado” — June 25, 1904 — 1,538 words
  • The American Movement — Aug. 1904 — 8,599 words
  • “The Socialist Party’s Appeal for 1904” — Oct. 13, 1904 — 3,575 words

Word count: 271,074 in the can + 20,348 this week = 291,422 words total.

The above material — along with fairly vast numbers of other Debs speeches and articles — is available for free download via Marxists Internet Archive <>

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Survey of the Debs Correspondence (18-24)


I spent an hour this week on the deck with a cigar and a beer reviewing the published Debs correspondence for 1897 to 1904, the time period that is covered in Selected Works Volume 3. There are a couple of fairly interesting takeaways which I will very briefly outline here with a view to incorporating them in the historical introduction to that volume.

•          •          •          •          •

Takeaway No. 1 — Bob Constantine was a really good historian.


The late Indiana State professor J. Robert Constantine, the dean of Debs studies.

I have complete faith in the letters selection by the late J. Robert “Bob” Constantine, the editor of the three volumes of Debs letters. I’ve reviewed the Debs Papers microfilm multiple times for the 1877 to 1896 period covered by Selected Works Volumes 1 and 2 and found precised one letter that I felt he “missed” — one of a series of communications that Debs had with E.E. Clark, head of one of the railway brotherhoods. It was totally “inside baseball,” with themes at least partially covered in other letters that were published.

That was it. Exactly one letter that I am tucking into the Works that Constantine skipped.

Similarly, I can’t find a single thing for this current interval that Constantine failed to include which should have included.

What he published is all the important material there is for the early period.

If Constantine’s selection of Debs letters can axiomatically be accepted as a complete survey of  surviving examples — which I believe is correct — that published material should be very closely analyzed. It’s not a loose agglomeration, the contents of which may be disputed by reasonable people, who might prefer alternate documents. Rather, it should be considered the universal set of the important material which has survived.

•          •          •          •          •

Takeaway No. 2 — There aren’t very many Debs letters for the 1897-1904 period.


Stock header for the syndicated article “Advice to First Voters,” distributed by the Newspaper Enterprise Association. Representatives of five political parties participated in the series with Debs writing on behalf of the Socialists.

So, what did Constantine put into print for the 1897 to 1904 period? Here’s a raw count of letters.


Letters by EVD: 2

Correspondence with his ARU friend Frank X. Holl, a loyal follower and a cable to Harry Demarest Lloyd attempting to bring him into the SDA as member of the group’s ill-fated “Colonization Commission.”


Letters by EVD: 2

Letters to EVD: 3

Rather empty correspondence with journalist Harry Demarest Lloyd and a first letter to Samuel Milton Jones (1846-1904), the maverick “Golden Rule” mayor of Toledo, Ohio.


Letters by EVD: 9

Letters by Theodore: 1

Letters to EVD: 3

Mostly a correspondence with “Golden Rule” Jones of Toledo. EVD had a stilted relationship with Jones, admiring the mayor’s actions and agenda while ultimately taking umbrage to his refusal to identify his efforts with the Social Democratic Party, instead deciding to remain independent on principle. The correspondence carried over into 1900 when the two seem to have broken over Jones’ refusal to abandon the William Jennings Bryan ticket and Debs’ related cattiness in a couple articles.


Letters by EVD: 3

Letters by Theodore: 1

Letters to EVD: 3

Theodore piece is his official report to the convention of the Chicago SDP, a highly important document. EVD correspondence with Tommy Morgan of the Springfield SDP campaign committee. Absolutely pivotal EVD letter to TD of Nov. 9 which I have already covered in detail in a previous blog post.


Letters by EVD: 5

Letters to Theodore: 4

Theodore pieces are correspondence from Elizabeth Thomas, Victor Berger’s strong right hand in the Milwaukee organization and Leon Greenbaum, National Secretary of the new SPA to TD in his capacity as the former National Secretary of the Chicago SDP.


Letters by EVD: 6

Letters by Kate Debs: 1

Two letters to Theodore, three to their father, and a thank you note for a photograph given to Debs by leading German Marxist theoretician Karl Kautsky.


Letters by EVD: 7

Letters to EVD: 4

First letters to Socialist United Mine Workers official Adolph Germer (1881-1966), later National Secretary of the SPA during the 1919 split of the Communists and to Morris Hillquit, the latter a thank you note for copy of Hillquit’s History of American Socialism that he was comped. Two communications from SPA National Secretary Will Mailly and correspondence back and forth with Harry Demarest Lloyd and labor historian Richard Ely.


Letters by EVD: 9

Letters by Theodore: 2

Letters to EVD: 3

Three of the letters loving personal correspondence to his parents. Four EVD and one TD letter to Adolph Germer, plus New Years greetings to Morris Hillquit: “There was a time, I confess, when I did not like Morris Hillquit. I did not know him. I do know him now and am trying to make up for past remissness.”


Letters by EVD: 43, as follows:

Father or Both Parents — 7

Morris Winchevsky — 5

Adolf F. Germer — 5

Samuel Milton Jones — 4

Henry Demarest Lloyd — 4

Morris Hillquit — 3

Edwin or Catherine Markham — 3

Theodore Debs — 2

Frank X. Xoll — 1

Stephen Marion Reynolds — 1

Thomas J. Morgan — 1

Marry Harris Jones — 1

Karl Kautsky — 1

Richard T. Ely — 1

Clara Spalding Ellis — 1

Ignatius Donnelly — 1

John Lloyd Thomas — 1

Cinton Pinckney Farrell — 1

Letters to EVD: 16, as follows:

Samuel Milton Jones — 5

William Mailly — 3

Henry Demarest Lloyd — 2

Thomas J. Morgan — 1

James Whitcomb Riley — 1

Frank X. Xoll — 1

Richard T. Ely — 1

Warren Atkinson — 1

George Candee — 1

Letters by Theodore: 4

Letters to Theodore: 5

Letters by Kate Debs: 1



The deadline for Eugene V. Debs Selected Works: Volume 3 is October 15, 2018. I’m setting a soft deadline of August 1 to finish the document compilation phase of the project. This means there are now 2 more Saturdays after today to get the core content section of the book assembled, with a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words.

  • “Graft vs. The Same Thing” — Oct. 1903 — 1,193 words
  • “An Ideal Labor Press” — May 1904 — 1,226 words
  • “The Socialist Party and the Working Class” — Sept. 1, 1904 — 6,299 words
  • “The Tragedy of Toil” — Oct. 1904 — 1,366 words
  • “Advice to First Voters” — Oct. 25, 1904 — 862 words

Word count: 259,957 in the can + 11,117 this week = 271,074 words total.

The above material — along with fairly vast numbers of other Debs speeches and articles — is available for free download via Marxists Internet Archive <>

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Halftime (18-23)


Two decades ago my best friend from college and I went out to lunch in Corvallis. We had both recently turned 35 and that served as the occasion — half of the biblical “three score and ten.” I don’t precisely remember a single word that we said to one another during the 90 minutes or so we were together, but I do remember it as a very reflective discussion that we had at what felt like “halftime” of our lives.

Time had flown. There were good memories and good stories and others that were less happy — but it was somehow deeply satisfying to take accounts and to acknowledge mortality. The relative shortness of the first half of life emphasized the value of time and served as a source of focus for activity in the second.

I now find myself feeling the same sort of mixture of pensiveness and optimism about the Debs Selected Works project today as the calendar ticks down on the arduous document compilation phase for the third of six volumes. Halftime approaches.

•          •          •          •          •

Origin of the Debs Project

I didn’t wake up one morning and decide that I wanted to spend five years doing a comprehensive Debs writings project. Far from it — this little obsession is the end product of a long process.

harrington.jpgI became a socialist as a freshman or sophomore in high school. I was both a committed Marxist and a democrat — with both a small and a capital D. The two most influential books in this process were The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels and Toward a Democratic Left by Michael Harrington, both of which had a place in the high school library in Eureka, California.

The Soviet Union and its centralized, authoritarian, police state held no attraction for me. Rather, it was a classic case of something that had gone terribly wrong and, as such, was something that needed to be thoroughly investigated and understood.

I studied Economics in college, with a view to getting a PhD and becoming an economics professor. Late in the process, in my Junior year, I discovered that I actually had little faith in the pseudoscience of marginalist economics — nor did I possess any quasi-religious faith in the nineteenth century economic system constructed by Karl Marx. Political science and history were far more fascinating.

I graduated and got married, gave up on life as a Economics professor, and worked towards taking over the family business, an independent shoe store. I bought lots and lots of history books in an effort to compensate for my  academic frustrations. It was a fair trade.

A few years later, academia again began to sing its siren song. I re-enrolled at Oregon State University part time, studying Russian language so that I could get into a Russian Area Studies MA program with a view to getting a PhD in Russian History. I was accepted at the University of Washington, which had an in-state tuition reciprocity program with Oregon for programs like Russian Area Studies that did not exist in Oregon’s system of higher education.

I had a miserable time. My wife hated Seattle and I struggled mightily with the exponentially more difficult language classes at UW, taught by unsympathetic Russian emigrants. The history part? That I absolutely aced — I truly was one of the top three Russian history students out of the program of 50 or whatever. Fuck it, I was the best, I can not lie… Remember, I had been buying and frenetically reading books for nearly a decade. But as a linguist — dogshit, baby, dogshit…

I found my brief brush with academia not to my liking and at the end of one year I left UW and came back to Corvallis and life as a retail merchant. When “my music” suddenly came back from the grave I put aside books and started a punk rock record label in 1995. It was a blast, making some of my best friends and having my most fun. I went pedal to the metal releasing vinyl 7″ers and CDs — nearly 100 total releases by 2002. I did wholesale distribution to stack up money to lose making stuff. It was incredibly fun.

Eventually fun became labor and musical tides turned. By 2003 I was ready to move back to scholarly pursuits. I decided that my Russian language skills were not good enough, nor would they ever be good enough, to do archival research in Moscow. Nor did I any longer feel that I had anything much to add to the ongoing revisionist/totalitarian school debate in the wake of the collapse of the USSR — which absolutely debunked the totalitarian school’s model of an unchanging authoritarian police state ruling an atomized population which was incapable of making change.

Instead I decided to move from academic interest in the Soviet 1930s to the American 1920s — the era of the Socialist-Communist split, our own “what went wrong?” and “what happened and why?” historical moment.

I began to envision a multivolume history integrating the various strands of American radical history — socialist, communist, anarchist. For the historic interval to study, I foresaw a beginning with the “preparedness” campaign of 1916 which paved the way for American entry into World War I, continuing through the restructuring of the Communist movement and nearly total disintegration of the Socialist Party at the end of 1924.

History is all about periodization. That’s my period.

•          •          •          •          •


I began building a website gathering and presenting documents about this period, a set of “reading notes in extremely long form” which could be marshaled for my writing project and began the long and costly process of building a second library. This continued for the better part of a decade.

eam-logo.jpgAlong the way one of the people closely associated with the website Marxists Internet Archive discovered my growing work creating and publishing documents for free download at my own site, Early American Marxism. He persuaded me that MIA was interested in “mirroring” my own work — putting up duplicate copies of the same stuff — and brought me into that fold. This in turn brought me into contact with one of the central figures keeping that project moving forward, David Walters of San Francisco.

A man of broad interests and wide knowledge in the field of radical history and Marxist political theory, David noticed the way that I had been paying particular attention to the unpublished writings of Eugene V. Debs whenever I found them.

“Why don’t you compile the Eugene V. Debs Collected Works?” he queried.

“Too big of a project,” I replied. I thought it would take a team of half a dozen scholars, working full time, about a decade to produce satisfactorily. There would be 15, maybe 20 volumes produced, I guesstimated. There were uncounted hundreds of articles spread out over scores of rare publications, material which needed to be discovered before it could be transcribed — and the transcription job would itself be massive.

Time passed and David repeated his suggestion a number of times; I was, however, more and more certain that the chore was unmanagably massive. But still I continued to type up and publish as many unpublished Debs articles as I could lay hands upon in the course of my work building the Early American Marxism archive, preparatory material for my three volume magnum opus on American Radicalism, 1916-1924.

His repeated suggestion left a mark, however, and I began to toy with the idea of some sort of Debs Selected Works, which made no pretense of completeness but at the same time captured everything essential from the massive number of lost-and-forgotten works by Gene Debs.

•          •          •          •          •


The Early American Marxism website was focused on the years 1916-1924, to be sure, but it also includes material dating back to launch of the modern socialist movement in America in the 1870s and forward to the coming of World War II, which essentially erased the chalk board on the early phase of American radicalism.

LovestoneOne of the small radical movements that fascinated me, and which I attempted to document, was the “Communist Party Majority Group” associated with former CPUSA Secretary Jay Lovestone. My small stack of documents online drew the attention of Pennsylvania professor and radical activist Paul LeBlanc, who was launching a multi-volume book project gathering the key public documents of a number of dissident Marxist organizations in the United States.

The number of Lovestone experts in the United States can be counted on the toes of one’s right foot and I seemed to qualify. Paul drafted me into his project as co-editor. It was his baby all the way although I did manage to shoehorn a fairly long historical chapter into the book, putting some new detail about the 1929 CPUSA-Lovestone split into print.

The project occupied the better part of a year, I worked my ass off on it running pamphlets and newspaper columns through OCR and correcting. I learned a great deal about the publishing world in the process, picking up the invaluable skill of counting words to meet a quota and developing a short list of what NOT to do when I did a book project of my own.

The Lovestone was published by a Dutch academic publisher called Brill, who I felt made a mess of things, with the paperback rights assigned to Haymarket Books of Chicago, the publishing arm of a Trotskyist political party called the International Socialist Organization (ISO). The latter is today the largest Marxist publishing house in the United States — by a big margin it would seem. I developed warm feelings about them and when my friend David Walters mentioned that he had connections with their editorial board, I began to seriously consider whether a Debs Selected Works project might be viable and decided to take the leap. David agreed to sign on as co-editor and consigliere.

Forward and onward.

•          •          •          •          •

The Big Shipping Error

papers-guideI already had in my library the printed guide for the Eugene V. Debs papers, a 21-reel set of microfilm produced in the 1980s. I had also previously borrowed several reels of Debs correspondence from this set through interlibrary loan. Once I decided to take on Debs, the first order of business was acquiring the three key reels of the set, gathering Debs’s publications.

It took a long time and several failed efforts to get the microfilm publisher to even talk to us. Commercial microfilm publishers are pretty icky, a first cousin of the publishers of big money academic journals, used to dealing with institutions with thousands of dollars to spend and not ashamed to price things in such a matter as to drain those thousands as quickly as possible. The sale of just three reels of film, even at the pirate-with-an-eyepatch rate of $200 a reel, held no attraction for them.

Ultimately we managed to get somebody to quote us a price for the critical reels however, and we cut them a check and waited.

To my shock and nefarious delight, the Huge Commercial Microfilm Company ended up shipping an entire 21-reel set of Debs papers microfilm! Mum was the word with me, call me a criminal element. Microfilm costs about $15 per reel to duplicate, by the way, so I rationalized my silence with the fact that they still cleared about $275 on the transaction. I can live with myself… The contribution that Huge Commercial Microfilm Company inadvertently made to historical science has proven to be massive, as the three targeted reels that we actually paid for have proven to be more or less useless garbage, while several of the other reels they “tagged on” have been a goldmine of new material not even listed in the guidebook.

I’m not sure what the takeaway is. “Never trust a guidebook?” “Bigger equals Dumber?” “Silence can be golden?” “Crime sometimes pays, just not very well?”

Anyway, thanks, rich guys… Without you, this project would have sucked and I never would have figured it out. Now it is solid, and I know that it is solid…

•          •          •          •          •

Databasing Debs

The first task I set myself, and one thing that I really did right, was creating a database of every known Debs article. I started by listing every article Debs wrote during his 13 year editorship of Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine, to which I added later Debs material converted from the (alphabetical by title) listing in the microfilm guidebook to my chronological listing.

To this I have added every “new discovery” as I made them, while subtracting the multiple listings of the same material I have observed which had found its way into the Constantine & Malmgreen microfilm guidebook. Then I cross-referenced every previously published collection of Debs material, of which there have been more than half a dozen.



If that sounds like a lot of work, you are on target. I spent three solid months just getting this database up to speed. Once it was in place, however, I found myself the proud possessor of the mother of all power tools for a Debs Selected Works project — chronologically listing every article, its first source, and recording a word count and notations as I work down the list. A tiny section of this database, listing some of the material from 1902 and 1903, appears above.

You will see that according to my current count indicates there are exactly 3,928 known Debs items. I expect this ever-changing total to sit right at the 4,000 item mark by the time the smoke clears several years hence.

•          •          •          •          •

Three Volumes. No, Four… No, Five… No, Six…

haymarket-logoWhat started as a three volume Debs Selected Works project has steadily expanded as I have grown more familiar with the size and shape of the Debs corpus. Our publisher, Haymarket Books, has been extremely supportive, granting us the fourth, then fifth, and finally sixth volume that we have requested.

It’s actually quite an amazing commitment on their part and they are to be saluted for their fortitude. Six volumes should be just right. As I am now finishing up with the documents phase of volume three in the next few weeks here, halftime approaches!

Never satisfied to leave well enough alone, I’m also starting to suss out the prospect of a supplemental self-published volume putting into print a comprehensive index and the key information from my vast database of Debs titles. I wouldn’t dream of burdening Haymarket with that esoteric monstrosity. More on that at some future date.


The deadline for Eugene V. Debs Selected Works: Volume 3 is October 15, 2018. I’m setting a soft deadline of August 1 to finish the document compilation phase of the project. This means there are now 3 more Saturdays after today to get the core content section of the book assembled, with a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words.

  • “‘I Am with You in This’: Speech to the Joint Convention of the Western Federation of Miners and Western Labor Union” — May 31, 1902 — 3,077 words
  • “The Social Crusaders” — Feb. 4, 1903 — 1,401 words
  • “Labor and Politics: Address Delivered at the Socialist Picnic at Gross’s Park, St. Louis” — Sept. 13, 1903 — 1,993 words
  • “The Negro and His Nemesis” — Jan. 1904 — 3,342 words
  • Unionism and Socialism — July 1904 — 13,538 words

Word count: 236,221 in the can + 23,736 this week = 259,957 words total.

The above material — along with fairly vast numbers of other Debs speeches and articles — is available for free download via Marxists Internet Archive <>


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The 1904 Socialist Party Convention (18-22)


On May Day, 1904, Socialists from around the United States descended upon Chicago to hold their first quadrennial national convention, called for the purpose of nominating a ticket for President and Vice-President of the United States. As a nominating convention, there was little drama in the air — mainstream newspapers were unanimous in their belief that the nomination of Gene Debs for a second run for the presidency was a foredrawn conclusion. One or two papers did halfheartedly speculate that perhaps Los Angeles publisher Gaylord Wilshire might also be nominated.

While in the hours before the convention rumors began to circulate that Debs would once again play coy and decline the nomination, reality seems to have been less dramatic. A fairly straightforward nomination was made by Prof. George D. Herron and a unanimous decision rendered in favor of a ticket comprised of Debs and journalist and printer Ben Hanford of New York City.

•          •          •          •          •

The View from Milwaukee.

The Social Democratic Herald, edited in Milwaukee by newly elected city alderman Fred Heath, provided an excellent firsthand account of the festivities:


Brand’s Hall, located on the SE corner of Clark and Erie Streets, was said to be a cavernous room with terrible acoustics. In 1905 the building would also play host to the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World.

The national nominating convention of the Socialists of America … would have been practically perfect but for two things. One of these was the unfortunate selection of a hall. Brand’s Hall, on North Clark Street, is large and roomy and the location is not bad, but its acoustics are execrable — they could not well be worse, and this fact contributed greatly toward producing confusion and, at time, actual tumult. It was almost impossible to hear what the speakers were saying, and often when one delegate had the floor, his words were drowned by others calling out for the floor, in blissful ignorance that anyone already had it.

The other factor making for confusion was the altogether well meant work of the Appeal to Reason, of Girard, Kansas, in publishing a daily edition at the convention containing a stenographic report of most of the speeches. The effect of this was soon seen in the scramble of the ambitious among the newer Socialists in attendance to get the floor on the slightest pretext, in order to get themselves into the proceedings and hence into the Appeal’s report….

As a result of these two things that we have pointed out, the convention was almost constantly in uproar and the sessions were dragged out and time wasted, so that a convention that could have easily finished up its business in four days at the most, kept the delegates in attendance for full six days, and that, too, under heavy personal expense.

… The convention brought together a remarkably fine body of intellectual men and women, averaging high above the usual conventions of a national character. Every delegate was a student of society, and it was to be noted that the Utopian “skyentific” phrase-monger was, happily, not in evidence. The debates were all keen and creditable — only there was an over-plus of a good thing. The convention was called for business, not personal display.

It was clear that time had healed all wounds between the former Chicago and Springfield SDP organizations, with Heath enthusiastic about the New York delegation, comprised of the heaviest hitters of the former Springfield party’s batting order:

The New York delegation was a bunch of thoroughbreds, if we may be permitted the expression. There was Dr. [George] Herron and Morris Hillquit; and [Frank] Sieverman, who not only carried off the chairmanship honors of the convention, but contributed one of the very best speeches in the trade union debate; there was Editor [John] Spargo of The Comrade, who possesses a style of speaking that is very effective in a convention…; there was Editor [Algernon] Lee of the New York Worker, who deservedly made many friends; and then Ben Hanford, [Alexander] Jonas, [Henry] Slobodin, [Otto] Wegener, and the rest of them. They took good Socialist ground on the propositions that came up, as, indeed, they ought to, being seasoned men in the movement. (Source: “Lights and Shadows of the Chicago Convention,” Social Democratic Herald, May 14, 1904, pg. 4.)

•          •          •          •          •


A Chicago photographer sold frameable 14 x 17 inch prints of the delegates for a dollar.

The Rowdy Red West.


Debs was nominated for President at the May 1904 SPA convention in Chicago by Rev. George D. Herron. On the first day of the previous month Herron had visited Terre Haute, giving a speech to local Socialists at their city nominating convention, held in the Debs house. (Syndicated drawing from Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, May 11, 1904, pg. 3.)

This is not to say that everything was placid at the 1904 convention. J.H. Walsh, editor and publisher of the Lewiston Montana News and a delegate to the Chicago convention, provided a glimpse of the backstage politics:

The convention had on its floors nearly every nationality in the civilized world, which showed strongly its international scope….

In fact there were some 230 delegates on the floor composed of lawyers, ministers, priests, printers, editors, businessmen, laborers, engineers, machinists, shoemakers, artists, farmers, etc., etc., without end. A large majority of the convention were American born while about 50 were foreign born….

Woodbey the colored Socialist from California, who wrote the book What To Do and How to Do It, was there and claimed to have been sent to give the convention color. The noted Japanese Socialist speaker, Katayama, now touring this country, delivered a short address at the banquet Sunday night the 1st….

Every question was thrashed out before a vote was taken. Two questions of importance arose — the trade union resolutions and the report of the committee on state and municipal program, [which was] to govern or act as a guide to Socialists elected on state or municipal tickets. The program was referred to the National Committee to boil down and revise, and then to be submitted to the membership for a referendum vote.

J.H. Walsh of Montana introduced a substitute for the whole lengthy report for the committee on program, which precipitated a fight that lasted all one day, but which showed conclusively that the convention was quite strong with sentimentalists, while all the Western delegates were for the substitute and showed themselves to be revolutionary to the core; also were the old SLP people noticed in this move as they lined up on the vote as well as speeches with the Western comrades.

The report of the committee was a lengthy document containing numerous contradictions etc., while the substitute simply suggested that in state or municipal elections where Socialists get elected, that they shall be guided in all their legislative acts by this: Is this law in the interest of the laboring class? If so I am for it, if not I am against it….

The radicals, as they might be called, desired to leave the trade union question alone, while the intellectuals and sentimentalists desired to throw them a little sop in the way of a pet resolution. This was adopted by a large vote…

•          •          •          •          •

Victor Berger Weighs In.


Newspaper engraving of Debs used during the 1904 campaign. The hairline indicates that an earlier photograph was used as the model.

Never one who was afraid to speak his mind, Victor Berger weighed in on the recently completed 1904 Socialist Party convention from the opposite factional angle with a front page editorial in the May 21 issue of his Social Democratic Herald. Berger hailed the fact that, unlike previous conventions of the Socialist Labor Party, the convention of the SPA was “American by a large majority,” although acknowledging that it included a larger contingent of “German and Jewish elements” than did the previous conventions of the Social Democratic Party with headquarters in Chicago.

Berger did not fail to note the factional split, however, charging:

A decided disadvantage were the half-baked ex-Populist elements from the Far West, who, while very little acquainted with Socialism, posed as extreme “radicals;” banded together with a few Chicago “impossibilists” — former DeLeonites — they formed a strange conglomeration.

The peculiar specialty of these new members is their fight against all so-called “immediate demands.” They want the Cooperative Commonwealth at once and they want it complete without racking their poor brains as to just what the “complete commonwealth” means.

Berger, the king of practical, street-level politics, was adement in his opposition to impossibilism, declaring that “to reject a working program altogether is to reject all political activity, and then there is no need of a political party at all.”

Berger noted that while the 1904 platform was “virtually the same as that of former years,” nevertheless significant changes were made to the organization’s structure, with the replacement of the geographically-based National Quorum with a National Executive Committee to be chosen by the delegated meeting of the National Committee at its annual session. No change was made to the SPA’s “brotherly attitude” towards the existing trade union movement, despite the efforts of the impossibilist left wing to harden the party’s stance.

Berger also groused about the “wretched acoustics” of the convention facility as well as a tedious pace of proceedings, which he attributed to a lack of a businesslike attitude by some delegates, who felt the convention to be “a sort of holiday outing.”

Berger hailed the ticket of Debs and the former Springfield SDP activist Ben Hanford, declaring that “a better choice could not have been made.” (Source: Victor L. Berger, “The National Convention,” SD Herald, May 21, 1904, pg. 1.)

•          •          •          •          •

Debs and Hanford nominated (art) -

Journalist Ben Hanford of New York was nominated for the first of two times for Vice President of the United States by the 1904 convention.

On the Socialist Party’s left wing, the selection of Debs and Hanford was also met with satisfaction, with Montana editor J.H. Walsh almost embarrassingly enthusiastic. He wrote:

Eugene V. Debs is one of the most unique figures in American public life; a man who is true to the class to which he belongs and who has sacrificed his youth, energy, and ambition struggling for the industrial emancipation of the workers is the Socialist candidate for President. Well known as an aggressive worker in the people’s cause, the great ARU strike left him the most noted labor leader in the country.

Offered $50,000 to call the strike off he indignantly kicked the would-be briber out of the room. His honesty and aggressive, fearless policy in conducting the strike reduced the capitalists to the last extremity…

Debs could neither be bought nor frightened so our enemies, the rich, placed him in prison. During this imprisonment he studied the Socialist philosophy, and since that time has been an active worker in the Socialist ranks. The majority of the people are as yet ignorant of the ethical beauty and material advantage of Socialism, but the labors of such men as Debs have removed a great mass of ignorant prejudice concerning our movement….

Living in an age notoriously corrupt, when the idol of success is made of gold and every crime is lauded in a captain of industry; when the majority of the press, churches, and colleges teach the love of gold as superior to all else, teach it by practice, if not by precept; when the alleged rights of property are used as an excuse for wanton extortion, Debs has proved himself superior to all debasing surroundings, fearless in fighting for liberty. He towers above the petty politicians of the old parties

“As some tall cliff that lifts its awful form,
“Swells from the vale, and midway leaves the storm,
“Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread,
“Eternal sunshine settles on its head.”

(Source: J.H. Walsh, “Our Nominee,” Montana News, May 11, 1904, pg. 2.)

In Walsh’s words one sees further growth of the Legend of the Great Debs, the Incorruptible Proletarian, with a legend of a mythical $50,000 bribe that was rejected and intimation that Debs’s imprisonment — which happened months after the collapse of the 1894 Pullman strike — was a necessary expedient to end the railroad shutdown.

Debs was clearly a unifying element within the American socialist movement. That the movement was in need of such unification seems equally axiomatic.



The deadline for Eugene V. Debs Selected Works: Volume 3 is October 15, 2018. I’m setting a soft deadline of August 1 to finish the document compilation phase of the project. This means there are now 4 more Saturdays after today to get the core content section of the book assembled, with a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words.

  • “As to True Brotherhood: An Open Letter to the United Brotherhood of Railway Employees” — Dec. 5, 1903 — 1,042 words
  • “Why Peabodyism Exists” — Feb. 13, 1904 — 1,422 words
  • “The Coal Strike Surrender” — March 31, 1904 — 1,130 words
  • “Darrow, Hearst, and the Democrats” — April 1, 1904 — 835 words
  • “Our First National Campaign: Interview with the Terre Haute Sunday Tribune” — May 15, 1904 — 753 words
  • “The Overmastering Passion for Profit” — May 28, 1904 — 468 words
  • “To the Seattle Socialist and Its Readers” — July 10, 1904 — 1,203 words

Word count: 229,358 in the can + 6,863 this week = 236,221 words total.


The above material — along with fairly vast numbers of other Debs speeches and articles — is available for free download via Marxists Internet Archive <>


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Morris Hillquit; Ottawa, Kansas; and a new Theodore Debs letter (18-21)


What the hell does Morris Hillquit have to do with Eugene V. Debs in 1903?

Not too much. The two were, after all, still just learning not to instinctively distrust one other.

Debs had his people he didn’t like and Morris Hillquit (1869-1933) was briefly on that list, being nearly 15 years younger and exhibiting a smoothness that seemed to smack of duplicity. For his part Hillquit realized full well that Debs, in addition to being a brilliant public speaker and very passable writer of socialist propaganda, was behind the scenes a bit of a factional pugilist — one with a bit of an ego to boot. Hillquit being a recent defector from the organization that had degenerated into a Daniel DeLeon Cult was naturally on his guard with respect to heroes and hero-worshippers.

The relations between Debs and Hillquit were apparently tense in 1901 and seem to have gradually eased up over the next couple years. It did take time.

I’m not quite ready to tell the full story of Hillquit and Debs here, that information will necessarily come in dribs and drabs. For the moment I would like to share an interesting little book review that I found.

•          •          •          •          •


Morris Hillquit’s 1903 book, History of Socialism in the United States, was translated into German, Finnish, Russian, Yiddish, Polish, and Chinese and went through five American editions, the last of which included a new chapter.

In 1903 Hillquit published a history of the socialist movement in America with the very mainstream publisher Funk & Wagnall’s, of New York City. It is a thick, well researched, pioneering book with particular strength in its coverage of the communal period of American socialist history, including especially the schemes of  Robert Owen and the Fourierites.

Hillquit’s book as a source for understanding the internal politics of 1900-1903? Forget about it. Hillquit doesn’t even mention that the Chicago Social Democratic Party held an emergency convention in January 1901, initially to stop merger with the Springfield organization, later to dictate terms of the merger as best it was able, understanding that it would be the minority in any future merged party.

Mum’s the word!

Here’s the interesting section of a spin-drenched review from Victor Berger’s Social Democratic Herald, probably written by editor and Chicago SDP Executive Board member Frederic Heath, that I think helps shed some light on the perspective of the Chicago SDP leadership, which clearly appreciated Hillquit’s discretion. Heath or Berger wrote:

[Hillquit’s book] is a very well told and complete history of the rise of Social Democracy in the United States and will doubtless do its part to dispel the many guesses and absurdities that find their way into print in capitalist paper and book about American Socialism. *  *  *

In 1874 a Social Democratic Workingmen’s Party was formed, which three years later changed its name to the Socialist Labor Party. As the years went by a spirit of bossism and sectarianism developed in the party, finally resulting in alienating many Socialists from it. So widespread was the dissatisfaction with the intolerant spirit of the party that in 1897 there was organized at Chicago the Social Democracy of America, known as the Debs party, which rapidly grew in membership and influence.

This Social Democratic Party [sic.] avoided conflict as much as possible with the Socialist Labor Party, but their relations were none too pleasant. 

In 1899 a clash between factions in the latter party led to a split, one fraction of which, beaten in the courts in a contest for legal supremacy, made overtures to the Social Democrats for an amalgamation, practically proposing that a new party be formed. This was resisted by the Social Democrats, who were loath to give up their successful organization, and fearful that such a union would bring too much of the Socialist Labor Party spirit along with it.

But the Socialist Labor Party fraction refused to merely join the party already established and then ensued a strife that left many scars and engendered much bitterness, with the upshot that that the Socialist Labor Party and some deserters from the Debsites formed themselves into a second Social Democratic Party.

This absurd situation was finally terminated in 1901 when a joint convention was held and the Socialist Party launched, with the understanding that in New York and Wisconsin, for legal reasons, the party name Social Democratic Party should be retained.

Comrade Hillquit, although naturally seeing the contest from the Socialist Labor Party fraction side, has described these turbulent events with a good deal of tact, and deserves credit for doing so…. (Source: “From the Book Table,” Social Democratic Herald [Milwaukee], vol. 6, no. 31, whole no. 278 (Nov. 28, 1903), pg. 4.)

Morris Hillquit was ever the diplomat. If the best adjective for Gene Debs was “earnest,” the best adjective for Hillquit was “diplomatic,” closely followed by “measured” and “temperate.” The socialist fire burned bright, mind you, and when rhetoric came into conflict with reality during World War I, Hillquit did not flinch — unlike the host of middle class intellectual defectors to Wilsonian militarism, with whom he is often wrongly associated.

Nevertheless, Hillquit’s natural tendency to diplomacy in pursuit of a long range strategy, combined with the chronological proximity of the events being described, was not conducive to his writing a solid historiography of the two rival Social Democratic Parties.

That is a pity, as he had a front row seat to that bit of history.

•          •          •          •          •

Debs portrait from ad -

Unusual portrait of Debs used in connection with advertising for his Oct. 9, 1903 speech at in Austin, Texas under the auspices of the Austin Lyceum Society. Admission prices for the lecture were 50 cents for the gallery and an astounding $1 for seats on the main floor. Tickets for Debs speeches were regularly 50 cents in 1903 and 1904, years when he was managed by a commercial lecture bureau, rather than the common 25 cent price of earlier years when he hired his own manager.

Ottawa, Kansas, January 1904.

I’m always on the lookout for unusual news accounts of Debs speeches or personal interactions and spotted a nice little piece in the Ottawa Evening Herald, issue of Jan. 15, 1904, the day following a Debs speech at the Rohrbach Opera House.

Eugene V. Debs arrived yesterday over the Santa Fe and put up at the Crane Tavern, where he remained overnight. Shortly after registering, he took a short walk around town and his dress and general appearance gave every indication of the laboring man, whose interests he represents. He stands over six feet tall, is slender and raw-boned. He was dressed in a coarse suit of mixed goods, the trousers of which were rolled up at the bottom, showing off to good advantage a heavy shoe of about number 12 size. He word a long ulster overcoat and a winter cap. His tie was a ready tied unconventional affair and his collar might have been celluloid. Few persons took him for a lecturer as he walked the street, but when he was seen by a Herald reporter, he was in a very talkative mood.

The impromptu interview which followed actually included a little bombshell about Debs thinking that newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, then in his trust-busting-friend-of-labor phase, would be an unacceptable candidate for the Presidency from the perspective of the organized labor movement. That news got a little bit of play from the wire services, with the words vanishing into the ether in a couple of days.

As for Debs’ speech in Ottawa, a town of about 7,500 people located in the Eastern part of the Kansas, the paper noted:

Mr. Debs is not a polished orator, but a straight-forward ready talker, speaking at one time slowly and deliberately and at the next minute like a woman at a sewing society. Mr. Debs is a socialist and makes no apologies for it.

The word “earnest” wasn’t used, but it might as well have been.

•          •          •          •          •

A New Theodore Debs Letter.

I’m always prowling ebay in search of additions for my library and radical ephemera collection and came across this copy of this letter from Theodore Debs to James “Jim” Oneal, editor of The New Leader. Oneal — for many years one of the top leaders of the conservative pro-union, anti-communist SP “regulars” — hailed originally from Terre Haute and had been with the Debs brothers ever since their Social Democratic Party days of 1898.


I’ve seen enough images of Debs letters on film, that’s clearly 100% authentic at a glance.

I put in my bid for the piece, but the selling prices of Debs material can be very, very stupid, so I figured I had better filch the image and get the material into the historical record here before this is locked up forever in somebody else’s collection.

November 13th, 1925

Dear “Jim”:—

I drop you this line to thank you sincerely for Gene and myself for your perfectly fine and appreciative tribute to Gene in your splendid article in the issue of the New Leader of the 7th inst. [Nov. 7, 1925]. We have both read the article with keener interest and more appreciation than could be expressed in words, and Gene would write you were we not swamped with letters due to our absence and were Gene not required to leave again to fill a series of speaking engagements in Illinois with not half time enough to clear away the accumulation.

If you have occasion to see or write Joseph Shipley I wish you would kindly say to him that we read his masterly poem dedicated to Gene in the same issue with our hearts throbbing with responsive emotions and that Gene and I and all of us are deeply sensible of the high honor bestowed in the personal dedication of this wonderful poem, and that we return our deepest thanks with the assurance of our sincere regard and esteem.

Will you kindly send me half a dozen copies of this issue (the form containing the matter above referred to) if you can spare them and very much oblige.

Yours always,

Theodore Debs.

Theodore was, of course, Gene’s younger brother and personal secretary for most of his life.

P.S. I won the lot at $56.



The deadline for Eugene V. Debs Selected Works: Volume 3 is October 15, 2018. I’m setting a soft deadline of August 1 to finish the document compilation phase of the project. This means there are now 5 more Saturdays after today to get the core content section of the book assembled, with a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words.

  • “Capital and Labor: Parasites and Hosts” — Aug. 1, 1903 — 1,352 words
  • “Wayland and the Appeal to Reason: From Obscurity to Fame” — Sept. 5, 1903 — 1,070 words
  • “Teddy’s Stab at Unionism” — Oct. 6, 1903 — 863 words
  • “Crimes of Capitalism” — Oct. 6, 1903 — 1,104 words
  • “It is an Endless Campaign” — Oct. 9, 1903 — 525 words
  • “A Word to the Young” — Oct. 10, 1903 — 553 words
  • “Fixed Conventions and Costly Courts” — Nov. 24, 1903 — 1,218 words
  • “How Long Will You Stand It? Speech at Chicago Coliseum” [excerpt] — Dec. 6, 1903 — 2,606 words
  • “Speech Accepting the 1904 Nomination of the Socialist Party” — May 6, 1904 — 1,509 words

Word count: 218,558 in the can + 10,800 this week = 229,358 words total.


The above material — along with fairly vast numbers of other Debs speeches and articles — is available for free download via Marxists Internet Archive <>


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What do you see? (18-20)


This was another week in which much of my attention was pulled away from Volume 3: 1897-1904 by the need to get finished with the corrected manuscript for Volume 1: 1877-1892.

Last week I chose to spend most of what limited time that remained on this blog, this week I invested my truncated free time putting the pedal to the metal typing up documents. So my apologies if this is sparse and rambling.

Fortunately, the 750-page manuscript for the first book has now been corrected for punctuation and capitalization styled. A few new footnotes were written and my cludgy prose made a little less so in the introduction.

Hopefully I will be back to my normal pace of work from here on out. I’m not entirely sure if it will  be six or seven more weeks to get done with the document transcription phase for Volume 3 — one of those.

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Was Debs a “Left Wing” Socialist?

inkblotSocialists have always fought with one another over strategy and tactics. It’s a dubious tradition that dates all the way back to the origin of international socialism in America back in the middle 1870s. The Socialist Labor Party split over the question in the early 1880s, with a right wing believing in fielding candidates in elections and educating working class voters to take control through the ballot box facing off against a revolutionary socialist left that believed in armed struggle, agitation to fan the flames of popular discontent, and a physical seizure of power when the time was ripe.

There were those who believed in primary attention should be directed to the election process, others who thought running candidates was fruitless and that the educational mission was paramount, still others who thought that trade unions held the key and that the combination and coordination of strike efforts held the most promise in winning a change.

Many thought that radicalizing the existing trade union movement, conservative and costly bureaucracy and all, was the most promising avenue for activity. Many others believed the “old” unions were a lost cause and sought to build a new parallel explicitly socialist trade union movement as an absolute necessity. Some sought to convert those already in union movement to the socialist mission, others believed that organizing the unorganized and enlarging the movement in that way was an essential first step.

There were socialists who thought that religion was a diversion and that organized religion was a bulwark of the conservative capitalist state. Others saw the socialist movement as the fulfillment of the Christian ethic of brotherhood, equality, and the need to provide care and sustenance to all.

And so on and so forth. it’s a bit of a wonder that anybody ever agreed totally with anyone about anything.

debs-inkportraitGene Debs was a unique figure in the American radical movement in that he was attractive to many different sorts of socialists. His devoted supporters ran the gamut from Christian socialists to electoral activists to gritty trade unionists to “give ’em hell” revolutionary-minded types anticipating a forthcoming cataclysm.

He was a sort of human glue that held all these disparate elements together in a single movement.

Debs seemed to offer a little something to everyone, regardless of their own socialist predictions and preferences. People tended to see in him what they wanted to see. Debs appealed to Christian socialist pacifists because he was a Christian socialist and a pacifist. He appealed to election activists because he was an election activist. He appealed to trade union oriented socialists because he was a trade union organizer. He was supported by fire-breathing socialist millennialists because he was a fire-breathing orator preaching about the coming socialist millennium.

Eugene V. Debs was a human Rorschach test.

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This is not to say, however, that Debs was each of these things in equal measures at all times.


Edition of the Communist Manifesto published in 1901 by Debs Publishing Co. The edition is crazy rare…

In the 1880s he was a Christian paternalist and old school railway brotherhood functionary. He developed trade union feistiness in the early 1890s, and emerged as a radical populist and public figure on the national stage in the last half of that decade.

Debs flirted briefly to utopian socialism in 1897, moved decisively towards political action in 1898, and had fully embraced the notion of class struggle soon after, actually publishing an edition of The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels by 1901.

He fell in with the radical miners of the West and came aboard to help found the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905… Then he left them behind, throwing up his hands over their aversion to politics, moving all the way to a harsh anti-syndicalist position in 1912.

Throughout Debs’s life we see a regular shedding of skins and changing of intellectual emphasis. But these perspectives and orientations were never abandoned completely, threads of previous belief remained, with contrasting and occasionally contradictory ideas tugging one against the other, changing as the external situation evolved.

As for the moment with which I am currently concerned, 1903, it appears that in addition to spending time on the road as a paid lecturer, Debs was also a consistent contributor to Victor Berger’s Social Democratic Herald — one of the most electorally-oriented, not to say tepid, of publications. Interestingly, it was at this same time that Debs was giving full throated voice to the doctrine of class struggle, the fundamental idea of Marxism.

So was Debs a “left wing” socialist, as many commentators would have it?

Yes. No. Sometimes. Maybe.

It all depends on what one chooses to see.

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Debs Papers source deficiencies, redux.

I managed to dig out the last couple of reels of Debs papers microfilm I had yet to examine and spun them out, just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything from the 1902 to 1904 period that had been chronologically misfiled.

No such luck.

There seems to be a pretty huge hole for 1903 and 1904, meaning the additions to the database of about 165 items for those two years are apt to be few.

It appears that the years 1905 to 1914 have fairly heavy amounts of material that was scrapbooked or saved by the Debs brothers. The situation appears worse after the outbreak of World War I, with virtually nothing preserved from the last few years of Debs’s life.

It is what it is, as they say. I’ll do my best with what there is.



The deadline for Eugene V. Debs Selected Works: Volume 3 is October 15, 2018. I’m setting a soft deadline of August 1 to finish the document compilation phase of the project. This means there are now 6 more Saturdays after today to get the core content section of the book assembled, with a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words.

  • “The Arbitration Farce” — Jan. 24, 1903 — 2,372 words
  • “Socialism’s Steady Progress” — March 7, 1903 — 1,322 words
  • “Frederic O. MacCartney Belongs to the Living” — June 1, 1903 — 949 words
  • “Labor and the Color Question” [expanded excerpt] — June 20, 1903 — 1,716 words
  • “Class-Conscious Courts” — June 20, 1903 — 1,520 words
  • “You Only Work at the Pleasure of Your Masters”: Speech in Milwaukee [excerpt] — July 19, 1903 — 1,151 words

Word count: 211,058 in the can + 7,500 this week = 218,558 words total.


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